About Jack

Jack Ryan began writing and illustrating short adventure stories in the seventh grade. He taught Chemistry at El Paso Community College and Chemistry, Physics, and Physical Sciences at South Arkansas Community College until retiring in 2010. He writes science fiction short stories and is working on several science fiction novels, "Silver Threads," "The Centaurian Bud Vase" and "Beyond the Windward Sea."

Writing the Other

What would happen to your “willing suspension of disbelief” if you read a story in which every character was just like the author–same sex, same culture, same occupation, same ethnic background–in other words, clones of the writer?
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That might actually seem like an interesting idea for a story. But then, how could a civilization function if everyone had the same job and was the same sex? So, if that wasn’t a deliberate part of the plot line, I’d guess that you’d be mystified, to say the least.

We’re sometimes told to “write what you know,” but the story I’ve described shows how unrealistic this can be. Writing what you know doesn’t mean that’s all you can write about. It just means that you need to be very careful when you start writing about things that you don’t “know.”

In my story, “The Tartian Egg,” Pierre buys an ancient saxophone. He takes the instrument to his hotel room and plays it. Then a musician read the story and told me that such an instrument would not be playable until its old reed was replaced. Time for a revision.

Even if we do research to allow us to write about what we don’t know, how can we know when we’ve done enough? How can we know what to look for, especially when it comes to creating our characters? Critique groups can be wonderful.

“Writing the Other,” a little book by Nisi Shawl & Cynthia Ward, attempts to provide you with some guides to the concepts involved in creating characters different from “what you know.” Here’s my take on some of what they have to offer. (I hope that I’ve not done too much plagiarism of their book.)

Dominant Paradigm: What the majority in our society considers “normal”

ROAARS: An acronym for Race, (sexual) Orientation, Age, Ability, Religion, Sex–the differences from the dominant paradigm that our culture emphasizes. I think that these are the differences most of the people would think important when they find that their son or daughter is selecting a spouse. According to Shawl & Ward, “Class” is not one of the differences that the majority of our society emphasizes.

The Unmarked State: Possessing those characteristics that are not remarkable. A character in the unmarked state fits the dominant paradigm and is often considered to be white, male, heterosexual, young, single, physically able, human. The story can be read without coloring it with the character’s peculiarity: A man falls into the river, crosses it, and climbs out the other side vs. the marked state character–“A pregnant woman falls into the river…”, “An elderly Martian…”, “A rapist…”, etc., in which cases we would probably have much different thoughts when reading the story.

Real people who fit the unmarked state often enjoy (probably unknowingly) some sort of “privilege” (white privilege, straight privilege, rich privilege…) They get away with things that individuals in the “marked state” do not.

In a story, characters in the unmarked state should rarely be aware of their privilege; those in the “marked state” should be aware of their lack of privilege and probably suffer the consequences of that lack. An author who is in the unmarked state may have to work harder to write a realistic story which involves characters in the marked state. It’s important to know who has privilege and who doesn’t in the time and place in which your story is set.

Being in the unmarked state defines how a character treats someone in the marked state. According to Cynthia Ward (who grew up in Maine,) being born outside of Maine “trumps any other ROAARS difference” and places you in a marked state. A Maine lobsterman would never be best friends with a shopkeeper who grew up in New York. If, in a story, this is not true, there must be a plausible explanation to account for the discrepancy.

The Generalization Fallacy: When we make a universal claim based on a limited number of examples–all metals are conductors, all lemons are sour, all Democrats are liberals. A generalization may or may not be true; we just assume that it must be true based on some real or imagined instances. Creating a character based on a generalization (stereotyping) can produce an unrealistic character that some folks will find offensive–especially if we have only one such character (the only blonde in the story is a ditzy female.)

Congruence: Establishing ties between the reader and a character that has different ROAARS characteristics. 1) Give a marked character some traits that have nothing to do with how she differs from the dominant paradigm but which the reader might share or at least be sympathetic toward. For instance, he might be a picky eater, be in love, or be a poet. 2) Give a character traits from a multitude of different groups. For instance, a rich, lesbian, black, Irish atheist who pilots a jet plane back and forth between Mexico and the Vatican for weekly conferences with the Pope.

