Friday, February 21, 2020

Your Obedient Servant - 1

Here we go. The state of my health is telling me not to get too ambitious about finishing this novel, but I'm going to do my best.

What I'll be posting is a first draft. Except for spelling and grammar, the finished product may be very different.

Feb 21 

“It’s damn well about time. I’ll be right there,” the senator said as he put his phone back in his pocket and glanced at me briefly. “You will come with me.”

The prison van had been due at sunrise, almost two hours ago, and the senator’s anger had risen along with the sun. Even a free man, if they had any sense at all, would have known better than to question him now. I nodded, keeping my surprise off my face, and my mouth shut on my own questions.

He didn’t wait for me to open the door for him, striding out into what was already a furnace of a day and would only become more deadly with each passing hour. My domain was the household, so I rarely had any reason to be outdoors. The heat and humidity struck me like a suffocating blanket that made me flinch back even as I tried to take a deep breath. But if the senator said I was to go with him, I had no choice but to obey.

The cart was waiting at the door and I was grateful to see that the awning had been put up. I would have at least a minute or two out of the sun. The senator pushed me ahead of him, into the back seat, and I scrambled over as far as I could, leaving him most of the space. The driver didn’t need any instructions, thank goodness. Having to tell him where to go would have raised the senator’s ire another few notches. No one on the estate would ever take that chance if they had any options at all. Anticipate. Always anticipate his wishes. I had learned that very quickly myself.

I had little time to wonder why the senator wanted me with him, and even less time to worry about what it might mean for me. The transport van was right ahead of us now, parked outside the slave barracks, its back doors still closed.

The senator jumped out before the cart had quite come to a stop and headed for the man standing beside the van, looking worried. The man dipped his head, a poor excuse for a bow, and kept his eyes aimed at the ground.

“Murphy! What the hell is going on? Why was the van late? Have the slaves been unloaded?”

“Sir,” the man said, still not looking at the senator. “I don’t know why it was late. One of the guards…” and he pointed to the cab, its windows closed, “said they wouldn’t let us unload until you arrived.”

“Well, I’m here now, damn it.” 

The senator banged on the passenger-side window. “Open up, damn you. I want those men out. Now! Get your asses moving or I’ll have one more complaint to file with the warden.”

As the door opened, he backed away. I was standing just a few steps behind him, and the cool air enveloped us both for a blessed second or two before dispersing into the heat.

I followed them both around to the back of the van, wishing I was back in my proper place. What was I doing out here, anyway? But I had no more time to wonder, or to think about the sun hammering down on my head, as the guard fumbled with a key and opened the back doors. They swung wide and I backed away as fast as I could, practically choking on the wave of overheated air that poured out. But it wasn’t the heat that was so awful, as bad as it was; it was the smell. Not smell—stench! A stew of sweat and urine that had to have been cooking for hours to be that toxic. 

Saturday, February 15, 2020

When There Seems to Be No Hope

At the age of 83, I know I won't be around long enough to see the drastic effects of global climate change. But it's still a subject that weighs on me, and that my over-active imagination struggles with. The news media is already presenting us with articles on the psychological effects in play at the present moment. Whether you are of the new generation whose lives are going to be very different from our own, or the generations that are mourning future losses that they won't even experience, climate change is becoming, for many, a source of despair, regret, and hopelessness.

What are we leaving to our children, and how are they going to cope? Can the movements inspired by and headed by youngsters like Greta Thunberg make a difference in how humanity's long-term future will turn out? However much difference they do manage to make in how we are conducting our affairs today and in the near future, it's clear that many destructive processes in nature are accelerating and already past the point where humans can influence them to our benefit.

Global climate change sounds like doomsday, and it may well be, but we don't know for sure. If we don't want to assure that it will be doomsday, this is no time to indulge in "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die." Or the opposite: declare that life is now meaningless, give up entirely and submerge yourself in depression.

So, where do we find meaning, out of which hope can grow? This morning I read a discussion of Victor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning It isn't a terribly long article, and if you can find a few minutes to read it, you will learn that you are the one responsible for finding meaning in life. It isn't something that can be given to you. The article alone might be enough for you to find some light in the darkness, but I encourage you to read Frankl's book.

