Writers Write and Wannabe Writers Talk About Writing

According to a 1996 article by Mills, Day, and Parkes in Volume 17, number 3 in the European Journal of Physics, some early hourglasses used silica sand as the granular material to measure time, but more commonly “the material used in most bulbs was powdered marble, tin/lead oxide, or pulverized, burnt eggshell.” My memory tells me the hourglasses I have seen must have used something much finer than silica sand. I recall thinking—as I watched an hourglass measure time—the “grains of sand” inside the glass bulbs were much smaller than even the finest sands I have seen on beaches and sand dunes. Physics contributes to everything we experience in every aspects of our lives, but most of us give that branch of science that that deals with matter, energy, motion, and force no more than a rare, passing thought. Most people, it seems to me, tend to avoid discussions of physics because of the topic’s complexities and mysteries. But, in reality, we avoid the subject because we are too lazy to try to understand. At least that describes me. I want to know, but I do not want to go through the mentally laborious process of learning. That process may involve just two primary actions—observation and thought—but it seems far too sophisticated and troublesome for a limited payout. Yet I suspect there comes a time during the learning process when one experiences an AHA! moment that far exceeds one’s expectations of value. I imagine that moment is a revelation of immense proportions, as if one suddenly understands all there is to know about TRUTH and BEAUTY and LIFE and EXISTENCE and…on and on.


The beauty of a meadow of colorful wildflowers is not sufficiently appealing to overcome our fears, as we watch incoming ballistic missiles destroy buildings and lives all around us. Somehow, though, we convince ourselves that the terror and wanton destruction caused by missiles—both “theirs” and “ours”—is a reasonable price to pay in an attempt to avoid the horrors of defeat. We convince ourselves—or allow others to convince us—that whatever awaits us on the other side of our defeat is far worse than the miseries of war. Perhaps it is. But we cannot compare the aggression of war with pacificism; they cannot exist at the same time, in the same moment. So we assume knowledge on the basis of ignorance.


One month devoted to writing a semi-autobiographical work of historical science fiction. Or an unauthorized personal memoir of someone who died during the fifth century of the extended Saturnalian Wars—the conflict that will one day take place in the space between the moons of the Alpha Centauri triplets.  That is the problem, I think. Weaving truth and artificial memories into something that can resist the stain of lies is almost impossible. Science fiction must be realistic to be believable; it must be based on dreams or fantasies so accurate that the experiences are closer to memories than to delusions. But the same is true of real-world fiction. If I write about a fictional woman who becomes Prime Minister of Canada, she must have a reasonable possibility of becoming real. For the story to feel believable, it must be capable of altering the social and political landscapes of Canada, transforming a tale into a CCTV recording than can be replayed and edited, thereby altering reality as the story unfolds. Imagine a best-selling author whose novels bend factual experiences to reflect the ways his imagination sees the world. No, this is not science fiction; it is a psychological thriller based on one man controlling the content of the “news” so that his views of world events are absorbed as “truth” by audiences worldwide. I do not even like to write science fiction. I used to read it, on occasion, but no longer. Today, I merge fantasy with facts, creating a blended universe in my head. I may never write about it, but I know it is there, a story waiting to be told. A real story. A story with themes and messages and a riveting series of plots and subplots that conspire to control the reader’s mind. But I do not write that story. I keep it hidden, waiting for the right time and the right opportunity. This is all bullshit, by the way. That, too, is a problem. Because the bones of the boy who cried wolf can crack and splinter, while powerful canine jaws crush his writhing body.


Blue skies. Warming temperatures. A potentially lovely day…disguised to mask the veil of pollen that will coat the lungs and make breathing an impossible dream.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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