August 28, 2016

WRITING ADVICE: Can This Story Be SAVED? #3 “One Million Nine Hundred Thousand” (Submitted 8 Times Since 2008, Revised once to “A Choice of Sunrise”)

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, In April of 2014, I figured I’d gotten enough publications that I could share some of the things I did “right”. I’ll keep that up, but I’m running out of pro-published stories. I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it, but someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. Hemingway’s quote above will remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales, but I’m adding this new series of posts because I want to carefully look at what I’ve done WRONG and see if I can fix it. As always, your comments are welcome!

ANALOG Tag Line: Out of death can come reconciliation even between the most bitter enemies.

Elevator Pitch (What Did I Think I Was Trying To Say?): Nothing is going to change in space, even when we genetically engineer Humans for specific environments, insist that Human means some specific percentage of DNA…even when vast empires collide and reconcile, it will all come down to basic Human interaction – love, hate, and talking things out. Even in the clouds of a gas giant some 350 light years distant among people who live on the back of hundred-kilometer-long semi-sentient blimps…

Opening Line: “Tarand Leland Karr didn’t hear the screams right away.”

Onward: The grandson and granddaughter of the woman who forged a peace between the two sides that grew out of the Fracture oh Humanity survive their grandmother’s death and must reconcile themselves in order to plan a funeral. They must also avoid making it into a media circus which it is likely to become. The granddaughter plans to have it on the premises of her own cloudwhale. Her brother doesn’t like the idea, but swallows it. In addition to their family fracture, the architect of off the Reconciliation of Humanity to forge the Confederation of the Human Genome. In this universe, there are no aliens. At least the Milky Way is a Humans only club, not by choice but by chance. The “aliens” are the genetic constructs that were counted not Human by the Empire of Man. The Confluence of Humanity took genetic engineering to new…heights or depths. This the story of the reconciliation of the grandkids and Empire and Confluence.

What Was I Trying To Say?: Exactly what I set out to say…though I hadn’t thought through how much I was trying to deal with.

The Rest of the Story: …but again, I tried to do far too much. There is SO much going on here that once I start it, it will become a novel. The first book’s going to be IN THE SKIES OF RIVER, and I have that one already thinly plotted out. This will be the second, and most likely take the name above, A CHOICE OF SUNRISE…I tried to introduce readers of a short story to a new world, then I added a brother-sister conflict, layered on an “end of empire” story, and a reconciliation between retired “major players”. That was all rolled up in everyone joining hands, swaying and singing “Kumbaya”…Hmmm…

End Analysis: This story takes place in the same universe as “Hūmbūlance” and like that story, I tried to do far too much – read about it if you want to, here: http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2016/07/writing-advice-can-this-story-be-saved.html

The takeaway after analyzing two stories is that my writing often lacks focus. I have a very grand idea, then add another idea, and then another, and another. The scope grows far beyond what a short story can comfortably cover. Maybe instead of lacking focus, I have focus – but it’s on too many stories and I don’t complete my thoughts. If I could pick one story then detail that story, I might be able to create powerful pieces that engage readers, and breathe real life into my characters.

Can This Story Be Saved? Simple answer: yes – by changing it into a novel. The more complex answer is that I can break this story into parts and just follow one person and do one story. In the long-run, I can START stories with focus, narrow the scope of the story, and aim at showing a single incident with a limited number of characters.


August 25, 2016

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 86: DaneelAH & Company

On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official Unified Faith In Humanity, the Councils are teetering on the verge of pogrom directed against Christians, Molesters, Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Murderers, Muslims, Thieves, Hindu, Embezzlers and Artificial Humans – anyone who threatens the official Faith and the consolidating power of the Councils. It makes good sense, right – get rid of religion and Human divisiveness on a societal level will disappear? An instrument of such a pogrom might just be a Roman holiday...To see the rest of the chapters and I’m sorry, but a number of them got deleted from the blog – go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story. If you’d like to read it from beginning to end (60,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

MishAH, one fourth of Artificial Human Vat Issue 12254 nodded slowly, “I’d normally agree with you, Sister. But the Mayor’s got himself a new Consort.”

The three older vatmates snorted as one. HanAH snarked, “That’s hardly news, MishAH! He changes women as often as the rest of us change our underwear!”

She nodded, lifting a hand to concede the point adding, “The pattern is clear to me, as well. But this time he’s chosen a Consort who has his chief of security obviously upset.” The other three gave her their complete attention.

The marsbug started moving, rolling over the lip of the crater and into Burroughs proper. DaneelAH glanced through the forward window the back at the rest of them. He nodded to the Dome looming ahead of them. “What is it about this new consort that’s different than all the others?”

