December 27, 2011

IDEAS ON TUESDAY 43


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: forbidden rooms

Thirty years after the infamous McMartin Preschool Incident, Tayna Hopewell’s parents buy the land the day care once stood on to build a golf equipment shop. Everything is past and even though she finds out about the lot’s history through a Google search, she doesn’t say anything.

They aren’t opening a day care!

Tanya who lives in Alondra and takes classes as a high school senior at El Camino College wants to be a forensic scientist after she graduates. Her parents are “golf semi-pros” and while she supports them now that she’s “grown up”, she loathes the sport and avoids it at every chance.

On the eve of a big semi-pro tourney at the nearby Alondra Golf Course, and shortly after the excavation began, Tanya NEEDS to escape her parents! They’re driving her CRAZY!

She lights off along Manhattan Beach Boulevard, jogging toward the beach and some much-needed alone time. When she reaches the excavation site, she sees that the gate is still standing open and she figures her parents own the land, so she has every right to check things out.

A warm breeze is wafting off shore a mile or so away and even though the sun is sinking toward the horizon, she’s comfortable poking around the site.

It’s not particularly interesting until she gets to the back of the lot. It’s been built over more than once – before the infamous daycare (demolished in 1985) it was a housing development, since then The Strand Cleaners which went out of business. Now her parents are building a two-story building; the ground floor will house Hopewell’s Pro Golf; the upper story was unrented yet, but there were plenty of people interested.

At the back of the property, Tanya nearly pitches into a narrow hole in the ground that runs under the fence to the property behind their land. As well, there’s evidence of the trenches running toward Manhattan Boulevard. Scowling, she looked into the hole, though she can’t see a thing. She takes out her cell, flips it to “flashlight mode” and aims it into the hole.

She still can’t see much more than the far side of it. Muttering, she unrolls her towel, lays it on the ground and lays down, scooting to the edge so she can see over it clearly.

The flicks on the flashlight, holding it ahead of her and pointing down and looks carefully.

At the bottom of the trench, at the edge of the cell phone’s light reach, she clearly sees a pile of bones.

Heart pounding, she remembers that there was a buried trash heap under the property that they’d found evidence of even during the trial in the olden days. It’s probably just animal bones.

That’s when she sees it. To one side, barely visible now, staring at her without eyes, is a small skull.

A small HUMAN skull…

December 25, 2011

“not-so-much-a” PIE for Christmas!


Stars.

The foundation of science fiction is a journey to the stars. I remember as a kid searching for book titles with “star”, “planet”, “moon” or “alien” on the cover or the book spine.

One of Arthur C. Clarke’s most famous short stories is titled simply, “The Star” (Infinity SF, 1955).

Christmas lights.

What’s the connection between stars and Christmas lights? Most sources point to the practice of lighting Christmas tree candles or putting candles in the windows of homes as a measure of “pushing back the night” long, dark winter nights and having lifted various pagan religious practices in the process. Sites that are brutally honest say that Christians stole lighting, trees, yule logs and holly for the nefarious reason of subjugating all other traditions and belief systems to their own.

Others less brutal note that the reason for hanging lights at Christmas is at best unclear and at worst, disappeared like a ghost into Christmases past.

So I’m going to throw my own theory out there.

We do Christmas lights to add more stars to the universe we live in so that one particular star on one particular night might stand out even more than it already does. Adding stars to the universe – even imaginary ones on green coated electrical wire – seems somewhat silly when you consider that cosmologists number the stars in the observable universe at some thirty sextillion (30 followed by twenty-one zeroes). Others opine mathematically that the universe is infinite so that there are an infinite number of stars.

Cool! Ain’t God great?

OK, so rather than theorize why “we” put up Christmas lights, I’ll tell you that I like to put up Christmas lights in an infinite universe to mimic stars.

