Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I dream

"The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm. He came along the street of Green Town, Illinois, in the late cloudy October day, sneaking glances over his shoulder. Somewhere not so far back, vast lightnings stomped the earth. Somewhere, a storm like a great beast with terrible teeth could not be denied."

Guess who my favorite author is.

C'mon. Guess! Guess! Giveup? It's Ray Bradbury.

A college professor asked us who our favorite authors were. Then he asked us why. And then he observed that writers usually prefer people who write with a similar style to their own.

No, I said. I don't write like Ray Bradbury. I couldn't write like Ray Bradbury.

Except now, years later, maybe I could—sort of.

I don't reread books very often, but I recently read Something Wicked This Way Comes for the third time.

Ray does tend to go over the top and drown you in metaphor. I don't aspire to write exactly like him. (I prefer an area somewhere in between him and Isaac Asimov.) But I get such a kick out of Bradbury's use of words. And lately, after having my writing pruned to a nub in 2010 by a zealous critique group, I'm letting it grow back into something less wild and dense, but still thick and leafy the way I like it.

And maybe, if I do say so myself, it's a little more like Ray Bradbury than I ever dreamed.

Is that good or is it bad? I don't know go ask your dad. (I'm influenced by Dr. Suess as well.)

It's certainly not everyone's cup of tea. But who am I trying to please, here? Only myself. By imitating Ray Bradbury? No. Just letting all that reading I did in middle school come through.

The quote at the top is the first paragraph of the first chapter of Something Wicked This Way Comes, published in 1962. (And if you've seen the movie version of Something Wicked but never read the book—well, don't think they're the same thing. I don't think it's possible to translate writing like this into a movie without losing most of the substance.) Here's a little bit more:

So the salesman jangled and clanged his huge leather kit in which oversized puzzles of ironmongery lay unseen but which his tongue conjured from door to door until he came at last to a lawn which was cut all wrong. 
No, not the grass. The salesman lifted his gaze. But two boys, far up the gentle slope, lying on the grass. Of a like size and general shape, the boys sat carving twig whistles, talking of olden or future times, content with having left their fingerprints on every movable object in Green Town during summer past and their footprints on every open path between here and the lake and there and the river since school began. 
“Howdy boys!” called the man all dressed in storm-colored clothes. “Folks home?” 
The boys shook their heads. 
“Got any money yourselves?” 
The boys shook their heads. 
“Well—” The salesman walked about three feet, stopped and hunched his shoulders. Suddenly he seemed aware of house windows or the cold sky staring at his neck. He turned slowly, sniffing the air. Wind rattled the empty trees. Sunlight, breaking through a small rift in the clouds, minted a last few oak leaves gold. But the sun vanished, the coins were spent, the air blew gray; the salesman shook himself from the spell.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

LDS Writer Blogfest: And a Little Child Shall Lead Them


This is part of the LDS Writer Blogfest, which means I’m going to talk about my religion again. (I’m Ben. I’m a writer. And I’m a Mormon.)

But first, and since this is an LDS Writer Blogfest, let me tell you about the book I recently finished drafting. (Don’t worry. It’s not about religion, nor am I totally hijacking the fest.)

The Freezer is set in a hypothetical near-future Earth that’s about to be destroyed by a collision with a rogue planet. There are sub-light-speed interstellar ships and fusion engines, but aside from that, it’s a lot like the world we live in. (Also, that about-to-be-destroyed thing tends to affect the way people think.)

I wrote the final chapter the Saturday before last, mere hours before sitting down to watch the annual LDS General Conference on TV. (I missed the first few minutes because I was putting out a fire. Literally.)

I joined my wife and three kids, who were already watching, right as Boyd K. Packer started to speak. I knew immediately that it was the address I had to talk about here, because it made me teary-eyed, and…

Well, let me get back to The Freezer.

At the beginning of the book, Thane Ryder has a dilemma caused entirely by the fact that he and his wife Dawn had decided to have a baby six years before the end of the world. I mean, it’s the end of the world. Why bother having kids who aren’t going to grow up?

But Dawn was a space-ferry pilot, world famous for saving her ferry from an imminent crash. When the Evacuation Authority needed pilots to land its untested interstellar ships at their destination, she was at the top of the list.

That meant she’d survive. When Earth was destroyed, she’d be safely on her way to a new home.

Dawn, of course, only agreed to go if she could bring her husband and their daughter Mandy. But they wanted Dawn to land the very first ship, which was carrying infrastructure and skilled technical workers. No room for passengers, especially not children.

The Authority offered Thane and Mandy seats on a later flight. The Ryders agreed to the arrangement. Dawn left her little girl in her husband’s care.

And Thane’s dilemma? Two years later when it was time for him to leave, the Evacuation Authority didn’t keep its word. It disqualified Mandy from evacuation. Thane would have to leave her behind. 

A government agency in charge of selecting one person to live from every 120,000 only has to be really good at one thing—saying no. Getting it to reverse the decision, even to keep a promise to a renowned pilot, was impossible.

Thane has to decide between dying with his daughter or following his wife.

It was about the worst position I could put Thane into. And then, being a writer, which means I’m a sado-masochist, (and I mean that in the best possible sense,) I proceeded to make Thane’s life even more difficult.

Should he have even had a child in the first place?

Couldn’t he always have more once he was reunited with his wife?

What about leaving Mandy in the care of someone else so he could leave?

Was a few extra months of comfort for one girl worth his life?

Why not simply end her life a little earlier? (He doesn’t actually consider this. It’s proposed to him as a solution.)

And then things get complicated, opening up even more questions.

