Thursday, June 30, 2011

Snooping, Redux

The new and (I think) improved version of my old story "Snooping" is available on the website of Nevermet Press! The story's been trimmed and tightened, and I think it reads much better now. There were supposed to be illustrations to go along with it, but alas, they seem not to have materialized. Maybe they will when the print edition comes out later this year.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Toxic Tommy

Of all the crazy things, I've been asked to create an anti-fracking coloring book to parody, lampoon, and otherwise undermine the pro-fracking coloring book recently released by a natural gas company. The title character's name, Toxic Tommy, is not of my design, but the character and his shenanigans are. I offer the first page of the coloring book here; I hope the whole thing will be out soon.

How did a self-respecting English professor like me end up doodling sinister cartoon dinosaurs?

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Writer's Life

A couple major summertime writing projects are underway, to wit:

1. I've started to query agents about my novel, so it'll be interesting to see whether it piques anyone's interest. To be truthful, I'm very conflicted about whether to seek an agent at all or simply send the manuscript out to publishers; I can see pros and cons to doing it either way. But for the moment I'm going to see what luck I have with agents; I figure any feedback I receive from them will give me some idea of how marketable the book may be.

2. I'm beginning to write a Young Adult fantasy/sci-fi novel (a trilogy, actually, but I think I'll write one novel at a time!). Way back when, I had a certain affinity for the Young Adult voice; not only did I like to read it, but I had some success writing it. Hard to say whether I've still got it. But I've recruited my twelve-year-old daughter to be my first reader; if she likes it, chances are it's pretty good. This is, obviously, a long-term project, but with one novel in the bag, I figured now is a good time to start something new.

I used to think of myself as a teacher who writes; I guess I felt the need to define myself according to the occupation by which I made a steady income. But I think that's wrong; most writers don't make a living from writing alone, but they think of themselves as writers nonetheless. So now, I think of myself as a writer who teaches. It might not seem like much, but it's made a world of difference for me.

Monday, June 13, 2011

School of Frack

My latest cartoon addresses the paradox I mentioned in a previous post: while Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett finds it impossible to tax fracking companies lest they flee the state, he finds it all too easy to cut funding for education and social services on the grounds that there's not enough money in the state coffers. Where, precisely, does he think state money is going to come from if not from taxes?

Then again, as my cartoon suggests, maybe this isn't a paradox. Businessmen such as Corbett aren't fond of public education, which they feel costs too much money at too little direct return to them. If they can manage to gut the education system, they'll get their wish: an under-educated workforce desperate to take any job business throws its way.

In other fracking matters, I've been asked to draw the cover art for an anti-fracking album that's being released. I'm thinking of drawing the "Stairway to Heaven" hermit with a gush of fracking water coming out of his lantern.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Killing for Cross and Crescent

Somehow or other (the vagaries of hypertext, I guess), I recently stumbled across a conservative blog, the purpose of which appeared to be to deny the reality of global warming and to slander Islam. Since I've said enough about the former topic, I thought I'd comment here on the latter.

Now, on one point I agreed with the blogger: anyone who says that Islam is a religion of peace is being, at best, disingenuous. From what I've read of the Koran, it's roughly equal parts touchy-feely, love-thy-neighbor stuff and scimitar-rattling, slay-the-infidels stuff. Pretty much like the Christian Bible, in fact. And to say it's a peaceful religion in some generic sense is to overlook the fact that religion exists not merely in the abstract but in the lived practice--in what followers of a particular religion say and do. Thus, if individuals commit acts of violence in the name of Islam, it's nonsense to say that Islam itself is peaceful.

Where I disagreed with the blogger was in his suggestion that Islam is inherently more violent than Christianity. Jesus says a lot about love, but that didn't stop the Crusades, the Holocaust, the American slavery system, the Ku Klux Klan, assorted far-right hate groups, Jim Jones, the members of Heaven's Gate, and multifarious religiously-inspired mass murderers from committing unspeakable acts of violence against others and themselves.

Islam, being a somewhat younger religion than Christianity, may be a bit behind in acting out its most intense slay-the-infidels phase, but the reality is, all crusading, proselytizing religions generate a certain number of followers who are prone to violence. The Aztecs, the Romans, the Christians, the Muslims: all of them have had their world-conquering, infidel-slaying wings.

This is probably why Buddhists and Jews have a somewhat more clean track record: not aiming to conquer or convert anyone, they have less motivation to kill anyone.

So: let's call it what it is. Let's not go around saying that Islam is peaceful and that those who commit acts of violence in its name therefore aren't "really" Muslims, but let's not afford Christianity or any religion the same excuse. Let's critique religious violence as religious violence, violence justified by (though neither synonymous with nor necessary to) the religion practiced by the person who commits the violence. Let's accept it as something we ourselves have created, not some dark, monstrous aberration over which we have no control. Only in this way, I believe, can we understand and seek to eradicate it.