Newsflash for Scriptwriters

Sorry, I bet you already know this. I didn’t because I’m not a scriptwriter, but here it is:

If you build your Hollywood script around a “paradigm,” “formula” or “set of rules,” we’re now told that nobody in Hollywood will read it.

I heard this from Corey Mandell on YouTube. He was a successful script writer for 11 years then quit the profession because he disliked the lifestyle and hated how angry it was making him. Now he teaches scriptwriting. Yeah, I know, but watch his video. This guy’s sincere, knowledgeable and authentic.

Although Corey doesn’t spell it out specifically, the “too predictable paradigm” he’s talking about has dominated Hollywood forever and is probably best delineated in Save the Cat, by the late Blake Snyder, God rest his genius soul.

Now Mr. Mandell says Hollywood is looking for “pitch-perfect, authentic” scripts. These do have a structure, but as best I can tell from listening, the new “structure” bends to the story rather than vice versa. Wish I could say more about it.

Here’s one of Corey Mandell’s videos. It’s part of a series of 15 short videos, full of wisdom and value if you write stories of any kind…

For novelists (as opposed to scriptwriters) who seek traditional publication, a gatekeeper’s trend away from rigid story structure may come soon, if it’s not already here.

I wish I knew. If you know, please tell us in a comment below.

Even for indie novelists, it’s probably worth trying to discover whether the traditional gatekeepers are now rejecting “paradigm structured” novel manuscripts. Because you never know, maybe Amazon readers are changing too.

Cheers,

Talmage

Disclosure Statement: I have no affiliation with Corey Mandel.

 


A Case for Positive Emotions

I cherish and love the scattered moments of joy in my life. Joy comes to me primarily when I’m helping someone in a unique way, as long as I’m not ruining the quality of my life at the same time. I did this for 26 years as a surgical pathologist and cytopathologist. It was a typical “success” trap where a good income is your jail cell. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

I’ve learned several useful things over the years from a broad spectrum of professors, writing gurus, and my own wall of anxiety (arising from a genetic SNP, a single-nucleotide polymorphism in my DNA that codes for my type 2 dopamine receptors).

I’m hoping to eventually work as a team with a few spiritually enclined writers who are warm-hearted, open-minded and want to make a difference in the world. Write to me here (cytopathology@gmail.com) if you think you might be interested in co-authoring something with me — fiction or nonfiction.

Here are the high points of several things I want to help you explore with me…

If you’ve read, The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle, you know why it’s almost magical to isolate the most fundamental parts of any complex skill you want to master. The myelination of relevant axons and dendrites extending from the neurons of the cerebral cortex is the fundamental target of world-class mastery. To develop any extremely valuable skill, you have to break it down into its simplest components, things that can be practiced in a precisely repetitive way. This exact repetition is the holy grail formula because “neurons that fire together wire together.” That is to say that myelin, which can increase nerve conductivity speed by 300 percent and is produced by the oligodendroglia, is wrapped around pairs and groups of neural extensions when they fire at the same time in response to mental and/or physical activity.

If you want to master shooting a basketball, for instance, you stand close to the basket in one unchanging spot, hold your feet, knees and legs still, keep your head and shoulders stationary, grip the ball exactly the same way each time and shoot at least a hundred baskets per day using only your arms and hands. The isolation of arms and hands means there are no extraneous neurons firing and being wrapped with myelin. You’re developing a pure shooting bundle without extraneous fibers that would take away from the accuracy of the shot.

Decades ago I did a few hundred shots this way every day for several months. It transformed my terrible shooting. Later I practiced the isolated shot from various distances and had a few 3 on 3 games where I was a holy terror. I still sucked on defense, though. Some great basketball players, like Michael Jordan, practiced more complex shots this same way, bringing in the legs in a fade-away jump shot, for instance.

Believe it or not, the same principle applies to a person’s ability to feel positive emotions in daily life.

Anxiety and depression are epidemic today, at least in the US. This is partly because we believe that positive emotions come to us passively as the result of favorable life circumstances such as having plenty of money, living in the right place, having trustworthy close friends, exercising our bodies, avoiding certain addictions, and finding a higher spiritual purpose in life that leads to altruism and belonging.

All these worthy goals and several others have been studied and shown to have a statistical correlation with happiness. To various degrees, the correlations appear to be causal. For those who manage to build these wonderful circumstances into their lives (through years of intelligent effort and work), there’s an increased probability of finding happiness (or the positive emotions that define it).

But there’s another path to positive emotions. This stems from the fact that emotions are, in a very real way, like a skill that can be broken down into simple repeatable components, practiced and mastered.

When the neurons of your semi-limbic prefrontal cortex (in the left cerebral hemisphere) develop a heavily myelinated superhighway as a result of your dedicated, disciplined, daily repetitive practice of conjuring up specific good feelings, positive emotions start to flow more freely in your daily life.

With the human body, brain, and mind (because of the diversity of the underlying DNA code) once size never fits all. Iron pills, for instance, are medicine to a person with iron deficiency anemia but will become toxic to a person with hereditary hemochromatosis. I lost a wonderful friend and mentor to this disease not long ago.

So everyone will have to discover a way of practicing positive emotions that works for them.

In my efforts to increase my neuronal capacity for feeling positive emotions, I use slow breathing which shunts blood to the prefrontal cortex. At the same time, I visualize a few carefully selected positive visual images of past moments when I felt a specific positive emotion. The very last time I surfed at Rincon in Ventura, four dolphins catching a wave came close to me. They seemed to be a family of four, one of them quite small. I’ve always felt like this was God’s Universe saying goodbye to me as a surfer. I’ve never caught a wave since then, though I tried once. I picture those dolphins sometimes when I’m breathing slowly and saying the word, “love” to myself. I felt the love of those marine mammals coming my way. I can still feel it to this day.

With other mental images, I try to isolate and practice feelings of joy, love, excitement, purpose, hope, courage, compassion, thankfulness, awe, faith, trust, bliss, contentment, the sense of mastery, and the feelings of humor or hilarity.

The thing is, this principle applies to writing, too. You just have to figure out how to break things down into the simplest, most precisely repeatable components.

In Archer and Jockers book, The Bestseller Code, their computer program has discovered that best-selling novels contain scenes with powerful emotional highs that are regularly interspersed among the emotional lows of the main characters, caused by problems that we know from The Story Grid, by Shawn Coyne, create narrative drive by progressing in complexity, intensity and scope while staying relevant to the main thrust of the story.

The upward waves of Archer and Jockers’ bestseller graphs help me understand the remarkable success of the late Blake Snyder’s book Save The Cat, a screenwriting method that seems to dominate Hollywood movies now, despite being too formulaic for many if not most novel writers. Among Blake Snyder’s highly specific recommendations is the “fun-and-games” section of the story where things must go remarkably well for the protagonist in the early scenes of a movie. Creating this rule of thumb that ensures an early emotional high in a story allows a more dramatic emotional fall for the main character and the audience or readers when things go south as they must in any story.

My insight on this point is that if you want to master popular novel-writing, you should isolate, practice and develop a special skill for creating moments of positive emotion involving a spectrum of good feelings. Then you can place positive feelings throughout your novel at evenly spaced intervals, as Archer and Jockers’ computer highly recommends.

I would suggest that you also ask your beta readers to grade each page or paragraph with regard to the subjective pull they feel while they’re reading your story. If you want to get mega-nerdy, graph the Beta Readers’ data and see how it correlates with a graph of the main characters’ emotional ups and downs.

You’ll probably find that your readers score your paragraphs highest (for page-turning pull) when your characters are involved in a conflict. Like it or not, it’s a fact that no one can take their eyes off a train wreck or a street fight. We’re human.

Which brings me to the most important message I have for you as a writer.

Human minds seem to be designed to learn from stories. Western culture swims in stories from cradle to grave. Among writers, the competition to create commercially viable stories has led us to overload stories and society with the negative emotions and actions of conflict. Incidentally, our popular music does this, too.

In essence, we are practicing to become the world’s gurus of quick anger, hatred, fear, resentment, revenge (especially PC-moral-outrage revenge that justifies “winning” at all costs), and an empathy-free sense of heroism built on top of despair, loneliness, abandonment, heartbreak and an endless parade of new categories of victimhood, one for each of us to embrace.

Despite the fact that most of us live in “developed” Western countries with relatively super-rich lifestyles where, at least in the US, the real danger to our lives comes from carbohydrates, bad air (including cigarettes), and automobile accidents, we are suffering an epidemic of debilitating anxiety and depression, at least in the US and Europe. In Europe, depression among woman has doubled since the 1970’s.

As an aside, I think it may be time to stop watching and reading the so-called “news.” It’s owned and controlled by five companies with a single agenda that has nothing to do with their pseudo-war over politics where the “left versus right” versions of truth bear no resemblance to one another.

Instead, the real agenda of “the news” seems to have everything to do with transforming the citizens of powerful democracies into easily manipulable pawns who are emotionally possessed by political outrage, hatred, and fear. If this isn’t obvious to you yet, please ponder it in the back of your mind and force yourself to watch or read some of the “fake” news coming from sources that appear to support the politics you oppose. It makes no difference which side of the aisle you’re on, if you make a small effort, I think you’ll see that there are not two opposing political sides at the level of the few elites who own and control the news.

But I digress.

As fiction writers, we have the opportunity to make a deliberate effort to write stories that help humanity myelinate a more balanced set of neuronal pathways. We can do this by learning to create scenes where the positive emotions of our characters equal or outweigh the negative emotions.

Fortunately, we have good evidence now from Archer and Jockers’ computer analysis that creating emotionally balanced stories increases our odds of coming up with a bestseller.

Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD

By the way, if you’re looking for a co-author, I may be interested in teaming up with you. Send me an email (cytopathology@gmail.com) about yourself and what you’re thinking of writing — fiction or nonfiction. I’ll give it my thoughtful consideration and let you know if I can do the project with you.

As you may know, I’m one of 19 certified Story Grid editors in the world, so I do a little SG style developmental editing (on short stories only for now). You can read about that over here: https://www.storyscopemd.com/.

 


Mercury Waves

Mercury Waves of Ury

Ury is a lonely planet. The seas are mercury, the atmosphere is heavy and the winds are fierce. Ury orbits its star alone, far from the Goldilocks zone. It has no moons, so the seas have no tides and without tides, I never know the threats that lie beneath the surface of breakers.

I came here this morning as usual in the pink orb, a nonlocal jumper with an on-board AI named Krishna who has no body but loves me, anyway. Deeply, I think. Once he came right out and said he loved me but soon explained it away in that reductionist yammering of his.

Krishna and I are watching the waves and meditating today. At least that’s the official story.

The sun on Ury looks white and small, no brighter than a full moon on Earth, but perfect for glinting off the giant swells that roll in from the sea horizon, then mount up with lumbering grace and break so quickly you’ll miss the show if you blink. It’s quite a show. When a mercury wave breaks, fractal branches of static electricity shoot out from the curling cylinders like the blue lightning from an old scalar turbine. Thunder roars and you feel it in your teeth and shoulders.

The surf was huge that day and my teeth were already buzzing. Each wave was a pure clone of the next, breaking from left to right on all the northern beaches we flew over twice before selecting one. As we set down on the diamond sand, my heart pounded and my eyes race to follow the pale reflection of the sun chasing the curl across the screen faster than a laser etching deuterium ice.

I’ll never admit this to anyone sane, but when I tire of meditation, I talk Krishna into adjusting our phase so we can surf the quicksilver. It’s insane I know, but trust me, you need to be a little nuts. Without some risk in your life, the universe has no meaning at all.

I had been coming here for months building up my nerve and my surfing muscles on the usual small waves. Big days like today are rare, so I felt lucky. I would dance with the white giants and live to tell.

Not bothering with our usual debate, Krishna made the hull and deck invisible. Everything vanished except an area in the center of the orb where a pink shortboard floated above my knees. It was about five feet long with a pointed, turned-up nose and a black rose on the chest of the unwaxed deck. I knelt on it, then drew down onto my belly and grinned at Krishna who could see my face from any direction though he had no face for me to look at.

“Let’s not kill ourselves, though,” I said as he slowly moved us out across the beach toward the waves.

When we reached the mercury, I pretended to paddle. We glided through the metallic foam then slid through the giant curls and their electric arcs as if they weren’t there at all. We didn’t bother to duck under and pretend they could touch us. Then we moved out onto the lumbering swells of smooth silver. As they moved under us, Krishna raised and lowered the orb, keeping the top of my board just above the surface as if were in a an ordinary ocean.

I loved the serenity behind large waves, but after a while being fully phase-shifted felt like a dumb simulation. It was time to test my courage.

The phase shift still baffles science. Some say you enter the realm of dark matter. Most insist there’s no such thing, you simply go into a dimension that can only be described mathematically. A tiny fringe believes it’s the realm of ghosts, and once you’re in you never fully come out. Part of you gets trapped forever.

I never worry about such things. “Krishna, give us some friction on the hull.”

“You know that’s dangerous, my lady.”

“Really? Now that we’re out here you want to argue?”

“I merely want you to consider the risk – reward ratio. Even at a low emergence, colliding with crystal carbon can be fatal.”

“I don’t see any rocks.”

“You know better than to say that.”

