December 8, 2019

WRITING ADVICE – Lisa Cron #13: The Harder They Try To “Fix Things”, The Worse It Gets!


In 2008, 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. To learn more – and to satisfy my natural tendency to “teach stuff”, I started a series of essays taking the wisdom of published writers and then applying each “nugget of wisdom” to my own writing. During the six years that followed, I used the advice of a number of published writers (with their permission) and then applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda to an analysis of my own writing. Together these people write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Today I add to that list, Lisa Cron who 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. Again, with permission, I am using her article, “A Reader’s Manifesto: 15 Hardwired Expectations Every Reader Has for Every Story” (2/16/18 http://blog.creativelive.com/essential-storytelling-techniques/)...

13. The reader expects that as the protagonist tries to solve the plot problem, she will only make things worse, until she has no choice but to face her misbelief.

“We expect that the protagonist will have two mutually exclusive goals: first, to resolve the plot problem; second, to remain true to her misbelief while doing so. The irony is that the thing she thinks is helping her – her misbelief – is actually what’s keeping her from getting what she wants. This reveals the most fundamental, and potent, source of conflict in any story: your protagonist’s internal struggle – what she wants vs. the misbelief that keeps her from getting it.”

OK – I’m going to analyze a set of three stories I’m working on now. “Panhandlers” is in submission; “Hermit” is nearly done; and “Immigrants” will be the final story in what I have named, in an act of extreme creativity, TRIPTYCH…

At any rate, let me think out loud about the protagonist, Carlos Bander. In the first story, Carlos, the first child of a family of migrant field workers (who in fact, lived down the road from where I grew up) to benefit from their bold move to buy a house and settle in our 100% white, middle-class, suburban neighborhood. I can’t imagine the courage that took or the pressure they were placed under to leave, nevertheless, in reality, that eldest son became a celebrity chef. The main point there was for their children to get an education beyond what they received.

The main plot problem of all three stories is he’s been “kidnapped” into service to the Unity of Sentients. Why? Because a measure of civilization is the willingness of the species (as a whole) to embrace sacrifice as a sometimes necessary response to challenge. Also, because in a multi-species union inevitably, conflict will occur. When evaluating new members for the Unity, agents investigate how a species deals with conflict. Carlos is one such Human.

Wars don’t automatically eliminate a people from membership in the Unity. It’s HOW war is fought that might eliminate them. Also, the Sentients or their culture must have something of value to trade and a desire to ask for what they need.

In this future (as in reality), Humans have a vast knowledge of domestication of a wide variety of species as well as medical skills that have little precedence in the Unity civilization.

Neural, cell, and organ regeneration is virtually ubiquitous in all other Sentients; in fact, it’s considered a necessity for intelligence to develop. Earth life is nearly unique in that while complex life forms can regenerate cells and sometimes other major organs, in most mammals regeneration is limited and selective. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regeneration_(biology)). As a result, Humans developed transplant technologies virtually unknown in the Unity.

As for domestication, Humans have domesticated 39 different animal species; 12 insects; and over 100 plants. We use many others, but these are the most significant. In the Unity, there have been very few species with a high domesticability factor on the home worlds of most members of the Unity. Certainly, there have been nowhere near as many such species on a single world. Unity experience with domestication is limited at best.

At any rate, Carlos knows his family history and his goal is to help as many people as possible. His misbelief is that he has been called to work with young people as a counselor and a social worker. It’s become his self-image. Others in the Unity have evaluated him (and thousands of others, of course), as possible candidates for Contact in Human society and ones who might receive training to help the Unity with its next step: integration of Humans into Unity culture. So far, they liked what they saw. So, they put Carlos to the test.

In “Panhandler”, Carlos is fired from his job, tossed out of his home, and must survive on the street. But, for some reason he is unaware of, his test has accelerated and he must choose saving the life of an alien being on Earth, or saving his own life.

In “Hermit”, Carlos, now linked with two aliens who see him as “their project”, has to face his prejudices and his loneliness (his wife died before “Panhandler”). He also has to think on his feet and while the story will end fairly well, it will also exacerbate his loneliness.

In “Immigrants”, I hope to delve into the current Human drama playing across multiple cultures on the planet. While we in the US seem tunnel-focused on pursuing our own self-righteous efforts to lead the planet in our inclusiveness, we ignore other cultures whose resistance to immigration is worse than ours. The ten WORST: https://haskewlaw.com/the-top-ten-toughest-immigration-laws-world-wide/; the ten BEST: https://www.immigroup.com/news/top-10-immigration-friendly-countries.

