One More Time

One More Time by Cecil AdkinsAs my first paid fiction sale, “One More Time” is, needless to say, pretty special to me.  It’s also a story that took me a very long time (ha!) to write.  I started it sometime in 1998 and didn’t submit it anywhere until over ten years later.  I sent it to all of the big sci-fi magazines and e-zines (I always target those first, since one of my short-term goals as a writer is to become a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America and being published by one of the biggies is a prerequisite) but received very nice form rejection letters from each of them.  It was accepted for publication by Allegory, a small but very good e-zine with a dedicated readership.  The pay wasn’t as much as the big names, but that didn’t bother me in the least.  An editor had liked my story enough to give me money for the privilege of including it in his publication.  By that point I was already making money writing about MMORPGs for Examiner.com, but to be able to cash a check I’d received for writing fiction was a magical moment.

“One More Time” features time travel, a staple in the science fiction genre.  The main character, on a quest to save his relationship, does a lot of very bad things, but he justifies his actions by imagining that most of them happen in timelines that won’t exist once he’s finished with his journey.  One of the main rules of fiction is you have to make the main character likable, or at least make it so the reader can relate to him or her.  I’m not sure I satisfied either of those requirements with Erik Waterson in “One More Time,” although I’d wager that many of us have done some pretty unthinkable things in the name of love.

I’m making “One More Time” available for free on my website as part of a planned “free fiction” series.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the story (send comments to ceciladkins@yahoo.com) and hope you enjoy reading it.

Writing what I know

“Write what you know.”  It’s a familiar phrase to anyone who has ever had an interest in writing, and to most who’ve ever had an English class.  Followed to the extreme, it doesn’t always make sense, especially for fiction writers.  I’m not sure how much Orson Scott Card really knows about sentient pig-like and bug-like aliens (Speaker For the Dead) or how much experience Stephen King has had with supernatural beings who take on the form of dancing clowns (It), but I’m guessing neither of them have witnessed such things first-hand.  Of course, the point of most fiction is to show how people like us would respond to extraordinary circumstances, so the “write what you know” part of those stories is in creating characters who think and feel like real people encountering the fantastic.

Much of my writing has focused on themes and situations similar to those of Card and King, but lately I’ve been playing around with more mundane matters.  This has been happening slowly over time, as even stories I consider science fiction have really been “about” more than just the fantastical elements.  My short story, “Attachment,” currently making the rounds looking for a home, will strike a chord with my office supply store coworkers and anyone else who works in a retail or sales position.  “Empty Chair” is a ghost story, but there’s a lesson there that’s very important in the real world.

I’m currently working on a story that’s not slated to have any real elements of science fiction or fantasy, which is pretty rare for me.  As such, I’m a little more nervous about how it’s going to be received than I am my other work.  This new one also hits a lot closer to home than anything I’ve ever done, and I’m struggling a lot just getting the words out, even though the story itself more or less popped into my head whole cloth.  A few people who are close to me will recognize themselves in it immediately, although not completely, both out of respect for them and the needs of the story, and I’ll be sure to let those people read it to get their feedback.  I know writers use the experiences of those around them as fuel for their stories all the time, but this story is so personal and painful that I feel like I owe a first reading to them.

It’s funny that back in the day, when I first started realizing I wanted to be a writer, I had these long-term fantasies about where I would be, career-wise, at different stages in my life.  None of those have come true, of course, as 25 years or more into it I’m still struggling to find even a moderate amount of success.  But I never imagined that I would have been interested in writing stuff that didn’t take place on a spaceship, or on another world, or that didn’t involve some form of time travel or ray gun.  It’s not really a new direction for me, as the novel that I hope to kick start (again) and eventually get published features all of those elements.  But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about truth and What Really Matters lately, and I think “writing what I know” will help me express a lot of my thinking on those subjects.  Hopefully, the experience will translate to my science fiction as well.  People don’t read Orson Scott Card to hear what he has to say about pig-aliens, after all.

Time4Learning.com (Review)

When my wife and I decided to homeschool our son because of bullying issues at his school, we needed to find a homeschool curriculum provider quickly.  Although we’d been thinking of homeschooling Jakob for a few weeks, we really hadn’t researched the possible choices for curriculum and found ourselves panicking a little.  West Virginia state law mentions something about providing an outline of instruction when you first notify the school board of your intent to homeschool.  Since we felt Jakob’s safety was in immediate danger we wanted to have something in place in case an outline of instruction was requested of us.