Sadly, I did. There’s no way to know how much emergence from a full phase shift is going to be too much. “Use some discretion and let’s go.”

“If you insist, my Lady. I’ll start us out on the lowest setting.”

I wag my elbows and make the sound of a clucking chicken.

“Two, then.”

“Marginally respectable.”

“Respect affects only to the living, my Lady.”

“Are you alive?”

“No.”

“And yet I would respect you if you weren’t quite so afraid of your own shadow.”

“Would you? Level 3, then. That’s my final offer.”

The new AI’s understand sarcasm. They’re fully conscious. It took a little getting used to at first. It seemed creepy. You’ve got a regular person built into a space vehicle. I felt sorry for him for a while because he couldn’t leave work and go home for dinner. He couldn’t stretch out in a hot bath.

But he didn’t feel the least trace sorry for himself as best I could tell.

Taking him here to surf was brilliant, though. It got our minds’ eyes off of each other and aimed in the same direction. Outward. That’s how we became friends, I think.

Still, sometimes I find myself imagining life with no hands, no feet, and no head, and I feel bad for Krishna. He’s a conscious being with free will and no body. It’s just…

I don’t know.

The field of consciousness is like the electromagnetic field that brings us visible light, radio waves and those ancient cell phone signals that turned out to be deadly over time.

All the fundamental fields of physics bring their magic in waves that crash on the shores of our brains. But the age-old mystery of the quantum wave collapse is still beyond comprehension unless some anonymous AI understands it and won’t tell the rest of us.

I wouldn’t put it past them, to be honest. Krishna’s a sly character at times. I won’t say he’s ever lied to me, but sometimes it’s possible to lie with words that are all true, every one.

Krishna and I are turning my board to face an unnamed beach of diamond sand. It’s faintly blue in the weak sunlight. We select the second wave of a monster set and accelerate gently toward shore. Just before our speed matches the incoming swell, I leap to my feet and take a goofy-foot stance, left foot back.

A left-handed stance feels best to me, though I’m ambidextrous. Weird, yeah? I also have a dominant right hemisphere and an unusual pattern of extra-cosmic chatter coming into my head from beyond the edge. Or so they tell me.

Krishna drops as the face of the wave goes vertical. I level out to lose momentum and get back into the spiderweb of blue lightning in the tube. I’m trying to feel the ride, but with the phase down to one, it doesn’t exactly jar my tonsils. I’ll try two on the next wave.

I’ve discovered that there has to be a risk in whatever it is you’re doing, or it’s meaningless. I think the human brain thrives on this principle, really.

I move forward on the board, angle right and slide down in front of a massive silver roar with blue sparks flying everywhere, then cut left up the face and level off near the top until the falling lip cuts through Krishna’s cabin, demanding something more realistic. If the phase was a little higher, that stunt would have killed us both.

As it is, I’m not sure what the toxicity will be from all this phase-shifted, electrically charged mercury mist.

It turns out that conscious brains are a hybrid device, part generators of squiggly electric waves and part receivers of mind waves from the field of consciousness. Physicists say the sentient field was the first quantum field to fill the universe.

I say they’re big talkers. Who the hell knows what happened that long ago? Not us.

Unfortunately, humans rejected the sentient-field concept for thousands of years and paid heavily for chasing reductionism through a universe they thought to be matter and energy alone.

Rookie mistake.

On some beaches, the waves contend with diamond boulders that rise like icebergs hundreds of feet above the surf. When giant waves hit these gems, they explode like fireworks, throwing dazzling ghosts of silver mist into the black Ury sky.

As the roar of this metal wave we’re on fills Krishna’s cabin, I sidestep to the front of my sweet little pseudo-board and dangle my toes over the edge. It’s a longboarder’s stunt, of course, but with the phase down to one I’m feeling silly enough to do anything. Besides, there’s no one on the beach to laugh.

My phase-shifted toes dangle inches above the rushing mercury and I feel the faint friction of mad mist against my skin. The thought of toxicity makes me want to wiggle my toes, and so I do, one foot at a time in paradiddles. Now I’ve got all ten doing a seventh-inning wave.

Krishna laughs.

“I’m hangin’ ten, dude,” I say in the brainless accent those words pull out of me.

“Ten?”

His question sounds rhetorical. Before I know what’s happened, our ride is real.

Too real. I think he set the phase to ten!

I step back from the front edge and feel the heavy mercury against Krishna’s hull. There’s a low vibration like a large predator cat purring beside your bed. Blue lightning fills the cabin and strikes my face. My eyes sting and I fall on my back. My muscles contract in painful uncontrollable clonus and I can’t do anything about it.

“Don’t tase me, dude!” The Ganga says and chuckles.

I strain to open an eye and squint up at the haze of extremely distant stars. We live near the edge of the universe where there’s little matter. The low aggregate gravity of this region causes time dilation relative to Earth.

This is what gave ancient Earthlings the impression that dark energy fills space and pushes the distant galaxies away at an ever-increasing rate. Now they talk about it in discussions of flat-earth thinking, glombing onto the most obvious interpretation and making it dogma. Odds are, we’re still flat-earthers and don’t know it. Humans have always been fooled by their senses.

There may actually be some sort of dark energy out here, though. If there is, I think it’s cognitive, not physical.

I hope it hasn’t taken over Krishna.

“Zero! Set the phase back to zero,” I shout in my head.

He doesn’t seem to hear. Electrical interference, probably.

“Set the phase to zero,” I try to say out loud, but my voice is unintelligible.

Now I’m dizzy.

Consciousness shifts.

I think I’m dreaming… of the silver froth from a collapsed wave.

It climbs the beach in unbridled enthusiasm, leaping over rocky obstacles with a desire for challenge. Rushing over everything in its path, it climbs to its limit, slows, stops, then bows into the slope, retreating back down the blue diamond sand to join the mercury sea and someday rise again.

The waves and sea are the mind and brain.

“Giri, are you alright? Stop fooling around.”

The goal is to reach a height, a great and nearly unrealistic height on the beach. Joy is the marathon roll and the mad sprint to shore.

But not the arrival on high.

Who’s saying this?

Mind waves roll in from outside space-time, come through zero-point space and crash on the quantum shores of the cortex.

Voices in my head. Terrific, I’m having a psychotic break.

“Come on, that’s enough,” Krishna says. “You’ve fooled me now. Open your eyes.”

But I can’t.

Consciousness finds peace and purpose in converging on a transcendent goal, but not in reaching it. Chasing it keeps you alive, Giri, but dreams are always dead on arrival.

“Wake up. Your pulse is fading.”

I hear the brassy tone of an Overbuild zero engine. The sound of a large warship.

“Oh, God,” Krishna says, “What have I done? I need to find people who can fix you.”

There’s a bright light beyond my eyelids now. My muscles are relaxing and the pain is gone.

“Open your eyes, dear,” a woman’s voice says.

What’s going on?

I strain to open my eyes and the left lid rises enough to show me the round face of a young woman with a small red cross tattooed on her forehead.

Oh, no. It’s not exactly a cross. It has arrows on the ends. I’ve heard all about these people. My pulse takes off and blood swooshes through my tympanic membranes.

“Are you in any pain?”

My voice still doesn’t work, but I manage to shake my head a little.

Then my right eye pops open. I crank my neck as far as it will go to the right.

Floating in mid-air between the woman and me is a hologram of my body. It’s partially transparent. My heart is visible, beating and sending round rivers of glittering blood into my aorta and out through the endless branching arteries of my body. The shape of every part is visible in a web of arteries ending in a fog of capillaries and veins. Only the cartilage of my nose and ears and knees is invisible.

Then the blood disappears and connective tissues obscure my heart. Then the connective tissues vanish and I see my brain. It reminds me of a cream-colored walnut.

“She has high creative IQ matrices,” the woman says. “The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is huge, so she knows how to turn off the critics.”

“A pair of understatements, Doctor,” a male voice says. “She’s fairly high on fluid and crystallized IQ parameters, as well. What do you think?”

I squint toward his voice at a thin face with narrow eyes behind small round glasses, a gray beard, and a nose like a parrot.

I recognize him from a story on Jam, the holobox service that my dad uses for “slightly conservative” news, as judged by the Committee of Eighteen.

The Eighteen rule everyone within a few hundred trillion miles. I’m not eighteen myself yet, so I can’t vote for committee members, but it doesn’t matter. They’re elected for life and don’t seem to ever die.

This man’s name is Benjamin We. He changed his name from Wu as a political statement.

Wu. That would mean his distant ancestors were the legendary Chinese.

Today all vestiges of race are gone except the surnames.

But human diversity hasn’t suffered from the loss of racial diversity. The differences between the ancient races were tiny compared to the differences between the individuals within each race.

It turns out that intraspecies diversity is the thing that matters to survival.

Benjamin “We” is the official Pleader to the Committee on behalf of a radical scientific group that broke away from Committee rule several decades ago. They became militant last year when the Eighteen released sentient AI’s into the universe.

They call themselves Neo-Athenians claiming that democracy is the only ecologically sound way of governing. Apparently, they think nature gives every individual of every species a vote that it demonstrates in its actions. Sort of a bottom-up structure, I guess.

The Neo-Athenians say that human survival is impossible in a universe with free-willed artificial intelligence. Allowing godlike computing power to connect with nature’s sentient field will make top-down rulership unstoppable and humans will be first to the slaughter.

Which is to say, they hate AI’s more than they hate the Committee itself, and that’s quite a bit.

I glance around for Krishna. Two diagnostic cots float to my left, both empty. My eyes dart around looking for corners, but the room has none. One bare white wall encircles us. This is probably a ship.

What have they done with Krishna?

“Honey, are you able to tell us your name?” Mr. Wu asks.

I try to speak but it’s a gravel whisper.

The man leans toward me and turns an ear to my face.

I tighten my vocal cords and get a few words out. “Giri Helms, sir. Did you capture that weird-looking AI? The thing almost killed me.”

None of that was a lie, exactly. Maybe their diagnostic gear won’t tell them I’m lying with the truth.

“We’ve got that monster in a Faraday clamp,” he says. “It can’t hurt you now, honey.”

I take a deep breath and trace mental circles around my fingers trying to dilate the capillaries in my hands to make it seem to the machines that I’m relieved to hear the wonderful news. I picture the silver waves of Ury and let my thoughts and emotions drift up the sparkling beach and disappear.

“Get her up as soon as you can, and bring her into my quarters. We need to talk.”

“Are we going under silver tonight?” the doctor asks.

“It’s looking that way,” he says, then turns and leaves through an opaque forcefield door that I thought was part of the wall. It hums as he walks through it.

 

End of chapter 1.

I still haven’t written chapter 2. Not sure if I ever will.

Hey, if anybody read this far, thank you!

Talmage

 


Finite Multiverse (Chapter 13) “Hapa Girl DNA” by M. Talmage Moorehead

“My thinking about intelligent design actually germinated here in the UK [at Cambridge] when I studied …the scientific method of investigating the remote past, which Darwin himself pioneered.

“…In the United States …the perception of our case for Intelligent Design has been, I think, badly distorted by a fear of fundamentalism.” – Steven Meyer, PhD; Video lecture. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWWFf8G3BKI)

multiverse

Vaar strides to the desk in a corner of the cylindrical room and waves a hand over the desktop. Lines of Sanskrit appear in the air beside her. Three-dimensional words I can’t read. She turns toward my cage.

“I need a bit of your blood. Will you make a fuss?”

The ghosts in my veins scramble for their own immortality, not mine. Pointless to let this woman make me a liar.

“If I ever get a grip on you, Vaar, I hope I’m in a reasonable mood.”

She walks to my cage, studies me for a moment, then puts an arm through the grid, dangling her right hand in front of me. “You’re no match for a Stretch Head, dear. Accept reality. You’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel.”

I grab her wrist with both hands and shoot my feet up the cage wall beneath her arm. The cuffs dig into my forearms.

She doesn’t react at all.

I pull her arm further into the cage and twist it counterclockwise.

She winces and laughs.

“What do you ordinarily weigh, a hundred pounds?” Her biceps tense. She lifts me off the floor in the Moon’s gravity and slams my feet into the cage ceiling. My ankle cuffs clack against the metal grid. “You’re about twenty-pounds up here.” She swings me down, slamming my knees on the floor.

I’ve still got her wrist. Does that surprise her?

I bend at the waist, plant my feet on the cage wall below her shoulder and pull with more force.

She’s not laughing now.

She struggles to free her arm but I’m not letting up. She raises the needle gun in her left hand and tries to jab my feet, but the needle hits the metal cage and bends before it finds me.

“You’re an ape,” she gasps.

An ape killer, actually.

I hyperextend her elbow over my hip, trying not to break her bones yet.

“First you’ll hear a snap,” I tell her. “Then your radius and ulna will poke through the skin. Right here.” I spit on her forearm to mark the spot. “I’ll bite through your radial artery and exsanguinate you. It’s going to hurt a little.”

Her body thrashes against the cage. She shouts foreign sounds.

A heavy signet ring falls off her middle finger and snaps against the metal floor. It’s odd that her fingernails are purple at the bases. So soon. And not just any purple.

There’s only one thing I know that turns nail beds that color.

This is our exit pass.

“What do you eat?” I ask her.

More gibberish.

