Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Story: Captive Guest MkII

Hi! Here's a story I wrote in June. It started as an entry for the Polar Expressions book, Inkblots, and was published recently along with over 200 other short stories (and I mean short - the word limit was 750, so that's seriously compressed narrative). Here I've edited and filled it out a bit.

And yes, it's based loosely on real life - the place, vegetation and culture is authentic, and we have met a Yemeni man who went through this experience. My wife and I hiked along that trail - it's an amzing place. But I threw the maple leaf in there for free.

PS I'm working on another SF short, but it insists it wants to be a novella! Watch this space for an update on that.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Trying To Join The Dots

Trying To Join The Dots

  • Last post needs a follow-up. What became of those random acts of charity?
  • I bought a new guitar! Should I go on tour yet? Love listening to U2 and Bruce Cockburn and Phil Keaggy.
  • Sent off a short science fiction story to Analog! Feels good. (Psst... that's because they haven't replied yet, idiot!)
  • Last Friday I went to a spaghetti-and-meatballs dinner at which the speaker, Andy Matheson, educated us about real poverty. Oasis: real action on poverty It made me think, 'That's more real than UN famine statistics on TV.'
  • On Sunday our little church is hosting a local International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church. I did some research. Wow, there are a lot of people in this world following Jesus and suffering for it. The dragon is roamin' the earth trying to stamp us out (Revelation chapter 12). But here we are carrying on comfortably. The dragon doesn't need to fight the church over here too much, because we're being anesthetized by a diet of entertainment and fun.
Random Acts of Charity: OK, here are the details. Two of us did indeed stand outside the local shopping 'mall' and give away free hot chocolate and coffee, because the 'Occupy...' protesters weren't out that day as far as I could determine.

The chocolate was more popular. Around here, most people get set up with coffee as part of their routine and carry it around in thermos mugs, or pop into a coffee house drive-through. It was great to see people's faces when we said it was for free and no strings attached. I'd like to think it sparked a flame of charity in some. We'd tell them we were showing a little bit of God's love in a practical way. Like a cryptic sign that leads towards an uncountable treasure. Like a drip of water seeping from a cracked dike.

We may do it again, or something different. Hopefully a few more people will join in and help next time. in fact, did you know there are whole websites named 'Random Acts of Kindness'? There's a lot of it around.

The new guitar: a Takamine steel-stringed wonder with a pickup and a cut-out to help me get to those high notes. Most of the money had been sitting around since my birthday, waiting for somewhere to go. I almost bought an effects pedal, but thought that could wait.

Why buy a new guitar? Well, I left my old one in the Middle East when we left there in March. I'd had it since I was 18, but I don't miss it particularly. It was starting to twang and the frets were getting worn down. I've been borrowing a friend's guitar for a few months. And I've been listening to lots of good music, trying to play along, thinking I'd like to learn some of these well enough to play for people when we're sitting around with nothing better to do. Have a look at this by Bruce Cockburn -
 I followed the notes on how  to play it and, surprise, it's actually not so hard. And I am amazed how he conjures up an atmosphere of someone running away from a lynch mob, and violent injustice in general.

There are songs to warm the heart - U2 have some amazing love songs where you suddenly think, Hold on, he's singing to God - like this one... Magnificent ... songs to rekindle the eternal life that our Creator set inside each of us, rekindle it so that I rediscover what real compassion is about, wanting to do something for those with less choices than me. There are some that make me laugh, like Bruce Cockburn's "Tie Me At The Crossroads When I Die" - here's a cover version of it - Tie Me At The Crossroads -  a funny song about death. So I'd better get practising, if I can just get away from this keyboard!

And the New Science-Fiction Story:  It's called Mindware Issues, and I started it thinking, Why don't I write a quick story to stick on my blog? Then it developed, and I thought, why not try to get it published? Sorry!  :-( But I started by throwing two types of future technology together and building characters and a plot around them.

While I was researching how computers might interface with the brain, I found that some scientists are already trying it - particularly in order to help disabled people. Some are already talking about Body Area Networks,  wikipedia - BANs where the skin conducts data to and from tiny body-mounted devices. So I just stretched that and imagined the standard SF 'What-if...?'.

The other tech component was pocket universes. I read a novel or two, years ago, where people hopped from one artificial universe to another and thought that was cool. I looked into it and it's based on advanced physics called Brane theory (yes, I spelled that correctly - not Brain theory). It's in wikipedia so it must be real! Brane Theory - Wikipedia Real physicists please stop reading here! Think of a thin, stretched-out membrane. That has two dimensions. You could get another membrane and bring it close enough to touch the first one. Now imagine our universe as a three-dimensional membrane (well, four if you include time). The theory says that there could be a multitude of other such universes, nearby in the multi-dimensional space that the theories predict. What if two of these 'branes' touched? Or what if someone invented a way of stretching out a new brane, still attached to ours? Anyway, it's still pretty far-fetched in modern terms.