MishAH pursed her lips then said, “I dug into the Dome’s database a bit and found out that she’s a commoner.” HanAH shrugged. Even AzAH, usually siding with her sister against the two “boys”, looked unimpressed. “But that’s not all. Her father is someone named Abedne Halle-Theilen.”

She paused. After a moment, HanAH’s eyes grew large. He said abruptly, “The man’s high on the list of Christians under surveillance by Inter-Dome Security!”

MishAH lifted her chin. “I thought that name might catch your attention, Brother. She is not as radical as her father, but is a well-known sympathizer of his Christian beliefs. Worse yet, it’s fairly certain that the Mayor himself knows about her connection to her father.”

Her brother looked up from the marsbug’s computer screen and said, “He does, and in a public statement he made shortly after he took her to the Pylon, he mentions that while some may find her support of such radical religiosity repugnant, he does not believe that she, herself is a christian and therefore sanctions against christians, molesters, jews, rapists, buddhists, murderers, muslims, thieves, hindu, embezzlers, and…” always the drama king when he suited him, he paused for effect, then said softly, “us.”

DaneelAH scowled. “You’re trying to tell me that this Paolo has our best interests at hand – just because we happen to be on the same list of proscribed entities legally included in the term ‘non-human’?”

She shrugged, “I cannot go so far as to say that we should make common cause with the man, but he does seem to have similar goals as we do.”

DaneelAH shook his head and said, “I’ve been reading the file of holy books the Dalai Lama of Mars gave us.” AzAH raised a deep purple eyebrow. He sniffed, “They are instructive if for no other reason than to give insight into the reason Mars outlawed all forms of devotion but to Humanity…”

AzAH added, “Which notably does not include us.”

The ‘bug accelerated once it reached the floor of the crater, moving in a long curve to the center. Outlying warehouses, power plants, industrial manufacturing facilities, straight-up factories, and power generators whose sole intent was to manufacture greenhouse gases to build up the Martian atmosphere lined the road and grew thicker the closer they got to the entry airlock.

DaneelAH said, “I don’t have any sympathy for religion, per se. I do object to the exclusion of any group merely because someone has decided to exclude it.”

HanAH said, “What about Earth rules regarding genetic manipulation?”
MishAH laughed, adding, “I’ve read that they’re considering legislation that declares anyone who is less than some percentage of something they call ‘Original Human DNA’ will be tossed into the category we live in.”

“They’ll be declared slaves?” AzAH said.

“They’re only rumblings of a few, sweet sister. But for now, we have a problem.”

“What?” AzAH and MishAH said together.

HanAH lifted his chin and said, “We’re here.”


August 23, 2016

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 269

Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc.) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

F Trope: Appeal to a pastoral ideal: Much genre fantasy, of all genres, appeals to the pastoral ideal, one reason for the pseudo-medieval settings. Even urban fantasies will quite often depict cities as blots on the landscape, whose denizens /are blinded to what really matters by material ephemera. There are some fantasies, however, which either deliberately take the opposite stance or present a more balanced worldview.
Current Event: “The Minnesota Renaissance Festival is a Renaissance fair, an interactive outdoor event which focuses on recreating the look and feel of a fictional 16th Century ‘England-like’ fantasy kingdom.”

Svenja Johannson puttered around the edge of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. She crossed her arms over her chest, tossed her platinum blonde hair and said, “I was hoping for a bit more authenticity.

Matias Gallagher, strawberry blonde hair curled like a swim cap over his head, shook his head and said, “Then you should have tried out for ‘Castle Life’.”

She snorted – a sound worthy of a horse, Matias thought – “That’s just as fake.”

He scowled at her and said, “Just because you Germans have all kinds of castles...”

“Not ‘all kinds of castles’ – Wartburg Castle. That is the only castle.”

He shook his head and said, “Speaking of Martin Luther, what makes you think you’d even like the real Renaissance?”

“Are you kidding? My ancestors lived then, there was no pollution, no noise, and definitely no people!”

“What’s wrong with people?” Matias asked as a pair of teenaged boys in basketball shorts, wearing high-topped basketball shoes and suggestive slogans, walked past them using an F-bomb every other word. They looked at him and Svenja. One flipped Matias the bird, the other asked Svenja if she wanted to engage in a sexual act. After Svenja fired a crude rejoinder back at him and Matias leaned back and folded his arms across his chest, flashing both his six-pack and expanding his pecs, the other boy waved him away. The two of them faded into the mob of 21st Century Minnesotans stuffing their faces the way they did at the State Fair and pretending they were in the 16th Century. Svenja glared at Matias.