On that first Christmas night – whether it was December 25 or August 12 – a Star shone brightly in the night sky. It so outshone its usual companions that the star watchers or astrologers or magi of the Great Cultures at the time of the Christ’s birth – Ptolemaic Egypt, Carthage, Aksumite Empire in Ethiopia, Persia, Indus Valley Chera/Chara/Suaga/Satavahana, the Han Dynasty, Rome, Armenia, Scythia, the Three Kingdoms of Korea and Teotihuacan – made pilgrimage to where this bright star led them.

Three of them made it to Bethlehem in time for the Birth.

The strings of lights I put up are to celebrate the Star of Bethlehem. This celestial object seemed to hang over the City of David. The Roman Emperor had called for a census and Joseph and a very pregnant Mary had gone there. She had her Son, God Incarnate who came to Earth to solve the problem of Original Sin of humanity against God’s Sovereignty – because God loved the entire population of humanity everywhen so much that God chose to send the Son to redeem them with the only thing humans clearly understand: blood.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem as the unique Savior of all humanity – all of whom are free to accept that they are in need of saving or pass on the offer.

I choose to believe that I am in need of saving; I choose to accept Jesus as the Christ. I choose to believe that unlike what Arthur C. Clarke opines in his story, God did not capriciously  wipe out a kindly advanced civilization to suit His own, cold whim. God used a cosmic celestial event to mark a cosmic spiritual event; and I use Christmas lights to remind me (and anyone who sees my lights) of the Bethlehem Star.

I’ll let you know when my story about “The Star” is done, but until then, in the words of Hub Pages columnist and fellow Minnesotan, Kika Rose: “These are my views. Attack me if you will, but I will believe what I will believe and you can’t change my mind for me.”
References:







December 22, 2011

THE RECONSTRUCTION OF MAI LI HASTINGS 33


I read the play version of Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON when I was in eighth grade. It has stayed with me for decades, a haunting symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human mind. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I want to bring the original idea into the present millennium. To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll four pages back until you get to the bottom.

The next day, CJ Hastings asked his mom, “Can I stay home from sch…”

He hadn’t managed to finish the question before she said, “No. And neither can I. I’ve got to get back to work to pay the bills to keep a roof over our heads. Your sister left a note asking us not to wake her and to get on with our lives.” Mom paused, picked up the note sitting on the kitchen counter and read, “She also said, ‘I’m sorry for messing your lives up so much.’”
Mom stared at it then whispered, “You didn’t mess up our lives.”

CJ blinked hard. Obviously Mom had been cutting onions or he’d walked into a spritz of her perfume because his eyes got all teary. He said, “See ya later, Mom!” then sprinted out the front door. The yard still looked like an army had marched through it from the paramedics and cops and University people. He picked up his bike and headed off for school. He met Job a couple blocks later. He was walking because his family refused to get him a bike because they said, “You’re just going to get your license and then drive a car. Getting you a bike now is a waste of money.”

CJ hopped off his bike and they walked together the rest of the way to school.

Mr. Jalfroun was doing door duty, watching the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders dressed in shorts, T-shirts, blue jeans and flip flops rumbling into the building on their way to home room.

He scowled at CJ and Job then nodded faintly.

CJ stopped. A big eighth grader ran into him. She snarled, “Out of my way, baby-boy!”
He and Job skipped sideways out of the stream and walked up to Mr. Jalfroun. He continued to scowl, turned to a pair of sixth grade boys who were boxing and shouted, “Either stop or go in and let Mr. Beidelman send you home now!” The boys slunk off. He looked down at CJ and growled, “Yes?”

CJ swallowed hard, aware that he sounded exactly like a cartoon character. He opened his mouth to say something and emitted only a squeak. Mr. Jalfroun glanced at his watch. CJ said, “Mr. Jalfroun, I’m not going to go to MacDonald-Chandrasekhar Academy next year! I got a call from Ms. Jacobson at Carter and she asked me to go there and I don’t know who started the rumor that I was going to MCA because I’d never go there and leave you guys alone…”

Mr. Jalfroun held his hand up. CJ said, “…because…”

Mr. Jalfroun said, “Stop talking.”