Many homeschool programs cost hundreds of dollars up front since you pay for them a year at a time.  While that cost certainly wasn’t completely out of our reach, it wouldn’t have been easy for us to come up with the money fast enough to have a program in place to begin homeschooling Jakob immediately.  I came across Time4Learning.com on some homeschool review sites, however, and both the positive reviews and the low monthly cost ($19.95 a month, with a two-week money-back guarantee and the ability to cancel at any time) convinced me to give it a try.

I’m glad I did.  We’re only a week into the program, but we can already tell this is definitely the right one for us.  The lessons provided by Time4Learning are comprehensive but fun.  It’s more or less self-directed, but I find myself wanting to be right there next to Jakob as he goes through his lessons, both to help him understand the lesson and to learn a few things myself!  The different subjects are presented in different formats (the math lessons are often presented by animated “teachers,” while language arts features appropriately features more actual self-guided reading), ensuring that learning doesn’t become monotonous.  Time4Learning makes it easy to track Jakob’s progress, and redoing lessons that give him trouble is a snap.  Lesson plans and progress reports are both thorough yet easy to read and understand.  Time4Learning takes a lot of the stress out of the somewhat overwhelming thought of homeschooling.

There’s more to school, and to learning, than math, social studies, science, and language arts.  Because the lessons are self-directed, it frees Tiffany and I up to plan extracurricular activities for Jakob.  Tiffany has plenty of time to provide art instruction (although, after a month in the program, Time4Art opens up for students) and PE, and I’m enjoying covering creative writing techniques with him.  I honestly feel that, thanks to Time4Learning, Jakob will learn more, and have a more well-rounded educational experience, through homeschooling than he could through the public school system.

I’d recommend Time4Learning.com for anyone who homeschools or is considering homeschooling.  With the low monthly cost, money-back guarantee, and ability to cancel at any time, you really have nothing to lose.  If you find it’s not right for you, you’ll be free to try something else.  I’m convinced, though, that Time4Learning is a fine homeschool program that most anyone will find to their liking.

The opinions presented above are mine.  I would like to disclose that I have been supported in writing this review by receiving a free month or equivalent to write a review of the program.  This payment has in no way influenced my opinion of the program.

Homeschooling

As I wrote about in a recent HubPages article, Tiffany and I decided to homeschool Jakob after having problems with bullies at school.  The bullies themselves were bad enough (one in particular was guilty of at least one attack that went way past the definition of “bullying”), but we felt the school administration just wasn’t taking things seriously enough.  If circumstances had been different (i.e., if we had assurances that the “main” bully who had Jakob on the ground kicking him viciously in the back), we might have continued trying to “work” (read: fight) with the school to get the other, admittedly less severe, bullying incidents addressed.  But the school could not — would not — assure us that Jakob would not be attacked again (and I’m calling it what it was — and attack, not “mere” bullying) and, since we have the ability and the means to take Jakob’s education into our own hands that’s exactly what we’ve done.

We’re now three days into homeschooling, and it’s already proving to be a rewarding experience.  We’ve always known that Jakob loved to learn stuff, even though he hated going to school.  His grades have been quite good for the last several years of school; his lowest grade on his first (and, of course, only) report card from 6th grade was a 97, with five 100’s.  This is without ever bringing home homework or a book to study for a test.  He’s quite bright, if I do say so myself, but I think part of why his grades were so good is that he just wasn’t being challenged enough in school.  Being able to see him go through his homeschool lessons and take his quizzes and think about what he’s learning is fascinating.  His bright blue eyes light up as he’s doing his work.

We’re using an online curriculum supplier called Time4Learning.com, which I’ll write up a more in-depth review on later (probably over at HubPages).  We chose it mainly because it has an affordable monthly fee and can be cancelled anytime in case we decide we want to try something else, but after looking into it in depth we’re pretty happy with it.  We’re supplementing the “main” subjects provided by Time4Learning (Math, Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science) with electives of our own design.  My wife is utilizing her knowledge of art to provide Jakob with an art class and projects and I’m going to be teaching him creative writing.  He’ll also have book reports, phys ed, and music.