So – generosity, isolationism, and immigration. Issues that the Unity is looking at in Humans and areas that Carlos doesn’t understand the reactions he has in himself. He’s internally conflicted and externally conflicted as well. He gets into trouble when he doesn’t make what he thinks is the “right choice”. (He’s also secretly a Christian!)

However, I just realized that I may have been a bit too easy on Carlos in “Hermit”. Excuse me while I go give him a worse time!


December 3, 2019

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 424


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: Hitchhiking ghost

Fatima Ozturk peered out through the tiny port of the Space Station Courage repair pod – the SSCRP affectionately known as a “Scrapper”. She said, “What are we supposed to be looking for?”

Her lab partner, Durante Ghandour shrugged, “The query marker path on the screen says we’re supposed to look for a malfunctioning satellite positioning dish.”

“How are we supposed to know if it’s malfunctioning?” Fatima muttered. She shot a look over to Durante. He wasn’t exactly her first choice of partner, but he WAS supposed to be some sort of history genius.

Durante leaned forward and tapped the display screen. “It says that it will be obvious.”

She nodded. “Bent then, most likely.”

“I’m just thinking it might be obvious to you, you’re the mechanical genius. Besides, I’m not sure I’m excited about being here.”

“How can you not be excited? We’ve been running 3D sims ever since we started Class 14! I am SO ready to be in space!” She shook her head. She hadn’t taken him for an agoraphobe.

“Not that I didn’t want to be out here – it’s just the timing…”

Piloting the pod forward, Fatima growled when the computer made a course correction she was just about to make. “It may look like I’m doing the job, but Station is still flying this toolbox.” She concentrated on keeping them oriented toward the body of the station while scanning the com dishes that came up on the screen. She tried to get a visual inspection as well as the two windows swept around. “What about the timing?” she asked as they flew to the next com dish cluster.

“Nothing. You’ll think I’m lunar.”

“I already know you’re lunar, so tell me already.”

Durante bristled, “What do you mean you know I’m lunar?”

She shrugged – a tough move in the heavy EVA suits they had to wear. They wouldn’t graduate to thinkskins until they turned eighteen and could sign all the paperwork saying they were responsible for themselves. “Forget it. What about the history of being here?” She figured that might deflect him.

She was right as he said, “This place we’re in right now? This is where Laika and Vladislav Volkov died. Practically the same place.”

“Who?”

He sighed then said, “The Soviet space dog? First living creature in space? She died around this point when the launch of Sputnik 2 overheated. They lied for about sixty years, then let the truth out. Then, three Soviet cosmonauts died in June of 1971 when their ship pulled away from a really primitive space station and a valve got stuck open and leaked all their air out.” He gestured out the window, “I expect their…” He lurched forward, banging his helmet against the thick quartz, whispering, “Yaa ilaahee!”

Names:  Turkey;  Italy, Egypt

December 1, 2019

Elements of Cron and Korea #12: Character, Character, Character? It’s All, About. How...They React!


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

In considering my next move with the Korean Solar Expansion series, I’m going to look at these two elements:

“Cheomsongmae is an ancient astronomical observatory that not only survived the southern advance of North Korea during the war, but is now a place Koreans visit. It has existed since roughly since 640 AD – about 1400 years.”

Add that to the first, most important point that I extracted from Cron’s WIRED FOR STORY: “Story is how a character reacts; to the plot which is what happens.”

I’m going to add another element to this as well. From this essay https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2019/10/elements-of-cron-and-korea-where-do-i.html, I’m going to extract this: “He grew up in South Korea, going to schools there until his family moved back to the US. He enlisted in the Air Force, became a pilot after going to college and getting his first degree in aerospace engineering.”

In addition to something like this happening to my grandchildren, I also have a former student who graduated from high school (not spectacularly, but he did graduate), who worked at Target. A fine job, but not exactly what he wanted. That was the problem though. He didn’t know WHAT he wanted. A little over a year ago, I ran into him at his work and he was excited – uncharacteristically so. He thought he knew what he wanted in life and he asked to come and see me at school. We met and he told me he wanted to enlist in the Air Force and become a mechanic. That was great, but being who I am, we talked a bit more and I suggested he look higher – maybe even to space.

The thing is, he’d never thought of that.

