#174: Versers Achieve

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #174, on the subject of Versers Achieve.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have begun publishing my third novel, For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first two, you can find the table of contents for the first at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, and that for the second at Old Verses New.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed along with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as the third is posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, hopefully giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #157:  Versers Restart (which provided this kind of insight into the first eleven chapters);
  2. #164:  Versers Proceed (which covered chapters 12 through 22).
  3. #170:  Versers Explore (which covered chapters 23 through 33).

This picks up from there, with chapters 34 through 44.


History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 34, Brown 66

The boy/girl distinction on wings was something I’d created in a game years ago, for something larger, elf-like.  I’m not certain that the reasons will ever get into this book, but they had to do with mating practices of flying humanoids.

I stumbled on the idea of doing everything not quite right enough; it seemed to fit a lot of things in life, and so I thought I’d include it here.

Chapter 35, Slade 56

I’d had the idea of Shella teaching Slade the illusion for a long time; but I kept not including it, because I hadn’t found a reason why Shella would not be in the castle (and certainly they didn’t have the reason yet), and I hadn’t quite defined the illusion.  Those things came together just in time, and I went with it.

I was at this moment toying with whether Slade and Filp would be able to get Phasius over the wall, or whether Shella was going to have to come back inside the city to help them.  But I still had to get him out of the castle.

Bob has not really thought about marrying anyone, but he is here recognizing that his relationship with Shella is not based on externals but somehow on who they are inside.  I think men have trouble grasping that generally, that someone would like me, not as a writer or a musician or a teacher or any of the myriad of other externals that in my mind identify me, but as me.  That is what Slade sees from Shella.

“The most important trick, that is, illusion” reflects my aspect of perspective.  I don’t have my main characters telling the story, but when my narrator tells it the narration falls into the way the characters see it.  I just mentioned that Slade thinks of these as “tricks” but Shella does not, and when we come to the most important one, the narrator calls it a “trick” and then corrects himself, just as Slade would were he talking to Shella about it.

This was the first time I hinted that Shella was attractive.  It shouldn’t really be a surprise.

I actually made a problem for myself with Shella.  In the first book I hinted that she was cute, but I never actually described her–no hair color or style, no eye color, nothing to suggest her appearance.  I did not at the time think it mattered, because I had no expectation of ever seeing her again after Bob versed out of her world.  Now, though, I was bringing her back into the story in a major way, and she had been around enough that readers would have an expectation of her appearance.  I always envisioned her as looking like my niece Heather Brown, whom I always thought was cute (and I can get away with that because everyone in the family says she looks like a younger version of my wife); but Heather has dark eyes and dark hair like most of my girls, and I don’t want to jar a reader who has decided that Shella must be the blue-eyed blonde, particularly since Slade is the blue-eyed blonde so that would have them match.

Chapter 36, Hastings 106

I decided at about this time that I was going to push the biases pretty high and let Lauren fix her disintegrator rod while here.  That would allow her to practice, once she was confident, and ultimately to experiment–which would give me what I needed to verse her out.  I almost always go when I experiment, trying to push the envelope; Lauren does that sometimes, as well.

I was still inventing this island, but was now creating a lot more detail.  I figured on a sort of reedy bamboo in the lake or ponds.  Oh, yes–I am quite aware of the difference between a lake and a pond, but I didn’t imbue Lauren with that part of my experience so she was not.

I’ve never seen volcanic rock (other than small pieces in collections or displays), but I’ve read about it and attempted to reproduce some of the variety here.

Chapter 37, Slade 57

I was trying to put the details of the escape together.  I had been thinking about this illusion of making it appear Phasius was in the cell for some time.  I planned for Slade and Filp to scale the wall, find the dungeon, cast the illusion, and bring Phasius out.  Then they would have to cross the wall to escape the city.  At some point, I wanted Slade to use his darkness spell that he used on the ship–mostly because I wanted to bring back into focus that he could do this, but also because I thought it would make for a good tense moment somewhere.  I was still undecided whether to have it in the castle or in the city.  The castle had a certain logic to it, as there were more likely to be patrols and they would be more likely to notice someone out of place; but it also posed the greater problem, as a patch of magical darkness might catch someone’s attention.  The city, on the other hand, commended itself in that even guards on a regular route might think that they were just looking down a particularly dark street or alley, and move on without thought.

I’m still working out the plan and the complications as I write, but I’ve got them inside the castle.

Chapter 38, Brown 67

I don’t think the fact that I had a minor toothache really had anything to do with my fixation on pain control in this chapter.  It was more that I needed to move Derek forward and in new directions, and sore wings seemed a logical direction to take which led to more ideas.