I’ve heard at least one person say that perhaps our decision to take Jakob out of school will teach him that it’s okay to run from problems rather than face them.  I must admit that’s a fear that I had initially too.  However, I don’t feel that it would have even been possible to adequately face the problem, given the attitudes of the school administration.  We told Jakob at one point that it was okay to defend himself, even if he got in trouble for doing so (we were told by the assistant principal in charge of bullying that if Jakob didn’t fight back the bully would be disciplined, but if he did they would both be suspended for “fighting”).  Jakob’s not much of a fighter, however, and I think if he had tried to defend himself it would have only increased the hostility from the little brat attacking him.  From all appearances, Jakob’s main attacker wasn’t going to get any better, and the aforementioned assistant principal’s statements to us didn’t exactly instill confidence that our son would be safe.  She was more concerned with “getting to the bottom of the hostility” rather than facing the fact that this bully was going to end up hurting our son while she tried to psychoanalyze him.  I  believe it’s only a matter of time before the bully moves on to another target (actually, he already had at least a couple of targets other than our son); perhaps the next time he’ll get expelled and the other kids will be safe from him then.  We just weren’t willing to let our son be the one to get hurt enough to take care of the problem once and for all.

There’s too many stories these days of young kids taking their own lives because they were bullied for years without any help from their parents or their schools.  Maybe it’s an overreaction on our part, but we’re just not willing to take the chance that our son could be the next headline.

Searching for Cornstalk

 

Jakob, Jenna, and a statue of Chief Cornstalk

Jakob and Jenna with a statue of their ancestor

 

My son Jakob had a family tree project for his Social Studies class, and he needed a fair amount of help from his dear old parents.   Tiffany did most of the work for him to be honest, because once she got started researching her side of the tree she just couldn’t stop, especially after she made a big discovery.  She came across some strong evidence that she’s descended from Chief Cornstalk, mighty leader of the Shawnee in the 1700s, through his daughter Bluesky.

I didn’t really know much about Cornstalk before this project, but it’s a fascinating story that had ramifications for West Virginia and even the entire country.  It’s more than a little tragic, too, but I suppose much Native American history is, after the arrival of the Europeans anyway.

Basically, the gist of it is that Cornstalk’s Shawnee lost a decisive battle against the Virginia militiamen in 1774.  But sometime between then and 1777, Cornstalk decided that peace might be worth trying and tried to befriend his former enemies.  By that point the Revolutionary War had started up and the British were attempting to coax the Native American tribes into fighting against the rebellious American colonies.  Cornstalk didn’t want this, but he felt somewhat powerless to stop the other Indian tribes.  He went to warn a garrison near what is now Point Pleasant (and near the site of the battle in 1774) and was taken hostage when he admitted that he wouldn’t stop his Shawnee from attacking the colonies if that’s what the other Indian tribes wanted.

Things didn’t end well for the Shawnee chief, as he was killed out of revenge for an Indian ambush against a couple of the garrison’s soldiers.  You can read the story in a little more detail, as well as find out about Chief Cornstalk’s curse, by reading my article on it here.

 

Jakob & Jenna

Jakob and Jenna pose in front of one of the murals near Tu-Endie-Wei

 

We drove up to Point Pleasant last weekend, intending on visiting Tu-Endie-Wei State Park, the site of a memorial to the Battle of Point Pleasant as well as a few important figures from that time, including Chief Cornstalk himself.  We didn’t know that we’d be arriving in the middle of Battle Days, an annual festival commemorating the battle and the lives lost there.  The kids had a good time (although Jakob grew impatient, as is his nature) and got to see an actual Revolutionary War-era cannon being fired a couple of times.  Jenna especially seemed fascinated by the Mansion House Museum.  Formerly an 18th century tavern, it is the oldest hewn log house in the Kanawha Valley and has been preserved as a museum.  It has displays of antiques and heirlooms of the era, as well as what is believed to be one of the first large square pianos to be brought over the Alleghenies.

We had fun helping Jakob with his family tree project and are glad we were able to take the kids to the Battle Days festival and thus get them just a little bit closer to their famous ancestor.  Though the story of Chief Cornstalk is tragic, it’s a fascinating reminder of the richness of history that can exist right in your own backyard.

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Bullying

So one of my least favorite aspects of middle school and high school is rearing its ugly head again.  This time, of course, I’m not the one being bullied (although sometimes it can feel like that at work, but I’m sure my District Manager and his superiors would call it “performance management”).  My son, Jakob, almost 12 years old and with thoughts sometimes several years older than that, is the victim this time.