I remember when the desire of many kids was to “be an astronaut”. I haven’t really heard that sentiment in recent years. In fact, since the American Human space program essentially died with the moth-balling of the Space Shuttle fleet (which needed to happen, by the way. They were old. The first tested in 1977, the last landing in 2011 – so thirty-four years they flew the same design with only minor modifications.

Eight years later, and Americans still have not gone into space on anything but the Russian Soyuz spacecraft (though supplies have been delivered by the US (Cygnus), Russia (Progress), the European Space Agency (ATV), SpaceX (Falcon), and Japan (Kounotori).  

So, where does story come in here? What would happen if an amateur built a space craft? This was an “everyday occurrence” in the stories of Robert A. Heinlein; most notably ROCKET SHIP GALILEO. Amazon.com has several books delineating the creation of amateur rockets and pushing the boundaries higher and higher. One article linked below notes that government agencies actually need to monitor amateur launches.

While nothing like Rocket Ship GALILEO has happened, the operative word here would be “YET”. Some years ago, I tried a story in which NASA spread out its satellite and supply launches by creating a mobile launch platform. This is NOT a crazy idea. The military has the capability of moving missile launch systems and does so on a regular basis. The launcher is surrounded by support vehicles like a mobile “mission control”, tracking radar, and power generators. While the missiles are small, there doesn’t seem to me to be any barrier to ramping up the size. Also, with the development of SpaceX’s soft-landing system, completed successfully in 2015, seems to indicate that while I doubt we’d want to try and land rockets in suburban neighborhoods, it’s technically feasible.

So, the basis of my story? A fresh technical college graduate (yes, he understands theory, but no, he can’t calculate orbits in his head at the drop of a hat and then explain the physics of rocket launches…) with certifications in several areas pertinent to space travel; he has ideas and plans but hasn’t had any kind of experience in space.

Like Tom Godwin’s “Cold Equations” (ASTOUNDING Science Fiction, August 1954. Read a reprint here in LIGHTSPEED, http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/the-cold-equations/), what if he stowed away? In recent years, there have been profound criticism leveled at this story. James Davis Nicoll wrote at Tor.com, “But of course, the point of the story, as determined by the author and his editor, John W. Campbell, Jr., is to underline a moral: the universe doesn’t care about human feelings. Natural law dictates that hard men must make hard choices. What the story actually says is that lousy procedures kill. Just another instance of humans looking for justifications to be beastly to each other.” (https://www.tor.com/2019/04/29/on-needless-cruelty-in-sf-tom-godwins-the-cold-equations/)

So, given a smart enough person (I’d write the main character as female (using my granddaughter as a template), but I don’t want to appropriate the gender narrative…but I COULD have my writer/daughter read it and comment! Hmmm…), they could get into such a ship and stowaway into space, take notes (probably dictating via cellphone – would a standard cellphone work in space?), return, and then go on to build an amateur spacecraft; possibly launching it from a balloon…or some such…let me see…where’s my clipboard? Excuse me while I start a story outline, working title, “The Manipulated Equations”…


November 26, 2019

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 423


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: magic to summon someTHING

Ruby Yilmaz and Liam Kaya sat side-by-side, skimming through websites. Liam muttered in Phasa Thai.

“English, Liam. English! While we’re here, we’re supposed to be practicing our English,” whispered Ruby. English was her birth language even though her parents had emigrated from Thailand to Australia before she was born and they spoke Phasa Thai at home. “It’s the language of physics!”

Liam grunted and said, “If you want my opinion, then the English isn’t going to be the language of physics much longer – that’ll be either Mandarin Chinese or Hindi.”

Ruby grinned and continued to scan the articles they had to read for the Intro to Physics in the 21st Century class they were taking together this semester. She sighed. What she’d RATHER be reading was articles on ancient magic.

“Look at this,” said Liam.

Ruby leaned over. While she was glad the lettering was English, she rolled her eyes at the site name, “Conjuring Made Easy”. She whispered, “You’re supposed to be reading the articles updating the CERN discoveries!”

“Hey! How do we know magic is supernatural? What if it’s manipulating the laws of physics as we don’t understand them?”

Ruby rolled her eyes and went back to reading. Let Liam waste his time. SHE wanted to move to some rich country someday – like China – and get a real job as a physicist! She wanted to be in on the Chinese dream of establishing a colony on the water world orbiting Alpha Centauri A – what the Chinese called Nán Mén Èr – and what they’d begun hollowing out an asteroid to reach.

