September 18, 2014

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 59: Stepan in the HOD
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, go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story.

Stepan-whose-given-name-was-Nathan shook his head, “Not for nothing, Dad. My ideals are as strong as yours and Mom’s. They’re just different...”

“And divisive.”
“No more divisive than your Unified Faith in Humanity has become. Why are there still Five Councils after a hundred years of us living on Mars? Why do Humans discriminate against non-Humans?”

His father waved away the accusation then finally went to a straight back chair and sat down with a sigh. Shaking his head, he said, “I don’t know.”

“My beliefs would say that it was sin – not what God intended, but what we chose because we wanted freedom from God.”
His father sighed then looked up at him and said, “What do you need?”
“I’m starting a rooftop community garden – I’ve got a community contact now…”

“Quinn.” Stepan/Nathan took a step forward, lifting his hand. His dad said, “No need, son. We can do it.”
“You can get people to support my garden?”

He shook his head, “Not your garden, this ‘Stepan the do-gooder’s garden.”

Stepan opened his mouth as his temper flared. He knew his cheeks were red as well – he’d never been able to hide anger or embarrassment from the world. His red hair and pale, freckled skin coupled with his temper had earned him the nickname of Kū, a Hawaiian god of war. But he wasn’t the same man he was when he chose his own life and left home and his parent’s beliefs behind. He said, “Agreed.”

His dad nodded slowly. “Good. You’ve grown up.” He stood up and went into a back room and came out with a parcel. He held it out.

“What is this?”

“Your mother and I were going to give it to you when you left home, but you left before we could give it to you.”

Stepan took it and held it. The material was smart – it slithered until it hung in his hands. “A rauba?” He frowned and said, “Vestments?”

His dad snorted. “Don’t get too excited. Your mom and I,” he voice caught. His wife, Stepan’s mother had died shortly after he’d left them for the Rim. Dad had never forgiven what he felt was Stepan’s betrayal. The betrayal had killed his mother. He continued, “It was your mother’s acknowledgement that you were going to be different than the kid we thought we’d raised. It was my parting shot. Your mother thought it was cruel and that I shouldn’t have done it. But I was angry.”

Stepan pursed his lips and said, “I was, too.”

He shook his head, “What did you have to be mad about? We gave you everything.” He glared.

“Except the freedom to make up my own mind.”

His eyes widened, then he dropped his gaze. “Yeah. Freedom for everyone but our kids.” Shaking his head, he suddenly smiled. “I thought it was a function of youth rebelling against their parent’s wacko religion – Christianity or Judaism or Islam, obviously. What I never realized until years later is that once we trained you to have a brain, to make the right choices. I just figured you’d make the same choices I did.”

Stepan smiled as well, “It was close, dad. If you wanted to listen, I’d have talked your ear off – and maybe even stuck with you.”

“Your mother listened.”

Stepan nodded, “She did. But I wanted you to hear me. You’re my hero.”

He opened his mouth, then turned away abruptly. His voice came weakly, bouncing off the wall. “Just go.”

September 16, 2014


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.

Nthanda Ben Inoue squinted his eyes and said, “So even though I can build a robot that would take care of all my enemies and let me live my life in peace, I can’t?”

Izuma Kohut, his best friend, “no-we’re-not-boy-friend-and-girl-friend!”, said, “You can’t build a robot.”
“I can, too!” He waved at the pile of junk sitting on the lab table. Even though they were freshly-minted grad students – and two years younger than any of the other students at MIT, which put her as a legal adult and HIM as “jailbait”. He added, “I’m pretty sure that I can create an artificial intelligence that can move.”

“Rolling on treads and weighing seven gazillion metric tonnes is not the science fiction dream of an AI robot. They’re looking for Sonny.” When he rolled his eyes back into his head and faked passing out she reached over, grabbed one of the longer hairs on the back of his neck and yanked.

“Hey!” he screamed, coming up and knocking over the lab stool. He scrambled away from her. “You’re a menace to society! I’m calling Campus Security!”

She shortly fell off her own stool laughing at him. He reached over to make sure she was all right and she pointed up at him, laughing harder. Flushing crimson, he headed for the door then stopped abruptly, turned around and said, “You know, someone is gonna invent AI and give it legs or wheels or treads to make it mobile. Might be someone benevolent – and it might be me.”

She called after him, “Yeah, but if you create an evil AI, I’ll create the superhero to battle him!” She was talking to a closed door by then, but scowled as she stood up, brushing herself off. Now they wouldn’t talk for weeks. It was the pattern of their relationship. He hadn’t talked to her for a month after she turned eighteen and stopped their…intimate friendship cold. She told him she couldn’t afford to go to jail if they had an argument or broke up. He’d gone off in a huff and hadn’t texted her or called her for almost six weeks. They’d been in the same classes, but he hadn’t dared miss those. He HAD sat across the room from her no matter where she sat.

