Archive for March, 2012

Flash Fiction Week: Among The Trees

Deep breath, and exhale.  Welcome to day five of my five-day Flash Fiction week.  The last item on Chuck Wendig’s list of settings is a Fairy Tale Forest.  Of course, it’s Friday again, which means he has another challenge up.  Because he’s a sick twisted bastard that way.

No, you needn’t write fiction in which you lie to yourself, but you must write fiction in which the characters lie to one another. The deception is the thing, you see? Every story thrives on conflict same as yeast thrives on sugar and bears thrive on honey (provided it was first stuffed in the chest cavity of a fleeing park ranger). Your task today is to make the core conflict of the story based upon or orbiting around a terrible lie.

Alright.  Fairy Tale Forest.  A lie that drives the story.  Let’s journey Among the Trees.

Day One: First Times
Day Two: Ride the Time Vortex
Day Three: Finding a Way
Day Four: Above it All

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Flash Fiction Week: Above it All

Today’s challenge location takes us to a penthouse apartment overlooking the apocalypse.

Day One: First Times
Day Two: Ride the Time Vortex
Day Three: Finding a Way
Day Five: Among the Trees

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Flash Fiction Week: Finding a Way

Day three of the flash fiction challenge brings on the setting of the bottom of the ocean.

Day One: First Times
Day Two: Ride the Time Vortex
Day Four: Above it All
Day Five: Among the Trees

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Flash Fiction Week: Ride The Time Vortex

Day two of the settings challenge takes us to an abandoned amusement park.

Day One: First Times
Day Three: Finding a Way
Day Four: Above it All
Day Five: Among the Trees

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Flash Fiction Week: First Times

I’m doing something a little different this week.  A little more…masochistic.  The current Chuck Wendig challenge is to write a story set in one of five provided settings.  I also tend to max out at five posts a week, so I figured, what the hell?  Why not do all five?  I’ll post them one per day for the rest of the week, in the order provided in the challenge.

Lunar Brothel

Abandoned Amusement Park

The Bottom of the Ocean

Penthouse Apartment during the Apocalypse

Fairy Tale Forest

Am I mad, perhaps, but pushing comfort zones is part of being an author, and trying to write five good flash pieces like this, it’s certainly pushing the comfort zone.

Day Two: Ride the Time Vortex
Day Three: Finding a Way
Day Four: Above it All
Day Five: Among the Trees

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World Building Question: What Day Is It?

Subtitle: Is It Friday Yet?

Most of the time periods we track on earth make sense.  Years are based on how long it takes the earth to go around the sun.  Months originated with moon cycles.  Days are based on the rising and setting of the sun.  These are all observable periods of time, and showed up in isolated cultures.  That doesn’t mean that I won’t talk about years and months while reverse world building the earth, but they’re not what I’m talking about in this post.  Here I want to focus on that period that falls between months and days, and is far more arbitrary and interesting.  We’re talking about weeks.

Weeks are strange.  They’re arbitrary seven day chunks that bridge across the ends and beginnings of months and years.  A year is made up of fifty-two of them, with one or two days left over.  Most months are made up of just over four of them.  It would be more apparently logical to consider a week to be five days, after all that divides evenly into the 365 days of a year (yes yes, leap years, that’s for another day).  We saw from talking about the number of hours in a day that the ancients tended towards base twelve counting, with sixty as a significant number, so we might reasonably expect a twelve day week.  But we have seven.

Medieval Lithuanian calendar with 9-day week.

Looking at the seven day week is already getting ahead of ourselves, as it takes something for granted.  Why have a week at all?  I’ve been looking into that question, and have yet to find a satisfying answer to it.  The week appears to be entirely an invention of contrivance.  They appeared in several cultures because it was helpful to have a period of time longer than a day but shorter than a month, and because it’s nice to have a way to break a calendar into columns.  They ranged in length from three days in ancient Basque tradition to ten days in ancient Egypt.  Sometimes they evenly divided months, sometimes they didn’t.

The standardization on a seven day week world wide is tied to the same reasons why this is the year 2012 and why our calendar is named after a Pope.  It all has to do with the strength of the Christian tradition when it made sense to standardize such things.  To sum up: today we have a seven day week because the early Christians had a seven day week, because they used the same origin stories as the Jews, who likely got their idea of a seven day week from the Babylonians.  So where did the Babylonians get seven days from?  Lunar cycles.  Look at a calendar that shows moon phases, and you’ll see for the most part they line up in a single row.  This doesn’t exactly work, so the Babylonians tended to follow three seven day weeks with an eight or nine day week to keep things in phase with the moon.  Judaism standardized seven days to every week in the Genesis creation story, the earliest culture I could find that used seven days for every week.

