Dec 30, 2011

2011: The Year my Brain (and my Heart) Swelled...

...To make room for all you beautiful people.

You guys are cosmic and you know it. 

2011 was a year of turmoil. It was also one of the best years of my life, because I started blogging.

I won’t bother you with my resolutions for 2012. Instead, I’d like to thank the following people for the great conversations and opportunities they’ve afforded me:

Old Testament, Nevada

There’s something about the desert at night that keeps the dog listening. She’s black against the silver sand of a clear night and sits on her haunches and sometimes essays a bark that dies in her throat.

“Toffee,” I whisper to my dog. I sit beside her. Be midnight soon.

Don't You Eat the Purple Blossom

Cole blacked out in the Schlafly Tap Room and came to in the Peppermint Lounge. “I sneaked you in through the service door,” said Caruso. “Come on! You gotta see this.”

The dance floor was on the ceiling. Bird-headed people going wild, upside-down. Cole gasped, and Caruso eyed him askance.  

Dec 29, 2011

Interview with Brad Holland, the Man Who Blogs with Gusto

Courtesy of Brad Holland
Brad Holland. What can I tell you about him? Well... For starters, he's got a problem for your solution, whatever that may be. There may be an alternate reality where Brad is President of the Solar System or just a lowly plumber but, if he doesn't blog there, then I have no use for such parallel universes.

The blogging software he uses looks like Wordpress on the outside, but the truth is, it hasn't even been invented yet. Brad comes from the year 2038, like that John Titor dude. I can tell.

In all seriousness -- Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Brad Holland.  

1. Can you define yourself in three words?

No..... But I'll give you the first three that aren't degrading and are made up (What? Dr. Seuss did it, I can too.):

Joculariastic, Creativiator, Rewordsmythereenist

2. Do you have a hero? Maybe an idol? Who is it? 

I have a couple of folks that come to mind. My main hero is my stepfather. He raised me to be a man and didn't beat my backside when I deserved it. Talk about a mind f@#k; knowing you're going to get the fury and pain from the depths of the 7th Circle by a tatted-up, biker-gang type guy, only to realize that the anticipation and thoughts of said pain that I conjured up was more painful than any physical blows.

Another hero of mine is the person who invented Jack Daniels whiskey. I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess it was Jack Daniels, but he could have stolen that name or used a 'liquor pen name.' Back in the day, you had to keep a low profile in the booze industry in case any retaliation was impending. Anyway, I hold that person pretty close to my heart -- and liver, for that matter.

Lastly, Hunter S. Thompson for showing me that writing should never be restricted or filtered and those who try to condemn you and confine you within their defined social construct should be fought at all costs. I applaud any man or woman who breaks the mold and trudges forward without fear or regret. It's the only way. There will never be any censorship or burnings at the stake as long as we hold on to this one single, but core principle.

3. If you were a Star Wars/Star Trek character, who would you be?

Ohh man, I'm more of a Star Wars fan than Star Trek, so I'd say I would have to be Han Solo. I've done enough dirt in my life to be labeled a smuggler and hustler with charismatic flair. This was before I had a wife and kids, so now I just hustle words and smuggle Photoshop add-ons.

My friends would probably tell you that I'm more like Jabba the Hutt due to the increasing circumference of my waistline, but they are all jealous and should be gunned down with a blaster pistol anyway.

4. Can you remember the first book you read?

Yes. It was called "Little Hippo and his Red Bicycle." My grandma used to read this to my brother and me all the time. I remember picking it up and reading the words the best I could. It was a great book and had a good moral point to it. When my grandma passed away, it was the only item from her estate that I wanted. I took a pic of it so you won't call me a liar.

This book was more than likely responsible for my propensity toward riding my bmx bike through town and jumping curbs while my sweet spiked mullet flapped in the wind like seaweed caught in a reef.

5. Who would win in a fight: J.D. Salinger or Winston Churchill?

I don't think this fight would even take place. J.D Salinger wouldn't come out of his reclusive zen meditation and Winston Churchill would be too busy to even add this to his schedule.

However, if I did have to choose a winner, I'd say J.D. Salinger who, incited by his sheer compulsion to return to his safe place out of public scrutiny, would take down Churchill with a pinpoint throw of a sharp quill to the left eye socket thereby rendering Mr. Churchill unable to see Mr. Salinger running away like a coward.

