Great sadness….

One of the flash fiction prompts I have recently followed has been the Mondays Finish the Story photo prompt– 150 words inspired by a picture and an initial sentence, sometimes straightforward, sometimes not. To someone who always thought that short fiction was anything under 100,000 words, trying to compose something in no more than 150 was a real challenge, but one which I came to enjoy.

Although I never met Barbara Beacham, the lady who ran the prompt, she was always friendly and encouraging in our online exchanges, and surprisingly willing to put up with the doggerel I composed. I looked forward to the prompt every Monday. It often seemed to bring out the silly and irreverent in me and forced me to stretch myself as a writer.

Two Mondays ago the prompt didn’t appear. I hoped everything was well, but yesterday Barbara’s husband posted a final entry on the blog saying that said she had passed away after an illness. He asked that readers not post to the blog itself, as he will no longer be monitoring it. However, I still wanted to note how this gracious lady, who I never saw face-to-face, helped me grow as a writer. I am better at this business because of her. And that is a truth of this strange world we live in– people we never meet can nevertheless have a powerful impact on you. Barbara’s on me was wholly positive. I am deeply grateful, and very sorry she is gone.

Dang those Middle Eastern Refugees!

Saw this today as I was driving through North Seattle–


If that doesn’t sum up the whole dust-up and brouhaha about letting refugees into the US, let’s try some Stephen Colbert–

And if that isn’t enough for you, let’s try some old-fashioned scripture–

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts.

Malachi 3:5

The cynical fear-mongering by the right-wing in this country is sickening and depressing. These know-nothings understand perfectly well that people seeking refugee status in the US already have to pass a gauntlet of verification that typically takes years. Knowing that, though, they still posture and play legislative games to please their base, a slice of our demographic that is obsessed by ideological purity and conspiracy theories. Meanwhile people are left to suffer, and America is held up to derision. More than one commentator has pointed out that this sort of nativist effluvium plays right into the hands of the terrorists, giving them an unearned propaganda victory.

It’s especially sickening that many of these nimrods loudly profess their Christian faith, while apparently missing one of the core messages of the Gospel. Really, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that too many people in the American church have lost sight of important aspects of the Christian message, their field of vision being occluded by things basically un-Christian– capitalism, individualism, nationalism, racism (yeah, that’s there, no matter how many times people deny it, it’s a factor. Sorry the truth hurts).

Fortunately, there’s Sojourners

Even there, though, there’s contention– don’t read the comments on that article unless you have a strong stomach.

It’s depressing. I really don’t know if this country has much of a future with half our political landscape spewing this sort of crap. All we can do is tell our senators to oppose this legislation when it gets to the Senate.

That, and pray.

PRINCESS OF STARS UPDATE #5– It’s a strange business we’re in….

Princess of Fire is now at 22,000 words and change. If I had maintained my desired pace over the last few days that total might have been a couple of thousand words higher. One of the odd things about having so much time on my hands is that I hardly ever get anything done with it. Yesterday was particularly hard– I spent most of the day playing PC games, when I wasn’t sitting down for a Skype interview or preparing for an adult education class I’m leading. Whatever was happening with my mind-set, it made it seem almost physically impossible to drag myself to my writing, although it would have only meant logging off the computer game and starting Word. It wasn’t until just before bed-time that I managed to get a few hundred words down, even as I was nodding off over my keyboard.

The Skype interview probably didn’t leave me in a very good mood. It was with a rep from a placement company, and, somehow, it very quickly went from “We’ve got a hot prospect we need to fill now” to “We’ll put your name in our pool and see if we can find something that fits you.” It’s probably an unworthy, paranoid thought that the shift came when the very young rep saw the gray hair and baggy eyes looking back at him in the Skype window. I have to avoid assuming my age is the central reason I haven’t landed a day job yet– if you go down that road, then every disappointment becomes a conspiracy. That way lies ruin.

In any event, it took me a while to gin up enough energy to write even a few words. Hopefully I can get back in the groove soon (did I just date myself? Oh, well….).

As for Princess of Stars itself, I realized that one piece of business I just put down will not work– Kathy has to meet with a delegation of Val come to Earth, and the way I got them there (in the face of what could be some pretty fierce political opposition) is more than a little cockamamie. I will have to come up with a better excuse/rationale before the final draft.