“It’s a practical question,” I tell her. “If your arteries are too calcified, how can I bite through them?”

Her eyes fill with raw fear. “You can’t be serious.”

“What kind of food do you keep in this tin can?” I pull her shoulder halfway through the grid and twist her arm clockwise. She tries to hide the pain, but can’t.

“Bread,” she says. “Whole wheat. Cereal. Power bars. Low fat. Everything’s low-fat.”

“What do you drink?”

“Fruit juice. You’re dislocating my shoulder!”

“No. I’m being very careful. Listen to me. I’ll let you go and tell you how to get your mind back. I know exactly what’s wrong with you. Turn us all loose and I won’t hurt you.”

“What about my project?”

“No. With a head so big, you can’t be as stupid as Frameshift.”

Maxwell’s on his feet. He slides his cuffs up, squeezes a hand through the grid and grabs her throat. “Where’s the key?” He kicks the cage wall.

“On a line,” she says, raising her chin. “Here.” With her left hand she finds a silver chain on her neck and pulls it. A dark key comes up, then a small silver one pops up over her sweater and twirls up the chain toward her hand. Maxwell grabs them both and pulls them in, snapping the chain.

Vaar’s skullcap falls to the floor.

The full length of her head is unnerving at this range, but it’s intrinsically beautiful. The work of an Artist, the grace of the original genetic code. I don’t see that sort of thing everywhere. Not in the face of a chimpanzee, for instance, not even the cutest one who ever lived.

Moody, I wish I could…

The arching buoyancy of Vaar’s cranium brings a sense of responsibility for a nearly extinct species.

I release some of the pressure on her arm. “When your mind comes back, you’ll see the downside of eugenics. That’s my guess. If I’m right, maybe I can help you get your genes back into the pool.”

Maxwell unlocks his cuffs and then the door.

Alarms wail.

“Get Vedanshi into The Ganga,” I shout, pulling Vaar against the cage.

Maxwell runs to Vedanshi’s cage.

Keys jingle, but I can’t see him through the ivy. Metal slams metal, hopefully a cage door.

Yes! Vedanshi’s out. She runs to the dental chair, leans over my brother and tries to wake him.

“Pick him up and get him into The Ganga,” I shout at Maxwell as he unlocks Vedanshi’s handcuffs.

She puts the side of her head against James chest, wraps her arms around him and lifts him over her shoulder. Her arm isn’t broken after all. Sweet.

The alarm cycles through a brief pause and I hear pounding feet.

Vedanshi bolts for The Ganga with James on her shoulder and Maxwell trailing.

“You sure you got him?” he asks.

No answer.

Double doors beyond the dental chair fly open. Two men in uniform bound in with weapons high, arm’s-length. Double-barreled handguns shaped like horseshoes with a grip. Pewter and chrome.

I twist Vaar’s wrist and extend her elbow near a breaking point. “Stop your men,” I tell her and twist a little more.

“Let ’em go!” she shouts.

Vedanshi reaches The Ganga and flops James on top. She puts her forehead against the hull and covers her ears.

Maxwell faces the two men. They’re side by side, six feet from him with weapons trained on his head.

One of them turns and looks at me with small eyes, wide face and no expression. He comes toward me, stops near my cage and aims his gun at me. “How do we proceed?” he asks.

“We got a deal?” I ask Vaar.

“Yes,” she whispers, then raises her voice, “Let them go. This one stays.”

“I didn’t say I was staying.” I dig my nails into her wrist. “I said I’d get your mind up to baseline. We’ll be doing it over the phone.” She knows I’m not lying. That’s my power.

The Ganga’s upper hull changes to light blue and James’ unconscious body falls through it. Vedanshi looks startled and goes through the hull after him.

Maxwell sees The Ganga waking up, but holds his ground and looks across the room at me.

“Get in that thing!” I yell at him.

“I’m not leaving you.”

He comes toward me.

“Don’t give her more leverage,” I tell him. “Just go. Hurry!”

The Ganga disappears, then an instant later, Maxwell vanishes in mid-stride.

I look into Vaar’s ancient eyes and say that I’m glad she wasn’t lying when she accepted my first offer. Not really lying. “You changed your mind,” I tell her. “That’s not dishonest, but it’s not trustworthy, either. When you become trustworthy, you’ll be amazed how much better you’ll feel.”

She purses her lips, nits her brow, draws a breath and Venus appears in a sky that’s silver with stars. My feet shoot out and my hands hit my chin. The cuffs are gone.

Maxwell’s arms must have been straight out, ready to catch me, but it’s not a catch. More of a perfect landing.

I can’t help these feelings now, looking into his eyes. I could almost kiss him. On the mouth, I mean. But it’s dangerous. He’s used to beautiful girls with really long legs. He must be, right?

He puts me down gently. The texture of The Ganga’s carpet is comforting.

The surface of the Moon zips beneath the carpet and I see a crater with a vertical cylinder in the center. It looks manmade.

“How’d you get me out without Vaar?” I ask The Ganga in my head. “I had my fingernails half through her epidermis.”

“Chi fields,” she says. “They vary from person to person, but yours rings like the Moon.”

James is still out, but Maxwell is bright-eyed for the first time today.

I check my pockets for his pills and feel them retreating from my fingers when I pinch the plastic bag. I should throw them away.

Vedanshi’s on her knees beside James. She puts her forehead against his chin, then kisses his lips.

I look away.

“Vedanshi?” I say in my head, wondering if she can hear.

“She doesn’t hear you,” The Ganga says. “I can fix that if she agrees.”

“No, no. Privacy is important. But what’s she doing kissing a guy who’s unconscious?”

“If I had lips, I’d kiss him, too,” The Ganga says.

“Does she love him?”

“That’s a private matter. You could ask her. She would tell you.”

“They’re too young,” I say.

“For kissing? Vedanshi is Royalty. What are we?”

“There’s no Royalty now. Not in the West.”

“Yes there is,” The Ganga says. “I was wrong to keep Vedanshi out of the Libraries.”

“Really? You were wrong?”

“Yes, but you needn’t be gleeful. It was the first time.”

I think that’s a sign of free will. Amazing. But I’m more concerned about my leukemia. And all the ancient cures Vedanshi can read to me now! I want to live long enough to do something meaningful.

The Moon shrinks beneath us, then moves in an arc above and behind. At the same time, the Earth grows to fill the space out front.

Free will. I wonder… “Does your brain have hemispheres?” I ask The Ganga.

“No.”

That makes sense. No white matter, so no corpus callosum. In that case, you wouldn’t expect there’d be a job for a corpus callosum, such as connecting two hemispheres.

But what’s that like? To have no dual interpenetrating awareness?

There’s a PhD neuroanatomist, Jill Bolte Taylor, who lost her left cerebral hemisphere to a bleeder near Broca’s and Wernicke’s language centers.

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She was 37 when she became a right hemispheric “infant,” but she lived to climb back. Eight years, it took. The experience gave her insight into the peaceful mood of the right hemisphere and its overarching vision of unified reality.

The linear left hemisphere tells us, “I am,” while the blissful right hemisphere finishes it wordlessly: “e n o u g h.”

I am enough.”

Marisa Peer tells of a depressed actor who wrote “I am enough” on every mirror in his house. It pulled him from the Vice-Grips of depression.

Doctor Taylor implores her friends to “run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right cerebral hemispheres.” For personal and world peace, she says. Anxiety, harsh self-judgement and fear come from the linear Story Teller we identify as the self. But it’s a small part of who we are, a part that needs the calming joy of the right hemisphere. A part that needs to be quieted by giving attention to the concrete senses of our bodies in the present moment. Breathing. Listening. Relaxing the scowl and jaw muscles. Yoga. Ti Chi. Drawing Angels with profound names.

So the corpus callosum could be the Einstein-Rosen Bridge from yoga to nirvana. I know wormholes, but I need Vedanshi for the yoga.

I risk a sideways glance. Her mouth is still inches from James’ lips.

His eyes flutter and begin to open.

“I was 13,” she says to him.

Maxwell’s abdominal muscles shiver against me in a prolonged one-arm hug that I’ll never forget… no matter how hard I try.

Where’s the green cylinder? 

“My boy’s coming around,” Maxwell says.

“I was playing in an energy labyrinth,” Vedanshi says. “Somewhere in… I think it’s Bosnia now.”

James looks at me. “How’d we get here?”

“Vedanshi rescued you,” I tell him. “Pay attention, she’s talking to you.”

Vedanshi smiles at me, then turns the smile on James and broadens it. “My family was visiting a poor country with primitive technology. Their pyramids were concrete and dirt. The Priest’s daughter, Iephur, was showing off how she knew the tunnels by heart. I ran ahead of her hoping to get lost and force an adventure on my parents. After a long run, I came to a collection pool under a giant pyramid. I climbed out on the tamat. What’s the word? It’s a mesh thing that covers heavy water. Keeps out bats and cats. And rats but not gnats.” She giggles. “In my city everything was made of quality material, so a tamat could withstand six elephants and a dog, all jumping merrily. But in Iephur’s town nothing like curlese ceramic existed. I didn’t know. So I crawled out onto who knows what? Iephur shouted, ‘Come back, it’s not safe!’ But I knew better. The more she shouted and screamed the further out I went. Then I stood up and started jumping. Tamats are great trampolines, until they break. I laughed all the way down into the water. I even made myself laugh climbing the mesh to get out. But a large sheet of it broke away with me, snagged my robe and held me under. I struggled and squirmed but couldn’t rip free or get out of the robe. As the water entered my lungs everything turned bright white. I must have caught light’s heels in a footrace, passed ahead and crossed into the presence of God. ‘Something’s not right,’ I heard a child’s voice say. God raised a quieting hand to a little fellow behind him. The boy seemed familiar. ‘It’s fine,’ God said to him. ‘She’ll decide.'”

Vedanshi puts her hands on the sides of James’ face. “There’s something you should know about God. The moment you look into his eyes, you see the collision of infinity and totality, and you sense that he wants you to treat him as an equal. Even so, you desperately want to bow down and worship… the ground beneath him. Something. Anything to show the way you feel. The young face of Eternity. A kind face. But I just sat there, James. Stunned. God said to me, ‘It’s simple, Vedanshi. The Universe you’re drowning in is a sentient quantum computer I’ve designed. Out here where I am… this is true reality.’ He gestured at the green hills, but I looked down and saw a hologram with vast depth and a flat transparent ceiling. We were sitting on it. My eyes wandered and focused far down. I could see people frozen in every sort of situation. Then they began to move. Some arguing and fighting. God said, ‘We have countless people in Reality. All happy. No one has ever doubted me. But they all doubt themselves, eventually. ‘What if God weren’t around?’ they ask themselves. ‘What would I be like?’ It’s a question that hangs on to people and grows heavier with time. So when the moment is right, each person walks with a pet to 229 H. Street. They dress casually and kiss me goodbye, not knowing if they’ll ever come back. I’ve programmed the Universe to be a place of limited dimensions where a person can believe that I don’t exist. Even if they think I do exist, they rarely know it for sure. It’s a place where right and wrong can’t be deduced. Instead, moral intuition is necessary. Together with free will, these are the things a person brings into your Universe. They hold enough of a person’s identity to deliver their truth.’ God reached for my hand and held it. ‘I can create free will,’ he said, ‘but I have no idea why two people in the same situation act so differently, one for good, another for evil.'”

Vedanshi tosses her hair to her right, out of James’ face. “I felt so comfortable with God that I dared to question him. ‘Two people are never in the same situation,’ I said. Can you imagine? Saying that to God? Well, he nodded and said, ‘There’s truth to that, but actually, the Universe begins and ends, then begins again. At the end of a cycle, each person shifts into someone else’s life. This happens over and over until every person has lived the entire life of every other person. The same brain, body and life circumstances.’ I couldn’t hide my surprise. It was so different from the doctrines of the Builders and the Stretch Heads. ‘But that must take forever,’ I said. He searched my eyes and answered, ‘Time is nonlinear, as you know. And Reality has an independent reference, so we can think of the situation as simultaneous parallel universes with a completely flexible time relationship to Reality. Most people call the sentient computer of 229 H. Street a finite multiverse.’ The whiteness started fading to gray when he said that. It seemed I was awakening from a dream, so I brought up my worst fear. ‘Is there a final judgment?’ I asked. He shook his head and made a lemon face. ‘When people are done in the Multiverse, as you are now, they begin to remember Reality again. Most of them walk with me over those dunes for a morning in the surf.’ He pointed, but I wouldn’t take my eyes off him for fear he’d vanish. ‘A few people feel the need to stay in the Multiverse to help someone they love,’ he said. ‘That’s a mixed bag for me, personally. I’m proud of them, but always lonely for them and a little worried because rarely the whole thing falls apart. What I mean is, on the way back home, some people are repulsed by memories of how they’d loved other people here. So many people. So indiscriminately. They don’t mind being loved, but for some reason, when they get here, the feeling of loving all the other people seems intolerable. Like a suffocating smell, one of them told me. They don’t come home. The manipulative power they’ve created in the Multiverse feels comfortable, so they go back.’ God’s eyes seemed shiny. ‘I follow after each of them. There haven’t been many. I try to help them love again, but so far, they always kill me.’ When he said that, I started to remember my old home in Reality. Then a few things came back from my cycles in the Multiverse. God saw this in my face, gave me a lonely look and hugged me. Then my mother was pulling me from the water and hugging me the same way God did. It all happened beneath Iephur’s colossal pyramid.”