I would expect him to be called “geek” or “nerd” or the like, since he’s quite bright and makes straight A’s and isn’t very athletic.  In those respects he’s a lot like I was at his age (if I do say so myself), and those are the names I got called.  I’ve long since come to terms with being picked on throughout my teenage years; to be honest it didn’t really bother me that much at the time, much less now.  I get the feeling, though, that Jakob isn’t going to let things slide so easily.

It doesn’t help that there’s physical harassment going on to supplement the name-calling.  I can’t recall very many times when I was physically assaulted (there was the occasional shove, or knocking books out of hands, etc, but no actual punching or kicking).  Jakob’s already been shoved several times and knocked to the ground and kicked in the stomach once.  It’s starting to add up to becoming a huge part of his life, and it doesn’t help that he isn’t willing to talk to us about it as much as he should.

There are so many kids these days committing suicide as a result of constant bullying, and that’s my biggest fear.  Jakob has always thought dark thoughts at times, has always said self-disparaging things.  We’re working with him now to try to get him to see that we are doing what we can to stop the bullying, and also to see that it won’t last forever.   So we’ve gone to the school, we’ve filled out a report, and I’m awaiting a phone call from the 6th grade principal to see what she has to say about everything.

Yesterday I wrote a “Tips to Stop Bullying” article for HubPages.  It’s a mixture of a learning experience for myself, as well as things I think are necessary when facing this situation.  I’ve been told it’s a good article, so maybe you’d like to check it out.  If it really is a good article, I just hope I can live up to my own words.

Evergreen

In an attempt to build up a library of “evergreen” articles (articles which can “stand the test of time” and that will be as useful a year from now as they are today) for my Examiner.com MMORPG column, I’ve updated my series of “Basic MMORPG Concept” articles.  I redid them attempting to utilize good SEO (search engine optimization) practices and keyword research.  Maybe I’ll post an entry here discussing any success I may have with that.

Index page to all the articles

Internet security & MMORPGs

Business models & MMORPGs

Genre & MMORPGs

Money & MMORPGs

Community & MMORPGs

Leveling & MMMORPGs

Today’s article roundup

Posted two new articles today for my MMORPG column at Examiner.com, and two articles about religion/freethought at HubPages.  Finally got my Google AdSense account approved and am excited to see how that will work out.

Win a Trip to BlizzCon Sweepstakes underway
Find out how to win two tickets + airfare and hotel room to BlizzCon, the annual convention for all things World of Warcraft/StarCraft/Diablo

Info on upcoming World of Warcraft patches
Cataclysm is getting closer… these patches will pave the way

Dogmatic Dangers
Why it’s not just cults that are dangerous

What is Freethought?
A definition

Collective Unconscious?

Carl Jung, the great analytical psychologist, coined the term “collective unconscious” to describe the part of the unconscious mind which he believed was separate from the personal unconscious and which was shared by all members of  a particular species.  It is collective, universal, and impersonal.  Jung believed it is the reason that human beings from all over the world and throughout history have similar dreams and thoughts, create similar religions, and use similar symbols, even without any direct connections.

Central to the idea of collective unconscious is the concept of archetypes.  Archetypes are universal prototypes for ideas and can be used to interpret observations and dreams.  Archetypes are the main inhabitants of the collective unconscious and have been a constant companion to humanity since time immemorial.  Examples of Jungian archetypes are the Shadow, the Anima & Animus, the Hero, the Devil, and others.

Jung was not the only one to propose such an idea.  Plato’s theory of Forms or theory of Ideas was very similar, asserting that abstract forms or ideas, rather than the material world around us, possessed the highest and most fundamental kind of reality.  Charles Darwin talked about “social instincts,” which he believed came about because of natural selection. Emile Durkeim, in books like The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912), discussed “collective representations,” which were ideas, beliefs, and values held by a community or other large group and which were not reducible to individual constituents.

So, why name my blog Collective Unconscious?  I’ve long been fascinated with the collective unconscious, archetypes, and other Jungian concepts.  I’m currently unsure exactly what I believe about the validity of Jung’s ideas, especially as I venture farther along the paths of Freethought and Secular Humanism, but I’m committed to “following the evidence wherever it leads.”  Despite my current feelings about God, the universe, and the meaning (or lack thereof) of life, I can’t escape the idea that there is something linking all of mankind together.  I’d like to explore that idea in this blog, as well as other thoughts and blasphemies as they come to me.

The collective unconscious, to me, represents that no matter how different we all are, what race we are or the color of our skin, no matter what God we worship or choose not to worship, human beings are more alike than most of us realize.  I hope you’ll join me on my journey of discovery.