She looked at the pile of junk on the lab bench. There was nothing to hint at any kind of robot mobility mechanism – but that just meant he’d hidden it somewhere. He rarely threatened without cause or back up. On the other hand, while she may not have his mobility skills – he had taken National Grand Champion during National Robot Week – she was typically better at the brain part of the robot. An off-hand comment she’d made – “Change the paradigm if you want to beat the others. For them it’s all – buzz saw, chain saw, electrocute. Why don’t you do something, I don’t know, different…” He’d made a robot that drowned the opponent.

She studied the junk, sighed, then got to work.  

Names: ♀Japan, Albania; Tumbuka (S Africa), Hawaiian


September 14, 2014

WRITING ADVICE: What Went Right in “Mystery On Space Station Courage” (CRICKET 1997) Guy Stewart #6

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, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote to the left will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

This was a long shot – but not totally out of the blue.

In 1993, shortly before we moved to a homestead farm in rural Wisconsin, I stumbled across a small, church youth magazine called HiCall. The editor was interested in science fiction with a Christian message. I subbed once and was summarily rejected. I second time also garnered a rejection, but this time with a note of apology from the editor – she couldn’t use the story because dancing (even ballet for alien communication) was not acceptable to their denomination.

Chagrined by my ignorance, I did more research and wrote another story about paramedics on an alien world. She took it, published it, and I realized I’d fallen into a genre I’d never had any intention of mining.

This bit of history led me to the summer of 1995. I started to think about seriously approaching the market with SF for children and young adults. Not “funny SF” like Bruce Coville’s MY TEACHER IS AN ALIEN, but serious science fiction like Heinlein wrote for boys in the 1950s and that had hooked me as a kid on SF and eventually science.

While I doubted a straight SF story would be saleable, I wondered what would happen if I mixed an perennially  favorite genre with it. Mysteries are the mainstay of children’s literature, ranging from NANCY DREW and the HARDY BOYS through to Kate Messner’s SILVER JAGUAR SOCIETY. If I took science fiction and combined it with a mystery, I should have a saleable story!

I postulated a space station far enough in the future that the people there would feel completely comfortable bringing up their children in space. Being a space station, no one would let the kids run around. They would have to have TRAINING in order to be safe, so these kids don’t just “go to space school”, they learn how to do something useful – not like cleaning out rocket tubes or spinning thread poisoned with lead-based dyes or anything like that – but they need to have responsibilities as did their rural forebears.

The main character, while I never said she was African American, was supposed to be and the artist picked up on that. She’s a kid struggling with a serious loss...

Ah, but this was supposed to be COOL! My market was HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN, so it had to involve something kids could understand. There couldn’t be any aliens (I’m still working on aliens and kids), so it had to be technical. So – is there something a kid would need to know in a space environment? Sure! Everywhere you go is monitored in some way on a space station. But when you’re in a space suit, your only link to the outside world is your radio.

What if the radio goes out?

It seemed logical to me that kids could learn Morse Code – they’d have headlamps on their space suit. They’d have flashlights. They could rap out a standard SOS if they were trapped somewhere.

Trapped’d expect a KID to mess up and get trapped somewhere. But what if it wasn’t a KID? What if it was an adult who got trapped somewhere? And...

I built the story around the possibility that an astronaut, working on a communication dish gets wedged into a space he can’t get out of. Trapped, he does the only thing he can think of – he taps an SOS out on the bulkhead.

Why would a young person hang around in one place? Ah! She got grounded! Why?

All of the elements of this story started to draw together as I messed around with them. I drew sketches of the antennae as well as the chamber the astronaut got trapped in. I had to review my knowledge of Morse Code (which the editor included in the final copy!)

The story HAD to move fast – stories for young people in HIGHLIGHTS are just over flash fiction. I had no spare words to use. I had to write both a mystery and a space story, so the background had to be explicit. I created a friend who’d lost a parent in a space accident – and that set the background so that the trapped astronaut made sense. Space was dangerous.

Of course getting into a car is dangerous. Going to school is dangerous. Crossing the street is dangerous. Playing soccer is dangerous. Living in space is dangerous. You can DO all of these, but you have to be careful…

A second story came out of this milieu and if you’ll excuse me, I feel another Space Station Courage story coming on!

September 11, 2014


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.


“What kind of trouble?" asked Freddie Merrill.