I’ve got the feeling that he keeps coming back to the psionics notion, but never does much with it.  Of course, he’s still young; but it’s probably time to expand his possibilities.

Chapter 39, Slade 58

Again, I was feeling my way through this.  I didn’t want them to move right into people, but I didn’t think it good for them to make the dungeon completely unopposed.  The idea of coming into a barracks of sleeping guards made a good compromise.  Then, why didn’t they just leave?  The notion that they couldn’t find the exit occurred to me, but seemed silly.  I replaced it with the notion that there were guards awake by the exit.  This led me to consider why, and how Slade would get past them, and that to the conclusion that they were the next shift.  This makes it pretty late; but then, they weren’t going to start climbing the wall too early.

I thought of my (mother’s) Uncle Pete, who snored so loudly that the house echoed and Aunt Ann made him sleep in another room.  This made for a more interesting barracks scene than everyone sleeping silently.  It also occurred to me to try to create the lull of two tired travelers resting in darkness, and having one of them fall asleep.  I debated which one for a moment, but decided that the older one would be the better choice.  Maybe I’ll reverse it another time.

Chapter 40, Hastings 107

I started moving the psionic skills forward.  I realize that with the ability to fly, it’s more difficult to keep her on the island; on the other hand, as of yet she doesn’t know how far it is to any other island, and apart from her vague hope that there are people somewhere she doesn’t have any reason to leave here.

I also gave her the fire she needs.  That came to be in part because it was a logical extension of the psionics, and in part because I knew she was concerned about it.

The conclusion that trees and birds aren’t thinking isn’t airtight, but it’s the best Lauren is going to be able to do.

Chapter 41, Slade 59

I needed a new clue to point Slade in the right direction.  The slope of the floor was the first that came to me.  It was good, but it wasn’t strong enough.  The other two ideas followed it in short order, once I’d made that decision.

I had completely forgotten Slade’s flashlight.  He had used it in the first story, and not since, as he’d about run down the batteries.  I almost wrote that he replaced the batteries in the space ship story, even though there was no reason to think he did.  Then I remembered that the Caliph had recharged the blasters; it made sense for him to recharge the flashlight, too.  Of course, the whole four-element theory suggests that there’s fire in that flashlight; but by the four-element theory, it is almost impossible to have light without fire, and that can’t be true or there would be no light in the realm of the djinn.

The treasury was an abrupt inspiration; the diary was even more abrupt.  I had long been musing on the simple task of rescuing Phasius against the more interesting task of proving he was right; this was a simple step toward that more interesting outcome.

Chapter 42, Brown 68

The idea of the hole in the tree being high was new; it gave me something which could seem like an easy challenge, like a child walking across the room.

The pet idea also was new.  Telepathy to Animals, and possibly Summoning, were telepathic skills that would build a base from which Derek could reasonably jump to the more difficult clairsentient skills; psionic defenses would be a good intervening step, but it was difficult to see how he would learn those in the absence of psionic adversaries.  But I had no idea what sort of pet a sprite might have.  I really did first think of the ladybug, which I decided was a bit small even for a sprite (and a bit silly to think of as a pet).  I walked away from the text and thought, even was going to ask the kids what sort of pet a sprite might have; but I decided to come back and explore it on the page, having Derek go through some of the same ideas which came to me, and moving beyond those to others.  I still didn’t know whether he was going to have a pet or not, but at least there were possibilities there.

The structure “‘Mostly,’ she emphasized, ‘girls’” was intended to create that feeling of emphasis.  I’d used the trick of putting the speech marker in the middle to create other feelings, most notably hesitation, but it worked for this, too.

Chapter 43, Slade 60

There were several options for the bars.  A genuine portcullis had merit, but it would have to rise into some space above, and that seemed trouble.  I wanted to avoid the usual jail-type gates.  Something that swung away from the prison that was lifted by chains like a portcullis or drawbridge seemed to have merit.  It probably wouldn’t be particularly effective at containing multiple prisoners, who could push it up in front of themselves, but it looked good.

I didn’t actually expect to get as far as I did in this section.  I had thought that they would get through the gate, then there would be some other obstacle, and they would see torture machines, and then hunt for Phasius.  But at this point it was short, so I put in the next obstacle, one which made good sense.

The windows were added mostly because I had this momentary inspiration for someone to pause and sniff the air and say something based on it.

I liked the gag about the prayer; as soon as I wrote it, I went out and told my sons.  They laughed.

I had no idea how Slade was going to identify Phasius; I had imagined him trying to identify the prisoners, looking in many cells for neither he nor I knew what.  But suddenly it occurred to me that there was a way to do it.  If Phasius gave the name of the Caliph first, that would almost certainly do it.

