Thursday, September 27, 2012

Alex Interviews Me, Part 3

Gains Enlightenment in the Process

The last part of my interview with Alex K. took place at the local Starbucks Coffee House. I sat at a table outside and waited, wondering if he would bring his little sister along again. He didn't. The interview got a little weird when I told Alex about his role as interviewer, but in the end he understood. The truth is, he had no choice.

Model portraying likeness of yours truly.

Stone -- Hello Alex.
Alex K. -- Hello, Thomas. How are you today?
Stone -- I'm okay. How about you? Anything new?
Alex K. -- I'm good. First time to Decatur. That's new.
Stone -- You'll find the Starbucks here tastes just like the Starbucks everywhere else.
Alex K. -- I drink tea, not coffee.
Stone -- Will you have a cup?
Alex K. -- No, I don't think so.
Stone -- All right then, we'll just get to it.
Alex K. -- Fine.
Stone -- First question?
Alex K. -- Uh, yeah. [Looks through his notes.] I’d like to talk about what makes a story fall into the science fiction genre.
Stone – There are many sub-classifications within science fiction, but some people get the genre confused with fantasy, sword and sorcery stuff.
Alex K. – Like Harry Potter. That’s not science fiction. Sci-fi tells stories about space, or time travel, stuff like that. Sci-fi is based on scientific reality.
Stone – Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far because much of science fiction is speculation on the part of the author. I will give you an example of the difference between fantasy and science fiction, though, if you’d like.
Alex K. – Sure.
Quite possibly, Alex's mother.
Stone – Okay. Now this might be a bit of a shock to you, but I need to tell you that you don’t exist.
Alex K. – Huh?
Stone – You don’t exist. You’re not real.
Alex K. – What do you mean?
Stone – Exactly what I said. You’re not real. You’re just a construct of my imagination.
Alex K. – I don’t get it. Where’s this going?
Stone – Well, eventually onto my blog. You see, Alex, I made you up. I made up this entire interview.
Alex K. – [Laughing] All right, I’ll bite. Why would you do that? Why would you make me up, why would you make up this interview?
Stone – Before I answer that, do you see the divergence of fantasy and science fiction here?
Alex K. – Yeah, I guess so, but what you’re saying is more of a fantasy.
Stone – Yes, but it’s true.
Alex K. – No, it’s not.
Stone – Yes, it is. After this interview is over, I’ll go home but you’ll go wherever imaginary people go when nobody is thinking about them.
Alex K. – I’m not sure how I feel about this. What about my picture? What about my little sister?
Stone – Your picture came off the internet, Alex. Likewise for the picture I used for your little sister. Tell me, Alex, what’s your little sister’s name?
Alex's selection.
Alex K. – [Shaking his head in disbelief] I don’t know!
Stone – That’s exactly what I’m saying. You can’t think of her name because I didn’t give her one. Don’t worry about a thing, though. You don’t feel bad about any of it.
Alex K. – I don’t?
Stone – No. Not at all.
Alex K. – I see what you mean. Tell me something.
Stone – Yes?
Alex K. – Why did you do this? Why did you make up an interview?
Stone – Gee, Alex, I thought that was obvious. I did it because I can and the whole point is to show that the line between fantasy and reality is all in the mind.
Alex K. – Well, you sure fooled me.
Stone – Before you go, would you like to have a cup of tea first?
Alex K. – [Looking up at the sky.] I think I will.

Edit: If you got all the way through this and don't feel an urge to visit Starbucks, you are superhuman.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Can't Resist

Rrrrrrr, shiver me timbers...
Sometimes I run across a picture or a story I just can't resist posting and then my posting schedule is all thrown off! That's what happened with yesterday's talking dog joke (man, I thought that was funny!) and today's pic. I mean, that's funny, right? Plus, the pirate theme is always a winner.
Edit: The talking dog joke had to go to make room for another innocuous post.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Happy Birthday, H. G.

