Guardian Angel-17 The Examiners, part 2 of 3

When they returned to the house with Kirsten in tow, Ali Pasha was not surprised to find Chief Examiner Ibin Mohamed Abbass, Lord of the Society of the Mahdi waiting for him.  He could hardly have expected more if he had sent the man an engraved invitation.  “Lord Abbass,” he said, and emphasized the latter half of the man’s name, which caused Kirsten to hide and swallow her laugh.  “What brings you to my humble home?”

“I have been anxious over your disappearance.”  The little man shared polite bows with the scholar.  “I was curious that it happened at the same time your former guests disappeared.  May I ask where you have been?”

Ali Pasha put on a sad face and invited the man inside.  He instructed Manomar to take Kirsten to the women whom he said were in the next room.  “And wait there.”  Ali Pasha instructed, sternly.  Manomar bowed in a way, which indicated he understood.  He and Kirsten would be able to hear everything that was going on from the other room.

“My former guests!”  Ali Pasha looked offended for a second.  “How sweet they talked.  How knowledgeable they seemed.  I am embarrassed to say they fooled me completely.  Even when your men came to collect them for the slave market, I thought it was a terrible mistake.  I went to my neighbors and borrowed the money to buy them back, but then I heard that you took them to be examined, and I finally realized that I had been played for the fool.”  Ali Pasha sat heavily in a chair and indicated that the Examiner should sit as well.  It was a good performance, but the question was whether or not Lord Abbass bought it.

The little man sat slowly.  “But this does not explain where you have been during these days.”

“The wilderness.”  Ali Pasha said quickly and waved his hand at some distant, obscure places while he added just enough curiosity to his tone of voice to suggest that the answer should have been obvious.  “When I realized the truth, I was truly embarrassed.  I came and grabbed my trusty servant, Manomar, and we headed for the wilderness.”  He waved his hand again.  “You know, I am only truly happy when I am exploring new things.  Thus is the life of an inquirist, I’m afraid.”  He sighed heavily, having learned how from Omar the Idiot.

“Just the two of you?”  Abbass was not convinced.  “There were no others with you, not even guards for your protection?”

“Well, yes, just the two of us.”  Ali Pasha paused as if considering his words.  “I see now that just the two of us was rather foolish, but to be sure, I was so upset I could hardly think straight.  Did you know there is a ridge some many miles inland, and from there we could see all the way to the River, and even see the smoke fires rising from New Ark?”

The Examiner did not answer right away.  Instead, like a good lawyer, he rephrased his previous question in the hope of catching Ali Pasha in a lie.  “So just you and your servant went off into the wild without any concern of wild animals, savages or anything.”

“Yes,” Ali Pasha said firmly.  “It sounds a bit crazy now to think of it.  I suppose I will have to give thanks for our safe return.  Perhaps a donation to the Mosque would be in order.”

“And with no equipment, no tents or otherwise?”

“Manomar had his long knife, and we were able to make a shelter from the trees and branches, and we could hunt a little.  I confess, I have lost weight, but my wives will certainly not object to that.”  Ali Pasha stood and pretended to model for the Examiner, seeking affirmation with his eyes for his trimmer figure.  The examiner nodded politely, though he would have no way of knowing if Ali Pasha lost weight or not.

“And we did run into a savage, to be honest,” Ali Pasha confirmed.  “But I never considered that possibility until there he was, painted face and all.  His name was Petar or Petras, I am not sure how you say it.  You know how difficult communication between two languages can be, but I shared a simple string of beads I had around my neck and he shared a rabbit, and then he was gone, just like that.”  Ali Pasha clapped his hands once, sharply.

“A remarkable encounter,” Abbass said as if this story was becoming more, not less difficult to believe.

Ali Pasha pretended sudden excitement at that point.  “But now I cannot hold my tongue any longer,” he said as his whole attitude changed.  He realized that he also had to change the subject.  “Please, I must tell someone and it would be an honor to speak of this to you.”  Abbass indicated that he was listening, and Ali Pasha began with a flourishing of his sleeves.

“On the fifth day, in the midst of my evening prayers, when the sun was at my back and I was facing the smoke in the East, a most remarkable thing happened.  Praise Allah, but I was inspired as I have never been before, which tells me well that the Holy Prophet has not abandoned me for my foolishness with those wicked people.  Come and see.”  He stood and stepped over to a worktable in the corner where he began to open boxes containing stamps.

