Mission Creep:

An ever-expanding blog about photography, writing, the environment, politics, science fiction...

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The Illuminati Has Gone Green

Anti-Environmentalism is at the Heart of Modern Conspiracy Theory

It seems the Illuminati has gone green. Conspiracists like Alex Jones claim "globalists" are motivated as much by environmentalism as a desire for raw power. The eco-Illuminati idea is absurd but also insidiously brilliant. By giving the Illuminati an environmental agenda, conspiracists are able to weave together every possible government action, down to the most inane local zoning board meeting, into a Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory. Never before has anyone been able to link gun control to infill development or 9/11 to bike lanes—but anti-environmentalism makes it possible.

Previous Posts:

The Force Awakens Buried the Lead

Firing Weapons Through Hyperspace is Way Scarier than Blowing Up Planets

Everyone seems to have missed the biggest bombshell dropped on us by JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan:  the First Order can fire a weapon through hyperspace. Through hyperspace!  Until now, weapons in the Star Wars universe have always operated at visual range. The Death Star was powerful, but needed to be in sight of its target. Because of that, the rebels always had time to prepare a counter attack or flee. However, a weapon that can fire through hyperspace, regardless of its destructive capacity, is the ultimate weapon of terror.

An Alternative Star Wars Prequel Trilogy

Part 2: Backstories for the Jedi and the Republic

In the original trilogy the Empire is atheistic and materialistic while the Rebels, despite being a multi-species coalition, were united religiously, spiritually, and morally by a belief in the Force. This implies that the Old Republic was racially diverse but nevertheless unified culturally under a single religion/spiritual belief and that the Empire not only supplanted the old political order but introduced a new dominant culture as well. The Jedi, as a kind of warrior monk in this religion of the Force, would have been central to the unified culture of the Republic.

An Alternative Star Wars Prequel Trilogy

Part 1:  Some Ground Rules

I propose that we the fans create an alternative Star Wars prequel trilogy. Disney of course will never do this, so it's just for fun. It's fan fiction. And why? Because the biggest problems with Lucas's prequels are not the wildly ridiculous improbabilities (Darth Vader built C3PO?), or the intense dullness of senate debates, but in the many ways in which the prequels simply do not make sense in light of what we learned about the Star Wars universe from episodes 4, 5, & 6.  So, let's write an alternative prequel trilogy! Movies that abide by the guidelines, formulas, and story logic of the original trilogy — the episodes 1, 2, & 3 that could and should have been. But before we do that, let's lay down some ground rules.

Biblical "Literalism":

A Marketing Term for Bad Ideas from Conservatives

I grew up among people who called themselves Biblical literalists. The alternative, I was told, was to treat the Bible as allegory. Among evangelicals in places like my home in the south, this literal vs allegorical dichotomy dominates Christian debate, but it's a false dichotomy. The word "literalism" is nothing more than a glitzy marketing term, a way of branding very bad ideas about the Bible as inherently better than competing ideas, while also dismissing any pretense of honest debate.

The Rhetoric of Nature Photography

Fine art nature photography allows viewers to disappear into photographs, to imagine themselves in landscapes of rapturous beauty and momentarily forget their actual surroundings.


But what if a photographer has another purpose for taking pictures rather than selling fine-art prints? What if they don’t want the viewer to escape into the photograph? What if they want the viewer to help save an endangered species like the scrub jay, tear down a destructive Dam, or protect the Everglades from rising sea levels? What if their intended audience is poor, working-class people who do not buy fine art?  I have some ideas.

The Rhetoric of a Photograph

When taking a photograph, there are three factors that inform decisions about subject and composition:

   1)  the audience for the photo

   2)  the purpose for taking the photo (aka the photo’s message)

   3)  the medium through which the photo will be seen.


Together, these three things form the rhetorical triangle, which is analogous to the exposure triangle. In the exposure triangle of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, a change in one affects the other two — each one tugs at the other. Raising the ISO, for example, either pushes the shutter speed up or pulls the aperture down in order to maintain a proper exposure. Similarly, changing one element of the rhetorical triangle will alter the other two.