Brad Holland is a purveyor of truth with a zeal to live life to the fullest. A Superman to some and a mere mortal to others. He strives to live free of the predetermined path that besets us, for he is unbound by our laws, including the law of gravity and other laws of physics. Brad flies in a freethinking world of his own where he lives with passion for family, fun, creative writing, and graphic design. "That's what the voices in my head permit me to see," Brad avers. He may well be the Higgs Boson, but he's not telling anyone.

Connect with him on Twitter, or hit him up at the Hollandz blog if you prefer longer, more substantial conversations.

Dec 28, 2011

What can John Cleese teach you about writing?

“You don’t have to be the Dalai Lama to tell people that life’s about change.”

John Cleese (b. 1939) was over six feet tall by the age of twelve. His runty classmates mocked Cleese for his height. The English comedian, writer and producer was born to Muriel Evelyn and Reginald Francis -- an insurance salesman whose original surname was Cheese. John’s father changed the family name to Cleese when he joined the army in 1915.

Weston-super-Mare, the North Somerset oasis* where Cleese first saw the light of day, is often portrayed as a scum pit. There are people throughout Britain who don’t even believe it exists. No wonder the family moved to Bristol.
*It’s all about perspective. Could Weston be worse than Burkina Faso?

Weston-super-Mare's official website:
hacked together by colorblind raccoons.

John Cleese went to Cambridge to study law, but the stage, ah, the stage called to him. (On occasion, John would break down, pretend he didn't want to act anymore, and teach Latin at a prep school.) While at Cambridge, Mr. Cleese took up with the Footlights, an amateur theater troupe/club. John got his first taste of international success with them. Sacha Baron Cohen and Stephen Fry also earned their comedy wings with the Footlights Dramatic Club.

By the way, I wasn’t kidding about the Latin lessons. That happened, which is why we have this scene in Life of Brian:

Television beckoned. Thanks to The Frost Report (1966), At Last the 1948 Show (1967) and Marty (1968) Cleese met his future partners in the greatest of all crimes against boredom: Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The rest, as they say, is an ex-parrot.

So, what can John Cleese teach you about writing a novel, story or Hungarian phrasebook?

My Bony Butterflies

Behind the door, see, ya got all these little heads on the shelves. And I sit here with my lukewarm beer on my rickety stool and stop my ears when one a’ them begins to moan. Monsignor pays me to sit here. Monsignor is a lover of human flesh. 

Up the Preek without a Caddle

Meet the Simons, Lil and Big, whose chiefest pleasure in life is driving teachers mad. It’s 1995, first day of school, and they’re sitting in the classroom grunting at their classmates. That’s when Ms Teegan walks in. Built like an Abrams. Eyes of a hawk. The Simons… stop grunting.


Have you got a short story to submit? Are you researching publishers? Check out my growing lists on Twitter: Literary Magazines (190+ magazines and journals) and Publishers (170+, all shapes and sizes).

Dec 27, 2011

Interview with Jessica McHugh, tireless author of speculative fiction

Courtesy of Jessica McHugh
Meet Jessica McHugh, Honorable Mention of the 200-word flash fiction challenge I issued November 2011. Her story, "Model Citizen," is here

1. Can you define yourself in three words?
Weirdo Writer Chick.

2. Do you have a hero? Maybe an idol? Who is it? 
Do fictional characters count? I definitely idolize Hank Moody from Californication. If I was a single, male writer, I'd want to be just like him: raucous and debauched. But since I'm not single or male and fictional characters probably aren't great idols, I'll go with Roald Dahl. His books inspired me to become a writer. Even though our writing styles couldn't be more different, I really admire the courage, drive, and love of pushing boundaries he had in life.

3. If you were a Star Wars/Star Trek character, who would you be?
Based on my previous declaration of love regarding Hank Moody, you have to know I'd be Han Solo. And I'd shoot first. 