I would be far from the first person to observe that writers are engaged in a strange business– the detailed depiction of the lives of people who, for the most part, don’t exist and never will. Even historical and ‘autobiographical’ novels to some degree or another fictionalize their characters. It’s one of the reasons why writers are sometimes looked askance by non-writers.

A corollary to the essential non-existence of our characters is the difficulty we face in making their lives logical. This is particularly acute when writing genre fiction, romance, mystery or detective fiction, science-fiction or fantasy– the more elaborate the plot, and the further we get from the everyday, linear storyline of most lives– “She is born. She loves. She dies.”– the harder it becomes to create a internally consistent and logical narrative. Even great literature sometimes contains logical flaws, moments when the reader is at risk of being stopped in their tracks and wondering, “How does that make sense?” or “Why did they do that?” There are whole Youtube channels (for example, here and here) that are largely devoted to pointing out the logical flaws of movies.

Now, some authors and film directors, frankly, do not give a rat’s effluvial emission about logical consistency (Michael Bay comes to mind). These are writers and directors whose works are obviously about the spectacle or action, for whom logical consistency would simply gum up the works. Most of us, however, do care to at least some degree or another about getting the logic of the story right, simply because we want our creations and characters to have verisimilitude, and because we want to avoid throwing the reader or the viewer out of the story and make them start to say, “Wait! Stop– what?” All-too-often, that disruption is a kiss of death for a book or movie.

Now, if there’s a golden rule on how to do this, I don’t know what it is. All I do is rely on my sense of the story as a reader to tell me whether something makes sense, and then my skill (ha!) as a writer to correct it. This is not always easy; correcting one logical flaw may entail restructuring and rewriting the story in major ways. This is why ‘tightly plotted’ is usually a high compliment in genre fiction. It’s a skill at least as important as characterization.

It’s just too bad some people ignore it. Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin, Mr. Bay….

Oops, I’ve done it now…a political post…

And here I was swearing up and down that I wasn’t going to let politics into this blog. So much for good intentions. Avert your eyes now if this stuff turns your stomach.

In the wake of last night’s GOP debate, Chuck Wendig has posted a excellent, if pungent (in several senses of the word) post on how our broken presidential electoral system (kinda) works. It’s a great analysis of what is an increasingly bizzaro way of choosing a national leader. It also helped me crystal some of my own thinking.

The truth is, folks, we’re in trouble, and not just in the way we pick our Chief Executive. Example– I heard a story on NPR a few nights ago about how even the ordinary business of confirming ambassadorial nominees has become a political football in Washington. In the past, Senate confirmation of ambassadors was utterly routine, unless serious issues with the nominee’s character or history came to light. The current delay of confirmations has nothing to do with that– it stems from the desire of one party to frustrate the President’s intentions, to deny him a hint of success or legitimacy.

Of course, this is just one example of this sort of thing, which has become the chief mode of operation for one party in Congress. Everything from the budget to the debt-ceiling to ambassadorships has become a means of political obstructionism. At base, this is a frightening development– it means that jamming the mechanism of government has become an accepted tactic of political opposition. In the process, actual governance has gone out the window– at a time when we face serious issues that are getting worse the longer we ignore them.

But the stalemate in Washington is only part of the picture. Frankly, the United States is sliding toward oligarchy. Citizens United and the presence of big money in our politics is killing our democracy. Working people are getting an increasingly tiny share of the pie, while the plutocrats get more golden parachutes and tax breaks. Our gerrymandered electoral distribution currently almost guarantees the return to office, year after year, of the same dunderheads who refuse to accept the fact that the water is rising (literally and figuratively). As others have pointed out, it may not matter who is elected president if Congress remains the hostage of a small clique of know-nothings– the stalemate will continue, unless something changes.

What’s to be done? In some way or another, the American people– including those who live in those tortured, gerrymandered districts designed to secure electoral success for one party only– are going to have to stand up and say “Enough!” It’s not even really a partisan question– there are plenty of issues which threaten everyone, on which we can find common ground– if we can take off our blinders and recognize the danger. Otherwise–

Whew. Enough for now. But I suppose that, over the next year, I will, at least occasionally, have to express an opinion. When you come down to it, it’s called being part of the solution.