CJ and Job both nodded. Mr. Jalfroun paused then said, “I can’t say that I’m disappointed that you’re going to turn down the opportunity to go to MCA – and while the coach there approached me during the Math Tournament, our conversation wasn’t meant for eavesdroppers.” He spun around and with his eyes, seemed to pin Sentury Millner Edison Saroyan suddenly to the wall where she was pretending to read a tattered announcement that had been there since the first day of school. “But since you chose Carter, I’ll release you from your spot on Armstrong’s team.” He curled a finger at Sentury and she started to slide toward the sixth grade wing. He scowled harder, she froze in her tracks and started toward him. He said out of the corner of his mouth, “We’ll talk late. Ms. Saroyan, may I have a word?”

CJ’s phone vibrated in his pocket. He glanced at Mr. Jalfroun and the mob of students. He ran back outside and answered it. It was Mai Li. “What’s wrong?” he said.

“You have to get home!”

“What…”

“I’ve already called you in sick for the day. I need you here to…” the line went dead.

December 21, 2011

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 42


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

F Trope: prophecies

Tomorrow is, of course the First Day of Winter (or the Winter Solstice); but TODAY marks us at exactly ONE YEAR FROM THE MAYAN APOCALYPSE! The return of Quetzalcoatl! The ascendance of the Feminine! The rise of Human Consciousness!

Or whatever.
So, Itzel Maria Hernandez-Hernandez was born and raised in Minnesota. She’s a high school senior at a first-ring suburban high school and has endure (for twelve months now!) the attention of her class ever since someone found out her first name was Mayan.

She is also planning on going to the University of Minnesota and majoring in nuclear physics. Her life is math, science and focus on her education. She’s been to physics conferences at Brookhaven National Lab on Long Island in New York. She has met some of the top physicists in the WORLD for heaven’s sake!

Her grandmother, however, who was the one who insisted on her being christened with an ancient Mayan name; thinks that she’s special. Special in that she has something to do with the approaching Mayan change. Though elderly, she still maintains a large boarding house near the University of Minnesota’s campus and she’s “invited” (she let Itzel’s parents know in no uncertain terms) that she wants her granddaughter with her on the night of the Winter Solstice!

With a heavy sigh, Itzel has agreed to be there. She DOES like the U of M and a one of her best friends is there for school, so they plan on an overnight while Itzel is there. After juggling dates, it turns out the only night she can stay is the 20th of December, right after finals.

They have a grand time, but as midnight approaches, Itzel’s grandmother joins their party with some foods, trinkets and songs from the ancient Mayans…

December 18, 2011

Slice of PIE: Evidence For Climatic Perspective

Not far from me, December 2011:


December 2010:


December 1911

December 1000

December 9000 BC
"December" 100,000 BC
"December" 1,000,000 BC
"December" 10,000,000 BC
"December" 100,000,000 BC

"December" 1,000,000,000 BC
"December" 10,000,000,000 BC
Makes me think...

References:
Today: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/updraft/assets_c/2011/11/Nov%2029%20003-thumb-500x375.jpg