Chapter 44, Hastings 108

When I use the tropical island as a start world, I generally have Michael di Vars already present, cooking seagull over an open fire and offering to share it with the new arrivals.  I learned about catching seagull in survival training in Scouts; I also was informed that it is a very greasy bird, not particularly palatable.  That may be why Peking Duck takes a full day to prepare.

The bit about Elijah is one of those passages that people get wrong all the time.  People read that a chariot came with the whirlwind and Elijah was lifted into heaven, and assume that he rode in the chariot.  What the text actually says is that the whirlwind lifted Elijah off the ground, and a war chariot interposed itself between Elijah and Elisha so that the latter could not grab hold of the former.  I take this opportunity to have Lauren correct the view, mostly because it annoys me when people make statements that are clearly inconsistent with the source.

This has been the fourth behind the writings look at For Better or Verse.  Assuming that there is interest, I will continue preparing and posting them every eleven chapters, that is, every three weeks.

#173: Hospitalization Benefits

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #173, on the subject of Hospitalization Benefits.

This is not about health care or health care coverage.

Some of you are aware that I was recently hospitalized twice within two weeks.  It started on a Wednesday afternoon, when someone needed a ride to a clinic and I thought while I was there I should get an opinion about a previous umbilical herniorhaphy that was not doing well.  The people at the clinic desk said they could certainly look at it, but it would almost certainly require tests which they were not equipped to perform, so I should go to the emergency room.  I did, and indeed they performed the obvious test, having me drink the contrast and wait around for it to work through my digestive tract so they could get a clear Computer (Axial) Tomography (C(A)T) image.  Hours later someone was poking at my belly, and said that this might be very serious and he did not think we should wait until morning, so despite the fact that he and I both wanted to go home and the anaesthesiologist had already done so, I was to be prepped for surgery.

Ilford Hospital chapel windows.
Ilford Hospital chapel windows.

I’m told that the condition was not as bad as feared, and the surgery went well–so well in fact that I was placed on clear liquids in time for Thursday breakfast, and on full diet by Friday morning, and was discharged after supper on Friday.  There were the usual restrictions about lifting and driving and the like, but in the main I came through well–except that my arm hurt.

The pain in the arm was apparently related to the IV site, that is, the place where they had connected the intravenous feed to give me such medications as were deemed necessary post-surgery.  I think every nurse that looked at it said it did not look good and she (or he) was going to move it when there was time, but they pushed me through so fast that it was out before anyone had the time to start one somewhere else.  Below the site (further out into the extremities) my arm was swollen and inflamed, painful to the touch and when moved in certain positions.  I was also having some difficulty breathing and a worsening cough.  Respiratory problems do not normally alarm me because I have allergy-related asthma and the list of allergies which aggravate it include just about anything that has a smell other than real food (artificial food scents can be trouble, particularly if they are linked to smoke as in incense or candles).  However, I have a history of pulmonary embolism, which is a condition in which a blood clot usually from an extremity migrates to the lung and lodges there, and thus there was at least the chance that the swelling in the arm and the respiratory trouble were related.  It thus called for more tests, and again of a sort that required a visit to the emergency room.  This time the CT scan was of my lungs, and there was an ultrasound of my arm, and the major conclusions were first that the two problems were not connected, but second that there were definitely two problems that needed to be addressed.

There was no evidence of a pulmonary embolism, but there were some small clots in the veins in my arm which could be problematic and were going to require treatment.  There was also a shadow in my lung which the emergency room doctor took to be a very mild pneumonia, but of concern because it might have been contracted in the hospital, and if you get an infection in the hospital it is likely to be a serious microorganism.  My wife, the registered nurse who would rather have me home where she can tend me herself, argued that there was not much they could do in the hospital that she could not do for me at home, and this is where it gets weird.  The emergency room doctor said that the treatment for the clots was going to involve heparin injections, a drug that ought to be monitored fairly closely as it really does promote bleeding, and so I would have to be admitted for the heparin.  However, before I got the first shot of heparin or got moved out of the emergency room to an inpatient bed, the order was changed and I was put on the very expensive (mostly covered by my wife’s employee health care coverage) new drug Xarelto, which is taken P.O., that is, per orum, by mouth.  So I did not have to be in the hospital for that.  However, because the pneumonia might be some drug-resistant organism they were planning to treat it aggressively, with vancomycin and cefepime, two IV antibiotics, instead of oral antibiotics, so the reason I had to be admitted had changed.  Still, I was admitted, and I was not complaining because this time they were going to let me eat, and Elmer Hospital has mostly decent food, and I don’t have to cook it or do the dishes.

