Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Wishing Well

In my previous post, I revealed a technique I've offered many times to writing groups I've led to help overcome writer's block: Find an unusual or inspirational piece of artwork -- it can be a drawing, photograph, or painting -- and create a story behind the image. You can find inspirational artwork in magazines or through an image search on Google. It's a fun exercise that will stimulate your imagination and boost your creativity. Here's a fun piece of flash fiction I did for this image below:

The Wishing Well

Jimmy and Tommy raced across the electron field. They ran several kilometers until they passed the remains of the Arcturian spacecraft that had crashed onto their planet decades before either of the boys had been born. They reached the abandoned, dilapidated shack where the crash’s sole survivor had lived out his days, before dying alone and undiscovered, in the wooden hovel.

“The bucket’s still where we left it,” Timmy cried out.

“Of course it is, you geezbar,” Tommy replied. “No one ever comes out here.”

“Tie the rope to it and we can lower it into the hole again.”

“Where do you think the hole leads to?” Tommy asked, as he knotted the rope around the metal pail.

Jimmy shrugged and his antennae bent 90 degrees. “Beats me. Maybe it goes to the core of the planet.”

“But what about all the neat stuff we’ve pulled back?”

“Yeah, that’s true. Every time we’ve lowered it, it seems to land somewhere different.”

“I think it’s a hole in the space-time continuum. We studied that in school last week.” He pointed to the alien skeleton seated in a rickety wood rocking chair in the corner. “I bet he was stranded here but found a way to cut a hole into wherever he came from and get stuff from back home.”

 “There’s only one way to find out,” Jimmy concluded. “One us will sit on the bucket and the other can lower him down.”

Tommy shuffled his feet and his tail twitched, sweeping away the nearby electrons. “I don’t know about that, Jimmy. Unless you want to go down and I’ll lower the rope.”

Now it was Jimmy’s turn to be uneasy. “What if there’re monsters down there? What if the rope breaks? You should be the one to sit on the pail – you’re lighter.”

Tommy shook his head. “Nah, let’s go play in the quantum matter particles instead. They raced out the door of the dilapidated shack, leaving the ancient explorer alone with his last, tenuous link to Earth.

©2011 Keith B. Darrell

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Remedy For Writer's Block

When people learn I'm a writer, one of the first questions they're bound to ask is, "Where do you get your ideas?" I smile coyly, replying, "From the idea store on 45th and Main Street." The truth is, my mind is usually racing with more ideas than I can develop into stories. But I have friends who are also writers and many complain of writer's block. One technique I've offered them is to find an unusual or inspirational piece of artwork -- it can be a drawing, photograph, or painting -- and create a story behind the image. I've done this many times with writing groups I've led and even the most stymied wordsmith among them has emerged with a short story they have been justifiably proud of.

You can find inspirational artwork in magazines or through an image search on Google. I prefer surreal scenes, but any image will do. My audio post a while back, "The Library of Trees", was inspired by an image I stumbled across on the Web. Below is another flash fiction piece I wrote, using the image below for inspiration. If you're an aspiring writer, try this technique yourself.

The Lady Or The Tiger

He really meant it this time. Colt Taylor knew Pamela had grown tired of the broken promises. She didn’t understand how hard it was for him to turn his back on his racing. It had been his passion from the time he built his first go-kart. Twenty years later, the thrill of reaching greater and greater velocities in top sports cars was a singular passion that he could never share with his girlfriend.

Pamela only saw the danger. Sure, fiery crashes happened, but that was part of the thrill. To risk death, only to walk away unscathed to face it another day, was part of the attraction. She just didn’t understand. But he had promised her the Monte Carlo Grand Prix would be his last race. And he meant it. Until the telegram arrived inviting them to spend the weekend in Greece.

