Monday, December 17, 2012

Fixing A Hobbit-Hole

I saw the Hobbit! And absolutely nothing else happened this weekend. Certainly nothing that sickens me to think about and could have been easily prevented by better legislation and...


Writer-brain is fascinated by "broken" movies. My friends have heard me go on and on about Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven. That movie had a fantastic premise, and some amazing acting, and incredible sets, locations and actors, but it thuds around a lot of the time, saved only by a few transcendent bits.

It's a hard movie to diagnose, other than some obvious flaws. Scott should have cast someone other than Orlando Bloom who could carry more gravitas, and given the villain more depth and less scenery-chewing. It would still be an impossibly complex and hard-to-tell story.

Other movies are easier to diagnose. Although I'm tempted to say The Phantom Menace was impossibly broken, the structure actually holds up with one simple rewrite. Have Darth Maul kill off Qui-Gon early on, and make it Obi-Wan's story, about an apprentice trying to protect a princess and a "chosen one" on a dangerous desert world. Ramp up emotional stakes by having Anakin ripped away from his mother. Crucify me for saying this, but even Jar Jar could have been saved. We never got any sympathy for him, nor any admiration, throughout the entire film. Even at the end, he turned and ran. Have him do something heroic and he starts to redeem himself.

This is a good thing for writer-brain. I still can't rewrite my own stuff to save my life, but at least I can use the intellectual exercise.

So The Hobbit interests me. It was as padded-out and wandering as I thought it would be, and call that a self-fulfilling prophesy, but I actually did enjoy a lot of it. It just needed a good cut.

The film would have been more satisfying in the original two-part format, ending at "Barrels Out of Bond" when Bilbo's really proven his heroism. But this three-movie format could even work... at two hours. If Jackson had chopped thirty-five minutes, he'd have a movie the length of Star Wars! Jeez, man.

Somewhere on the Internet I saw a prediction for the film that would have been a huge improvement; replace or augment the Radagast sequence with the Barrow-Wight sequence from The Fellowship of the Ring. Post-encounter-with-trolls, the dwarves and Bilbo wander into a land of nasty fog and open crypts. Gandalf is distracted by the suspicious open crypt of the Witch-King himself. The dwarves make for the treasure in the tombs (which actually makes more sense than when the hobbits in FotR wake up wearing the jewels) and Bilbo has to hack a Barrow-Wight's arm as Frodo does. This would introduce the idea of the Witch-King's rebirth. We could still get a chopped-down sequence of Radagast and the spiders.

Mostly I kept seeing stuff that could be cut. Everything in Bilbo's hobbit-hole was great, but it needed to be chopped down! Dwarves arrive, make a mess. Thorin arrives. Bilbo reads the contract. Bilbo faints and has his talk with Gandalf. The dwarves sing. The intros: cut old Bilbo and Frodo, or give them a brief montage, and reveal the Arkenstone later.

This is an entirely different subject, but I could have lost the PG-13 violence. There's nothing in the book or the appendices that would make The Hobbit more than PG, although the Barrow-Wight sequence could have worked on a PG-13 level.

On the subject of long and Tolkien, though...

If you've got forty-five minutes to spare, which Peter Jackson obviously did, take a look at my Tokienesque pastiche Blade and Branch and Stone. As you can tell from my self-recrimination, I can see its flaws, but it was an attempt by me to complicate and twist some of Tolkien's themes of environmentalism and colonialism:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Oh my Cthulhu, what a quarter. I am never teaching for two schools at once again... until January. All right, then.

So this quarter I kept my gig at the online school while taking on some adjunct work at Northwest Indian College. This was tough but really rewarding, as it gave me the chance to dive further into the relations of the US and Natives in history, law and present culture, a topic I've always been interested in but never had the motivation to really study. However, it turned out to be way more work than I anticipated for just adjunct.

The blessing was that I could work at the online school anywhere. Even their approved "use-me-even though-I'm deadly-slow" computer is a laptop. So in some ways I had less distractions in the office at the tribal college. There, the only other things I think about are my other classes. At home, I was sharing a room with a drum set and had kids pounding down my door...

Didn't get much writing done. My band got an album out, and a great, poetic, somewhat grammatically incorrect review in the local music scene rag. Among other memorable phrases, we are "churning guitar soup," "sibilant gothic-glam vocal" and "slinky romantic modality."

But you don't care about that.

What do you care about?


There are some bigger Tolkien geeks than me. Christopher Lee spoke Elvish before he ever imagined playing Saruman. Stephen Colbert can sing Tom Bombadil's ditties off the top of his head.

But I'm close. I can tell you off the top of my had, for instance, that Thorin was named after a previous Thorin, the first dwarf king of Erebor, and he got his honorific "Oakenshield" by using a wooden log as a yes, shield. I can tell you Bombadil's name in Elvish (Iarwain).

I can tell you that Smaug wasn't a patch on the fearsome dragon Angalacon the Black.

(Okay, I caved and googled and I got that one wrong--I initially wrote Angorbad the Cruel).

I first read The Hobbit when I was six, on summer vacation between first and second grade. I got through it mostly relying on my memory of the TV adaptation, which I will still defend to any detractor. Arthur Rackham-esque animation! Catlike, cranky Smaug! Glenn Yarbrough! Actually, scratch the last one.