Matias sighed, “Point.” He paused and said, “Let’s just enjoy the RenFest for what it is.”

Svenja scowled as a parade of knights in armor entered the Festival grounds, the earth trembling under the pounding hooves. The steel plate, gold trim, and silver filigree flashed in the brilliant afternoon light. There was a coolness in the air, a tiny bite of autumn hinting at the winter not far away. There seemed to be hundreds of knights prancing by. “There are so many...” she said.

“What?” Matias shouted. “I can’t hear you!”

“There are so many knights! Where did they come from?” The sun abruptly dipped behind a cloud. There was a flash of light and clap of thunder, yet when Matias pressed his hands over his ears, it seemed that only he and Svenja did so. Others around them seemed oblivious to the darkness and cold. “What’s happening, Matias?” she shouted.

“I don’t know...”

An instant later, the sun came out again. Matias blinked in surprise and Svenja stepped closer to him, grabbing his arm, long fingernails digging into his muscle. The first thing he noticed was the stench of open sewer and the legless man sitting on the ground in front of them...

Names: ♀ German, Swedish; ♂ Norwegian, Irish

August 21, 2016

Slice of PIE: Does Science Fiction STILL Drive the Future?

Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City this past August 2016 (to which I was invited and had a friend pay my membership! [Thanks, Paul!] but was unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #1066. The link is provided below…

Does SF Still Affect How We Think About the Future? Does SF continue to inspire young scientists and technologists today? Who is writing the SF that will shape the future? Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Michael Swanwick, Cynthia Ward, Adam-Troy Castro(M)

Michael Swanwick: Famous, etc., etc., but no technology or science background.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden: Famous as well, etc., etc., but no technology or science background.
Cynthia Ward: Famous, etc., etc., but no technology or science background. (She writes biotechnology, so she must have at least a layperson’s database…)
Adam-Troy Castro: Famous, etc., etc., but no technology or science background.

All of these people write about the impact of science on individuals and society, but none of them has had direct experience with education (except as recipients of diplomas, degrees, and certificates delineating the levels of education each has achieved.) None of them are classroom teachers of young people (at least not according to the online information I have seen), and all of them are writers or editors more-or-less full time.

I can only assume then, that their knowledge of the affect science fiction is having on the future is anecdotal.

Nothing wrong with that…however…with the plethora of SF writers available at the MidAmeriCon, it would seem that finding individuals who could comment from direct experience would have been relatively easy. David Brin was there, as well as Gregory Benford, James Cambias (whose degree would have made him an excellent panelist on this subject), Jeffrey Carver taught SF writing to middle school students and might have given him insight as well…

*sigh* Perhaps it was simple logistics.

However, as a science teacher, I might be able to answer this question fairly simply by saying: “No, science fiction doesn’t inspire young scientists and technologists today.”

The reason I say that is that despite the fact that young adults READ more than us old folks do ( http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/09/millennials-are-out-reading-older-generations/379934/), what they read may NOT be science fiction that INSPIRES. More often than not, it's SF of a dystopian future bereft of hope...or a future.

This is happening just as scientific research is moving away from massive companies like Bell Labs and Microsoft. For us oldsters, the day of the "workshop inventor" is coming back --- with a decidedly 21st Century twist. According to Richard A. Lovett in the July/August 2016 issue, “Part of the ‘new-skunk-works’ [an experimental laboratory or department of a company or institution, typically smaller than, and independent of, its main research division] mindset is the ability to work on things with smaller teams and smaller budgets than would ever have been possible in the past…it also realizes that brilliant minds are at their most brilliant when motivated…[and] challenged enough [for] people who just might be capable of pulling them off…It’s a startlingly inexpensive way to push the frontier of science and engineering…Instead of arguing if there’s a problem, it’s based on pooling our brains to find solutions, maybe even before there’s another X Prize to encourage it.” (ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION AND FACT)

A few books that are fairly recent whose fundamental basis is either science or technology: MORTAL ENGINES (Philip Reeve); THE WHITE MOUNTAINS (John Christopher); THE SUMMER PRINCE (Alaya Dawn Johnson); CINDER (Marissa Meyer); A WRINKLE IN TIME (Madeleine L’Engle); LIFE AS WE KNEW IT (Susan Beth Pfeffer); and even SHIP BREAKER (Paolo Bacigalupi). Too many of the others wallow in teen-slaughtering dystopias to inspire any teen to a life of science and technology.

