When Children Grow

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I posted more than a month ago about how I wanted to get back into the original purpose of this blog, which was to write fiction. I mentioned a biweekly flash fiction story read by myself and illustrated by someone much better at drawing than me.

It is my distinct pleasure, and terror, to present to you the first of such stories, written and read by me, and illustrated by my girlfriend, Katherine Pulliam. We hope to be posting more such stories on at least a monthly basis.

The idea is that I will find a writing prompt and write a short piece of fiction using that prompt. Katherine creates illustrations inspired by the story, and I record myself reading the story. If you’d like to suggest a story prompt, you can go to Sasquatch Stories  on YouTube and comment your idea on the latest video. If I like the idea, I’ll use it. I’m also interested in hearing what you think about the story and what it makes you think about, so feel free to comment.

Without further ado, I present “When Children Grow”, written and read by C. Michael Chase and illustrated by Katherine Pulliam.

 

When Children Grow

by C. Michael Chase

voiced by C. Michael Chase

Illustrated by Katherine Pulliam

These beings, God thought as the door slid open before the scientists, created in my own image; with the capacity to think, love, and feel.

They walked down the underground hallways of the research station, Genesis. They strode with the quick, excited steps of anticipation. They believed they were close to their goal.

And they were.

These creatures that I have seen overcome the forces I have wrought to order and control the universe. And now they continue in my footsteps. Reaching for the power not only to control, but to create.

“You really think it will work, Karl?” one of these aspiring gods asked another.

It will, God thought, knowing that Karl knew it too. He didn’t know how he knew, but he did. Some spark of intuition, somehow kindled by threads of data beyond his conscious thought, guided him onward.

God grieved that inherent quality of man. That which he had given them. From himself, he had given it to them.

“It will work,” Karl responded quietly.

He knows, God reflected. He knows they aren’t ready. The power they have discovered. The power to create worlds, dimensions… life. It is too great for these people who struggle so with their own sin.

Oh, Karl, my son, God thought. You know that humanity is not yet ready for this power. But can you turn away from it?

The scientists entered the secure room and the lights came on with a gentle hum, revealing the array of computers and equipment. Soon, the instruments were brought to life, and the anticipation mounted as they made adjustments under Karl’s instruction.

How I wish I could lift this burden from you, my son, God pleaded. But humanity’s fate has long been in its own hands… In your hands. Only you can turn yourselves from this. This power that will consume you all.

God watched, in growing horror, as humanity made the final preparations in the experiment that would seal its fate. The young gods, about to be born, arrayed themselves behind Karl, standing at the master terminal, struggling with the silent dilemma in front of him. To stop. Or to go on.

What had man done with its intelligence? Tools were turned into weapons. Medicine was turned into poison. Art to propaganda. Exploration to conquest. What horrors would be wrought with this power they were about to discover? With the power to create, came the power to destroy.

The quiet line of gods waited, soaking in the solemnity of the moment, unable to grasp its full import.

Computers hummed quietly, waiting for the orders they were programmed to fulfill.

And God looked away.

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The New Year

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Over a month since my last post. Deplorable behavior, but I must plead extenuating circumstances.

UPS’s busy season is condensed into a four to five week period of stress, sleeplessness, and muscle soreness. I’m convinced that holiday cheer is only possible because the negativity migrates to the shipping companies, leaving less bad moods and greater happiness for the general population. We elves suffer for your enjoyment. And they say Christmas is the season of giving… Bah Humbug!

Anyway. It’s a new year, and while I hate making New Year’s resolutions to appease the social convention, I have no problem resolving to do better. So, a short list of things I plan to do or do better in 2016:

  1. Write more. I have story ideas to drown a boat (How does one drown a boat with ideas?), but they aren’t going to go anywhere unless I actually write them. So I resolve to write for at least two hours a day, five days a week. Juggling a job, a family, and other obligations will surely make this a challenge. Who needs sleep? Sleep is for the weak and infirm (*dying inside*)
  2. Get published. I want to finish and polish one piece of writing enough to convince someone that it’s worth some money. Short story, manuscript, compendium, encyclopedia, I don’t care. But hopefully something that will lead to more work in the future.
  3. Explore more of the wider world of martial arts. I have a moderate knowledge of Tai Chi, enough to be a fledgling teacher myself, and a passing knowledge of aikido, but I want to continue the pursuit of discipline through martial study with a fervor.

