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My Generation

Rod Serling

 

Let me set the scene for you. The time is a weekend thirty years in the future. The place is a locale sarcastically known by its denizens as Happy Acres Cyber Warfare and Retirement Home, and more affectionately termed The Dungeon. As this distant Friday fades to dusk, five people gather around a table in the rarely used conference room of said home. With them are a library’s worth of books, a Vegas casino’s allotment of dice, gallons of Mountain Dew, and seemingly every bag of Cheetos in the county. Welcome to the quarterly meeting of the White Walkers, an aged group of longtime frenemies who come together to solve the world’s greatest problems, while killing orcs, and killing time.

After all, time is the greatest enemy…

 

“…I told you I’d be playing Rolo again.”

The group groaned as one, eyes rolling.

“Jesus H. Christ, Marcus. You’ve been playing that bastard hafling for sixty years.” Ellie was slouched behind a cardboard screen of charts and tables surrounded by a faded border of formerly colorful monsters. Her pale blue gaze peered at the offender through holographic readers. Modern medicine had rendered her eyes perfectly fine, but theatrics called for glasses. “What is he now, 100th level?”

“112.” Marcus’ riposte was prideful. He appeared a hulking brute of a man, still trim and agile thanks to nanotechnology, but – unlike his friends – his thick pate of hair and beard a shocking white. “He still has some things he can do.”

“Yeah, there’s gotta be at least one dragon’s hoard he hasn’t pilfered yet.” This from a rail thin blonde across the table. Barely half Marcus’ size, Esteban could hold his own in any company just by the wicked glint in his eyes and the ever-present smile on his face.

“Says the assassin with a river of dead bodies behind him,” smirked Maisie. Even at her advanced age, her chocolate brown skin barely carried a wrinkle, while her natural hair fluffed around her head with only a teasing of grey.

“Hey, I never killed anyone outside of a contract unless it was self-defense.”

“Starting a bar fight doesn’t count as self-defense.” The final member of the group – a pale Asian with a spiked mohawk dyed bright pink, and gold-glitter eyelashes – looked up from one of their rulebooks. “And neither does running into a crowd screaming ‘Kill me! Kill me!’ and then changing your mind.”

“You wanted a diversion – you got a diversion.”

“Oh, please. How many times do we have to relive that one?” groaned Marcus.

Gold lashes fluttered. “As many as it takes, sweetheart. Elves don’t get resurrected. We had twenty years invested in that …”

“…beautiful bastard and you killed them,” the group finished in exaggerated unison. Artificially bright green eyes narrowed at them in annoyance.

“Kim, we’re moving on,” sighed Ellie. “Why don’t you join us? It’s not like the next character wasn’t just a name change on the first.”

“It’s the principle, dear. We had to start from scratch.”

Maisie smacked her hand flat onto the table, jostling dice. “That’s a fantastic idea. We all start from scratch.”

“What? Wait…” The flash of bewilderment faded from Marcus’ face. “You mean, roll up totally new characters?”

“Shit, we haven’t done that in decades,” mused Esteban. “I’m not sure I know how to do that anymore.”

“Yes, you do,” declared Ellie. She leaned back in her hover chair and released a sinister grin. “And furthermore, it must be a character race and class you’ve never played before. Under first edition rules.”

“FIRST edition?” Kim’s mohawk waved with the shake of their head. “My, aren’t we showing our age…”

“Don’t play that card, dear. I see your first edition books in that stack of yours.” Ellie gestured with a well-manicured hand. Kim’s lips tightened and they made a dramatic effort of looking away.

“Well, if we’re going to do this, we need some proper music,” declared Esteban. He called up a holoscreen from the watch on his wrist. “What’ll it be?”

“Led Zeppelin,” from Marcus.

“Aerosmith,” stated Maisie.

“The Monkees,” muttered Ellie. To which her companions laughed. She scowled at them.

“There is only one choice, my friends, for such a glorious new beginning,” began Kim, and they looked tellingly around the circle. “David Bowie, who constantly remade himself as we now do.”