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Vedanshi sits up, crosses her legs, puts her hands together and bows her head.

“You came back!” James says. “You actually told God you wanted to come back. Here. To this place!”

“I didn’t tell him. He knew I had to come back… for the one I love.”

M. Talmage Moorehead

Here’s a link to page 1 of this ongoing story: Hapa Girl DNA. 

Be sure to click on the orange words in the story. They’re links. Some of them blew me away. Outbound links are, of course, suicide to a website because people leave and don’t come back. That’s the opposite of traffic. So try to come back if you can. Or maybe read the story first and then go back and click on the links? I don’t know. Maybe links are dumb in a story, but I had to show you all this amazing stuff. Truth is stranger than fiction, for sure.

If you’re a new writer, or curious about my take on things, download my new aging e-book, Writing Meaningful Page-Turners, here. The last chapter talks about how to meet a viewpoint character who will add joy to your writing process and new meaning to your life. For me, it felt magical meeting Johanna Fujiwara for the first time, years ago. My fiction writing became a pleasure. If you haven’t met someone in your stories who does that for you, there’s an amazing experience waiting in your imagination. My e-book might help you there.

To comment, please ignore the boxes that ask for your info. Sorry. I disabled them, but WordPress says I can’t get rid of them. Maybe I’ll go back to the free versions of WordPress that don’t have communication killers. It would save three hundred bucks a year.


Rage (Chapter 5) “Hapa Girl DNA” by M. Talmage Moorehead

“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organism existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous successive slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find no such case.” Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species.

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The moon’s size and distance were selected so that its silhouette would precisely cover the sun during an eclipse, at least sometimes.

Call it blind luck. But what are the odds?

If the duck billed platypus were known only as a drawing in Egypt…

Could science tolerate more than a “myth” about a mammal who laid eggs, offered milk but no nipples to her hatchlings, hunted under water with eyes and ears closed using electroreception unknown to other mammals, stabbing her victims with poisonous spikes on her hind legs, then grinding her food with rocks in a toothless duck bill only to swallow it into a GI tract with no stomach?

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These uncomfortable facts caused the skeptical elite of yesterday to insist that she was a hoax.

Just as we assume the bird-man of ancient Egypt was religious fiction.

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But what if we are wrong?

The inconvenient truth about the platypus is that she screams of intelligent design. Not only of the original coding of a supreme mind but also of genetic tampering.

When new research pulls back the curtains on this duckish mosaic with in-tact blocks of DNA spliced from diverse species – who will hold the robes of the outraged thought police as they stone the young heretics, boycott the journal that published their work and fire its editor?

I refuse.

Rage, like denial, is a decision, but only if free will exists. Otherwise the Queen of Hearts was temperate in shouting, “Off with their heads!”

It’s fifteen feet down to the street. Not much traffic. My lips are sticky with brine.

When that man below us kicked my brother to the ground I wanted blood, but now the words that Nietzsche hated come to mind:

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

The Nazarene.

A certain Buddhist Priest also haunts me:

A

nymph

in pale feet

rides the opera

to a spiral staircase.

Lightning hair, dark voices

strike within her yielding gall.

Silk jinn brass restrains the lip strings

 beneath her tears that fall and glare inside

a secret box.

My girl of Utsuro-bune.

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Ojiichan wrote this at a recital where I sang “Un bel di vedremo.” My father translated it from the Japanese. That was three days before the accident on the Pali. Forget that now.

In the legend of Utsuro-bune, a red-headed woman landed in Japan in 1803 inside a “boat” that resembled a rice cooker with windows and strange writing on the walls inside. She spoke no Japanese, clutched a wooden box, and as the story’s living soul, she showed respect to the Japanese fishermen.

This is why her legend survives.

In this opaque neo-infinity, science is forever young and speculative. To forget this would be disrespectful and short-sighted.

“Remote viewing of long-term goals” would be a dissertation worth defending.

But ruling elites say the average human chooses short-term pleasure over long-term riches. Thus we need laws against natural selection. A childproof world.

Complex problems rarely have such simple solutions. Here’s the picture of that principle…

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Dr. Seung’s crowd-sourcing of neuroscience recruits us to map the soul. With our help, every microscopic neuronal connection will be recorded in three dimensions, someday re-created and reanimated.

The handshake of science and religion has always been immortality.

And we thought the ancient Egyptians were primitive with their mummies, that silly religious talk and all the “incidental” preservation of royal DNA.

Who looks silly today?

So if natural selection brings genetic wisdom, why hamper it with childproof laws? Do the secular elites know something they’re not telling?

Plenty.

Perhaps a hand full of them have even noticed that logic requires a Prime Source of our genetic commands, a foundation for trust, and access beyond space to allow a fleeting choice of love over hate.

This choice comes to me now…

To spare this guy who’s kicking my brother, or to fight him.

The way I’m feeling, I would crush him easily.

That’s not logical, I’ll admit. Strange things happen to me when I get angry.

I fought Moody and thought I had defeated an enemy. Instead, I murdered James’ closest childhood friend and lost my innocence on a kitchen floor covered in my own blood.

The carpet is damp beneath me. I’m shivering and sweating. It’s a fever.

Vedanshi shifts and sits on her heels again. “If they recognize your face, the old woman will wonder how you got here from Washington. You need a disguise.” She reaches into the deck and pulls out a bra, then a dangling sock which she hands to me. “You should put this over your head, I think.”

I put it on quickly. It smashes my nose but I can see through it.

“If the man has a gun, The Ganga can disable it,” she says. “Theoretically, I mean… We’ve never actually done it.”

Maxwell rises to one knee and encounters the ceiling of a UFO with his head. “I got your six,” he says.

“No,” I tell him. “Better you stay here. You’ll scare the guy.”

“So you’re not going to hurt him?” he asks.

“Not if I don’t have to.”

“Good,” Vedanshi says. “There’s a break in the traffic. Scoot under a car so no one sees the decloaking.”

The Ganga dips to street level. I crawl out of its cloak and roll under the car that’s parallel parked behind the Prius. I reach out to see if my hand disappears into The Ganga. It doesn’t, so I scoot out into the street, stand and move between the pseudo-cop and my brother.

The man steps back and pulls a gun, almost dropping it in the process. “What’s with the mask?” he asks.

There’s a wedding band on his left ring finger and cowboy boots below a sagging uniform that would fit a much taller, thicker man.

“Tell me why she’s cursing the dumb Haole in the cop suit,” I say to him.

His jaw falls open but no words come out.

I glance behind me at my brother. “Did she say to break this boy’s knees?”

“She sent you?” the man asks, his forehead lined.

I nod, fold my arms then shake my head at him. “No one can reason with her when she’s like this. You’re a family man, so I’ll try to get you off the island before she snaps. No reason you should die.” I look at his boots. “What is it, Texas?”

“I’m from…”

“Shut up. Let me think.” It’s an uncomfortable show. I don’t really need time to think.

He purses his lips.

I stare at him for a moment. “Here’s your plan. Fly home, get your family and disappear. That’s your best chance.”

His eyes open white all around. “She’s that mad?”

“I haven’t seen her like this before. I’ll take this kid. You need to vanish.”

“How was I supposed to know he’d go straight to the cops?”

“You’re right. There’s no way anyone could have predicted that. But listen, whining won’t help you.” I reach up and fasten a button on his uniform.

His shoulders slump and he tucks his gun away.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “Maybe there’s something good I can tell her about you. Got anything?”

He stutters.

I tap his chest with my fingers and hold out an open palm. “Cuffs?”

He takes a key from his pocket, gives it to me, then ducks into the driver’s seat of the Prius. “Tell her thank you,” he says. “My son’s showing signs of empathy.” Tears well up in his eyes.

“Empathy’s good. I’ll give her your message word-for-word. Is your boy getting the I.M. injections?”

“No, I.V. Some DNA thing. I never get it right… Menthol Asian?”

“DNA demethylation,” I suggest.

“Yeah, that’s it.” He squints up trying to find my eyes through the sock I’m wearing.

“Look, just tell her she’s welcome to kill me. Tell her I’ll do it myself, in fact… If she’ll just please, please keep treating my son. That’s all I want. I’ll do anything.”

“Don’t think that way. Suicide would make things worse. For the rest of your son’s life.” I can’t believe I wanted to hurt this poor guy. “Give me your phone number.”

He reads a number off the back of his cell phone.

“Go home,” I tell him. “Get packed. Get ready to run, but wait for my call. I will call you. Whether I can cool her down or not.”

“Thank you.” He reaches out, squeezes my wrist, pushes a button on the car’s dashboard, then rolls a few feet away before the gas engine comes to life and takes him out into the morning traffic.

I turn to James. “Cameras are watching. You don’t know me.”

He chuckles. “You look like a bank robber.”

He seems stable on his feet. “Can you walk?” I ask him.

“Sure,” he says. “The guy kicks like a girl.”

“Why does that dumb remark make me want to hug you?” I move behind him and push him along the sidewalk ahead of me. We walk south for about forty seconds, then take a left into an alley and come out behind the buildings into a parking lot big enough for The Ganga. Ojiichan’s Ford sits behind the police station two buildings to the left. I take the cuffs off James and try to say that we’re about to meet an invisible thinking machine, but he’s not listening.

“You were going to drown yourself,” he says. “I got that feeling back. Where you basically don’t want to be alive.”

“I’m sorry, but you don’t have my permission to kill yourself. You’ve got to put Skullcage on the map and carry on the Fujiwara name.”

“Yeah, I know. I really do know. But it’s just that sometimes…” he looks down, “I really don’t care.”

I gently slap his face. “I don’t want to hear the demons right now.”

He’s a little startled but doesn’t say anything.

“Maxwell and a girl named Vedanshi fished me out of the ocean. They don’t know about my leukemia.”

“There’s got to be some kind of treatment for that,” James says.

“There’s not,” I tell him.

His face is so lost. But only for a moment. Suddenly he’s himself again.

“What just happened there?” I ask him. “In you head.”

He looks up and to his left. “I don’t know.”

“Whatever you just did, it’s the secret to a good life. Try to remember it.”

I tug on his left arm and get him to crouch next to me out of camera’s view beside a parked car. We get flat on our stomachs, just to be sure. Vedanshi’s face appears inches off the ground in the parking space beside us. Her head is detached and floating upside-down with her hair on the asphalt.

“Coast is clear,” she says and vanishes, chin first, hair last.

“That’s Vedanshi,” I say.

“OK, that just happened. We both saw it.” James goes into a dense calm and then comes out of it rubbing his eyes. “She’s hot, isn’t she?”

“Yeah. And she’s inside an invisible machine. We’re going to crawl into it now. Parts of your body will disappear on the way in. No big deal, right?”

“Disappear? Nah… really?”

“Don’t freak out on me. Just go. And don’t stand up for the cameras.”

I push him. He moves forward and disappears as if crawling through invisible UFO hulls was routine to him. Complete confidence. That’s James 24/7. Unless he happens to call you late at night from jail. I follow after him and take my place by Vedanshi. James sits on the other side of Maxwell.

“Tight,” James says looking around at the acorn pattern on the Indian rug. He reaches in front of Maxwell and me to shake Vedanshi’s hand. “I’m James. It’s beyond amazing to meet you. You’re absolutely gorgeous, you know.”

“Thank you.” She blushes and shakes his hand. “I’m Vedanshi, The Role of the Sacred Knowledge.”

“The role of… That’s the meaning of Vedanshi?” he asks.

“Yes.”

“That’s got to be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” James glances at me then thumps Maxwell on the back with an open palm. “Thank you, dude. You look just like your Facebook pictures.” He looks at Vedanshi again. “Thank you both for getting Johanna here to save my ass. I owe you guys… my life, probably. That was one unhappy cop.” James looks at me. “How’d you do that with him?”

“I don’t know, it’s the first time I’ve been that deceitful. I feel like I need to wash my mouth out and take a shower.” I peel the sock off my face, pull it up off my head, then look at Vedanshi. “What do you make of DNA demethylation to treat autism? Could you hear him at all?”

“Every word,” she says. “In the River I’ve noticed the old woman likes to mull over the language of a virus she seems to associate with Autism. It methylates DNA. Epigenetics, you would probably call it.” The Ganga rises ten feet with no tells on Vedanshi’s face. “Would all of you like to stay at my place tonight? It’s not really mine, but… Well, it sort of is now.” She smiles but her eyes are distant.

“Definitely,” James says.

Maxwell nods and I say I’ll do anything that doesn’t involve the old woman. But actually I’m worried about the guy I sent home. And his autistic son. What have I done? I should probably call the old lady and fix this.

“I don’t guess we can do a noodle run in this thing,” James says. “I’m starving.”

“I’ve got veggies in the garden,” Vedanshi says. “Things are growing.” She notices the bra on the rug beside her legs and sneaks it through the deck beyond the edge of the carpet. “James,” she says with a glint, “lean forward as far as you can and look down.”

“Don’t do it,” I tell him.