I’ve attempted to “right the wrong” in my book EMERALD OF EARTH, but the publisher is so small, and the fact that it is only an electronic book (flying in the face of the fact that teenagers prefer to “really” read paper books (http://www.thepassivevoice.com/2016/05/why-do-teens-prefer-printed-books-to-e-books-we-just-do/ -- my theory on this is that they prefer paper books to ebooks because a book is pretty much the only thing a person under the age of eighteen can outright own. Ownership is a powerful motivator and nothing is more powerful than owning the gateway to another world.) has kept it from having any kind of appreciable effect on the world of adolescent literature.

Books for TODAY'S young adults that inspire the same kind of techno-awe as Heinlein's ROCKET SHIP GALILEO are few and far between...At any rate, I hope the discussion was deep, and I hope it inspired writers to write work that will ultimately inspire young people to consider the sciences and technology as careers.


August 18, 2016

JOURNEY TO THE PORTRAIT’S SECRET #90: August 1, 1946

This series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, into Canada and back again. He was gone from home for a month. I was astonished and fascinated by the tale. So, I added some speculation about things I've always wondered about and this series is the result. To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH clips, click on the label to the right, scroll down to and click OLDER ENTRIES seven or eight times. The FIRST entry is on the bottom of the last page.

An hour later, after screaming through Anoka, they arrived in downtown Minneapolis after rumbling down West River Road, past the power plant, and along old, deserted streets, through the warehouse district, and finally along Hennepin Avenue. Their first stop was at Fifteenth, where she got stuck behind a taxi and laid on the horn while the boys scrambled out of the barely open door, down to the street, and disappeared into the clogged up traffic.

Tommy said, “Now you gotta follow close behind.”

“I’m like your shadow,” the other boy said as they cut across Hennepin and disappeared down Fifteenth, taking alleys, short cuts, scrambling up and down ladders, and startled three old women who’d just pulled on their hats to do some shopping downtown.

“Hooligans!”

“Ruffians!”

“Scoundrels!”

The boys ran, laughing, then ducked down another alley. Tommy skidded to a halt, grabbing Freddie’s shirt. “Hey!” Freddie said, then slapped a hand over his mouth as they leaned around the corner and peered down the street.

Hennepin was now backed up, men in the street shaking their fists and cursing! Tommy looked both ways then dragged Freddie after him. Shortly, they were in the alley behind then apartments. “Nobody can see us. We gotta be totally sneaky.” Freddie nodded as they ran to the back of Tommy’s house. “I gotta check stuff out.”

Freddie grabbed his shoulder and whispered, “Watch out for them! They’ll kill you if they catch you.”

“They’re not here.”

“You don’t know that. They’re Socialists! You don’t know anything about them.”

“I know they scare me to death,” Tommy said.

Freddie’s eyes bulged, “They do?”

“‘course. But it’s my ma I’m scared about. I gotta make sure she’s safe.”

Freddie nodded, awkwardly patted Tommy on the shoulder and shoved him forward.

Tommy took a deep breath, then ran silently down the sidewalk between his house and the next. He stopped at the street, pressing his back against the wall, sooty from the stacks of the factories on the Mississippi. He stuck his head around the corner just as a flatbed truck carrying men in the back of it drove by in a cloud of blue smoke.

Tommy’s heart seemed to stop – then he realized it was just highway workers coming back into the city after getting out of a traffic jam. His knees went weak and he slid down the wall a little. He looked the other way up the street but didn’t see any sign of the Socialists. He ran back to Freddie and said, “Let’s go in. I’ll grab the picture and we’ll take it and hide it in the park.”

“That’s your plan?” Freddie said, “Hide it in the park?”

Tommy straightened up, “What’s wrong with it?”

“I thought you were gonna like, give it to the Tribune or the Star-Journal and then tell the Socialists that it’ll stay there…”

“But then what’s to stop ‘em from killing me and Mom and Dad and sis?”

Freddie started to say something out loud. Tommy shushed him as a truck rumbled slowly past the street end of the sidewalk. The boys cringed, backing around the corner. “I think it was them! Stay here!”

“What…”

Tommy ran to the back door, up the stairs, then stopped, slowly opened the door, then slipped in. While he was gone, Freddie stared at the door, jumping every time a truck or car drove past the end of the sidewalk. He waited so long, he knew he had to go to the bathroom – just like he did when they used to play hide-and-seek as kids. He crossed his legs. He held his breath. He counted to five hundred…

Suddenly the back door opened and Tommy came out.

Followed by his sister, who was holding him by the ear!


