the new road
curls around the dark hill
like a fiery golden dragon
ascending to heaven
a year ago
it was just an idea
a year before that
not even a thought
what will it be
a year from now?
text © Buzz Dixon
A productive weekend.
I stumbled across a writing prompt that initially struck me as being pretty damn useless.
Writing prompts are tricky things. Too often they’re just meaningless generic ideas (“Write a story about a cat!”) or too gimmicky (“Write a story about a cat but don’t use any vowels!”). Finding a source of good writing prompts is always a blessing since a good prompt will light the fuse on an idea that can turn into a good, quirky story. Most people / books / websites that offer prompts fall into the first two categories, but some of the better instructors / coaches can find or create prompts that give you just enough specific details to generate a vivid idea yet remain vague enough to let you explore that idea on your own.
This particular prompt was a pretty generic one, but as I turned the phrase around in my head, I saw a not-very-obvious opening, one that I’m pretty sure violated what the original intent of the prompt was but who cares, it got the creative juices flowing, right?
I had the idea Friday night; Saturday we were visiting Soon-ok’s mom. I took along a collegiate notebook with me and starting writing at her apartment.
I completed about half the story there and the other half when I came home, clocking in at about 2,000+ words.
It’s not a good story — not yet, anyway — but it’s a good idea for a story and the skeleton is there and mostly fleshed out, so it’s going to be merely a matter of transcribing it and working on it on the computer.
I have several other stories in my notebooks awaiting their turn at beings transcribed: The aforementioned barbarian fantasy story, a one-act play, a couple of closet dramas, several fictoids, poems, and essays as well as a ton of free floating notes, all of which need to be transcribed and transferred to the particular story folders where they belong.
All this on top of the various books in their various stages of development.
Speaking of which….
I printed up the first draft of The Most Dangerous Man In The World so I can start polishing it over the next couple of weeks. I did a very light format / grammar / spellcheck on it as I was prepping it to be printed, but not nearly as detailed as the one I’ll do on the manuscript itself.
I’ve found for longer works it’s better to print out a hard copy and then work on it with a red pen. I print it on three hole punch paper and put it in a notebook with a number of lined school notebook paper in the back.
This was as I’m writing if I have any edits or additions that can’t be scribbled in on the margins, I write ‘em on the lined notebook paper and stick ‘em into the manuscript at the appropriate place.
(Short stories tend to not get that kind of attention from me; their virtue — at least in my eyes — is the primacy and immediacy of the story telling. I do go back and proofread and polish, but typically just on the computer, not a hard copy.)
Anyway, I’m all lined up for The Most Dangerous Man… I’ll tackle it as soon as I finish my edit on The Rustlers Of Rimrock.
 Back in the day we used to buy a copy of The World Weekly News, the ultra-low grade black and white red-haired stepchild to The National Equirer tabloid, and read it aloud at Ruby-Spears. TWWN was the home of Bat Boy and such insane headlines as DOCTORS SUCKED THE FAT FROM MY BODY (which — surprise-surprise — actually turned out to be a factual piece on liposuction, which was just then coming into vogue); it was always good for a laugh and at least three or four story ideas. Not a bad deal for $.25.
 If I’m working in an office for a studio or publisher, I prefer yellow legal pads; you can scribble stuff out quickly, tear it off, and pass it along to the poor schnook who has to decipher your writing and enter it into the document or script. For personal use I prefer the collegiate notebooks; you can’t tear the pages out easily, which discourages anusoids from helping themselves to something, and they’re easier to carry.
 I’ve discovered that whatever media I start a story in, I tend to prefer to finish it in that media even if I’m going to transcribe it to another format for final use.
 That’s the technical name for ‘em: Short stories that are told almost entirely through dialog.
Okay, we’re going to follow the winding course of a joke, from its (possible) origin to its (possible) inspiration for “The Funniest Joke In The World”, a “killer joke” so lethally funny the listener / reader will literally die laughing.
Here are the strips (courtesy Steven Thompson’s Four-Color Shadows blogspot) for an eight week Li’l Abner continuity from Dec. 26, 1964 to February 12, 1965, officially credited to Al Capp but (possibly) ghosted by Bob Lubbers.