Artemis Stravokanis, a Greek tycoon with his own island, was sponsoring the world’s most exclusive auto race. Colt’s reputation had preceded him – Stravokanis had singled him out to drive the Tiger X10 – the one-of-a-kind racecar that only an enthusiast with unlimited funds like Artemis Stravokanis could conceive, let alone construct. Any driver would give his eye teeth for a few minutes behind its wheel. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Pamela had to understand. 

But Colt knew how much Pamela hated his racing; how she feared for his safety each time he got behind the wheel. It was the sole point of contention in what otherwise had been the perfect relationship Colt had searched for his entire life. He recalled her threat to leave him forever unless he abandoned racing. She waited for him on the shore of the tropical paradise that was the Stravokanis estate; poised on a tree limb, her nude form bathing in the moonlight. He gazed and the sleek curves of her body, and then at the sleek lines of the Tiger X10. He knew he could only choose one.

©2011 Keith B. Darrell

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Democracy: Does One Size Fit All?

Two US embassies were attacked on September 11, 2012. Reuters reported an American staff member of the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi was killed after armed gunmen attacked the compound. They were "protesting" a film being produced in the United States. Earlier in the day, Egyptian protestors scaled the U.S. embassy walls and tore down the American flag and burned it, complaining of a US film they said insulted the prophet Mohammad. Gunmen fired on the embassy while others lobbed homemade bombs into the compound, causing several explosions and fires. The protestors in both cases had seen a 14-minute trailer for the film posted on YouTube.

These events call into question the fundamental premise democracy is a good form of government for all. Americans cheered as these same crowds in Libya and Egypt overthrew their dictators; and in many cases, like Iraq, the American government has overthrown dictators and brought democracy to the people. But this begs the question: Are these people ready for democracy? What if their choice is the Muslim Brotherhood or al-Qaeda? We assume dictators are inherently bad and democracy is good. But what happens when people, when allowed to choose their leaders --  because of their culture or religion -- select radical, militant extremists?

Qatar has been ruled as an absolute monarchy by one family since the mid-19th century. It has the world's highest GDP per capita. Wages are high, health care and education are free, and there are no taxes (Qatar runs on huge oil revenues and a small population of 300,000). Qatar has been a mediator, promoting peace in the Middle East, including in Western Sahara, Yemen, the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict, Indonesia, Somalia, Darfur, and Lebanon. Women may vote and run for public office. Would Qatar function better as a democracy?

Even America is not truly a democracy; it is a republic. Our founders foresaw the dangers of democracy and placed limitations on our system of government, such as the Electoral College (That's why, when you vote for president this November, you are not casting a direct vote for a candidate, as you would in a true democracy, but rather a vote for your state’s entitled allotment of the Electoral College's 538 electors). So should America be "exporting" democracy when clearly one size does not fit all? What works well for us as a system of governance might not work as well for other cultures; in fact, it might be downright dangerous.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

This Is Not A Book Review. Really.

"What the heck is your blog about?" I'm often asked. "How come it doesn't look anything like an author's blog? Why don't you write book reviews?"

All good questions, so let me start with the first. As I wrote in my initial post, the entire concept of blogging makes no sense to me. At best, it's a hubristic exercise in conceit and vanity for the undeserving to lay claim to their promised 15 Minutes of Fame; at worst, it is the verbal equivalent of littering on the information superhighway. Nonetheless, I have been shanghaied into the Blogosphere and accepted my fate as a reluctant blogger. (Read that first blog post for the details). In that post, I agreed to write a blog as long as I could write about any topic I wished. My blog has been a mix of social commentary, personal observations, and occasional updates on my books. But no book reviews.

