Sunday, November 23, 2014

Magic and Gravity

           Spear Bearer Flash Fiction
       The big motorcycle, all black leather and chrome, leaned on its kickstand near the hitch of Gordon’s trailer. The magician sat on a short plastic stool and wiped a cloth over the fuel tank. Beads of sweat glistened on his shiny black scalp. “Hallo,” he said without turning when Manuel approached.
       Some kids had piano, violin or guitar lessons after school. Manuel had magic lessons.
       “What is magic?” Manuel asked. He had been coming to lessons for a week and he knew what magic wasn’t: card tricks, mirrors and boxes with false bottoms. That’s how illusionists worked. But Gordon taught magic. Gordon made things move with his mind.
       “What’s that?” Gordon asked, turning his head and looking at Manuel sidelong with a sparkling golden eye. “Magic?”
       “I mean,” Manuel said, running his fingers through his wavy black hair, “What makes the things move? Where does the force come from?”
       Gordon smiled and turned on his stool to fully face Manuel. Manuel could tell he liked the question. “It comes from everywhere. It comes from inside of you.”
       Manuel shook his head. “That’s not what I mean. I mean how does it work? Like, if I was studying science at school, what would they say?”
       Gordon laughed. “They’d say it was a lot of bunk.”
       Manuel frowned. He wanted to know.
       Gordon stopped laughing, but an ember of mirth remained in his eyes. “It’s a force of nature. An invisible and powerful force of nature. Like the wind.”
       Manuel sighed. “But I know what the wind is. The air is filled with millions and millions of molecules and when they hit my face I feel it. But what is magic?”
       “You are a bright little nipper,” Gordon said, his bright white smile beaming with pride. “I guess these American schools aren’t as bad as they say. What year are you?”
       “I’m in the fourth grade.”
       Gordon rubbed his chin for a minute. “I suppose it might be better to compare magic to gravity. Gravity holds us and everything to the earth.” Gordon pointed toward the sun that was about to dip below the horizon. “It also holds the earth in orbit about the sun, and the moon in orbit about the earth. It holds the sun in orbit around the center of the galaxy. It is invisible and works through the emptiness of space over fathomless distances. Magical, eh?”
       “But scientists know what gravity is,” Manuel said.
       Gordon shook his head. “No,” he said, “I suppose they have theories...”
       “But what about Newton? He discovered gravity when he saw an apple fall from a tree.” Manuel saw a sudden grin form on Gordon’s face. He felt a little embarrassed because he didn’t know what was funny.
       After a moment the magician answered. “Newton came up with the Law of Universal Gravitation that describes the behavior of gravity. He discovered equations that describe the effect of gravity, but he never figured out what causes the force behind gravity.”
       Manuel looked at the trailer and again read the words that had been painted there when Gordon traveled with the carnival: The Amazing Gordon. “’re saying magic is a force like gravity?”
       “No.” Gordon shook his head. “I’m saying I don’t know what magic is any more than the physicists know what gravity is.”
       “You’re saying the scientists don’t know what gravity is?” Manuel didn’t believe it.
       “No,” Gordon said, slowly drawing out the ‘o’. “They talk about gravitons and string theory, and some other wonky ideas to boot, but it’s all just theory and thinking.”
       Manuel had always had a vague idea that there must be a definite explanation for things like gravity and the only reason he didn’t know was because he was young and hadn’t learned them yet. Now he felt uneasy and wondered if Gordon might possibly be right. He looked at the ground and imagined himself just floating up and away into the sky helpless and out of control.
       Gordon’s wrinkled face drew in with concern. “The universe is full of mysteries. There are many, many things you will never figure out.” The corners of Gordon’s lips turned up into a sympathetic smile. “But if you had everything figured out, wouldn’t the universe be a boring place?”
       Manuel met Gordon’s eyes and wondered if that was it.
       And Gordon returned the look.
       And that was it. Manuel had asked what magic was and instead of getting an answer he only had more questions. He wasn’t sure he believed Gordon about gravity...he had only known him a week...and it wasn’t that he thought Gordon would lie...but after all Gordon wasn’t a physicist. But Manuel had an uncomfortable feeling that there were things he thought he understood he hadn’t really even thought about. And maybe, he thought, magic was more in everything than he’d ever imagined.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Words We Choose