Seven took awhile to take hold.  On the right is a calendar from medieval Lithuania with a nine day week.  During the French Revolution, at the same time they were playing with decimal time, they also briefly observed a ten day week.  As recently as the 20th Century in the Soviet Union five and six day weeks were implemented.  So it’s only been since the 1940s that all major world powers have agreed on a seven day week, and even then there’s disagreement about what day a week starts on.

So now we’ve got a week, but that doesn’t answer our opening question.  What day is it?  We’ve got handy labels at the top of the columns on our calendars, where do the names come from?  Well…it depends on where your language came from.

If you’re speaking a Romance language, then the days of the week come from the seven classical planets.  Thus they days of the week were named, in order, for the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn.  Five of these seven are still prevalent in Spanish: Lunes, Martes, Miercoles, Jueves, and Viernes.  The weekend has been renamed to reflect Jewish and Christian tradition, with Saturday named for the Jewish Sabbath (Sabado), and Sunday named God’s Day (Domingo).  This renaming of the weekend is common in the romance languages.

Not a recommended way to celebrate Thor's Days.

The Germanic languages, English included, largely did the opposite.  Our weekends are still given to Saturn and the Sun.  Monday is still the Moon’s day.  The rest of the names reflect the Norse influence on the Germanic tongues, with days belonging to the gods Tiw, Wodan, Thor, and Frig.  These days of the week represent the largest influence that Norse mythology still holds over modern culture, so prevalent that we might not always remember these origins.

One more question while I’m talking about weeks: Is it the weekend yet?  We have the fifth commandment to thank for that.  Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, a proscription against working on the day that God rested after creating the world.  We get two days instead of one because Jewish tradition has a Saturday sabbath, Christian tradition holds to Sunday.

To think, if they agreed on this issue, we’d possibly have a six-day workweek.  So three cheers for theological disagreements.

Weekends are not uniform across cultures.  In most of the western world they fall on Saturday and Sunday, because those are the days that several major industrial powers shut down.  However in Islamic nations, where a majority of the population holds Friday as a holy day, Thursday-Friday or Friday-Saturday weekends are more common, and some observe a six-day workweek with only Friday taken off.  The oddest outlier is the tiny nation of Brunei which has a split weekend, taking Friday and Sunday off, but working Saturday.

Time to bring this all back and look at this from a world building perspective.  Here on my fictional planet called “Earth” there has long been an agreement that a subdivision of time between the day and the month is logical.  They call these “weeks.”  Different cultures have experimented with different length weeks as recently as 70 years ago, but the calendar that all societies now use is based on seven days.  This is due to the creation stories of one religion, even though the names of the days largely come from another religion.  They work for five or six of these seven days with the others meant for meditation and spiritualism, though they can’t agree on which day(s) these are, and many don’t bother with observing either.

So should your world or culture have weeks?  Does it need weeks?  It depends on how long periods of time are observed, and the nature of the society.  They’re, in large part, an artifact of keeping physical calendars.  If you have them, the questions to ask: How long are they?  Why are they that long?  It could be astronomically significant, it could evenly subdivide a longer period of time, it could be religiously significant (though religious significance is often reverse engineered), or it might be completely arbitrary.

Coming up in the future of this series: What year is it?  When is lunch?  Where am I? And who are you?  Yes, these are sounding more and more like the cliched questions of an amnesiac.  I’m enjoying this series, as it gives me an excuse to research little bits and pieces of life that are so culturally engrained that we don’t consider they had origins and that different cultures disagree.

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Gardening for Bees

Last night was the second-to-last beekeeping class, which means we learned about bee food sources.  Alright, that probably sounds a little grander than it was.  What we really did was look at pictures of flowers and trees that some people in the class were able to identify down to Latin name, and that I just thought looked like flowers and trees.  I finally recognized thistle, but so did everyone else, which made me feel less special about it.

Bees eat sugar and protein.  The sugar comes from sugar water, nectar, or honey.  The protein comes from pollen or pollen substitutes (yes, there are pollen substitutes, for those of you who are dissatisfied by the new year-round hay fever season here on the east coast).  They collect it, they store it, and then they show us another pictures of a tree.