Survival, both individual and global, depends on finding meaning, and therefore, hope. The struggle will be longer than Dr. Frankl's, though life in Auschwitz and Dachau must have seemed impossibly long, and impossible to survive. Those of us who won't be around much longer still have a responsibility to future generations, if for no other reason than that it is our thoughtless lack of responsibility that is burdening them with such a dreadful task.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Not Downton Abbey

One of the topics that has engaged me over the years is slavery. The first two novels I wrote, serializing them on Live Journal as I went along (many years ago), were about an alternate world in which one country's economy and culture were slave-based. The first one developed a nice readership, and when I published it online, it had fairly good sales, for a book that had no publicity except the blog. The second one didn't do as well, but I didn't consider it a failure.

Since then, I've self-published a few other things, all of which attracted very little attention since they weren't publicized either. Supposedly, I would have learned by now that unless an author is willing to spend time promoting their writing, it will sink like a stone. Certainly, I've learned it, but basically, I just don't care. It's the writing that's important, the development of ideas and scenarios, not how much money I can make.

Still, there's the always present desire to be read. I'd be lying if I said that wasn't part of the motivation for writing. So I'm going to repeat the Live Journal experiment here. Will it interest anyone? Who knows? But at least, it will offer me some motivation for continuing to work on a story that's been underway for several years now, without making a whole lot of progress.

Your Obedient Servant takes place in a United States which has legalized slavery. Climate change is well advanced, and slavery is just one of its side effects. The office of President is now hereditary, as are congressional senators and representatives.

The story is written as a memoir by a man who has spent his last 40 or so years as the indentured servant of a senator. It's a position that, for him, became no different from that of a slave.

In our world, slavery has never gone away, and if you do a Google search, you'll find more than you want to know about its persistence and the ways in which it is changing.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Reversals of Meaning

In England, taking a knee to the queen during ceremonies such as knighthood is still considered a necessary sign of respect and submission. Kneeling has always been a acknowledgment of one's inferiority to another person.

I thought it odd at the time it started, when Colin Kaepernick chose to take the knee as a sign of resistance. Did he not understanding the meaning of kneeling? Or had he deliberately set about to turn the appearance of submission on its head? I still don't know, but apparently, the gesture has caught on, with the most recent occurrence taking place at a football game. A Teacher of the Year chose to display her objection to the president's appearance at the game by taking the knee.

Granted, there aren't many non-violent, non-disruptive ways to make a public gesture, but to many people around the world who've had to submit to colonial rule, it must be quite disturbing. Kaepernick's gesture was most likely a spur-of-the-moment act, but the message it sends to non-Americans might just be "Americans are pig-ignorant of history. And they would be right.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Getting Back in the Game

It's been several years since I published anything new, and withdraw all my work from Amazon and Smashwords. Burnout had something to do with it. And the difficulty of pulling together the necessary mental and physical effort. Because writing does require both mental and physical energy. To top all that off, self-publishing has become more difficult. Not the publishing itself, but the constant promotion needed to avoid being swamped by the floods of material coming out every year. Without participation in social media, and all the varieties of self-promotion, you might just as well not bother to write.

Increasingly, publishing on Amazon is a obstacle course that's always putting new blocks in the way of being noticed at all. Algorithms change, how Amazon presents books on the page changes, and who it supports and who it ignores, and why, discourages even writers who've been successful there.

My sales numbers were always low, on both Amazon and Smashwords, which was fine -- I wasn't writing potential best sellers -- but they eventually dropped to near-zero and then zero. The lesson was that if you choose to be invisible on the internet, then your books will also be invisible.

Still, writing is an important part of who I am, so I'm going to give it another try. Still no social media, and only this lone blog to block the way to protect me from fading into total invisibility. But some things will change. I have many grievances against Amazon, and not just about publishing there. As a distributor, Smashwords has failed to keep up with the changes that are needed to support writers -- and readers.

Draft2Digital has been around for quite a while, and now seems to have surpassed Smashwords in its advantages for writers. So, when I'm ready, I'll be trying it out. For now, besides working slowly on a novel and several other projects, I've started revisions on the last novel I published, Camp Expendable. So far, five chapters in, it hasn't required massive changes, and I hope that will continue.

