Sunday, March 27, 2005

An Easter Tale

Many years ago, in our small freshwater aquarium, we had a tiny crab named Kremlin—so named because of his aggressive behavior toward the fish in the tank, mostly neon tetras. Kremlin would rest quietly on the bottom of the tank, waiting for a passing fish, which he would attempt to snag with a claw. I don't think we ever actually caught him in the act of catching a fish, but the population of the tank was slowly decreasing, and we had no doubt who was responsible. We had mixed feelings about the little fellow, but he was far and away the most interesting inhabitant of the tank.

From time to time, Kremlin made himself scarce, hiding among the rocks or plaster formations. We got used to his being unseen for a day or two at a time, but on this occasion, we'd missed him for longer and were starting to fear that he'd gone to meet his maker. And morning I walked into the room—Good Friday, it was—and saw the empty remains of his shell. Ah, Kremlin. This time his disappearance was for real, then. Gone. Dead. His remains eaten by the algae eating catfish, we presumed. I mourned him, but life went on.

Easter morning—I went to feed the remaining fish. There, to my astonishment, scuttling along on the bottom of the tank, was Kremlin! Back from the dead, full of life and vigor, and determined to have fish for lunch. This was impossible, it was a miracle!

It took me a few minutes before I realized, with some embarrassment, that he was about one shell-size larger.

Kremlin molted two or three more times before he really did go to meet his maker. And each time, the silly little crab took us by surprise. Or, maybe, it wasn't the crab who was so silly.

Thanks, by the way, to my daughter Julia, for reminding me of this story in time for Easter.


Friday, March 25, 2005

Thoughts on Faith and Rationality

This being Good Friday, it seems like a good time to set down some of my thoughts about faith. (I've already spoken about faith and writing in a general sort of way, in an essay on my web site, Faith and the Difficulty of Writing. But that didn't focus specifically on faith in God so much as on faith in the Muse, faith in one's own abilities—with a kind of pointer toward a deeper underlying faith. It's that deeper faith that I'm thinking of now.)

I once received an email from a reader, who said he'd been stopped cold by a scene in my science fiction novel Eternity's End, in which a character who happens to be both an alien and a doctor speaks of her Christian faith. It's just a small point in the book, a bit of characterization, and a low-key way of saying that neither Christ nor religious faith have gone away in the future. Beyond that, the novel says nothing explicitly about Christianity (though the beliefs of the author are probably detectable in other ways). My reader was an avowed atheist, and he couldn't believe that anyone who took a scientific view of the world could also believe in anything so stupid.

How (the reader asked) could I just dismiss the scientific method, and the evidence for the Big Bang, for evolution, for...well, I forget what else, but you get the idea.*

After picking my jaw up off the floor, I wrote back: Where did you get the idea that any of that was true?

Some considerable exchange followed, but I don’t think he ever got the point that, yes, you can believe in science and in God.

Data points: I believe the scientific method is the best tool we have for understanding how the universe works. It relies on evidence, on cross-checking, on testing hypotheses to see if they stand up, on rational and critical thinking. Sometimes evidence that appears to support one explanation turns out to support a different explanation just as well, or better. I believe in the Big Bang, at least until a better theory comes along. I believe in evolution, same deal. I believe in God, a personal God who created the universe and each of us, and in his son Jesus.

Whoops. That last sentence may be in the wrong paragraph. That's not about science, that's about faith. And faith is different from science. But wait—they're both about ways of knowing, and of forming belief. So I guess they both belong in that paragraph about my beliefs, after all.