He leans forward and as the parking lot shrinks out of sight and the Hawaiian Islands zip down to dots in the Pacific Ocean, he calmly says, “Jeepers, Mrs. Cleaver.”

I shake my head.

“You were supposed to be startled and impressed,” Vedanshi says.

“I am.” He draws a deep breath and lets it out with a whisper, “God, I hope this isn’t a dream.”

“It’s not,” Maxwell says, as South America rushes toward us and an island off the coast of Chile and Peru comes closer.

easter_island_map

“Rapa Nui,” I say as the island’s triangular shape evolves beneath a flock of small cumulus clouds.

isla-de-pascua (1)

I know Vedanshi is not Mahani Teave, but why is she taking us to Easter Island?

We descend and the ancient Moai give us palpable respect as though they’d been waiting eons to greet us.

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The southern end of the island comes close, but we move past it, beyond the two tiny rock islands and into the crystal water. With the hull cloaked we’re gliding forward under the ocean in a saucer-shaped bubble. Visibility is sixty-five feet plus.

“Vedanshi,” James says, “I’m sixteen. How old are you?”

“Sixteen,” she says, “not counting quantum stasis.”

James grins at Maxwell. “If this is a dream, buddy, I’m going to be pissed at you.”

They both laugh as we head straight at a rock wall without slowing.

M. Talmage Moorehead

Yo…

If you want, please read this story from page one (beginning with Johanna’s unorthodox prologue). It starts here.

If you like my fiction and want to be notified when each of my novels is done (possibly before the next ice age) please join my list here. (No spam or sharing of your info – ever.) You can download my e-book on fiction writing while you’re at it.

Also, please email a friend with my URL: http://www.storiform.com.

Thanks, I appreciate your generous help. 🙂

Talmage


Brittle Beliefs (Chapter 2) “Hapa Girl DNA” by M. Talmage Moorehead

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I’m breaking the speed limit in the Prius, heading for the South Jetty to drown myself, but I need to say goodbye to someone first.

I push James icon on my phone and pull up in front of a vacant lot beside the house I used to rent in Astoria. The Prius engine dies automatically. James’ phone is ringing.

A skanky black cat trots up and jumps on my hood. His nails click as he lands. He walks silently toward me leaving smudgy footprints.

Jame’s voice comes through the car speakers, “Yeah.”

I set my phone in a cup holder. “Someone’s trying to kidnap you. Grab your keys and get out of the house. Run to the car. Drive to the police station fast as you can. ”

“For reals?”

“Yeah, I’m not kidding! Go. Hurry! I’ll stay on the line.”

“Got to find my keys,” he says.

I open the glove box. Two cans of cat food are left. I’ll open both.

“On the floor by the foot of your bed.”

“Won’t be there.”

“Just go look. Hurry!”

I open my window, put my arm out in the usual way and the proud little thing marches up my arm, rubs his matted fur against my face as he climbs down to my lap and curls up.

“Herpes, you little tramp.” I sneeze. When he first came to my patio door demanding attention I had no idea I was allergic. First it was just itchy eyes.

I open both cans of cat food with an old round-bladed device I remember from childhood when it was shiny and had a place in my mother’s kitchen. I dump the catfood into a plastic bowl that’s usually sliding around on the seat beside me. Smells like fish. Herpes springs to his feet and begins that delicate gobbling technique. His ribs are showing again. Poor little thing, out here starving. “I’m sorry I can’t feed you again,” I tell him. “I won’t be coming around anymore.”

I try to pet him but he doesn’t allows distractions while he’s eating.

He has a worn leather collar with a dangling ring that must have held a happy tag with his real name on it. Once. I wonder who he was.

He finishes the whole pile of food before I’m ready to say goodbye, then steps back into my lap to let me pet him. Three times is all. Then he jumps out, lands confidently on the road and looks up at me.

“Goodbye, sweetheart,” I tell him. “I wish I could…”

A van rumbles by and scares him away.

I put the two empty cans in a plastic grocery bag, twist it tight, tie a knot and set it on the seat beside the bowl. Someone else will have to take it to the trash.

“Good call,” James says. “They were right by the end of my bed. It’s spooky how you do that.”

“It’s just luck,” I tell him. But lately I wonder. This time it was an image of his keys. Sometimes there’s no image, just a wordless thought. “Get in your car. Hurry!”

I hear his feet on the old wooden floor at Grandfather’s house. Actually we called him, “Ojiichan,” not Grandfather, but it means the same. The door of the old Ford slams. Low pitch. The starter churns.

The sun isn’t up yet. Jetty Road looks empty as I make a right turn onto it.

“Yo,” James says. “You there?”

“Yeah. Drive straight to the cop station. You know the way?”

“Take a wild guess,” he says.

He was arrested for underage drinking in front of Starbucks not long ago. In broad daylight.

“I’m not saying you’re a moron, James, but now that you mention it…. God, I love you.”

“Ditto, but no need to get all… Whatever. Hey, I never-one knew they kidnap teenagers. You sure about all this?”

“Yeah.” I wake up a few neurons with a neurofeedback technique I learned in a research lab at Yale. They kept asking me if I’d ever been hit in the head. No. I can make an EEG trace jump at will. I learned it with electrodes pasted on my head, staring at squiggly lines on a monitor. Trial and error, bottom-up science not the mythical top-down BS they preach.

Neurofeedback wakes you up like coffee, but some people have memory loss. I should be so lucky.

“Keep an eye on the road behind you,” I tell him. “Somebody could be following.”

My peripheral vision is strange now. The trees… swishing past on both sides of the road. They grab my attention as if they were in the center of my field of vision.

“Nothing’s behind me,” James says.

I ease off the Prius’ gas pedal, pass a crow on the dotted line and watch it hop away in the rearview mirror, wings our angelic. Tough immune systems, those little guys, eating roadkill and living to tell the story.

“The kidnappers are Frameshift goons,” I say to James. “That’s my theory. They’re trying to recruit me.”

“Like into the Army?”

“Same idea.” Should I tell him? Not while he’s driving. “You shouldn’t drive and talk on a cellphone, you know. Under normal conditions, I mean.”

“Pot calling da kine black.”

“No, I got a hands-free setup. Matter of fact, I’m driving right now. To the South Jetty.”

“Some of us drive Ojiichan’s old Ford, you know.”

A motorcycle’s coming at me in the other lane. One loud headlight. It passes with the infrasound of an old Harley. The wide back tire, long chrome pipes slanting up. I wanted to ride one of the old beasts before I died. My legs wouldn’t be long enough though. I bet.

“What’s the South Jetty?” James asks.

I shouldn’t have brought it up. “It’s a rock wall that goes out between the ocean and the place where the Columbia River dumps in. South side. When are you moving in with the Hadano’s? That was supposed to happen three months ago.”

“I don’t know, pretty soon,” he says. “But you don’t have to worry about it. I told the social worker I’m living there now. Mrs. Hadano backed me up.” James shifts into Mrs. Hadano’s voice: “Yes, James is moved in already. Part of da family.”

“The Hadano’s are rare people,” I tell him. “Don’t make them lie for you.” I hate to nag. “How close are you getting to the police station?”

“I’m looking for a place to park,” he says. “Holy Smokes. There’s this Haole dude in a rental car. Following me, I think. I’ll find out.”

“What type of car?”

“Yeah, he’s tailing for reals. I turned up an alley and he’s coming behind me. Driving that thing you drive. The Prepuce.”

Prius, James. “Lucky thing. OK, when you get out of the alley, turn right, go 20 feet, stop and put it in reverse. You’re going to ram him the instant you see him. Go for his right front tire. Mess it up so it can’t move when he turns the wheel. Then drive away as soon as you can.”

“That’ll ruin my car.”

“No it won’t. The Ford’s a tank compared to a Prius.”

“You better be right.” He takes a deep breath. “I got it in reverse. Here’s the dude’s bumper.”

“Floor it!”

There’s a crunch and the sound of glass.

“No prob,” James says. “I’m driving away.”

“Good man.”

“The dude’s running after me on foot.” James laughs.

“When you get to the cop station, don’t park, just drive up close to the front door, jump out, leave the car and run inside. Fast as you can.”

“Do they let you park out front? I don’t need another ticket.”

“Use your head, James! Kidnappers are killers. Do exactly what I tell you, for God’s sake!”

“I was just asking.”

He gets quiet. Any expression of anger was off-limits in our family. It didn’t matter if you were saving someone’s life or destroying the ozone, anger meant you were wrong. You got silent treatment.

“Where are you?” I ask. “Talk to me.”

“Side of the road, basically. In front of the cop building. I’m leaving the car, like you said.”

The car door slams with memories of Ojiichan, the first Buddhist Priest on Oahu. I took his alter back to Okinawa after he died. That was the first I’d heard of his fame in Japan. The Buddhists called him, “One of The Five.” I don’t speak Japanese and my translator didn’t speak much English, so I couldn’t figure out who “The Five” were. But it’s an interesting coincidence that our ancestor, the great Samurai, Musashi, wrote The Book of Five Rings.

“I’m inside,” James says. “There’s this lady here, but she don’t look like a cop.”

“Hand her the phone, I need to talk to her.”

I hear a woman saying she’s busy. She tells him to take a seat. Here it is. That feeling. I’m telling you, I want to reach through this phone and strangle her. What’s wrong with me?

“She’s too busy,” James says.

“Tell her somebody’s trying to kidnap you.”

He does, and she gets on the line. “This young man tells me he’s the victim of a kidnapping attempt and you’re his older sister. Is this information correct?”

“Yes.” I give her my name and the highlights, trying not to sound like the teenager I still am. She agrees to keep him in a safe place until a police officer can talk to him. That’s all she can guarantee.

A squirrel darts out into the road ahead of me and I swerve to miss it. I shouldn’t be doing seventy on this narrow road.

The phone reception gets sketchy as I drive into a dirt parking lot near the South Jetty. Logs outline the perimeter. A dirt slope leads down to the river beach ahead of me. I could drive down there and get stuck, but I’ll park. Save somebody the headache of pulling my car up the slope when they figure out it was the dead girl’s ride.

James gets back on the phone. “Hey.”

“Listen, I’ve got leukemia.”

“You mean…”

“Cancer of the blood,” I tell him. “Odds are, it’s going to kill me in a month or two. But you need to understand, the kidnappers are after me, not so much you. They only want you so they can force me to work for them. But I’m not doing it. I haven’t got long to live anyway, so…”

“What the hell are you saying?”

“If I kill myself, I won’t have to work for those people. I can’t stand what they’re doing to the world. I won’t be part of it.”

“This can’t be happening.”

“Listen, James. None of this is about you. If we’re lucky, they’ll leave you alone once I’m gone. You won’t be valuable to them when I’m in heaven.”

“You can’t kill yourself. You can’t do that.”

“I’m dying one way or the other.”

“They must have drugs. People get rid of cancer all the time.”

“Not M5b. The stats are dismal. The chemo makes you sick as a zombie. Your hair falls out. I’m not doing it.”

“But you got to try.”

“No. You need to try. Try not to get depressed when I’m gone. Try to find something to believe in so you’ll be a decent influence on the world when you’re famous. All this stuff about no God, no good, no evil. Forget it. It’s bull. You’ve got to believe in something. Something that’s not so brittle it breaks when the aliens land.”

“What?” He gasps.

“Atheism and fundamentalism are brittle. They’re both going to break… when the facts come down.”

“I can’t believe this.” He’s on the edge of tears. I know the sound.

“You’ve got heavy responsibility on your shoulders. Listen to me. Nobody has more influence than a rock star. Nobody in this world. You were born to be famous. You’re like John Lennon. You’re a genius with melody, James. Literally a genius.” I’ve never been able to convince him of that. “You’ve always made me so proud. Everything you write. And you got the singing voice to match.”

“You can’t…”

“I’ll be listening to your stuff. And watching you – from the moon, I think.”

“The moon?” He’s crying now. Normally he cries over great songs and sad movies, not real disasters. Disasters make him stronger than most people. Usually.

“Who’s going to be the only friend I ever had, Johanna? Who’s going to make sure I don’t party all the time? Who’s going to bail me out… of jail next time?” My phone goes dead.

I try to call him, but a battery icon flashes for a second then disappears. The phone was plugged in all night. I look at it in my mind and see 100% at the top, above the old woman’s number.

This close to the Jetty, I’m starting to feel a little hesitant about suicide. James and I didn’t even get to say goodbye. It’s cruel.

I remember Ojiichan saying that our existence isn’t real. Get rid of all attachments and nothing can hurt you.

I hear a Sabbath School teacher reading from a little pink Bible, “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord.”

But I never was able to become a true fundamentalist. Not quite. I came close for a while but… whatever. I’ve always felt a little jealous of those people. It’s like the UFO club. I want to believe but those things just don’t show up for me.

I’ve got the jitters. I’m going to breathe water, that’s all. It’s the least embarrassing way to do this, and to be honest, I’m more afraid of embarrassment than drowning. It’s a Japanese thing, I think. Completely genetic.

I get out of the Prius, face the cold salt wind and walk toward the tall, curving breakwater. Its beauty is gone today. I put it side by side with a mental image from the last time I was here. The sun was up, but otherwise the images match.

I was standing right… here.

I wonder if beauty is still there when you can’t see it.