August 16, 2016

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 268

Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

SF Trope: The Good Guys travel through time to stop a historical Bad Guy, usually Hitler
Current Event: “The Academy of Fine Arts Vienna rejected [Hitler] twice, in 1907 and 1908, because of his ‘unfitness for painting’.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler)

Johannes Klingle and Shoshanna Barbivai glared at each other across the room. She said, “Why do I have to go with him?”

The technician looked at both of them, then shrugged, “I just run the time machine. I don’t make policy.” He tweaked a control, then turned away to make adjustments to a touchscreen on the wall behind the console.

Johannes said, “Feeling’s mutual, lady.”

She snorted and said, “I’m surprised you’d even talk to me.”

Johannes – Joe – shook his head, “I’m a American Democrat. We’re trained to be inclusivist to the exclusion of all else.”

“An American and a Jew...”

He cut in, “...walked into a bar…”

She cut him back, “I don’t drink, so the rest of the story would go, ‘and she watched as the stupid American teenager got sloshed and pissed away the opportunity to do whatever it was he was supposed to be doing.”

“I’m not a teenager.”

“That only changed last night,” she said.

“Yeah? Well I read your dossier, too. You’re here as a last resort to save the military career of ‘Daddy’s little girl’ – oh, and I wouldn’t toss around the part about Americans getting sloshed. From what I read, apparently you didn’t need a bar to get wasted...”

They were standing face-t0-face when someone in a white lab coat walked into the room, took one look at them, pointed a wand and depressed a button.

Both Johannes and Shoshanna gasped and fell to the ground, writhing in pain. The woman in the lab coat released the button and said, “You’re a matched pair of fools. That’s why you’re here. This is the first in a series of time travel experiments and you’re both under arrest by the governments that shipped you here. Johannes – you’re here because not only did you do a DUI, you ran over a Republican Senator’s daughter. She’s still in ICU and the murder charges are pending. Shoshanna, your father said this will be the last time you embarrass him if you fail. I have in my possession papers that will remove you to,” she glanced down at a tablet computer she held in one hand, “Ravensbrück – if you don’t ‘get your act together’. You also both have a pain enhancing device clamped on to your brain stem. You’ve seen a demonstration of what it can do. While it may not work in the past, no one is entirely sure of that. So we’ll have to see.” She smiled a Reaper’s smile at both and said, “Your mission is to convince the Director of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna to admit Adolf. The Director’s name is Gustav Wessely. You’ll be brother and sister visiting your great-grandfather on his deathbed. Adolf is your mother’s sister’s brother-in-law’s son. He’s been in trouble, but he’s a good kid. A little lazy, but he had problems with father.”

Shoshanna stood up slowly, shook herself and glanced down at Johannes. “Who the hell are you and what am I supposed to do to make that happen? From what history says, Hitler was a mediocre artist. Even I could have painted circles around him.”

He nodded and said, “That is exactly what you are going to do. And Joe there on the floor is going to help you.”

“How’s that?”

“The future possible Führer of all of Germany is deathly afraid of beautiful women. He’d never talk to you. But he loves drinking – especially when other people are paying. Between the two of you, you’re not only going to give him watercolor lessons,” he said looking at Shoshanna. “You,” he pointed at Joe on the floor, “Get up. You look like a fool. You’re going to get him drunk and them teach him how to talk to women.”

“Him?” Shoshanna exclaimed.

“Me?” Johannes exclaimed.

“Yep. The dynamic duo.”

“Who the hell do you think you are?” Johannes shouted.

The man in the lab coat smiled and said, “My name is Frank Adolph Hitler.”

“Who the hell would name their kid that?” said Shoshanna.

“Famous artists often name their children after themselves. Often times the next generation passes the name of an important ancestor on as well.” He bowed, sweeping on hand dramatically backward then stood up, adding, “I am one such descendant of one such ancestor – in a very, very different timeline than the one you two came from.”

Names: (Modern) Israeli; German/Austrian

August 14, 2016

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Frankenstein WAS NOT a Character Until He Got Zapped!

On Friday, we laid my mother to rest at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery.

She’d passed from this world eighteen days earlier.

As with all events that strike at our mortality, this set off a chain of thoughts that seem random – as well as striking some people as a bit macabre or even profane. Yet for me the chain was profound.

I am a writer as well as a grieving son, and the two are strangely melded into a single Human with one bicameral brain. Thoughts constantly cross-circuit, short-circuit, and short out. This is an instance of not knowing exactly which one happened – but producing a startling result.

The woman we laid to rest was NOT a character anymore.

Her spirit, the soul that animated her, had departed eighteen days before the body was buried.

What had created the character known by many names – but chief to ME, as Mom?