I went on to read the LotR trilogy in second and eighth grade, although I skipped most scenes that didn't have Frodo in them. And of course I fangasmed over Peter Jackson's trilogy. There were bits I didn't like--Metal Galadriel, for instance, or that insipid addition where Sam and Frodo have a spat over missing lembas bread.

But oh man, I have never felt anything quite like what I felt during Pippin's song while Faramir went to his death to please his father. I still can't hear "All you have to decide..." without tearing up.

I've been pumped for The Hobbit. Until I heard it would be split into a trilogy.

It's a short book! And it's also a very neat arc. Bilbo starts out a shut-in homebody, progresses to being an active adventurer who actually saves the dwarves' lives, and eventually his burgling is a kind of protest activism for peace between quarreling races.

Not the stuff of THREE movies!

Reviews agree with me. I am sadly vindicated. I didn't wanna be vindicated. Rotten Tomatoes has the film at 73% and plunging.

The original two-film treatment almost had me won over. Yes, two films is long for a 300-page book, but if they were going to also film the scenes at Dol Guldur and with the White Council, it could work. Especially since the first movie was set to end at "Barrels Out of Bond." At that point, Bilbo has progressed to dashing hero status, but has not yet encountered the horror of Smaug's lair or the moral test of the Arkenstone and Thorin's wrath. End the first movie with Gandalf in the dungeons of Dol Guldur and Bilbo cruising along on his barrel.

But three films? How much extra stuff would go in there? Okay, PJ, if you have to make it three films, then at least make them short films. No? An Unexpected Journey has a running time of three hours! At least make it easier for me to find a babysitter on the day I go wait in line to see your movie.

I know people liked King Kong, but man, I could already foresee the problems with The Hobbit in that one. Jackson expanded the original 90-minute film into three massive hours. It was still a movie about a freaking huge monkey. You could knock forty minutes off King Kong and no one would have complained.

Guillermo Del Toro's departure was really the footstep of doom for The Hobbit. He was too involved in other work to do three movies, and he makes shorter, neater movies than PJ. In my head, I'll be watching Del Toro's film this Friday.

It's obvious now that the three movie studios involved were pushing for three movies from the beginning. Three guaranteed moneymakers, keeping these studios afloat for another three years so they could take risks on other movies.

In fact, when you put it that way, perhaps The Hobbit's collective profits will bring us better movies overall. There will be an edited version floating around the Internet eventually anyway, similar to the Purist Cut of the Two Towers.

We true Tolkien geeks, though, know that you can have the cake and second breakfast too. Tolkien wrote plenty of other material that could easily fill an epic trilogy. Do you want three more Middle-Earth movies from PJ, studios? Why not mine the massive history of Middle-Earth, published by Tolkien's son, the weight of which would smash a puppy flat? Movie 1: Beren and Luthien. Movie 2: The Downfall of Numenór. Movie 3: Now we get to Bilbo.

The Beren/Luthien story could be retold by a narrating Arwen. Numenór by an elder Aragorn.

Which is probably what will happen. Middle-Earth will become a neverending franchise the way Star Wars is set to. Sadly, like Star Wars, I'm guessing it will learn from the mistakes of the prequels.

Maybe not. Maybe I'll love every languorous second of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey when I see it this Friday. Maybe I will rue the day I complained on the Internet.

Probably not.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Dial 911

Eleven years ago, I was a missionary, tracting out the town of Winston-Salem, NC. It was hot, we were tired, we'd had little luck in the area, and suddenly people came to the door and said, "Don't you know what's going on?"

Throughout the day, we watched way more TV than we ever had as missionaries, and I saw the planes hit the towers over and over. The bigness of it all didn't register.

I suppo
se there were some people who saw Pearl Harbor as just a thing that happened on the way to other things. There was war and trouble in the world, and it got worse. Business as usual. That was me.

I wish I'd been more mindful. Not until the Bush administration decided to lump Iraq in with Afghanistan did the whole business appear like a serious global crisis. It had been hijacked by an old desire to deal with Saddam, oilmongering and just plain overreaching.

By that point I was ensconced in school, and then the minute I finished I had a pregnant wife, and there was grad school to think of, and all I could think was that the whole business stank. The tragedy stank, but so did the unnecessary war piled on top of the other one, and it continued to stink while the deaths mounted.

If I could, I would go back and ask myself what my responsibility to my nation was. It could have been something as simple as more volunteer work, or perhaps something as big as military service. It could have been more active protesting of the war. It could have been more support for the troops. Instead, I lived my life with little thought of it all. I tried to be a good person, have some fun, and raise my family.

Now I see in myself the same flaw I cursed in the Bush administration. The tragedy changed the world, but it didn't change me.

I don't want to post this because, other than some increased political activism, I still haven't changed much. I want to. I hope you do too. Whether it's volunteer work, maybe with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America or the Red Cross, or it's activism to bring the troops home and stop the endless war, or your own military service, we can choose to honor the tragedy in the twenty-teens in a way we didn't in the oughties.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Real Boy At Last

Hello, people. It has been a while.