It's all about different ways of knowing:

  • I believe in the findings of science because when I read about the research (I'm an avid armchair scientist), I know that people are checking each others' work and testing for reproducible results. Sometimes scientists lie and fake data, but they're always caught in the end. Sometimes they're wrong; sometimes results seem really cool—cold fusion, for example—but then don't pan out so well in the cross-checking. It's a continuing, changing story.
  • I believe in God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, because of my personal experience of them. Is my belief rational? In part, yes. I was not able to believe, as an adult, until I convinced myself that God was a plausible hypothesis. I arrived at that point through studying the Bible and other books, and through many discussions with people who had knowledge and insights that I didn't. Only after I could accept the rational possibility was I able to be open to the real presence of God in my life, and to feel that presence. Does it happen that way for everyone? No, but why should it?
The point is, I see no contradiction between my faith and science. Why did God use the Big Bang to create the universe? I don’t know, can you think of a better way? Why did God use evolution to create humans (and dogs, and dolphins and whales, and cats, and rhinos, and dinosaurs)? Maybe it appealed to his sense of artistry. Why did Jackson Pollock make paintings by throwing and dripping paint onto a canvas? I'm pretty sure God has a terrific sense of humor; anyone who's lived with a cat or a dog (especially a boxer!) knows that.

And so...I'm not sure where I was headed with this, but I wanted to share some thoughts that I've been meaning to write up into an essay, but never got around to. Good Friday just seemed like a really good time to start.

Maybe next I'll write about faith in God and writing.

*Note: my reader didn't ask if I was a Christian, he just assumed I was because a character in my book was. Guess what! Authors and their characters are not the same people! In this case, the character was a Christian, and so am I; the character was offended by profanity, but I am not; the character was an amphibious Narseil, but I am not. Or I wasn't, the last time I checked.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Still Alive

Well, they haven't killed me yet, and I guess they'd better not, because now they're counting on me to get the book written in time. I'm a'crankin' on it. It's interesting to see the difference between writing something in someone else's universe, and writing in your own. It's a lot easier to do someone else's story. For one thing, you don't have to make everything up. (In this case, I'm taking a storyline that's already set in celluloid and, er, binary digits, so the plot is already there.) When you want to know a technical or background detail, you can ask someone else. (That doesn't mean you'll get an answer, or at least a quick answer, but you can ask.)

The changes in technology have affected the process of doing this kind of writing, I'm guessing. Instead of just going by memory, and by a script that's *way* out of date as far as the final show on screen is concerned, I can have the whole thing readily at hand. I've loaded the DVD right onto my hard drive--both on my desktop and my laptop--so I can simply toggle between my work and the video. I can get the dialogue right (for that matter, I can get the scenes right--you'd be amazed how much it all gets moved around and changed in final production and, I assume, the editing suite). I can look closely at the set, and the characters, and their mannerisms. I can also move on from that to add the layers of depth and texture that distinguish prose fiction from a visual production.

The trick may be to keep from getting too tied into that. I do, after all, have to write this book quickly. But you know something--I'm having fun.

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Friday, March 18, 2005

A Hint

Okay, I'll say this much. I'm writing the novelization of a really popular SF miniseries, one that has spun off a regular show.

That's it. I can say no more. I've already said too much.

They'll probably have to kill me now.

Blast. I'll miss you all.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

At Work, Never Fear

It's hard to keep up a daily entry in a blog, when life is so busy! I wound up having to get a new laptop--a Winbook something-or-other, which I got marked down at Microcenter--and have gotten it wrestled into shape, all while getting a pretty good running start on the new writing project. I haven't said what that is yet, have I? Well, unfortunately, I'm not free to say until I get an all-clear. But I can say this—I'm taking the next three months to work on something completely different, even as I read through the Sunborn first draft (700+ pages of it) and let it steep in my subconscious.

I hope this doesn't alarm anyone who's waiting for Sunborn to be finished. It was actually my editor who suggested it, and I thought it was a great idea. It'll be fun, it'll be different (and boy, do I need a change), and I will be forced to write it quickly.

More later.

(Yeah, yeah, I know I said that before. But I meant it. I mean it. Really.)

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Problem Fixed

Everything seems to be displaying correctly now. Turned out the problem was a combination of some of the images being slightly too large, and the ads being slightly too large.

Sometimes my life feels like one continuous IT troubleshooting session. I've spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to get the computers in the house to talk to various printers on the network--especially the printer on our SMC router/print server. Ay caramba. Plus my PDA went dead last night and had to have everything reloaded. Plus the laptop that lost its video display and is now a desktop plugged into a monitor. So much for portability.

