In Twenty-Five Words Or Less

(I'm actually going to write about writing! Don't faint.)

Came across an interesting concept (and vague guidelines) for a new anthology, opening for submissions on December 20th: Twenty Epics, to be edited by David Moles (of All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories).

The concept is for an anthology of stories, under ten thousand words each, that will give the flavor, the appeal, the frisson of reading epic fantasy and/or literature, without having to slog thru yet one more five-volume trilogy.

As it happens, earlier this year I made some attempt at writing a "one-volume trilogy", a fantasy that would have the depth, and detail, and plot of a full triple-decker, but do it in about 150,000 words or less.

(Hasn't worked out too well, and it's been stalled for a few months while I do some re-thinking about what I want to write. And about whether I have the discipline to write a completed novel; I've started "novels" several times in years past, without success.)

To try and do that in an even more extreme manner... hmmm, interesting.

So, what are the characteristics of an epic? Off the top of my head:

  1. An extended journey, quest or battle
  2. Set against a "deep", well-developed background, society or world
  3. Against multiple obstacles and/or opponents
  4. By a protagonist who is also representative of his/her society or world/worldview
  5. For high stakes.

So, how to do that, in a maximum of ten thousand words? I can think of a few things that might work:

-- Set the story at what would be the climactic scene in a traditional epic, with multiple, brief flashbacks by the protagonists about the chain of events that led to that climax. Throw in a hat trick, and have the flashbacks in reverse chronological order, so that the story's final resolution is presented simultaneously with the story's beginning.

-- Make the story an "internalized" epic, one centered on emotional and psychological conflict and changes, rather than physical events.

-- A metafiction epic, where the background would be the writing/filming of an "epic" book/movie, with the story's own epic nature being the struggle to bring that "epic" to completion.

-- Consider that "epic" may be in the eye of the protagonist. Relative to that protagonist, something like cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for a large number of people might be an epic task. For "high stakes", make it that the success or failure of the dinner will determine the success or failure of the protagonist's marriage or relationship.

(On that last possible approach to a story: On looking over the various stories I have in inventory, I found, rather to my surprise, that the unsold story of mine coming closest to fitting the various criteria I listed above is the sole non-SF, non-fantasy, non-mystery, thoroughly "normal" story I've written, one about a lost cat trying to find its owners. [The owners are dead, so it's not as easy as it might sound. And, yes, it is a nonfantasy story.] Barring some more specific inspiration [possible], and time to write a story before closing deadline [less possible], I may try submitting the cat story to Moles.)

Twenty Epics opens for submissions on December 20th.



In the November 2nd elections, one of the measures on the Arizona ballot was Proposition 200, to the effect that illegal immigrants should be denied "public benefits". Prop 200 passed with 56% of the vote.

Local attorney Frank Conti, Jr. had an op-ed piece in THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC in which he said:

So Proposition 200 has passed in Arizona, by a wide majority, and the sky has not yet fallen.

. . .

The truth is, no reasonable person employing a modicum of common sense could possibly equate a public service - libraries, police and fire protection, garbage removal - with a public benefit like welfare, which entails the direct handing over of money from the government to the individual. Now this distinction, clear as it is, might be too fine for an undocumented immigrant who speaks no English.

I was at my local library about a week ago. As I walked towards the entrance, I noticed two men: One was another man, very tall, also walking towards the entrance. The second was average height, slightly paunchy, mustached, standing near the doors to the library; the second man had a camera in his hands.

As the tall man approached the entrance, the man with the camera spoke: "Are you an Arizona citizen?" he asked.

The tall man hesitated for a second, then answered "Yes." He sounded puzzled at being asked.

"Okay," Camera Man said. He turned his gaze away from the tall man. The tall man went ahead into the library.

I was now approaching the library entrance. Camera Man glanced at me... and then away, as if not interested. He said nothing as I entered the library.

The incident had been very strange. After entering the library, I saw the tall man and went to get a closer look at him.

Besides being tall, he had the hawk-nosed features frequently seen in Meditteranean people. Or, perhaps, Arabic. He was not dark-skinned, but he was a shade or two deeper in color than my own tan; he could probably have been described as "swarthy".

I thought about this while finishing my errand at the library. A man of "ethnic" appearance had been questioned about his citizenship, while I -- indisputably Caucasian -- had been unquestioned. Did this have something to do with the rcent passage of Prop 200? If the tall man had answered "No", would he have been harangued about having no right to use the library? Would he have had his picture taken?

I decided to ask Camera Man what he was doing. But when I left the library after about ten minutes inside, he had gone.

Still... disturbing.

Conti may have been correct about "no reasonable person" could interpret Prop 200 as forbidding libraries and other benign public services to residents of Arizona. But I think Prop 200 was not written by "reasonable persons", and I think the harassment and intimidation has already started.


Cooking For Cons

There's a new cookbook out: The Convict Cookbook, by the inmates of Walla Walla Penitentary in Washington state.

SPOKANE, Wash. - Talk about your Iron Chefs. Proving that the steel bars of the Washington State Penitentiary are no barrier to fine dining, inmates at the Walla Walla prison have just produced "The Convict Cookbook," which includes recipes that can actually be made inside a cell without a stove.