“No trouble,” Tommy Hastings exclaimed.

Arnie Volz, truck driver and boyfriend of Edwina Olds, Lieutenant, WACS (ret.) said, “Maybe serious trouble.”

“Not my mom and dad! Mom was a servant – like a maid or something! Dad worked in the garden – it’s why he says he never wants to see flowers in our house ever again! He hates flowers.”

Freddie turned to Tommy and said, “What’s he get her on Valentine’s Day?”

“I don’t know! My parents don’t do stuff like that!”

Arne laughed, then said, “They most certainly do! Where do you think you came from?”

Both boys turned fire plug red. Tommy felt his ears burning like they were being twisted by Lars Olafson. Tommy stammered as he said, “They did not! You take that back!”

Arne stopped laughing suddenly, letting up on the truck’s gas pedal as he shot both boys a look. “I was just thinking that a man would do anything for the woman he loves.”

“My dad don’t love my mom!” Tommy said hotly, his ears burning again.

“Sure he does, son. You and your brothers and sisters are a result of that love. How many of ‘em do you got?”

Tommy snorted, “I got only my sister,” he paused, looked at Freddie then added, “Sis says there was others, though.”

Freddie said, “Others? You never told me this!”

Tommy shrugged as the truck slowed down some more. He pointed out the window and said, “We gonna stop here or something?”

Arne snorted, looked back at the road then at Tommy, “Sort of depends, kid.”

“Depends on what?”

“What your parents got themselves into and if they got out of it.”
“What are you talking about?” Tommy shouted. He wasn’t feeling real good about the truck slowing down.

“Seems to me like your mom and dad and that picture of theirs is something these Finn folk want.”

“I don’t got nothing!”

“You don’t have anything;” the older man corrected automatically. Shaking his head as he drove, he continued, “As I see it, you already know the Finns want the picture and as long as you don’t have it, they want the next best thing.”

Freddie said, “What’s that?”
“They’re going to want Tommy as a hostage.”

“A hostage?” the boys exclaimed, their voices cracking into soprano screams in unison.

Arne couldn’t help but laugh, then said, “Of course. They’ll nab you, send a letter to your parents and demand that they send the picture – after that, they’ll send you back.”

“Kidnappers never send the kid back!” said Freddy. “They kill ‘em just like Bruno Hauptmann killed Lindbergh’s baby!”

Usually the first person to laugh at Freddie’s crazy ideas, Tommy’s eyes got bigger and he suddenly couldn’t breathe. Gasping, he fell back on the seat, staring out the front window. He could see it was getting dark. What if Arne stopped right here, dumped him out because he didn’t want to deal with Finnish socialists, and left Tommy for them?

Arne looked over at him and just as the truck was about to slow to a stop, he floored the accelerator and said, “If I left you out here, Ed wouldn’t let me live more’n five minutes after I told her.” He sighed, “We only got twenty-something miles ‘til we pull into Duluth.” He scowled at them, and said, “Then I’m gonna have to ask you boys to get out and back on your own.”

Tommy started to breathe again, but his heart was still pounding in his chest. What would they do once they got to Duluth and it was the middle of the night?

September 9, 2014

Story Acceptance -- After A Decade!

This morning I got news that the editor at ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact (LONG my favorite magazine and one I've been published in three times) was going to take my short, PROBABILITY ŽERO piece!

I am thrilled! (Can you tell?)

PS -- this cover is significant because it illustrates a story by SF Grand Master, Clifford D. Simak. The piece I just sold is a "play" on a novel written by the same author...

Image: (most recent issue of ANALOG)


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: Lost Vessel\Ghosts
Current Event: http://abcnews.g

“Sounds like a made-for-podcast movie: ‘Erebus & Terror In The Northwest Passage’,” said Yousouf Ngo, sliding her iOS smartphone back at her across the table. “Not for me.”

“You can laugh, but there’s lots of creepy stuff surrounding those two ships. Just because the Canadians found them doesn’t mean it’s gonna be a good thing,” said Andrina Živković. She picked up her phone and continued to scroll. After a moment, she tapped it four times and a projected image sprang up between them.

“Can I still laugh even though your ideas about what happened are a proven pile of waa-waa? Only instead of laughing at the story and the ‘explorers’, I’m going to be laughing at you.”

Andrina shook her head, shooting a grin back at him. He may not have noticed the malicious glint in her eye. She said, “Ever hear of the Tuunbaq?”

She snorted, “No, demon monster.” She shot him a sideways look. “Didn’t your grandparents settle in northern Canada?”

He frowned. “Yeah, but what’s that got to do with anything?”