4. Superman loses his powers when he's exposed to kryptonite. Is there such a thing as 'writer kryptonite'? How do you overcome its effects?
Absolutely. I call it 'Mighty Tendonity' -- a.k.a. tendinitis. I get it really bad in my right hand and it makes it difficult to grip a pen. The worst part is that it affects my physical ability to write (typing is significantly slowed) but my brain keeps telling me I should be writing. The ideas and need to write don't stop, so I sometimes force myself to work through the pain because the story build-up in my brain is somehow more painful. 

5. Have you ever finished a book and wished you had written it? What was it? 
Lots of them! On two opposite ends of the spectrum, I wish I'd written The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi as well as Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis.

Jessica McHugh is an author of speculative fiction that runs the gamut from horror and alternate history to epic fantasy. A prolific writer, she has devoted herself to novels, short stories, poetry, and playwriting. She has had ten books published in three years, including Rabbits in the Garden; The Sky: The World; and the first three installments in her Tales of Dominhydor series. More info on Jessica's speculations and publications can be found at

Dec 26, 2011

Cider, Sage and Dark Alley Taboos: The Flash Fiction of Jessica McHugh and Brad Holland

On November 3, I issued a challenge. A flash fiction challenge. It was seriously difficult to pick a single winner, so I went with two. Their stories are here.

Today it's time for the Honorable MentionsBrad Holland and Jessica McHugh. Curiously enough, both deal with doomed love affairs. Read on.

Jessica's story:
Model Citizen

No one smelled quite like Jasmine, but he could never define her aroma. The challenge made him sigh joyfully as he swept the backstage floor of the fashion show. 

The challenge to win Jasmine herself was a different story; there was no joy in it. 

As the stucco barriers were disassembled and the catwalk packed away, Frank pleaded for Jasmine to see him just once; to ignore the ogling world, to ignore the shoes and nightgowns and bikinis (Oh God, the bikinis...) and assuage his desire to be loved by her. By only her. 

His eyes pleaded for her, but she never even saw his shadow. He trembled, fearing his feckless existence wouldn't meet her standards. That's when he realized he didn't have to meet her standards. He may not have been confident, but he was strong. He could hold more than a broom. He could and he would hold Jasmine.

Her reaction to his proposal was expected: cold. But her icy disposition didn't make him any less hot for her... or strong. As it turned out, Jasmine smelled nothing like flowers. Her scent was cider and sage, and it lasted long after her body temperature matched her disposition.


Brad's story:
Beyond the Pale

Ashe’s cynical distrust was disgorged all over her nightgown. His misogyny, molded from years of accumulated bitterness over failed relationships, imbued the air with mephitic contempt. There was one woman however, Jasmine, who never soured his lust. Whom he vowed to assuage his love for by abducting her psyche.
He put up a fa├žade, as though he would fight to the death for her favor. His will was weak like a stucco wall. Attempts to shoplift his prize would only be met by zaps of foul language.

She loved him knowing the world’s lurking eyes ogled her from every direction, frowning with disgust, stopping at nothing to silence her tryst with Ashe.

She couldn’t stop though and trembled as if incurring a thousand deaths at the mere thought of losing him. She was a concubine of dark alley taboos; too beautiful to shun and too pugnacious to challenge.  

As the two were engaged in carnal melee, her instincts proved correct when she peered over and saw a tiny hole in the painting on her wall. Ceasing their match, they perambulated toward the painting with curious caution.

Looking at each other in shame, they knew who the voyeur was in their father’s room.

Dec 23, 2011

All My Yesterdays Will Come Crashing Down

At midnight she began to pray, bare knees on a granite slab, calling down flesh-rending pain on Viracocha’s women. Before dawn a timid breeze got tangled in her sea-green hair, and when the sun painted her cheeks Muni rose to put on grandfather’s armor of living steel and dragonbone.  


Please note: The next installment of What can they teach you about writing will not come out tomorrow, but next Wednesday.

I know it's a bit of a delay. To help you pass the time, please enjoy this exceedingly strange Christmas-themed video.

Have a bizarre (though not unpleasant) weekend, try to forget about your cholesterol levels and see you next week. Pray that the Yule Babirusas don't find me.
- John Magnet Bell

Will Distort Reality for Food

The kids on the street called him Fat Albert because he was so skinny. That Sunday after church Albert was already sitting on the kerb with his begging cup, wailing away, lost in that wordless song of his. Tony stood transfixed, he too caught in the song’s invisible mesh.

