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Banned Books Week


When I was in high school, the most widely read book was not found in the library.  It was a tattered paperback that passed from hand to hand under desks, and was often read furtively while the teacher was trying to get across some finer points of algebra.

Call Me Brick

Call Me Brick by Munroe Howard was a crappy book, a Candy-wannabe only without Terry Southern’s nasty edge and sly wit, but we must have read that one single paperback to shreds before the semester was finished.  I think every single student read it at least once (and Reader Zero was a girl who brought it in to share with her friends, and one of them loaned it to her boyfriend on the football team and he shared it with us and so on and so on and so on…)

I bring it up because this is Banned Books Week, in which the censors yet again fail to learn that the surest way of getting a kid to do anything is to say it’s bad for ‘em.

Look, I appreciate parents wanting to make sure their kids aren’t exposed to material they think would be harmful to them (I’ve got my copy of The Anarchist Cookbook well hidden from prying young eyes).

But that applies only to your kids and only in your home; in a public setting such as a library or a school, it’s not your place, it’s not my place, and it’s certainly not some uptight jackanape’s place to decide what is / is not right / wrong for other people’s kids or young adults when they reach their teen years.

Show some support for the First Amendment by going to your local public library branch and reading something that would get some bluenose’s knickers in a twist.

Tell ‘em Judy Blume and Steve King sent you…

And if you’re wondering how a Christian can support “bad” books, it’s because I know once you get rid of the “bad” books the next one to go will be the “good” book.

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Heading For The Last Round-Up (On This Story At Least…)



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,
they escape…

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SERENITY: “I Wanna Be A Zombie!”


(part two)

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There’s a million and one loud stupid movies crowding for your attention this year, but something with genuine charm, wit, and insight gets stuck in 4 theaters nationwide prior to being dumped on cable / on-demand / DVD+Blu-Ray.

If you’re familiar with Wes Anderson‘s work, Moonrise Kingdom is another delightful film from him.  If you’re not, here’s a wonderful introduction.

The story takes place in 1965, the plot is an interesting inversion of Romeo and Juliet.  Troubled pre-teens Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) scheme to runaway together on the small New England island of New Penzance.  Their chaste elopement is soon discovered by her parents, his “Khaki Scouts” troop[1], and the local authorities, who promptly go bonkers attempting to track down the young would-be lovers.

…and the twist is they catch ‘em about halfway through the film!

But the twist on the twist is that after that, his troop, the local island cop, and eventually even her own parents realize it would be more harmful to the young pair to deny them a chance at happiness together, regardless of the odds facing them.[2]

As I said, the film takes Romeo and Juliet and twists the story around.  The feuding families of the original now co-operate, first in tracking them down then in helping them find happiness.  The nurse of the original play, an ally of Juliet’s, now becomes an implacable antagonist.  The priest, Romeo’s ally, is now a sleazy camp counselor-cum-chaplain who marries the pair in a tent.

There are layers upon layers of secrets and import through the film, which takes cliched melodramatic tropes and delivers them with a delicious deadpan worthy of Dragnet, thus sucking the irony right out of them and giving them an almost poetic / philosophical weight.

There is a surprising innocence in this film, which probably comes as a surprise to some.  I saw this film with my wife, Soon-ok, and a female family friend.  Soon-ok and our friend were both uncomfortable with a scene where Sam and Suzy make out in their runaway camp on the beach.

But the scene is played without any real erotic tension.  Sam and Suzy do love one another and do care deeply for each other, but they perform their brief kissing and caressing less with a sense of romantic urgency than an almost dutiful obligation to follow through on the cultural norms they’ve been exposed to in books and films.

Soon-ok and our friend thought they lacked real innocence and were acting too grown-up, but that was precisely the point:  They were kids who were acting grown-up! The characters in the film deliberately adopt toy-like markers of adult responsibility — a souvenir corncob pipe, a BB-gun in lieu of a real rifle, a mini-canoe instead of a real one.

I was 12 in 1965 and this film rings very true re my recollections of what my own burgeoning sexuality was like.  I knew something was going on and I knew I liked it, but I couldn’t have correctly identified it for you for love or money, much less known what to do with it.  It only a few years to turn vague stirrings into very concrete ideas and desires, but at age 12 I was like the proverbial car-chasing pooch:  I wouldn’t have known what to do if I had caught one.

