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Aug. 14th, 2014

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This Day in History, 2003: The Great Northeast Blackout

Eleven years ago today was the Great Blackout of 2003, which hit much of the northeast United States and parts of Canada. Where were you?

I was at home (in Brookline, Massachusetts, which did not lose power) on the computer when the phone rang at 4:33 PM. It was my younger brother, Josh, in New York City, calling to ask me if I knew what was going on. As I had left the TV news on in the living room, and the TiVo was recording its buffer, I was able to start describing the news to him and I learned of the blackout as I told him what was going on.

I served as the point person for my younger brother, my sister-in-law, and my mother for the next few hours. Josh had to sleep overnight in Manhattan. Rachel had to care for their new baby daughter, and I gave her information on New York City emergency lines and hospitals. And Mom stayed home.

I recorded NBC Nightly News that evening and the Today show the next day, and a few months later I gave the VHS tape to Josh so he could see what he missed.

As I mentioned above, Massachusetts (and pretty much most of New England) didn't lose power. After one of the major blackouts a few decades before, the people in charge in New England had decided to set up a series of switches that could be opened should there be a power surge that might lead to a shutdown. Thanks to their foresight, I was able to help out my family as I described.

Aug. 13th, 2014

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A #GISHWHES Story: The Magic of Friendship

[This story was written for the team TravelingMattsLovesFriendshipisMagic. You can see how I used team names and the names of the team members to ensure that each of the 63 stories was original. Story is copyright ©2014 by Michael A. Burstein. All rights reserved.]

The Magic of Friendship
by Michael A. Burstein

They were always quarreling, and Laura Salvati was tired of it.

“The Elopus is my pet!” shouted Misha Collins.

“No, it’s mine!” Queen Elizabeth II shouted back.

Misha and the queen each tugged on four separate tentacles of the Elopus. It honked out its trunk in pain.

“Enough!” cried Laura. She lifted her magic wand and pointed it at the quarrelsome duo. “By the power of the Travelling Matts, you shall be friends!”

Sparks flew out of the wand. The next thing Laura saw was Misha and the queen dropping the Elopus and shaking each other’s hand.

“Let’s share the Elopus,” Misha said.

“I agree,” the queen replied.

The Elopus glanced from one to the other, and then scurried away.

Aug. 12th, 2014

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Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society, and My Teaching

[Copied over from Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mabfan/posts/10101583702080131 ]

Okay folks. This is about to get somewhat personal, but I feel I owe it to Robin Williams to note this.

I saw Dead Poets Society when it first came out, when I was still in college. At the time, I knew that part of my eventual career path would take me into teaching. I had had many teachers I loved (and yes, I was very lucky for it) and I did what I could to learn from them how to be a teacher.

But I also studied the character of John Keating, the teacher that Williams played in Dead Poets Society. And I tell all my former students now: I tried to model a lot of how I interacted with you guys on him. It's a lot harder to do it with Physics and Mathematics than with Poetry, but I tried to show you how much a part of the world those things were too. I tried to share my passion for Science with you, so that even if you didn't like Science, you could appreciate the passion. So that you could go out and find that passion of your own.
I also tried to show you all what the world was like. That it's filled with glory, and wonder, and hope, and dreams, along with all the gloom that comes along with being human.

Most of all, though, I tried to let you know that you all mattered.

One of my most precious possessions is a letter from one of my former students, who apparently felt suicidal at times in high school. She was one of many students I engaged with as a teacher, and I had no idea -- absolutely none -- what she was going through at the time. Some students you can tell are dealing with a tough time and you do what you can to help them through it. But others appear happy and cheerful, and you have no idea what's bubbling under inside. I'm privileged to have learned years later from a few of those students how much I helped them without even realizing it.

And as for the letter I mentioned... It's a letter in which this former student of mine basically told me that I kept her from killing herself in high school. I was gobsmacked when I received it some time after she had graduated. Not to make this about me, but in a way it was validation of everything I had been trying to accomplish. I made many sacrifices in my life during the time I was teaching, but apparently I had managed to save a life, without even realizing it. It meant that I mattered too.

And you matter too, folks. You all do. That was the message that Williams's character was trying to get across in Dead Poets Society, and that was the message I was trying to get across to you. And when I see one of you post about an achievement in your life, or when I think of those of you who came to help me out when my kids were born, I feel like I succeeded in some small way.

Robin Williams mattered too. I'd like to think that he knows that again.

And I thank you all. Let us take his legacy, our legacy, and make the best of ourselves that we can.

[Tom Schulman's words, spoken by Robin Williams as John Keating: "They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? - - Carpe - - hear it? - - Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary."]

