June 16, 2019

WRITING ADVICE: The Forest For The Trees

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. Since then, I figured I’ve got enough publications now that I can share some of the things I did “right”.

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 above will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

My first time around the lake every Spring is always An Event for me. I’ve been pedaling in the basement on my bike for a chunk of winter, albeit on a friction stand.

Can you say, “Boring…”?

So Spring is an exciting time for me. Spring 2019 was no exception, and when I got on the trails this morning, much to  my surprise, I discovered that they’d cleared nearly three meters of brush, branches, and trunks on either side of the asphalt trail!

What was most amazing was the view it gave THROUGH the forest. Something like this:

Without all the deadwood and weeds, I could see the actual bones of the forest, noticing game trails and paths, as well as the surface of the lake itself (it’s actually a swamp in the second decade of the 21st Century. The old map we found in a drawer in the house when we bought it 26 years ago shows the original lake to be MUCH larger than in 1956 when the land hereabouts was surveyed.)

What’s this got to do with writing advice?
Well, I just sold the longest story ever, for a shockingly substantial bit of money and the REASON it happened is that I’ve been learning to examine the bones of my story; clearing away the brush so-to-speak.

The fact is that I was startled by the end result of the story myself, even though I wrote it.

So what do I mean by “the bones of the story”?

In case you didn’t know, I’ve spent a substantial number of years of my teaching career (which began with my graduation from college in 1981 with a BS in Biology and after taking a several other classes, a license in Science 5-9) as a science teacher. I still teach a summer school class called Super Storms and Melting Poles that starts with a foundation in climate science then ends with “weather prediction”.

At any rate, I’ve been writing a series of advice essays using the book WIRED FOR STORY that, unsurprisingly, takes a look at writing from a purely neurological view. I “got” her concept immediately, and after absorbing the wisdom, I began to write with renewed excitement.

HOWEVER…(there’s always a ‘however’, isn’t there?), neurology wasn’t the only place I was weak in. While ideas, dialogue, and execution were my forte, building BELIEVABLE characters was my biggest weakness. I could do it and I’ve got a varied number of professional publications to show it, but the sad fact is that I only publish ten percent of what I write. In other words, I only rarely create a character an editor can connect with.

I can’t tell you how many characters I’ve created, but since 1990, I’ve submitted 1,126 times. Probably one third of those are distinct stories…so say I’ve created roughly 300 main characters; of which 106 saw publication (one of those characters, Candace Mooney, who lives in space, saw THREE stories about her). That’s not insignificant, but the return on the effort is small.

I guess on reflection, I’m not doing anything inherently “wrong”. But I can certainly get BETTER at doing what I’m doing! That’s what I’ve been pondering here. I can do it – but HOW did I do it?

Clearly Lisa Cron’s insight has made the process much easier to use. Since August of 2018 after I finished reading the book, I’ve written three stories, submitted two of them and sold both. But the main characters of all of them are “real”.

Carlos Bander (from the unsubmitted one, has been around for a while and appears in four or five “trunked” stories); Scrabble & Thatcher – an online veterinarian who is piebald and a genetically engineered, exiled Canadian soldier; and then an ensemble cast in which Larry Henry is unusable after this, but whose colleagues, Serena Ochoa-Noriega (Flight Director) and maybe Mayra Hernandez Hernandez (Mission Control Vox)…or in order to not to appropriate a culture, I may drag in one of the kids he alludes to early in the story…hmmm…THAT might be interesting…

Back to my metaphor of not seeing the forest for the trees – the thing is explained this way: “An expression used of someone who is too involved in the details of a problem to look at the situation as a whole.” (Dictionary.com) So why don’t my characters spring to life off the page?

My simple answer is that I was taking too much time figuring out the details – what they looked like, what their qualifications were for the job to be done in the story (an conversely, I just realized I chose the wrong person to tell a different story I was working on…NOTE TO SELF: “Small Battles”), how I wanted them to act and react and not realizing that if I “cause a person to be born”, the person responds out of who they are rather than in the way I want them to.

And maybe that’s what I’m trying to say: when the foliage is cleared away, you can see the forest for what it IS. You can see lesions, marks, new branches, squirrel nests, antler wear, beaver gnawing, leaf litter, fallen trees…all the things that define the character of a forest that you can’t usually see because of the abundant leaves masking all of the details in waves of multiple shades of green.

June 11, 2019


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: The dead coming back to life...
Current Event: Any “miraculous” “resurrection” of someone who was “dead”…

Ephraim Mendoza shook his head and said, “That can’t be.”

