“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” ― Ray Bradbury
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This N.C. Wyeth illo has
nothing to do with my story,
I just thot it looked nice.
Finished the second draft of my YA neo-Western earlier this week. I never write exactly the same way twice no matter what I do. Sometimes the ideas come out almost completely wholly formed in the first rush, other times they need to be teased out through several missteps, other times still the basic idea stands but needs to be worked on and polished.
In this case I had the core idea about 14 years ago; had my set up, core characters, basic conflict, and ending in mind. From 2007 through early 2011 I began noodling down all the possible incidents and complications I could think of related to the central idea, as well as some light preliminary research.
Research can occur anywhere in the process. Some stories I’ve written have been the result of finally finding the story spine to an idea in the research, other stories have little if any initial research and just enough on the final draft to make sure I haven’t made any egregious miztakes.
For this story a basic knowledge of the background was all I needed to get it plotted out. Once I finished the plot I started writing it while at the gym, pecking out 500-1,000 words a day on my cell phone while on pedaling an exercise bike.
Finished the first draft on November 7th, 2011. Printed it up, let it lay fallow for a while then did red ink copy editing / re-writing in mid-2012. Did a lot of research during this period for details, not core ideas. Finally picked it up again for for a serious re-write in late December / early January; wrapped up that draft three days ago.
I’m going to let it sit for a few weeks, then do another red ink edit followed by a third re-write in…? (Hopefully not too long; this has been sitting around much too much as it is.)
First draft is to get the story down: Who-what-when-where.
Second draft is to shape the form: How.
Third draft will be for characters & style: Why.
Will there be a fourth draft? Probably not to this extent, but I’ll doubtlessly be tweaking and polishing up until the point where I actually upload it for readers.
As has been pointed out,
stories are never released,
Go to Tibet
Ride a camel.
Read the bible.
Dye your shoes blue.
Grow a beard.
Circle the world in a paper canoe.
Subscribe to The Saturday Evening Post.
Chew on the left side of your mouth only.
Marry a woman with one leg and shave with a straight razor.
And carve your name in her arm.
Brush your teeth with gasoline.
Sleep all day and climb trees at night.
Be a monk and drink buckshot and beer.
Hold your head under water and play the violin.
Do a belly dance before pink candles.
Kill your dog.
Run for mayor.
Live in a barrel.
Break your head with a hatchet.
Plant tulips in the rain.
But don’t write poetry.
“I get all my ideas in Switzerland near the Forka Pass. There is a little town called Gletch, and two thousand feet up above Gletch there is a smaller hamlet called Über Gletch. I go there on the fourth of August every summer to get my cuckoo clock fixed. While the cuckoo is in the hospital, I wander around and talk to the people in the streets. They are very strange people, and I get my ideas from them.”
drawing his breath
after the fight
never had there been such a fight!
never had there been such a dragon!
what are we saying of course there
have never been any dragons! they’re
phantasms fantasies figments of the
imagination! nonetheless, for the
purposes of our story, there was a dragon
a lot of blood
the dragon’s stinger
had sunk deep with that
last desperate dying thrust
let me tend your wounds
…in the cave…
the dragon’s cave
bone and metal scattered about
skulls cracked open
bones broken in half
the marrow sucked out
take off your armor
hard to do
the metal plate
the sharp edges
clutch at the wound
the armor comes off
there, not so bad
will I die of this wound
no, you will not die of that wound
that I promise you
she prepares a poultice
soothes the raging pain
the burning pain
the devouring pain
a small shelf of rock
in the cave
skulls and bones
blackened and cracked
litter the floor
they could not kill this dragon
this dragon, no, they couldn’t
but I did
and rescued you
the pain eases
know what they told me
down in the village
what did they tell you
they told me
no knight could ever
defeat the monster of the mountain
did they now
why would they tell me that
to warn you, perhaps
to entice me
ah, brave knight
you are smarter than you look
there is something wrong here
the pieces do not fit
like mismatched armor
these knights whose
bones lay scattered
at our feet
once or twice
two or three times a year
this season or that
and how could a dragon
especially a dragon of this size
how could a dragon survive
between those battles
how could you survive
dragons grow hungry
why were you not a feast
the dragon and I
we have an understanding
how do you feel
how is your wound
I feel no pain
what sort of
it struck deep
did it not
what sort of
dragons are not
of this realm
they do not mate
or bear young
in the manner
to which we are
what sort of
I shall not ask again!
oh good knight
all shall be answered
all shall be made known
reach for your dagger
arms move slowly
as if made of cold dough
what have you done to me
what have you done to yourself
you came looking for
glory and adventure
fame and reward
glory and fame
we can not offer you
adventure you have already had
now comes your reward
your just deserts
dagger clatters to
cold stone floor
picks up the dagger
turns it curiously in her hands
touches the tip with her finger
did you intend this
what have you done to me!