That’s the major stuff. Anything else would be your garden variety ‘eat better’ and ‘exercise more’ that I always intend to do but haven’t gotten around to. I’ll of course continue to work on those things, but I think a resolution is more of a course correction. A promise to oneself to focus on a new direction.

2016, let’s be friends, okay? I don’t like it when we fight… I always lose.

C. Michael Chase

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It’s Time for a Change

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When I started this blog, I intended it to be a focal point for my creative works. A place where people who wanted to follow my writing could see what I was up to. Where they could read some of my stories, and direct other people to check out my stories as well. I also wanted it to be a place where I could begin to document my philosophical ramblings, something I constantly do in my head. But this was supposed to be secondary to my creative writing.

Lately, I have become so caught up in keeping up with the production rate I’ve set for myself that I’ve stopped writing the things that I really want to write. Writing reviews for books is good and all, but it’s not what I want to be writing. And the added stress of coming up with ideas for Friday posts has actually kept me from writing fiction and directly contributed to burnout and writer’s block.

All of this comes together with the realization that writing this blog isn’t getting me where I want to go. It doesn’t pay the bills, and it gets in the way of getting where I want to be.

So. I’m going to be making some changes.

First of all, I’m going to stop posting regularly. Sorry, those of you that enjoy reading what I have to say, but that’s not what this blog is supposed to be about. On the other hand, when I do post, it will likely be longer. I’d like to take more time to digest and think through philosophical concepts and post longer articles about what I discover.

I’d also like to post more fiction. In that vein, I’m hoping to post a flash fiction piece biweekly, read by myself with illustrations inspired by the story. I’ll have more details about that later. I’m also going to be posting more about my writing process, giving advice to other writers as I make breakthroughs in my personal journey to becoming a professional writer.

Ultimately, these changes are about getting back to the root of this blog’s purpose: To create a focal point for my creative works so that my readers can follow what I’m doing. I hope that’s why you’ve been reading, and I hope you continue to.

Thank you for your support,

C. Michael Chase

 

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People Are In Need. We Should Help Them.

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This week, I was going to discuss some of my thoughts on the recent CBS Democratic Debate. There were some very interesting things that happened that I would have liked to talk about. But I’ve been scrolling through social media, and reading news articles, and I think there’s something that’s a little more pressing. And that’s the Syrian refugee crisis.

The extremist attacks in Paris have inflamed existing concerns about letting refugees into the United States, and some half of the state governors are refusing to cooperate with federal efforts to relocate refugees from Syria. A lot of people are scared of opening ourselves up to attack, and Daesh (as they should be called) is stirring up that fear to further their own goals. At times like this, when we feel threatened and vulnerable, it is most vital to take a step back and think things through clearly.

First of all, the vetting process for refugees in the U.S. is stringent and intensive. It takes a minimum of 18 months to go through the process, and can take as long as four years. In the U.S.’s refugee system, women and children are given priority, and only 2 percent of the 2,200 already accepted refugees have been single men of combat age.

Some people claim that the information we can obtain on these people isn’t provable or reliable. This is seriously overstated, and largely not the case. The U.N. and numerous federal agencies are involved in fact-checking, and experienced professionals like former NATO commander Wesley Clark express confidence in the vetting process (as said in a segment on CNBC’s article regarding the screening process for Syrian refugees).

Daesh has tried to get the word out that they have planted some of their own people among the refugees. But Daesh is a terrorist organization. Of course they are going to say something like that. Because it encourages the U.S. to make an action based on fear. It encourages us to turn the refugees away, and force them into border camps or to underground avenues where radicalist propaganda is even more readily accessible to them and their circumstances push them toward desperation.