December 14, 2011

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 41













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: god-like aliens
This is SUCH an old idea; tired; worn out…
I read CHARIOTS OF THE GODS when I was like, thirteen. It was lame then and the books since then are STILL lame, as is his website and his continued insistence that the rest of the scientific world is crazy and he’s right – that aliens came down from space to form our total mythology – from the Greek pantheon to the Mayan gods poised to return to Earth in December of 2012. He also has a theme park and is planning a media extravaganza (http://www.daniken.com/e/chariots_project.shtml) – sounds to me just like any other property developer: out to get rich!
I’d like to try something different.
Besides the possibility of One God, the broadcasts of van Daniken’s book in the form of his movie of the same name, have been floating into space since 1974.
No doubt the “alien gods” have seen it.
I notice they haven’t been around to reclaim their godhood lately.
But what if they did come back? What if they are here? Now?
Fifteen-year-old Tommy Servant has been into his mom’s old books. After reading the relatively new TWILIGHT OF THE GODS on his friend’s NOOK, he’s been reading one of the writer’s books a week.
In the heat of the summer, he’s camping in a nearby state park and he’s out laying on a stone outcrop over a shallow valley, watching the Milky Way wheeling overhead. Something descends from the sky and moves directly toward him. Shortly, there’s a small spacecraft hovering directly in front of him. A ramp extends from a door that opens. All he can see inside are a few banks of lights and a rectangle of darkness.
The invitation is obvious but…crap! What should he do? Then a voice speaks – it’s female and surprisingly sounds a lot like Mom’s voice. It says, “Tommy, what you see before you is a ship that carries a gateway to our world. We are not gods and even though our ancestors sometimes visited Earth, we didn’t make your pyramids or your Easter Island heads or anything else like that. We want you to set your world straight about what we DID do here: we explored. That’s it. Your own people created the Nazca lines as well as created calendars. We may not be gods, but we’d like you to be our prophet. Because some of us are coming to Earth; but not all of us are benevolent…”
YOU take if from here!

December 11, 2011

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Does Life Influence SF or Does SF Influence Life?

Is the current World and US climate of international, national, religious, political, environmental and economic dissonance the root cause of the tiny number of Humans-who-meet-and-work-with-Aliens science fiction on the market or is that lack the cause of the dissonance?

This question was sparked by the Kirkus Review announcement of the Best SF and F of 2011 (http://www.kirkusreviews.com/best-of/2011/fiction/2011-best-fiction-science-fiction-and-fantasy/). Of the ten, seven are fantasy so I’m eliminating them. Of the last three, only Embassytown has Human and Alien interaction. The Quantum Thief takes place on a near-future Mars, and Rule 34 takes place in cyberspace.

Of SFFMeta’s Science Fiction All Time High Scores (http://www.sffmeta.com/listBooks?list=alltimehigh&genreDefaultNo=1, 100 books), only 10 are from 2011 (the rest were published between 1953 and 2010). Of THAT group, four feature aliens, three are mysteries and one of them is Embassytown.

So what am I trying to say?

Writers – whether they publish ebooks, exclusively online or their books are solely available at brick-and-mortar stores – are responsible for change. Darwin’s writing shook the world. The Prophet Mohammed changed the course of history. CS Lewis altered the beliefs of tens of thousands.

Science fiction writers, while their main goal is to entertain, are also responsible for preparing humanity for First Contact with aliens. Their job is to offer scenarios that we can weigh and explore. We can question ourselves and the society in which we live. For example, though it’s a movie, DISTRICT 9 offered a stunning thought: what if aliens don’t contact Americans?

Robert A Heinlein recognized his responsibility when he said: “I write for the following reasons – 1. To support myself and my family; 2. To entertain my readers; 3. And, if possible, to cause my readers to think.” (Robert Anson Heinlein to a Reader in a letter dated 20 January 1972, and reprinted in Grumbles From The Grave, pg 281; http://www.advocacyagainstcensorship.com/quotes/qtrah_pers.html)

This is the same reason I teach a summer school class called ALIEN WORLDS. The thoughts I want the kids to have are that “alien does not equal enemy” and I believe that this attitude can spill over from imaginary aliens to the people we meet or see on the news or on Youtube who seem alien.

I believe that this SF community may have truckled to the masses and have produced work to promulgate the belief that “alien equals enemy”. Even such writers as David Brin (http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2010/05/perspectives-on-seti-and-aliens-and.html) and Stephen Hawking (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraterrestrial_life) have trumpeted the inherent dangers in letting the universe know we are here. This contributes to the meme that “alien equals enemy” and this plays out in promoting a climate of international, national, religious, political, environmental and economic dissonance.

I believe the SF community should fight the obvious trend and start to produce work in which “alien does not equal enemy”.

I think they should do it NOW.