I personally believe she was animated by an eternal God to serve the purpose for which she was created. Be that as it may, as a WRITER of characters who are often accused of being less-than-cardboard, I was abruptly faced with the question, “What made Mom an active, beloved, moving character in the story of her life? What drew hundreds of people to her funeral in the cramped chapel of the obscure digs of the Cremation Society of Minnesota?

Were they there to look at a body? Emphatically NOT! There were there to honor, celebrate, and grieve over a character who would no longer play any role at all in her life or the lives of any others.

So WHAT made her a living character – and selfishly – how can I use her death to make my own characters come to life? All of this rumination leads me to the irrefutable statement above. Before Frankenstein’s Monster was zapped, he was just a man-shaped pile of stitched-together meat. If he had not been animated by a lightning strike, the book would have ended there with, “It rotted. THE END”

The question is then, “What made Mom a character?”

First and foremost, anyone who knew my mom would tell you that she was FUNNY. My sister found twenty-six pairs of wildly unusual eyeglasses when she was cleaning out Mom’s stuff. I have a pair of Harry Potters at my elbow. She was buried with five other pairs laying on her hands. Why was she funny? Because SHE loved to laugh. By making herself laugh – sometimes at the expense of her dignity! – others couldn’t help but laugh with her.

Second was that she was passionate about a few things: her family, being part of a crazy annual scholarship fundraiser called the Wastebasket Revue, quilting (everyone in the family has one or more of her works of folk art, and there are probably more elsewhere), and lastly, in the brief eulogy my artist-author-psychologist daughter posted, “May I ever be a representation of your cool sophistication, bold style, bravery, and strength as a mother and my grandmother.” (I guess there were more things in the Second than just the one.)

For now, then, if you’ll pardon the pun, which I didn’t intend: rather than flogging a dead horse, what actually made my mom – and by extension ANY character – alive?

1) They are funny – intentionally or accidentally.
2) They are passionate about a few things.
3) They are sophisticated (= worldly, experienced) in whatever world they inhabit.
4) They have a bold style and move forward, even if they’re timid at first.
5) They are brave which implies that the character is afraid of something.
6) They are strong in order to overcome some OTHER force acting against them.

Also note that humor, passion, sophistication, boldness, bravery, and strength CAN ALL FAIL. That is the tension that should be inherent in story. Stories of those who are both real and those who are fictional.

So, to quote the fictional character Mia Thermopolis, “The concept is grasped. It’s just the execution that’s a little elusive.” (PRINCESS DIARIES 2). We’ll see if I can apply this Frankenstein Concept consistently in the future.


August 11, 2016

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION -- Chapter 46



On Earth, there are three Triads intending to integrate not only the three peoples and stop the war that threatens to break loose and slaughter Humans and devastate their world; but to stop the war that consumes Kiiote economy and Yown’Hoo moral fiber. The Braiders accidentally created a resonance wave that will destroy the Milky Way and the only way to stop it is for the Yown’Hoo-Kiiote-Human Triads to build a physical wall. The merger of Human-Kiiote-Yown’Hoo into a van der Walls Society may produce the Membrane to stop the wave.

The young experimental Triads are made up of the smallest primate tribe of Humans – Oscar and Kashayla; the smallest canine pack of Kiiote – six, pack leaders Qap and Xurf; and the smallest camelid herd of Yown’Hoo – a prime eleven, Dao-hi the Herd mother. On nursery farms and ranches away from the TC cities, Humans have tended young Yown’Hoo and Kiiote in secret for decades, allowing the two warring people to reproduce and grow far from their home worlds.

“We had nearly fallen into stagnation when we encountered the Kiiote.”
“And we into internecine war when we encountered the Yown’Hoo.”
 “Yown’Hoo and Kiiote have been defending themselves for a thousand revolutions of our Sun.”
 “Together, we might do something none of us alone might have done…a destiny that included Yown’Hoo, Kiiote, and Human.” (2/19/2015)

Great Uncle Tim held up his hand, palm facing Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh (ret) – we called him Retired, and said, “Not so fast, Lieutenant Commander.”

“Yes?”

“You are essential to the plan we’ve got for you.”

“That’s the second time you’ve referenced a group.”

Tim grinned, “Exactly. We would like to retain you for your services.”

Retired scowled then said, “Who are you?”

Tim gestured, “I’ll have to ask you to come in here in order to tell you anything more.”

Retired stepped backwards into the corridor as he drew his pistol. “I’m going to ask you one more time and then I’m going to start shooting: who are you?”

“If you came into the chamber, I could show you…”

“Yes, and then you’d have all of us in one place – one of only three Triads on Earth. One of only three real chances to bring this idiotic war to an end before Earth is devastated and the Yown’Hoo and the Kiiote leave us to ourselves to take their idiotic war to some other unsuspecting planet.”