Dec 22, 2011

Interview with Stan Faryna, Winner of the 200-word challenge

Courtesy of Stan Faryna
On November 3, I issued a challenge. A flash fiction challenge. It was seriously difficult to pick a single winner, so I went with two: Ruth Long and Stan Faryna.

Today, I interview Stan Faryna, blogging powerhouse and lover of fantasy fiction, gaming aficionado and devoted student of human nature. You can read his 200-word story here.

1. Can you define yourself in three words?

Poor in spirit. [grin] For I lack faith enough to move mountains.

2. Do you have a hero? Maybe an idol? Who is it? 

Thomas Aquinas, Booker T. Washington, Mother Teresa, Karol Wojtyla, and my mom are the first to come to mind as inspirations.

Mom came to America as a reluctant immigrant. My father, an American Army officer, gave her no choice in the matter. He held me (a baby at the time) as ransom, in a manner of speaking.

From ten, she raised me single-handedly. She put me through private schools for some years and she paid for most of my Bachelor's degree at the University of Southern California. She worked 12- to 16-hour days (seven days a week) to pay for it.

My brave mother today remains in the US, alone and growing older, and her son (me) is many thousands of miles away. Yet she does not complain. 

3. If you were a Star Wars/Star Trek character, who would you be?

It's a toss-up between Worf, Captain Picard, and Q. That reminds me of something I started and never finished. If you like, I'll share it with you...

Dec 21, 2011

We'll Always Have Ceres

Natsuki stopped breathing just as the nova flooded the cabin with devastating light. Behar lowered his visor and turned his back on the dying star. The silent blast swallowed the ship like a luminous hurricane. If only Behar could weld his eyelids shut!

The ship span end over end…

Now I Understand Ulysses, Kind of

The unemployed saxophonist up on the third floor was raping my eardrums. Man, that brass noisemaker of his was louder than a troop of howler monkeys. I went up the stairs and knocked on his door. Son of a bitch stopped at once. Pretending you’re not home? Gee, that’s cute.


Let it never be said that Start Your Novel isn't an educational blog - here's a video on howler monkeys.

Imagine living in their neighborhood.

Dec 19, 2011

Interview with Ruth Long, Winner of the 200-Word Challenge

courtesy of Ruth Long

About two months ago, I issued a flash fiction challenge. I got wonderful entries, of which the absolute best were by Ruth Long and Stan Faryna

I threw a bunch of complex, probing questions at Ruth, and have to say she acquitted herself  as the born writer that she is. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ruth Long.

1.    Can you define yourself in three words? Resilient; imaginative; quirky.

2.    Do you have a hero? My younger sister, Deborah “Jules” Vilmur. She put herself through college, reads extensively and broadly, and could write Kerouac under the table. She effortlessly serves champagne meals on a Kool-Aid budget, always has room at her table for one more, and loves to teach those less adept in the kitchen. She is my Ideal Reader, Reality Check (!) and Best Friend. (Sis, you really are so cool.)

3.    If you were a Star Wars/Star Trek character, who would you be? Gender notwithstanding, I’d be Princess Leia. Passionately loyal, surprisingly tough and secretly tender.

Dec 17, 2011

What can Robert De Niro teach you about writing?

Robert De Niro (b. 1943) is an American actor, director and producer. Claiming that the Muses love him is an understatement -- he’s played so many iconic movie roles by now, I’m surprised Euripides hasn’t risen from the grave to crown De Niro in laurels. Did I get my tropes wrong? I don’t care.

There was Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull: a simmering, hammer-fisted ball of rage.

The Taxi Driver, that least charming of rogues, speaking to secret fantasies of retribution.

De Niro’s portrayal of Al Capone is the definitive one, as far as I’m concerned.

Robert De Niro was born to Virginia Holton Admiral and Robert De Niro, Sr., two painters of cosmopolitan descent: Robert’s ancestry includes Albanian, Irish, English, German, French and Dutch forebears.

De Niro’s parents divorced when he was only 3, and he was raised by his mother in the Little Italy neighborhood of Manhattan and in Greenwich Village.