Image: http://www.sohood.com/ps/et.jpg

December 8, 2011

SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH #32: July 15, 1946 – July 16, 1946


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

The big woman scowled and said, “And exactly how do you know that they’re not spies.”

Bonnie stepped forward and touched the woman’s arm, “We ran into them a few days ago and gave them a ride.” She looked down at Freddie Merrill, offering him a hand up. He reached for her hand and took it and she pulled him to his feet. Then she gently pushed him toward Tommy Hastings. “They were hitchhiking up from Minneapolis and we found them all beat up and bloody on the road side.” She smiled at them and added, “I think they were fighting each other. Maybe they’re brothers?” Tommy found himself blushing furiously. She’d noticed their little tussle?

Freddie elbowed Tommy and said, “He ain’t my brother! I’m Freddie Merrill.”

Tommy straightened up and said, “Thomas Frederick Hastings.”

Freddie gave him a strange look. Tommy was pretty sure Freddie’d never heard his full name before. Dad and Mom didn’t do that “mad at the kid and use his full name thing” like Freddie’s did.

There was a yelp from farther back in the crowd and suddenly the workers parted. A woman strode out across the pebbled floor. She was old. Another woman followed her more slowly – it was the Anoka Witch!

The first woman walked up to Tommy. She stared at him then took his chin firmly in her hand and turned it first left then right. She muttered a curse, then said, “You look like him.”

“Who?” Tommy asked.

“James Hastings.” Tommy’s eyes met hers and she nodded slowly. She said, “So, James and Ruth finally did it.”

Freddie said, “Did what?”

She released Tommy and said, “Got hitched. She was top floor maid. He was a drifter the gardener hired to do heavy work around the estate. He flirted; she was just a kid. Like that for seven, maybe ten years.” The woman shook her head. “She warn’t mine, but practically. She came here when she was fourteen in ‘Ought-Four, an orphan.”

“My mom wasn’t an orphan!”

The woman shrugged, “Her mother left her a long time before Ruth Carrol ran away to Duluth – I think from what she’d say late at night when she’d been into the house wine – from somewhere in the Dakota Territory. Her daddy was a US Deputy Marshal who’d got hisself killed somewhere along the way. Life fell apart after that.” She paused, “I was kinda her mama here at Glensheen.”

“What was she doing here, then?”

“Like I said, working on the top floor. Maid,” she shrugged, “the Congdon’s called her a ‘domestic’.”

Tommy stared up at her and said, “Like I said, ‘What was she doing here, then?”

The woman frowned and her accent got so heavy Tommy could barely understand when she said, “They’re socialists, just like the rest of us.”

Tommy said, “What’s a socialist?”

Freddie cried out, “Communists! Run for your life!”

Tommy and Freddie had been friends practically since they were born. Tommy didn’t know anything about the woman standing in front of him who was saying his mom had been an orphan and her and his dad were socialists.

But he trusted Freddie with his life.

He followed Freddie along the northern spit of pebbles and then cut hard left into the darkness.

From behind them came the clear words, “If you catch ‘em, kill ‘em!”

Image: http://image.shutterstock.com/display_pic_with_logo/776821/776821,1317614835,1/stock-photo-two-healthy-young-man-run-together-at-sunset-silhouetted-85812901.jpg

December 6, 2011

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 40


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: graveyard
Let’s just say this is a bit AFTER the season one would usually talk about grave robbery…or a bit before (if you believe some of the tales about what happened the Jesus the Christ).
BUT – in this day and age of rumors of cloning and genetic engineering, it BEGS the “what if” of science that might lead to horror.
The patina of science laid over a horrific story – like Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in which “Experts, scientists, and the United States military do not know the cause, though one scientist believes the cause to be radioactive contamination from a space probe that exploded in the Earth's atmosphere” – gives me the framework for you to play with this idea:
Your parents work in a biological research lab in a wealthy suburb and while you know where they work, you don’t know exactly what they do.
You stumble across a website one of them flagged about someone named Herman Webster Mudgett and you do some checking and find out he was both a grave robber and a famous serial murderer from the Old West.
A few days later, Mom and Dad tell you they’re flying out to visit some relatives you’ve never heard of out West. They’re gone a few days and return with one massive suitcase. They set it in the entryway and then head for bed without much of an explanation except, “We’re might tired, kiddo. See you in the morning.”
Once they’re in bed, you check out the suitcase and notice that it’s got frost on it. It’s not locked, so you open it and check it out and there appears to be a rather large, metal canister in it. Mom gets up for a drink of water and you shut it and you make your way to bed after enduring a hard hug from her.
A few months later, Mom and Dad announce they’re pregnant…