“If magic is bogus, then why don’t we print this spell and go over to my place?”

Ruby rolled her eyes again. It wasn’t that Liam wasn’t good looking – it was just that he was quite certain that she found him attractive. The fact was that she had her eye on a certain very tall, very blonde, very, very shy Swedish young man in their physics class...

Liam said abruptly, “I know you’ve got it in for Elias, but I just want to see if this magic stuff actually works.”

Ruby opened her mouth to deny her attraction to the Swede’s light-skinned, elven looks, then closed it, considered, and said, “All right. BUT…” Liam’s look of delight froze on his face. She continued, “There’s no messing around and we get back to work after you’re done summoning whatever it is you plan on summoning.”

“I’m thinking I’m going to conjure up something that understands the laws of physics AND can explain them to me.”

She laughed and, gathering up her books, followed him out of the library. By the time they reached the dorm, however, it was threatening rain. “I’d better get going to my room…”

“That would be dumb! You live two kilometers from here. You’re sure to get caught out in the rain if you leave now – and you don’t have any tunnels you can duck into. Just stay the night. My roommate won’t be back. He’s busy sleeping with his latest boyfriend down the hall.”

Ruby made a face then said, “I’ll come up, but I’m not guaranteeing I’ll stay. If it’s not raining, I’m going home.”

Liam nodded and once they were firmly settled into his room and he’d pulled up the website again, he said, “All right. This summoning spell doesn’t seem to be too hard to pull off.”

“No blood of a virgin required?”

He snorted, “I’m NOT pricking my finger to bleed for a magic spell again. We’ll have to ask the guy next door.”

Ruby gasped, smacked him and laughed, saying, “Well THERE’S a silver lining to these rain clouds!”

Liam was silent, then muttered something that sounded almost like Phasa Thai. Lighting flashed and thunder rumbled to shake the window pane of the dorm room. Ruby scowled, focusing her attention on a particularly complex abstract regarding proof of the Higgs boson they’d discovered at CERN.

She was hunched over her computer when Liam screamed…

Names: ♀ England, Turkey; England, Hopi

November 24, 2019

Slice of PIE: Teen Humor Combatting the Grim Plans of Adults…


Using the Program Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (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…

You Have To Laugh: Humour in Young Adult Speculative Fiction

What with all the struggles of growing up, finding love, saving the world, and overthrowing dystopias, YA literature has a lot of serious business to take care of. But laughter is an outlet too. Is there room for laughter in YA? What kinds of humour do you find in the genre, how are they used, and is there a generation gap when it comes to what’s funny anyway?

Gail Carriger: YA and A author; well-known.
Ellen Klages: YA, A, historical fiction, SF, F author; well-known.
Sarah Rees Brennan: author; well known.

So – lots of experience here; lots of fun, I’m sure. I’ve never read any of these writers, but I DID order WHITE SANDS, RED MENACE by Ellen Klages from my local library.

However, what I do see is that all of them take speculative fiction aimed at young adult readers seriously.

I do, too. Several published stories target young adults – “Skipping School”, “Biking Mars”, “Prince of Blood and Spit”, “Invoking Fire”, “I Need More Space!”, “Fairy Bones”, “Peanut Butter and Jellyfish”, “Penguin Whisperer”, “Mystery on Space Station COURAGE”, and “Test”. But none of them are specifically humorous.

Not that I can’t make teenagers laugh. I do often as both a teacher and a counselor. But the stories above, while there may be funny moments, don’t actually wield humor as a weapon to break through the armor most young adults build around themselves to protect their growing hearts.

And, yes, I DO believe that.

I’ve got several UNpublished stories that lean more heavily on humor than others – “Alien Swimmer From Otter Space”, “An End To Faerie”, and “Not Quite Blue Boy”.

And while many, many, MANY speculative fiction writers who attempt to writer science fiction lean heavily on slaughtering teens for sport (THE HUNGER GAMES, THE WHITE MOUNTAINS trilogy, the MOON CRASH quartet, and many others), some OLDER science fiction found humor a different lens through which to view the future – not that the SITUATIONS were funny, but the characters have a “snarky”, hopeful outlook rather than resigning themselves to either revolution or destruction.