At school he was dubbed “Bobby Milk” on account of his skin tone. It was also at school that he would first tread the stage as the Cowardly Lion in a production of The Wizard of Oz. Bobby was a shy ten-year-old who had discovered the magic of acting.

One word would be enough to describe De Niro’s love affair with his calling – that word is devotion. He’s one of the few actors alive today with a real talent for metamorphosis. Travis Bickle, Sam Rothstein, Al Capone… “Bobby Milk” invested them with a kind of intensity that can only come from love. Love for the work.

De Niro is the ultimate chameleon actor, and in a way it’s a shame that he’s become so famous, because his celebrity status will now color any role he takes on.

Maybe in a few decades, when his star has dimmed somewhat, we can once again appreciate his performances without the specter of fame at the back our minds.

So, what can Robert De Niro teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Dec 16, 2011

Matchmakers and 99-percenters; the flash fiction of @bullishink and @Faryna

On November 3, I issued a challenge. A flash fiction challenge. It was seriously difficult to pick a single winner, so I went with two: Ruth Long and Stan Faryna.

Honorable mentions: Brad Holland and Jessica McHugh

Here is Ruth's story:

An Unlikely Matchmaker

Maybe one of these guys
is a field marshal. I don't know.
Damnation! The Field Marshal’s daft daughter was sashaying down the promenade in her nightgown again.

The lieutenant sighed. When he’d sworn to preserve the integrity of the 171st Regiment, he’d never imagined their greatest foe would be the commander’s only child.
The lonely little strumpet had become his nemesis, the veritable death knell of his precious career. Even so, he could not sacrifice himself for the sake of his fellows.
For though Jasmine was pretty enough to ogle, there was naught between her dainty ears, and thus suitors fell away like flies in the autumn chill.
With no one daft enough to court her of their own volition, his options had long since dwindled away. But a fresh thought struck him now. Perhaps a social climber would be more suitable than a suitor.
There was just such a man at his disposal. The fellow was sorely lacking in comportment and diplomacy, but he was a shrewd enough soldier that such a proposition would be most welcome.
And that’s how the avowed bachelor, pugnacious Private Percival Pendergast, got himself affianced to the feckless offspring of the century’s most infamous and stentorian military leader - and garnered himself a hostile historical mention.

Read my interview with Ruth here.

photo by catalano82

Stan's story

The field marshal was ravishing. Her sheer, bioluminescent nightgown revealed her breasts lifting with every breath, her shaven crotch, and much more. Bell sighed. He sipped hot cider with trembling hands as she floated back and forth on the promenade like a model on a catwalk.

Closing his eyes for a deliquescent fantasy - the world melted away.
His hands grasped her firm breasts.

Bell gasped at the pugnacious bark and opened his eyes -- dropping the mug with feckless surrender. It shattered at his feet! She stood there with a transplutonian silver muzzle gleaming three inches from his forehead.

Bell inhaled her perfume. It reminded him of the flowering jasmine that grew by an Islamabad mosque. He also thought of supper - a bowl of Minestra and how he would not taste it tonight.

A flash of blue illuminated Bell's face and the legs of his gray trousers darkened as he pissed on himself. Bell collapsed into trembling ooze.

“We need replacement and clean up at G six,” she said and looked out over what was left of the half submerged sea-side city of 99 percenters.
"London will make a brilliant resort," she thought to herself.

Read the interview with Stan here.


Like I said, I will be interviewing Ruth and Stan, tweeting the heck out of these stories, and generally making their lives miserable with my endless fawning and fanboi-ness. Until they hire transplutonian assassins to stop me, that is.

You Owe Me for Ten Mules and a Mantis Claw

Horses panted and struggled to lift themselves out of the thick, sugary goop that covered the street. Osmond caught one by the reins and pulled. The animal’s dead rider, face and clothes a sludgy brown, looked oddly familiar to Osmond. Something about the belt buckle… Yes. Those two rampant griffins.


Have you got a short story to submit? Are you researching publishers? Check out my growing lists on Twitter: Literary Magazines (180+ magazines and journals) and Publishers (170+, all shapes and sizes).

Dec 14, 2011

But I Asked for Poetic Justice

Titus was the fastest stamp licker in town, period. He huddled in Gramercy’s closet, peering through a crack as Gramercy put on his dinosaur pajamas. Titus clutched his Swiss Army knife, wincing at Gramercy’s sleepyheaded moans. In his mind, Titus rehearsed an awesome proclamation: “Gramercy! Your stamp-licking days are over!”  

