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Monthly Archives: June 2010


Planting(a) Seeds

Seed Planting - Alvin Plantinga

A few years ago I started the official site for Alvin Plantinga, a distinguished professor of philosophy at Notre Dame. I had contacted him about doing a site after reading Warranted Christian Belief (read it all for free here). There were papers and other things floating around the web that weren’t really consolidated into one place. He was interested in the idea of culling together everything, so with the help of the illustrating skills of one Mr. Sean Cannon, alvinplantinga.org was launched.

Unfortunately, Dr. Plantinga and I were and are very busy people so the site didn’t develop much, and the domain expired and is now in registration limbo. I have been emailing another Plantinga fan about having him resurrect the site, or some variant of it. He purchased alvinplantinga.net and will be taking over maintenance of the site once it gets going. Whether or not it will be an official site remains to be seen; Dr. P retired last month so I don’t know how interested he will be in this sort of thing.

Warranted is the only book of his that I’ve read, but having only a primitive understand of epistemology I can say that it still affected me greatly — and even though it’s very readable there were some parts that just fell out my ear. I never thought that the “religious faith = irrational” argument was really much more than a strawman, but the idea that religious faith can be rationally consistent with what we epistemically know already and not coming to it ex nihilo was an interesting idea. And like any good philosophy book it has affected my fiction writing, although I wouldn’t be able to point out exactly where (chalk it up to just “general knowledge expansion” and leave it at that).

Below is a quote from the book, like Economics In One Lesson, that sums up the entire “lesson”:

Christian belief is produced by a cognitive process (the “internal instigation of the Holy Spirit” [in Aquinas’ words] or the “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit” [in Calvin’s words] functioning properly in an appropriate epistemic environment according to a design plan successfully aimed at truth.

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How the Gods Shook, Excerpt One

“Afternoon, Bite Size,” she breathed in her smooth contralto.
“What’s up with you and Cecil?” I asked, pointing my chin towards 5th.
“We were talking.”
“I could see that.”
“Then why’d you ask?” Her blue eyes flashed with belligerence. She took a sip from her water bottle, which I just noticed she was holding. I pined for my pilfered coffee.
“How do you know him?” I prodded.
“I went to high school with him and he just moved around here, in that new place on 7th. His dad works for the city. Remember the whats-it inspector before we opened this up?”
“I remember.”
“Why, how do you know him?”
“You don’t want to know. He’s sketchy. More than that, really.”
“He’s harmless.”
“You don’t know him like I do.”
“Is that right?” Her face, joining her eyes, turned to angled steel. “Can I ask why you’re trying to get me in a bad mood?”
Her loaded question was dissuasive. “I’m sorry. I’m just not feeling good today.”
“What’s wrong? No sleep?” Her face softened with concern immediately.
“Weird sleep. And there are some serious problems. And someone stole my coffee. Let’s get inside – we need to discuss things.”

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Other People Write: Matt Clifford

Matt’s been my friends for more than a decade now, and we were in a band together so I got to witness the words firsthand. At the time I wasn’t too much attune to good writing that much, but in the last few years I’ve been recollecting and piecing together lyrics and things I’ve read of his.

Matt was in another band, and luckily he has posted lyrics to one of their songs, “This Fading Ember” — and it just so happens to be one of my favorite writings of his. See below…I added some commas and little things because Matt is apparently punctuation-averse.

Someone should comment on his blog or mail him pints of animal blood to get him writing more.

Once aflame, this fading ember now streaming from the sky
Disoriented, charred, and weathered: a fallen satellite
Endeavoring to piece together in hope that it just might
With careful restoration be made capable of flight

Northern lights illuminate frost bitten nights
Beacons beckoning, assuring anxious grounded flights
Casting lots for intervention, waiting on the day
Light is sweet yet darkness prays, “Duality my name”

Set my heart at rest
Let my mind attest

Stranded next to nowhere, the wreckage caving in
Awkward steps toward, in short my bearing wearing thin
A wandering to find a faltering defined
The static sky mesmerizes my heart and mind

For the voice inside finds favor in the quietness of dark
And a turning taking precedence, urging me to break apart

This fading ember, a remnant to be set aflame (There is yet hope)
This heart to render, surrender and trust in your Name (There is yet hope)

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How the Gods Book

I’ve been searching for ways to get the second draft of my book knocked out. Usually it’s “when I find time”, and this still holds true, but I will be finding more time in the next few months to actually pound this thing into submission.