“That’s the problem,” frowned Esteban. “Which version of Bowie do you want? Ziggy? Thin White Duke? Big 80’s Hair? Jareth the Goblin King? Tin Man? Sinister grunge?…”

“Ziggy, of course.” Kim sighed. “That’s like asking which group is better: The Beatles or the Rolling Stones.”

“Stones.” From Marcus.

“Beatles.” From Maisie.

“Hey,” Esteban broke in before the age-old fight continued. “Did you see that Keith Richards is doing another tour? He’ll be using holographic substitutes for Mick and the rest.”

“That man definitely made a deal with the devil,” Maisie shook her head knowingly, and reached for pencil and paper.

“The one on Capitol Hill, or the real one?” Ellie rifled through her stack of books.

“Aren’t they one and the same?” Digging through a large Royal Crown bag of dice, Marcus triumphantly pulled out a badly beaten plastic D20 with no discernible numbers on its face. “Hah! Found my lucky one on the first try!”

“Depends on whose side is talking,” Esteban commented, scrolling through the selections on his holoscreen. “There’s always at least half the country that thinks so.”

“What happened to our politics-free zone?” Kim huffed. “I get enough of that with the grandkids.”

“Mine still can’t get why we do this in person.” Marcus sighed. “Everything’s holo-conferenced now, and computer-supported. They don’t have to leave the house for school like we did. They don’t even have to write. Or read, for fuck’s sake.”

“Good for them,” nodded Kim. “They won’t have to suffer the bullying that we did.”

Esteban raised a dubious eyebrow at them. “Have you been on TwitFace lately?”

“I thought we met in person because Big Brother couldn’t listen in on our grand plans to overthrow the government.” Maisie’s dark eyes glanced over her companions. “You did all leave your syncs in the Faraday cage, right?”

While the others nodded, Ellie’s expression faded into a guilty smile. Maisie stared at her in disbelief.

“You didn’t!” she gasped.

Ellie shrugged apologetically. “You know I’m a tech geek. Now that they’ve got the bugs worked out, I don’t have to worry about headaches from the implant anymore.”

“No headaches, but no freedom anymore, either.” From Esteban.

“You can turn off the GPS function.”

“And they can turn it back on without you knowing it,” Marcus worried. “Jeez, Ellie. You were the last person I expected to do that.”

“It’s okay, hon.” Kim waved a magnanimous hand. “I’ll make sure you’re exempt from the listening rotations.”

“So I guess there’s still some things the President can do?” snorted Esteban.

“Some.” A wry smile played across Kim’s thin, pink lips. “I’m living proof that resistance is NOT futile.”

Fuzzy Brain

Nursing a summer cold, which is leaving me with the mental capacity of a cranky three-year-old, and the energy of a sloth on downers. Here are some examples of what happens when you cruise the Internet in that state:

 

 

 

Go talk amongst yourselves while I fetch the bourbon and chocolate…

Congratulations! Welcome to the club!

 

Captain Obvious Reading

Glad we cleared that up.

 

According to the US Department of Education, 14% of the US population – and 19% of high school graduates – can NOT read. In US adults, one in five reads below a 5th grade level, while nearly three-quarters of American prison inmates are unable to read above the 4th grade level. For juveniles in the system, the number considered functionally illiterate balloons to 85%. Statistics have shown that the lower the literacy rate of an individual, the higher their chance of being poor, on public aid, or incarcerated. [1]

 

if-you-can-read-this-thank-a-teacher-ef-yoo-20035752 (1)

So suri. Wish i cud giv yoo a raze.

 

Despite what the sad literacy rates might indicate, the Pew Research Center reports that nearly 65% of adults read at least one printed book in the past year, and 73% read a book in any format. [2] A slight decline from the 2012 survey, but still hopeful numbers. Sadly, these don’t seem to include the President. [3] When the supposed “leader of the free world” finds reading unnecessary, that can only mean even more cognitive bias and greater misunderstandings.

 

Enter Society

This could get ugly.

 

The digital revolution has increased the efficiency and availability of hardware and software that can take dictation, transcribe music, read print aloud, and anticipate the user’s next need based on previous interactions. However, there’s some argument against our gadgets actually being good for us. The Marist Poll indicates that a majority of poll respondents believed our devices are detrimental to relationships and lives, leaving us – ironically – less connected. [4]

 

cell-phone-zombie

And what about when your battery dies?