The next day the specialists appeared.  The hematologist said in essence that the Xarelto had been cleared through our prescription plan, so as far as he was concerned I could go home and take the medication there, as long as I came to see him in four to six weeks.  The pulmonologist was even more optimistic:  the lung shadow on the CT scan was identical to that in a scan from 2012, and I did not have even the slightest touch of pneumonia, the antibiotics were unnecessary, and I could go home any time.

It was still another day before that got through the red tape so that the hospitalist overseeing the whole case ordered my discharge, but in essence I was not really very sick.  I still have to get the staples from the surgery removed and see the hematologist, but the surgeon did stop by and look at the incision during my stay and said that I am permitted to drive, so I am overall on the mend.  (The staples were removed at his office today.)

And at the risk of stealing a line from Arlo Guthrie, that isn’t what I came to talk about today.

In the wake of these hospitalizations, many people, some of them readers, some connections through social media, some “real world” connections, have mentioned that they were, have been, are, or would be praying for me.  They fall into three categories, that I’ve noticed.

First, there are people who mentioned that they are always praying for me.  Prior to this I could not have named more than one person (my wife) whom I could say I knew was praying for me regularly or consistently.  I’m sure my grandmother was, years ago.  This aspect of having someone praying for you, when you are in ministry (as I am–Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild and Christian teaching music ministry), is very important.  Pastor Ern Baxter once told of how his grandmother always prayed for him and he never really gave it much thought, as he had been seminary trained in how to preach and had the necessary skills–until the day his grandmother died and he went to preach a sermon and found nothing.  He told his congregation, right then, that he had never appreciated his grandmother’s prayers until that moment, and now she was gone.  Someone in the congregation rose and said, “Pastor, I’ll be your grandmother.”  She prayed for him, and he said thereafter he kept an army of praying grandmothers to support his ministry.  So to discover that there are people I did not know were praying for me is an encouragement.

Second, there are those whom I know pray and who probably are not usually praying for me, who having heard of my hospitalization turned some of their prayerful attention my direction.  Some of these people I have not met outside the Internet, or only met once or twice.  Many of them have ministries of their own.  That they have raised prayers on my behalf tells me that they care, that I matter to them at least enough that they noticed my condition and put some prayer into it.  It means there are people out there who will support me, at least with prayers, when it is needed.  That, too, is an encouragement.

Third, there were some people praying for me through these events whom I would not have guessed were praying people.  Some are people who do not express much of a belief in God in our interactions.  Some are people with whom I have only recently reconnected after decades who have seemingly found faith in the interim.  This, too, is an encouragement, as it tells me that these people are not lost, that they are praying, connecting with God, and while I am always hesitant to say that I know any individual is saved, it is good evidence that they might well be.  After all,

he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him,

in part because who would pray who did not believe at least that much?

So I thank you all for your prayers and encouragement, and now I return to that long “not what I wanted to say” part at the beginning.  One of the lessons I learned many years ago came from II Corinthians 1:11, which in the Updated New American Standard Bible reads

…you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

That is, the reason God wants us to agree in prayer, and is more likely to answer prayers when many agree, appears to be that way when the prayers are answered all those people who asked will all say thank you.

Thus your prayers on my behalf have obligated me to let you know that God has been healing me, I am improving rapidly, and there is cause to give thanks.

Thank you.

#172: Why Not Democracy?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #172, on the subject of Why Not Democracy?.

As I was writing the previous web log entry, #171:  The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention), I was reminded that we, in the United States of America, do not live in a democracy.  We live in a representative republic.

That fact was brought home to a lot of people in the recent Presidential election, some of whom are still reeling from it.  I have heard many complaints, mostly from young people, that our elected President did not win the majority of the voters, and therefore does not represent the majority of the people.  (It is at least worth mentioning that the actual vote totals will never be certain:  the vote count was never completed in quite a few voting districts because the total would not have changed the Electoral College outcome in those states.)  We should, they insist, change to a more democratic system, in which every vote counts the same.

We could do that.  Things are a bit more like that in other countries, particularly Israel where everyone votes for whatever parliamentary representatives they want and the entire country is treated as a single district.  Even England’s system is more democratic than ours.  However, note that in these countries the voters do not vote for their chief executive–they vote for their legislative representatives, and these in turn choose the chief executive.  Sure, British Prime Minister Theresa May campaigns for the position, but she does so by touring the country telling voters to support their local Conservative Party candidates for Members of Parliament, who in turn vote her into the Downing Street office.  It is still not strictly democratic, although by taking the vote for head of government away from the people and giving it to their elected representatives it actually becomes a bit closer to it.  However, it still can produce the outcome that the party in power, and thus the chief executive, did not actually have the majority of the votes.  It is a flaw of representative government, but representative government is the only way to avoid having every citizen in the country vote on every law.