I'm also considering the possibility of posting some work here, probably excerpts from works-in-progress or fragments of ideas not yet fully developed. It's all near-future science fiction, mostly dystopian and centered on climate change and criminal justice. No aliens, no space ships, no save-the-world teens.

If I can keep to the plan that, at the moment, seems doable, the blog will be a mix of my usual commentary, plus short book reviews, commentary on various aspects of writing and publishing and writing, and my own writing-in-progress.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Koalas are so Cute

People must be getting bored with pictures of fire. Lately, as the media cover Australia's latest and most widespread and destructive bushfires, the images that have dominated are of koalas -- being treated for burns, being fed, being given water. Again and again, the headlines: As many as 1/3 of koalas may have died in the fires.

And I couldn't help wondering about all the other animals. What was happening to them?

Finally, today, January 2, The Guardian answered my question. Possibly half a billion animals have died. But when I tried to find that article again, for this blog post, just a couple of hours after I first saw it, it was gone. Koalas had their day in the sun of the media, because they're cute. Most of the others that died aren't cute. Some are ugly. Some are dangerous. But they were all part of an ecology that survived for thousands of years and is now being destroyed.

Remember that photo of a dead child, face down in the sand after having washed ashore from a refugee boat? What is the connection with Australia's koalas? It's that it takes a particular kind of photo to hold our attention for even a few minutes. Cute. Pathetic. Heartbreaking.

And once those few minutes are over, the media pass on and so do we. But animals still die. So do children.

When was the last time you remembered that thousands of children are still incarcerated in detention camps here in the US? Still separated from their parents?

Late addition from Huffington Post:

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Prison - a Possible Future

One of my primary interests (though "interest" diminishes what it means to me) is criminal justice. This is an extremely broad and complex subject with many "sub-categories." The two that concern me the most are the death penalty and solitary confinement. My involvement feeds into my writing, of course, and one of the projects that has been slowly developing is a short story or possible novella about a futuristic prison for the very worst of the worst criminals.

In general, when politicians and the media talk about "the worst of the worst," they are, often unknowingly, talking about men and women who may not actually be guilty but are victims of our defective and corruption-riddled criminal justice system, and of the media itself.

In my story, every effort is made to assure that the imprisoned are truly the worst of the worst, people whose deeds were so horrendous that they cannot ever be allowed to live free. The prison is the result of a political compromise that finally allowed the death penalty to be discarded permanently, across the nation.

The prisoners live in a form of solitary confinement that is more extreme than even the worst of our current super-max prisons, in regard to the amount of isolation they endure. At the same, every effort is made to ensure their health and keep them from going mad in their isolation. They will never be released; they cannot escape. But they also never suffer the violence, either by other prisoners or by staff, that exists in most prisons today.

Among the questions the story asks and tries to answer: What does such a prison say about a country when we know the deleterious effects of long-term isolation? What kind of person is capable of being the warden of such a prison, and what are the potential effects on that person?

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Parallels - How Many Children Will Die?

 Nicolae CeauČ™escu. How many people remember that name? Or that he was responsible for the deaths of thousands of orphan children in Romania, the country he ruled until his execution in 1989? Even with my poor memory, and the periods when I paid little attention to the news, I remember him, and the horrors he brought to Romania. It's estimated that anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 children, many of them disabled, died in the country's orphanages.

Today's Guardian article goes back to that period, and the ongoing investigation to uncover all the facts, assign responsibility, and to secure a history that has been largely ignored.

It's unlikely that as many children will die in Trump's cages, but the potential for disaster is there. The latest outrage is that ICE has refused to allow medical personnel in to administer free flu vaccinations. A mere handful of children have died to date, thanks to overcrowding and neglect. But those conditions persists, and it's a certainty that children whose only fault is that their parents wanted better lives for them, and many of whom will never see their parents again, will die from easily preventable causes. 

The Romanian children lived in a communist nation. The imprisoned children in the US, who were brought here from countries suffering violence, and poverty, are now living in a democratic nation. Or are they?

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Delights of Book Recommendations

Out of curiosity, I've been tracking my reading on Goodreads this year, posting the titles of completed books, and an occasional short review. How many books do I read in a year? Actually, more than I bother to post.