Mercedes Chokkoon pursed her lips, closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. When she opened her eyes, she said, “She’s dead. I was with her when she died.”

Frowning, Ephraim looked at her, eyes wide and said, “You said she’d be fine.”

Mercedes shrugged. She couldn’t take any more of this. “She was my sister. She was just your girlfriend. You think this is easy for me?”

He stared at her for a long time before he said, “No. That’s why I don’t understand how cold you’re acting. You sister is dead. The love of my...” his voice caught and he looked away. Not before she saw the tears slid down his face.

Mercedes glare at him, willing herself to blame him. “I can’t.”

“Can’t what?”

“Blame you.”

“What do you mean ‘blame you’? How could I have had anything to do with...”

Mercedes shook her head hard, “Nothing you did. Nothing you didn’t do. She wanted to live for you.”

“So? She wanted to live for you, too!”

“Not enough.”

“You’re blaming her for dying?” he said, incredulous. “She didn’t do anything to deserve this! She had no control...”

Mercedes slapped him. Then found her hands clenched in fists. One moment she was trembling, the next she was hitting him. She hit his face. Hit his nose. His eyes. Then she kneed him in the groin. He shoved her away, slamming her into the wall. She bounced off, spun, and fell face-first into the meal tray, screaming obscenities at him. He was down on the floor with her, hands around her throat, pressing; pressing; pressing the life out of her...

On the bed beside them, Chante sat up and said, “Stop it. Now.” There was no emotion in her voice. There wasn’t even a breath. The sound came without her moving her lips.

Mercedes scrambled back, free suddenly from Ephraim’s hands. He tried to stand as well, but tumbled over her. They found themselves with their backs against the hospital room door, side-by-side, clasping hands.

The heart monitor, still connected to her, was silent. The respirator, still taped to her jaw, was silent. The EEG waves turned the screen green with wild activity as she spoke, “Stop it. I love you both and if you don’t stop fighting…”

Names: ♀ French, Thai; Israeli, Mexican; ♀ French

June 9, 2019

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Breaking Our Arms Patting Ourselves On The Back and Schools Slandered

Using the Program Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, California in August 2018 (to which I will be 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. The link is provided below where this appeared on page 125…

Afrofuturism: It Ain't New
Millions of people learned the term Afrofuturism when Black Panther became a box office sensation. However, this ain't new. Sun Ra, Parliment Funkadelic, Earth, Wind, and Fire, Octavia E. Butler, and Samuel R. Delany created a foundation that inspired musicians, artists, and writers like Janelle Monae, Nisi Shawl, Nalo Hopkinson, Kyle Yearwood and others long before Ryan Coogler brought T'Challa to the big screen. Let's discuss the roots of Afrofuturism and who is creating the most interesting works today.

Rivers Solomon: writer New York Times, An Unkindness of Ghosts, graduate of Stanford University
Steve Barnes: writer, novels & television, currently student of martial arts and yoga
Nilah Magruder: a writer and illustrator, picture book, award-winning webcomic, written for Marvel, storyboards for DreamWorks and Disney

I’m going to focus on one sentence here: “…Afrofuturism…ain't new.”

I’m also going to add gender identity, GLBTQ, socialism, liberal accepting atmosphere, and school and add: “…ain’t new.”

I have worked in public, private, and charter schools (definition in Minnesota, see here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_school (scroll down to United States, paragraph 2); I have worked with EL students; special education students; and was the first  International Baccalaureate Middle Year Program teacher in my high school; taught grades 3-12 in various subjects to varying ability levels through gifted and talented. I was among the first in my district to be certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS); I was the Minnesota Science Museum Teacher of the Year (1994); I have written curriculum for the PBS television show, NEWTON’S APPLE and the PBS sponsored series, Bill Kurtis’, THE NEW EXPLORERS. I am currently a school counselor at a first ring suburban high school. Latest statistics show the school is 69% students of color, primarily African American with a large population of Spanish-speaking/Mexico/Central America students in addition to Hmong, Somali, and various dialects of English (Nigerian, Liberian, and others).

I will warn you: I am a conservative, straight, BOFWhiG* with no novels published or under contract and no blog followed by tens-of-thousands of people. I’m currently not a member of SFFWA or SCBWI, though I have been in the past, mostly because I don’t get enough published to really justify the expense of both. I would say that I am a fair and equitable counselor and colleague, but many wouldn’t believe me because it doesn’t fit with their paradigm: I must be a certain way that neatly fits into what some people believe someone of my description should be. I cannot be anything else. One would actually have to talk to the people I interact with to, you know, know who I am, but that would require a level of effort most biased people have no interest in expending.