The electoral map of the 1824 Presidential election, in which Andrew Jackson took the clear plurality of both the popular and the electoral vote but not the majority of either, throwing the decision to the House of Representatives, who selected John Quincy Adams to serve.
The electoral map of the 1824 Presidential election, in which Andrew Jackson took the clear plurality of both the popular and the electoral vote but not the majority of either, throwing the decision to the House of Representatives, who selected John Quincy Adams to serve.

There are, of course, other ways to achieve a more democratic election of the President of the United States.  People have been complaining about it since at least the 1824 election, when the failure of Andrew Jackson to gain fifty percent in the Electoral College resulted in John Quincy Adams, with less than a third of the vote, being selected for the office by the House of Representatives (the only time in history where no candidate obtained fifty percent of the Electoral College vote).  Some years ago when we were examining the Electoral College in detail in connection with Coalition Government, we noted one suggestion, that each state allocate its electoral votes based on the percentage of voters supporting each candidate–and why that would never be enacted.  More recently, someone proposed that states begin changing their system for apportioning electoral votes such that the votes within the state were irrelevant, that each state would give all its electoral votes to whomever won the popular vote nationally.  That would achieve the desired “democratic” outcome.  It would prevent situations like that of the recent election.  The question is, do we want that?

The first point that should be recognized here is that the majority always wants the democratic system.  That’s because in a democratic system, the majority can always impose its will on the minority.

Of course, that often happens anyway–but many great strides forward in these United States have happened precisely because minorities were empowered.  Certainly it is sometimes the case that majorities become entrenched, resisting necessary change until overwhelmed as public opinion shifts, but it has also been the case that minorities have used the system to gain a voice within the process.  There is something called the tyranny of the majority, when minority voices and positions are overwhelmed and trampled by majority opinions.  Our system was designed in part to prevent that.  There is also a tyranny of the minority, when a small group prevents the majority from doing what it deems right through legal intervention, and our system is supposed to prevent that, as well.  Our system produces gradual change by trying to keep everyone somewhat satisfied.  Younger people are less patient, wanting rapid change.  Older people have usually learned that not all change is for the better, but all change has unintended consequences.  Our country advances a bit, then eases back, then advances again, feeling the path carefully.

Meeting of the Electoral College in Ohio, 2012.
Meeting of the Electoral College in Ohio, 2012.

Many other countries have suffered from what we might call “rapid cycling”.  Because they are so controlled by the majority, and because the majority is mostly in the middle shifting a bit to one side and then to the other but the politicians tend to be at the extremes, it is common for one party to be voted into office, make major changes to everything, upset the bulk of their constituents who only wanted things to change a little and don’t like the unanticipated parts, and so be voted out of office and replaced by an opposing party which proceeds to repeal everything the first party did and pass its own extremist programs, leading to its failure at the polls and the return of the original party, or often yet another party, whose agenda then dominates.  Remember, as we have often mentioned in connection with coalition government, we are not in our chosen parties because everyone in those parties agrees with us on every point; we are there because we have agreed to support each other on those points each of us think important.  That means some of the things you want your party to do other members of your party strongly oppose–the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party wants open borders, but the Labor wing definitely does not; the universal healthcare driven through by the Democratic Progressives has gone very badly for labor unions, whose members lost much of their superior healthcare benefits under the program.  Majority opinion is more fickle than a twelve-year-old girl’s crushes.  Democracy leads to such rapid changes.  People think they want one thing, but when they start to see where that leads, they change their minds and want something else.

Our system does not always give us stability.  In recent years the fracturing of political opinion has led to some very unstable situations.  However, rapid change is always unstable, and we have seen much rapid change over those years.  The system is working to slow the change, to keep things at a pace people can accept.

A more democratic system would not be a better one.

#171: The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention)

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #171, on the subject of The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention).

One subject that intrigues me is what is called church polity, that is, the way various churches and denominations organize and operate themselves both locally and globally.  We call our various subdivisions synods, presbyteries, conferences, and quite a few other names.  Among the Baptists, a highly democratic and congregationalist group (“congregationalist” polity means that the church is run entirely from the bottom up, as church members decide what the denomination believes and does, and anyone who disagrees either goes along for the sake of unity or leaves the group), divide themselves into “conventions”, gatherings that attempt to agree on what is important to them.  Each convention elects a president, who sets the agenda for his term; they also hire staff to provide services for the member churches, such as publications.  I am not an expert on church polity, with only passing familiarity with a half dozen or so denominations, but my mind was caught particularly by the practice of one denomination, the Seventh Day Baptist Convention, and I thought it might have lessons for non-religious people immersed in the secular political world.