With that, I think I will be posting excerpts of the book. Excerpts seem to me to be longer tracts of text, but I will be posting small ones, like a paragraph or two, or even just a sentence — they will actually be “snippets”, but I sincerely detest writing and saying that word. It might be a neat sort of way to build a popcorn trail of my work on here, of text that may or may not standalone as something coherent by itself. Words will take on whole new meanings when they are pulled from their neighbors and presented as alienated, de-contextualized (?) narratives.

And practically speaking, I have no idea if it will be of any interest at all to publishing agents (agents look for what will sell, not for what is necessarily good…not that I’m assuming my book will be any good, but I’m not writing an airport thriller here) — so this unknown blog is the only outlet to promote the thing. It makes sense to use it as such.

I will post the first excerpt in a few days. I’m not getting any younger here, but I’m also not getting any older.

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Gods In One Sentence

Earlier this month Rachelle Gardner gathered a lot of responses from authors about the one-sentence book pitch contest. I mean, she’s a literary agent that encourages comments her blog, so of course authors are going to flock in droves to get themselves noticed. She could post about the off-color of her pee in the morning and receive a whole dump of comments in a few days. Not that she does this; her posts have substance to them. Would be interesting.

I had submitted my own for How the Gods Shook, but in accordance with my usual carelessness it was over the 25 word limit — so there was no way it could get anywhere. It got me doing some revisionary word-surgery.

A disaffected, insomnious rock club owner confronts a rekindled grudge and the blossoming relationship with her new boss.

A disaffected, insomnious rock club owner confronts a rekindled grudge, the blossoming relationship with her new boss, and a deteriorating photograph.

Confronting a dangerous grudge, an insomnious rock club owner tries to contain the blossoming relationship with the manager at her new day job.

Eh. This one is my favorite, I think:

A disaffected, insomnious rock club owner confronts a dangerous grudge and tries to contain the simmering relationship with the manager at her new day job.

25 words exactly. I was able to stuff four conflicts in there: her “disaffection” (it’s not clear with what she’s disaffected, but there’s conflict nonetheless), the grudge, the relationship with her boss, and her insomnia vs. working two jobs. I replaced “blossoming” with “simmering” because the romantic relationship within the workplace is part of the conflict; their lifestyles and ideals clash. I thought that “simmering” left it open to more than just the romantic side.

The big problem I faced is that Gods is almost entirely character-driven and in the first person. There’s a lot of thinking, self- and other-oriented deception, and hemming and hawing over situations. There’s very little action, gimmickry, or cheap plot twists. I just didn’t want to take the easy road and create a hook with nothing lasting on the other end.

Thoughts? Should I just stop altogether?

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Your Writing Is Terrible: Summer Poetry Finished

I issued a challenge earlier in the week for writers to write a poem or short story about or set in the summertime, without using a list of certain words. That was kind of a big risk because I have almost no readership and having no responses would make me look sillier than I already am. Luckily at least two people responded (see the comments about 23 seconds after this post goes live to see one of them).

I’m admittedly not that great at poetry but I stumbled this one out — and I actually caught myself more than once using a word from the list of blasphemies. I threw a rock at a dove and jabbed a quill pen into my hand every time I did.

Jason posted something nostalgic in the comments of my last post. The rest of you who wrote something, post or link it up in the comments and congratulate yourself at being a little less terrible.

The Nowhere Race

Stopped red, crawled to a halt in the line of motorcars
A slip of gliding movement to my right, and up above blue waters
The slide and blur trails across the clear firmament

One, and one, and then more join in
Flaunting their freedom with caws and calls
Wafting above their lead in the race’s imbalance

Envious of their speed and grace
Tri-dimensional Klein bottle flyers
Overtake the train of sludging slugs on the flat earth

Finally a clearing: a twisted scene of metal and shaking limbs
Necks of rubber turn front, solid and steadfast
Straight ahead, one lane divides, my foot becomes concrete

To my right: the blessed visual parallax
Beige with sand and dual blue with Atlantic and air
I overtake my peers, then the gray flying atrocities

Those ill-mannered and smelly fish-manglers
I bite my knuckles at them in victory
But the fates, brazen, forestall my headway

Unseen red candy light ahead
Backed up the heady flow of wheels
The death-deserving beaked miscreants regain their lead