“Look, look,” he said.  “When I was leaving my home in Andalucia, I had these stamps made to mark whatever specimens I might find and keep them together in an organized fashion.  You see, I have a stamp for every letter and form in the Arabic tongue.  Do you see how these make the word for fish?”  He laid them on the table upside down.  They formed a mirror image of the word, but it could be read.

“I see,” Abbass said, and he looked at Ali Pasha with new eyes of suspicion, which Ali Pasha ignored.

“It came to me in a flash that if I set these and others in a box where they would not move around, do you see, I could make a whole page of words at once.  I think the paper would have to be flatly pressed against the inked stamps, but I could make many pages of the same information.  Do you see what I am saying?  And then if I could change the stamps around, I could make a second page and a third.”

“I see.”  The Examiner stroked his beard though he did not sound impressed.

“You see, but you do not understand.”  Ali Pasha turned and took the man by the arms.  “I could print or press the Koran much faster and cleaner than all the scribes in Mecca.  People could at last have the Holy Words to touch with their own hands and read with their own eyes.  Don’t you understand what this means?”

“Yes.”  The Examiner spoke without any heart in his words.  “Moveable type,” he added in a language, which he always said was his native tongue, and claimed was an obscure North African dialect.  In the past, Ali Pasha would not have given it another thought, but now he understood the words, exactly, even if he had to let on that he did not understand.

“Yes?”

“And the girl you just purchased?”  The Examiner asked.

“Ah!”  Ali Pasha briefly widened his eyes and spoke as if this was all some great secret and he was letting a good friend in on the ground floor.  “I have seen this one sorting fish by the sea and laying them out for sale in the market.  She has a good eye.  She knows a straight line, she already knows how to work a press to extract the fish oils, and she claims her mother taught her to read and write a most unusual thing in a slave.  I will train her to run my press.  Do you see?  She will lay my letters in a straight line and press ink instead of oil, do you think?”

“Yes.”  The Examiner was still not impressed.  “But I think also I would like to know why the guards at the gate have no memory of you and your servant leaving town.”

“Auch.”  Ali Pasha inadvertently used Lars’ word.  “I have been in and out of the gate so many times since coming to this new world, I would guess they simply did not notice.”

“Perhaps.”

“Ah, but now please.  If you don’t mind I have much to do with my stamps.  I appreciate your visit and your concern, but as you can see, I am not corrupted.  I am still the same old inquirist.  That is all a forgotten incident, and one to embarrass, so I hope it will stay forgotten.  Now, if you will forgive me.”

“Very well.”  The Lord of the Mahdi headed for the door.  “But we will speak again.”  Then he added a phrase in his supposedly obscure native tongue.  “I know the Gaian do not stray very far from their dogs,” he said, but he smiled and bowed as if bidding good day, and he left.

Seven Seven Seven… I Got Tagged.

I got tagged.  I guess I’m it.  Eve Gaal (on Facebook) tagged me to do a seven-seven-seven.  I have to post seven lines from the seventh page of a work in progress, and then tag seven more people to do the same.  Of course, I don’t just work on one thing at a time.  I am presently working on the next season of Avalon, a middle-grade book titled The Golden Door where I shredded the ending, and I am trying to finish Amazons, Book 3 so I can move on to the next story in the Elect series, Junior Year.  What to choose?  The Lady or the Tiger?  In this case, I think I will go with the tiger.

I am sure you know I write young adult (middle grade/new adult) science fiction/fantasy adventures.  The following passage is from Amazons, Book 3, the paragraph at the start of page seven is conveniently seven sentences long

 

The Tiger filled the computer screen before the tiger nose poked out from the screen and the tiger began to push its way into Steven’s bedroom.  Steven ran.  Millie and Archie screamed.  When enough of the tiger mouth squeezed into the room, the tiger roared.  Millie ran.  Archie added another scream before he followed.  By then, the tiger’s front paws were free of the computer and its mouth drooled on the keyboard in anticipation.

 

No snappy dialogue, but something to chew on.