 

 

The more our toys do for us, the less we do for ourselves. Cursive is rarely taught in schools anymore, and an angry toddler with a broken crayon might as well have done what printing I’ve seen from the younger generation. Plus our collective attention span seems to be growing shorter by the minute. With instantaneous communication, video-on-demand, same-day shipping, and click-bait disguised as news, trying to focus on anything for any length of time is a growing challenge. But writing things by hand can lead to better comprehension, [5] and reading more can make you smarter. [6]

 

Reading_quotes_crave_book32

Wands supplied by Ticonderoga and Waterman.

 

 

And now that I’ve used lots of pretty pictures to keep your attention, here’s the point of the story: go read. Go read lots. Go read now. Go read printed or electronic. Go read with friends. Go read alone. Just read. We’ll all be better off. And maybe we can stave off the regression back into pictographs just a little while longer. [7]

 

AfraidEmoji

 

[1] “15 US Literacy Rate and Illiteracy Statistics”

http://brandongaille.com/us-literacy-rate-and-illiteracy-statistics/

[2] “Book Reading 2016”

http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/09/01/book-reading-2016/

[3] “Trump ‘does not read books’: report”

http://ew.com/books/2017/01/25/trump-does-not-read-books-report/

[4] “6/21: Is Technology “Dumbing Down” Society?”

http://maristpoll.marist.edu/614-is-technology-dumbing-down-society/

[5] “Why Pen and Paper Beats a Laptop Every Time for Taking Notes”

https://www.communicaid.com/communication-skills/blog/writing-skillsbusiness-writing-skills/taking-notes-better-using-laptop-tablet/

[6] “Warren Buffett’s reading routine could make you smarter, science suggests”

http://www.cnbc.com/2016/11/16/warren-buffetts-reading-routine-could-make-you-smarter-suggests-science.html

[7] “How Emojis are Like Hieroglyphics”

https://www.mabbly.com/how-emojis-are-like-hieroglyphics/

Still running on low brainage, and recovering from a wonderful long weekend at war. To tide you over, and also give you a really excellent perspective of what I do on the weekends, here’s a couple of fabulous short films made about the SCA by a very talented lady. Please to enjoy.

 

 

vimeo.com/176280231

 

vimeo.com/196029359

Stringing You Along

Lots of stuff going on around here right now, and not enough brain to deal with it all. So, please to enjoy some interesting stuff I found on YouTube.  😉

 

Manuela & Esperanza: The Art of Maya Weaving

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrBdRbrXMVw

 

Weaving a Culture: A Film on Saris of India (Part 1)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_TEHWmL6fY

 

Weaving a Culture: A Film on Saris of India (Part 2)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfgUp-NYSOI

 

 

 

We’ve all seen it. The nick-of-time rescue. The bomb diffused with one second left. The suspect bolting when the cops show up, resulting in a parkour-style chase around the city. These, and many others, are standard tropes in film and television. Sadly, they and their ilk show up a lot in fiction writing as well. I’ve even poked fun at some of them before (“Attack of the Killer Clichés”, “Return of the Killer Clichés”).

It’s time for them to die. Really. NOW.

They used to have their place on (rare) occasion. But speaking as someone who watches a lot of streaming video while playing with string, I’m sick of seeing them EVERYWHERE. And, with the crush of indie publishing, fan fic, and writer’s “critique” sites, I’m seeing it more and more in fiction as well.

That’s just lazy writing, people.

Not that I haven’t done my fair share of tropes and stereotypes. Part of my reason for doing this piece is to remind myself of all the bad writing habits I have, and possibly figure out how to fix/avoid them. As opposed to just avoiding my writing all together…

 

Minion tea[4]

…and dark chocolate…

 

So, why do we have such tropes in the first place? One word: drama. We’re trying to up the drama quotient. For a story to be successful we need to have tension and consequences and challenges for our characters to wade through. If there’s no risk for the character(s), there’s no reward for the reader(s).

