Bad Science Fiction

I’ve subjected myself to two examples of pretty horrendous writing lately…the first was the ninth or tenth in a series and was unexpectedly bad, the second was the first in a two-book series. Since I’m pretty sure I do a lot of this in my own writing, I’d better think about why they were so bad.

1) One of these books must have been self-published, because so many reviewers on Amazon specifically (and correctly) mentioned how bad the grammar was. There were numerous examples of verb tense changes in the middle of the sentence: I called to the student to stop but he keeps walking. Some of the homophone mistakes were funny: queue instead of cue, taboo instead of tableau. And to top it off, the author had a note at the end saying, “well, I tried to catch the errors, but…” and then a smiley emoticon. !!! That final note alone may very well keep me from reading book two.

2) One author gave up looking at the action and simply narrated the thoughts of the character he was following- boring mental soliloquies of a previously minor character in tedious detail. And he could have been writing about battles!
I’m trying to think of successful soliloquies outside of Shakespeare (and have you seen how much variety of action is added in to make those plays live?). In A Wrinkle in Time Madeleine L’Engle has Meg thinking through a problem, but it ends up being a pretty powerful scene: It is in the midst of a mental battle with IT, her brother is at stake, and she is thinking about a course of action. She does have a lot to say about her faults, but that is generally handled in conversation, and in short doses, balanced by things Meg does that showcase her character very effectively.
I think as a general rule if you want to show what the character is thinking, conversation is better than reporting thoughts. Particularly if their thoughts aren’t very interesting. “No…instructor is the wrong word for what I want to be…nor do I like professor- too snobby sounding. No….I will be…a teacher.” Nobody cares what you call it- go do something! Tell me about what happened when that parent burst into your classroom in the middle of a test and-

3) At times the narrator chugged along through a sequence of actions no matter what was happening: dinner, monster attack, declaration of love that has been building for half the book. There were no cues, no crescendo, no change in the even tone of the narrator.

The reader wants to be next to the action and to feel something as a result.

Interestingly, I’m still tempted to get the next book in the series (less than $3.00 on Amazon…I wonder why). Good plots count for something. But surely I can find better books to read. I could even re-read A Wrinkle in Time and think about what the author does to make Meg live in my mind years after my last reading.

Trauma may Endure for the Night, but Peace Cometh in the Morning

I dreamed that I was pushing a stroller (rather old-fashioned, not a heavy-duty baby jogger) with my baby – a girl – inside. I thought to myself, “You can be happy, because it’s actually true- you have a baby!” I could practically see that emotional wall I have built up to protect myself from the overwhelming tragedy of misplaced hope, and I was considering the possibility of breaching it. And then I woke up.

I fell asleep again and in my dream I grieved that my earlier dream wasn’t true, and I asked God, “why?”, and there was no answer.

I went to church still feeling the weight of those dreams. The sermon was about how we forget the glory and majesty of God, how we can be surrounded by it and yet too blind to see it. I want to say that anyone who catches even a glimpse of it is overwhelmed- Isaiah and Peter, for examples – but we are a lot more like the people in the crowd when Jesus was baptized who, upon hearing the voice of God, theorized that it had thundered.

I think that learning to know God well often involves posing those seemingly impossible why questions: God, if you are good and kind, then why…
Sort of like the feeling of being trapped in a narrow canyon- on one side the goodness of God, and all kinds of horrors and suffering on the other. Two realities that don’t seem to fit.

But I also think that in trying to glimpse God’s glory and majesty one receives an answer to those questions (though only asked in a dream!), not the let’s-see-what-Santa-can-do type answer I might want, but an assurance that it really is ok, even if I don’t understand…and so I stumble on a rather shocking patch of peace, when I felt there was only storm…

Halloween Memories

While cycling with friends on Halloween day (on our way to the Czech bakery for breakfast, of course), I suddenly remembered the Halloween of a year ago. We were along the C&O canal in the dark, on our first attempt at cycle touring. We rode out a few miles, camped, and returned the next morning. It was dark and isolated on our side, but as we sat by the Potomac eating home-made energy peanut-butter balls, we could hear distant joyous shouts of trick-or-treaters on the other side of the river.