Does Mandy really hear what she claims?

Should he trust his little girl or all the grown-ups?

Do you give a girl what she thinks she needs, or what you are pretty sure she needs?

Trust your instincts or do what everyone else thinks you should do?

Is it okay to lie to your child to protect her?

I put my characters through my greatest fears and darkest thoughts. I use them to explore my past as well as my current challenges and fears. And as I’ve written each successive novel, I’ve worked my way through my teen years and my early twenties.

Now here I am, the father of a six-year-old, (and nine- and three-year olds,) in a world not fit for such spirits.

I make Thane answer the questions I don’t want to face, make the mistakes I hope I’ll never make. These are my questions.

And the answers?

That title alone could lead Thane right to the answer he spends the whole book looking for. And as for the others, here are a few of the answers President Packer offers:

"I was stationed in Osaka, Japan, when World War II closed. The city was rubble, and the streets were littered with blocks, debris, and bomb craters. Although most of the trees had been blasted away, some few of them still stood with shattered limbs and trunks and had the courage to send forth a few twigs with leaves. 
A tiny girl dressed in a ragged, colored kimono was busily gathering yellow sycamore leaves into a bouquet. The little child seemed unaware of the devastation that surrounded her as she scrambled over the rubble to add new leaves to her collection. She had found the one beauty left in her world. Perhaps I should say she was the beautiful part of her world. Somehow, to think of her increases my faith. Embodied in the child was hope."

"Long ago a woman tearfully told me that as a college student she had made a serious mistake with her boyfriend. He had arranged for an abortion. In due time they graduated and were married and had several other children. She told me how tormented she now was to look at her family, her beautiful children, and see in her mind the place, empty now, where that one child was missing."

"Husbands and wives should understand that their first calling—from which they will never be released—is to one another and then to their children."

"Twice in our marriage, at the time of the births of two of our little boys, we have had a doctor say, “I do not think you are going to keep this one.” 
Both times this brought the response from us that we would give our lives if our tiny son could keep his. In the course of that offer, it dawned on us that this same devotion is akin to what Heavenly Father feels about each of us."

And the last thing, the one thing that I have to learn over and over again because it seems in direct opposition to all the learning and wisdom of the world:

One of the great discoveries of parenthood is that we learn far more about what really matters from our children than we ever did from our parents. We come to recognize the truth in Isaiah’s prophecy that “a little child shall lead them.” 
In Jerusalem, “Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 
“And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 
“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

It’s so easy to see my children’s faults. When they won’t go to sleep, won’t eat their dinner, won’t pick up their toys, and cry and whine and fight—it’s all so obvious. 

What I need to learn—something that I taught Thane but have yet to master myself—is the ability to see what they have, or see, or are that I don’t, can’t, or am not.

And then to learn that good from them. Because that’s the real purpose of parenthood. It’s not to pass on our meager wisdom. It’s to become more like Christ.

Others in the blogfest:

Amanda Sowards
Angie Lofthouse
Britanny Larsen
Cami Checketts
Charity Bradford
Danyelle Ferguson
Giselle Abreu
Julia Keanini
Julie Coulter Bellon
Kasey Tross
Kayeleen Hamblin
Kelly Bryson
Krista Van Dolzer
Laura Johnston
Melanie Stanford
Rachelle Christensen
Rebecca Belliston
Sierra Gardner
Stephanie Worlton

Friday, April 6, 2012

Addicted, Deserts, and Comics. No relation.


On Monday, I finished the rough draft of my current project, The Freezer. Hooray!

On Tuesday, I decided to take some time off from writing, perhaps three weeks or so, but mostly some time off from getting up at five in the morning.

This morning, I decided that taking time off from writing so I could sleep in was like taking time off from breathing so I wouldn't have to smell the cows across the road.

When I'm not writing, I feel demotivated from doing anything. I feel blah. Directionless. Since I started writing seriously—what was it?—three years ago, every aspect of my life has grown brighter and more defined, like turning up the saturation and contrast on an old TV. I can't even begin to understand why. I feel like writing is what I do, what I must do, what I was—forgive me—born to do. I can't go back, now. I'm too addicted to whatever it does for me.

But I want to give myself a little space from my manuscript before diving into revisions. I am therefore working on a new project based on an old idea. Not writing, mind you. Merely brainstorming and plotting. Thinking. Daydreaming. I must schedule some time to daydream. At five in the morning. That's worth getting up for, even if it stinks sometimes. (Metaphorically speaking.)


As in just deserts. (And yes, that's how you spell it. I checked.) And this is good deserts for someone who's helped me and countless other writers. Krista Van Dolzer recently signed with Kate Schafer Testerman of kt literary. (Which I guess is also spelled that way. I checked.) Ever since she let me beta read her last manuscript, I've been waiting for this. (Because if it didn't get picked up, it was hopeless for me.)

But there's hope for the rest of us! (I guess. There's no way to check.)


Some of you may remember my very first author interview. No, wait. That was me. You may remember the second interview. That was my brother, Caleb. (Everyone just called him Spendlove all through high school despite his being the sixth Spendlove in the family to go to that school and no one ever calling any of the rest of us by our last name.)

Anyway, he's been writing (and drawing and coloring) a web comic called Bender for a couple of months now. It's a sci-fi adventure, published thrice a week, and it's pretty good. It's always amusing, sometimes really funny, and the artwork's not bad. (Better than Howard Tayler's early work.)

Check it out. (Yes, that's an order—ensign!) Start at the beginning if you like. (He was still figuring out how to scan and color back then.) Here's one of my favorites from recently. Makes me laugh.