Aug. 11th, 2014

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A #GISHWHES Story: Simon Says Shatner

[I have been told it is now safe to post or publish the stories we wrote for GISHWHES. I like all the stories I wrote, but this is one of my favorites. I was inspired by the name of the team that requested it and by the name of the team member who contacted us for it. Story is copyright ©2014 by Michael A. Burstein. All rights reserved.]

(For lehighvalleyLovesDefeatWilliamShatneLovesfoolofatookLovessimonsaysgishwhes)

Simon Says Shatner
by Michael A. Burstein

A shirtless Misha Collins, Queen Elizabeth II, and the Elopus stood helplessly, frozen in the force field, as Amanda Kann grinned evilly.

“I have trapped the three of you! No longer will you be able to thwart my plans to take over the world.”

“We must do something!” the queen said.

“Elopus!” Misha shouted. “Summon Bill!”

The creature honked, and suddenly William Shatner appeared at the door of Amanda’s lair.

“KANN!” he shouted as he fired a taser at her. Amanda crumpled to the ground.

Shatner pushed the off button for the force field, and the three friends emerged from their stasis.

“Now what?” the queen asked.

“Now,” Misha said, “I put my shirt back on.” He paused. “You too, Bill.”

Aug. 8th, 2014

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A Final #GISHWHES Thank You

To begin with, consider this an official notification that I am done writing and providing stories for the GISHWHES 2014 scavenger hunt. I know the hunt is still going on, but I've been up late many nights this week writing stories, and I need to reconnect with my family. :-)

In the end, I provided stories to 63 teams. In addition, I published one story that the team decided not to use ("Ashley and the Moon") and ended up with one other story for which the team that requested it never got back to me. (Actually, a few teams requested stories and then told my assistant that they managed to secure a story from another writer; I wished them well, rewrote those stories, and provided them to other teams.) So, 65 flash stories written in the space of a week, 63 being used for GISHWHES. Not bad.

I am delighted by how many of these stories I managed to churn out and I am frankly hoping that I provided more stories than any other writer. Will someone let me know if I set that record once the hunt is over?

And now for the thank-yous...

My first thank-you goes to my sister-in-law Rachel, who is very involved with GISHWHES and has done this before. I provided her with the first story I wrote for this madness, and she generously gave me permission to provide stories for other teams, even though that would make it harder for her team to win. So, thank you Rachel, for all that.

My second thank-you goes to all the teams who were willing to buy my story collection I Remember the Future as a condition of having me write you a story. When I saw that so many teams needed stories and weren't going to get them from Neil Gaiman, I realized that this gave me an opportunity to expose more people to my work. Some writers mentioned online that they were approached by people in a rude way; I am very pleased to say that not a single person who contacted me was rude about my own request, or complained about it. I'm hoping that those of you who bought the book will actually enjoy the stories contained within; and that fact is that every single story in that book save one was either a Hugo nominee, a Nebula nominee, or both. So at least one of those stories has to have been worth your $5. So thanks to all of you for your own random act of kindness to me. I hope you all win.

Finally, thanks to Annie Houston and especially Misha Collins. I must admit that I do not watch Supernatural, although it is exactly the sort of show I would watch. My wife and I did watch the first season, but then had to give it up for other things. (See The Brookline Parent for an example of what occupies our time.) Making item #78 one that required the teams to find a previously published science-fiction writer was a stroke of genius on your part. I hope you'll do something similar next year. I stand ready to serve.
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My Week in Facebook (and Twitter!), August 4-8, 2014

Well, this was an interesting week. It began with my sister-in-law requesting a 140-word short story from me for something called GISHWHES.  The next day, I decided to offer a story to any team participating if they would buy a copy of "I Remember the Future." (As I'll soon note, I ended up writing stories for 63 teams!)

I didn't have time to do much else this week, although I did see Lev Grossman for his book event for The Magician's Land at Brookline Booksmith last night.

And I was more active on Twitter this week than on any other week I can recall, due again to #GISHWHES. Take a look at my Twitter account @mabfan and you'll see what I mean...
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A Sample #GISHWHES Story: Ashley and the Moon

[As this story was requested by a team that then found another story from another writer, I have decided to post it here even though the hunt is still going on. This might give you an idea of what I've been writing, although I've actually been writing across all genres - romance, SF, fantasy, and horror. Story is copyright ©2014 by Michael A. Burstein. All rights reserved. And obviously, you can't use the story for the hunt, as it's now been published.]

Ashley and the Moon
by Michael A. Burstein

Ashley gazed into the eyes of Misha Collins as he held her close.