Four Ignoble Truths

She wore life-threatening heels. Branson went for that kind of thing.
“What d’you do for $5, honey?”
“Look at you and call you names,” she said.
Branson dug around for change in his floppy wallet.
“All I got is $2,” he said.
“For $2 I won’t look at you.”


These are definitely life-threatening. 

Dec 10, 2011

What can Maurice Sendak teach you about writing?

"He is at heart a curmudgeon, but a delightful one" - Patricia Cohen

Maurice Sendak (1928 - 2012) was an American writer and illustrator of children’s literature. To me he’s up there with the gods of Olympus. (Meaning Jeff Smith, Edward Gorey, Dan Clowes, Jim Woodring and Alfons Mucha.)

He wrote a book that Hollywood couldn’t keep its grubby paws off of, because Hollywood is like that. You know the one I’m talking about: Where the Wild Things Are.

The “Picasso of children’s literature” was born in Brooklyn, New York to Sarah and Philip Sendak. Hailing from a Polish Jewish background, Maurice understood loss and mortality from a young age, as many of his relatives were killed during the Holocaust.

Childhood was a trying time for Maurice Sendak. In his own words:

I wanted my wild things to be frightening. But why? It was probably at this point that I remembered how I detested my Brooklyn relatives as a small child. They came almost every Sunday, and there was my week-long anxiety about their coming the next Sunday... They’d lean way over with their bad teeth and hairy noses, and say something threatening like ‘You’re so cute I could eat you up.’ And I knew if my mother didn’t hurry up with the cooking, they probably would.

Sendak once revealed that watching the Disney movie Fantasia at the age of twelve made him want to become an illustrator. He started out creating window displays for FAO Schwarz, which kept him busy for four years. The first book Maurice Sendak illustrated was titled Atomics for the Millions. You’re probably asking yourself a couple of questions about that right now. So let me answer the obvious one: No, it wasn’t a children’s book.

Well then, what can Maurice Sendak teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Dec 9, 2011

If You Were Made of Wood, Would You Eat a Sapling

Such tiny, tiny feet. Eyes that rose like twin basaltic moons over a rice-paper coastline. Ah! Qiong was entranced. She crouched behind a screen, delighting in every move father’s new secretary made. The way she dipped a pen in the inkwell, or tapped the desk with her wooden fingers…  


Have you got a short story to submit? Are you researching publishers? Check out my growing lists on Twitter: Literary Magazines (150+ magazines and journals) and Publishers (120+, all shapes and sizes).

Ain't Going Back to Chalecon, Boss

Magda killed the engine. Two men with shaven skulls and tattooed faces outside the warehouse door packed shiny matapolicias. Magda slowly rolled down her window and turned her camera on. The chrome finish of their handguns glinted sharply in the sun.

A wide-winged shadow crept over Magda’s car.


Want to write about criminal gangs? Need facts and inspiration? Check out the Violent Extremism Knowledge Base.

Where did I get the idea for "men with shaven skulls and tattooed faces"? Read up on the Mara Salvatrucha

Dec 7, 2011

There Are More Things In Heaven

That one paramecium was special – it told Dr. Ellis about the man who waited for her on the corner of Roquois and Belle Isle.

The pale, smooth-skinned man faced a turning Ferris wheel. The fairground lights avoided his face. “You came,” he said, before he even saw Dr. Ellis.


Looking for a quick, inspiring read? Amazing pictures and more? Check out my Twitter list, Blogs of Note.

Who Told You the Trees Were Lonely

Imagine the kind of darkness makes you wish your eyes could cut through it like chainsaws and find some light.

Duggs crawled out of his tent. Dragging his belly across the pine needles and gravel, he followed the sound of water roaring down the spillway. His blood scented the ground.


This post was inspired by an article on the excellent BLDGBLOG. Read it here.

Have you got a short story to submit? Are you researching publishers? Check out my growing lists on Twitter: Literary Magazines (130+ magazines and journals) and Publishers (110+, all shapes and sizes).

Dec 3, 2011

What can Carl Sagan teach you about writing?