I've done several types of writing in the last few months, from an ultimately futile attempt to pressure-cook a novel, to a lot of short story revision, to what I did tonight, which was make up three writers who will critique my work. (In case you are wondering, they are named Neville Future, James Darkness, and Sister Mary Wisteria.) (I've given this story out for a lot of critiques. We'll see if made-up writers make more sense. Don't let me down, Neville, James, Sister Mary.)

But I've also done other things. Notably, I recorded with my band Pawnbroker and we have some new tracks up. The full album will be up soon, and I hope you will love it with a thousand loves.

I worked a whole lot, and I gardened, oh how I did garden, which will be the subject of a new post. BUT FIRST...

I've written lately about depression here and elsewhere, and this is important only for the moment insofar that it relates to exercise. Running. Which is our subject today. Cuz I like it.

Why? It's sweaty and painful and hurts and makes you feel every inch of your limitations. So kind of like any creative endeavor, except there's no clunky physical metaphor. You actually are suffering, physically.

(This is why I was never a good Christian. Who needs a savior to suffer for you when you enjoy your own suffering? Let me climb on that cross for a few hours. It'll be good for me.)

I started running in 2007-ish, and have never really stopped. This explains 1) why bears haven't caught me and 2) what I need to do when I'm cranky.

You never really lose the feeling that it's impossible. I don't think that I ever think about running as something I can do. When I'm crossing the street and a car is waiting impatiently, I half-heartedly shamble, my arms dangling and my feet shuffling to the other side. Where I gasp for air. I try to avoid going up the stairs more than a few times a day.

But somehow, every other day I drag myself out for 3.5 miles, and have for five years now. Something weird happens when I get going. I just keep going.

Yesterday I ran the Fairhaven Runners Waterfront 15k. This is an amazing run, and if you have any interest at all in racing you should do it. It's cheap, there's food and massage afterward, it's a pretty decent starting length for a distance runner (9.3 miles) and it's gorgeous. It starts in Fairhaven and goes along the water to the Bellingham Bay and Marina, then back along a trail and boardwalk. The entire run overlooks beautiful Bellingham Bay.

The first time I ran it, my time was relatively lousy for a 9+ race. I made it in about an hour and forty-five minutes, which puts me over the ten-minute miles. I had been training by running a huge hill, but it probably didn't add up to more than 3 miles all told, so I was unprepared for serious distance running.

My second time was in 2010, and I did much better. I pushed and pushed myself to make 1:25. It was my worst run physically and mentally because it was such a push. But I made 1:25. And they gave me this free baby!

Come 2012, I knew I wouldn't do too well. I had run seven miles my practice run the week before in an astonishingly slow hour and forty minutes.

Racing is different than running alone, and I knew that would influence me. I am a competitive person, and I can't help being a little more focused on BEATING THE PANTS OFF all those FOOLS who idle along ON MY STREET. Uh... But as with any performance, training is the racing, etc. Plus, I am mumblemumble twenty pounds heavier than I mumblemumble was in 2010. Carrying around extra weight can really wear you out.

In 2010, all nine miles were pain, worry over my time, and PUSH PUSH PUSH IT'S CROWNING I CAN PRACTICALLY TASTE THE PLACENTA PUSH.

I didn't want to do that again. For one, I am training for the Bellingham Bay Half Marathon, and pushing here could lead to a bad race there. But running works out a lot of spiritual and intellectual shtuff, and I am not in the mood to push myself lately. Notably (this is another blog post, too), I wanted to talk to the muse about the relationship between different creative loves. Last week I resigned (effective November) from Takes All Kinds, which is a fantastic band. I had sacrificed TAK, mostly, because I really wasn't writing or getting passionate about writing like I wanted to. For the last year, I have wanted to want to write. But I have rarely wanted to Story, knowhumsayin?

I felt like I could give the muse a little bit of a sacrifice in those nine miles. Here is the band on the altar, here is nine miles of madness, now please put me in touch with the Story Self again, that guy I knew so well at nine years old.

That was the deal. Off I went.

It wasn't an introspective run after all. I stayed focused on the present. But it was a good one. I felt that nervous energy that I knew I could use, a bzz-bzz-rattle-roll at the back of my brainpan. I held it back for a long time. I ran at a comfortable pace, pushed myself to get up the hills, then went all-out for about the last mile, sucking up lots of buzz-rattle juice to get me going.

That was insane, because by that point I was indeed tired. But I still pushed it. The adrenaline high, the transition to a state of euphoria, felt just beyond my reach the whole time, and I got it by pushing on that last mile. The run, in the end, felt effortless save for the one deliberate, planned, conscious effort.

And my time was... 1:27. Two minutes off the big push two years ago.

There's a lesson here about something, and possibly even relating to the writing stuff: Know What You're Pushing Before You Decide To Push It, or something that someone should cross-stitch on my running shorts-butt, and also I Can Practically Taste The (Metaphorical) Placenta. I doubt I have absorbed the full lesson yet, though. I'll have to keep running.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Thousand Rotting Baby Seals

Instead of blogging here, I blogged here about writing and depression:

Yes, there are a thousand rotting baby seals.

I will write a blog here soon. I have thoughts. SUCH THOUGHTS DO I HAVE.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

In Which Many Mormon Problems Fit Into One Blog Post

I read a book years ago called "It's You And Me, Lord!" written by a black Mormon in the 60s. The guy who wrote it was named Al, and I have since met and liked Al a great deal. It was about living as a believing, black Mormon in the days when black Mormons were not allowed to hold the Priesthood.