Suddenly, a flash of light from the sky caused both of them to look up. The moon had exploded! Half of it was gone!

“A random act!” shouted Misha. “I must go investigate this.”

Blowing the Whistle of Summoning, Misha called forth Queen Elizabeth II and the Elopus, along with the Misha-mobile. They jumped in and began to fly away.

“We will see you soon!” Misha called to Ashley. The queen waved. The Elopus honked.

“Darn moon,” Ashley said after Misha was gone. “You couldn’t wait five more minutes to explode?”

Aug. 4th, 2014

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#GISHWHES and That Science-Fiction Story: An Offer

(ETA on Friday morning: I have a handful more stories written but unclaimed. First come, first serve. Deadline Friday 3 pm EDT USA time. The stories were inspired by the team names of the teams that originally requested them, but they are NOT using those stories and indeed have never seen them.)

Over the weekend, I found out that the current GISHWHES list includes the following as item #78:

"Get a previously published Sci-Fi author to write an original story (140 words max) about Misha, the Queen of England and an Elopus."

I found this out because my sister-in-law participates in GISHWHES, as do a few friends and acquaintances. I posted on Facebook about helping these people out, which I was more than happy to do.

I've since discovered that many participants are apparently bothering famous writers they do not know, asking them to write a story for them. Needless to say, that's not the best way to do this. Many writers are happy to do favors for friends, but they don't want to be bombarded by random requests from folks they do not know.

I, on the other hand, will be happy to write a story for you if I don't know you, on one condition. I'd like you to do a random act of kindness for my publisher, Apex Publications.

First, email my assistant Julia at julia@mabfan.com and tell her you would like a story from me. Include your own name and the name of your team, and an emaill address to which I can send the story.

She will email you back to confirm that I have the time to write the story for you.

Then click on this link: "I Remember the Future: The Award-Nominated Stories of Michael A. Burstein" and have one member of your team purchase a copy of my 2008 collection I Remember the Future directly from the publisher (NOT from Amazon; use the "Add to Cart" button). It can be the trade paperback or the ebook, but I'm guessing most of you will opt for the ebook, as it's only $4.99.

Send a copy of your receipt to my assistant at julia@mabfan.com. Once we see that you have bought the collection, I will write the story and she will email it to you.

One caveat: DO NOT PURCHASE THE BOOK UNTIL YOU HAVE HEARD FROM JULIA THAT I WILL HAVE TIME TO WRITE YOUR STORY. If I get too many requests, I won't have time to fulfill them all.

Good luck with GISHWHES, and enjoy my stories.

Edited to add: A few people have sent receipts from Amazon. The purchase needs to be made directly from the publisher, Apex Publications. Please use the link above. Thank you.

Aug. 1st, 2014

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My Week in Facebook, July 27-August 1, 2014

So what was I up to this past week?

On Sunday we took the kids to the Boston Children's Museum, to play there with friends of ours who were visiting from Canada with their own twin daughters (and their baby son). Both of our kids said funny things later on that night.

On Monday I noted the 69th anniversary of the B-25 bomber crashing into the Empire State Building.

On Wednesday I linked to a Boston Globe column about a former professor of mine, Paul Horowitz, and his involvement in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). I also waxed enthusiastic about Sharknado 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy:

"Guardians of the Galaxy: You'll believe a raccoon can fly."

"Sharknado 2: I don't think a movie has made me this proud to have been born and raised in New York City since Ghostbusters."

And then today I posted a link to our new The Brookline Parent column, "Let It Go, Let It Be," but my guess is you already knew about that.

I guess it was sort of a quiet week on the home front, even if the news from the rest of the world was chaotic and sometimes bleak.
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The Brookline Parent: Let It Go, Let It Be (DVD Extras)

So, this week's The Brookline Parent column, "Let It Go, Let It Be," might require a little explanation. Or it might not. But I shall explain here anyway. Consider this the DVD extras, as it were.

As anyone with kids is probably aware, and even many of us without kids, one of the biggest songs to hit the preschool and elementary school set is "Let It Go" from the Disney movie Frozen. I know I've heard Muffin and Squeaker singing it a lot, along with their friends, even though they haven't seen the movie enough times to have memorized the lyrics. Apparently, they hear it from their friends a lot, who then hear it from them…it's a cycle.

Anyway, I've been sometimes singing along, or at least the title, and I kept getting it mixed up with the tune for "Let It Be." I'd sing "Let it go" over and over to the tune for "Let It Be." Well, one thing led to another, and...

I committed parody.

So. Go click on The Brookline Parent: Let It Go, Let It Be. Enjoy the ear worm.

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