Heinlein’s HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL is one such. THE EVER EXPANDING UNIVERSE series by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal are newcomers to writers who deal with hard teen problems with humor without resorting to mass slaughter or using teens to solve the world’s problems. READY PLAYER ONE by Eric Cline is another novel that, while it has its dark moments, has a streak of rough humor running through it.

While SF is difficult to write, and given the current “adult view” of adolescents, there’s very little to recommend them to the general reading public, and when teachers and reviewers hold up examples like the dystopian novels I listed above, teens take them in (reading ones do, anyway) and absorb the image adults have of them. (I’ve ranted on this before and most other writers shrugged and said I was making too much of a big deal about it…but everyone who commented was…um…an adult. You can read the rant here: http://www.sfwa.org/2012/07/guest-post-when-did-science-fiction-and-apocalypse-become-interchangeable/).

What young people need is tools to deal with any future they discover. Right now, those futures seems to mostly involve them giving up. What you don’t find is teens rising to meet challenges on other worlds, meeting other intelligences, and forging alliances – nope, that’s for “adult professionals”. It’s also true that middle and high school young people are frequently victims, I have seen countless students rise to meet profound challenges.

I rarely see that resiliency reflected in the SF produced “for them”. In fantast, I see the same thing – HARRY POTTER for instance. The Hogwarts students were the victims of two adults who secretly and overtly manipulated them to reach their own goals. While some adults stood up for the young people, they were mostly swept aside by the more “important” adults. In the prequel movies FANTASTIC BEASTS, the same thing happens to Credence Barebone…

At any rate, my idea for a collection of published and unpublished short stories called MOVING OUT: Tales of Teens Who Left Earth Behind To Explore the Universe! As I noted above? Several of those stories showing those young people making FUN of the universe and the adults who seek to control them. As always, there might be one or two adults who actually CARE about young people, but as always, they remain few and far between and have to watch out for the “important adults” who are watching to see who tries to thwart their desires.


November 19, 2019

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 422


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.


Ngozi Adeyemi sighed and sat back from the scanning electron microscope. She said, “This machine…”

Ibrahim Eto'o Fils held up one hand, then lowered it, knowing it might be offensive as he said, “I know. It’s ancient. I’d rather have a QTM. But the Chinese aren’t exactly handing them out to West African disease researchers.”

She shook her head. “I was educated in England, worked for seven years at the CDC in Atlanta, and chaired the International Society for Infectious Diseases for six years. I’m not just a ‘disease researcher’!”

Ibrahim held up both hands in defense. “You won’t get any argument from me, Doctor Adeyemi. It’s been a privilege working…”

Ngozi brushed him away, “Save the flattery for someone who’ll believe it. You’re as skilled as I am and you’ve been here longer. We have work to do – and two of us may be the only ones who can accomplish it.” She paused. “When we finally tracked down the initial outbreak of the AIDS virus; and finally eradicated Ebola, we got cocky.”

“We didn’t,” Ibrahim said as he settled onto his lab chair. Another wave of his hand and his virtual computer screen materialized over the lab bench. “We know what we’re dealing with here. Climate change cooled Sahara and brought rain it hasn’t seen for over a thousand years. We’re afraid it’s also reactivated extinct pathogens.”

Ngozi sighed. “That’s why I came home. There’s something going on up north – it feels like a disaster waiting to happen. But there’s no proof,” she gestured at the SEM. “We’ll never get it if we have to work with stone knives and bear skins!”

Ibrahim grinned, “Thank you so much, doctor! These are the tools I used to earn my doctorate!”

Ngozi let herself lean forward until her forehead rested on the microscope’s control panel. “No offense intended, Doctor Eto’o Fils. It just frustrates me. We conquered hundreds of diseases with tools less complex than this, but I’m less afraid of disease than I am of attitude.”

Ibrahim puffed a laugh and said, “We thought we had climate change under control – and then it flipped from warming trends to cooling trends and wild solar weather.”

“We can’t control attitudes the way we can control viruses and bacteria – a few antivirals here and a vaccination campaign there. It’s this damnable community attitude.”

“That’s why I came back to Lago. So many western doctors think curing the common cold by fighting it with a molecule-evolving mutation smart drug signified that they’d claimed the Grail.”

“Monty Python and the Holy,” Ngozi said.

“I take it you experienced the movie?”

She sat up and gave him a sad grin, “With both English and American friends. You’d be startled how different their responses are.”

“How so?”

She shrugged, “I can’t quantify it. The movie was identical, but the two groups of people – all who’d seen it dozens of times – laughed at totally different places and repeated totally different lines. And I  laughed at different times from both of them! It was embarrassing both times!”