Al found that Mormonism resonated so much with his inner sense of truth that he did not need to hold the priesthood. In that way, he follows the generations of women who have not held the priesthood either. However, Al thus consigned himself to a life (well, the ban would be lifted ten years down the line, but he didn't know that) of attending a church surrounded by other men who could perform all the duties of their religion, which he could not, simply because of the color of his skin.

So each time Al went to church and heard about someone's Temple trip (he couldn't go) and each time he watched the men administer the Sacrament (he could not), he had to remember that his reasons for being there were so important that he could stand to be a second-class citizen, at lest in appearances.

Do you think he always felt that way in church, or he was tempted to stop going? He remained faithful up to the lifting of the priesthood ban and into the present day. But I'm sure there were a few doubts that crept in, and he remarkably resisted them.

I, and just about everyone else I know, wouldn't be able to do it.

Now we have this long viral blog post by Josh Weed about his very good life in a mixed-orientation marriage based on the principles of Mormonism.

Josh and Lolly have gone out of their way to point out that this is their way, and their way alone, and that others' journeys will be different. They haven't preached or projected. Josh is sharing the story because of his work as a therapist. And so I can't quite fault them for anything other than unintentional damage.

The many, many gay Mormons out there who read this--or similar stories--and say 
"oh, so it can work. I just need to try harder."

Because for all that Josh and Lolly talk about the way they've made their sex life work, they don't (and presumably won't) explain the big problem everyone else sees. Yes, sex is a loving, binding act between two adults. But it is just as naughty as it is sacred, and that's why we like it. 

I love the spiritual bonding that comes through sex. I love the deep connection my wife and I have and the way it reflects in our physical intimacy with each other.

But I am hard-wired to have a vigorous session with a tall, leggy redhead. And I love the fact that we can just plain old lust after each other.

Now, can have a spiritual bonding experience and build a life with the same tall leggy redhead with whom I want to get freaky, y'all. (She was blonde when we got married, but we evolved.) The two are not at cross-purposes.

Granted, it's more complicated than that. That same wiring is involved when people cheat on their spouses or become obsessed with pornography. The same wiring is involved with any multiple-partner situation. 

But the point is, in the realm of "what do you want sexually?" my wife fulfills my primary proramming. She is a woman, a beautiful, vivacious woman.

But for Josh's wiring...

Imagine one of those days when you are really craving a gooey chocolate brownie. You would probably (if you're like me) make up a batch, let the kids lick the beaters, have a couple of slices and maybe even some ice cream on top, then suffer a crisis of conscience and hit the exercise bike for twenty minutes before bed.

But imagine you're not like me. You're on a diet, and you're really watching everything. So you don't make brownies. In fact, you've purged the house of anything that could be used to make brownies. You eat your carrot sticks and your nuts and when you really want something sweet, you nibble on a dried fig.

The brownie love persists. You cannot stop. You keep thinking of that damn brownie. Evolution has hardwired you to eat this delicious, carb-and-fat-and-chocolate treat so you can burn it off running from angry mammoths and evolution does not give one teensy crap that there are no mammoths to run from!

So finally you and your significant other go out, and you go to the place that serves a really great brownie sundae, and you share one, and it is delicious. It is worth every mammoth-running bite.

And you go back to your diet having done only minimal damage.


Or you go the rest of your life with no brownie.


No gooey, soft cloud of rich chocolate.

It can be done, right? Sure. Given the choice, what would you say is the healthiest choice physically and spiritually?

Probably not to make the batch, eat half of it and vainly strive on the exercise bike. But not to deny yourself your desire for the rest of your life, either.

Remember, evolution wants you to eat the fatty, gooey, artery-clogging things. Evolution does not care about the lack of mammoth.

Evolution also made you with a brain that is susceptible to various in-utero chemical factors that hardwire you to either want men or women. Evolution has programmed you to engage in reproductive action, but for some reason, evolution occasionally makes the oddball who wants to engage in such action with someone who will not reproduce.

Josh admits here that his primary programming, his basic lust, is for men.

Josh may just be, possibly, maybe maybe maybe, the person who can resist forever.

But almost everyone in his situation who reads the blog will not be. Many people will read his blog post and not realize that Josh and Lolly are the exception to a rule. And many of them will even read his blog post and note that the guy is happy. He has a loving wife and kids. Even if they divorce a few years down the road, that level of love and affection will be higher than it would be if he followed the only other apparent Mormon option, which is permanent singlehood and celibacy.

A lot of LDS gay kids might read this and think, quite rightly, that their lives will be more full and have a greater share of happiness if they do get married, even if the marriage is doomed.

Or we could just drop the whole "gay is evil" thing, in the same way that we dropped years of racist policy and doctrine and would now be quite embarrassed to speak about what Al went through in his early days in the church.

Point is... you've read enough long blog posts. Me out.

Monday, May 28, 2012

One-Sentence Stories

Oh man. I have written a lot of blogs in my head since the last one. Suffice it to say that I've been working reeeeeeally hard on a novel, reeeeeally hard at my Day Job, and reeeeeally hard on being a parent.