So, forward.

Schools have been working the mines of equity far, far longer than the Speculative Fiction World has. Consequently, we have made more progress than the SFF world.

And now I pause to allow anyone reading this to dredge up their most horrific School Prejudice/Abuse Stories. Most often, these include horrible teachers, abusive teachers, abusive principals, abusive counselors, the abusive System, and abusive athletes and popular students, and all manner of other damaging evidence that would completely shatter my statement that schools are better at dealing with (and have been for a LONG time) oppressed, underrepresented young people who have grown up into the adults who are now working to change the speculative fiction universe – many who tell the TRUE STORIES about how difficult their school lives were. However, they may have forgotten the one or two GOOD things that happened in school; perhaps one person who made their school life tolerable, or supported them, or loved them as they were. They neglect to tell it because…well, bad things are always more interesting that good things. Most national news programs can barely bring themselves to transmit 60 seconds of something “nice”.

My point is that while I am glad that the SFF field I know and love is finally beginning to include the alienated (funny play on words, that…), I am heartily tired of the fanfare that accompanies something that should have happened DECADES ago for a literature that prides itself on forward looking.

I am also irritated by the fact that I have nothing to add to the conversation because I so love to talk and write.

Until this piece, I haven’t wanted to fight the current gag order, mostly because I’m exhausted with caring for the underrepresented and oppressed students (and colleagues and teachers, actually) who have gotten to know me as an advocate and confidante for and to them.

I won’t engage in argument unless someone does a bit of research into who I am…which they won’t…so I won’t be engaging with anyone on this issue soon. Maybe someday, though. We’ll see.

Until then: what SFF recently discovered to be an issue and is currently patting itself on the back over its active and inclusive response (which IS great, but tardy) – schools have been responding to for decades. To quote the WorldCon writer of the session description noted above, what we do, “…ain’t new.”

I’ve always been part of that response – and I will continue to be for the next three years of active service. After that…not sure, I hear retirement is boring.

Definitions: *Big Old Fat White Guy

June 6, 2019

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 147: Aster of Opportunity

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 (100,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

Aster, Consort of Opportunity Mayor-for-Life Etaraxis had found a public rest area, sitting to close her eyes and breathe deeply for several seconds. The Orphan’s Ball might very well shatter the stranglehold grip “natural Humans” had over cloned Humans on Mars

She would be heading revolution that might change the face of Mars. Standing, her pulse roared in her ears as she headed for the lift, she thought furiously that this might very well be the purpose to which God had called her. She might be a fulcrum to change the face of a world; to make a difference in the lives of Artificial Humans. While her life was limited on Mars, mostly because she was less interested in the sciences and math than many other women, she’d never really found a calling. It was how she drifted into government office work. While she’d applied for higher positions, none of them had ever materialized; her father had always suspected it was because she was his daughter. She’d been gifted with NOT simply being consort to Etaraxis, but with an opportunity to wield true power.

Her moment had arrived. It was time for her to do something important for Mars; it was time to do something important for herself. She rode the lift to the surface, then took a train to the Mayor’s Aerie. No one slowed her down. In fact several bureaucrats nodded, several smiled. She was startled to realize that many appeared to like her.

She abruptly realized that this was her power base. By the time she reached the Apex – the part of the Aerie that poked through the dome, she was confident she could shift the consensus directed at Artificial Humans. She was feeling good about herself until, unseen, Vo’Maddux was walking beside her. Weasel – Aster knew the word from her father’s description, describing a sharp-toothed, rat-like creature who was not to be trusted. She’d never seen a real one, but the images father had shown her were disquieting. She leaned in close and said in a low voice, “I hear your father is a leader in the Christian under…”

Aster scowled, cutting off the Mayor’s assistant, “Yes, he is. Etaraxis knows. You know. He’s been like this my whole life, so it’s no secret from me.” She stopped, spinning to face Vo’Maddux and leaned into her face, “Are you trying to blackmail me into something, assistant?”

Vo’Maddux leaned back, startled, then leaned back in, said angrily, “If you don’t do as I want, I can have your old man executed.”

Aster stood, shook her head, and said, “I’m fairly certain you’re overestimating your influence on the Pylon.”