Associations and Resonances: Association–a one-to-one connection of two ideas. For instance, an evil character with a German surname is likely to be labeled a Nazi or at least evoke thoughts of Nazism. A woman named Angelina or Kim might be assumed to be very attractive. Resonance: Involves a complex of ideas that reinforce and highlight one another because of their many connections. After WWII, especially in England, anyone from Germany was assumed to be responsible for the bombing and deaths of friends and relatives. Whether intended or unintended, associations and resonances can make a story unbelievable or offensive to a reader. Should all the gangsters in a story have Italian names? How likely is it that everybody in a novel has Anglo-Saxon names?

“Writing the Other” ends with a series of “Don’t Do This!” examples. I suggest that you pick up and read the book to familiarize yourself with what sorts of things to do and to avoid when you try to write the other.

Actually, “Writing the Other” is just a section of the publication of that name. The book contains two other essays related to this issue which you should find of interest as you try to introduce realistic diversity into your writing: “Beautiful Strangers: Transracial Writing for the Sincere” and “Appropriate Cultural Appropriation.”

Keep Reading/Keep Writing,


Poser Pro 11 Stopped Working

On about 24 September 2016, I began to get a green progress bar window saying “Poser Pro executable file has stopped working” and ending with a “Close Program” button every time that I tried to open Poser Pro 11. Poser Pro 2014 would still run.
PP 11 Stopped Working
Nothing that I found by Googling¬† solved the problem. So I contacted Poser Technical Support and asked for help. John worked on the problem for a couple weeks – try this, try that, before he found that just having Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware Web Companion installed on the computer (even if inactivated) might be associated with the problem. When I uninstalled this program, the problem went away! (Thanks for all your help, John.) If you are having this problem, you might try this solution.

I would also get this same window at random times with both PP11 and PP2014 – sometimes at startup, sometimes in the middle of a project. (This problem started a long time ago.) However, I was always able to restart the program and hope that it didn’t crash again too soon (sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t). I learned to do frequent Saves to avoid losing much work. Since I uninstalled Ad-Aware Web Companion just 2 days ago, I don’t know if this has eliminated this random crash or not. But Poser hasn’t crashed yet. (Knock on wood!)

Keep Reading/Keep Writing,


Purple Cow

When I was very young, my mother’s parents had a farm about 3 miles from our home. I can’t remember how we got there, but since my mom didn’t drive, I presume that we sometimes walked over to the farm. She grew up there and had some friends that still lived in the area. So on occasion, while we were visiting my grandpa and grandma, we would ride one of Grandpa’s horses over to visit these friends.

The horse was called “Old Blue,” which I never understood since he was a brown horse. But Old Blue was so broad that you could almost have had a picnic on his back. We never used a saddle. My mom would ride him over to her friends’ homes and my brother, Dan, and I would ride along on that expansive back while my mom sang songs, told stories, or recited funny poetry.

One of the poems that I recall hearing as we road along was called “Purple Cow.” It went something like this:

I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to see one,
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one!

According to Wikipedia, “Purple Cow” was written by Gelett Burgess in 1895. My grandfathers’ herd had only white-faced Herefords, so I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a purple cow. I’ve been wondering why Burgess wrote the poem (I do the same about some that I’ve written.)

Why should anyone ever expect that cattle should be purple? I created a Poser image to give a hint to the answer.

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I loaded TerraDome 2 into the Poser Pro 2014 scene and injected the Circle Of Hills morph into the AZone. Moorland-11 was used to texture this with grass, but since the grass seems a bit dead, I changed its Diffuse Color to a more pleasing green. The Circle of Hills dial was adjusted to 0.5 to provide a hill in the distance.

A Noggin’s Cow and a Calf were loaded and placed in a nursing pose in the foreground. Another Cow, a couple Calves, and a Bull were loaded and placed grazing back on the hillside. I gave the bull long horns.

HiveWire’s Long Haired version of their Quarter Hose was placed at the left of the foreground and equipped with their Western Tack Bridle and Saddle.

Michael 4 was loaded, dressed in M4 Cowboy Clothes, and placed in a crouching pose just to the right of his horse.

Poser’s Pet Dog in a playful pose was placed in front of Michael. I used a tree bark texture (no pun intended) to rough up the dog’s coat.

One of Crooked Trees’ Large Leaf trees was placed in the foreground, behind the horse. Two more were placed on the hill behind the grazing cattle.