But I couldn't help getting excited about Alex's one-sentence story challenge. And every once in a while, by some freak of nature, Jake Kerr writes something worth reading. Jake's challenge was to write an epic fantasy story in one sentence. So I'd like to do the same for YA fantasy. Only I'm skeptical about the stuff.

Tommy Hopper And The Future

Given that he got the girl, killed the evil wizard, was first in all his classes, and won the Wizarding Football cup before he was eighteen, those who knew Tommy Hopper were shocked to find him a middle-aged accountant, reciting tax code in rich, sonorous tones as if it were the most potent of spells.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Scattered Positivity

Long time, Internet!

I had a fun NorWesCon with lots and lots of people I don't see often, but THAT SAID... about halfway through my first night there, the wife calls to say that there was an altercation involving police, guns, and kids with guns in front of our house. While the kids were in the yard. No shots fired, but she was a bit freaked out and I was a little weirded out at the thought of leaving everyone in the house alone after that. So's I drove home and spent the night, then drove back to Seattle the next night with Cory, and had some fun, completely forgot about a writers' workshop session (sorry, everyone involved!) then drove back late at night.

If it hadn't been for Cory's all-around mad genius, I would have fallen asleep, then dead, at the wheel. We had a great story therapy session and now I know what to do with a story if I ever sit down to write it.

There are a couple of scattered reviews for my new story, "Blade and Branch and Stone," around the Internet:

By far the most ambitious story in the issue and the most original, Ellsworth's created a strange and intriguing world.


While the concepts of a race that is part tree and trees that store generational memories aren't new, and aren't my favorite tropes if I'm being honest, Ellsworth uses multiple viewpoints to present a moving picture of how two races at enmity with each other can bridge a gap. This was a multi-layered tale worth the reading.

For those who haven't read it, the story is here. Enjoy! You might even leave me a comment if you think it's a particular shining light. Or if you think it's terrible.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

NorWesCon Schedule

I know I never post anything! I have an update in the works. I did make it in me and Seamus's competition last month, so no dancing... well, maybe. See upcoming announcement. But for now my Norwescon schedule:

Friday 5 pm Cascade 11
DC Comics: The New 52
Matt Youngmark, avid comic critic and creator of the Chooseomatic book series, will give a slide show presentation of all the changes taking place in the world of Batman, Superman, and all the rest.
Matt Youngmark (M), Spencer Ellsworth, Kate Merriwether Lynch, Nathan Crowder

Friday 9 pm Cascade 3&4
Writer Beware
How to tell if you’re being scammed or not when trying to get published? Sites such as SFWA’s, can help you with determining valid publishers, agents, etc. The idea of this business is money comes to the author, not the other way around. Learn when to RUN, not walk away, when people ask you for money to get you published.
Mary Rosenblum (M), Lizzy Shannon, Spencer Ellsworth, Keffy R. M. Kehrli

Friday 10 pm Cascade 1
Spencer Ellsworth reads TBD
TBD Rated PG
Spencer Ellsworth

This reading will be off the hook, people. There will be more than just reading--there will be SINGING.

Saturday 10 pm Cascade 6
From Magneto to Lex Luthor
What makes a great villain? Whom do you love to hate? What are some obvious weaknesses of famous villains that heroes never seem to take advantage of? Who are the worst villains in comics history?
Ashley “nerdtastic” Cook (M), Clinton J. Boomer, Morgue Anne, Spencer Ellsworth, Matt Youngmark

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Of Gauntlets In Roadways

Seamus Bayne is my good friend from Viable Paradise, and occasionally my therapist. Now we shall become more: brothers either in victory or humiliation.

Seamus and I have a large corpus of work sitting around that needs to get revised and Out. The. Damn. Door. Already. I have three short stories that I have been tweaking since time out of mind, and I still have not gotten them right. I have a Very Cool Novel that was supposed to be revised and out the door about the same time Sam was born. It is still not to third draft, even after some amazing critiques with many good point by Tina Connolly and Nikki Trionfo, both spectacular writers in their own right.

Seamus and I made a pact yesterday that the short stories would be out the door and the novels would be to beta readers within one month. March 15th is the day of destiny. If I do not, I must film myself dancing to Hot Chocolate's "I Believe In Miracles."

My wife describes my dancing thus: "it's like you hate your own body."

World, I have a sacred charge not to show you such a thing. Wish me the best of luck in avoiding it.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


I stole this from my friend Chas, and I love it. Take a famous poem and run it through an Internet translator three or four times, rendering it back into English, and then display the result. This is "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" through German and Spanish. The parantheses are amazing. They add this weird level of after-the-fact whispering.

Go carefully to this good night not,
The age should burn and be furious(storm) towards the end of the day;
The anger (the feeling), you are furious(storm) in the death in the light.

Though wise men (husbands) know (know) to his(her,your) (his(her,your)) end(final) mysteriously (they know (they know)), it(he) is correct,
Since his(her,your) (his(her,your)) words had not bifurcated on they no go (it)
Do not go carefully to this good night.

Good men (husbands), the last wave (wave) for, as intensely shouts
His(Her,Your) (His(Her,Your)) fragile acts might have danced in a green bay,
The anger (the feeling), you are furious(storm) in the death in the light.

