Monthly Archives: July 2013

Early Praise for “Remembering Turinam”

Tournevis at the blog Le Pouding à l’arsenic has posted an early review of the colonialism-themed anthology We See a Different Frontier. The anthology will be published this month in both print and electronic versions and includes my first professional sale, a short story called Rembering Turinam.

I’m honored to have been called out for particular attention in the review:

I could laud every single story in the collection, but let me turn the light on two in particular that have stayed with me and even found their way into my dreams.

[…]

A more powerful exploration of Politics of Memory is found in the incredibly well-written, nearly perfect “Remembering Turinam” by N.A. Ratnayake. Here the scholar Salai walks from his world’s (a future-Earth maybe) equivalent of a university the Heremitian Anushasan, formely [sic] specialized in the exploration of the abstract sciences. He goes to visit his grand-father, a former member of the same Anushasan, now living as a near hermit in his very final days. […] Ratnayake is brilliant in showing the subtleties of Salai’s colonized mind. More importantly, the author displays in all its tragedy the paradoxes of cultural survival in the face of conquest: how only those who choose assimilation can live long enough to ultimately reclaim the culture that has been willfully lost.

Wow! I am so happy to hear that others have enjoyed my stories, and that they have found deep personal meaning within them. Nothing like the warm fuzzies as motivation to keep writing!

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Thinking About Style

Friends and family seem to like The Parched Lands and I’ve gotten some good feedback from others. I like the story well enough. And as a science teacher, I will undoubtedly continue to think about the issues that the story explores.

Looking back over it though, I think I could have done a lot better with the prose.  I was writing this story on deadline — wanting to submit before CG’s theme Expectations closed at the month’s end. In that mindset, I paid a lot more attention to story and ideas than the writing.

Many might say that’s a good thing, that style is dead (or at least unnecessary) and I should just tell the damn story. This admonishment seems to hold particularly true for science fiction. Certainly, if pressed to rank them in terms of importance, I would put story ahead of ideas ahead of style, for both reading and writing. But style does matter.

Writing is a craft that is not just about conveying information and ideas. It is also about connecting human beings. Style plays with our conscious and subconscious awareness of the words, and helps the writer to craft an overall emotional response. And there are few stronger ways to connect people and ideas than through subconscious emotions.  My opinion is that to say style doesn’t matter reveals some level ignorance or laziness. And I’m pointing my finger mostly at myself.

Sometimes simple things like adverbial phrases poke out at me:

“Mr. Daveys” Kassidi said sharply. “Something’s wrong with Amanthi!”

[…]

“No harm, no harm,” said Mr. Daveys with a reassuring smile.

And I see many places where it would have been more effective to show instead of tell:

She felt self-conscious and tried to appear casual.

More broadly, I agree with my friend Brian Powell’s feedback that having Amanthi dream of being a writer might be a bit too self-referential, and that placing a story within a story for plot purposes can come off as contrived or forced. (for the record, he had a lot of positive feedback as well).

Perhaps I will always see ways I could have improved anything in hindsight — no work of creativity is ever done, after all. I really don’t think of myself as a perfectionist (just take a look at my room or the pile of dishes in the sink), but I do always want to improve my craft. Moreover, I want to spread a greater appreciation for style, aesthetic, and humanism in the genre, both as a reader and a writer. So I think the way to frame it positively is to take lessons for future pieces where possible.

In this case, I’m proud to be published — and I want to set the bar higher for myself.

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First Publication: “The Parched Lands” Appears in CG

My first professional publication emerged earlier this month in Crossed Genres Magazine, Issue 7. The Parched Lands delves into the tangled issues of race, tracking, high-stakes testing, and creativity starvation that run through America’s public school systems.

When the bell rang at the end of class, Amanthi was crashing from a dopamine high. She raised her slight, brown hand as her thin body shook, and when her arm brushed against her long, black hair she felt the slick dampness of sweat.

Mr. Daveys was moving around the classroom helping students disconnect from their desks, congratulating or reprimanding as appropriate based on measured performance for the day.

Amanthi could feel that something was wrong, but found herself unable to articulate any words though the shaking of her body. Kassidi, sitting next to her, looked over and noticed her wan trembling, and spoke up.

“Mr. Daveys” Kassidi said sharply. “Something’s wrong with Amanthi!” The teacher glanced up from his IV work and in a moment rushed over, fussing over Amanthi and checking her forehead. He held up a datapad and allowed its cameras to analyze her. The red eye of the infrared and the black eye of the optical glass stared at Amanthi, and she suddenly felt weak and ill.

Find out more at CG…

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Our Pale Blue Dot

In this rare image taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured Saturn’s rings and our planet Earth and its moon in the same frame.

This gorgeous photograph of our planet Earth, was taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which is orbiting the planet Saturn almost 900 million miles away. Puts everything in perspective right?

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
—Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1997 reprint, pp. xv–xvi

If I’m ever hard up for writing ideas, for thinking about the stories that need to be written, I think I will stare at this photograph for awhile.

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