There was a long pause until Great Uncle Tim said suddenly, “There aren’t any more unsuspecting planets. This is it. Either the war ends on Earth or the Yown’Hoo and the Kiiote return to their home worlds to breed and continue their war to extinction.”

The Herd backed deeper into the room Tim had opened to us. Retired backed further into the corridor, raising his weapon. The Kiiote unfolded themselves into their humanoid forms, backing against a side wall and Qap and Xurf shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the Pack somewhat behind them.

Me and ‘Shay moved toward the door but didn’t step out.

GU Tim glared at Retired then pursed his lips in an entirely human way, then finally said, “Impasse. You don’t trust me…”

“Why would I? You murdered one of the Herd.”

“I told you, the small one, the Yown’Hoo Ked-sah-ti, was murdered by the Humans in the helicopters. My root only found it and recovered the body,” said Tim.

I looked back to Retired, who said, “All we have is your word on it.”

Tim snorted, “If you think I wouldn’t have hesitated to kill the Herd mother if had suited me, ask your Human boy here what he felt when the robot had him around the neck.” They both looked at me.

I said, “It could have killed me, no problem. I about suffocated as it was.”

Tim nodded, then looked back to Retired and said, “I want this Triad to survive. I want it to prosper, and I want these aliens to go back to where they came from.” He looked to the Herd, then the Pack, adding, “No offense, Herd Mother, Pack Leaders, but I want the conflict your people started with each other off of the world of the Humans.” He looked at me and ‘Shay. “I want you to have a world all your own.” He sighed, “I may not be Human, but I was programmed to mimic Humans nearly a century ago. The hard wiring has started to become reflex. I respond without computation when certain things happen. There are even days I forget that I am not a flesh-and-blood Human, but a plastic-and-metal Human. I act no stranger than you act,” he gestured to me. “And I certainly act less suspiciously than you act,” Tim looked at Retired. “I may not be Human, but was programmed to act Human.” He paused a long time before he added, “I fail to see the difference between them,” he gestured at us, “and me.” He tapped his chest. Finally, he added, “I don’t want to see any of you dead. I want to see the Triads succeed. But there are other forces at work here. Forces I can barely stand against.” He paused, “I’ve said all I can say. You can believe me and stay in here tonight; you can disbelieve him and stay out there all night. But if you choose not to trust me, then you’re on your own from now on. I will not have anything more to do with your flight.” He crossed his arms over his artificial chest and stopped talking.

Retired looked at him, then looked at me. He stared for a long time, then finally said, “He’s your family, ‘Car. Do you trust him?”

“Who, me?” I staggered back into ‘Shay. She shoved me forward. “Why do I have to decide?”

“Like I said.”

I looked at my great uncle, Tim. I’d known him during the first ten years of my life – well. Since being stitched into the Triad though, we hadn’t seen each other. I shrugged and said, “I trusted him when I was a kid.”

“Do you trust me now?” my great uncle said abruptly.


August 9, 2016

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 267

Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

H Trope: good vs evil, Goddess of Chaos Will Reign!


But this is just an idea day, so read the article above about the possibility of Scotland seceding from the United Kingdom (discussed this with my wife or daughter…there have been “disunity” tremblors in all sorts of countries at all sorts of times. From 1836-1846, Texas was an independent republic. Quebec continues a long history of attempting to break free of Canada. The USSR shattered (or reassembled itself) into its original annexed nations.

So – let’s take North America: the Republic of Vermont, the Republic of California, the Free State of Jones, the Republic of Texas, MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan), Deseret, and an Independent Quebec are all movements that are taking place or happened in the past and were efforts of smaller groups to separate themselves from the federal governments of the United States, Mexico and Canada respectively. Now, what if these separatists were being driven by a dark goddess of chaos and a group of teens from each place met at a camp to discover they were avatars of this goddess…and didn’t particularly WANT to stay that way?

Thomas Evans shook his head and said, “You don’t think we’ll go to Hell for doin’ this?”

Nancy Seddon shot him a disgusted look and said, “I thought you didn’t believe in God or Hell or anything like that?”
“Well, I don’t really, but just in case, isn’t summoning Kauket like a sin or something?”

Nancy laughed, “She’s already lose in this world, Tom. Look around you.”

They were in an abandoned barn in southern Missouri. “It’s no different than usual.”

“Yeah, but things have to change. We can’t go on like this!”

