Monday, March 31, 2014


          Naomi and I recently went to an IMAX and saw Divergent, based on the best-selling novel series by Veronica Roth.  We’re not usually fans of Young Adult fiction, but we found this movie riveting.  It mirrors society and our penchant for slotting everyone.  By tradition, each of us is pressured early on  to wear a label and stick with it (lawyer, doctor, farmer, mechanic, Democrat, Republican, Christian, Jew, Muslim).  In a past age, people were even named for their predetermined slots in life.  Tom Tinker.  Mary Baker.  Billy Tanner.  Mr. and Mrs. Miller.  The Weavers.  The Bookbinders.  That nice Joe Carpenter who always smelled of fresh wood shavings.
          We indoctrinate our children in ways subtle and overt, and they often have little choice in the matter.  An infant is baptized into a certain faith, for example, and the small person has no knowledge of what’s happening, much less any free choice about it.  We naturally want our children to follow in our steps, so we teach and discipline them accordingly, but sometimes we do so even against their wishes or natural skills or secret ambitions.  Carried to extremes, this philosophy can produce rigid thinkers, unhappy workers, almost superhuman warriors with unquestioning adherence to orders, dogmatic believers, and even suicide bombers.
          The custom perpetuates our differences, reinforces our biases, and sustains divisive and sometimes violent tribalism, religiosity or un-religiosity, bigotry, prejudice, and controlled thinking, generation after generation.
          But thank goodness some folk like Beatrice Prior, the heroine in this movie, refuse to be slotted by their elders or by society.  They’re divergent.  Not classifiable.
          Many real people come to mind.  There once was a boy, for example, whose father had him slotted to become a clergyman.  Instead, the boy became a rebellious runaway, a printer, a writer, a publisher, a philosopher, an inventor, a civic leader, a statesman, and a philanthropist.  And he excelled at all of that, endearing himself to millions.  Some 20,000 attended his funeral and people named cities after him and erected statues in his honor.  You and I are still benefiting from his generous legacy.  Benjamin Franklin was an exemplary divergent.
          Our fiction is rich with heroes and heroines who live on the fringes of society, outside its walls and cubicles, so we must at least envy them a bit.  Consider Jack Reacher, loner hero of Lee Child’s best-selling series.  Or Sherlock Holmes, Monk, Stephanie Plum, Derek Morgan, Miss Marple, Patrick Jane, Madea Simmons, or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
          So, if you’re contemplating starting a fiction series, you may want to recruit outside the societal slots for your lead character.


Monday, March 24, 2014

How about that
          I’m reading a thriller novel by a much-awarded and popular author, and the story is, as usual for him, fresh and absorbing.  But the narrative is heavily overloaded with thats.  So much so, they’re intruding on the story, jarring me out of the fictional construction this author has otherwise so cleverly built, whenever I stumble over yet another that.
“. . . I didn’t think that I had ever . . .”
“. . . meaning that she also had . . .”
“. . . not that I thought that they’d go . . .”
“. . . if I believed that that was the answer . . .”
          On some pages there are ten or a dozen thats.  And that’s just far too many thats.  In almost all of these instances, the that could have simply been deleted, thus streamlining and speeding up the narrative.  (Try cutting the thats in each of the above examples.  In the third and fourth examples, at least one that can be struck without compromising clarity.)
          Yet I’ve often found myself guilty of this same infraction, of getting so enamored by a certain word I’ll use it repeatedly throughout a manuscript, or three or four times in succession within a few pages.  We do this unconsciously, and so it’s hard to correct, even with thorough self-editing. 
          It’s one good reason to have every manuscript line-edited by someone experienced at spotting word over-usage, among the many other technical misdemeanors most of us don’t even realize we’re committing.
          Think about people who say “you know” or “like” thirty or forty times in every conversation.
          It’s, like, tedious at best, you know?


Thursday, March 20, 2014

In the beginning . . .