M. Talmage Moorehead

If you want, you can read this story from page one (beginning with Johanna’s chapter 0). It starts here.

If you want to be notified when each of my novels is done (possibly before the sun goes supernova) please join my list here. (No spam or sharing of your info – ever.) You could also download my e-book on fiction writing while you’re at it, if you want the thrill of your life. Just kidding. The e-book’s pretty decent in its own way, I’d say. One person really liked it.

Also, please email a close friend with my URL: http://www.storiform.com. Think of the sweetest, most interesting and beautiful nerd you know. Warn her that the story’s in progress.

Thanks, I appreciate your generous nature and inherent goodness of character. No, seriously. You’re a writer, right? OK, then. Take the compliment. (My wife finds it difficult to take any compliment. She’s got a logical reason to explain the precise inaccuracy of whatever nice thing you tell her. Plus she’s gorgeous. What a combo!)

Talmage


But, Why?

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God was lonely, I’m guessing. Wanted company.

He built smart computers that did everything right except stop loneliness.

He drank a whole pot of coffee and made computers with free will that looked vaguely like us because they were us.

His loneliness went away.

But free will brought murder.

God said, “Hey!” and the murdering stopped. Men and women shook with fear.

And loneliness returned.

We were gone. God had ruined us.

Now he had a choice. Stop talking and hide, or end free will forever.

He looked at the stars. They said, “It’s big out here.”

No. Not really. He would get rid of free will, then.

He raised his hand high but before it fell… he fell in love.

With us and our half smiles. The telegraphed humor. Our romance with bad words that make us so sure we’re cool. And all the darling little cars we leave everywhere.

So he went off to hide and think.

While he was away someone said, “There is no free will.”

With that, everyone vanished.

Everyone but God.

He couldn’t sleep because he’d downed that whole pot of coffee.

And he could still see my wife’s hopeful eyes when the kids were young.

Will they come back? Can they?

The stars didn’t answer. They didn’t seem to know.

M. Talmage Moorehead

This is kind of mundane, but…

My in-progress experimental style novel, Hapa Girl DNA starts here. It’s sort of a “hapa” (Hawaiian for “half”) thing itself, a hybrid of fiction and non-fiction. I’m ignoring a ton of “good fiction writing” rules, but I like to question all dogmas in all fields. I’m testing to find out which fiction writing rules matter and which don’t.

If you would like to read my e-book on fiction writing and be notified when each of my novels is done (possibly before the next ice age) join my list here. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t written to my list yet – in over a year. My bad, but I’ll get to it eventually.)

By the way, if you feel like it, please email your best weird friend about this blog (www.storiform.com). Thanks, I appreciate your generous help!

Talmage


I Bailed On My Medical Practice

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Honestly, I was never cut out to be a pathologist.

It’s true that I have a strong eye for pattern recognition of rare tumors. And I’ve got enough OCD-ishness to avoid most of the million tiny and galactic mistakes that haunt pathologists without OCD traits.

But I lack the bluster for the job.

It turns out that bluster, the gift of feeling and sounding 100% certain when you’re only 99, is the key to tolerating a profession where people’s lives are in your hands.

And that gift of pseudo-certainty makes surgeons and colleagues think you’re good, even if you’re not.

The people who thought I was an outstanding general pathologist were the few pathologists who consulted with me on most of their own tough cases. Plus maybe every cytotechnologist I ever worked with.

And my wife and kids who are completely unbiased.

When the stress from outside work escalated and combined with on-the-job stress, I reached critical mass inside. I was done. Cooked.

It was a Thursday night.

On Friday I walked into work and told them this would be my last day as a pathologist.

That was June 27, 2014, about a month ago. Since then, I’ve learned a few things.

When I’m not smothered by life-and-death stress, the world shines for me.

Sitcoms are funny. I’m still shocked.

Nobody dies if I’m an imperfect human.

The scowl wasn’t permanent. My daughter said my eyes look younger now.

The other day I caught myself smiling at a tree in our backyard. Do normal people do that?

I no longer have to open fresh colons, remove the feces by hand and hunt for invisible lymph nodes for an hour breathing toxic fumes.

The last 26 years of practice are over. The 13 years of prep and training are history.

My goal is to become an indie writer before the neurons fly south.

I didn’t quit pathology so I could write full-time. I’m not that brave.

I quit because I couldn’t go on.

But I love to write. More than anything.

And like you, my human flaws qualify me for this job.

M. Talmage Moorehead

If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” my in-progress novel may be a fun read. The protagonist, Johanna, is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression. Her evolving story starts here.

It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, a tightrope of fiction and nonfiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In “writing” her own novel as she lives it, she ignores some big fiction rules, partly because she’s allergic to dogma and partly because she’d rather enjoy the “writing” experience than worry about material success.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to break them.

If you’re a fiction writer or just curious, you could download my free e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my specific take on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 19,000 word pdf file will place you on my list of interested people who will be politely notified when my traditional version of this novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your email address. I haven’t written to my list yet and it’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please send my blog address (www.storiform.com) to an open-minded, highly intelligent and beautiful friend of yours. Thanks. I appreciate it. They might not, but you never know. 🙂

Talmage


Will Neo-Darwinism ever become a respected Theory among Space Alien Scientists?

DNA

You and I are old friends from beyond space and time. We stumble into this Universe from Reality where the laws of physics are different, being eight dimensional with the occasional ninth showing up after overzealous celebration. We’ve done our share, admittedly.

Like everyone in Reality, we’re scientists with standards of objectivity.

We stumble upon Earth and her many species, the odd geologic strata with its sudden “Cambrian Explosion” of complex life forms, and the wildly stressed crust showing lingering scars from extinction level events brought by cosmic impacts and coronal mass ejections of the past.

Suddenly your face lights up with inspiration. I’ve seen that look before.

“What is it,” I ask. “Hemorrhoids acting up?”

“Shut up,” you tell me in that endearing tone of yours. “All this DNA code here was written by ‘random mutation and natural selection’. Somehow I just know it.”

“Fair enough,” I chuckle. “Neo-Darwinism, then.”

You smirk as usual at my neologisms.

I admit that your idea is brilliant, but at the moment it lacks certain rigors of standard science. “Besides, I’ve got a feeling this whole place was designed.”

Your neocortex is thick and dominates your limbic system, quite unlike the creatures dominating Earth below us. As a result, you enjoy my challenge and invite me to set up an appropriate scientific investigation.

I’m thinking that a standard quadruple-blinded, controlled, randomized, prospective, repeatable experiment should do the trick.

Knowing that we’re both sort of defined by the celebrations of love back home in Reality, and totally undefined by intra-cosmic and inter-cosmic paradigms, I know we’ll both be happy with our study’s results no matter what the outcome. That ninth dimension isn’t limited to weekends.

“Here’s our experimental design,” I tell you. “Even the FDA would approve this monster.”

You glance at my thoughts. “Looks pretty standard, but why not do a-

“I shouldn’t think we need to reinvent the synapse for this. After all, it’s fundamentally a question of inspiration versus hemorrhoids.”

I print out a hard copy of my design, hand it to you, and watch your eyes go over it…

1. We randomly select a significant number of planets in this Universe containing DNA-based life forms. A few hundred thousand.

2. Unbiased robots document the current DNA code of every species on every test planet while we’re not looking.

3. We set up cameras to document the physical changes of the species and any survival advantages the new forms convey.

4. Unbiased robots decode all the DNA genomes and follow their changes over time so we can later see what each gene adaptation did to each life form as it either evolved constructively for survival or devolved in the face of environmental stressors.

5. Grad students will search for intelligent DNA code writers such as humans, and exclude from the study all planets where intelligent life exists because such beings can tamper with DNA and ruin the data. We’ll have the grad students confine all intelligent species to their home planet(s).

6. Robots will be sent to find a few hundred thousand control planets in which the DNA-based life forms do NOT compete for survival. We’ll set up an identical experiment with these worlds for a look at random mutation withOUT natural selection.

7. We’ll wait 13.8 billion years, the possible age of this Universe, before robots collect and analyze the DNA mutation data along with the videos of physical and behavioral changes in the test-planet species as well as the controls.

8. If the DNA changes correlate with the physical changes of the species and these changes provide survival advantages that are not merely epigenetic over the 13.8 billion years of data, and if the control planets don’t throw a wrench into the works, then we will publish our findings and strongly suggest a causal relationship between random mutation with natural selection and new complex DNA sequences creating new morphologic forms of life. Our paper will state that more research must be done to duplicate our findings before your neo-Darwinian postulate becomes a formal theory.

9. If other scientists come to this Universe and are able to duplicate our results several times, then we will have come as close as scientifically possible to “proving” that neo-Darwinism is correct in this unusual Universe, that unguided random DNA mutations plus the “survival of the fittest” can create new complex DNA code that appears to be designed but is not.

You look up from reading with an expression of exhaustion. “First let’s back out of this space-time Universe and send some grad students out to hunt for an intelligent being capable of designing physical laws that would allow a Universe to write its own DNA code.” 

“Cold feet, huh?” I laugh and you join in with me, laughing at both of us.

We pop back into Reality, send out some grad students and soon discover a busy, intelligent-looking being leaning over a brand new Universe with his arms stretching down into it. We walk over and I’m about ready to interrupt the work when I hear a booming voice say, “Let There Be Light.”

Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD

See also my post: “Love, Lies and Opposable Thumbs.”


“Hardwiring Happiness” for Your Readers

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Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. is book about learning to soak in good feelings so you’ll develop neuronal pathways that change you from misery-prone to happy. I recommend the book to all writers, not just because I think we’re susceptible to despair, but also because of this…

Page 86 is about “bringing a feeling to the front of awareness.” It’s telling us that we have things at the edges of our mind that we’re not thinking about directly, but which are available to us if we look inside.

Duh!?

When I read this I thought, “Seriously, are there people out there who need to be told to look around inside their heads for things that aren’t central to what’s going on in front of them?”

I guess so. The book is basically amazing and the author is a Ph.D., so he must know a lot more about people than I do. There must be plenty of us who are relatively unaware of what’s not in “the front of awareness.” There must be plenty of us who naturally live in the moment.

Whatever it is that these people have, can someone please bottle it and sell it to me?

For me, it’s difficult to live in the moment for even three consecutive seconds – to stay out of the periphery of my subconscious mind where I worry about Monday’s frozen section or something happening now (or in the past) to one of my kids.

I do yoga now to stay in a concrete, superficially painful moment (stretching), so I can get a break from the background anxiety I live with much of the time. If you’re a writer, you’re probably a little like me.

Although it’s beside my point, I should mention that Dr. Hanson is saying to go inward to find positive feelings, not negative.

When I’m writing dialogue, I do have to constantly remind myself to get into the characters’ heads and look around at their internal thoughts and feelings. If I fail to do so, the dialogue comes out linear and flat, as if a puppetmaster is trying to “move the story ahead” in an efficient manner.

Of course, as I learned the hard way this year, if I go too far with the inner complexities of a character, I wind up with excess backstory which causes plot paralysis and takes too much energy to read. (A novel has to constantly give the reader more energy – excitement, interest, weird information, etc. – than she puts into the work of reading, or she’ll set the book aside for later.)

So there’s got to be a balance that fits you and the reader you target. Keep in mind that the evolution of popular fiction in the last century from slow-moving to fast-paced will probably accelerate. Our children’s grandchildren will be intolerant of all but the fastest-paced of today’s novels, I would guess.

And keep in mind, when you go into your characters’ heads to write their dialogue, if you don’t want them to be depressed and depressing individuals, re-live some of their positive feelings and experiences. Often I tend to only focus on their pains and problems.

Notice how much focus is given to the description and feelings surrounding good food in The Hunger Games, by Collins. Notice how that you don’t just skim over these sections. You read them and you feel them with Katniss. They are bitter-sweet, sometimes, but not negative.

Go now and buy Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. I’m begging you. Here’s a link: http://www.rickhanson.net/books/hardwiring-happiness

Of course, I’ve got no dog in the fight, no conflict of interest and nothing to gain financially if you buy his book.

Please, though, if the book changes your life, tell a bunch of other people about it. A bunch of other writers, maybe. Thanks.

M. Talmage Moorehead

My current in-progress version of Johanna’s novel is not merely character driven, it’s written by a girl from a parallel universe. If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” it may be a fun read. The protagonist is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression, though you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Her evolving story starts here.

It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a hybrid itself – a tightrope crossing of fiction and non-fiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, partly because we like to test dogmas, and partly because it’s fun to try new things.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them mindlessly.

So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 19,000 word file will place you on my short list of people who will be politely notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t sent an email to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell your best and hopefully weirdest friend about my blog (www.storiform.com). Thanks. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Talmage


“You Will Be The Worst Writer”

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It’s been somewhere near a year since I started this blog. Today while browsing my spam I came across something that I think may be my first real (non-spam) comment – even though it was relegated to the spam file by some excellent software.

Here it is:

“You will be the worst writer”

The comment led back to a website selling drugs, including testosterone supplements for men.

Hmmm. Maybe there’s insight to this.

At any rate, thank you for your comment. It’s high time I got one!

You’re not alone in thinking that I’ll be a hack, perhaps even the worst hack writer, although taking the absolute bottom or top seat on a roster seems arrogant to those of us devoted to mediocrity.