But there’s a bazillion ways to cause trouble for our characters. It’s time to get inventive. We writers are really evil geniuses channeling our Dr. No selves onto the page, so let loose your inner demons and give the world you’ve created something to REALLY worry about. And I don’t mean turning that bomb they’ll need to diffuse at the last second into a dirty bomb, or a bio-bomb. Been there, done that, played the video game.

No, if you need to blow shit up, do it metaphorically instead of literally. If your characters are well developed (see “It’s Made of People”), it should be easy to come up with stuff to throw in their way. What’s the worse possible thing (or person) that could happen to them? Why does it need to happen? How will it advance the story or the character’s development? Everything you do on the page needs to keep things moving forward, in some fashion, for the overall arc of your writing.

That doesn’t mean leaving out things that can add depth to the world you’re creating, though, just because it doesn’t directly affect what’s happening. Black-clad mercenaries are a dime-a-dozen. But mercenaries who collect butterflies and read Harry Potter are something else again. Now you have some depth you can dive into. Will any of that be pertinent to your story later? Maybe. Maybe not. Right now, though, it gives me-the-reader something interesting about your character I can latch on to. There’s more there than black leather and a gun. That could mean there’s more to your story than the usual revenge/redemption/killer rampage most mercenaries inhabit.

 

Dominatrix Minion

That’s not the kind of black leather I meant. Now I need the eye bleach…

 

But what if I REALLY want to blow something up?

Then blow it the fuck up. Make it spectacular. Make it a surprise. Make it heart-rending. Make it anything but the usual. I don’t want to see your hero rushing in at the last second, huffing about how the bomb squad won’t get there in time and is it the red wire or the blue wire as he bites through both with his teeth to save the day. I want to see him crushed by defeat because he DIDN’T get there in time. Or horrified because he didn’t know the bomb even existed. Or secretly elated because now he has the perfect excuse to go on a murderous rampage.

Okay, yeah, that’s another trope, too. Sorry.

The point is, do something DIFFERENT. If you’re finding yourself falling into the same old comfortable ruts for plot points and character development, get out. Pretend it’s Opposite Day and you’re playing a game of Calvinball. Be wicked. Be absurd. Be outrageous. Kill the hero, because he’s not really the hero, his female sidekick is – psych! Don’t kill anybody, because the bomb was really a dud! The bomb DOES go off, but the entire city is coated in glitter! Anything but the usual.

And how do you know if it’s the usual? Just ask yourself: have I seen/read/heard this before? If you have, how important is it to keep it “normal?” What happens if you do THIS instead? If the ticking time bomb is integral to your story, what are you doing around that to make your characters and story different?

 

minion-emergency-helpame

Read a book, they said. It’ll be fun, they said…

 

There are occasions when we depend on tropes and stereotypes as a kind of shorthand for the reader. It can make for less explanation/exposition, and allow us to get on with the real reason this story needs to be told. But we should never depend on them. The world is comforted by formula – the tried and true (see Hollywood) – but we writers need to constantly rail against the expected, the normal, the usual, and really dig into exploring our worlds to the fullest. Whatever your genre, whether fiction or non-fiction, we want the reader to be entertained, enthralled, surprised – not bored or disappointed. Give them predictable and they’ll give you the cold shoulder. Writing is lonely enough – we don’t need to chase off any readers in the process.

Turn the formulae on their heads. Find the peculiar, the wretched, the dangerous, and let us have it. Always challenge yourself. You’ll be a better writer, and I’ll have more cool things to read.

She’s not at all what you would expect.

No shroud of murky darkness. No raving anger. No muttering excuses. No whorls of swirling depression blasting everything else to bits.

Just a sympathetic smile.

She sits on my desk sipping from a delicate teacup, as if her appearance in the middle of the night – and the middle of my writing – is a perfectly normal occurrence.

Okay, maybe it is a little more normal than it should be. But it’s not any less annoying.

Looking for all the world like Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies, I half anticipate her guzzling from a jug of “rheumatism medicine” instead of that dainty china doll accessory. But then, I’m not entirely sure of the contents, and she’s the type that hides that kind of stuff in plain sight.

“It’s all right, dear,” she coos. “It’s for the best.”