the poultice –
eases your pain
like a maggot
on the skin of a horse
like a weed
growing on a grave
like a wasp
laying an egg
in a spider
so my dragon
has planted a seed in you
does he feel something
deep within his bowels
dragons can not lay eggs in the open
for all their fierce demeanor
they are helpless little pups
as a cockatrice lays its egg in manure
my dragon has laid its egg in you
Sir Dung Hill
…it will kill me…
…it will devour its way out of me…
nay, good knight
as I said
dragons are not of this realm
they eat finer food
no, the young pup inside you
just needs a safe place
to grow and prepare
and then emerge
to be my new dragon
the gallant knights who came before you
who slayed the dragons who came before this one
and in turn were slain by the pups who emerged
oh, good knight
I have heard that one before
though the dragon emerges
it shall not kill me!
I shall recover!
I shall slay it again!
and this time
all these gallant knights
scattered about you
before I ate them
© Buzz Dixon
art by Maximilian Liebenwein
Here’s some of their responses.
Whenever you have an “idea,” as in a concept that you could explain to someone, like a hook or at worst a gimmick, that is a bad thing. It feels good, but it’s not good. The best ideas reveal themselves, you don’t “have” them.
Write out the scene the way you hear it in your head. Then read it and find the parts where the characters are saying exactly what you want/need them to say for the sake of narrative clarity (e.g., “I’ve secretly loved you all along, but I’ve been too afraid to tell you”). Cut that part out. See what’s left. You’re probably close.
It’s amusing that one group of skeptics deride creationists for demanding science produce an unbroken fossil record for every single transitional form of every single species in order to accept evolution, while another group demands a greater degree of historical evidence to prove the existence of Jesus than is required for any other historical figure.
The skeptic argument goes along the lines that if Christ didn’t really exist, then his whole ministry as presented in the Gospels is a hoax, and as such the whole Christian message is false.
Well, okay, but that still leaves one little problem:
Even if Christ didn’t exist, even if the Gospel accounts are bogus, somebody still created one of the most morally brilliant documents ever written.
And it’s brilliant because it works. A sincere follower of Christ finds their life drastically improved on a personal level, and typically by extension on a relational and societal level as well.
We’re not talking pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye here but real benefits that start as soon as Christian principles are put into application. The genuine, mature Christian leads a life with a lot less anxiety for status and possessions, a calmer life with less envy and strife with one’s neighbors, a life where compassion and empathy replace a desire to retaliate. It is by its very nature a more stable, charitable, and just life, and because of this it evokes a different sort of response from one’s family, friends, and acquaintances as well has having a positive effect on society as a whole.
It only takes a handful of sincere, dedicated Christians actually following the Gospel teachings to make a glorious positive impact on their community.
So if Jesus didn’t exist…if he never taught what it was reported he taught…
…those lessons still had to come from somebody…
…and whoever that person was,
they were clearly as moral a thinker
as the Christ of the Gospels was.
Robert A. Heinlein is one of the all time masters of sci-fi, and arguably the master of the time paradox story.
The time paradox story is a familiar but fun trope in sci-fi. The most basic form goes something like this:
A man finds a piece of paper with secret instructions / formulas / plans on it that he’s never seen / heard of / conceived before. He applies those instructions / formulas / plans and makes a fortune and / or creates a huge benefit to society. At some point in the future the original paper becomes torn and faded so the man copies the instructions / formulas / plans onto a new but otherwise identical sheet of paper, and then either that piece of paper gets sent back in time or his much younger self travels forward in time to get it and take it back.
Who created the original instructions / formulas / plans? Clearly not the man who found them, for they were already fully formed when he saw them for the first time.
WhereWhen then did they originate?
Substitute “Gospel” for “instructions / formulas / plans” and you see the problem as it relates to Christianity.
All right, for the sake of argument Christ did not exist:
Where then did his teachings originate?
Some hoaxster trying to manipulate the masses? For what end? The very nature of the Gospel precludes a quest for fame, power, and wealth. None of the earliest church figures enjoyed much in the way of status. Who would create a bogus religion to sucker the masses that would only benefit some as yet unborn generation of leaders who might not even be related to the hoaxster, and then only if the hoax took root and flourished long after the originator died?
The argument is made that Christianity was a psychological weapon created by the Romans to help subjugate the Jewish population by getting them to believe a false story about a non-existent messiah who taught a lesson radically at odds with both their tradition and history in order to make them more submissive to Roman rule.
To which one can only respond: Really?
A culture notorious for its heavy handedness, its lack of original philosophical and psychological insight, its elaborate and intricate pagan tradition would somehow figure out what made the Jewish people tick and successfully promote to that alien culture an idea equally alien to both the empire and its subjects? That’s like saying the communists championed the idea of supply side economics in order to dupe capitalism into destroying itself.