The wild men (the husbands) who reached and sang the Sun in the flight,
And learn very late, they it saddened on his(her,your) (his(her,your))(she(it)) the way,
Do not go carefully to this good night.

Serious men (husbands), closing the death that it(he,she) sees with the screens of the sight
Blind eyes might burn on since(as,like) meteorites (and to be homosexuals) happy,
The anger

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Impending Doom

See these things?

They eat. A lot. Not what I set in front of them at dinner, mind, but they do eat stuff.

Unfortunately for this situation, my work has announced a round of impending layoffs. I think my chances are worse than many; I have less credentials than others and less experience. I have volunteered for a few dirty jobs; such a thing may redeem me or at least count for a good recommendation.

Right now I am trying to avoid the blues/the panic/the inevitable "but unemployment would mean so much writing time!" thoughts. (I already work from home. I have tons of writing time. It's just that lately I've used it to play the drums because HOLY CRAP THIS IS STRESSFUL.)

If you read this blog, you probably know me; if you don't, I have many years' experience teaching and tutoring with a major emphasis in online pedagogy, a Master's in English, a TESOL certification and a lot of experience with special-needs students. I worked for two years in publishing. I taught wilderness survival skills once (although I know eff-all about doing that stuff in the Northwest; drop me in a desert and I'd be fine).

We're trying to stay in the Northwest if possible. If you know of any steady, real jobs, holla.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Interview With Evil

Today I have gone to a dark place.

I have decided to interview my nemesis, Jake Kerr. From the moment I met Jake at Viable Paradise 14, I knew he was pure evil. Maybe it was his evil eyes, his Easter Island-style head, or the kittens he was chomping down between lectures, but I knew that one day I would have to kill him. It seemed a shame to do so without giving him a chance to speak for himself.


Me: Jake, tell us a little bit about yourself as a writer and an evil genius who must be stopped.

Jake: First of all, I think you can safely change the word "must" to "cannot." As to the "evil" part. That's all in the eye of the beholder now, isn't it?

I started in high school writing horrible Pern fan fiction in a desperate attempt to be Anne McAffrey. Only male.

After that failed attempt I went off to college and eventually spent fifteen years as a music industry and then technology columnist for various magazines. All of them subsequently folded after I left. A lesson for others, to be sure.

Me: Music? Hey, I play in a band. YOU killed the radio star.

Well, if I didn't kill it, the fact you are now in a band certainly will. But I thought we were talking about writing, painful as that topic may be to a failure like yourself.

Me: When I fail myself into a lecture circuit and a house on the coast of Italy, your definition of winning will be "cry like a toddler with no cookie."

Jake: Whatever helps you sleep at night. Anyway, a few years ago my former classmate, Laura Hillenbrand, wrote a book called Seabiscuit, and an email exchange with her inspired me to go back to the love of my youth--the stories of Bradbury, King, and Sturgeon; the novels of Philip K. Dick; the rollicking adventures of Piers Anthony and Edgar Rice Burroughs. So I sat down and started writing fiction again.

Me: Okay, that's actually a pretty cool story. You take this round.

Jake: I find it cute that you are keeping score.

Me: Out of pity, Jake, in the exact same way Bilbo pitied Gollum.

Jake: I can only assume you mean pity for yourself, which makes you both Bilbo and Gollum. I think from now on I'll call you "Gilbo." So, Gilbo, after some significant...

Me: Gilbo? Is that the best you can do? You'll never be a great writer, Jake. Never. It's sad, really.

Jake: After some significant critical work with the Writers Garret here in Dallas and a trip to the Viable Paradise writer's workshop, I sold my first story last year to Lightspeed Magazine. I understand you are still seething in jealousy over that, are you not?

Me: Pah! I do not deign to notice. In fact, when I read that issue of Lightspeed, my eyes skipped right over that story. I'm not even sure it's real. And definitely not eligible for Hugo and Nebula noms this year.

What kind of themes do you find yourself exploring in your writing? Are there topics or experiences that really interest you? (Besides eating kittens.)

Jake: I find any theme that causes pain to one Spencer Ellsworth particularly enriching. Beyond that, I really like to focus on the nature of the human experience and the emotions that it generates. To me the hard science is always a conduit to the real story. I'm particularly intrigued by two things: How people react and deal with situations outside their control and the nature of what it means to be human.

I should add that you are not human and you are, for the moment, outside my control. So I find you morbidly fascinating.

Me: I feel like ten thousand spiders just migrated up my spine.

Is there a work that has particularly influenced you with these themes? Can you name one (or a few works) that deal well with the issue of what it means to be human, and how people deal with situations beyond their control? How are you seeking to rip them off?

Jake: The obvious example for themes about what it is to be human would be the works of Philip K. Dick. Although SF is rich with this theme, from Matheson's I Am Legend to Bacigalupi's The Wind-Up Girl. Alfred Bester was a giant at examining themes of individuals thrust into situations that they must struggle with, much of which is their adapting to the reality or changing it themselves.

I would be remiss not to mention Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations," which was the inspiration for my story, "The Old Equations." While not very similar in structure or topic, they both address the concept of dealing with loss--an individual, through scientific situations entirely beyond his or her control, must deal with profound loss.