   I like words. Tiny words and sesquipedalian words. Hoary words and nascent words. Repurposed words like ratchet (maybe a corruption of ‘wretched’...used pejoratively in the sentence ‘that girl is ratchet’); words that once were in but now aren’t so phat. Portmanteau words (รก la Lewis Carol) like ginormous (which surprisingly dates back to 1948).
   But when writing stories I think it is best to keep it simple. The idea is to communicate and every time your reader needs to search he or she is taken out of the story. William Faulkner once said of Ernest Hemingway: “(Hemingway) has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” And Hemingway replied: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”
   As Hemingway suggests, knowing the ‘ten-dollar words’ is something you would expect of a writer...after all, a writer reads a lot more than he or she writes, and a product of reading is a good vocabulary. But when it comes to word choice in your writing it’s not the time to be showing off your vocabulary prowess.
   I personally don’t think that less common words should be avoided altogether. There will be times when a particular word is the perfect fit and worth making a reader go to the dictionary. Even Hemingway made me pick up the dictionary at least a time or two.
   My biggest problem with those uncommon words is pronunciation. I’m a reader and when I look up words I am more interested in the definition than the phonetics. Unfortunately, I often make a fool of myself by mispronouncing a word.
   I think it might help to make poems in which a rhyme of the word I need to learn to pronounce is used. For example:

   He looked around as he pulled apart the brioche,
   and wondered if to spread jelly would be gauche.

   I had to cheat and use for that one (there isn’t a whole lot that rhymes with 'gauche' it turns out).
   Here is another:

   Abandoned with these manacles on me--
      My emotions flowed from
   Anger to fear to desperation and finally ennui.

   Feel free to share rhymes of your favorite uncommon words.
   If you are interested a fun look at English words and the language in general, I recommend Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue (English and how it got that way). After you read that you might want to follow it up with Bryson’s Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Twitter Newbie’s first approximation for a code of conduct

   I have been on Twitter many months now. I’ve read a lot of great articles, saw some great photos and art, and had a laugh or two. Along the way I’ve been working on my personal code of conduct.

Rule Number 1: I won’t try to sell you.

   I won’t be asking you to buy any of my novels or short stories on Twitter. Ever. Promise.
   For writers, musicians, and movie stars that have a large following, I’m sure they find Twitter is a great tool to keep in touch with their fans. But for the rest of us, I don’t think that Twitter works for direct marketing and I am almost positive that incessantly spamming your followers with BUY MY BOOK or whatever is going to produce much in the way of sales. It has the opposite effect on me.
   Only rarely do I check the general feed because when I do I am overwhelmed with a torrent of tweets. To get the most out of Twitter I have made a select list of my favorites. Instead of wading through a flood of tweets I just go check out my favorites to see if they have anything interesting for me. No one on my favorites list spams their followers with BUY MY STUFF tweets. I bet there are a lot of folks like me.
   I will tweet links to my blog. And maybe I will tweet links to Smashwords where you can get my novels and short stories for free.
   I want you to read my blog, my novels and my short stories. I hope you enjoy them. I hope you’ll post comments. I hope you will leave positive reviews.
   What I’m hoping to do is connect with people, not to sell them.

Rule Number 2: I won’t post just because I can.

   I’m not going to tweet the mundane. I won’t give the weather forecast; I won’t tell you I’m getting out of bed; I won’t tell you I’m having Shredded Wheat for breakfast.
   Most of my tweets will be retweets. There are a lot of interesting and creative people out there and I want to share their insightful, funny or beautiful thoughts.

Rule Number 3: If you’re not a troll, I’ll follow you back

   No, I’m not going to pay $5 for 20,000 followers. Who would do that anyway?
   And what about those people that follow you and immediately unfollow you after you’ve followed them? I guess they think people will think they are a superstar with their 100 to 1 ratio? What I think is that they’re trolls. Tools like ManageFlitter will help you throw those trolls back under the bridge.
   But if you are a real person then I’ll follow you back. I’ll look at your latest tweets. I’ll check out your blog if you have one. If you have content that I connect with, then I’ll add you to my favorites list.

Observation: On Facebook I have friends; on Twitter I have followers.

   On Facebook I connect with people I know; on Twitter I connect with people that have common interests. On Facebook I share photos of me and my family; on Twitter I talk about books and writing mostly.
   I hope this doesn’t rub you the wrong way if you have a Facebook fan page. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that. It’s
just not for me.

   Please find me @StepClary on Twitter and tell me your Twitter Code of Conduct.