Several variants of this basic idea exist, but the actual “killer joke” seems to have originated with Lord Dunsany’s “Three Infernal Jokes” in 1916. Capp’s Li’l Abner used the idea in 1964; did he crib it from Lord Dunsany or was it an idea he originated on his own? Monty Python’s version was first shown about 2 1/2 years later on Oct. 5, 1969, but while the Pythons were certainly aware of Li’l Abner did it serve as their inspiration or did they harken back to Lord Dunsany?
coda: Hudson & Landry were a pair of Los Angeles DJs who had a string of novelty / comedy records between 1971 and 1974. In their skit “The Prospectors” (a.k.a. “I Couldn’t Live Like That”) they appear to have appropriated Capp’s capper at the 3:24 mark…
thanx to Tom Spurgeon
The Comics Reporter
for the tip-off
I do not like the other executioner
He has no appreciation for the niceties of our business
The condemned are entitled to know their offence
They are entitled to be informed of the imminence of their death
They are entitled to prepare themselves, to appeal to their god, to set their mind in order, to think on their families for one last time
When I execute someone
It is with all the solemnity due the situation
They await me in a small room, handcuffed to a chair
I enter from behind, but step around to face them
I speak to them, call them by name
I inform them of the court’s decision
I tell them their hour is at hand
I give them a few moments to compose themselves
I listen to their last words
And then I execute them
I do so with quiet dignity
These may be criminals
Enemies of the people
But they deserve their humanity
Even at the end
My so-called colleague, however
Steps into the room behind them unannounced
Gun already in in his hand
And before they can turn to see who has entered
Blows their brains out
I have complained to the warden about the mess he leaves
But the warden has chosen
Not to get involved
In our workplace disputes
I have criticized my colleague
About his brutal methods
He shrugged and said,
“We want them dead. Nothing they say or do will change that. Why waste time? It’s not like they’re going to appreciate anything we do for them after we kill them. So why waste the effort? Dead is dead.”
It is thinking like that
That makes this world
A less pleasant place to live
© Buzz Dixon
Before we begin, let me state for anybody who thinks anything that follows is a back-handed reference to those in my own family — immediate and extended — who are ministers: NO. None of them have crossed this line.
I understand the concept of “hold your nose” voting and why many people find it distasteful. It is possible for people of goodwill to look at two or more flawed candidates for office (and gawd noze they’re all flawed to some degree) and come to entirely different choices about who should fill a particular office. A farmer who thinks Candidate A has a better grasp on agricultural issues would need some pretty compelling evidence that they’d be terrible at everything else to vote against his own self-interest. A city dweller who thinks Candidate B would be harmful to urban areas would need compelling evidence they’d be so much better at everything else as to be worth voting for.
As Robert A. Heinlein famously observed, you may never ever find anybody you want to vote for but I guarantee you’ll always find somebody to vote against.
And I understand that most people make choices for ultimately irrational reasons — and by “irrational” I do not mean “insane” but “emotional”.
“I do not like thee, Doctor Fell
The reason why I cannot tell
But this I know and know full well
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.”
So, as much as I might disagree with their reasons, I can understand a person deciding to vote for Donald Trump.
No, my peeve is with those so-called minsters of God who proclaim Trump is God’s anointed.
There is a precise theological term for this sort of thing and it’s called bullshit.
I was all prepared to call out specific offenders by name, but the sad truth is that there’s just too damned many of them. Unlike Albert Mohler and Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention — two men with whom I typically can find precious little to agree with — who said they couldn’t endorse Trump without losing all claim to moral credibility, much less proclaim him God’s chosen candidate, we have numerous prominent fundamentalist and evangelical
media hogs spokespersons trotting out their hoary rationales why voting for a twice-divorced three time philanderer with a history of compulsive lying and a string of billion dollar bankruptcies in which he cheated business partners, employees, contractors, investors, and clients is not merely a justifiable act but rather a mitzvah, a righteous deed, and one ordained by God.
The political aspect of this is not my topic for discussion, at least not in this post. I cannot imagine the set of circumstances that would convince the average voter that Donald Trump would make a superior president than Jill Stein, much less Gary Johnson or Hillary Clinton.
Rather, it’s the God damned naked greed and avarice and lust for power of the so-called “religious right” that rouses my ire.
And I use the term “God damned”
in its correct theological context.
What these bozologists have done is to wipe their asses with the Bible.
If you’re a Christian, I want you to take all the time you need to let that image settle in deep within your psyche. Imagine your favorite old family Bible, the one with the scuffed leather cover that’s been handed down from generation to generation.
Imagine this fat pink perfumed crew of choir boys slowly and gleefully ripping those thin-thin-thin pages out of that Bible and cramming them between their fat cheeks to wipe the filth off their bottoms.
Got that image in your skull? Good.
I want it there, and I want it associated with them, because I want you to understand that they have just led millions of people away from Christ, away from the Good News.
I don’t care how many Bible verses they cite, I don’t care how many theological exegesis they execute, I don’t care how many hours in prayer they have spent on the matter.
They have demonstrated to the world that they are no different from the other greedy power mad rat finks out there, and are in fact more contemptible than most because they are such blatant hypocrites.
You might be able to rationalize Trump as being the least bad choice and maintain your integrity: Having a toe amputated is bad, but having a leg amputated is even worse; preferring to have a toe amputated over a leg may be Hobson’s choice, but if one of the two are going to happen, there’s no sin in preferring it to be the least traumatic.
But the people claiming Trump is God’s own anointed are not saying make the choice with the least potential harm; they are saying not only is losing your leg a good thing, it’s a Monumental Good Thing, and if you don’t cheerfully support said amputation, you are sinning against God and man.
