Carl Sagan on Books

François Boucher. Madame de Pompadour. 1756, oil on canvas, Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

Literacy is one of the great tools of civilization. Etymology is one aspect of this tool. Your ability to read my writing—another. The moral imagination invoked is a third. Unfortunately, writing is a recent invention—we’re still getting used to it. As Sagan notes in The Demon-Haunted World (335):

For 99 percent of the tenure of humans on earth, nobody could read or write. The great invention had not yet been made. Except for firsthand experience, almost everything we knew was passed on by word of mouth. As in the children’s game “Telephone,” over tens and hundreds of generations, information would slowly be distorted and lost.

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Perrine on Escape and Interpretation

The first question to ask about fiction is, Why bother to read it?

Rembrandt van Rijn. Scholar in His Study. 1634, oil on canvas, National Gallery in Prague, Czech Republic.

Laurence Perrine, an English professor whose Sound and Sense textbook series was immensely popular, splits literature between escape, which helps us “pass the time agreeably,” and interpretive, “written to broaden and deepen and sharpen our awareness of life” (3). Escape and interpretation are not “two great bins, into… which we can toss any given story” but a scale with each inhabiting opposite ends (4).

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Failed—Desmorious

Every writer has several projects initiated with gusto, abandoned with reluctance. My first was a forty-page novel in middle school—a Lord of the Rings knock-off called The War of the Bowl. In high school, my friend Jon Ying and I devised a western desperadoes-and-dragons webcomic called Dustbound. In college, I wrote rough drafts and buried them in the rough. Even now, as I revise my novel, I fear its future in a back-folder on Dropbox.

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Nominated — “And We Who Never Died”

The Tishman Review nominated my story “And We Who Never Died” for Best Small Fictions.

BSF is an anthology that honors the “best short hybrid fiction published in a calendar year.” The Harvard Review wrote that the pieces in BSF are like a “splash of ice water in the face,” a wake-up call to “your life… unspooling.”

When I heard I’d been nominated, I was like cool beans and moved on to lesson planning and grading.

Then Coffin Bell posted this:

nomination

And I discovered that MY WIFE HAS BEEN NOMINATED.

As of this day, she and I are no longer friends. No longer best friends. No longer lovers.

But bitter enemies locked in literary combat.

THIS. MEANS. WAR.

Published—”Two Wings Flightless”

Kasma Magazine published my science-fiction short, “Two Wings, Flightless,” about a man who has to destroy a hovership that’s been solar-beaming the countryside. Kasma is a speculative magazine that publishes a story every first day of the month. Each piece is accompanied by a beautiful bit of art by Jose Baetas. You can see his treatment for my story above.

In “Two Wings,” I wanted to replicate the hero goes to a cave to slay a dragon story in a post-apocalyptic setting, switching the fire-breather for a flying war machine. The result was really fun to write, especially since the narrator was so dour and grit-happy. I’m already planning a sequel.