H. G. Wells
Herbert George "H. G." Wells (21 September 1866 – 13 August 1946) was an English author, now best known for his work in the science fiction genre. He was also a prolific writer in many other genres, including contemporary novels, history, politics and social commentary, even writing textbooks and rules for war games. Together with Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback, Wells has been referred to as "The Father of Science Fiction". His most notable science fiction works include The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Wells's earliest specialised training was in biology, and his thinking on ethical matters took place in a specifically and fundamentally Darwinian context. He was also from an early date an outspoken socialist, often (but not always, as the beginning of the First World War) sympathising with pacifist views. His later works became increasingly political and didactic, and he sometimes indicated on official documents that his profession was that of "Journalist." Most of his later novels were not science fiction. Some described lower-middle class life (Kipps; The History of Mr Polly), leading him to be touted as a worthy successor to Charles Dickens, but Wells described a range of social strata and even attempted, in Tono-Bungay (1909), a diagnosis of English society as a whole. Wells also wrote abundantly about the "New Woman" and the Suffragettes.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Alex K. Interviews Me, Part 2

"It was a dark, stormy night..."
This is Alex K. again with the second installment of Thomas Stone’s interview. There’s a third part but Mr. Stone said he would deal with it. This part of the interview focuses on Mr. Stone’s writing mostly, but near the end I found out he used to teach English at UNT where I go to school.