Oh well, I guess we're better off with these things than without them. Just wish they didn't rule our lives quite so much.

Now I must get back to work on my new project. More on that in a forthcoming post.


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Display problem in IE

I don't know why, but something's gone wrong with the way this blog displays in Internet Explorer (the righthand bar is pushed way to the bottom). It looks fine in Firefox, which is what I usually browse with. Until I can figure out the problem and correct it, I'll just have to ask you IE users to excuse our appearance. Thanks.


Monday, March 07, 2005

What's Wrestling Got to Do with Writing, Anyway? (Writing Question #2)

I'm glad you asked. The answer is, more than you might think.
I wrestled all four years when I was in high school in Huron, Ohio, and during my first year of undergraduate school, at Brown University. During that time, I learned that wrestling requires enormous dedication, self-discipline, and conditioning. Also, that stepping out onto the mat as a young adult, to face an opponent one-on-one, calls on all your reserves of courage and poise. And that in the long run, the experience goes a long way toward developing self-confidence. (I was a pretty shy kid, really—kind of geeky, afraid of girls, and not terribly good at sports in general. This sport represented a major area of growth for me.) Coached properly, wrestling also develops a sense of good sportsmanship, respect for the opponent, and the ability to win and lose with equal grace.

Writing, for anyone who hopes to do it professionally, requires if anything even greater dedication and self-discipline. My wrestling experience probably did more to prepare me for the long, tough haul of making it as a writer than any other single thing I did as a student, including taking writing courses. As an aspiring writer, I put in endless hours of work with zero promise of reward, only hope and determination. Like just about all new writers, I met setback after setback, and had to choose between quitting or plugging ahead. (This process is ongoing, by the way. It doesn't just happen to aspiring writers. There are lots of professional writers out there, including me, who are engaged in an ongoing struggle to keep their careers alive and healthy.)

Courage and poise? Well, for a lot of people, putting a manuscript in an envelope and sending it off, unsolicited, to a publisher takes about as much courage as stepping out onto a mat. And you have to learn to lose with grace if you're going to make it in the writing business. The poise and the self-confidence come with time. And come in mighty handy the first time you step up to a podium to speak to an audience as a "guest author."

(Momentary digression: if you're unfamiliar with the sport of wrestling and think I'm talking about anything even remotely related to the stuff they show on TV under the name "professional wrestling," no. Don't. No resemblance. Don't even talk to me about it.)

A surprising number of wrestlers turn out to be good students, as well. Maybe that shouldn't be surprising; the same self-discipline comes into play. Some pretty well-known writers were also wrestlers. And also some less-well-known writers.*

Here's a short SF story I wrote about wrestling, originally published in the anthology Warriors of Blood and Dream, edited by Roger Zelazny. It's called Shapeshifter Finals.

Here are some books by wrestlers-turned-writer:

*It pains me to acknowledge it, but a well-known thug who is also our current Secretary of Defense was also a wrestler and coach. Oh well, no sport's perfect.

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Second Place at All-Girls Wrestling Tourney!

Got home late last night from a weekend in New Jersey, attending our first all-girls wrestling tournament, the USGWA New Jersey Girls Wrestling State Championships Open. Lexi placed second in her weight grouping, winning three matches (one with a pin and one in double overtime) and losing one. More importantly, she had a great time, and made some new wrestling friends from other states. One of the organizers commented on his past experience with girls' tournaments, noting that the girls are much more likely than the boys to get together after competing and hug and make friends with each other.

Most of the girls we talked to were in the same position as Lexi--participating on boys' wrestling teams, often as the only girl, and attending events like this after the season. A recent USA Today article on girls' wrestling noted that the number of high school girls wrestling nationwide is currently about 4000, up from about 100 in 1990.

If you're interested in all-girls wrestling, here's the go-to group: the US Girls Wrestling Association, or USGWA.

And here are some pix from the tourney.

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Friday, March 04, 2005

Wrestling in an Earlier Generation

You just never know what the mail (or email) is going to bring. As a result of my posting Lexi's wrestling photos earlier on this blog, I recently heard from an old college teammate of mine. He sent along a photo of the Brown University freshman wrestlers from...well, a number of years ago. I studied the photo, and studied it, and finally recognized one of the guys. (Is that me?)