She shrugged, and even though she knew it would drain her battery faster, she upped the drain and pushed it into iLogram mode. The image of a creature – the demon formed between them.

“It’s a polar bear!” Yousouf exclaimed.

“Hardly. It’s a demon, and the legend says that it hunted each one of the crew down and slaughtered them.”

“They found three of the crew…”

“Sure – out of how many?”

He paused a long time before he said, “A hundred and thirty men. But others had been found! Is this demon monster Tuunuq thing gonna eat all of Canada?”

She lifted up a hand and turned on the sound of her smartphone as an announcer said, “Prime Minister Stephen Harper, long an advocate for discovering the remains of the British ships Erebus and Terror, and infamous for goading the unlikely alliance of Russia and United States into a trade war with Canada, has been assassinated.”

They looked at each other in shock then hunched over the phone as the reporter continued, “Preliminary reports posit a bomb being placed in the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive, but security and military intelligence reports nothing like a bomb exploded on the grounds at any time. Surf back to us for continuing updates or follow us and link to our live data stream…”

Names: Arabia, Serbia ; Switzerland, Vietnam

September 7, 2014

Slice of PIE: Hunting For Writing Success my (very) early Sunday morning bike ride before church, I took a bike trail that winds along a marshland, behind a metropolitan bus garage, light industrial park, and a large, three-star hotel (NOT motel).

The trail dropped down below grade to ride perfectly level with the current surface of the water – this trail is often submerged in the spring and any time after a summer rain.

Sunrise light was still a hundred meters overhead, gently brushing the highest ledge of the hotel when I abruptly traveled back in time to October of 2012. My son, one of the boldest risk-takers I know, had decided that year to prepare for and become a deer hunter. Hardly a stunning past-time. Thirteen percent of the population of Minnesota goes deer hunting and Minnesota is first nationally in the sales of fishing licenses per capita. However, he wanted to hunt with a BOW.

After weeks of practicing in his back yard, the season opened and we set off with our pop-up tent trailer. We were headed to the southeastern “foot” of the state and I’d rented us a spot at a campground not far from where my son had targeted our hunt on publicly owned land.

After getting lost, we scouted out the hunting site after work on Friday and prepared ourselves. We made weary camp, and after a meal and a campfire, we hit the sack and turned the cell phones on to wake us long, long, long before dawn.

The next morning, we set off for the hunt! What ensued was a fascinating tramp through the woods that ended with a trip and fall into a stream of REALLY cold water; a short afternoon nap as the temperatures soared into the seventies and an Indian Summer settled comfortably over  the decidedly-way-more-than-redneck campers packed into the campground, listening to the blaringly broadcast Vikings game, and a sundown tramp through the woods again. The next morning we did the same (without the dip in the stream), and still came up empty handed.

Different story, apparently disconnected, but same intent – biking to the library at six thirty in the morning on a Sunday doesn’t seem like a wise thing to do, but my intent wasn’t to check out a book. The ride gets more intense after the level meander alongside the edges of the swamp. It climbs a walking ramp over the interstate highway. This involves some serious pedaling, but after a summer of biking, it was completely in my power to do it without having a heart attack.

Once to the top, I had to carefully coast down on a spiral ramp so I wouldn’t go careening off into the creek, the interstate, or the lawn below.

So what does all of this have to do with writing, science fiction, or faith?

First of all, no matter how much I want to quit writing, I have to keep practicing. Every writer has to keep their practice up to stay sharp. When a writer stops writing – novels, articles, stories, OpEds, or essays – only one thing is inevitable: they get rusty. They may not produce work that is the same caliber as what they first produced. I’m not saying a writer can’t change direction and remake themselves. That happens and will continue to happen. But if you stop writing, you can’t help but get worse than when you stopped!

Inversely, you can’t help but get BETTER the more you practice – provided you continue to grow as a writer and learn. (See my other article for an opinion on what might happen if you just keep writing without learning: No matter how difficult the ride seems, I have to keep riding, keep practicing.

Connected to that is the observation that what is past is important and may have a bearing on the present. My bike ride brought back the empty-handed hunting experience with my son to remind me that writing is a LONG-TERM commitment and more often than not, I’m going to get my story back with a rejection. Success will neither be swift nor regular. Maybe superstar writers only produce books and stories that are instant best sellers or purchased by editors without hesitation, but Kristine Kathryn Rusch said, “Failure is an option. If the manuscript doesn’t work, I redraft—in other words, I throw out everything I did and try again. Yes, that means I write sometimes two or three times more material than the readers will see in print. And yes, that means I sometimes toss out more material than I publish.”

Those are incredibly encouraging words for me! How about you?