So I recommend this film highly and
urge you to make an effort to see it,
if not in theaters then on video.
It deserves a better fate than the one it’s getting.




[1]  Obviously they weren’t able to cut a deal with the Boy Scouts of America to use their names or trademarked logos.

[2]  That’s not really a spoiler because the manner in which it happens is funny and inventive and besides this ain’t the kinda movie that’s gonna slip you an unhappy ending.

Kara Hayward

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(so what’s update #6
doing here after update #7?
I ska-rooed up,
dat’s wot hoppen…)


Now to give them names and faces, histories and descriptions.

Creating characters is part art, part science, part inspiration.

When I was growing up, I read a lot of stories in Boy’s Life, the Boy Scout magazine.  Many of them were about plucky Boy Scouts[1] finding themselves in challenging situations where as luck would have it, their merit badge skills and knowledge came through to save the day.

I must’ve read dozens of these stories, and I can’t remember a one:
They all blend together in a blur of resolute young lads who
never had an ignoble thought or went to the bathroom.[2]

If my characters were going to be memorable,
the first thing I needed to do was to kill off all the good girls.

Nobody likes a goody-two-shoes (me, especially) and by making my girls
the losers,

the outcasts,

the problem cases

I ratchet up the stakes.

Logically there would be a supervising adult with them, one of the nuns, but my story couldn’t use a real authority figure, so I came up with Sister Agnes, a young novitiate who was an upperclassman when the other girls were freshmen.

She, too, had been a problem case and the other girls remember this and have a hard time taking her seriously.

A hard, hard time.

There’s no one way of creating a story, you don’t always start at one point and build out from there.  Once I had my basic idea and knew what type of characters I would be using, the next step was plotting the story out.

This story was going to be more picaresque than something with a more linear plot.[3] There were any number of things that could happen to the girls, so I drew up a list of all eventualities.

Soon they began organizing themselves:
These things could only happen while drifting at sea,
these would be items of immediate concern once they found land,
these were natural perils,
these were man-made.

And each idea had the potential for spinoff ideas:
The sister demands decorum from the girls, but it’s a desert island, how do you balance propriety with practicality?

[1]  Wow!  What are the odds of that!

[2]  Though they could, of course, dig a perfect field latrine and rig a rustic shower out of two saplings and an old bucket.

[3]  A mystery, for example, where each clue leads to the next.


(to be continued)


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The ideas also dictated the size of the cast.  I started out with close to a dozen girls, bumping them off with drownings, sharks, suicide, infection, etc.

Hmmm, maybe too many deaths.
I want the story to have a semblance to reality,
but I want it to be upbeat as well.

More Googling, more research.  Combine incidents, offer less lethal outcomes.  The infection now becomes an acne-related cyst.[1] Draining that cyst now becomes a gross-but-funny scene.

And how do they sterilize it?
Well, turns out one of the
man-made complications
ties in with that, just how
I won’t reveal here.

This is one way of creating a story, following each idea through to its logical conclusion, then seeing how it connects.

Without the need to kill off as many characters,
my cast was soon whittled down to a core seven:
The novitiate and six students.

Already knew who Sister Agnes — “Aggie the Naggy” — was.
What about her charges?

Well, as stated, troublemakers, problems, losers.

One of them is the outcast Filipino girl.

She needs an antagonist, a petty little bigot, a bully.  Southerners of that era, I am sorry to say, were pretty open and upfront with their prejudices.  So we have one spoiled Southern belle in the crew.

All bullies have toadies, so give her an easily manipulated younger girl who views her with hero-worshipping eyes.

There’s the big fat girl nobody ever talks to, the one who does nothing but sit in the library and read and study and get straight A’s on her tests.[2]

We need a comic relief.  We’re going to get some laughs and smiles from all the others, but we need one who can always be relied on to say or do something to break then tension.

There’s an old British sit-com called Keeping Up Appearances about a social climbing middle class woman named Hyacinth Buckett (“Pronounced ‘Bouquet’!”) who drives everyone around her nuts with indefatigable attitude.  Okay, the social climbing is off-putting, but the indefatigable attitude that gets on everyone’s nerves is charming.  So we’ll add a Brit to the mix.

Finally, a character who at first seemed to be superfluous but whom I kept around simply because I needed one more player for the other characters to bounce off of.