Seventh Day Baptist Churchof Plainfield, New Jersey
Seventh Day Baptist Church
of Plainfield, New Jersey

For those who care about such things, the Seventh Day Baptists were founded in England and are the oldest denomination in America to observe a Saturday Sabbath.  Some are perhaps a bit legalistic about that while others are more relaxed–much as found in Sunday-observing churches.  (I have written On Sabbath elsewhere.)  They are otherwise like most Baptist churches.  Once a year–in the United States, it happens in August–they hold a major meeting of the convention, Conference, hundreds of members getting together somewhere for a week of meetings and services and discussions.  (The week prior to this, they have a major gathering for the youth of the denomination in the same location, many of whom then stay for the convention itself.)  It is at this conference that they elect a president.

The interesting aspect is that the president does not at that moment take office.  He is elected to replace the current president, but it is expected that he will take time to tour the denomination, talk to the churches, and develop his “vision” for the denomination during his term.  He remains effectively “president-elect” during this time–an entire year, as the following year at conference he will step into the role, introduce his vision for the year ahead, and oversee the election of the person who will replace him as president elect.  He now has a year to serve as president of the denomination, to make his vision a reality, before the new president takes the office at the next annual conference.

There are a lot of interesting aspects to that.  For one thing, I don’t believe anyone has ever served two consecutive terms, but in the several centuries of history (our local congregation was established before the American Revolutionary War) I could not say whether anyone has filled the position more than once.  It is a small denomination, the sort in which ordinary members all over the country know each other, partly because in addition to this annual meeting they have another annual business meeting one weekend to which everyone is invited, hosted by one of the member churches, and several smaller multi-church gatherings.  So the fact that I know a father and a son who both held the position (many years apart) does not suggest nepotism as much as tradition.  It also means that no one runs on his record–you are not going to be elected to serve two consecutive terms.  Interestingly, you are not really elected based on what you promise to do; you are elected based on the belief of the electorate that you will do something that needs to be done, something that will be good for the denomination.  You are elected, in essence, because people trust you to discover the needs in the church and address them.

Ultimately, too, the system reminds us that all leaders are temporary.  In a democratic system such as a representative federation, almost all leaders serve terms of office which end after a few years.  (Our federal judiciary is appointed for life, but even that ends eventually.)  Some can be re-elected, but many have term limits, and re-election is never guaranteed.  The people we have picked to be our leaders were picked because a large number of us from a very large area of the country thought they would do what needed to be done.  It was not exacty because we liked their policies, although that is part of it and in truth it was also partly because many of us feared the policies of the alternative.  It was, rather, because we perceived these as people who would try to do what America needed to have done.  It might not be exactly what they intended to do initially, and they might not succeed in their objectives, but we needed to change the course of the Ship of State, and this crew seemed to be the best chance to do so.  We know that we are committed to this choice for the short term, and if we are unhappy with it there will be a chance to change in the not too distant future (already serious politicians are working on their twenty twenty presidential campaigns).

Every once in a while I find myself trying to reconstruct the sequence of Presidents and Vice Presidents who have served during my lifetime.  They are all important, and they all have done things that mattered at the time.  Some have also done things with long-term consequences, but despite their importance at the time there are few who can tell you what significant actions were taken by the Eisenhauer administration, or that of Johnson, or Ford, or Carter, or even Clinton.  We remember the scandals, but what Presidents do is rarely remembered outside history books.

So stop worrying about it.  A Presidential term is really a rather short moment in history, even in the course of your life.  There will be other Presidents, some better and some worse than the present one.  Let’s see what this one does, and build from there.

#170: Versers Explore

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #170, on the subject of Versers Explore.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have begun publishing my third novel, For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first two, you can find the table of contents for the first at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, and that for the second at Old Verses New.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed along with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as the third is posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, hopefully giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #157:  Versers Restart (which provided this kind of insight into the first eleven chapters);
  2. #164:  Versers Proceed (which covered chapters 12 through 22).

This picks up from there, with chapters 23 through 33.


History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 23, Brown 63

The writing became very trying at this point.  I was not at all certain how much childhood development could be interesting, and was torn between four poles.  One was to keep things as short as I could so that it would get back to the more exciting Slade story quickly; the second was to avoid making the segments too short, lest they seem too much like filler.  The third was to move the development material along quickly now that I had something of a story for him in the divine deliverer model.  Finally, I wanted the development material itself to be interesting; it seemed there could be a lot of fun in that, if I could highlight the places where it got fun.