I just glare at her. I know what she means, and what the rest of her litany will entail. I’ve heard it my whole life. Every time there’s a bump in the road. With every obstacle, every challenge, every rejection. Even with the successes, too. Always that little whisper just off my shoulder.

A raging monster would be easy to ignore, by comparison.

“It’s just the way of the world now.” She takes another sip, pinky out, and rests her cool blue gaze on me. “And it’s ALWAYS been the way of the entertainment industry. You’re battling terrible odds on the best of days.”

She’s right about that. I’m no spring chicken and ageism is rampant, even for novelists. It should be about the product – it should ALWAYS be about the product. But people are what they are. Prejudice dies hard, if at all. And being a good writer isn’t always good enough.

“You can’t help support the household with rejection slips.” Her gnarled hand rests gently on my arm, with a little pat for emphasis. “Maybe you should just stick with what makes money. There’s no shame in that.”

No shame.

No shame in settling. No shame in giving up. No shame being good, but not quite good enough. That’s the story of my life.

All my glory days were long ago. All the genius, all the talent, doesn’t mean anything in a world that favors the loudmouth, the provocateur, the bombastic. Give the masses a sequined three-ring circus and blow up the MC as the finale, and you might get some attention. Social Media is god and goddess. Repeat the inane enough times and it turns into a catchy phrase. Watch that catchy phrase all tarted up for Sunday dinner at the whorehouse win the presidency.

“No one wants smart anymore.” Granny pulls out her big brown jug and chugs a few. I’m not sure what happened to the teacup – there’s no sign of it amidst the clutter of my desk. “It’s all about fake news and alternate facts and screwing everybody but the rich in the name of Jesus H. Christ-on-a-cracker. That’s just not for you, dear.”

Ain’t that the truth. But someone has to be the light keeper. Someone has to be the repository of reason and common sense and fact-based intelligence. Who better than a science fiction writer?

“There’s already so many good ones out there.” She winks at me and swigs another gulp off the jug.

I hate that she’s in my head. I’m never really free of her. And I hate that she’s so often right. There are a ton of good writers out there, already. The David Gerrolds, the John Scalzis, the Chuck Wendigs, the Jim Wrights. All fabulous writers with scathing wit and near-prescient powers of observation. They’ll not only keep the light burning, they’ll weaponize it and napalm the hell out of the stupids. I live barely in their shadows – a cockroach hoping a crumb will fall my way so I can feel like the gods have blessed me.

The jug is proffered in my general direction. “It’ll take the edge off.”

Like that’s a good idea. Just hide in your poison of choice. Hide in that world someone else created because you can’t handle the world you live in. Or the world you should be creating. Real writers write. Fake writers dream of publishing deals while killing orcs.

Too bad I’m old and have tits. I’d probably be a damn good game writer.

“Of course you would, dear.” The jug is tipped over and drizzling its contents down the side of my desk. “Everybody loved having you run games in college. Thirty-five years ago.”

She may look like an innocent little old lady, but her delivery would rival Dame Maggie Smith’s best Downton Abbey snark.

On the downhill side of middle age, and nothing to show for my efforts. So much of my life spent dreaming instead of doing. Because of that little bitch perched in the middle of my soul.

“It’s too hard for you, dear.”

“It doesn’t matter how good you are – you don’t know the right people.”

“You’re good. But not good enough.”

“You don’t really want success, do you? Just think of all the crowds you’d have to deal with.”

If she were an ugly monster, beating her would be easy. Heroic, even. But Granny is a sweet little thing, always looking out for my best interests, of course. Protecting me from the hurt. I won’t get rejected if I don’t put myself out there in the first place. I’m okay right where I am. I have a nice house and a great husband and there’s no need for me to get myself all beat up over something that’s really a pipe dream. Let’s face it – everybody wants to be a writer. And they’re a dime a dozen. So many of them will write for free. And so many of them will write badly. The world is littered with terrible copy under noisy videos claiming to be news, and no one seems to care.

“That’s right, dear.” The teacup has returned, held between finger and thumb like it is a dirty diaper and there’s no pail in sight. “No one cares about quality anymore. So you shouldn’t waste your time.”

I lean back in my chair and scowl. “Fuck you, Granny.”

 

 

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