My Story to Appear in China Grove

My short story "Drawdown" will be published in the Fall/Winter 2014 issue of China Grove.


The most recent issue of China Grove featured an "in depth looks at the Soviet Writers’ Colony, Peredelkino, its formation by Joseph Stalin, its residents, its effect on modern literature, and the loss which resulted from the execution of almost a quarter of its population" as well as an interview with the author of Forrest Gump.

The Dos and Don'ts of Nature Writing

When I write about wild animals, I am speaking for them and advocating on their behalf, in the same way that my congresswoman speaks for me and advocates for me within Congress. What appears on the page should not be confused with living creatures in the wild, no more so than I should be confused with my congresswoman.


In a representative democracy there are just  forms of representation and unjust  forms, (what political scientists call "illiberal democracy"). So too are there just and unjust forms of representation of nature within nature writing.

Saw Palm Got a Great Review on New Pages!

I'm gonna brag a little. As managing editor of USF's literary journal, Saw Palm, I was very proud of this year's issue and we just got an amazing review from  Mary Florio over at New Pages. She writes:

...The book is preciously constructed, and the contents arresting, dedicated with precision to the literature and art of the state, its denizens and diaspora. Unlike other journals, where metaphor can wheel the reader away from the centrality of theme or place, this issue is a very strong representation of what perceptions and realities a writer might assign to place. It is a great work of editorial cohesion in that the work inside all relates to Florida—even in some unexpected ways....

The 12 Laws of Environmental Destruction

What laws or principles underlie every separate and seemingly unrelated case of environmental destruction and degradation around the globe? Activists and writers like Carol Merchant have argued for one of three fundamental causes: capitalism, Christianity, and/or the scientific revolution. These supposed causes are not only demonstrably wrong, but wildly unhelpful in our efforts to save our air, land, and water.  I have a better answer.

Anonymous, Descriptive Workshops are the Best

Critiquing a story is an important skill for creative writing students, and the success or failure of a workshop depends on how well they have mastered this skill. Students sometimes complain of bad workshop experiences because their classmates have either not learned how to give a good critique, did not participate in the workshop, or did not put honest effort into their critiques.


However, the format of the traditional Iowa workshop itself produces bad outcomes. The Iowa model — now replicated throughout the country — divides the session into two parts: what the readers liked, and then what they didn't like while the writer remains silent throughout the session. Not only is this unhelpful for the writer but it sucks for the readers too. I have a better way.

I Told My Students Not to Kill Their Characters

Empathy is the key to writing fiction. Authors must be able to imagine the lives of other people, to stand in their shoes, to see the world as they see it, to feel what they feel, and then put those experiences on the page so that the reader will experience them too. This fundamental belief informs my teaching, and so I was dismayed at my student's murder and mayhem during my first semester teaching creative writing.


If I wanted them to understand the importance of empathy and to stop seeing people as plot problems that could be solved with murder and death, then I needed something radical. The next semester I added a new rule to the syllabus and on the first day of class told them they could write what ever they wanted, in any genre, with one caveat: they couldn't kill anyone.  Here's what happened.

Begin in Clarity, End in Mystery

In the introduction to his anthology 180 More Extraordinary Poems for Everyday, former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins wrote about “accessibility.” He said poems should "begin in clarity and end in mystery." His insights explain the brilliance of Blade Runner and are a lesson every fiction writer should take to heart.

The Word "Race" in the Fantasy Genre

Many of my students read and write fantasy. They grew up with the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings movies so it's no surprise then that I have read many, many student stories where a young person discovers they have supernatural powers, magical abilities, or is descended from a race of magical beings -- and that last part is where things get dicey because then we need to have a conversation about the word "race."

The Stories I Like to Teach

When I sat down to craft my first creative writing course, I checked out dozens of contemporary short fiction anthologies, looking for the right one to teach lessons I had in mind. I wasn't satisfied with any of them, and so  decided to make my own anthology.