December 4, 2011

WRITING ADVICE – Kristine Kathryn Rusch #6: THE BUSINESS RUSCH – Short Stories

I first ran across the work of Kristine Kathryn Rusch when her name appeared on the bottom of a standard rejection form I got from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, where she was head editor for several years. A short time later, I ran across one of her short stories (“Retrieval Artist” in the June 2000 ANALOG), which of course, led me t0 her RETRIEVAL ARTIST novels. I’m a fan now and started reading her blog (http://kriswrites.com/) a year or more ago. As always, I look for good writing advice to pass on to you as well as applying it to my own writing. I have her permission to quote from the articles. You can find the complete article referenced below here: http://kriswrites.com/2011/06/22/the-business-rusch-short-stories/

I love short stories. I’ve been writing them from the day I first (in my case) laid pencil to paper. I’d never had any intention of penning grand novels or a fantasy series.

I read short stories and I loved them.

So I wrote short stories and they were published in ANALOG, CRICKET, CICADA, STORIES FOR CHILDREN, STUPEFYING STORIES and a half-dozen other places.

In this article, Kristine Kathryn Rusch mostly talks about how readers are the winners of the electronic publishing revolution – she has certainly taken advantage of it! – but she writes primarily about the written word.

I have discovered another branch of the SF publication kingdom: the spoken story!

Humans have been telling stories since the advent of language. The first stories we “read” as children are whilst we are being dandled on the knee of a favorite adult who somehow makes the same sounds over and over again that explain the pictures we see clearly on a piece of paper in front of us. They READ to us. The advent of stories being read to us used to disappear from our lives once we “learned to read”. Except for plays in theaters (which is a form of being read to), having someone read to me disappeared once I could do it myself.

Then came “Audio Books”.

I confess, I’ve never liked the idea of letting someone read to me as an adult. For some reason – probably a deeply-seated psychological interpretation that says to me “you are a child” when I hear a book being read to me intentionally. I never bought one and I CERTAINLY never listened to one myself!

Then the 21st Century arrived along with ipods, MP3 players (pause for dramatic effect) and the dreaded “multi-tasking”.

People who drove for a living and were readers had long ago discovered that they could drive and listen to novels at the same time. A young friend of mine is a policeman/artist/janitor and an avid reader as well. He has a collection of books, one of which he loaned me recently.

But his MAIN source of reading comes when he’s working. Whilst sweeping floors, sterilizing urinals and doing sundry other tasks, his head is firmly plugged into a pair of headphones and he’s listening to SOMEONE read to him!

I respect the intelligence of this young man immensely – but I just couldn’t…could I?

I’d made the jump to online publishing in the Fall of 2001 with the publication of a short story called “Christmas Tree” in a now-defunct (there are SO many of these now as well) called Gate-Way.

Now I’ve made another jump. Currently up at the podcast site of young adult science fiction, CAST OF WONDERS is the first half of my story, “Peanut Butter and Jellyfish” (http://www.castofwonders.org/). Yes, I can only imagine what you’re going to say, so I’ll save you your breath and answer now: “I know you told me so, so I humbly concede your prestidigitation (yes – I know what this means. It’s a joke to see if YOU know what it means!) skills and heave a great sigh of resignation.