“And I’m certain I am now, Consort. You’re one of a long line of virtual one-night-stands. You’re no different…”

Aster stepped full into the other woman’s space, crowding her, forcing her to take a step back to risk collision – and even she wasn’t bold enough yet to be seen possibly attacking the Mayoral Consort. There were, after all, eyes everywhere and she was not, after all, the Mayor’s Consort. Aster looked down at her from her slight height advantage, and said, “You’re not Consort yet, Vo’Maddux, and until you’re ready to risk your life in challenging me, you’d be wise to take a couple of steps back.” Aster took a quick step forward, forcing Vo’Maddux to collide with her and risk a record of her assaulting the Mayor’s Consort – or back off.

She backed off. Aster nodded, turned, and strode away toward the Pylon. She was certain Vo’Maddux sliced her to ribbons in her imagination. She said faintly, “But not today, Dear,” she tossed a look over her shoulder. Vo’Maddux hadn’t moved. With a smile, she added, “Not today.”

June 4, 2019


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. Regarding Fantasy, this insight was startling: “I see the fantasy genre as an ever-shifting metaphor for life in this world, an innocuous medium that allows the author to examine difficult, even controversial, subjects with impunity. Honor, religion, politics, nobility, integrity, greed—we’ve an endless list of ideals to be dissected and explored. And maybe learned from.” – Melissa McPhail.

F Trope: Conjuring…
Current Event: http://www.spellsofmagic.com/spells/spiritual_spells/conjuring_spells/390/page.html

Jacob Adams scowled, shivering in the cold. He wore black jeans and boots, but all he wore on top was a baseball cap turned backwards and an A-shirt. “All I want is a fire to keep warm! I said the spell, how come it’s not working?” His breath puffed out a white cloud with every word.

Ada Contepomi stood with her fists balled on her hips. She was wearing her light blue parka, mittens and knee-high Mukluks. She said, “What exactly did you expect?”

“Fire! The website said that all I needed to do was, like, imagine the fire then speak the words and I’d have it.”

“So if ‘conjuring fire’ was so easy, don’t you think that everybody and their mother would be doing it right now?” She sniffed. “You should try and find a spell for something useful – like conjuring a tank of gas or a Big Mac with fries and a large, hot peppermint mocha!”

There was a sharp snap that had nothing to do with icicles falling from the roof of Jacob’s house and a ball of fire suddenly flared up, hovering over the snow in the driveway. “Oh, my gosh!” Jacob said, dropping to his chest on the frozen driveway, staring at the flickering ball of flame. He held out his hand then looked up at Ada, “Hey! It’s not hot or anything. It’s no warmer than the air!”

Ada looked disgusted and said, “So even though your magic spell worked – it didn’t make what you wanted it to make?” Shaking her head, she said, “When you’re ready to give up this crazy stunt, come in and we’ll watch Wheel Of Fortune.” She turned and stalked away.

Jacob lay in the driveway, staring at the whirling flame ball. Holding his palm to the flame, he moved his hand slowly closer until he was almost touching it. “Maybe it’s only hot on the surface or something.” He uncurled a finger and reached slowly toward it, ready to jerk it back in case the little flame ball was actually hot.

He didn’t realize what was happening until he noticed that his finger had disappeared up to the knuckle…

Names: USA, Minnesota; Argentina
Image: http://www.skyscrapernews.com/images/pics/6255CaernarfonCastle_pic1.jpg

June 2, 2019

Slice of PIE: The Maker Movement, TASERS, & the Future Of Science

Using the Program Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, California in August 2018 (to which I will be 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. The link is provided below where this appeared on page 87…

Tom Swift, Makers & SF
210G | 1 hour
Every Fan knows about Tom Swift, the teenage millionaire inventor who, in each book in the huge series, develops an amazing device and uses it to make a fortune or defeat an enemy (or both). When the first of the books was written the devices were pushing the limits of possible and of affordable. Today, the Maker Movement has shown that there are many interesting and useful gadgets that can be made easily and cheaply using readily available materials and tools. The Tom Swift-like Maker is no longer a very common SF trope, but it should be. The panel of Makers, Engineers and Fen discusses gadgets from various pieces of SF which can, or might, be
achievable by existing makers (page 87).