Now to tag people.  I’m going to double up because I am not sure everyone I tag will continue this madness, and Mark Richard Hunter (already tagged) is a buzzkill (his word) and has opted out of putting people on the spot…  So here goes:

  1. Barry Parham (may be already tagged) and KB Cash because if he isn’t writing something, he should be.
  2. Paul Wonning and Gary Wonning, because Paul at least has Mossy Feet
  3. Timothy Hurley and Tom Kizzia, because after Paul and Gary, the left coast needs equal time. Besides, I am not sure what Brother Tom is working on after Pilgrim’s Wilderness so I am being nosey.
  4. Anthony Vicino and James Harrington, a couple of writers from WordPress so this thing can expand out of control.
  5. Rosanne Dingli and Lucy Pireel, because this thing needs to go international
  6. Rai Aren and Rodney Johnson, though I don’t know what either may be working on
  7. Cheryl B. Dale and Graeme Smith, a couple of friends from my former life on the Writer’s Digest forum.
  8. And because I can’t count, I want to add a couple of good friends from Writer’s Mayhem, though most of the Mayhemen have already been tagged. Lena Winfrey Hayat and Will Schaduw, because if William Kendall won’t do it, maybe his Schaduw will.

Honorable Mention:  Jeff Yeager, because maybe he can figure out how to do this for less…  No, I’m not sure how we can do less than free fun…

While you are at it, look these people up, read their works and enjoy.

MGKizzia

a a happy read 6

Random House and Penguin Merging isn’t as bad as Disney and Everybody

            What is the worst Random House and Penguin can do?  Produce the best seller “Mister Poppers Randoms?”

            The news is George Lucas is selling Lucas Films to Disney.  Yes, I can see it now:

            Jedi jumps out with a blue light saber
The Hulk jumps out with a green light saber
Goofy jumps out with a yellow light saber and accidentally cuts off the Hulk’s arm.  “Oops! … Goarsh!”  That’s okay, Goofy.  For the Hulk that is only a flesh wound.
            Darth McDuck dies of laughter while the Disney narrator turns to the dark side …

Loki:    “I have an army.”
Iron Man:  “We have  Ewoks.”

            Kingdom Hearts IV will have Death Star land.

            Leia and Amidala get added to the Princess collection and laser-blast their rivals.

            Finding Nemo will be renamed “Finding Yoda.”  Buzz Lightyear will get a starring role in Star Wars VII.  And Marry Poppins will join the X-men by virtue of her mutant carpet bag. 

            Of course.  It all makes sense.  I can see it all now.  What could possibly go wrong?

Wednesday Thoughts: Words to Consider.

To all my writer friends struggling to write that novel:  Sneer at whatever gets in your way, laugh at whatever is blocking you and break the bonds of whatever is holding you back.  Remember, restrictions are almost always self-imposed.  Listen, this is what I have been thinking lately.

1.         You have to believe in yourself because maybe nobody else ever will, at least on this side of success.

2.         If writing is your calling, your purpose in life, your reason for being, your source for joy, understand that this desire was not given to you without reason.  The end of the road that turns away is a dead end with a big sign that says “regret.”

3.         Don’t let your past control your future.

4.         Your future is waiting to be created.

— M G Kizzia

And you can quote me.

Storyteller Wednesday: Character Creation.

Bwa-ha-ha.  It can be a bit like being a god, but not really.  I invariably say oops!  And I have even been known to apologize to characters when I try to force them into a box they do not want to go.

Some writers start with characters.  I don’t.  I tried that.  I have a drawer full of fascinating character sketches… and nowhere to put them.  All characters, some say, have their own story to tell.  That may be true.  I figure I may be deaf or all of these fascinating people I have found have dull stories. 

I need to start with the story.  I need a germ of a plot, some notion where I want to head (if not a glimpse of the possible end) and an interesting place and time for the story to get off the ground.  Then the characters evolve.  The people who find themselves in the midst of all those trials and tribulations work hard.  They grow as the story progresses.  They change and are changed in subtle ways as they work through situations and “live” the story.  Sometimes even the end evolves as my characters take me to places I never imagined in the beginning.

I think that is what we want.

But that is just me.  You may work wonderfully well starting with a fascinating person.  Then again, you may get frustrated, find your writing likes to ramble, find yourself tearing out huge sections and whole chapters which sounded great when you wrote them but now don’t appear to help the story move where it might be heading, maybe.  You may be frustrated that your characters are not cooperating and it makes you want to chuck the whole thing on the ever growing pile of unfinished works.

If starting with a great character works for you, great. 

But, if you are more of the latter, try starting first with the story and see who fits.  Isn’t that better than you having the fits?

Just a thought.