These developmental details are all drawn from The Zygote Experience in The First Book of Worlds.  I had used my wife’s obstetric and pediatric nursing texts for source material when I wrote that, but it is a much simpler and well-organized work for this particular application.

Chapter 24, Hastings 103

The mix of science and theology here was rather spur of the moment.  I was faced with the problem of finding food that she could eat, and had been tightening the strangle hold on the possibilities.  I knew that somehow she was going to have to get past that.  I knew that there was no intelligent life here, and that she could eat just about everything that looks like food with no ill effect (although I was still working on how to get her out of this world when the time came–torn between poisoning, volcanic eruption, drowning in an effort to reach another island, spelunking accident, and being attacked by some deep sea carnivore).  But now I needed to move her toward that somehow, and the conclusion that there must be food here somewhere was an important first step.

Chapter 25, Slade 51

It had been bothering me that Slade had fewer chapters than anyone else.  He had the fewest chapters, marginally, in the first book; and the second book was considerably longer.  Since his story was moving, I at this point decided to let him catch up a bit by alternating him against the other two.

This was the moment when I realized who Shella really was.  That is, up to now she was the cute young girl who could steal Slade’s heart, the young student who waved good-bye as he went up in flames, the clever sorceress chosen to accompany him on this quest, and the girl he was going to marry, but at this moment I saw her as the practical half to Slade’s boldness.

In this, she owes something to another character I created, Olivia, the youngest of the three princesses in The Dancing Princess (First Book of Worlds).  Although in the book Olivia is just the fun-loving outdoors type, in play with Chris Jones she became his foil, laughing at his pretensions, focusing on the serious when he was missing it.  I knew Shella had to be that kind of foil for Slade, but I hadn’t thought of it in concrete terms.  It was here that I saw that she needed to have this practical streak.  Oddly, it was after she had already made the comment about the three needs, and before I’d written her thoughts about discovering the resources before knowing how to use them.  It was because of this recognition that I determined that to be her line.

This chapter took most of a week to write.  Some of it was interruptions, but some was an effort at trying to work out what the problems and solutions actually might be.

It was about this time that I started trying to think of a way to create a story in the fourth novel that connected the two Kondor vorgo stories together into an arc, so tying the fourth book into the first two.  It also occurred to me that there might be another opportunity to bring the djinni alliance into play for Slade, but I was not at all sure how or when.

Chapter 26, Brown 64

I was still following my developmental materials as Derek started walking, and trying to rough this against the change of seasons.  I had always known that he would ultimately learn to fly–it was part of being a sprite, and it had been mentioned before–but I had not considered at what point in his development that would happen.  I still wasn’t sure, but I guessed that he should be airborne by spring.

There was a gap of a couple weeks between writing chapter 25 and chapter 26.  I was mostly wondering what was going to happen next, but I was also working on other projects–including the editing of the second novel, and a reading of the first novel to my youngest two, along with entries in a history from which this is partially reconstructed recalling what I could remember of the creation of that one.

People make the mistake of thinking that “knowing how” is the secret to body skills–acrobatics, martial arts, even walking and swimming.  It is rather the muscle memory, that the body itself “knows how” to do these things.  If you had the memories of Mary Lou Retton implanted in your brain, you would “know how” to do a lot of acrobatics, but you couldn’t do them, not just because you’re not strong enough but because your body is not trained to do them.  That’s also true about simple things like standing and walking–our bodies learn to compensate for balance, move the right distance at the right time, and dozens of other minutiae that make it possible for us to do without thinking tasks we do without thinking every day.

Chapter 27, Slade 52

I recognized both that nobles traveling without servants or horses would seem strange and that there would be few places in a castle where there were people but not fire at night, and so this chapter hedges a lot.  It was also because I knew that Cornel was going to provide help for them and point them to the next contact, but I did not know how or why he was going to do that, or who the next contact was.

Chapter 28, Hastings 104

I’ve been taught (more years ago than I should remember) how to identify edible plants in the field; but I did not give that knowledge to Lauren (I gave it to Kondor, actually).  Thus her experiment is crude and a bit dangerous.  I realized that it was yet possible that she had eaten something that could kill her next week, but knew that I needed to keep her alive for the present.

Chapter 29, Slade 53

It was time for Slade to trust someone; but he was a bit hesitant to do so.  Again, Shella shows the practical side.  They might not know whether they can trust this man, but they have to trust someone and he’s the best bet they’ve got.  He’s more likely to help them if he knows the whole story.

It was a leap to suggest that Cornel also knew the name Majdi, but not an impossible one.