One year on, we have a lot more cycle touring experience. :)

Geometry and Life: Turning a Plane into a Point

One of the ways we are processing our European trip is by listening to lectures on the causes of World War I. One lecturer, in dwelling on the complexities of Europe in the early 20th century, pointed out that diplomatic views at the time weren’t always consistent among diplomats from the same country. This makes perfect sense…think about the lack of consensus in our own current government.

People commonly treat groups as a single entity in ways that cause difficulties. I get irritated with an entire organization forgetting that I am lumping perhaps hundreds of hard-working employees into the same category. A parent thinks that informing the health office at his daughter’s school about a particular issue means that the teachers will be equally informed. Why should they be? I assume that since I told my mother about a potentially serious issue with our house that my father will know about it, too. Ha!

A benefit of our travels in Europe is that it is now a little harder to lump, say, “the French” together into one category. The concerns of Paris are not those of Strasbourg. If I squish all the people on the plane of France together into one stereotypical Parisian, besides committing a geometrical felony I oversimplify, cutting out the concerns of others inside and outside of Paris, and probably losing a chance to be a little more empathetic. And empathy is a gateway through which I find myself a more compassionate person, less quick to look down on other people. A good direction…

The Economics of Getting a Job

Getting a job is an expensive process, and I’m not even including the time spent contacting references, writing resumes, and interviewing. There’s transportation to the interview, transcript fees, background check fees. I’m also adding an EZ-pass transponder to my car.

This is not a problem, since I have a good car and plenty of savings from my last job. This provided a definite advantage during my interview process, since not all other candidates had reliable transportation. On a small scale, then, I’m an example of the rich getting richer.

I talked to a girl outside of Food Lion the other day. This is an advantage of cycling to the grocery store. If someone is hanging out in front while I’m double-locking my bike (I love Food Lion, but I also try to be realistic) we are more likely to chat. She’s working there to save up money for a car so she can finish her training for a better job. She has a permit, but not a license. That’s a long way to go economically, just to get a job.

What do I think about this? It’s easy for the well-off to judge those who are poorer. This comes up all the time when we discuss things like welfare. We say, “They should get a job!” and make it sound so easy. But God requires that we act justly, that we love mercy, and that we walk humbly before him. For me, part of doing that is being accessible in my community…I need to hear stories like these.
I’m still busy trying to figure out what I should be doing with my life. Teaching still feels like a really good fit. I get excited about it, I’m qualified to do it, and I am good at it (though with plenty of room for improvement, as always). I would like my next permanent job to be very close to my own front door, not just because I don’t want to pay an EZ-pass bill every month, but because I want to know more about the people who live around the corner from me. This is about faith more than politics. Our church’s mission statement is about “experiencing and extending the grace of Christ…” Not just in the church, but in my community as well. Can’t do that if I’m not paying any attention.

Tostadas with Spicy Vegetable Purée, Refried Beans, and Cilantro Lime Cream Sauce

I remember being in the kitchen of the El Retiro orphanage in Mexico, eating tostadas with refried beans, crumpled Mexican cheese, and shredded lettuce…just a small part of the culinary delights of rural Northern Mexican cuisine. But sometimes I get going in the kitchen, and a dish gets taken to a whole new level.




Refried beans
(pinto beans, soaked and simmered with garlic, carrot, and onion)
white onion
oil, salt, healthy amounts of cumin and a dash of chili powder

Sauté and mush to achieve desired consistency

Spicy Vegetable Purée
1 carrot
1 turnip
1 potato
1 zucchini
1 green and 1 red pepper. I think.
ancho chili powder, chili powder, salt, pepper, whatever else looks good
I wouldn’t be surprised if I also put onion and garlic in. This is what happens when you wait too
long to write something down.