When Savage Angels was being planned as a graphic novel, I really couldn’t find much use for her, but when it became a prose novel, suddenly she stepped forward as the narrator — and in retrospect, only she could be the narrator.

(I tend to do that a lot,
include characters and
incidents that seemingly
have little if any bearing
on the story only to later
realize they’re the lynch pin.)

Now that I had their types, I needed their personalities, their histories.

[1]  Acne is a severe problem for many Caucasians living in tropical climes.

[2]  And is her stock ever going to rise once the others realize she has knowledge that can keep them alive.

(to be continued)


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SERENITY: The Lord’s Prayer


Found here.

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For their part, the girls would have no idea where they were and would take pains to hide from the Japanese.  No big distress signals, no bonfires, no visible signs of human habitation.

Reconnaissance aircraft flying over the island would see no signs of people and, since both sides had cracked the other’s codes, they would know there was no enemy interest in Bidney Island so the girls would remain relatively safe.


Who were these girls and how did they would get there?

Well, they couldn’t be from the mainland USA or even Hawaii, that would make no sense.  How in the world would they end up on the other side of the Pacific?

World tensions the way they were,
nobody would fly students into a hot spot,
they would be flying them out.

That meant they had to start in the Philippines and be heading south to safety in Australia.  And they had to fly:  An aircrew could get killed easily but on a sinking ship there would be at least one sailor assigned to look after them on a lifeboat.

So…what are these all-American girls doing in the Philippines?

Obviously the children of diplomats, trade managers, oil company executives, etc.  People of privilege who could afford to bring their families halfway around the world back in the 1930s.

The school would cater to that class of clientele, though as often the case, the nuns running the school would be using it to fund another school for needy children in a rundown Filipino only neighborhood.

The girls in the school would all be white Americans or Europeans, certainly all English-speaking.

There would be one Filipino girl among them, an outsider.

As war tensions ratcheted up, their parents evacuated them to Australia, youngest girls first, until only one planeload of girls in their mid-to-late teens was left.

That would be the flight that got shot down on December 7th, 1941 (yeah, yeah, I know, I know, when the Japanese attacked the Philippines it was December 8th because of the International Dateline; it’s called artistic license, folks).

(to be continued)


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Found at SnokieStories-dot-com.

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This is why Google was invented.  A quick search revealed that every island capable of hosting a permanent human settlement had a permanent human settlement.

But what exactly constitutes a “permanent” settlement?

The answer proved to be 30,
perhaps as few as two dozen,
but then things got precarious.

You see, a permanent settlement is one capable of producing a stable self-perpetuating population:  There are enough adult females producing enough children to replace those who die from old age, disease, or misadventure.

30 seems to be the golden number; any fewer than that and one run of bad luck wipes out your chances of staying abreast of the death rate.  Your population can’t reproduce fast enough, the old soon out number the young, and eventually you die out or get absorbed by a larger band.

There are numerous islands in the Pacific too small to support a village that could support a smaller band, say ten members or less.

Slowly, the island itself started to come into view.

Bidney Island (I named it after my aunt who gave me the Swiss Family Robinson book) needed to be small and isolated.  It couldn’t be part of a larger chain or archipelago or else natives might drop by on occasion.

No problem, there are lots of small atolls, reefs, and islands in the Pacific that the South Seas Islanders use as fishing camps, staying a few weeks or a few months then returning to their permanent villages.

Such an island could support six to ten people indefinitely.  And with two vast fleets roaming the Pacific in search on one another, there was precious little incentive for any long range fishing trips by the Polynesians.

To work it had be far enough away from Australia to not be part of their network of coast watchers (civilians and military personnel who stayed hidden but scanned the seas for signs of Japanese ship movements; see Father Goose, yet another schoolgirls-shipwrecked-on-a-desert-island story only with the added attraction of Cary Grant and Leslie Caron).

But that would mean the island could be a potential target for either side, which would bring the story to a screeching halt whoever found the girls.

So Bidney Island had to have no military value.  That required a small, shallow lagoon, too tiny for large ships to harbor in.  It couldn’t be a flat atoll but needed a big volcanic cone right in the middle of it, making it useless as an airfield.

That wouldn’t keep the combatants away forever,
but it would make Bidney Island a very low priority for both sides.

(to be continued)


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