Ibrahim sighed. “We need to get back to work. I’ll get back online and see if can’t at least get a virtual QTM to work for us.”

She called up the next slide and got to work, muttering, “If we can’t beat this now, it’s going to go global in ten months.”

He shot her a look and added an emphatic plea to his email just before he sent it.

Names: Nigeria; ♂ Cameroon     
Image:

November 17, 2019

WRITING ADVICE: Leaving My Mark On the World #1 – What Mark Do I Want To Leave On the World?

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!

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to write on this morning. I had a bunch of scattered thoughts, but then found myself drawn to my own advice – the posts I’ve made that I kind of clumped together into the “What Went Right With…” essays.

The published pieces cover decades of writing – the earliest published piece (that wasn’t a sort of shot-in-the-dark like a piece I wrote for a local student magazine called LITTLE BIT when I was seventeen) is from the June 2000 issue of ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact.

Then there was “bit” of a lull that included an acceptance from a magazine called ANTITHESIS that folded before they were able to publish it…the story was called “Dogie” and while I still have a typewritten copy, it’s far from publishable in any sort of pro market.

As for the others, if you look left and scroll down to Professional Publishing Credits, you’ll find a list of those stories that have found homes. Under that you can find stories that are still available online or that I’ve posted on an adjunct to my regular blog called The Work and Worksheets of Guy Stewart (http://theworkandworksheetsofguystewart.blogspot.com/).

So, as illustrated over there, I’ve had forty-one stories published; I’ve commented on eighteen of them, poring over what I thought made them successful sales. Some have garnered positive reviews online; one got a “review” in the form of a fan letter! I’ve even thought about collecting and self-publishing all of my YA/children’s science fiction in one place; and I’d probably do both published and unpublished work. Of the stuff over there, most of them are stories with adults as main characters.

What I’d like to do is begin to distill my own “wisdom”; at least distill my own experiences and reflections as I try to not only duplicate what I did to get published, but to figure out if there are themes in my writing. I’ll start with what I seem to have done right in my published stories.

The first thing I notice is that every story has something of me in it. That seems obvious as I’m the one who wrote it; but what I MEAN is that every story has something I’ve wrestled with as a person – either a young person or an adult.

For example, my most recent story, “Kamsahamnida, America” deals with aging, self-image, and self-confidence. Larry Henry (besides my envisioning him as a black man, but that’s beside the point) is a “…bitter, sarcastic, old man with no descendants whatsoever…” While I have descendants (two NextGen; three grand) I have been known to be bitter and sarcastic. And I’m competitive. Maybe not as much as Larry, but I absolutely worry about the legacy I’ll leave when I die. Larry goes to the Moon in a new space race sparked by the South Koreans landing a human on the Far Side of the Moon, hoping to create a legacy…

Let’s go back farther: “Fairy Bones”. A bitter, sarcastic old woman wonders about the legacy she’ll leave behind after she dies. When she – with the help of a deeply sarcastic teenage grandson – discovers fairy bones in owl pellets…

“Mystery on Space Station Courage” in which a young girl (the artist envisioned her as black and while startled, I was delighted!) struggles with the death of a friend and how to move forward without becoming (from the viewpoint of an adult, so she doesn’t THINK of this) sarcastic and bitter…

In “A Woman’s Place”, a sarcastic and bitter ex-husband goes into danger, forcing his ex-wife, whom he must work with, to rescue him – and become a mythic figure in a series of stories and a novels I’m writing.

Are you sensing a pattern here?

Better still, are you seeing what I’m seeing? My characters struggle with the kind of legacy they’ll leave behind once they are gone. The fact is that, I not only struggle with that myself, I intentionally direct my students to the same issue. Dozens, maybe even hundreds of times, I point to a small “handprint” I have pinned to a bulletin board in my office with an image similar to the new icon above, but simpler. (I may take a picture of the one in my office, so we'll see!) and I ask the student, “What kind of mark do YOU want to leave on the world?”

I ask this of myself, I ask it of the rest of the world. Because the issue is relevant to me, it leaks into my stories; because it’s an important issue, its importance lends import to the story. Others wonder the same thing, and so, (perhaps) that’s why my stories started to sell when I finally figured out what drove me.