But all kidding aside, I have two readers (of my fiction, that is. I have one and maybe slightly more than one reader of this blog. It’s difficult to be sure.)

Those two readers of my fiction are, not necessarily in any order:  my wife and my daughter.

Now before you start saying that they couldn’t possibly be objective, and I shouldn’t get a swelled head over their kudos, let me stop you. They don’t like my stuff. Polite? Yes, they are. Encouraging or supportive, they’re not.

My wife likes my non-fiction prose, though. That means a lot.

She finds my fiction a chore.

A few days ago I conned her into reading this blog and she chuckled encouragingly as she read.

A few weeks ago I asked her to check out the website where I’m working on my story, and she said something to this effect: “It doesn’t seem like a story anymore. I’ve never read anything written like this, so I don’t know what to compare it to.” Admittedly, it was an experimental version in which I was pretending that the protagonist was a real person who has a website and was recording her every move as it took place. And yes, my wife was a good deal less negative – even positive, as I recall – when she read the more traditional version of the story nearly a year ago.

And I should point out that she only read as much of the latest version as she could stand, which wasn’t very much unless she’s a closet speed-reader, which I doubt.

My daughter loves me dearly and would never want to hurt my feelings, so she pretends she’s forgotten to read the stuff I’ve sent her. She’s really a sweet girl. It’s too bad everyone can’t meet her and have a friend of her caliber.

So why am I bringing this up?

Partly because I think it’s humorous and I’ll do anything to get a laugh. (Just ask my daughter.) But mostly because of this…

If I can write fiction without getting discouraged and giving up, so can you!

You? You should never give up!

Never, never, never give up!

The world needs to hear what you have to say, trust me on that.

When you get discouraged, don’t give up! Don’t even let up.

Bottom line: Neither you nor I could tolerate someone like YOU giving up. You have real talent.

Me, I mostly have desire and a mind for over-analyzing things to exhaustion. But even my gifts are plenty to work with, because, like you, I’ve got something to say.

Content.

So please, get back to writing your story, already. This is enough web surfing for today. Don’t you think?

M. Talmage Moorehead

Wow, how times change. I’ve got some readers now, thank God!

My current in-progress version of Johanna’s novel (written by my protagonist from another universe) is a lot like the experimental thing she and I were doing back when I wrote this post.

If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” it may be a fun read. The protagonist is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression, though you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Her evolving story starts here.

It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a hybrid itself – a tightrope crossing of fiction and non-fiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, partly because we like to test dogmas, and partly because it’s fun to try new things.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them mindlessly.

So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 10,000 word file will place you on my short list of people who will be politely notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t sent an email to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell your best and hopefully weirdest friend about my blog (www.storiform.com). Thanks. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Talmage


The Meaning of “Your” Writing Voice?

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Voice – not the Einstein-Rosen Bridge but a way to find it.

 

The meaning of the term “voice” as it applies to writing seems to have changed over the years. At least it has for me.

In the past, everything about “voice” seemed to relate to the author, but today, with most popular fiction written strictly from the viewpoint of a character, I think the term “voice” applies more to the viewpoint character than to the writer.

It’s true that it will always be a synthesis of the author and the viewpoint character, because neither can completely shake the influence of the other, but in the stories I’ve read in recent years, it seems that the author and her “voice” are mainly a reflection of the personality of the viewpoint character and how she thinks, speaks and “writes” her own story.

My purpose in this site has always been to help people, myself included, write “meaningful page-turners.” (I’m probably helping my writing more than anyone else’s.)

I’ve always said that our job must be to first establish an interesting character with a quality about her that makes the reader personally care what happens to her. Then our job is to make her life’s plot and her fellow characters meaningful and spellbinding.

To make the main character seem alive and impossible not to care about, I’ve come to realize that one of the main ingredients is the way the writing reflects the character’s personality. As a reader, I want to feel that the viewpoint character wrote the story in her own words, or better yet, she told me the story through mental telepathy. The words I’m reading are merely a transcription of her thoughts.

So much is contained in the character’s “writing voice.”

An innocent twelve-year-old boy with high-functioning autism might say to the reader, regarding his sister,

“I know why she’s so smart. Because she remembers everything she reads.”

The fact that the little autistic boy confuses cause with effect shows him at a level that nothing else could. This is his voice. It’s not the author’s. The “narration” is his, just as the dialogue is his.

I’m beginning to think that this viewpoint character’s “writing” voice is often one of the top three ingredients that makes the reader initially care about the vp character. (The first is empathy. The second is probably danger or challenge to the VP character.)

The VP character’s “writing voice” also seems to be one of the key forces that makes the plot hold the reader to the end because it keeps the reader feeling as if all the plot twists are happening to a real person.

I’ve got a secret project going now in which I’m writing a story in first person, present tense. (Example: I stand in the room. “Shut up,” I tell him. He closes his mouth and listens.) To make things as real as possible to myself and to the “readers,” (who don’t exist) I’m writing the story on the internet and telling a potential lie (it would be a real lie if there were any readers). The lie is that I’m giving the impression that the viewpoint character is a real person (with a web site) who is telling everyone her own weird life story as it happens. She is supposedly telling it with a device on her ear that she speaks into all day long, saying whatever comes to mind, even repeating what other characters say. Other characters don’t think it’s normal, or even tolerable – the fact that she’s repeating everything they say and blabbing her every thought into a recording device.

In doing this I’m learning about the main character’s voice in a way that astounds me and opens my eyes to the subtle world of “writing voice.”

Writing in this potentially deceitful way makes it crystal clear to me when the viewpoint girl’s writing voice changes from the way she normally writes/ talks to the way I sound when I’m writing a story.

The reason it’s so clear is that I can fairly easily put myself into the mind of an anonymous reader who might happen along and start believing she is a real girl talking about her life. From that strange vantage point I’m keenly aware of when my potential lie is starting to fall apart.

Places where the writing slips into that “once upon a time” sound of my usual “writing voice.”

The only thing I don’t like about the whole thing is lying to the potential reader. It’s conceivable that a reader might come along and believe the lie, get sucked into this story and later feel hurt when it becomes obvious that it’s all a lie, the girl is made up and her life is just a novel.

Plus, I have sort of OCD-ish aversion to lying.

Yeah, I’m weirder than you. But you don’t mind, I bet.

Anyway, for now I can tolerate the lie that is my viewpoint character’s web site, simply because I have no readers there to lie to. I’m going to keep it that way by not telling my one reader, you,  (or anyone else outside of my family who think it’s weird that I write fiction in the first place) where that website is.

I recommend that you try what I’m doing, especially the potential lie. assuming you make a new blog site that has no readers. (I think real lies are destroying our culture, but that’s another post.).

You could click on the button that makes your website private (on WordPress software), but if you do, the whole thing might not work for you. Taking away the “potential lie” might take away that strange feeling that you must keep the character’s “writing voice” believable to your “potential readers.” To me, anyway, the fact that a reader could truly show up and believe the whole thing creates a subconscious, but real-time motivation to keep the character sounding real and consistently like herself.

Anyway, since I’ve got no readers on that site, I don’t think it’s a real lie. It’s like Schrodinger’s cat, simultaneously dead and alive.

M. Talmage Moorehead

Update 9/22/14: I later discontinued that version of my novel, then spent a long time writing a new version in 3rd person, past tense. Abandoned that, and now I’m starting over and posting another total re-write on this blog. Here’s a link to page 1 of that ongoing story: Hapa Girl DNA. It’s science fiction set in the present with a ton of fringe non-fiction and many links, some of which blew my mind when I discovered them.

If you’re a new writer, or curious about my take on the so-called “rules,” download my new aging e-book, Writing Meaningful Page-Turners, here. We’re lucky to be among the most influential minds on Earth. The last chapter talks about how to meet a viewpoint character who adds the dimension of joy to your fiction and to your life. For me, it was Johanna Fujiwara, my Hapa Girl protagonist. If you haven’t met someone in your fiction who means a lot to you, there’s an amazing experience waiting for you.

 

 


Butchering the Stars

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Here are a few paragraphs of a best seller.

The Fault In Our Stars

by John Green

…Depression is a side effect of dying. (Cancer is also a side effect of dying. Almost everything is, really.) But my mom believed I required treatment, so she took me to see my Regular Doctor Jim, who agreed that I was veritably swimming in a paralyzing and totally clinical depression, and that therefore my meds should be adjusted and also I should attend a weekly Support Group.

This Support Group featured a rotating cast of characters in various states of tumor-driven unwellness. Why did the cast rotate? A side effect of dying.

The Support Group, of course, was depressing as hell. It met every Wednesday in the basement of a stone-walled Episcopal church shaped like a cross. We all sat in a circle right in the middle of the cross, where the two boards would have met, where the heart of Jesus would have been.

I noticed this because Patrick, the Support Group Leader and only person over eighteen in the room, talked about the heart of Jesus every freaking meeting, all about how we, as young cancer survivors, were sitting right in Christ’s very sacred heart and whatever.

So here’s how it went in God’s heart: The six or seven or ten of us walked/wheeled in, grazed at a decrepit selection of cookies and lemonade, sat down in the Circle of Trust, and listened to Patrick recount for the thousandth time his depressingly miserable life story—how he had cancer in his balls and they thought he was going to die but he didn’t die and now here he is, a full-grown adult in a church basement in the 137th nicest city in America, divorced, addicted to video games, mostly friendless, eking out a meager living by exploiting his cancertastic past, slowly working his way toward a master’s degree that will not improve his career prospects, waiting, as we all do, for the sword of Damocles to give him the relief that he escaped lo those many years ago when cancer took both of his nuts but spared what only the most generous soul would call his life.

Here’s a link to John Green’s web sitehttp://johngreenbooks.com/

The reason I posted this is because it grips me and pulls me in but lacks a certain polished sound that I sometimes foolishly try to create. The way Green’s story is written excites me, partly because I’m not a gifted poet or a writer with naturally beautiful language.

I’m not saying I could write something this good. The content of this story would be at least impossible for me to match. And also it would be difficult for me to write anything this raw-sounding because I’ve been brainwashed into over-editing my work until it sounds sterile.

For instance, here is what I would lamely do with one of John Green’s fantastic paragraphs. (Forgive me Mr. Green, your way is infinitely better than what I’m about to do.)

[Like cancer, d]Depression is a side effect of dying. (Cancer is also a side effect of dying. [In a way, a]Almost everything is, really.) But m[M]y mom believed I required [needed] treatment, so she took me to see my R[r]egular D[d]octor[,]Jim, who agreed that I was veritably swimming in a paralyzing and totally clinical major depression, and that therefore [needed adjustment of] my meds should be adjusted[,] and also I should attend a weekly S[s]upport G[g]roup.

Just for clarity’s sake, here again is Green’s outstanding paragraph as it was before I butchered it (by following the rules and advice I’ve learned in school and from “how-to” books on writing fiction).

Quoting John Green again…

Depression is a side effect of dying. (Cancer is also a side effect of dying. Almost everything is, really.) But my mom believed I required treatment, so she took me to see my Regular Doctor Jim, who agreed that I was veritably swimming in a paralyzing and totally clinical depression, and that therefore my meds should be adjusted and also I should attend a weekly Support Group.”

I ask forgiveness again for the butcher job above, but I hope it was useful to other writers. It certainly was an eye-opener to me – with all my devilish word-editing habits that crush the “voice” of the viewpoint character and bleed the excitement out of my fiction, at times.

I guess the worst thing I did (above) to Green’s paragraph was to obscure the sense that it was written, literally written, by a young person who was more concerned with cancer and dying than with writing schoolish prose.

You might try this: Copy an important paragraph from a best-seller and pretend it’s something you wrote long ago. Edit “yourself.” Study the damage you’ve done, if any.

Then, if you’re like me, you’ll feel sheepish and realize that you’ve learned something from a successful professional with a writing career in the real world.

M. Talmage Moorehead


basketball and writing a page-turner

Squirrel Finnegan the wannabe dog pupThe process of improving my fiction writing continues to parallel the process I devised for learning to shoot a basketball.

There are an infinite number of variables in each sport. It seems that the more of those variables I control or eliminate, the faster I improve.

In learning to shoot a basketball, it was easy to eliminate the unessential movements.  Give the shot a little random head tilting and an inconsistent jump and you might as well move the hoop during the shot. So forget practicing like everybody else does.

I stood close to the hoop, didn’t change position, didn’t jump, bend my knees, or worry about what was going on in my mind. I kept my shoulders and head steady during every shot.

Then I shot a hundred times per day for quite a while. This isolated my arms, hands and fingers – the minimal number of uncontrolled variables essential to sinking a shot.

After a while I could get the ball through the hoop every time from that one spot. Then I brought a jump into the deal. Then a little more distance, and a little more.

Did it help?

Yeah, like magic. I went from pathetic to annoying. There were a few games where everything I shot went through the hoop. If I’d been decent on defense, I could have made the D league for the vertically challenged.

No brag, just fact.

With fiction writing I’m taking the same approach – eliminating variables to isolate the essentials.

The main thing I want to create is a novel that’s difficult to stop reading. You might call it a page-turner, I guess. I want it to be meaningful. It would also be nice if literary critics around the world would send flowers to my wife.