Dice, toss with spices and olive oil, and roast vegetables, adding the zucchini 15 minutes after the rest, until softened. Purée.

Cilantro Lime Cream Sauce

Blend cilantro, sour cream, and lime juice until desired consistency is achieved.

Additional toppings
shredded red cabbage
To assemble smear a hefty spoonful of the purée and the refried beans so that, while they are
touching, they aren’t mixed. I wanted to be able to see that there were two different bases on the
I’d put crumpled Mexican cheese on these were I to do it again, which I might. My taste tester
pronounced these company worthy. Also, I thought the vegetable purée was a little too mild. I might
try to jazz it up a little, perhaps with roasted poblano pepper. Or try for a dark hot sauce to
drizzle along with the cilantro cream sauce.

Food Lion, Episode 193: Welcome Back, Shannon!

One of the homier moments in Europe involved spotting the Food Lion logo on a grocery store…it was the parent company, Del Haize. I was glad to get back into my Food Lion. It felt normal.

1) The lower panel on the left-hand door at the rightmost entrance was boarded over. I asked one of the cashiers why…someone had tried to break in a few days earlier, at 2 in the morning. Unsuccessfully. Who…why…I struggle between my sense of humor that wonders if maybe someone was out of toilet paper and a feeling of sympathy: How desperate one must be to try to break into Food Lion’s front door.

2) There were a couple of very young women with a very young child in the cart. One of the women was crying, right there in the produce section. I don’t know why. Someone at church recently talked about praying with someone in the grocery store. That never occurred to me…it took a bit of courage to tell her I was praying for her and I hoped whatever it was resolved itself.

Food Lion is a reasonable grocery store. In fact, it’s great! Everything is in English. And they take my credit card without question. I know what’s there and what’s not. It’s also real. I’m not on vacation there; I’m back in real life, in my community, surrounded by other residents whose problems, like mine, are not going to go away. Now that is really living.

Around the Sound in 5 Days

We took our first real trip last week. Here’s a picture of us, loaded up and ready to go.

That would be Yellow Jacket on the left (with CJ...always good to take a couple of people along on a trip like this.)  I'm on the right.  Oh, who am I?   Green Hornet, of course!

That would be Yellow Jacket on the left (with CJ…always good to take a couple of people along on a trip like this.) I’m on the right. Oh, who am I? Green Hornet, of course!

We were aiming for a 220-mile journey around the southern portion of Pamlico Sound in North Carolina.

Ahhh...the feel of the open road... Ahhh…the feel of the open road… long as Yellow Jacket doesn't get too far ahead!

…as long as Yellow Jacket doesn’t get too far ahead!

Of course we didn’t do every single mile without help.

We managed to wangle our way onto no less than four different ferries.  Pretty slick, huh ?

We managed to wangle our way onto no less than four different ferries. Pretty slick, huh ?

Sometimes we did odd jobs around the campsite.

Somebody's gotta do the laundry, you know ?

Somebody’s gotta do the laundry, you know ?

And then there were all those stops for food.

The taco stand was especially good !

The taco stand was especially good !

At least one stop at a coffee shop is a must, especially if there are pretty trees around which I get to peer coyly at Yellow Jacket.

At least one stop at a coffee shop is a must, especially if there are pretty trees around which I get to peer coyly at Yellow Jacket.

Sometimes it seemed like CJ and Shannon were chugging down lots of liquids.

Where did they go, anyway ?

Where did they go, anyway ?

Overall it was a good trip.

There were some really great views.

There were some really spectacular views.

Some views make you want to just keep going, but apparently there's no ferry across the Atlantic.  Guess we'll have to fly.

Sometimes you want to just keep going, but apparently there’s no ferry across the Atlantic.

Guess we’ll have to fly.