Me: It's interesting to me because I grew up reading Asimov and didn't discover Philip K. Dick until later, and I always thought they were more alike than people thought. At the core, as you said, their works are about people adapting redefining humanity to suit a new world.

Jake: I read a lot of Asimov, too. Science fiction from the latter half of the twentieth century has been incredibly influential to me. From the folksy Bradbury to the new wave stuff in the Dangerous Visions anthology, I really couldn't get enough.

Me: Are you just a straight-sf guy, or do you see any similar themes in fantasy?

Jake: That's a good question, which makes me wonder if you are having someone else actually write these.
I've read a ton of fantasy, from Tolkein to Stephen R. Donaldson to Piers Anthony. I don't think I ever found the kind of philosophical depth in fantasy that I found in science fiction. It is distinctly possible I just didn't read the right works, as I didn't read nearly as much fantasy as SF. That said, there is no doubt that there are great works of art in the fantasy genre, works that leave you emotionally drained at the end. And the imagination! Say what you will about Piers Anthony as a writer, he has one of the all-time great imaginations in the genre. Not to mention Gene Wolfe, whose imagination is further honed by his amazing use of language.

Me: Hypothetical situation: I am a writer and you are my biggest fan. You find me wrecked in the snow on the side of the road and take me home to nurse me back to health, only to discover that I have killed off your favorite character in my newest book. How do you react?

Jake: There are so many outrageous assumptions I can't even answer it. You're not a writer. I'd never remotely be your biggest fan. I'd never in a million years nurse you back to health. That said, I do believe you have the blackness of heart to kill off a favorite character of mine, so I think the only natural response would be to hobble you, chain you to a manual typewriter, and make you rewrite Twilight.

Me: Bella gazed longingly into Edward's eyes, and then Jake died. Horribly. Thrice.

Jake:See, I just KNEW you read Twilight. Multiple times.

Me: I was curious when I found out "Stephanie Meyer" was your pseudonym. (It explains how he funds all these space lasers and secret evil hideouts, folks.)

Your story is, as I pointed out through gritted teeth, eligible for Hugos and Nebulas and you yourself are eligible for the Campbell for Best New Writer. Why should people vote for someone who would gladly nuke Peoria from orbit if it served his evil plans?

Jake: I would hope that people would vote for others for the Campbell. I am entirely unworthy of that honor this year. As to the Hugo or Nebula, if someone finds that my novelette moved them more than others, then I would hope they would vote for me. But that is a highly personal decision. On the other hand, my winnning a Nebula or Hugo very well may drive Spencer to suicide, and ridding the Earth of his vileness is worthy enough a goal that you should perhaps vote for me whether you like my story or not.

Me: Please. My seppuku standards are much higher than that. I have faith that humanity will not make the mistake of recognizing your work.

But should it ever happen, I will form a resistance and google-bomb you with slashfic.

Jake: So what you're saying is you'll just redirect people to your site.

Me: I didn't say Autobot/Decepticon slashfic. My site is an entirely different animal (and by animal I mean what Megatron calls Optimus Prime in the throes of passion).

Hypothetical situation # 2: You discover that at my death, the timestream diverges into a horrific dystopian future where people are eaten alive by giant rats. With tentacles. Who are often confused with a political party because people call them "tentacrats." Only you can save me from this accidental death. Do you intervene for the good of the world, or do you take your chances with the tentacrats?

Jake: Since the dystopian future of tentacrats doesn't seem altogether that different than our current form of government, I think I'd take my chances with the rats rather than save you. Hell, who am I kidding? If saving you stopped Cthulhu from being unleashed on the world, leading to puppies and kittens dying and nothing but pain and suffering for all, I'd still not save you.

Jake Kerr, everyone! His vileness knows no bounds, and you should never read his story because it will corrupt you.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Truth Is Revealed

I used to tutor an eleven-year old with Asperger's who was also named Spencer.

We had a language called Spenzish.

Smurgle all ye wattabups meant "give me a cookie."

There. I have no more secrets.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Two Things!

I found this old journal I used to write my stories in. It had some art in the sidebar by the amazing James C. Christensen, including this 16th-century-looking dude in a frilly doublet and hose, throwing up the peace sign.

I captioned it "Two things! Your cheese is rotten and your butt is huge!"

So, now that you know that, you can take care of your, y'know, problems.

I wanted to write a bit about depression and creativity. (Two things!) There's a fallacy out there that depression is linked to creativity. You have to be a little psychotic to be an artist. Chop off an ear when things get too dull.

This is a fairly powerful fallacy in medicated now because a lot of people get on antidepressants, get happy, feel better than ever before... and can't think of anything to write about. Still, better to have a dearth of ideas but be happy than have a dearth of motivation and sit on the floor crying. Right?

Ehh, it's more complicated than that. This book explains it better than I can. Depression is a by-product of our alienating and sedentary modern lifestyle. Our ancestors belonged to an incredibly nurturing community and were almost never sedentary.

Rumination is poison to the depressed. Give us too long to think and we'll start thinking about what failures we are. But Skipper, writers need time to ruminate! Writing IS sedentary and alienating by nature.

In order to fight my depression properly, I had to relearn how to write and not get depressed about it.