Prospective CW Students Should Submit a Portfolio

I wasn't an art major as an undergraduate, but I had always liked drawing and thought a art class would be fun. However, when I tried to register, I was denied. Art classes were only for art majors, and to become an art major I needed to submit a portfolio. At the time I was angry, but today I understand and appreciate my exclusion. At most universities, art classes are restricted in this way. Creative writing should do the same.

How to Teach Poetry with Lectio Divina

I always hated poetry in middle and high school. Poems were presented as puzzles, as verbal Rubik's cubes that I was supposed to twist and spin until I discovered their hidden meanings. A poem was never presented as something to experience. It was always something to analyze. However, in grad school a colleague introduced me to lectio divina, a Christian monastic practice of slow, contemplative, non-analytical reading, and suddenly I found myself enjoying poetry.

What is the Story of the Novel?

I love movies, so much so that during my first two years of college, I watched all 400 films nominated to be on AFI's 100 Years, 100 Movies list. I decided that if they were good enough to be nominated, they were probably pretty good. These 400 movies were an incredible journey through the canon of American film.


Recently, I watched Mark Cousins' 15-part, 900-minute documentary The Story of Film, itself an incredible journey through time and around the globe. After watching it, I can't help but wish someone would write The Story of the Novel  and take a similar approach as Cousins.

Defining Emotional Truth

If we say that Tolstoy or Steinbeck's novels are "true to life," we certainly don't mean that they are factual accounts — that these authors wrote non-fiction. When someone recommends a novel because it is "genuine" or "authentic" this is not an endorsement of its factual accuracy. We know this intuitively. We're talking about emotional truth.


In discussion between students and other writers, if one argues that an author should try to uncover and explore the emotional truth of a character or subject, inevitably someone will reject the argument, calling it Steven Colbert's "truthiness." After all, isn't there actual truth, which is supported by evidence? Isn't emotional truth simply what the person feels and uses to manipulate actual truth?  Well, not exactly.

Frontline's "League of Denial" is the Perfect Tool to Teach Freshman Comp

Playing Frontline’s investigation into the NFL’s concussion crisis, “League of Denial” at the start of the semester would be a great way to begin freshman composition. Why? Because the first hour illustrates academic discourse (scientists debate what is happening to athletes) and the second hour illustrates public discourse (what should the NFL, fans, and the government do in response to the scientific evidence). It frames both forms of discourse well, and shows how to two relate and intersect. read the entire post

The 3 Sources of Heat

In the pilot episode of 30 Rock, NBC executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) explains the GE Trivection Oven's “three kinds of heat” to Liz Lemon when justifying changes to her show. The gag likely spoofs something an executive said to Tina Fey, but it’s an accurate description of what is needed in storytelling. Character triangles abound in fiction and without them plots feel thin, pacing slow, or characters underdeveloped.   read the entire post

Crossing the 2-Week Threshold

On each of the big three treks I’ve undertaken — the Appalachian Trail, paddling the entire coast of Florida, bicycling from coast to coast — the first two weeks were the hardest. I lost my appetite, I had no energy, and every day I doubted whether I was physically capable of the journey. But at the end of the second week, I felt like a switch had been thrown inside me. Overnight my appetite doubled and my energy and stamina exploded. I hauled ass out of camp and felt great the rest of the day. I've also discovered the same is true for writing.

The Intentional Fallacy is Not a Fallacy

In a creative writing classroom, when the class discusses and analyzes a work of fiction, poetry, et cetera, often the main business of that discussion is discover and understand the choices of the author. Why third person instead of first? Why break the line here instead of there? Why a fragmented, nonlinear structure instead of a chronological one?


Enter a literature classroom and ask the same questions of a text and you will be told those questions are invalid and not worth considering. You are guilty of the "intentional fallacy." So it seems literature departments have missed one of the great lessons of twentieth century art, illustrated by Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 “Fountain”:  intent of the artist is what makes something art.