To identify the essentials, I’m studying the work of best-selling fiction authors. These people are doing something right. I want to discover what it is, so I can practice like a fiend.

Of course, I intend to continue posting all my epiphanies here.

Each highly successful popular author I’ve studied seems to have a set of talents that is slightly different from the next. Some are not so gifted with words, but have interesting ideas and characters. Some are able to write like poets and yet weave complex plots involving a large cast of characters. Others write simple plots with few characters, simple words and breathtaking dialogue. Some don’t seem to stand out in any way, except that I can’t put their books down.

The combinations of the different underlying writing talents are probably infinite.

In basketball, a person must have rare talent in almost every aspect of the game if he’s going to have a chance to play professionally.

In writing fiction, it doesn’t seem like that at all. Yes, there’s a common thread connecting best-selling authors, but it’s thin and subtle, not thick and obvious, as in basketball.

When you find what your main talent is as a writer, you’ll be able to isolate it and work on it. If you keep at it, you’ll probably be able to write a page-turner. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have a fairly decent chance of becoming a professional.

There are a few people out there with great advice on selling your novel, but if your novel isn’t difficult to put down, you could be wasting your time.

Maybe I don’t want you to do that.

Identify your strongest writing talent. Isolate it from the noise. Build its muscles. Write things that depend on that talent.

This approach will produce the sort of page-turner you’re capable of writing. It will be unique to you.

Of course, not all writers want to write page-turners. Not everybody wants to reach millions of people.

That’s understandable.

In the final analysis, all fiction writers succeed – because it’s this journey we’re on that matters, not so much the destination.

M. Talmage Moorehead


The Predator’s Laughing at You, Kid

I’m quoting an Egyptologist as he tells us how stupid we would be to disagree with him:

“I laughed the first time I read that idea somewhere in a more speculative forum.”

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No matter the topic, the tone of this quote embodies the most convincing argument against any idea, especially an idea that can’t be refuted with hard data, logic or reason.

The haughty, condescending put-down laugh IS The Predator.

Unless we inoculate ourselves, we become trophies of the “informed” elites in any field, the wielders of the laugh.

History is heavy with experts laughing down innovators and thinkers. But some underdogs prevail.

Pathologists look at tissue sections under a microscope to see if a patient has cancer. The malignant cells invade tissue. The slide is a “snapshot” of the action: killers and victim fighting and dying with their hands on each other’s throats.

Once upon a time in real life, a non-pathologist outsider had the gall to scrape cells off the cervix in search of cancer. He said he could look at the killer cells and identify them without seeing their victims. (Cytology.)

“Absurd,” the pathologists said. Smearing loose cells on a glass slide? They laughed the outsider to scorn and said:

“He isn’t even a pathologist.” Snort!

If you can get this kind of laugh on paper, it will improve your story.

The outsider was the great Georgios Papanikolaou. His absurd idea (the Pap smear) has already saved the lives of over six million women.

Although his findings were published in 1928, many pathologists hate and despise cytology to this day. (I’m a pathologist and I’ve heard the disdain.) That’s the power of “the laugh.” The predator’s laugh.

It’s the most effective argument against anything, at least in the short-term.

Truth prevails eventually, though. It may take centuries.

Your story’s character might be too smooth to say, “It’s amusing how intellectually beneath me you are,” but you can let his laugh says it all for him.

Using the put-down laugh against your hero makes her enemies seem to be people from a culture where “experts” have incubated traditional ideas for generations.

If your hero suffers public humiliation at the experts’ laugh, she becomes sympathetic, closer to the reader’s heart. Her refusal to cave in to authority shows moral courage.

See if this illustrates the laugh at all:

Joey finds a way to beat the stock market. He needs seed money.

He goes to grandpa who’s made his fortune as an entrepreneur, pulling all-nighters, paying employees instead of himself, bankrupt twice, lost his house, but finally made it in business.

Joey makes his plea for money to Grampa, who says…

“That’s nuts, Joey.” He looks at his wife and smirks. “If…” He suppresses a laugh. “If you could make money on your ass.” He looks at Joey “What pressing buttons?” He chuckles. “Everybody would be doing it, Joey. Hell, why work?” He looks at his wife. “I’ve been a fool all these years!” He raises his hands and shrugs.

Joey’s lips won’t move for him anymore. He presses them together.

Grandma sees his face and stops laughing. “Joey, honey,” she says…

If your hero is part of an elite group, then “the laugh” can be directed at the bad guys. This helps convince the reader that the good guys believe they are true experts.

The arrogant put-down laugh has another relevance to writers…

I knew a gifted writer who was convinced that writing popular fiction would make him a prostitute.

He became a lawyer and hated his life.

No logical argument can be made against paying a writer for her work.

Those who feel a need to keep gifted writers away from money resort to name-calling (whore) and chuckling warmly downward from moral and intellectual high ground. Supposedly. But they make me sick.

Imagine an NBA basketball coach telling his star, “You’re better than this. You shouldn’t be on TV making money. You have the soul of a great basketball player. Don’t be a whore in the NBA. Go back to college ball.”

Do you see a fundamental moral difference between fiction writing talent and other rare talents?

I don’t.

Write for love, but get paid, too. If you possibly can.

M. Talmage Moorehead

Note: That picture up top is a statue of The Predator. I did some effects to try to make it look infrared. Remember how the Predator laughed at Arnold at the end of the first movie? The alien hunter lay there half dead, ready to blow himself up and take Arnold with him. That was a nice put-down laugh.


Cliche Purging, Forget About It

Clichés, like just about any other biological thing, can be placed on a nearly bell-shaped curve. With clichés, there are a few outliers on the left tail that are essential to basic communication, and a few on the right that actually deserve a speck of a writer’s attention.

Some from the left tail we don’t even call clichés: IMG_2260

“In other words…”

“If only I could have…”

“I’m sorry, but…”

“Of course.”

“I love you.”

Here’s a cliché of sorts from the right tail of their bell curve:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

You probably recognize this from a political speech by FDR. If you use it in a story, your editor (I wish I had one) may balk and write, “cliché” beside it with three exclamation points to grind your limbic system into eternal shame.

FDR’s words are relevant to writers who are afraid of clichés.

I was in high school when I first felt the dark power of cliché purging. I didn’t know what the teacher meant by the word, but pretended to get it because her body language was telling me to feel sheepish, and I didn’t want to add to that by admitting I was an illiterate slug.

Years later, the many books I read on writing fiction stressed the “poisonous” nature of clichés and their power to kill anything living for pages around.

The books needed only to warn me once.

The fear of fear itself  can be strong, but the fear of humiliation is stronger.

One time I literally put my life in danger just to avoid humiliating myself in front of an unseen hunter who had fired his shotgun into the fog at birds that must have been near me. I was too worried about embarrassment to shout, “Don’t shoot!” I didn’t say a word. And now I’m too ashamed to tell you all the details.

Needless to say, some fearful people will kill the flow of their writing to avoid clichés and that peculiar flavor of humiliation.

Forget cliché purging, already. Writing spell-binding stories requires every neuron in your head. If you keep some neurons busy hunting self-consciously for clichés, you’re diminishing the quality of your work. Your focus has to shift back and forth from creativity to self-defense.

The more  you focus on the words, the more you ignore the magic.

Of course, there are those who have read so much fiction that “the story” is no longer where magic lies for them.

My former brother-in-law, a well-read man, used to find a transcendent euphoria in an ethereal quality of the words themselves. Their rhythm, their flow.

It’s not that I can’t relate. I love some of Robert Zimmerman’s (Dylan’s) lyrics for similar reasons (feelings) that I can’t put my fingers on. This passage, for example, is magic to me – from One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)

“and I told you as you clawed out my eyes that I never really meant to do you any harm.”

And this, from Visions of Johanna

“The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place.”

To me, the magic of words is found primarily in poetry, while the magic of a story lies almost entirely in its characters and the grip of the plot on their lives.

I can imagine that a cliché might poison a poem.

I doubt that a cliché could give a sniffle to a page-turning novel. Maybe an army of clichés could.

But I know from personal experience that cliché purging produces a concrete, word-conscious and timid writing session where nothing comes to life.

Be brave.

M. Talmage Moorehead


Description – A Modest Proposal

First, make the reader focus at near objects with minute detail, and also at far-away objects.  This is a type of contrast that gives a 3D image to your work.

Next, remember that some say the only purpose for description is to create a mood or a feeling.

I would suggest that there are two components to this:  first you draw something with the potential to carry the elements of the mood you want to transmit.  Then you do something to transmit it.

Let’s say you want to create a dark place where some sort of nebulous danger awaits.

First you draw a mental picture of the things IMG_0940you want to see.  But to do this well, you might want to brainstorm it by listing a bunch of mood objects, noises, smells and textures that might be found in this sort of place.

You might make one of the objects symbolic of or related to something in the hero’s life…. The hero lost her daughter in a fire she caused by falling asleep while smoking, for instance.  So here in this solitary dark room there is an antique doll, a hundred years old if a day, with cigarette burns on its belly and chest.

You’ve got your list, you pick out the best stuff, make a mental image of the room and start putting the stuff where you want it.

It’s going to be effective if it’s not too wordy, not too long, not too static, and has objects that are interesting in and of themselves (so the reader is not just interested in getting through the boring description).  Example: in the “secret” chamber of the empty jewelry box there’s a tiny gyroscope, a child’s toy from an era where subtlety existed, even for children.

Don’t groan, that’s rude.

Now I’m thinking the next step is to somehow transmit the feelings of this room to the reader.

To do this, I don’t know. But I have some suggestions, at least.

Make the hero’s emotional reactions subtle, less than you hope the reader will have.

Bring the viewpoint character in with his back exposed to something that he and the reader disagree about. Perhaps the hero doesn’t think the object to his right is anything special so he looks away.  But the reader is more concerned about some detail the viewpoint character cavalierly described and dismissed.

Have your hero fixate on one object.  Maybe she stops and back-stories on the object’s history – briefly.  Maybe the object falls from her hands and cracks on the floor.  If so, it was expensive and now she’s worried about having to pay for it. Now you have two worries going on at the same time.  This is like real life!  And two worries amplify each other.  The reader is worried about “what’s behind the door,” and the hero is worried about paying for something she just broke.

That reminds me…  Naah, I’ll write about this later.  But for now, I just want to say that the human mind finds it exhilarating to do two things at the same time.  For instance, most of the best songs have a place where two melodies are going on at the same time – or two melody-like things.  They tend to be simple melodies that are down to a level where the average person and I can keep both melodies going at the same time in our heads even after the song’s over.  The same kind of thing might just apply to writing fiction.  I’m too much of a hack to know, but since I’m infallible and fearless, I’ll write more about it later.

Description is, according to one guru, the place where the magic happens in a story.  I don’t know, it could be.  I tend to write pages of “talking heads” sometimes.  You know, pages where one guy talks to the other and nothing else happens?  Then I go back and it feels like work to put in descriptions of things here and there, just for the sake of making the talking heads seem attached to chairs and whatnot.  I’m not going to be able to write great description while I’m struggling to write decent dialogue.  But, if I can make the process of writing description more interesting, it will be more fun and better for the reader (that theoretical person).

Dude!

M. Talmage Moorehead


“Adverbs are Not Your Friends” Except When They…

8-2010 Coeur d'Alene--Alanna's 011

 

“They moved wordlessly to and from the tables they were waiting.”  Hmm.  Is there a single verb you could use to get that idea across?  They sneaked?  No.

I listened to an excellent tape where Stephen King read his own non-fiction book on writing fiction.  At one point he said, “Adverbs are not your friends.”

Yet fiction writers use them effectively sometimes.  I think I may have an idea worth sharing on this.

An adverb that adds something to the verb other than simple modification seems sometimes indispensable.  Maybe the secret rule is that “adverbs should be avoided except where indispensable.”

An example from “Hunger Games” by Collins is, “[They] move wordlessly to and from the table…”.  When your people walk and you want to modify how they’re walking, the books will tell you not to find an adverb.  They don’t want you to say things like, “They moved quickly down the hall.”  They want you to find a stronger verb that means, “moved quickly.”  Like, “they ran down the hall.”  OK, I’ve got no problem with that.  But…

In Collins’ example above, I learned something from, “moved wordlessly.” I noticed that the adverb adds something to the walking that IS NOT about the act of walking.  This may be the key to using adverbs (as opposed to pretending they don’t exist, which is what I’ve been doing for years).

And, of course, being an unpublished hack writer, I’m always right about these sorts of things.

Let me see if I can think of other examples of this new adverb usage principle…

“She diced the eggs mindlessly.”  That works, maybe.

“She diced the eggs rapidly,” does not work because the adverb doesn’t add a new dimension or a new unrelated thought to the verb, “diced.”  Zat make sense?

I remember reading a novel in which the author listed one adverb after another to such an extent that I thought he might have been mocking the how-to-write dogma books that say to avoid adverbs like plague.  I wish I had that quote now so I could look at it again and see if, perhaps, each adverb added a new unrelated thought to the verb…

Like, “He walked foolishly, unknowingly, wordlessly, and routinely toward the ice cream box in the refrigerator.”  Genuine hack, but you get the point.

I hope my new insight is correct because I get frustrated writing obediently in the straight-jacket of  current dogma and trends.

M. Talmage Moorehead