Stone – Say I need an antagonist, a bad guy, right? I can dredge up someone from memory that maybe rubbed me wrong and then sketch ‘em out in words.
Alex K. – Put a wart on their nose, make their hair fall out.
Stone – Whatever you think your personal justice calls for.
Alex K. – That’s pretty cool, to be able to do that. I mean, it’s like a, a gift.
Stone – Don’t make so much of it. It’s writing. I’ve had to work at it my entire life. I don’t see the discipline of writing so much as a talent, but rather as a tool that gets more finely tuned the more you use it; there’s also something of a puzzle aspect when it comes to putting a novel together. But the core of good writing is to communicate successfully. The desire of the fiction writer is to engage his readers emotionally, either overtly or through the use of more subtle literary devices. When a reader forgets it’s a story, I feel good, I know I’ve done my job.
Alex K. – Okay, so, you make it up?
Stone – Yes, Alex, I make it up.
Alex K. – Cool. So how did you get started? Which of your books was first?
Stone – Oh, the first one was terrible. So were the next two, but that third one winded up being To The Stars. The first one was entitled Telepathy and it was really a poorly written rambling story I made up as I went along.
Alex K. – Don’t you do that for every story? Make it up as you go along?
Stone – No, it’s better to have a plan. Try to build a boat without a plan and it’ll sink. Every time. Before I forget, I wanted to say that I wrote Song of the Elowai before I finished To The Stars. And some other projects as well, including Incident on Walsh Street. When I decided to do the Harry Irons trilogy, well, that was when I finally finished off To The Stars. I was never really satisfied with it.
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Alex K. – Why is that?
Stone – It was an early project that got split once and re-written a dozen times, at least, before I let anybody read it, and it was still full of errors. I’ve gone back since then and tried to fix things – I can do that because I’m an Indie writer. I own my work. I think I’ve done a fair job of it. I haven’t changed the story a bit. I’ve polished it some. Believe me, it needed it.
Alex K. –I loved To The Stars but I can see a change in your writing over the course of the Harry Irons novels. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all good, but each book is different. While the style is still there, your run and gun kind of flow, the subject matter has gotten deeper. It’s far out. I like it.
Stone – Thank you. I’ve always said if there was anything to be learned from my writing, it would be entirely by accident. Also, it’s not surprising the books are different. They’re written years apart and I wrote other books in the in-between years.
Alex K. – You had other jobs and stuff while you were writing all these books?
Stone – Sometimes I’d take time off to write but, yes, I had day jobs.
Alex K. – What did you do?
Stone – Well, I worked as a technical writer for a while. Different companies, different assignments. Systems-oriented stuff, mostly. Computers and networks. Also avionics and communications systems.
Alex K. – How did you like that?
Stone – It paid the bills.
Alex K. – Have you ever had a job that you, like, really hated?
Stone – Funny you should ask. I think I’ve never had a job that I particularly liked. I sold shoes as a teenager and it was all right because my friends worked there too, but when the manager was replaced and the new guy was gruff and distant, I knew it was time to go. My mental health means more to me than putting up with some soul-sucking job. But at times I have served those masters, in any case. The world will have its pound of flesh one way or another.
Alex K. -- Wow, why don’t you tell me how you really feel? No, that’s good, Thomas. Probably a lot of people feel the same way. Here’s another question: What’s the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done?
Stone – There’s a difference between dangerous and scary. Commuting to work can be both. You had in mind scary, I think?
Alex K. – Well, both.
Stone – Let’s see, I fought in a tournament in Mexico once and won, by the way, unusual for me, and afterwards the promoters took the winners out to celebrate. We ended up hanging out with a bunch of well-heeled Mexican guys, apparently friends of the promoter. We were driven to a cabana bar on a private beach with beautiful Mexican girls and a salsa band. We were encouraged to take full advantage of all there was to offer and I cannot lie, I imbibed in the devil’s brew that was forced upon me and subsequently, when some of our hosts likewise became inebriated, they wanted me and others to display our fighting skills. Good way to get hurt – get some fighters drunk, then challenge them. Well, it was good-natured, but we tossed the Mexican guys around pretty hard under the moon on that beach. I broke a guy’s nose and he bled all over the bar waiting for the bartender to hand him a towel.
Alex K. – I don’t want to sound smart, but that doesn’t sound scary or particularly dangerous.
Stone – It doesn’t, does it? We flew back to Dallas the next day and I sat next to our trainer. After we took off, he told me he was really relieved to get in the air. I asked him why and he mentioned the guys we partied with and particularly the dude I punched out. He said one of the waiters had told him that those guys were the local cartel. They ran everything. Putting your hands on one of those guys is a big no-no. I told him they started it and then realized how stupid that sounded. I looked at my watch and figured my guy was just waking up to a hangover and discovering that his nose was broken by some gringo!
Alex K. – Oh wow.
Stone – Bow-wow.
Alex K. – What else you got?
Stone – Well, I’m working over an old short story, so I don’t want to tell you everything but I will say it’s a true story about being in a hurricane at sea. The ocean can be a monster and just as terrifying as any movie. That one will go into the collection.
Alex K.'s little sister.
Alex K. What collection?
Stone – Short stories.
Alex K. – Oh wow, I’ll look forward to it. When will it come out?
Stone – Not for a long time. Couple of years down the road.
Alex K. -- Let’s get back to the subject of science fiction in general.
Stone – Okay.
Alex K. – Why do you… what’s wrong?
Stone – Do you know that little girl over there?
Alex K. – Yesss. That’s my little sister. She was supposed to stay in the snack area. I had to bring her with me. Sorry about that.
Stone – That’s all right. I understand. You’d better go attend to her.
Alex K. -- I am so sorry. Can I follow up later by email?
Stone – Sure. And don’t worry about it. Now I have the time to stroll over to my old office.
Alex K. – What office is that?
Stone – In the English Department. I taught English here on a Fellowship.
Alex K. Well, no wonder you’re a writer…

Note: the intriguing Part 3 of Alex K. Interviews Me will be posted as soon as I write it up.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Middle of Nowhere

Easter Island Moai
Ever consider that the Easter Island statues, called moai, were even bigger than they appeared? The photo to the left makes you wonder how old they are. Estimates vary, but generally, everyone agrees the time period from 700 AD to 1200 AD appears to have the most activity.

That time period in Europe saw the end of the Roman Empire and five hundred years of middle ages often called dark or medieval and culminating in the Great Plague. On Easter Island, they were cutting the moai from the limestone and setting them up along the shores of the island.