Lincoln Peters: software engineer, photographer, uses Arduino, Raspberry Pi boards
Howard Davidson: Ph.D. in physics, Industrial Physicist, holds 52 patents, taught Computer Engineering at Stanford, and has done professional biology on the side
J.L. Doty: full-time SF&F writer, Ph.D. Electrical Engineering, laser geek
Holly Griffith: mechanical engineer who has worked at NASA for 11 years, been on the Science Channel, starwars.com, in Popular Science

I will here confess, for the first time in public, that as a young man (quite chubby and an avowed bibliophile (who wasn’t allowed to collect books until quite a few years later)), that I often dreamed and hoped for and drew plans for, a spacecraft that would be lifted from Earth under a balloon and from there, blasting into space.

Sort of like the step beyond what this company is doing: https://www.worldview.space/ only using this:

Needless to say, I never did (as I am alive and typing this), but I’ve always thought that there had to be an easer way to get into space than investing billions of dollars into NASA, or SpaceX, or Virgin Galactic.

Seems to me that the whole idea of the Maker Movement (or Culture) – which is “a contemporary culture or subculture representing a technology-based extension of DIY culture[citation needed] that intersects with hacker culture (which is less concerned with physical objects as it focuses on software) and revels in the creation of new devices as well as tinkering with existing ones. The maker culture in general supports open-source hardware. Typical interests enjoyed by the maker culture include engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and the use of Computer Numeric Control tools, as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and, mainly, its predecessor, the traditional arts and crafts. The subculture stresses a cut-and-paste approach to standardized hobbyist technologies, and encourages cookbook re-use of designs published on websites and maker-oriented publications. There is a strong focus on using and learning practical skills and applying them to reference designs.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maker_culture) – is a response to the “DFL – style of governance” that encourages government to deal with problems as opposed to the “GOP-style of governance” that encourages individuals to deal with problems.

Oddly, the original TOM SWIFT books, which the Maker Movement more-or-less typifies a “do-it-yourself” attitude Robert A Heinlein infused his “juvenile” books with (in particular ROCKETSHIP GALILEO). There are 40 in the Original Series; another 33 in the Tom Swift, Jr. series; 11 in Tom Swift III; 14 in Tom Swift IV; 6 in Tom Swift V; and starting in July, a newly commissioned series, Tom Swift Inventor’s Academy, books 1-3 will appear starting in July of 2019.

That’s 107 books about an independent inventor kid (or kids) who intentionally works outside of not ONLY corporate control, but entirely outside of GOVERNMENT control.

Tom Swift, perhaps, typifies our disgust with both capitalists and governmentalists; flying out from under the control of both and inventing and using whatever it is that they can imagine.

Ironically, an invention from TOM SWIFT AND HIS ELECTRIC RIFLE inspired the name of a non-lethal weapon used by police forces (and citizens) all over the world. The company tweaked Tom’s name, introducing a generic “A.” to create the anagram, TASER – Thomas A Swift’s Electric Rifle (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Swift_and_His_Electric_Rifle)

So what does this have to do with science fiction?

Tom Swift led at least one generation to science careers; Robert A. Heinlein led another; the Apollo astronauts and Star Trek led another generation into science careers. My question: who will lead the iGen into the sciences? So far, no one.

What about the Makers? Are they up to it? For more information about stuff that’s going on today: https://makezine.com/2018/09/20/young-leaders-need-the-maker-movement/, and https://makerfaire.com/bay-area-2019/schedule/ (this is over but will probably occur next year!), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independent_inventor, and https://www.inventorsdigest.com/

May 30, 2019


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. All three intelligences hover on the edge of extinction. The merger of Human-Kiiote-Yown’Hoo into a van der Walls Society might not only save all three – but become something not even they could predict. Something entirely new...

The young experimental Triads are made up of the smallest primate tribe of Humans – Oscar and Xiaomara; 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 at great profit to Humanity. Then the war spilled over on to the Human homeworld and all three are threatened with extinction…

Choral Reading
STAGE DIRECTION: (Spotlight falls on each as they speak then shuts off, illuminating the next; then all three spotlights fall on them as they chorus together.)

Yown’Hoo: “The literal decay of the fiber of Yown’Hoo morality accelerated when we refused peace with Kiiote.”
Kiiote: “Interbreeding, internecine war, and ritual cannibalism devoured us in resisting harmony with Yown’Hoo.”
Human: “Material gain from both Yown’Hoo and Kiiote fed our greed, so concord held no profit.”
All: “We might do something none of us alone can do, we might braid an unbreakable cord of unity.” (4/6/2019)

The Pack sent by Commander Patrick Bakhsh (ret), leader of the Triad refugees from the Twin Cities had Kiiote, Xurf and a temporary Herd Mother, Zei-go. With them were the maturing Herd members, Hil-hi-el, Jus-hi-el, Pack members Fax, and Doj, and the mere potential intelligence, Herd member Eel-go-el. They listened with Kiiote ears pricked up and Yown’Hoo earholes cupped with pilo-ridges. A Human adolescent dressed in well-tanned hide trimmed with fur was saying, “The dude was a mechanic; much older than me. I would ask questions, but be would only shake his head…”

“What is ‘dude’?” Zei-go interrupted.