Storyteller Wednesday. Writerly Stuff: The Elements of a Great Story

Someone recently asked, what are the elements of a great story?  Everyone had a different answer.  I am sure you have your own answer, and I would bet it relates to a story you once read that you considered great.  It may relate to some ideas you gleaned from a creative writing class, or MFA program or writer’s retreat or critique group.  All of that stuff may be wise, good and true.  I won’t argue against any of it.  I only want to suggest three basic things, because I believe if you can master these things, you can produce a great story of your own.

1.         Setting.  Whether Atlanta is burning or Bogart is stumbling around Rick’s café in Casablanca, the setting, where all of the story takes place, must hold the reader’s interest.  The best words are unique and fascinating.  We may live in a world of Google travel, but the human desire to seek out strange and exotic places is not diminished.

If it is a mystery, people are tired of the same old bar scenes, and gin joints and the same old wealthy mansions (that may be haunted).  If it is science fiction, what makes your space ships different from all the generic ones on paper and in the movies?  If it is fantasy, must we suffer through yet another medieval world?  When are all the demons, vampires, werewolves and slayers going to discover that there is life outside the cities?  And honestly, how many stories can really take place in Amish country among a people whose lives have remained essentially the same for centuries?

Authors who would not be caught dead with generic characters often place them in the most generic settings.  Be careful.  Dull settings can kill a great story.  Make it fascinating, unique, strange, exotic, a place where people want to go (or perhaps decidedly do not want to go, if you know what I mean).

2.         Characters.  Too much has been said by too many people on this topic already.  Everyone has a take on how to build complex, well rounded characters.  In fact, I do not wonder why so many new writers become confused about the issue.  Information overload, and to be sure, not all the experts agree.

My take is much simpler.  You don’t want characters.  You want to people your story with people (human beings).  The better you know people, the better your people on paper will be.  It really is that simple.  Human beings are complex, fallible and, well, you know.

The thing that stands out for me with regard to characters, though, it consistency.  Yes, half-way through a book that rotten neighbor can show that they have a heart after all, but I have found that even for some authors who have well-rounded, well-developed human on the page, consistency can be a problem. 

If Aunt Linda would never say such a thing, don’t have her say it.  If Pamela would never be caught dead in that situation, help her avoid it.  I know the temptation is to have whomever is available say something or do something vital to move the story forward; but for me when people say something they would not say or act in an “uncharacteristic” fashion it can kill a great story.

3.         Plot = for God’s sake make something happen already! 

Sadly (I feel) literature (what some professors and experts consider GREAT literature) remains full of stories that are little more than naval gazing on paper.  I have no interest in reading such shorts or novels because they aren’t stories.  Sometimes I get trapped into reading such works and always get to the end and think, that was a day (four days) of my life, wasted. 

Now, it may just be me, though I suspect there are plenty who agree with me.  I don’t care how great a work of literary art the academic community calls it.  In my opinion, if things don’t happen to hold my interest and make me want to turn the page, I am not interested.  (I guess that is like saying water is wet stuff).  People may respond, but consider the great philosophy, consider the great expression of the human condition, consider the great writing – it is poetic, brilliant!  I just sigh.  But it is not a story, and certainly not a great story.

Wise Words for Writers: G. K. Chesterton and Young Adults.

There was a bit of a stir recently through the Wall Street Journal when an essay was presented questioning the darkness in Young Adult literature.  Curious (to me), when the rebuttals came in, no one denied that the literature is dark.  Some even suggested it was very dark.  Of course, they went on to suggest that the essayist was everything evil, just short of a censor.  In fact, it was a strong enough reaction, the essayist was allowed an unprecedented second column to rebut the rebuts.

The person in the Wall Street Journal was not suggesting that young people be denied access to any to these stories.  They were simply questioning the author’s intentions in writing such stories

What are such authors trying to say?  The moron’s response would be they are not necessarily trying to say anything.  If that were true, why write the book in the first place? 

Okay, the response might go, but they are not trying to influence young people – they are not normalizing the darkness.  Novelists don’t have that kind of power.  And neither do television shows, video-games, movies, or the internet alone.  But in case you haven’t noticed, the darkness surrounds young people these days.  Say it isn’t so.

