Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Touch of Relationship

No matter the genre, no matter the theme, all writing explores relationships. Human interactions are not only with other people, but with other creatures, and even on occasion, an environment. Exposing these complex connections can create such gripping tales a reader loses a night's sleep. The power of relationships touches all of us.

Even simple relationships are complicated. If not, conflicts would never arise. But they do. Born with an instinctual drive for survival, and unavoidable mental responses like jealousy, individuals often twist regard to loathing, obsess over love, and lose sanity in the process. These reactions provide wonderful plots filled with calculated, horrific, situations. In reality, some situations take such strange turns they defy fiction’s capabilities.

In examining any relationship, an author often discovers danger, for human interactions embroil all that is good and bad in the collective psyche. Seen from the inside even outwardly perfect relationships often contain secrets, deceit, and drama.

It is a wonder that any relationship survives. However, each ever-so-imperfect human also contains the capacity for awe-inspiring love, forgiveness, and sacrifice. These raw, contradictory emotions and reactions to relationships encompass life and power the stuff of stories.

It's Alive! Soil and SciFi

Whenever I work the soil (Master Gardener lesson one: gardens are made of soil, not dirt), I think about the science fiction series Dune which ends with the entire universe of the story existing within the soil of a rose garden.
In some ways this is an accurate image of soil— a different universe full of life. Soil is a living thing containing the minerals of the universe (Another scientific but scifi like connection: Carl Sagan wrote: "We are made of star-stuff"), water, air, the detritus of life (humus), and microbial life. And like any living thing, soil can be killed by poison, starvation, suffocation, or drowning. Soil is the skin of the living planet Earth, and like our skin, other life lives on it.
As a gardener, the first thing I learned was respect for the soil, and rightly so, as a great deal of the world’s life is supported by what lives in soil. Only plants can produce their own food, all the rest of us eat either plants or other animals to survive. I expect our society might be more peaceful if human bodies could manufacture their own food. Oops! Off-topic. (Besides, on reflection, I realize plants are often at war with each other—doesn't this sound like a scifi tile? War of the Plants.)

How much life is underground? It depends on the soil, its temperature, moisture, air content, mineral makeup, and condition. Within my soil I can see macro life such as worms and insects, even mammals, like moles living in the depths, but by far the the largest category of life is invisible to the naked eye— microflora like bacteria, mold, fungi, and algae, and the microfauna like protozoa and nematodes. If you’re lucky, your soil is full of life, or like me, you continually feed your soil with compost and mulch to make it healthy.

Here’s a fun fact to put this unseen life in perspective. Jeffrey Gordon, a professor at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine has stated that up to ninety percent of the cells in our bodies are non-human cells, from microflora and fauna similar to those found in the soil. So imagine a being as big as the world’s soil mass and what percent is microbial life. What’s more, our lives need those non-human cells living in and on us just as much as the soil in your garden does.

So there it is,  Frank Herbert, Dune's author, was right— there are millions of alien species living on the trillions of mineral planet particles within our soil's universe. Bet the next time you work the soil, you might hesitate to wonder just what you're sinking your hands into.

Update: National Geographic has the scope on dirt -- #5 Soil is Alive -- also some scary information on how humans abuse soil at great risk to themselves.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Now the Waiting

I just submitted a new manuscript to one of my publishers. Now the long wait (and attendant self-doubt) starts. The big question: Is it good enough?

After nine previous contracts offered, perhaps I'm overreacting, but in certain respects, doubt is what drives me to write the next manuscript. Can I do better? Can I write something with a new twist? As a writer, and as a teacher of writing, I believe if you pay attention, you learn with every word you write. For me making every manuscript better creates an interesting challenge--more suspenseful drama, better characterization, less telling and more showing, plus the chance to expose a new situation or give a fresh retake on an old situation. My goal is for my story to be entertaining, but also to prod the reader's thoughts.

While I await the verdict on the recently completed manuscript, I move on to the next story. Hopefully, I can live long enough to write all the ideas I've written down. There too, is a waiting situation. Which is better, to leave with more stories to write, or to live on with no more stories?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rape Victim Killed by Fatwa

A report by the Daily Star says it all:

"The reports said Hena was raped by her 40-year-old relative Mahbub on Sunday. The next day, a fatwa was announced at a village arbitration that she must be given 100 lashes. She fell unconscious after nearly 80 lashes. Fatally injured Hena was rushed to Naria health complex where she succumbed to her injuries."

While Americans work to keep the rights women have earned intact against many political changes,  this type of story is repeated throughout the world. My answer: I won't buy products from Bangladesh or any other country that practices these barbaric but religiously sanctioned behaviors.

No photos for this, thank heaven. Why do women remain in such societies? And yet, even here politicians seek to redefine exactly what is and what isn't rape.

Update: More information