But the story developed, and I saw how the misuse of computer networks connected to one's mind could cause all sorts of dilemmas and impossible choices. I don't want just to write about some fancy technological device, but about what that will mean for people like you and me when we pick it up and turn it on. In 'Mindware Issues' the main character has to decide if he'll sacrifice his cherished goal of freedom for someone else's life and wellbeing, whether or not he will do the right thing.

So all these seemingly random threads are running through my one life. It's hard to hold them all together sometimes, but I think the common theme has to be that people are important. The meatballs-and-spaghetti speaker Andy Matheson I mentioned says that in fact people are important because God made us all in his likeness, and that predates the infamous 'Fall' of Adam and Eve. 'God's Image' is the first and best framework to see each other in, not simply 'Lost Sinner'. Yes, we all make bad choices from time to time, often deliberately, maybe because 'it feels good', but where did that ability to choose come from? Who gave us the choice? And I can encourage people to choose life and not death (by giving them a free cup of coffee? by singing them a good song?) and I can write about those crucial choices that are the crux of any good story.

Phew. That was long. But now I'm all caught up here. Post a comment, someone :- witnessed any Random Acts recently? Read or watched any great stories about making the right choice? Heard any life-changing songs?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

When the Truth is Stranger than Fiction

I've started writing a few short stories based on my experiences in the Middle East, and the people I met there. One is based on fact, others are fictionalised. But the more I read about what's happening in 'our' town over there that's got swept up in the so-called Arab Spring, the more I realise that fact usually wins hands-down. I couldn't have imagined this even twelve months ago.

There's a struggle going on between armed government forces and a mixture of students, tribal militias and ordinary people in the street. The government thugs had holed themselves up in a school, trying to cling to control. Protestors had gathered outside and were demanding that they leave. Kids were watching from a balcony in the school. One of the soldiers must have let his anger get the better of him, feeling cornered and frustrated, who knows, and he picked up one of the children and threw him down to the ground below. In the ensuing wave of public fury and outrage the crowd finally managed to oust the soldiers from the building. The child is being treated in hospital.

Seeing how ordinary people are taking things into their own hands is stirring. Supposedly the Occupy Wall Street people took some inspiration and learned a few lessons from the people in Cairo.

This week I started looking into a very different 'direct-action' kind of thing in the Canadian town where we live. No, I won't be lobbing stones through the windows of any stores, laying down in front of tanks or even rescuing mice from laboratories. It began when the small local church we belong to agreed to start a sort of 'random acts of kindness' project in the neighbourhood. Three of us were going to stand outside a supermarket and give out free cups of coffee or help the more frail shoppers with their shopping trolleys (shopping carts, if you're from this side of the Atlantic).

So this morning I found the supermarket's manager and explained, but he decided this little project of ours was too much of a risk for him. He didn't want his customers feeling they were having some sort of religious message thrust upon them. That wasn't the point of the project, of course. Coffee and a helping hand aren't a religious message, are they? Naturally, if people had asked us why we were doing this, we'd say it was to show God's love in a practical way. A very few might want to talk more. But there's no way we were going out to push a message on unwilling people. A friend from our church says he's got the same sort of negative response from all sorts of stores. Business comes first.

Instead of this slightly quixotic project, then, my wife and I have decided to go and find the 'Occupy...' people in the town and see where they'll be occupying that morning. I expect they'd appreciate some free coffee. There must be someone around to whom we can show a little kindness!

  • Are you involved in any random-acts-of-kindness thing? Or the "occupy" movement? What's happening in your town and neighbourhood? I'd like to hear about it.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Wandering Scribbler for Hire

So I've finally caught up with the 21st Century. Just as I was signing up to Google for this blog space, I get an email from the freelance writing agency I've got myself into. There are hundreds of jobs posted - 'Write My Webpage!' 'Rewrite these product reviews by Saturday!' - and I have written proposals for five of them. As a newbie in the agency, not many clients will give me a chance. It's like I'm a chipmunk amongst a crowd of bears, all of us calling "Pick me! Pick me!" to whoever's hiring.

But finally I get this email, to rewrite ten articles by Saturday, and it's my big chance to get a foot in the door and improve my agency rating from zero to some small but significant figure. So that's cool. And I was just in the process of signing up to this my first blog. But just then my wristwatch beeps, reminding me to go down the street to pick up my children from school. It's my turn today, since my wife is out at the university today. So my professional destiny hangs in the balance while I wander down the road, through the trees, wave to the crossing guards and find my boys.

I think that a few months ago I may have shrunk from the very idea of becoming a writer-for-hire like this. Writing is an art, a craft, a calling. For me, it's about passing on whatever light and life has fallen into my lap, telling the stories of people I've met, spinning yarns that might cause a reader somewhere to smile, or look at life differently.

But for now, it's nose to the grindstone. Maybe the young Rembrandt had to paint fences some days to earn his keep.