So, I was surprised when one individual asked if he could "write a guest post on my political blog". I informed him, while I had a blog, it was not a political blog. He had mistaken my social commentary as partisan ranting. (Sure, I'll print guest posts, but not partisan diatribes. Here, we stick to issues, not talking points). Others have asked why I don't write book reviews. The answer's simple: I'm not qualified to be a book reviewer. As an author, I write books; I'll leave the reviewing to trained professional reviewers at the New York Times Book Review or to the amateur wannabe reviewers posting third-grade book reports labeled as "book reviews" on Amazon and in countless "book blogs". The closest I've come to penning any reviews has been a movie review of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton's Dark Shadows remake (Dark Shadows being a subject in which I have decades of expertise) and the entire month I devoted to The Top TV Dramas You've Never Seen. I hope I never shirk from my commitment to quality blogging and resort to printing a trivial book review, but I would be remiss if I did not pass on the occasional tidbit to my loyal blog readers when I stumble across something they might enjoy reading. And that brings me to the subject of today's blog.

I'm in the process of reading DC's Sugar and Spike Archives, Volume One. Did I write "reading"? Change that to savoring. This is a long awaited treat that is truly for all ages. The stories are written and drawn by the legendary Sheldon Mayer, who was also responsible for one of my favorite comic books, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. (Hint: DC, republish Mayer's Rudolph stories in a deluxe archive edition and I'll even pre-order it!). Mayer's Rudolph was a masterpiece, due primarily to the incredible anthropomorphic artistic expressions he gave to the various reindeer. It's taken me years to acquire most of the original comics, which were published from around 1950 to 1963. Mayer was also responsible for another childhood favorite, The Three Mouseketeers (picture mice wielding sewing needles as swords). I could devote an entire post to the genius of Sheldon Mayer -- writer, artist and editor -- but for now, I wish to focus on Sugar and Spike.

Sugar and Spike are are toddlers who communicate with each other through baby talk -- a language grownups cannot understand. Likewise, they are clueless about ordinary English. The stories are written and drawn from the toddlers' perspectives: the artwork shows the world at Sugar and Spike's eye level, so expect to see a lot of grownup knees and feet but few adult faces; and the stories are written employing "kid logic". My favorite example is when Sugar, the little girl, tells her friend Spike, the little boy, she has discovered a magic grownup phrase that will get them out of trouble no matter what mischief they've been up to. Sugar demonstrates by yanking a tablecloth off a table, shattering several dishes, and swinging on some curtains, causing the curtain rod to fly off the wall. A visiting neighbor responds to the crashes but when she enters the room, Sugar gazes up innocently and utters the magic grownup words "I sowwy". The woman is so thrilled to hear the little girl speak English by uttering "I'm sorry" that she immediately rushes off to tell Sugar's mother her child is learning to talk, dismissing the damage. Spike is duly impressed by how effective the magic phrase was. "Okay, so it worked. But what does it mean?" he asks. Sugar whispers in his ear, "I think it means 'The cat did it.'" Spike ruminates. "Hmmm... that makes sense."

Later, when a man accidentally slams his car into the fence in front of Spike's house, he apologizes to Spike's mother and offers to pay for its repair. But the kids are outraged when they overhear him say "I'm sorry." An angry Sugar exclaims, "What a nerve! He's blaming it on the cat!"

To quote the book's foreword: "Mayer was shooting for an audience of all ages, providing them with insights into two mischievous minds struggling to figure out (and get around) the rules of a strange land governed by large, imperious creatures who could not understand them." Buy this book for your kids. Buy this book for yourself to recapture the magic of winsome nostalgia. Or simply buy it to persuade DC to republish future volumes in the series. And remember, this was not a book review. I don't do that stuff.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Pox on Both Your Houses

On December 9, 1979, an international team of scientists verified the success of the World Health Organization's efforts to eradicate smallpox, a deadly disease that had killed billions (an estimated 300–500 million during the 20th century alone) since 10,000 BC. In all of human history, smallpox remains the only infectious disease affecting humans to have been eradicated. It was only wiped off the face of the Earth after a concerted effort by all of the world's governments to end this scourge. Think about it: amazing what mankind can accomplish when we all cooperate for the common good. And equally amazing what results when we don't.