“A young male,” Kendi said, scowling.

“You just said he was older than you,” said Eel-go-el.

The Herd Mother aimed a kick at the potential intelligence. In this Triad, there was none lower that it. It dodged. “I am confused!” it cried.

“You will be confused more often as you grow into intelligence. Until then, remain silent, watch, and learn.”

“You, what is your name?” The son of Khadijah and Morrison; grandson of Song and Rey and Abbas and Julianna; great grandson of St. Admiral, Marvel Louise Williams-Frederick, had been their contact in the deep wilderness of Minnesota State. But he had not been expecting them, and they’d no idea who they were to contact on the mission The Commander had set for them. The potential, addressed by a Human they needed to complete their mission, answered. Zei-go aimed another kick, deliberately missing, emphasizing the potential’s place in the Triad.

Xurf spoke instead, seeing the point the smallest Yown’Hoo was asking about, “Why would that make any difference?”

“He’s a…a…honorary ‘dude’. He doesn’t act like the oldsters I’m known before.”

Zei-go said, “How many Humans are in your Tribe?”

“My Tribe?”

“Yes, Humans live in Tribes of two or more. This is what we’ve always been taught,” said Xurf.

Kendi snorted, “I don’t know where you got your information from. Most of us out here live alone. Too many of us get together, and the Forces come to take us out.”

“Who are the Forces?” said Zei-go.

Kendi shook his head, “I thought you Triad people were supposed to be geniuses. That’s what the Commander said.”

Xurf and Zei-go looked at each other. Finally Xurf said, “We like to think so, but we have never been out of the Twin Cities. We know of nothing but what we were brought up in.”

Kendi sighed, then said, “The mechanic said that all boys know how to work with machines like this ‘tank’. I can’t be a boy because I can’t make it work…” he hung his head, shaking it. The Pack Leader and the Herd Mother knew the motion well. Both Xio and ‘Car used it when they were about to give up.

Xurf softened his voice, lowering himself a bit closer to the ground as he said, “We may not know your world outside of the Twin Cities, but the gift of the Triad is that we each have strengths that will play to the others. Show us this ‘tank’. Together, perhaps we can make it work again.”

Kendi lifted his head, nodded and said, “It’s not close.”

Xurf looked to Zei-go and said, “I have no doubt your Herd can make the trip no matter how grueling, but if the Pack falters, would you be willing to help us?”

She freed the tip of a tentacle to snap an emphatic agreement. “Commander Baksh sent us together. I cannot believe that he would do so without expecting our skills would mesh and we would experience success. Of course we will.”

Xurf snapped his jaws in surprise. He’d not seen this side of the Yown’Hoo. He sneezed, of course he hadn’t seen anything like it – she was junior to the Herd Mother, Dao-hi. This was her first command. He looked to the wild Human and said, “We agree together that we will follow you.”

Kendi bowed and said, “Follow me.”

The Triad fell into single file, beneath trees laden with snow. “There wasn’t this much snow in the Twin Cities,” said Fax.

Xurf growled at the pup then said, “You are ‘Car’s friend. We understand, but you need to act less Human.”

“That’s not why I made the statement,” Fax said, farting in irritation.

“Why then?” asked Herd Mother.

“Beings – Humans, Yown’Hoo, even Kiiote leave tracks in the snow. The more snow, the more obvious the tracks.”

Kendi stopped in front of them and came back. Squatting, he faced Fax, “You see something I don’t?”

Fax flattened to the ground then rose a bit. This Human smelled nearly the same as Oscar, young, exciting, anxious, and daring all at once. Fax said, “Not what I see – you Humans have better vision than Yown’Hoo and Kiiote. But in scent, we are unassailable.”

“What do you smell?” said Kendi immediately.

“I smell burning plastic.”

The Human stood, spun in the direction they had been going and said, “That’s not plastic, it’s oil.” He looked down at Fax, “We need to hurry. Something may be wrong.” He headed into the woods an after a moment of hesitation, the Triad followed.