An amusing feature of Goodreads is their recommendations based on what you are currently reading or on a past read. Why amusing? Because they are often so way off-base that you just have to laugh. This morning's revelation of books I might like because I'm currently reading Dark Age America: Climate Change, Cultural Collapse, and the Hard Road Ahead, might be the most off-base and most ridiculous yet. How in the world Goodreads finds any similarity between a serious nonfiction work and two romances and a book on muscle building has to be the puzzle of the century.

And it has to be a very peculiar algorithm that recommends anywhere from number two to number six of various series when I'm reading the first of a series.

Lest I descend into pure rant, I'll just mention briefly how many sites insist you read certain books. "You must..." "You have to..." No, I damn well don't, thank you.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Uncertain Future - a Realistic View

I would like very much to write a novel that portrays post-apocalyptic life in a realistic way. This is one of the reasons, I have a folder named 2026 on my desktop to collect news articles and opinion pieces on climate change, from as many perspectives as possible. Health issues, migration, drought and flood, social disintegration, etc. What I'm most interested in is those effects of climate change that are rarely being discussed, those that tend to be less spectacular than wildfires and hurricanes.

For some time now I've been thinking about a future in which disasters are happening too frequently and involving too many people for governments to keep up with relief efforts. Not enough dollars. Not enough man power. If you truly believe the scientists, it's something you should already have recognized as a too real possibility. Something the media should have recognized and starting informing the public about. Not happening, so far. But maybe that corner is about to be turned.

Today's Truthdig news site posted an article that faces this front and center: In Our Future Climate Dystopia, This is What the Pentagon Will Do The article is a discussion of our military forces both at home and abroad, and what many of our critical bases have already suffered from climate change. To sum up as succinctly as possible: "there will come a time when the climate assault is so severe and multifaceted that U.S. leaders will be unable to address all the major disasters simultaneously and will have to pick and choose where to deploy their precious assets."

NaNoWriMo note. I did sign up, mostly for the progress charts, which unfortunately are suffering from the site makeover, incompetently designed and programmed. Still, it's been a bit of the goad I hoped for, and my writing block seems to have broken. For good? Fingers are crossed. I took several days off from writing (and doing much of anything) so I'm a few thousand words behind NaNo's goals, but a few thousand ahead of my own original one. Instead of 15,000 words for the month, I've written almost 20,000 only halfway into the month. My pace varies drastically, so no predictions where I will be at month's end.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Change and No Change

Jumping forward an hour in the Spring doesn't bother me, but my body has trouble adjusting to the jump back. Why that is so is probably one of those mysteries without a solution.

Modern life demands that we constantly change in ways that aren't necessarily intelligent, useful, or valuable, time changes being one of them. Since most humans normally resist significant change, maybe the onward forced march of bigger, better, newer, different creates even greater resistance.

It takes intelligence and the willingness to accept change when it's really necessary, and the consequences of not doing so when it can negatively affect people's lives can reverberate throughout a society.

America's criminal justice system and its accompanying systems of incarceration require massive changes in order to come even a few steps closer to something we can call justice. When the problems are known and the solutions are also known, and nothing is done, how do we overcome the resistance to change?

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Then and Now

In three months, I’ll be 83 years old. I don’t think there’s any way to convey to someone who hasn’t experience them what the sweeping changes of almost a century look like. So much of what I’ve seen or experienced is distant history to the current generation of young people. It’s human nature to live mostly in the present, with only a vague knowledge and understanding of the past. But that’s no guarantee they know what’s going on outside their little sphere of family, friends, and work. 

I read a lot of news reports every day, keeping up with political, environmental, criminal justice, and several other important issues. I’m lucky enough to have a mind that sees and tracks patterns, one of which is the increase in surveillance of people just going about their daily lives and the consequent loss of privacy. This was brought home to me (again) in a very personal way this morning, when I finished reading a Guardian article about the youth movement addressing climate change. Under it was the usual reminder that the site is supported by readers, etc., etc. But a new statement stuck out like a poke in the eye: “You’ve read 137 Guardian articles in the last month…"

Writing Notes: It’s possible that more people are writing about doing NaNoWriMo than are actually doing it.

They want to win what they think is a contest. It isn’t.
They want to do what their friends are doing.
They want to be able to boast that they did it.
They want to have fun.

287,327 people signed up for NaNo in 2018
35,387 actually wrote 50,000 words or more. 29%