Tom looked down at her, where she was drawing marks in the packed earth. She’d made a big deal of sweeping away all the old, brittle, dry hay and clearing a circle. She’d also set out crude tallow candles which she’d lit with a laboriously struck flint. He glanced at his bloody knuckles. “It’s worth bloody knuckles for?”

Nancy glanced up at him as she finished the last line and stood up, rocking to the balls of her feet. She wore an expensive pair of shoes they’d pulled from the body of a white woman who’d been strangled to death and left by the roadside to rot. “It’s worth summoning the goddess Kauket for.”

“Why do you need to call some foreign ‘gyptian thing for? Don’t we have any chaos goddesses in the Confederacy?”

“We’re in the Union now, Tom. ‘member? We’re the Free State of Jones.”

He grunted. He hadn’t forgotten. He’d even shot a couple of Rebs for the good Mr. Knight. He just hadn’t the stomach for much more’n two. Nancy had dragged him away and said she had an easier way to knock down the Confederacy. “I forgot. No Choctaw goddesses…”

She surged to her feet and shoved him, “Nanishta is a powerful goddess! In fact, she will reign over the end of the world!”

“Why don’t you call her, then?” Tom said, fighting the urge to shove her back.

Nancy looked back at the ring she’d made, shrugged, and said, “All right, fine. I’m sure she’ll listen to me even though…”

Tom backed from the circle as a dark, thunderhead had appeared, roiling in the center of the circle. At first it looked as if it would begin to rain in the dilapidated barn, but before he could laugh, the walls all around them began to bleed…

Names: , Common Southern names during the American Civil War

August 7, 2016

WRITING ADVICE: Can This Story Be SAVED? #2 “With Stars and Stones His Only Witness” (Submitted 8 Times Since 2008, Revised)

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, In April of 2014, I figured I’d gotten enough publications that I could share some of the things I did “right”. I’ll keep that up, but I’m running out of pro-published stories. I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it, but someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. Hemingway’s quote above will remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales, but I’m adding this new series of posts because I want to carefully look at what I’ve done WRONG and see if I can fix it. As always, your comments are welcome!

ANALOG Tag Line: As we age, we often discover that the dreams we once had for our future have changed into someone else’s reality.

Elevator Pitch (What Did I Think I Was Trying To Say?): What if the last of the original Moon colonists had watched the dream of an impartial, focused research-oriented science society morph into a haven for the elderly, the entertainment industry, and extreme sports enthusiasts – and the last vestige of the dream is about to be lost forever?

Opening Line: “I’ve always loved the seven-and-a-half meter-tall Lunar giraffes.”

Onward: Montrose Dylan is the last of the original Lunar colonists and a system-wide news service has assigned a reporter to follow him until he dies. Ana Perez has come to be a sort of “great-niece” to him.

What Was I Trying To Say? Like I said above, this is a sort of “my story”. When I was a kid, I had strong hopes that we’d have colonies on the Moon and a strong space program. I believed that space travel would be commonplace and that everyone else would be excited about it. Obviously, I don’t live in the future I’d hoped for. Dylan doesn’t life there, either. How does he react? How would I react if I was in his spacesuit?

The Rest of the Story: After they travel half-way around the Moon to the inoperative Far Array, Ana is badly injured in an accident that is a direct result of the fact that even though she’s a natural-born Lunite, she’s totally unfamiliar with how to behave on the surface. You may find that unbelievable, but I live in a state that has 10,000 lakes and over 12000 bodies of water all together – and whose eastern border is mostly rivers and Lake Superior... You might assume that with that much water around, EVERYONE would learn how to swim. Your assumption would have made you look the fool because over a hundred Minnesotans drowned last year.

Dylan goes into a trench he helped dig and is badly injured. Trying to rescue her – and pretty sure she’s dead – he has a heart attack at the bottom of the trench with her. The story ends with everything around him fading into darkness – and the stars and stones his final and only witness…

End Analysis: Everything about the story is fine. It’s executed well, coherent, and gripping. But the subject is negative – totally excluding sciencey magazines like ANALOG, LIGHTSPEED, and CLARKESWORLD. Even ASIMOV’S. It’s just too…horrifying. In its own way, it’s as creepy as the Borg of Star Trek are. It represents not the “worst” Humans can do, rather it’s too much like real life – where the compromises we make for convenience-sake and because the alternative is too hard, deliver us to a very ordinary, prosaic, and absolutely NON-heroic future.

Can This Story Be Saved?: Only if I change the ending, let Dylan save Ana or Ana save Dylan, and have them pontificate about ways to change Lunar Society…which wouldn’t happen. So the answer to this one is: “No. There’s no way to save this story and still remain true to my message.”