References: (my catalogued stories at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database) http://https://i.pinimg.com/originals/80/1b/a1/801ba1454f3169e80e12557791df7125.jpgwww.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?12973
Image: 

November 12, 2019

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 421


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: Spiders

Nanami Ng stared down at the steering wheel of her Driver’s Training car and said, “I heard like, all of these cars got recalled.”
The driver’s trainer, Marcus, looked up from his tablet computer and said, “What?”

Lan Cai leaned forward from the back seat, sticking his head between them. “Wasn’t it spiders or something?”

“What?” Marcus exclaimed.

Lan turned to Nanami and said, “Yeah. They were like sucking all the gasoline out of some car – like wasn’t it a BMW or something?”

Nanami said, “Mazda, and they didn’t drink gasoline. That would be stupid.”

“What would you know about stupid? You can’t even pass the bio test without writing the answers on your hand.”

Nanami blushed deeply, though mostly just her ears turned red. Marcus said, “Get driving! We don’t have time to waste on stupid Halloween stories.”

“It wasn’t a Halloween story! It was real?”

Lan turned to look at Marcus and said, “Hey, Nanami might not be able to test herself out of a paper bag, but...”

Both of them pushed him back into the back seat and Marcus said, “Your opinion stinks as bad as your breath.”

Nanami laughed as she pulled with jerky pedal pumping out from in front of the school. Marcus said, “You haven’t spent much time practicing, have you Nanami?”

“My dad won’t drive with me! Our car was in the garage! The battery was dead! I was so busy with school!”

From the back seat, Lan sat with his arms crossed over his chest. He muttered, “More like you were too busy lip-locked with the bf.”

“You’re just jealous!” Nanami shot over her shoulder. The car screeched to a stop just before she ran over four ninth grade girls. “I didn’t hit the brakes!” she shouted.

“Good thing I was watching, then, wasn’t it?” Marcus said, making a mark on his clipboard. “That’s the second time this week I had to use the brake. One more time and you’ll have to take a two week break and then start all over again.”

“That’s not fair!” Nanami and Lan exclaimed together.

Marcus looked back over the seat at Lan, then across at Nanami. He said, “I don’t make the rules. I just enforce them. If you two want to file a grievance, start talking to the camera.” He gestured to a spot just above the read-view mirror. A red dot glowed there, recording their words and actions.

Scowling, Nanami edged ahead slowly as a car behind them laid on their horn. She got out to the side road and drove to the stop sign, rolling slowly to a halt. The car behind them honked again. She opened her mouth to comment, then closed it, rolling forward. She was driving past the playground, suddenly tense as a couple of little kids playing on the swings jumped off and started chasing each other. The kids ran toward the houses, away from the road and she was so busy watching them that she didn’t see the car stop at the light. Marcus slammed on the car’s brakes. “That’s it,” he said. “Let’s go back.”

Nanami looked at him and despite the car behind them that started honking. She stuck her fist out the window, flipped them off and then stomped on the brake, then kept stomping on it as she shouted, “Just practicing! Practicing stopping! See! I’m practicing.” She stomped harder and harder, screaming. “Practice! Practice! Practice!”

“Calm down!” Marcus said. A sizzling sound came from the dashboard, like something was on fire.

“Sounds like squirrels are in the engine,” Nanami said.

All three of them were staring at the dashboard when the ashtray popped  open and a dozen red spiders came out, followed by more and more and...

Names: ♀Japan, Singapore; ♂ Vietnam, Taiwan

November 10, 2019

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Me, “A Pig Tale”, and My Father’s Alzheimer’s – An Unexpected Sygyzy


NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (to which I be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I would jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. But not today. This explanation is reserved for when I dash “off topic”, sometimes reviewing movies, sometimes reviewing books, and other times taking up the spirit of a blog an old friend of mine used to keep called THE RANTING ROOM…

I don't usually write things that can easily be cross posted between my two blogs -- Guys Gotta Talk... and Possibly Irritating Essays (maybe one other?), but it happened this time. The two parts of my life coincided and so here you go...

A study published by the National Institute on Aging, indicates that recent research identified a gene in a huge family that codes for early onset Alzheimer’s. A woman from a family whose “genetic data from a Colombian family with more than 6,000 living members”…found that those “who carry a rare gene mutation called Presenilin 1 (PSEN1) E280A, have a 99.9% risk of developing early-onset Alzheimer's disease.”