I took control of other things first. I got a therapist, started exercising, used a full-spectrum light in winter, and dropped some things from my massive priority list. That was when I dropped out of the publishing business. Writing works better if you know you have a few hours a day for it. I also got better meds. Right now I take what is politely referred to as a mood stabilizer, but I used to take an SSRI. It was a bad choice since I've got a form of bipolar disorder that is less crazy than the typical sort. The SSRI swung me toward mania instead of evening me out. I had to see an actual psychiatrist a few times, on top of the talk therapy, to identify these things.

I had found that the worse the depression got, the more likely I was to obsess over a piece. I rarely produced anything, and when I did, I scrutinized the juice out of it.

So I first wrote a novel I knew I couldn't sell. It was safe, like flirting with the hot girl who will only talk to you because you let her copy your homework.

I poured tons of first draft into it, just trying to tell a story. That helped me get my work ethic back, so I could tackle more reasonable goals. Revision was the toughest. I had to figure out a way to revise that did not resemble rumination. Stare at the same Word doc long enough, and you'll hate it and yourself.

Hard copies became my saviors. If I had to write a new chunk of a book, I would handwrite it. If I had to make major changes to a short story, I would print it out, scribble all over it, and actually retype the whole thing back into the computer.

The community of writers around you can really save you; I got connected to a writer's group that was ridiculously close-knit and welcoming, and, I think, still is.

I also had to make this my mantra: it's about telling a story. When I confused my professional identity, my self-worth and my desires for a "real writing career" with the joy of storytelling, I stopped cold. Let the id play, mean Mr. Superego.

I'd be curious to hear how other writers deal with depression and creativity. Can you actually write when you're depressed? Do meds make it better or worse? Is the cheese really rotten and the butt truly huge?

Monday, January 9, 2012


I got some really nice responses around the Internet to the post on writing and depression. I'm going to write a little more on it, since it's something I've struggled to write about for years. But first...

I haven't been able to think of a snarky yet humble way to do this. So. I'm eligible for a few awards in the upcoming 2012 award season, including the Hugo for two novelettes I published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show.

To vote for the 2011 Hugo Awards, you need to have been a member of WorldCon 2011/Renovation SF, be a member of WorldCon 2012/Chicon 7, or become a supporting member of WorldCon 2012. To vote for the Nebulas, you need to be an active member of Science Fiction Writers of America.

Both magazines are also fantastic purveyors of fiction and deserve Hugos of their own, in the Best Semiprozine category. I'm particularly delighted to have appeared in BCS because of the way they are nurturing the rarely-seen form of short epic fantasy. I encourage you to read around in both and nom nom nom (as in nominate).

I also want to make special note of this post by editor Jennifer Brozek. Jen published a story of mine in the anthology Human Tales and is a really great editor and great person, and you ought to check out her anthos as well for fine stories.

Finally, I'm eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. For a New guy, I feel as though I've been here all along.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Dumps

On Mur Lafferty's response to Bloggess re: depression. Um, yeah. More so for writers.

I've been meaning for years to write about depression and writing, but it's a bit like trying to untangle that mess of cords behind the TV. Does this cord go to the muse, the depression, the superego, or... what does that one do?

In 2006, I would go to work in the special ed department of Inglemoor High School and get depressed around 9 in the morning. Thank God I worked with the kindest kids in the world, or it would have been even tougher. It lasted until right before I got off work, and when I got home and sat in the quiet, I felt so relieved that the black dog was gone... until I wanted to write or do something productive.

Then a different demon set in: The Why Aren't You Good Enough Beast.

It's my drunk superego, and he's a mean drunk. I would stare at a blank page, check Facebook, maybe doodle a bit, until it was time to cook dinner, then the Beast would scream about my worthlessness for an hour until my wife got home and found me crying into the chicken mole.

I would make unrealistic goals for myself, trying to jog my writing. Two thousand words a day! A story each week! Six stories this month! A novel done by a month from now! Pulitzers a-go-go! The redemption of the F word!

The ridiculous goals made me more depressed because I knew I couldn't meet them and the Beast was now screaming, screaming, screaming in my ear that I was supposed to break in (whatever that means) years ago, dammit!

I'd like to say that my writing is always an out for depression, a place to set my sad little soul free. When I lose myself in the story, I feel that way. I love to see something take an unexpected turn, to let a character do dumb things and write their consequences.

But it's just as often a source of the depression. My superego and id don't play well together. The superego is quite helpful. I am grateful for the type-A bastard and the stick up his ass. He makes me revise, he makes me submit, and he makes me keep some kind of goal, although I have to check his ambition.

I am grateful for the id, distractable little bugger that he is, and his stormy, gooey affair with the muse. He gives me the humor, the twists and turns, and the occasional moment of brilliance.

But both of them can make the depression worse, and they want different things. The id wants whatever the hell it wants at the moment--usually chocolate, the guitar, and old comics. The superego wants only to impress.

The clinically depressed tend to ruminate. We review recent events in our life looking for proof that we are worth something, and find only evidence that we are worthless.

For anyone who feels this way out there, you're not what your rumination leads you to believe. I mentioned the special ed kids. Some of them could only say a few words. Some of them were in diapers. But every day, they smiled at me and laughed at my dumb jokes and made it a little better. They won't do much for the advancement of society. Depression was a problem for them as well.

But they mattered. Don't fool yourself into thinking you don't.