Now, I’m not saying that this isn’t a legitimate fear. It is, and we should be mindful of that (as I’m sure the departments of Homeland Security and Defense are) as we vet these people, but we can’t let that fear dictate our actions. Doing so lets Daesh determine the terms of this struggle. The first rule of combat is to act, not react. Rejecting refugees based upon Daesh threats is a reaction, not an action. Stepping up our screening process (like we have) is an action.

And finally, let us not forget the wise words of Confucious: “Knowing the right thing and doing something else shows a lack of courage.” Courage is not about feeling no fear. Courage is about remaining calm despite fear, and holding true to the moral principles that guide us.

People are in need. We should help them.

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

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Neil Gaiman is another of those monolithic writers that I admire and look up to. His urban fantasy has a subtly to it that you can’t find anywhere else. Instead of being worlds where the magic is separate and secret from the mundane, Gaiman’s worlds are full of magic. It isn’t separate from the mundane, but a part of it, and the fact that most people are unaware is just part of the magic.

So I couldn’t think of any other writer to take on a story about a boy raised by ghosts in a graveyard. That being said, I honestly can’t believe that it hasn’t already been done. If anyone knows of another story of this nature, I’d love to hear about it. I find the concept itself to be very cool and would like to see how other writers have handled it, if they’ve tackled it.

One of the things that I liked about The Graveyard Book was that it was more a series of short stories than one long novel. In a story that spans over more than ten years, it can be hard to keep time moving and not feel like vast amounts of important details are being left out.

I think that telling the story in a progression of smaller stories was the right way to handle it. Like a comic book actually. A series of issues will together create a larger story of their own. I think it deftly showed the passage of time.

As I said before, the casual way in which the magic of the graveyard was incorporated into the story and setting works very well. Instead of drawing away from the characters and conflicts with another conflict of ‘keeping magic secret,’ Gaiman just left the existence of magic as a fact of the universe, and actually entangled the world in the magic itself. This allowed the story to focus on what was really important, Bod and his life among the ghosts.

I will say, however, that I was disappointed in how Scarlett’s story ended. On the one hand, it’s not always a good idea to give the reader what they expect. But on the other, a lot of the story is about Bod growing up and learning how to take care of himself out in the world. Making friends and relationships is part of that.

I don’t think it added much to have Scarlett be afraid of him after everything they had been through. I’m not saying they should have fallen in love and lived happily ever after. But staying friends at the least would have added more to the emotional stability and positivity of the story.

One last thing that I’d like to mention: Not explaining or revealing what Silas was was I think a very good move. I formulated some theories of course, from hints dropped in the story, but I ultimately think it was a good idea to leave that mystery unconfirmed.

I think some writers fall into a trap of feeling like every aspect of the story has to be revealed and explained, and I don’t think this is always healthy. Keeping things veiled in mystery and unexplained gives the setting complexity. As long as the writer knows what’s going on, and the mystery doesn’t get in the way of the story making sense, then withholding that knowledge can sometimes actually go a greater distance than if it is given away.

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“But Maybe If I’d…”

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One of the greatest parts of being human is the ability to look back on our choices and learn from the mistakes. We can even learn from the things that didn’t go wrong, but we could have done better. Humans have the ability to retrospectively analyze their environments and circumstances, and learn to make choices that will better yield a desired outcome.

But this comes with a dangerous quandary. Regret, guilt, and self-doubt.

That cyclical self-destructive thought process that begins with ‘I wish I’d done… instead.’ It is all too easy to get caught up in what we should have done instead of what we would do differently next time. Life is a learning process, and mistakes are inherent to learning. But getting caught up in the mistakes and the past inhibits learning, and can get in the way of clear thinking when a similar situation arises. Opportunities to make better choices can pass a person by because they are caught up in what they should have done last time.