We’re setting up our garden for this year.  It’s larger than last year’s garden, and we’re employing lessons learned, such as “tomato cages were invented for a reason.”  Yeah, the tomatoes and tomatillos took over the garden last year, so this year we’re reining them in.  I’m making another attempt at turning the yard into a fruit salad this year.  We’ve got two pawpaw trees going into their third year, one of which should be taller than me by the end of the summer.  Raspberries, black raspberries, and blackberries in the two side yards, four potted blueberries, nine strawberry plants, two quince bushes, and a cherry bush.  That’s just where we’re starting the year.  I need to add two more cherries (they work best male and female, but I can’t remember which one I currently have, and the tomatoes smothered its mate), my wife is talking lemons, and I’m always on the lookout for more berries.  Those are my impulse buys when I’m in a nursery.  I’ve had my eye on some hardy kiwis for the past year, but that’s going to have to wait until at least next summer.

Yes, Virginia, you can grow kiwi plants.

Bees love them all, which is fantastic, because my history with them is spotty at best.  Some of the plants I’ve been waiting to mature.  The strawberries will be my third year of trying.  I’ve figured out when to pick the berries before varmints get to them, but I’ve yet to save blueberry crops from the damned birds.  Last year my wife and I each got a blueberry.

One last class next week, which will be nice.  Not only because we’ve confirmed that the mead maker in the club is showing up, but because I’m ready to get my Tuesdays back.  It’s shockingly disruptive to my writing momentum to lose Tuesdays.  I already do little to no writing on Thursdays because I’m attending my writers’ group.  Yes, that sounds ironic and counter productive, but I feel I get more out of that than I would from an extra night’s writing.  Losing two days a week, especially two non-consecutive days, is hard to work around.

The bees will arrive at the end of April.  Look for more pictures in these beekeeping updates when they do.  For now the only thing I can really photograph is the pile of everything in my basement, and that’s all just too big of a mess to show off online.

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Convince Me

I was listening to This American Life, curious about the rare retraction they’ve issued surrounding Mike Daisey’s semi-fictionalized portrayal of a trip he made to Apple manufacturing plants in China.  This is not about that.  This is about a song that played at the very end.  It’s perhaps damning of Mr. Daisey, but the lyrics spoke to me at a different level.  The song is by Val Emmich with harmonies by Allie Moss, and it’s called Convince Me:

It’s not necessarily a song about writing the fantastic.  But it applies.  We are asking our audiences to join us on rides through the wonderful and bizarre, all these things that are so vastly different from life around them.  Whether that’s riding dragons, visiting Mars, pasts that never were, or futures that may not be, one thing stands firm in all of it:  “If you really do believe these ridiculous things / Come on convince me.”

That’s all.

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Fifty More Shades of Grey

I won’t pretend to understand anything about Fifty Shades of Grey.  What I do understand is that it’s making a crap ton of money for the author and just got picked up by one of the major publishing houses.  So, in an effort to get some of that money, I’m offering my new masterpiece Fifty More Shades of Grey.  I hope you enjoy.

050505
0A0A0A
0F0F0F
141414
191919
1E1E1E
232323
282828
2D2D2D
333333
383838
3D3D3D
424242
474747
4C4C4C
515151
565656
5B5B5B
606060
666666
6B6B6B
707070
757575
7A7A7A
7F7F7F
848484
898989
8E8E8E
939393
999999
9E9E9E
A3A3A3
A8A8A8
ADADAD
B2B2B2
B7B7B7
BCBCBC
C1C1C1
C6C6C6
CCCCCC
D1D1D1
D6D6D6
DBDBDB
E0E0E0
E5E5E5
EAEAEA
EFEFEF
F4F4F4
F9F9F9
FEFEFE

Publishers who want a piece of this can get in touch with me through my contacts page. I believe I’ve got roughly 204 more shades of grey to offer the world beyond this sampling.

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Flash Fiction: The Fire of the Gods

Back on the wagon with another Chuck Wendig challenge.  This week:

Your story will be titled: “The Fire of the Gods.”

And that’s it. That’s all I demand of you.

Well, besides the standard parameters, of course. The story must be under 1000 words. Post it at your blog (not in the comments here, or I may delete it), then link back so we can all see it.

However, since I missed last week’s challenge I’m dropping myself a penalty.  Even though it’s past the noon deadline for last week’s I’m going to do both challenges in one.  So here’s last week:

I have, in fact, chosen 20 words.

You must choose 10 of these words and use them throughout your ~1000 word flash fiction story.

Might be tricky, but hey, that’s why this is a challenge and not, say, me tickling your privates with a feather.

The ten words:

Beast, brooch, cape, dinosaur, dove, fever, finger, flea, gate, insult, justice, mattress, moth, paradise, research, scream, seed, sparrow, tornado, university.

There we go.  It’s two Wendig challenges in one maddening story.  Let’s get to it.

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