What it comes down to for me is something G. K. Chesterton said:

Fairytales are not written to tell children that dragons exist. Children know full well that dragons exist.  Fairytales are written to show children that sometimes dragons can be defeated.       G. K. Chesterton

Personally, I have no problem with dark themed Young Adult books.  My only concern is, what are we saying to our children in the process?  Are we telling them that dragons are normal, to be expected in life and the whole world is f***ed up, so get used to it?  Or are we saying that dragons can sometimes be overcome?

I am no Y. A. expert.  You tell me.

Wise Words for Writers: Ancient Roman Poet, Horace

“Adversity reveals genius.  Prosperity hides it.”

No, son.  You need to be seasoned to write well.  Artists need to suffer.  That’s what they say.  I don’t buy it, entirely. 

It is true that musical genius can be found at a very early age.  But so also mathematical genius, and those two are much closer than many believe.

Also, it may be that a young painter can capture an image while still young.  Good eyes and a steady hand may have something to do with that.

But writing…

Obviously, non-fiction requires certain credentials or a host of experience to write about a topic effectively.  People, though, have the strange idea these days that anyone of any age can write fiction successfully.  Story, though, is about adversity.  There is struggle and conflict and sometimes win or lose.  And it is hard to imagine one can write well about such things until they have lived such things

The old adage is not incorrect:  “Write what you know.”  But how is it we know things?

1.         Learning.  We can study and learn about things, but without living them it is all academic.  It is possible to write about life in an academic way, but it will likely read academic and not make an effective story.  There is nothing worse than fiction written by thesaurus.

2.         Experience is the great teacher.  The cliché is not necessarily untrue that to really understand another person and their problems one needs to walk a mile in their shoes.  A young twenty-something might produce a good story about teenage angst; but at twenty-something the story is not likely to have the range or depth of the story the same person might write when they are forty-something and have experienced more of what life is really like. 

Distance and perspective also help in crafting good fiction.  Certainly Mark Twain had to get a little age and experience and put some distance between himself and his childhood before he could write effectively about Tom and Huck.

Experience is indeed the great teacher, and when it comes to storytelling, experiences in the adversities of life are invaluable.

3.         Empathy can go a long way toward telling a good story, if we are inclined and gifted with an empathetic soul, even if we don’t walk a mile in the other person’s shoes.  Few, if any church members have suffered through the kind of poverty and need of some, but it does not stop them from working in a soup kitchen or at a food bank or on a Habitat for Humanity house.  Yes, some of that may be to make themselves feel better about their own good fortune, but some is surely an empathy for the wrongness of those who go without.

Hans Christian Anderson was never a little girl, and while he may have experienced the cold, he never froze to death.  This did not prevent him from writing the Little Match Girl.  

Charles Dickens was undoubtedly a man of great empathy for the poor and working class souls that surrounded him.  He was able to take his empathy in one hand and his experiences of childhood in the other and produce Oliver, David Copperfield and Great Expectations.  The beauty of A Christmas Carol is not found in Scrooge, but in the ordinary people around him who were affected by this miserly, old humbug.  Dickens may have never experienced a haunting, but I have no doubt that at some point, like Scrooge, he came face to face with the idea that it is appointed once for a man to die and after this the judgment.

4.         Eyes also matter, if you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.  Writers, they say, are 50% perspiration and 50% observation.  But it is hard to imagine the young observing much if they haven’t lived, yet.  Travel, they also say, broadens the mind.  And travel through life is certainly a key to storytelling. 

Then there is the matter of being well read, which many claim is imperative to writing well. 

All of this indicates to me that the young might tell a good story, but with a little age:  some experience, empathy and open eyes, they might tell a better story.  This flies in the face of our culture of youth.  Even in the writing world I know some editors who only want “fresh” young voices.  Ignorance on their part, I would say.  Storytelling is adversity telling and adversity lived (even if extrapolated) is realistic and engrossing.  Adversity only imagined is half-baked.  But stories are adversity and conflict rooted because it is what people who have lived can relate to.  It is also best for children to read and learn.

Now, I have said nothing about how an easy life might interfere with good storytelling.  No doubt a life that cannot seriously relate to adversity will be hampered in the art.  Does that mean all true artists must suffer?  Not necessarily, but adversity, at least in storytelling, is more likely to produce genius, or if not genius, authenticity.

Graduation

Congratulations to my son, Jonathan, on his day of graduation, June 11, 2011, and to all the class of 2011.  May the future be bright.  Now is the time to get to work.  May it always be what you love to do.  Go with God as you paint on the canvas of eternity.