I’ll also add this from Kristine Kathryn Rusch: “The rapid growth of the short story markets means that the editors are in the market for good material. Short stories are more than a vanity project for writers these days. I believe a good, fast short story writer who works in multiple genres could probably make a mid-five figure income these days or more. But…while everything else is in flux from agents to traditional book publishers to the growth of the e-book marketplace, the traditional short story market has become the brightest spot in the publishing firmament. And I, for one, think that’s spectacular.”

I’m pretty sure she’d be in favor of the niche audio markets have created for themselves – I know I’M in favor of them now!

Image: http://www.vanillajoy.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/toddler-story.jpg

November 29, 2011

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 39


Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.
F Trope: elves, gnomes and Halflings
So…a guy – call him Geir Laxness – is born in Iceland and grows up. He’s got no mom and lives alone with dad, who is an anthropologist.
They’ve travelled a bit, so he’s seen a lot, but he’s always been shy. He reads lots of fantasy and likes LORD OF THE RINGS a lot and can even read the Icelandic translation (which his few friends think is weird). One of his heroes is “Snorri Sturluson, a descendant of Egil’s Saga’s hero, but this remains uncertain. The standard modern edition of Icelandic sagas is known as Íslenzk Fornrit.” His online name is “Snorri”.
He skypes other friends all the time and has contacts all over the world. Him and his dad are at a conference in Minneapolis, MN. It’s his first time in the US interior and he manages to get away from Dad and go to a fantasy and science fiction bookstore called “Uncle Hugo’s”.
It’s across the street from a REALLY intriguing International Marketplace and he figures he’ll pop over there and see what’s up…
That’s when he witnesses a murder: a group of white kids, tattooed and heads shaved, on skateboards, attack and kill a black man and an Hispanic woman. The disappear back down a staircase to a bike trail below.
Geir tries to help, but doesn’t know to call 911 in the US, so he does what he can. The woman presses a folded sheet of paper into his hand as she dies and says…

November 27, 2011

Slice of PIE: Can “I Hate This” Be Positive and Encouraging?

I doubt that I’m the only one who has received a harsh critique of their writing.

I doubt that I’m the only one who has received a harsh critique of a life choice.

Even Jesus has harsh words to say to His disciples. In Luke 9:37-47, Jesus criticizes them both obviously and subtly: “ 37 The next day, after they had come down the mountain, a large crowd met Jesus. 38 A man in the crowd called out to him, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, my only child. 39 An evil spirit keeps seizing him, making him scream. It throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It batters him and hardly ever leaves him alone. 40 I begged your disciples to cast out the spirit, but they couldn’t do it.” 41 Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you and put up with you?” Then he said to the man, “Bring your son here.” 42 As the boy came forward, the demon knocked him to the ground and threw him into a violent convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit and healed the boy. Then he gave him back to his father. 43 Awe gripped the people as they saw this majestic display of God’s power. While everyone was marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, 44 “Listen to me and remember what I say. The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies.”45 But they didn’t know what he meant. Its significance was hidden from them, so they couldn’t understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about it. 46 Then his disciples began arguing about which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus knew their thoughts, so he brought a little child to his side. 48 Then he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.”

The first critique is subtle. The crowd tells Jesus that His disciples can’t do something they claim they can. Jesus does it easily, implying in front of God and everyone that His disciples didn’t know what they were doing.

The second critique is not subtle at all. The disciples figure they’re a shoe-in for heaven and just have to figure out the victory banquet seating arrangements. Jesus tells them the kid standing next to Him is better than they are.

I have received both kinds of critiques of my writing. An example is pasted below and while neither Jesus nor this agent says "I hate this", it certainly must have felt like that for the disciples...and for me. The obvious is the first part:

“Wow, that is some story you just sent me! Editors could never call that one ‘too quiet’--the standard reason in the industry for passing on a picture book manuscript. I haven't even had my coffee yet and that one woke me up completely! In the end, though, Guy, it's a bit long for today's picture book market. Editors are calling for spare, compelling texts up to about 600 words. Should you choose to revisit the manuscript, I would be happy to take another look.”