May 29, 2019


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: Isaac Asimov’s Three Kinds Of Science Fiction: “Gadget sci-fi: Man invents car, holds lecture on how it works.”

Khünbish Qureshi said, “Once we drill through the ice, we can begin extract the uranium. But we have to do it fast.” He tapped the wide pipe with his heavily armored hand. While there was no true atmosphere and the surface of the moon was exposed to the radiation sleet from Jupiter, they both wore flexible suits and had ridden to the surface on little more than a hovering plate.

“You think extracting a few metric tonnes of uranium from this moon would have any kind of effect at all?” asked Yelizavta Zaya. She bounced a few meters back after stomping her foot.

“I can’t say for sure.”

“Why not?”

“I’m a geologist...”

“You mean a Eurologist?”

“That makes me sound like a bladder specialist!”

“Well, it’s not Earth, so you can’t be a ‘geologist’.”

“There’s not a bladder in sight, either!”

Beneath their feet, the ice sang. On any other world, it would have been a quake, but here the ice vibrated, shifting, sliding along cracked edges. Immense crevasses sang bass that shook the world like a drum head; smaller ones sang faint hymns of joy; the smallest sang beyond the hearing of Humans.

Khünbish slapped the pipe again and said, “If there were living things under the surface, maybe my sucking the lifeblood from the water will make them sit up and take notice.”

“I doubt there’re sitting beings under our feet, Khun.”

He grimaced at the diminutive – Americans and Loonies made a habit of lopping parts of people’s names off willy-nilly – and said, “Whatever they’re doing, I’m hoping they notice.”

“And if there’s nothing under our feet but ice, water, uranium?”

“Then we stand to make a fortune and retire wherever we want to.” He bounced back as the ice began to sing again. As he fell to the surface, he grimaced and said, “Can you hear that?”

Names: ♀ Russia, Mongolian; ♂ Mongolian, Pakistan   

May 26, 2019

Elements of Cron and Korea #8: Misbeliefs And Creating A Science Fiction Future

I may  have mentioned that one of my goals is to increase my writing output, increase my publication rate, and increase the relevance of my writing. In my WRITING ADVICE column, I had started using an article my sister sent me by Lisa Cron. She has worked as a literary agent, TV producer, and story consultant for Warner Brothers, the William Morris Agency, and others. She is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences, and a story coach for writers, educators, and journalists. I am going to fuse the advice from her book WIRED FOR STORY with my recent trip to South Korea. Why? I made a discovery there. You’ll hear more about it in the future as I work to integrate what I’m learning from the book, the startling things I found in South Korea, and try and alter how I write in order to create characters that people will care about, characters that will speak the Truth, and characters that will clearly illustrate what I’m writing about.

“Remember when Luke has to drop the bomb into the small vent on the Death Star? The story writer faces a similar challenge of penetrating the brain of the reader. This book gives the blueprints.” – David Eagleman

Oddly enough, I’m writing this as my son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren are preparing to leave South Korea. They’ll stop off here for a month or two, then move to their new permanent home on the East Coast. They’ll be back on the same continent finally and we couldn’t be happier!

So, without further ado advice from Lisa Cron and how it tangles with South Korea: The reader expects the protagonist will have a longstanding misbelief that has kept her from easily achieving that goal.

“Aha! This is what the story is actually about, to wit: How the plot forces the protagonist to recognize, reevaluate — and hopefully — overcome the longstanding misbelief that has long kept her from achieving her goal. It’s this inner change that, as readers, we’re innately tracking from the first page forward.

“To be very clear, we’re talking about a misbelief about human nature, rather than something factual. It’s not: ‘I thought the world was flat, and guess what, it’s round!’ Rather it’s: ‘I thought that no one could ever love the “real me,” but I’ve discovered that that’s exactly what makes me loveable!’

I suppose the…well, not shock…most startling thing I experienced while I was in South Korea was that the country’s attitude is entirely different than the one we have here in the US.

Oh, I’m not talking politically – Korean politics are FASCINATINGLY complex, especially when you factor in the South’s democratically elected government, and government by divine appointment in the North (for a fascinating explanation of WHY the Kim family has ruled for three generations and why that won’t be changing any time soon, you need to understand “juche” – https://s3.amazonaws.com/berkley-center/030101LeePoliticalPhilosophyJuche.pdf)

Please remember, that while the USA has a total (including the initial multiple colonial incursions) history that’s barely half a millennia, Korea has almost FIVE MILLENIA of history as an advanced, literate people.

Never thought of that? Neither did I.