Three instances of Barbed Wire Fence were linked together and placed to separate Michael and his horse from the tree and the cattle.

Now the plot thickens. I changed the Diffuse Color for the horse’s coat, Michael’s skin, and the dog’s pelt to purple.

Would a purple cowboy with a purple horse and a purple dog be surprised to see a purple cow? Considering the fate of a beef cow, I suppose that this cowboy would still rather see than be one.

Keep reading/keep writing – Jack

Heads Up

The Scottish National Gallery 2 broadcast of Antiques Roadshow-UK was on recently. During the opening sequence, we got a glimpse of what looked like a sculpture of a head resting on a hand at the end of an upturned arm. This seemed a bit surreal to me and I thought it might make an interesting Poser image. So I fired up Poser Pro 2014 and went to work.
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DAZ’s Victoria 4.2 figure was loaded first and Addy’s Danielle face was injected. The Visible property was unchecked for all of Victoria’s body parts except the head and the name was changed from “Victoria” to “Head.”

3Dream’s Master Skull Cap prop and their Dinasty Hair pose was loaded to give the head a sort of Boy Cut hairstyle. The Diffuse Maps were set to 0% (turned off) and the color was set to White for everything except her eyes to give the appearance of marble.

A few stone textures were tried for the head, but they didn’t look as good as just leaving the head white.

A second instance of Victoria was loaded and the Visible property was unchecked for all body parts except the right arm. I renamed this “Arm.” B9999’s Everyday Hands “V4 BalLg-1” was loaded to pose the hand so that, when the arm was rotated 90 degrees, the head could be placed in the palm. A little adjustment of the fingers was needed, but with the Diffuse Maps turned off, the skin appeared black in the Preview Window. This made manipulations difficult, so I temporary turned the Maps back on until I was finished posing the head in the hand. The arm was Parented to the Head.

Neftis’ White Marble Base from their Antoinette Bust model was loaded, moved under the upturned arm, and parented to the arm.

When rendered, the white of the arm and head was too bright, so I set the Diffuse Color of the arm, head, and skull cap to a light gray. I set the Diffuse of the lips to a darker gray to give some separation.

The combination was saved to my Figures Statue Library as “Heads Up,” in case I wanted to use it in some other image.

To continue with my Poser image, I loaded three rock formations from ShaaraMuse’s “The High Coast” scene. Two rocks were placed in the background and the third in the foreground with the Heads Up sculpture between them.

To provide a better visual separation between the foreground and background rocks, I adjusted the camera focus and f/ stop to slightly blur the foreground rock.

The rendered image is shown above. It still looks a bit surreal to me, but I like it.

Keep reading/keep writing – Jack

Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid ferrotypeSome time back, I ran across a Wikipedia article on Billy the Kid. Because of my interest in photography, I read about one of the few authentic pictures of the Kid, a ferrotype taken by an unknown photographer. The picture has been published many times, and seems to show his pistol on his left hip. However, scholars have pointed out that the method of producing ferrotypes reverses the image and that the pistol is really on his right side. The photo here is a “flipped” image to show Billy in the correct orientation.

Billy was called “The Kid” because of his age. I thought it would be fun to create a Poser image of Billy as an actual kid – a goat.

I obtained a set of goats from Lyne’s Creations and decided to use the Billy Goat Gray model. However, I only had clothes for humans, not goats, so I loaded Michael 4 and dressed him with some cowboy clothes and a hat, and gave him a Remington 700 rifle.

I posed Michael 4 to resemble the pose in the picture of Billy the Kid, then made him invisible. I loaded three instances of the Billy Goat Gray model. I posed one so that his right “hand” and forearm extended from Billy’s right sleeve, one so that it’s left “hand” and arm extended from the left sleeve and held the rifle, and one so that its head and neck extended from the shirt. I made superfluous parts of each goat invisible, so that it would look like a single goat was posed as Billy the Kid.

Billy the KidI loaded Audry Pestrayakof’s Nature-Canyon around Billy and used one of my photos as the background.

Another instance of the  Billy the Kid ferrotype was photoshopped to create a WANTED poster and placed on a dead tree at the left of the scene.

You can find more of the Poser images that I did just for fun at http://stellareco.com/Poser/Poser Fun.html

Keep reading/keep writing – Jack