There is a similar danger in being indecisive. There is only one way to find out what will happen. Fear of making the wrong choice can be just as inhibiting as dwelling on past mistakes. The only thing one can do is make the best choice one can at the moment with the information present. And hindsight can prepare you for the next choice.

It all comes down to an acceptance of fallibility, and a compassion toward yourself when those mistakes are made. Resolve to be better, not perfect. Perfection is the goal, but it can’t be achieved overnight.

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Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

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I realized after reading Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher last month that I should really read more steampunk. I really enjoy the aesthetics of steampunk, and the ideas and culture are very interesting, but the extent of my experience with the actual genre is the video game Dishonored which I reviewed a few months ago, and the art that occasionally scrolls by on my Facebook feed.

So I took a recommendation from my girlfriend and read Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. She did warn me that it was a novel targeted more for a young adult audience, and with that in mind I set in.

I was immediately impressed with idea of reimagining the events of WWI. It had a ring of historical fiction that I enjoyed, especially since I remembered a surprising amount from my history classes. Spotting the deviations from fact was fun, and I think it would be a great way to get young minds more interested in history. But maybe I’m just a little weird in that.

The story itself was a little canned, with adolescent protagonists trying to establish themselves as adults because of the big events they get dragged into. Aleksander was your typical young hero trying to learn how to be a leader, and Deryn was your typical young heroine, trying to break away from the stereotypical ideas of femininity and do what she wants to do.

That being said, it wasn’t an unpleasant read. As long as you keep in mind that it is targeted toward a younger audience. It doesn’t contain a lot of heavy philosophy or profound ideas for the already educated mind, but I believe it could be very beneficial to younger readers looking for something more intellectual than the typical young adult author.

The idea of Westerfeld’s Darwinists fascinated me, and a culture embroiled in genetic modification outside of the context of science fiction was very interesting. The complex ecosystems that Westerfeld describes are fascinating, and I actually wish that more detail and explanation had been put into it. But I’m weird, so I can understand why that might not be interesting to the targeted audience.

I can see why Leviathan has gained so much acclaim as a young adult novel. Not only is it an interesting story in a reimagined history, it actually engages the reader in topics that they might not have much experience with in an easy and approachable way. I like the incorporation of history, political science, and biology into a young adult novel. It’s a nice way to trick the unsuspecting reader into learning something interesting.

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Flame On Or Flame Out?

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As a fledgling writer, one of the greatest day-to-day struggles that I face is with burnout. Juggling a job, a family, social functions, school, on top of the day to day needs of being alive is a task that can be overwhelming. I am constantly plagued by doubt, compounded by a less than supportive society that doesn’t always consider the pursuit of art as a ‘real’ job. The creeping voice of failure that suggests the deplorable option of giving up is relentless in those very vulnerable moments of breakdown.

An article caught my eye last week titled “Why we are burning out in the arts.” I’ve been going through a few rough patches recently, and I wanted to see if it offered any insights that I could benefit from.

While it offered a lot of information on the institutions in art culture that lead many artists to burnout, it didn’t offer me much in the way of advice to overcome or avoid burnout. I felt that the conclusion of ‘self-care’ was weak and under-explored. It also didn’t take a look at artists individually, instead focusing on generalities that ended up not ringing very true with me.

So I contacted a friend of mine to talk about the issue.

Zach Fischer, an incredibly talented freelance illustrator, concept artist, and cosplay designer, and a pretty cool guy besides, is on pretty good terms with burnout. And the struggle to stay financially above water is only part of the issue. Art is emotionally taxing, and keeping the creative juices flowing is a key function in avoiding burnout.

“Logically, you can recognize that something needs to get done. This project, it has to get done. And you prioritize it, push everything else aside, to do that. But that doesn’t always work.” In fact, Zach said trying to do so can sometimes lead directly to burnout.

Creative energy isn’t always logical. Not only can it be in constant flux on its own, but what it is focused on can also be changing. Sometimes that story that your editor is waiting for isn’t where the muses are dancing, and only by indulging those gut instincts, those fleeting ideas, can the muses be brought back into focus.