Yeah, I guess it is. (Neither of my daughters were able to pick me out of the picture, nor could my brother. My wife did, though.)

Here it is, from days long ago, at a university not so far away.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Sunborn--What Took So Freakin' Long?

Ah. Yes. People have been emailing me for years, asking when the devil the fourth Chaos book is going to be out. Not to mention, my editor and publisher, who have been patiently checking in from time to time, hardly ever mentioning the fact that my deadline is so far in the past it's nearly red-shifted out of sight. (Thanks, Jim. Thanks, Tom.) Guilt, guilt.

Well, it's not because I meant to take so long, or haven't been trying. The first thing that happened was that I had another book to do under a prior contract, which was going to take me a year or two to write—and then I'd get right back to the Chaos series. As it happened, that book was way harder to write than I ever imagined, and longer, and it took nearly five years to get finished. (That was Eternity's End, and I'm happy to say that it's met with a good response, and earned me my first and only Nebula Award nomination.) By the time I came back to the Chaos universe, the trail felt a little cold. I had to reread the first three books myself. (I'm rereading them again now, to keep the story clear in my head. You forget things, after a while.)

Basically, three things happened at once, as I worked on Sunborn:

  1. I undertook a book that was way, way harder to write than I thought when I outlined it. (Lots of really cosmic stuff, sentient stars and so on, but at the same time a deeply personal story, always told on a human scale.)
  2. My life as a parent was becoming increasingly full, with lots of activities and competing needs filling the days; and, as well, a need to do consulting work as a writer/editor to help pay the bills. (This is a good place to acknowledge the debt that I, and you my readers, too, owe my wife for bringing in a steady income through her work. Thanks, kiddo. I appreciate it.)
  3. Doing all this other work made it really hard to keep the novel centered in my mind, so that even when I had time to work on it, I couldn't concentrate.
  4. I've been wandering in something of a creative desert for the last few years, trying to find the inspiration to turn this into the book I envisioned (and promised you, my readers) years ago.
  5. Like many of my writer friends, I was trying hard not to feel depressed about the state of my career, the state of the marketplace, the shrinking sales of our books compared to the way they sold 15 or 20 years ago, the loss of readers to competing forms of entertainment (movies, TV, mega-bestsellers, the internet, blogs [oops]). One always tries to appear upbeat in public, but it wasn't always convincing on the inside.
  6. I began to lose my ability to count.

Somehow, though, I kept at it. The constant support and cajoling of my writing group was invaluable—as was other forms of support, from people who cared enough about my ability to keep writing to help in significant ways. And always at the back of it all, the feeling that God had given me a certain gift for writing, and I wanted to make good on that gift. (Plus, all those promises I'd made to you my readers over the years.)

And so, here I am at an important milestone in this project. As I said in the last post, I have a lot still to do. Probably two more complete drafts, anyway. But it should go faster now, and with much greater feeling of hope.

I'll keep you posted on what's happening.

But for now, I'm feeling pretty good.

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Sunborn First Draft Finished!

Yes. At last. I have typed the ending words of the fourth book of The Chaos Chronicles! And they are:

"To be continued..."

Which isn't a joke, of course, if you've been following the Chaos series. My faithful readers have been waiting a lonnnnng time for this fourth book in the series, the fourth of a planned six total. (I was shocked myself to look back at the header in the early chapters: I started this thing in the fall of the year 2000. Oy.)

Note the title of this entry, though. First draft finished. I've got a lot of rewriting to do. A lot of rewriting. It all came together and made sense (I think) in the end. But a lot of the 706 manuscript pages of this book are...well, I'll be polite because this is a family publication...a godawful mess. But that's okay. Really. Because getting that first draft down is the crucial thing. I can always work with it and straighten out the things that are wrong, once I have it down on paper (or phosphors, or LCD pixels) to look at. It'll take me a while, and it'll hurt, but I know I can do it.

Yes! Gimme a high-five, please!

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