If you don't know where Easter Island (also known as Rapa Nui or Isla de Pascua) is located, think southeastern Pacific Ocean. Truly, a long way from anywhere, Easter Island claims to be the most remote inhabited island in the world. The closest inhabited neighbour is Pitcairn Island (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame), 2,075 km (1,289 mi) to the west, with fewer than 100 inhabitants. Easter Island is 3,510 km (2,180 mi) west of continental Chile. If you're steaming due west to Australia, Easter Island is only a quarter of the way there.

Populated by Polynesians who came from the Gambier Islands (2,600 km (1,600 mi) away) and the Marquesas, 3,200 km (2,000 mi) away, the indigenous people brought a way of life and a culture that eventually brought environmental chaos and a resulting social decay.

According to oral traditions recorded by Catholic missionaries in the 1860s, the island originally had a strong class system, with a high chief ruling over nine clans and their respective chiefs. The moai were erected along the coastline, near villages, and on a clear day, the view from a ship would appear that giants were watching from the coast, waiting for hapless travelers to set foot on their tiny island. At least, that's why I think the statues were erected. Basic human paranoia -- covered with a veneer of ancestor worship.

Unfortunately, the construction of the moai resulted in deforestation over the entire island. The archeological record shows that Easter Island was home to many species of trees. By the time Europeans arrived in 1722, the island's population had dropped to two or three thousand from a high of fifteen thousand a century earlier. Twenty-one species of trees and all species of land birds went extinct through overharvesting and overhunting. By the 18th century, residents were largely sustained by farming, with domestic chickens as the primary source of protein.

As the island became overpopulated, resources dwindled. The old ways were pushed aside and replaced by new ceremonies and new beliefs which were subsequently abandoned with the construction of the first church by Roman Catholic missionaries in the mid-nineteenth century.

The first official European contact with the island was on April 5, Easter Sunday, 1722, when Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen stopped off for a week. The record also shows that Roggeveen estimated a population between two and three thousand inhabitants. The number may have been greater, since some undoubtedly were frightened into hiding by a misunderstanding that led Roggeveen's men to fire on the natives, killing more than a dozen and wounding even more.

If the statues were intended to ward off pirates and would-be settlers, like I think they were, I guess it didn't work against the Europeans. Well, the Dutch are a hardy lot and known world explorers. Even in the middle of nowhere.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Alex K. Interviews Me

Alex K.
Call me Alex K. I'm not a journalist or a blogger or anything like that but I am a fan of fantasy and science fiction, especially what I consider to be the good stuff. I emailed Mr. Stone just as a fan to tell him how much I enjoyed his books and, to my surprise, he emailed me back and proposed an interview scenario he could use on his blog. Below is a partial transcription of the interview which was initially held at the student union on the University of North Texas campus in Denton, Texas. A subsequent meeting was held at the Starbucks coffee shop in Decatur, Texas. Mr. Stone really had me going at the beginning as you will see. Unfortunately, there was no video running, just an audio recorder.

My first impression of Thomas Clark Stone is that he is one of those old guys you don't mess with. When he looks at you -- he really looks at you. It's pretty intimidating. But as you get to know him, it doesn't take long to realize the guy is laid back, but complicated: he's way smart, a fun-loving loner, a black belt, a patriot, a war vet, spiritual, and really quick to smile. Plus, he's really funny. I didn't know all that when the interview started:

Alex K. -- Hello, Mr. Stone, Thomas? What should I call you?
Stone -- Whatever you're comfortable with.
Alex K. -- What do you like to be called?
Stone -- Handsome.
Alex K. -- Ha. That's pretty funny.
Stone -- Why? Am I funny looking to you?
Alex K. -- What? No. Of course not. You're a very handsome man.
Stone -- Are you patronizing me?
Alex K. -- No. Not at all. Look, I don't want to get off on the wrong foot here. I do think you're a handsome man. To tell you the truth, I was a little surprised when I came in.
Stone -- Surprised? Why? Do you think I'm gay?
Alex K. -- No, no, I mean, I don't care if you're gay or not. It makes no difference to me. It might to your fans, but...
Stone -- Well, I'm not gay. And I don't think my fans are interested either. Okay, maybe some, but my God, man, my bio says I've been married three times.
Alex K. -- I don't know, Thomas, you're new to the scene; I'm telling you, there's fan chics out there that would love to hang with you.
Stone -- Really?
Alex K. -- With a famous writer like you, hell yes.
Stone -- I'm not famous.
Alex K. -- Then what am I doing here? Of course, you're famous. That's what I like about this.
Stone -- What do you mean?
Alex K. -- This, this encounter, this interview. I've read all your books. I stayed up all night and read Among The Stars. Great book, great series. You don't know how good a writer you are.
Stone -- Oh please. No, I mean, thank you for such a compliment, but I struggle with it. The writing, I mean.
Alex K. -- It doesn't read like it. Most everything you do gets up and goes, you know? A lot of action, scene changes, but it's all going somewhere and it makes you think too.
Stone -- Well, thanks. There's still a lot of room for improvement.
Alex K. -- So what are you working on now? Another Harry Irons story maybe?
Stone -- I really don't like to talk about current projects.
Alex K. -- So then it's safe to say you've settled onto one project? You've selected the next story?
Stone -- Yes. I'm outlining. Researching.
Alex K. -- Intriguing. Could it be another Harry Irons story?
Stone -- I'm not going to tell you that, but there are a number of spin-off possibilities with the Harry Irons stuff. If I see that's what people want, I'll be more than happy to return to that universe. I was thinking about doing a piece on the... well, there I go. If I talk it out, I won't write it out.
Alex K. -- You appear to be in great shape for someone who had bypass surgery six months ago.
Stone -- A testimony to clean living and faith in God. Probably a tad more faith in God than clean living.
Alex K.-- So you believe in God?
Stone -- Sure.
Alex K. -- Isn't that unusual for a science fiction writer?
Stone -- I'm sure I have no idea. One thing we can all agree on is that it is indeed an awesome universe.
Alex K. -- Word.
Stone -- What?
Alex K. -- I said, word. You know?
Stone -- Not really. Explain.
Alex K. -- Well, let's see. It means like 'word up' to the truth. Testify, that's what I was trying to say. Testify to the truth. So if somebody says 'word' all serious-like, it means they're agreeing with you.
Stone -- Like saying amen.
Alex K. -- Yes, sort of, I guess.
Stone -- Next question please.
Alex K. -- Okay, how about sharing your secret for telling a story?
Stone -- I'm not sure I understand.
Alex K. -- How do you come up with a story?
Stone -- Oh, different ways. Remember a movie called The African Queen?
Alex K. -- Not really. Who was in it?
Stone -- Bogart and Hepburn. The basis of that story serves the same purpose in my book, Rolling Thunder. I basically turned a jungle movie into a science fiction story. The same thing for Smolif. I was thinking Apocalypse Now all the way. Smolif was a turning point for me.
Alex K. -- What do you mean?
Stone -- Uh, I kind of turned a corner in my writing with Smolif. That character...
Alex K. -- Contra Marlo.
Stone -- Yes, Contra Marlo. He was the real deal. It got to be a lot of fun to be in his skin because he was so honest about everything. Smolif is a cool story with some nasty truths in it.
Alex K. -- Would you ever do another Contra Marlo story?
Stone -- Yes, that would be fun.
Alex K. -- Do you ever write about people you know? As characters?
Stone -- Sure. You can't help but be influenced by people. Generally, my characters are imaginative constructs of different character types. And that comes from real life. Mostly.

End of Part 1, Thomas Stone interview 

Note: I'll post Part 2 when Alex gets it typed up.