While this is one of those “sad-but-true” stories, the woman in question didn’t develop Alzheimer’s symptoms until she was in her seventies. Sad again, and true…BUT…the members of her family who had the odd gene combination without exception developed Alzheimer’s symptoms WHEN THEY WERE IN THEIR FORTIES.

It's a rare condition, and again, sad-but-true; but the research team didn’t let the story lie. They tested her and found that where you and I and all the rest of the humans in her family had a single gene called APOE3 Christchurch (APOE3ch) gene variant she also had two copies of it. She was the only one – and she was the only one who didn’t have early onset.

What does this “magical gene” do? According to the study (gibberish first, then I’ll translate the doctors) “…the APOE3ch variant may reduce the ability of APOE to bind to certain sugars called heparan sulphate proteoglycans (HSPG). APOE binding to HSPG has been implicated as one mechanism that may contribute to the amyloid and tau protein deposits that destroy the brain.”

First, APOE stands for APOlipoprotEin. The “lipo” part means “fat”. That’s the middle of this thing. It is a protein associating with lipid particles, that mainly helps with the transport of fat between organs blood plasma and liquids between cells called “interstitial” (just a fancy word for “the place in between”). It’s a very important component of blood plasma and it’s involved in fat production, conversion and clearance. All food things. The problem comes when APOE accidentally hooks up with sugars called heparan sulphate proteoglycans (HSPG). The research seems to point to this hook up as suddenly stopping the APOE from moving the fats around and instead helping to form plaques and tangle deposits you read about that eventually destroy the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient.

OK – all that is said and done. You maybe understand this line of research better.

At any rate, on to an eerie happening in my own life.

I had a science fiction story published in ANALOG about 20 years ago called, “A Pig Tale”. In it, my main character is experiencing a crisis – but she doesn’t realize that her father is as well.

In a really strange turn of events, I wrote this story long before my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; even longer before I found out about it and became the secondary caregiver for both Mom and Dad (they were in an assisted living facility, then moved into Memory Care); I was the contact, transportation, and eventually the one who arranged Dad’s funeral when he died a few years later than Mom, and pretty much a different man than he was before Alzheimer’s began to whittle away the personality that defined him.

So, if you’d like to read the story, the link is below. If not, that’s fine. But I’ve been thinking about doing another story set at the same time; different character (maybe), but take a look at the issue from “the other side”, after making my way through the experience my parents had.

Who knew that the fictional drug in my story was going to be the object of a billion-dollar search.


November 5, 2019

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 420


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.


Somokene shielded his eyes from the blood-red dome of the Sun as it set and said, “The new star does not fade with day. You know what that means.”

Squatting on the bare, rounded boulder, Bardinanda sniffed the air and said, “Yes. It means you need to bathe.”

Somokene shook his head, “Be serious, Sister!”

“I am always serious, Servicer.”

He squatted as well in the lee of the boulder. A cold wind blew from the south, off of the glacier wall that fenced the entire equator of the World in. It was impossible to go farther north or south without paying the exorbitant fees of the Ice Lords. He said, “It means that the end is nigh.”

This time Bardinanda laughed outright. “Which end is this, brother?”

“You know as well as I do.”

“But I love to hear you say it. It makes me appreciate history.”

He sighed as he unfolded a heat cloth and anchored the four corners with the plutonium disks he carried. They had decayed to inertness and he had carved and polished the ancient reactor core slices himself. Incised on the surface were his logograph and Bardinanda’s. He tapped the cloth and it glowed red. He held out his hand and a moment later, she placed the aquapon gently in it. Far heavier than it looked, it was a gate into their food trough hidden on the other side of the World in Uluru. He set it on the cloth and said, “This is the one thousand, four hundred and sixty-ninth End Time; one million, three hundred and ninety-six thousand, four hundred and twenty-first Year since the founding of Human civilization.”

Bardinanda sighed and slithered down the boulder, flat, splayed feet gripping the rough surface. Patting Somokene’s bare head, she said, “You know that despite the fact that Endless Ending is a tenet of your faith, eventually it will be the Last End Time.”

“There is a sect that believes that, yes. I don’t belong to it, but I have studied it.”

She nodded, running slender fingers over the sensitive skin of his head. They both shuddered. Nodding, she turned her back on the setting Sun and said softly, “Then perhaps you are the best one to judge me when I say that I believe the Last End Time has come upon us and I am the Harbinger and you are my Prophet.”

Names: South American (Barbara, Diane, Fernanda); Chewa/Igbo