Another argument skeptics put forth is that the Gospel teachings evolved from previous Jewish theological thought without leaving a race in the extensive rabbinical writings of the time, that despite dozens-going-on-hundreds of well documented Jewish scholars and rabbis writing & arguing & debating fine points of religion no one tracked this train of thought as it sharply veered off the tracks of mainstream Jewish theology and into a wholly new religious expression.
I mean, we can see the gradual build up to the Protestant reformation in the history of the Western church, and long before Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the doors there had been others who argued (and were persecuted, and suffered, and died) for the same or similar points.
There’s no similar line of footprints leading up to Christianity. It’s suddenly…there…and while one can find links to the past, they are trivial in comparison to the radical break with that same past.
Hard proof of Christ’s existence we do not have, but we do have Occam’s Razor:
Either some unknown individual or committee created the Gospel teachings out of whole cloth and in a vacuum, or else there was a first century rabbi whom we know today as Jesus Christ of Nazareth who was pretty much sui generis and who taught basically the same things as recorded in the four Gospels.
There are no other reasonable explanations…
 Seriously, Jesus is better documented than Hannibal, and nobody doubts Hannibal was real or that he led an army of elephants across the Alps.
 This still leaves the Old Testament intact, but that’s a debate for another day…
 That in and of itself would require almost God-like omniscience.
 Not to mention the fact that it didn’t work, and that the very people it was supposed to subjugate instead exploded into open rebellion requiring direct military action and a forceful political solution. That would make Christianity not only a psy-war plan that didn’t work, but one that loses its entire raison d’etre in the process, and yet somehow manages to blindly continue on to influence literally millions of people into believing it’s true!
 Oh, the irony of that phrase…
 And, yes, let it be stipulated that Christ — be he real or fictitious — did not overtly come to start a new religion but to cleanse and reform the Jewish faith already in existence. Nonetheless, the difference between what he reportedly taught as compared to what had been taught by others before and contemporary to his reported time is so vast a gap that those teachings could only form the basis of a new religion, not reform a hidebound one set in its ways.
 And it’s easy to understand the comfort many find in that thought: If it is a hoax or just some nice ideas cobbled together by a bunch of anonymous editors then one need feel no compelling reason to regard it seriously enough to bother changing one’s life in order to follow it. If it’s all just a pretty fiction then one can go on behaving pretty much as one damn well feels like instead of making inconvenient personal changes in order to would produce a better quality of life not only for oneself but for those in the community at large. And believing the Gospel teachings to be true and valid in no way requires one to believe in the carrot-or-stick of Heaven or hell; one can follow the teachings of Christ for no other reason than to live justly and abundantly and peacefully with one’s neighbors.
 At least to the same degree as the Buddha or Mohammed or Gandhi were sui generis in their cultures and eras.
one legged old man
using his walker as a crutch
scrounges cans from the trash
girl with dark ponytail
driving like a maniac
beat up old white car
tall elegant mom
dressed in soft slinky grey
seven months pregnant
office foot soldiers
march to another day’s battle
morning in L.A.
With eyes that seem shrunken to pierce
To the awful horizons of land,
Through the haze of hot days, and the fierce
White heat-waves that flow on the sand;
Through the Never Land westward and nor’ward,
Bronzed, bearded and gaunt on the track,
Quiet-voiced and hard-knuckled, rides forward
The Christ of the Outer Outback
For the cause that will ne’er be relinquished
Spite of all the great cynics on earth -
In the ranks of the bush undistinguished
By manner or dress – if by birth –
God’s preacher, of churches unheeded,
God’s vineyard, though barren the sod,
Plain spokesman where spokesman is needed,
Rough link ‘twixt the bushman and God.
He works where the hearts of all nations
Are withered in flame from the sky,
Where the sinners work out their salvations
In a hell-upon-earth ere they die.
In the camp or the lonely hut lying
In a waste that seems out of God’s sight,
He’s the doctor – the mate of the dying
Through the smothering heat of the night
By his work in the hells of the shearers,
Where the drinking is ghastly and grim,
Where the roughest and worst of his hearers
Have listened bareheaded to him.
By his paths through the parched desolation,
Hot rides and the terrible tramps;
By the hunger, the thirst, the privation
Of his work in the furthermost camps;
By his worth in the light that shall search men
And prove – aye! and justify each -
I place him in front of all churchmen
Who feel not, who know not – but preach
(found at Centre For Public Christianity)
“…why must I always keep
‘I built a time machine
that univents itself.’”//
but try proving
I never did…”//
“You’re the one making
the extraordinary claim
so you need to provide
“Do you see a time machine?”//
“There you are.”//
art by Roy G. Krenkel
story © Buzz Dixon