I have actually seen this strategy work for myself. A lot of the time, the creative energy is there, but the focus isn’t necessarily where I want it to be. And that can be stressful. Taking the time to relax with what your passion happens to be at the moment can rekindle your will and drive in other areas, and lead to more productivity in other projects. Plus, you are still creating art.

“Sometimes you need to burnout, though,” Zach pointed out. “Sometimes you need to burn off those things that are holding you back or getting in the way, so you can create something new.”

For Zach, burnout is an opportunity. Not only can it purge old ways of thinking that can hold an artist back, but it can allow for a re-evaluation of goals and strategies. Burnout can force an artist to take a step back and look around themselves. But what you surround yourself with in these times is crucial.

In these vulnerable times, an artist really needs a supportive network of friends and family. But not unilaterally supportive. Realistically supportive. You don’t want people who will flatter you, or ‘fangirl,’ as Zach put it. You want people who will pick you up when you’re down and push you to look at the situation in a new way.

As always, every obstacle can be a bane or a boon. It is in how you approach it that determines what you will gain from it.

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Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Another book in the Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold, Mirror Dance jumps back and forth between Miles Vorkosigan and his clone brother, Mark Vorkosigan. Mark, struggling with his own new-found identity after the coup he was created for falls apart, steals a ship from his brother’s Dendarii fleet to pursue his own agenda at Jackson’s Whole.

Unaware of Miles’s history with the ruling cartels of Jackson’s Whole, Mark blunders through his attempt to free some clones being used for a life-extension procedure that destroys the clones’ minds and replaces it with the purchaser’s mind. Miles follows Mark, trying to save him and the ship he stole from the can of worms that Mark has unwittingly opened by showing up on Jackson’s Whole.

From there, things only get more intense and complicated in true Bujold fashion. At first, I was ready to say that Mirror Dance was my favorite Vorkosigan book so far. It was funny, fast-paced, and complex in all the best ways.

Some startling events happen that are a little jarring, but the story continues on in full force. We really get to see Mark flesh out and become a character, exploring some very interested questions about identity and humanity.

And then it took a turn that threw me completely off-guard. The humor drops away, and the intensity turns into a different machine. A truly psychologically traumatic story unfolds through the later parts of the book, and while it is very well done, it is a completely different beast than I expected from the first third of the story.

How a person’s identity can fracture under trauma is a key component of the later part of the story, and Bujold captures the desperate struggle to survive that a person goes through when being effectively tortured. It’s grisly without being graphic. It’s emotional, pulling sympathy and horror from the reader, and yet still allows something of a satisfying conclusion in the end.

As everything else I’ve read from Bujold, I would definitely recommend Mirror Dance. But make sure you’re ready for the very intense turns the story takes.

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“Oh, Pilgrim. Look Well.”

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In August, I wrote about the idea of being at peace with one’s own death as a way to focus one’s efforts on their goals. Failure is an inevitable part of life, and fear of that failure is an obstacle in front of full dedication to  your ideals and goals. By accepting the greatest of failures, the failure to continue living, we can shed that fear.

I’ve been doing research into the histories of religions for a book that I’m working on, and I came across an interesting inscription on a skull in the Russian Monastery Marathos in Greece:

“Oh, Pilgrim. Look Well. Because I was once as you are, and you will be as I am.”

I get the feeling that there is a subtle reassurance in this inscription. The skull is welcoming the observer to catch a glimpse of what they will inevitably go through. Connecting the skull and the observer with the idea of life, and continuing that correlation in their eventual death.

Despite the fact that we all experience death eventually, it is something that we shy away from. We try not to talk about it, and we try to hide it from ourselves and from others. I think part of that comes from the fact that we have no perspective of death. There is no one on the other side telling us what it’s like. And I think this inscription kind of does that. It correlates the living and the dead, offering a way to contemplate that mystery, and hopefully find a peace in it.

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