The ring was the last thought I had about this part of the plan.  Having Filp carry it so that he could by his honesty convince someone that he stole it was something I thought I could pull off; it was reminiscent in my mind of Philippe “The Mouse” Gaston of Ladyhawke, telling the soldiers which way Etienne de Navarre actually went in the firm expectation that they would assume he was lying.

I invented the cousin at this moment.  It seemed a good choice for a contact in the city, as the cousin could be a nobleman and would respond favorably to an appeal from family.  I had not yet decided anything more about the cousin.

I did something here that I dislike when authors do it:  I spelled a name in a way that makes the pronunciation ambiguous.  I believe that I intended the name “Arnot” to be pronounced “are no”, but even in my own mind I can’t remember whether “Cammelmyre” was to be “camel mere” or “camel mire”.  I think it was the latter.

Chapter 30, Brown 65

The glowing bodies were created partly to give me something to write about, but partly to make them more magical.  When I started writing about what Derek could do that he hadn’t realized, I was actually thinking more in terms of seeing in the dark; this was to my mind too much like the infravision of Dungeons & Dragons™, and I wanted to avoid that in part because I didn’t want to seem to be following their pattern and in part because it didn’t seem real.  The idea that they glowed, more like Peter Pan‘s Tinker Bell, was good.  But how they glowed had to seem both magical and natural, and that was where I took it.

I was having trouble with the size of the sprites.  I did not at this point realize that I was going to want Derek to have the ability to double in height twice and be the size of a normal teenager, but still be quite small as a sprite.  Ultimately I decided that I could get away with him being five feet tall as a human, and fifteen inches tall as a sprite, and if I made that very tall for a sprite I could make the typical sprites about a foot tall.  Yet I had been envisioning them considerably smaller than that, and had to make some adjustments.  This was a good example:  the interior of the home was originally described as two feet across, which was much two small for several one foot tall humanoids to winter and be able to walk around.  I doubled it on a late edit.

I decided to push the winter through to spring so I could get on with the story.  I did not yet have the details complete, beyond what’s been said, but I felt a bit like Slade was carrying the book at this point, and I needed to get one of my other two heroes active, particularly as I was going to run the Slade story into a different mode soon.  This also was why I brought back the flight problem.

Chapter 31, Slade 54

The walled city was a last-minute decision.  One reason I did it was that the whole thing was getting too easy in my mind.  I had a pretty good idea of how Slade was going to get Phasius out of the dungeon and out of the castle, and then of the ride to Charton.  I needed something to complicate matters.  A walled city with gates closed at night was not only a major complication, it was in a sense the most natural thing in the world.  I explored options in the text, and let it drop for later.

Arnot was being invented on the fly at this point.  I decided quickly that he was not a dynamic or brave person, and wanted to give him the air of an accountant.  I needed then to make it clear that he participated against his wishes, if not his will.  At first I thought Slade’s simple silliness about Arnot not being involved would suffice, but I couldn’t really get Arnot to agree to it so easily.  It thus became a moment when I had to give Slade something of his nobility and force of will, something which is seen in flashes but needs to grow more even in the midst of his humor.

Chapter 32, Hastings 105

I was, to some degree, playing on both sides of the screen here.  As Lauren, I was exploring the world, trying to solve the problems and build the shelter; as referee, I was trying to create the world in which the answers would be found.  The complication as yet not addressed, that of determining which things might be intelligent, still loomed over everything; I couldn’t avoid that.

I was getting the notion of something bamboo-like, which would be consistent with the other plants, which would be used for building.  I had not yet placed it.

When I was in my early teens, we visited an uncle.  There was a tray of round chocolates on a counter, and I pointed and asked, “What are these?”  My cousin Ron responded so quickly with, “Try one” that I knew there was a reason why I might not want to, but he then assured me that they were safe, so I ate one.  How did I like it?  It was all right.  It was mostly a large lump of chocolate with a small crunchy something inside.  That’s when he told me it was a chocolate covered ant.  I shrugged.  I’d heard of them, of course, and now I’d tried one, and found them entirely edible.  That was the experience I here gave to Lauren.

Chapter 33, Slade 55

I developed this plan between the last Slade chapter and this one, and only as a sketch.  The detail came as I wrote it.

I’m making Shella the smart one, the idea person here.  For one thing, I want her to impress Bob, to be someone the reader likes and thinks he should like.  For another, I want to make the reader think she’s bright–she is, after all, a sorceress, and she should come across as intelligent.

This has been the third behind the writings look at For Better or Verse.  Assuming that there is interest, I will continue preparing and posting them every eleven chapters, that is, every three weeks.