Carl Sagan (1934-1996) was an American astronomer, astrophysicist and author. He penned over 600 research papers and authored, co-authored or edited more than twenty books.

Carl was born in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn to a Ukrainian Jewish family: Sam Sagan, a quiet, redheaded garment worker, and Rachel Gruber, whom biographer Keay Davidson described as a “five-foot-two cyclone,” and also “an acid-tongued neurotic” with intellectual ambitions. They say it was love at first sight for Sam and Rachel. In fact they got married within weeks after they met, amid subterranean fears that fascism and anti-Semitism would infect America.

The USS Los Angeles overflies NY in the 1930s

Still, the couple raised two children, Carl and Carol. As a young boy, Carl would speak of dinosaurs and distant stars. Neither parents nor friends could explain what a star was, so he took his first trips to the library at the age of five – all by himself – in order to find out. To learn that the sun was a star, he said, was “a religious experience.” In a brief moment of revelation, the Universe acquired infinity.

At the 1939 World’s Fair, Sagan witnessed the burial of a time capsule at Flushing Meadows, site of the former Corona Ash Dumps, now home to the New York Hall of Science. Carl and his colleagues would create time capsules of their own, like the Voyager Golden Records.

Left: Phonograph record carried by Voyager.
Right: Record cover, with instructions.

Carl Sagan crafted the first physical message that we sent into deep space, a plaque that now rides on the Pioneer 10 probe, launched in 1972. It was Sagan’s idea that human spacecraft carry a universal message, both unalterable and understandable by alien civilizations that might intercept them.

The Pioneer Plaque

So, what can Carl Sagan teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Dec 2, 2011

This Is My Crisis Which I Give to You

Mr. Scaldwell rose from the pew midprayer to hurl an empty beer bottle at the altar. The bottle shattered and the echo swarmed over the walls and the janitor, who lay and snored on a pew near the sacristy door, woke up yowling, eyes glued shut with rheum.  

Do You Get Bars in Rastaban

Who builds a bunker by an old mountain trail? Who would do it in three days? Sancha followed the gravel path that led up to the building, that unexpected cube of concrete. She looked for a door – found only windows, seven razor-slits high up at regular intervals. 

Nov 30, 2011

Dandelion Mist

The twins whispered of revenge beside the rampant marble griffin that darkened the town square. It was a bitter day of drizzle, good for the gray fungi that stained every house door.

Paradise Encrypted

I fell asleep to the whistle and crack of far-off mortar fire, shivering under the standard-issue blanket. I fell asleep cursing the thermal implants that refused to warm me, but the wretched bastards on the other side of the wall had worse things to worry about.

Nov 26, 2011

What can Jim Henson teach you about writing?

"The most sophisticated people I know -
Inside they're all children."

Jim Henson (1936-1990) was an American puppeteer – and the Patron Wizard of Fun.

Henson was born in Greenville, Mississippi, home to the evocatively-named Southern Whispers restaurant on Nelson St., which is now included in the Mississippi Blues Trail.

As an adult, Jim would state that the arrival of his family’s first TV was a pivotal event in his teens. He cited the puppetry work of Burr Tillstrom as a definite influence.

In 1954, still in high school, Jim Henson began working for WTOP-TV, making puppets for a Saturday morning children’s show. After high school, he enrolled in college as an arts major but would graduate with – guess what – a B.S. in home economics.

Jim Henson’s TV work and interest in puppetry would lead to a series of zany commercials for Wilkins Coffee. Henson produced more than 300 of these ads. The frog-like spokesman for Wilkins Coffee is clearly a forerunner to Kermit the Frog. 

The Muppets, Henson’s best-known ‘children,’ first appeared in two TV pilots, produced in 1974 and 1975. The Muppet Show would premiere in 1976.

The Muppet Show title card.
Through the show, we got to meet such perennial figures as the Swedish Chef:

Beaker, who used to freak the hell out of a younger me. The, ahem, beaker-faced muppet appears out of his usual lab setting in this video.

And, of course, Kermit and Miss Piggy. I am not ashamed to say Piggy was one of my earliest crushes. Yes, I was an odd child.

So, what can Jim Henson teach you about writing a novel, story or play?