Okay, I admit it– I’ve got the shivers….

I’m going to wait for a review…really, I mean it…I’m not going to join the horde of people lining up to see this without advance warning…I just wish my fingernails weren’t shredding so badly hanging on to my resolution….

On the other hand, my daughter says, “Forget it, I’m going.” She points out she has never seen a Star Wars movie premiere in a theater– she was a one-year-old when The Phantom Menace came out, so she’s never had that experience. I can totally understand that. I just hope this film doesn’t disappoint her.

Whoever is putting these trailers together should get a medal. They are highly effective at highlighting images and themes from the movie designed to push buttons and excite interest. At least, they’re working for me. They remind me of the original movies, despite the new faces, and that’s what’s breaking down my resistance.

I just don’t want to be disappointed again. On the other hand, I can’t imagine anything better than watching my daughter watching a new Star Wars movie for the first time. That just might sweep away the last of my reluctance. We shall see.

Sunday Photo Fiction – November 8th 2015– Autumn

My response to the Sunday Photo Fiction challenge for November 8th 2015– a flash fiction inspired by this image–



Not quite yet
there’s yet some green
in the tips of the leaves
a little life still
But soon
soon enough
it will sleep
as will I
does it regret
the cloudy days
when it saw no sun?
The rain that fell
on other forests?
are understandings
of what might have been
and were not
and cannot be
It will sleep
as will I
long, dark and cold
when the sun rides high again
it will flourish
but will I?
but will I?

Princess of Stars Update #4– The Slug’s Pace….

Princess of Stars is now at 17000 words, which is about 11% of the estimated (guesstimated) total of 150000. Yes, I missed a day last weekend, and daily production averaged around 500 words. As I’ve said previously, that daily word-rate is not unusual for me.

I am considering different means of helping me increase my daily average. One thing I considered trying was NaNoWriMo. I’ve never done NaNoWriMo– I’ve been writing and completing novel-length pieces for the last twenty or so years, so its motivational aspect didn’t seem really pertinent. Having an external expectation of daily word production, though, was appealing, and 1667 words per day is at least normally within the realm of possibility for me. I went so far as to create an account.

In the end, however, I decided not to commit. I anticipate the coming month (and the month after that) are going to be filled with a number of everyday life issues that are going to demand too much time to allow me to just eat, sleep and write. Among those issues is one that’s on the verge of going critical. I have not worked in six months. My personal economy is tight and getting tighter by the day. Figuring out that little problem will have to be a priority, and while I think I can maintain 500 words a day while dealing with it, more than 1500 words is probably way out of reach.

As for the story itself, I’ve reached the start of the action. In the process I discovered another logical flaw, but not a particularly egregious one. I can deal with it on the fly. With any luck I should be able to clear 20,000 words by the end of this weekend, about 13% of my estimated total. Writing a novel is like a marathon– if you think about how far you have to go, the immensity of the task may paralyze you. However, just getting through the next five hundred or a thousand words, day-by-day, divides the immensity into manageable chunks.

PS— After I created this post I added more than 1000 words to Princess of Stars. It helps when you get the writing done before you start playing World of Tanks….

Sunday Photo Fiction – November 1st 2015- Courage

A response to the Sunday Photo Fiction – November 1st 2015 flash fiction challenge, 200 words on this image–


As usual, this seems like a beginning rather than a complete story, which I’m afraid merely illustrates my limitations as a short fiction writer. My apologies.

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
I had no spit.

“John, wait,” Chan said.

“Mahmoud and Jess are down there.” Jess. My hands shook as I hooked on the harness.

The shaft mouth gaped before me. Its depths were lost in darkness. Warm air rose out it.

“You saw what was left of Wirtz,” Chan said. “And Hawkwood, it’s like his brains have been imploded. You don’t know what’s down there.”

“Jess and Mahmoud, that’s what.” My fingers trembled on the last clamp. “I’m not leaving them.”

“John, this thing opened up overnight! If they had listened to me none of them would have gotten in trouble.”

“Well, you can listen to me now.” I pulled my Glock from its holster. “Lower me down, or I will blow your brains out.”