You can sell that bullshit to the bigots and the cowards, to the fanatical and the fearful, but you can’t sell it to anybody with a pair of eyes and a pair of brain cells rubbing together.
They can read.
They can compare the actual teachings of Christ with the bogus crap issued forth from our contemporary Pharisees, and they can recognize the enormous disconnect.
This is not someone saying “hold your nose and vote for the candidate who will do the least harm” but rather a crowd of con artists telling us that the exact opposite of what Christ taught is what God wants us to do.
The unchurched see through that phoniness. There is no way to win them back by convincing them the con artists are really holy saints of God; there is no way to win them back to the old and failing mainstream denominations.
There is a way to unite them in the community of Christian believers, but you can bet the heart transplant money on this: Whatever that way is, it is not going to resemble church the way North Americans have been doing it.
 Fair is fair; I’m sure there are some people somewhere who have made similar claims about Clinton (in a country of 320,000,000 there has to be a few). But there aren’t as many and they’re nowhere near as vocal as the blasphemers on the religious right.
 I was originally going to type “media whores” but that would have been a gratuitous insult to sex workers worldwide, most of whom hold to a far higher ethical standard.
 Not “whorey” and certainly not “holy”.
 A con artist lying in order to steal your money is lying for a rational reason (i.e., profiting off your loss), they will cheerfully tell the truth if it makes them money. A compulsive liar will lie even when the truth will suffice!
 And these are just the things that have been proven in courts of law; I’m not even touching the really salacious stuff!
 You’d be wrong, but you could rationalize it.
 More and more this is coming to mean not those who have never been exposed to the Gospel message — because c’mon, who hasn’t been exposed to it through sheer osmosis if they live in the US of A? – but rather those who grew up in the Christian community and now willingly walk away from it. Contrary to what the con artists would tell us, they are not walking away because they have been seduced by the blandishments of sin, but because they have seen first hand how most Christians and most churches have made no genuine effort to live a Christ-like life.
“For the entire history of modern conservatism, its ideals have been wedded to and marred by white supremacism. That’s [Avik] Roy’s own diagnosis, and I think it’s correct. As a result, we have literally no experience in America of a politically viable conservative movement unmoored from white supremacy.
“I’ve read dozens of conservative intellectuals writing compellingly about non-racist conservative ideals. Writers like Andrew Sullivan, Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, Michael Brendan Dougherty, and too many others to count have put forward visions of a conservative party quite different from the one we have.
“But not one of these writers, smart as they are, has been able to explain what actual political constituency could bring about this pure conservatism in practice. The fact is that limited government conservatism is not especially appealing to nonwhite Americans, whereas liberalism and social democracy are. The only ones for whom conservatism is a natural fit are Roy’s ‘cranky old white people’ — and they’re dying off.
The last week proved to be very good for me creatively. Thanks to participation in Beth Bornstein Dunnington’s writers workshop on Sunday* I now have the first draft of four short stories that I’m going to get circulating in the next few weeks and five short-shorts (or fictoids, as I like to call ‘em).
You’ll be seeing those (i.e., the fictoids) over the next few weeks. The four short stories are pretty short — most around 800 or so words, one almost twice that length – but I think they’ll be fun reads once I finish polishing them.
No progress on the books but since I knocked off a number of short works I’m not bugging out on that…yet. But I do need to get those drafts completed ASAP.
In my last writing report I mentioned a method of creating a character that (IIRC) Samuel R. Delaney discussed in his book The Jewel-Hinged Jaw.
I don’t think Delaney claimed this as his own but credited another writer with it; however, I can’t remember who that may have been so, Chip, if I’ve short changed ya, my apologies…
This is what you need to create the basics of a character:
- A name
- A gender
- An age
- An occupation
- A physical description
- An emotional description
Jane is a tall, effervescent retired librarian.
Jack, 24, is a stocky, sour auto mechanic.
Brian is a moody dark-haired high school student.
Betty is a pensive middle-aged housewife in a wheelchair.
You’ll notice how it doesn’t take very much to create a character in the readers’ minds. Give them just a few pertinent details and they’ll fill in all the blanks.
And you don’t have to break each component down:
Names often indicate gender as well, a high school student by definition is a teenager, etc. (And clearly “occupation” is not limited to what their actual workaday job is.)
But those 6 basics are all you need to ground a character; you can build on it from there.
Jane, the tall, effervescent retired librarian, is clearly a much different person from John, the cantankerous 40 year old corpulent librarian, who is a different person from Joan, the shy, gawky tween intern librarian, who is different from Juan, the elegant trim 30 year old librarian.
* I’ve known Beth as a fellow scribe since my animation days and highly recommend her workshops; check out her blog for more info (and, no, I didn’t travel to Hawaii; Beth was holding a special workshop in Venice [no, not Italy, California].).