After decades of watching the TV show, M*A*S*H (which I still love!), my impression of what the place they were at – Uijeongbu, South Korea was, looked like is this: 

The FACT of the matter is that this is Uijeongbu today: 

Further, the Koreans were exploring the stars long before Americans were. Cheomseongdae was constructed in the mid-600’s AD. (Europe, well, let’s just say that Stonehenge (as we see the ruins today), the keystone of European pride when it comes to astronomy, while it was laid out about the same time the Koreans were unifying their peninsula, didn’t lead to much in the way of astronomy and the religion that spawned it, practically speaking, was gone by the time the ruins were rediscovered) I was here; I took the picture: 

But for some reason, mostly because I’d never thought about it, I didn’t realize that South Korea today is on par – and more advanced than – we are here. This is one of three radio telescopes (this is the one on Jeju Island, I took this picture as well) of the Korean Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network: 

So, how does this all tie into expectations motivating a main character?

A story I sent out recently for consideration, is an incident that takes place a few years from “now” and involves the sparking of a new space race, not by some warrish super power, but by the technologically advanced Koreans. It’s the opening bid in a story series I’m thinking about – all because my long-standing misbelief, which I will transfer to a main character once I start writing, stood very MUCH in the way of seeing the world the way it really is…

UPDATE: I sold "Komsahamnida, America" to ANALOG SF! I'll let you know when to expect it.

May 23, 2019

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 146: Stepan of Burroughs

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. If you’d like to read it from beginning to end (100,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

QuinnAH tightened his arm around Stepan’s waist and said, “You can come back when the people aren’t going to murder you and feed you to Mayor Peta Nasseri.”

Squirming, Stepan finally gave up to hang limply over Quinn’s shoulder. “You know I have to…”

“You have to live today so you can come back and keep doing your God’s work!” Quinn threw Stepan over his shoulder. “You’re gonna go down the chute…” Quinn opened the floor chute and kissed Stepan on the cheek, then shoved him into the chute and slammed it shut. Outside the crowd got uglier. Looking at the door, Quinn sighed, then hurried to the secret stairway door. A moment later, the warehouse was empty.

Half way down to the stuffcap tubes, he stopped on a landing. “Wasn’t here before,” he muttered. All Artificial Humans had perception enhancement – it made them more useful to Born Humans. He could see into both the infrared and the ultraviolet. His hearing range had also been altered. Where Humans could hear sounds between low-pitched speaker hum, up to a high-pitched, nearly unheard squeal – not volume, but sound, felt more than heard. AH’s couldn’t quite hear the low hum, but could hear dog whistles, which some Humans used to “call them”.

He heard a sound, just at the edge of his hearing – and he had better hearing than most of his friends. An oldster had quipped, “New model upgrade!” and slapped him on the back of the head.

Quinn stopped in the dark, kneeling, and felt around. An object, roughly spherical but…he rubbed his hands over it…dented and smooth now, but maybe with a rough surface once a long time ago. He dropped the sphere. What if it was something that had belonged to the alien who’d been in the weird space suit Stepan had found and given to the older Artificials? What if this was another artifact? He reached gingerly out and found it, picking it up. Maybe it would be worth a lot of money? Maybe her could buy his freedom. He tucked it into his pants and continued down into the underground as the tunnel of the stuffcap shook around him.

Stepan hadn’t intended to lie to Quinn, but God had laid a call on his heart, not only to feed the poor here on the Rim, but to bring hope to the hopeless. He was fairly certain that the rioters outside the warehouse had been set up for this by his father – if not personally, then set up by agents acting for the Home Owners District. He just didn’t know if the mob was made up of Rimmers or hired thugs from the HOD. He shook his head. There was only one way to find out and Quinn tossing him down the chute had taken that chance away. He sighed. Not that he could have fought himself free.

He had no idea what Quinn would think of him if he knew he’d once been a HODder himself. For an instant, he felt like he should spend some time praying, then smiled. An old Christian he’d known had been leading an underground – literally underground, in the maintenance tunnels under the stuffcap tubes – service when Security blundered into one of their alarms.

The smile faded. If he couldn’t be honest with the boy, who could he be honest with? He needed an…agent…in the area. Someone to speak to his honesty…realizing the irony of that thought made him shake his head and sigh.

First chance he had, he’d tell Quinn everything. This time he did stop and get down on his knees, holding up the entire situation to God, and asking Him to both orchestrate the moment and prepare Quinn’s heart.

And his own.