Chan looked furious. “All right.” He stepped to the winch. “There’s a ledge three hundred meters down. I’ll get you to that. From there you’re on your own.”

“Okay.” I holstered the pistol. I stepped to the edge and looked down. I could barely keep my knees from buckling. I clambered over the edge, let the cable take my weight. “Lower away.”

Chan started the winch. I went down into the mouth of hell.

So, Halloween– a grumpy old man’s raspberry….

Halloween. The definitive sign that the holidays are approaching. If I could take a vacation from the whole business, I would. I hear the backside of the moon is peaceful….

I resent Halloween most viscerally. It’s permission for people to dress up and act with appalling stupidity. As a Christian who’s read entirely too much history, its origins as a Celtic day of the dead bothers me (yeah, I went there. I’m a stick-in-the-mud, no doubt about it). It’s one redeeming feature used to be the candy I could sneak from the candy bowl. Now that I’m diabetic I have to leave it alone. Thus the world constricts and grows dull.

In ancient Rome there was a festival known as the Saturnalia, held around the winter solstice, which resembled Halloween in some ways– both days are what sociologists call ‘liminal periods’, in which some of the social rules are relaxed and roles reversed. In Rome it was a period in which Romans drank, gambled, and in which masters, for one day, would change places with their servants and serve them. One famous Roman senator couldn’t stand it, and had a sound-proof room built in his villa to which he would retire and carry on with his work while everyone else in the neighborhood got plastered.

I feel you, brother.

I admit, Halloween was more fun when my daughter was little. When she was a toddler she was adorable in her different costumes; when she got older she exhibited considerable creativity, such as when she was the Statue of Liberty, or Miranda from The Tempest (yeah, my kid did Shakespeare for Halloween. Wherever you are, feel my paternal glow).

Now, though, she’s grown out of trick-or-treat, and prefers to hang out with her friends. I’m generally left with the pumpkin-carving duties and handing out the candy to children who shouldn’t be having that many sweets that late. It’s difficult to focus on Halo or World of Tanks when there’s a knock on the door every ten minutes.

Now, the forecast for tonight promises a good deal of wind and rain, which might cut down on the traffic; but this is Seattle, and in truth nothing short of a white-out blizzard will stop kids from showing up. I should move to the Amazon….

I guess I’ll survive. I always do. It gets tiresome, though, being the only sober man at the Saturnalia.

And this is just the warm-up for Christmas. Just wait until you hear what I’ve got to say about that one.


PRINCESS OF STARS UPDATE #3– My handicap as a writer…

Well, so far my intended posting schedule has turned to be more like an optional guideline. Here I am, two days late with my Princess of Stars update. I am either a lazy bum or I’ve been very busy. I have had quite a number of things to take care of this week, but I also spent too much time playing World of Tanks to honestly claim I was too busy to blog.

Princess of Stars is currently at 13,000 words. I am pushing through the initial setup and will soon be into the action. In this process I think managed to finesse, at least enough for the first draft, a particularly tricky section in which I was especially challenged.

I’m talking about Kathy’s love life. In dealing with this part of the narrative I suffer from a particularly acute handicap — I’ve never been a woman. Yes, I’m just a square that way.

In the first instance, I try to finesse this sort of thing by relating to the commonalities of people’s love lives– we all have the same emotional needs, no matter our culture or individual personalities. When that technique can’t carry me any further, I do research. I ask my wife and daughter.

Believe me, actually running a passage past people who can completely relate to it and spot its inadequacies is essential. And if you can’t do that by reading your writing to your spouse while she’s trying to watch The View, or describing the passage to your daughter while you’re driving her to school (captive audiences are pre-disposed to be critical), find beta readers who can help you out. In writing Kathy, a teenage to twenty-something young woman, I’ve found having beta readers who are all women invaluable. They’ve caught me in any number of errors and implausibilities.

With Princess of Stars this sort of backup is going to be especially essential– in the course of the next 137,000 words (or thereabouts) I’m going to put Kathy through some serious twists and turns, in which she’s going to have to confront issues she’s never dealt with before. Hopefully I will bring some verisimilitude to her reactions. At least, I can be sure I’ve got a network of first readers who will let me know if I go off course. And that’s the sort of support every writer needs.

Further bulletins to follow.

Pray and Write


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