Po' Mans Burritos, Cell Block Fudge or Jail Mix, anyone? How about Dope Fiend Sandwich or Prizzon Po Carcass Casserole? Those are just a few of the tasty dishes featured in the 163-page book. There's a helpful glossary of prison slang in the back, too.

The cookbook grew out of a community college class on how to make the transition to the outside. ... The book includes short facts and insights into prison life. There is also an essay "Why Do We Cook in Our Cells? or Bad Guys, Good Taste?" by Rick Webb, one of the authors. He explains that while prison food is OK, it becomes monotonous over time, and cell cooking provides some variety and creativity for inmates.

Cooking food in a prison cell isn't easy. Prisoners do not have stoves or microwaves. What they are allowed is an immersion heater known as a stinger, which can heat a cup of water to boiling.

Some recipes can be cooked on radiator pipes. Others require the prison kitchen. Many of the recipes involve plastic bags standing in as mixing bowls.

All involve some ingenuity.


Proceeds from sales of the $17 cookbook - available in bookstores around Washington state - will go to the Children's Museum of Walla Walla. Some of the money will also be used for museum passes for the children of inmates, when they are in town for a visit, said co-author Webb.

"We all agree that it would be `a good thing' to provide other worthwhile activities for children besides seeing Dad," Webb wrote.

I saw the news article reprinted in our local paper, and immediately thought of the applications it would have for those stone-broke skiffy fans who spend their convention dollars on travel and memberships, and eat (if they do) out of a box or cooler in their room.

Alas, the piece gives no direct information on ordering a copy. Not listed on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. The site for the Children's Museum has no mention. Powell's Books, the big-muthah bookstore in Portland, OR, has a listing, but doesn't have it in stock; there's a "Notify Me" service, supposedly, but after waiting about twenty minutes for images to finish loading and the "Notify Me" button to actually show up somewhere on screen, I gave up.

*sigh* Maybe in a few weeks, it'll have gotten into accessible venues.

UPDATE, 11/16/04: Okay! Earthlight Books in Walla Walla, WA has The Convict Cookbook available for $17.95 plus shipping. Orders can be placed via this link at Abebooks.com.

Sunday Morning Cat Blogging: Guest Cats Edition

neighbor cat Mister It Posted by Hello

friend Jo's Ewaz and Jasper Posted by Hello

our friend Anne's Aliera Posted by Hello

Anne's Sethera Posted by Hello


The News From Alternate-Earth

(AP) The controversy over last week's presidential election results ramped up another notch today when Attorney-General John Ashcroft announced a full-scale investigation into whether the Ohio voting results that gave the election to John Kerry were rigged.

"Many will say this is a partisan investigation," Ashcroft announced, "but the accuracy and legitimacy of America's votes is essential to our freedom and democracy. I would betray my duty to my office and country if I did not seek answers for the disturbing questions raised by this election."

There was no immediate response from Kerry himself. Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe said, "The election was held. The votes were counted. John Kerry won. Let's all move on for the good of the country." McAullife was speaking from an undisclosed situation, under heavy security following numerous death threats received against himself and his family.

Others disagreed. Speaking before a crowd in Cinncinnatti estimated at seven to eight thousand, former General Motors executive turned conservative film-maker Michael Moore, whose anti-Kerry documentary WINDSURFIN' WUSS has been given much of the credit for reducing Kerry's initial lead in the campaign to an even match, said:

"It's all very simple. The president of Diebold made a statement that he was committed to delivering Ohio's electoral votes to the Democratic candidate. It became known that Diebold's electronic voting machines could be easily hacked and the results manipulated. Diebold refused to acknowledge or close all the security loopholes. Not one Democratic Representative or Senator -- not ONE -- was willing to support vote-verification measures that would have prevented that possibility.

"In the election, exit polls in almost every location indicated that the election was close, but with the edge leaning towards George Bush. In precincts still using paper ballots, the vote totals reflected that edge for Bush. But in the precincts using electronic, non-verifiable machines, over and over and over again the final results differed from the exit polls' results to give a clear win for Kerry.

"The election stinks. The Democrats are trying to wrap the results in newspaper headlines, and telling us all to 'move on'. But the fish is still rotten, and if America swallows any of it, our country will sicken and die."

Following Moore's speech, the crowd of sign-waving, chanting Republicans attempted to march to the Ohio headquarters for the Kerry campaign in downtown Cinncinnati. They were met by lines of police in riot gear, who used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Moore and others vowed to continue their protests. Similar, though smaller, protests are being held in dozens of cities across America.

In Washington, President Bush released a brief statement: "I've spent four years being accused of stealing the last election. That's not something I'd wish on any man, and certainly not on John Kerry. Both of us should support the Department of Justice's investigation. This is too important, not for John or I, but for the country we both love, to just 'move on'. And if the accusations of vote-rigging are shown to be baseless, I will then concede the election, make a public apology to John Kerry and to the American public, and then I will go down in the books as the biggest fool in Presidential history. But I'd rather be a fool, for my country's sake, than a coward who did not try to protect it."