Not all is lost — I spy a distracted winged one
Stilled and gnawing an unfortunate plant
Sprouting from the cracked gray of hot sidewalk

I roll on, an off-ramp raises me to the finish line
Telemetric revenge-wish: I transmit mental curses out to my gulled opponents
Yet I smile, as coming in second-to-last never felt better

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Your Writing Is Terrible: Summer Poetry

With the summer months upon the northern hemisphere, some fiction writers and bloggers will attend to the most favored of all seasons (except if you’re already somewhere hot…then it’s just annoying). Unfortunately, because of the common vocabulary bank tied to the summer experience, after a few dozen stories the flow and bounce of words will start to repeat themselves. So here’s a chance to challenge yourself: write a poem/short story about summer, without using the list of words below.

“barbecue”
“beach”
“bright”
“cloud”
“cool”
“dress”
“flowers”
“hazy”
“hot” (or any variance, like “heat”)
“ice”
“ice cream”
“ocean”
“outside”
“pool”
“popsicle”
“rain”
“roadtrip”
“season”
“shorts”
“sky”
“summer” (duh)
“sun” (or anything with “sun” in it, i.e. sunshine, sunglasses, etc.)
“tan”
“temperature”
“travel”
“vacation”

There could be plenty more to add here but I don’t want to ask the impossible. The trick here isn’t to pound thesaurus.com’s servers; substituting “orange ball of fire above” for “sun” is kind of an el cheapo maneuver but still well within the rules. The challenge is more to train ourselves to describe something by expanding our word usage by tossing out terminology readily associated with the summer season, and to assemble a mental picture through a narrative avenue using an entire other grab-bag of words — “delivering the point” or the spirit of the summertime life in a nuanced or roundabout way.

Additionally, it’s another way to respect your reader by not “writing down” to them in handing them a narrative already packaged together, and to leave them to their faculties to piece the idea/scene together. If you’re having a hard time doing this, that’s a good sign — if you’re stretching your mind you are probably going to stretch your readers’ minds, too.

Later in the week I’ll post my writing sans the verboten list of words above. If you can resist the siren’s call of nice weather outside, try this writing challenge yourself, and if there are any other obvious words that I should have included, feel free to list them in the comments.

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Memorial Day 2010 Bike Ride

I got a new bike over Memorial Day weekend: a steel frame Trek 520. It’s actually very old, but it’s new to me — and it’s my first road bike. I was using a mountain bike heft to my bus stop, which was certainly workable but not ideal in suburban/urban terrain. It was also a loaner from my brother-in-law and I wanted something I could call my own. Plus if I really jacked it up I would only have to answer to my own stupidity, which is pretty vast.

Monday I broke in the (old) bike by shooting it down to the Southside, right below downtown Pittsburgh, with Sean, his wife Erin, and colleague Hal: three academics and a wannabe writer. It was my first real team ride and I wasn’t sure how I would hold up, both endurance-wise and being able to avoid vehicular or bicycular (?) death. I’m in pretty good physical condition (doctor’s words, not mine), but not necessarily pretty good “hey I’m going to be moving a whole lot for a long time in moderate-to-heavy traffic on this long bike ride” condition. But I made it to the end and didn’t die, which isn’t a whole lot to ask for a maiden voyage.

The weather was awesome up near the end, when we all got dumped on by a torrential downpour literally half a mile from home. It was literally like we submerged ourselves underwater and came back up, which is actually something I pondered doing while riding some of the downtown trails that paralleled the Allegheny river.

Here are some photos. There would have been more but that involves a lot of stopping, and I haven’t mastered the art of snapping decent photos one-handed and not planting my coccyx on concrete.

Here’s the ol’ ride. Name suggestions are welcome
Memorial Day Bike Ride 1

Sean and his.
Memorial Day Bike Ride 2

Hal and his. He lugged that load the whole time. What a trooper.
Memorial Day Bike Ride 3

Sean and Erin at a light in beautiful, scenic downtown New Kensington. In the distance is the New Ken Bridge.
Memorial Day Bike Ride 4

We stopped at a gas station. While Erin was inside I guess I thought it was a good time to get a shot of Sean’s butt?
Memorial Day Bike Ride 5

Cranberry oat bar from Big Dog. Nice place! Not pictured is the iced mocha coffee that I sucked down like a champ — exactly what I needed for the trip back.
Memorial Day Bike Ride 6

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