Flexibility is Needed in Graduate Literature Courses

MFA students are often required to take literature courses as part of their degree. Graduate students of Rhetoric & Composition may also take literature courses if, for example, they are interested in the rhetoric of science and there is a lit course on nature writing, race science, ecocriticism, et cetera. There is not, however, a similar requirement for literature students to take creative writing classes and rarely do they take rhet/comp classes. As a result, the graduate literature classroom is the most diverse place in the English department, with fiction writers, poets, memoirists, rhetoricians, and literature students sitting together around the same table. In such an environment, if the semester is going to be positive and productive, professors must be flexible in their expectations and pedagogy.

How Things Go Awry in the Lit Department

Over the weekend, I watched the documentary Room 237, which explores different theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Nine interview subjects discuss their wildly different interpretations of the film, each believing they have decoded hidden messages that reveal a secret meaning. One believes the film is about the genocide of the Native Americans, another the Holocaust. One even asserts that deviations from Steven King’s novel are Kubrick’s confession that he faked the moon landing footage for NASA.


I didn’t learn a single thing about The Shining  from Room 237. However, it did make me think about how some (probably many) students erroneously approach and interpret films, novels, poems, plays, and other works of art.

Why is Frank Underwood a Democrat?

I’m big fan of House of Cards, the first Netflix original series. Of course I had to overcome my disgust at the decision to have Kevin Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, break a dog’s neck in the first scene of the first episode. You should never open a story with any of the following: animal abuse, child abuse, sexual abuse, or suicide. However, afterwards I was hooked and marathoned all thirteen episodes in a week. Now that I’ve reached the end of season one, I’m left with a big unanswered question — why is Frank Underwood a Democrat?

I'm Warming Up To Self-Publishing

I have a confession to make: I self-published a book a few years ago. I know. I told everyone I wanted a short cut around the corporate stiffs who didn’t share my artistic vision but really I was a talentless hack so vain, conceited, and convinced of my own brilliance that even after dozens of editors and agents told me my book was garbage, I needed to see it in print and was willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money for it. I chose the quick and easy path as Vader did, and became an agent of evil.   Actually, it happened like this....

Women in Literary Journals

By now, every literary type who frequents the internet has probably seen VIDA’s survey of women in literary publications. The numbers aren’t good. Apparently, only Tin House is not sexist. Every other major literary publication has a significant deficit of female writers, whether we are talking about short fiction that appears in the magazine, the authors of reviewed books, or the book reviewers themselves.  When I saw these statistics, I couldn’t help but become self-conscious. The most recent issue of Saw Palm  published only one short story by a woman, and I was the fiction editor.   read the entire post

The Promise and Futility of Lit Journal Sabermetrics

I need to face facts: some literary journals are just out of my league. While it’s a bummer to admit it, I’m not getting anything published in The Paris Review  or The New Yorker  any time soon. Where then, should I submit my work? Every aspiring writer faces this conundrum and our instincts tell us the solution lies with ranking journals. If only we could graph every journal along a continuum from the hardest to get published in, to the easiest. Then we could start at the bottom at work our way up, right?  Well, not exactly.

Orson Scott Card Now Steals Plots from White Supremacists & the Militia Movement

Dear Orson Scott Card,

I collect conspiracy theories. I’m something of a conspiracy theory enthusiast enthusiast. I’m well aware that fifth-dimensional reptiles secretly rule the planet. I know all about how immortal Illuminati wizards control the world from their bunker at the center of the Earth. I’m up to speed on how all the blacks in South Africa will take free cab rides into the cities and kill all the whites when Nelson Mandela dies. I could tell the day it happened that the Sandy Hook shooting was a false flag operation staged by Obama in order to pass gun control legislation — I mean, it was so similar to the Dunblane Primary School shootings in Australia, it couldn’t have been a coincidence! But I never thought, Mr. Card, that I would find you, the Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author, swimming along with me at the deep end of the crazy pool. Strangely, you don’t seem to be doing it ironically.