          Using a telescope in Antarctica, scientists have recently found what they believe to be evidence of Einstein-theorized gravity waves.  They say this is strong support for the inflation theory, a period of rapid universe expansion shortly after the initial big bang that’s supposed to have started our universe 13.8 billion years ago.
          But I have major doubts about the big bang.  We’re told all the matter in the universe was once compacted into a single speck no larger than an electron.  But how can this be?  It defies logic.  (I admit quantum mechanics and Congress defy my poor simple logic, as well.)  If such a thing were possible, then why do immense black holes, like the one at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, stop shrinking?  Why don’t they continue to cave in on themselves under their almost unimaginable gravity?  Why don’t they wind up as specks?  I think it’s because they reach a limit of matter compaction beyond which gravity can no longer squeeze them further.  I also have doubts about gravity waves necessarily being proof of inflation.
          The big bang theory rests on what appears to be an expanding universe.  An expansion that’s even accelerating, we’re told, which is another illogical concept.  Crank the whole universe backward over 13.8 billion years, they say, and it gets progressively smaller and smaller until you arrive at that initial solitary speck.
          An expanding universe, in turn, is based on redshift.  That is, the light from stars that are far away has longer, redder, wavelengths, stretched out, they say, because those stars are speeding away.  Light from stars even father away is redder still, because they’re apparently moving away even faster, it’s claimed. 
          But in 1929 a maverick astronomer named Zwicky proposed a different possible cause for redshift.  He said it could be that the far-off light has simply aged over billions of years, becoming “tired,” and thus it has shifted into the red wavelengths.  The farther the light has traveled, the redder it will be.  If that’s so, the illogical theories of the accelerating universe expansion, the big bang, and inflation, are all cast into deep doubt.
          I like the “tired light” theory because it’s logical.  We know everything else in the universe ages, from rocks to the biggest stars. (Notable exceptions are certain Hollywood celebrities.)  So why is it not reasonable to expect that light (together with the whole electromagnetic spectrum) ages as well?
          Both theologians and scientists want desperately for the universe to have had a beginning.  Any other option would simply bend the mind too much.  Thus we have God for the one group, and a big bang for the other.
          Yet we know without doubt time itself can change under the influences of velocity and gravity, and time stops (from the viewpoint of a stand-off observer) at the event horizon of a black hole.  Einstein theorized this stuff, and GPS is only accurate because it takes his relativity into account. 
          So why must we insist the universe had a beginning at some moment in changeable time?

          But anything you write here on our planet must have a beginning.  And if you’re wise, you’ll try to start your writing off with a big bang in order to capture every reader's attention.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

The littlest Writer’s Bible

     No writer should be without it.  For going on 70 years, this slim volume (about 100 pages in mass market paperback, including glossary and index) has taught over ten million writers how to use the English language well.  There is no better book for this.  If you want to call yourself a competent writer, reading The Elements of Style by Professor William Strunk  and author E.B. White is essential.

     Its rules are issued as commands:  Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.  Use the proper case of pronouns.  Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ’s.  Use the active voice.  Omit needless words.  Put statements in positive form.  Choose a suitable design and hold to it.  The authors give logical, memorable examples of each dictate.

     Follow the Little Bible’s orders and your writing will soar above much of the rest.  It will be clear, concise, readable, commanding, and engaging.

     Read this book.
     Periodically re-read it.
     Carry a copy in your pocket, purse, or smart phone.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

POIFOTI Disease*

          Sadly, this disease has reached epidemic proportions across our nation, infecting nearly everyone it touches, and now I fear I’ve come down with it myself.  (*Pass on everything I find on the internet disease.)

Check this out:
And how about this:
Thought you might find this interesting:

(Okay, stop it, Bowie.  Just stop it.)

          I wouldn’t mind the disease so much, but the more time folks spend reading all the stuff that gets e-mailed to them as pass-ons, the less time they have to read my books, and that affects me financially, emotionally, and social-status-wise.
          So, cut it out, will you please?  (Unless, of course, you might want to pass on a suggestion to buy one of my books.  All are available on