The subtle is below and I’m still not sure if I will resubmit:

“Also, if you have it in you to re-send Victory of Fists again, I'd love to see the newly empowered version. If I've knocked the wind out of your sails, I will certainly understand.”

The obvious is just that and contains workable advice. I rewrote, tightened and resubmitted and even though it was turned down again, the story is markedly better. I will keep looking for a home for this one.

The second and subtle has given me pause. I certainly went back and reworked the story, but now I don’t know what to do with the second sentence. Is it a gracious way to let me back out or a backhanded way of saying, “Stop bothering me”? Is this 'positive and encouraging'?

Your thoughts?

Image: http://pledgingforchange.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/literary-agent-reading-book-manuscript.jpg

November 24, 2011

THE RECONSTRUCTION OF MAI LI HASTINGS Chapter 32

I read the play version of Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON when I was in eighth grade. It has stayed with me for decades, a haunting symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human mind. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I want to bring the original idea into the present millennium. To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll four pages back until you get to the bottom.

The trip home from the hospital was silent – mostly because Mai Li had practically passed out between CJ Hastings and their mom. It was dark and the lights of the cars on the interstate and the overhead floods washed them with blue, yellow and orange alternately.

They were nearly home when Mom said, “Do you think she’s dying, CJ?”

He looked at her and could barely see her between the lights. He opened his mouth to say something smart, waited a moment then said, “Why ask me?”

Mom said, “Because for all the work I’ve done taking care of her, you’ve always known her better than I did.”

“That’s not true, Mom…”

“Don’t worry about hurting my feelings, honey. You two have always been somehow – I don’t want to sound metaphysical, but your souls have always been knit together.”

CJ guffawed, heard her huff and added, “For not wanting to sound metaphysical, that was sure metaphysical.”

She laughed, too but drove in silence. They pulled into the driveway and stopped. Mom turned the car off and staring ahead, continued to wait. Finally CJ said, “Yeah. Unless she can come up with a genius move to save herself and reprogram the nanomachines before they rebuild her old brain, she’s dying.”

Mai Li stirred between them and sat up slowly, saying, “Like I’ve always said since becoming the next step in Human evolution, ‘you’re not retarded, just an idiot.’”

CJ rolled his eyes and said, “Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Together, him and Mom managed to get Mai Li out of the car and into the house.

Once she was in her room and Mom had gone to make a late dinner, she said to CJ, “You’re right, little idiot. Unless I can reprogram the nanos, I’m going to die. So get me my laptop and get out of my way. You’re going to have to be my legs for me while I figure this out.”

He squinted suspiciously and said, “What are you going to order?”

“Drugs.”

He paused then said, “I can get some for you at school tomorrow if you just tell me what you want.”

Mai Li looked up, her face angry – outraged, CJ might have guessed – locking eyes with him. She opened her mouth then guffawed. She laughed so hard she fell back on the bed and laughed until tears streamed from her eyes and Mom had come to the bedroom door. “What did you say to her?”

CJ opened his mouth to answer. He was pretty sure Mom wouldn’t get the drug joke. He was saved from a lie when he phone rang and Mai Li struggled to her elbows and said, “He was just trying to make me feel better by stimulating the release of endorphins into my brain.”

Mom snorted and left the room.

CJ said into his phone, “Job?”

“Duh. Listen, I can’t talk long. You gonna be at school tomorrow?”

CJ pulled the phone from his mouth and shouted, “Mom do I have to go to…”

“Yes!” she cut him off with a shout from the kitchen.

“Yeah,” he said to Job, “I’m gonna be there.”

“Good. You better tell Mr. Jalfroun you’re not gonna go to MacDonald-Chandrasekar. I heard from Trevon that Mr. Jalfroun heard from the M-C coach that you were gonna sign on with them for sure!”

“Who told them that?”

“Trevon told me he heard it from Luc who heard it from Sentury.”

CJ squinted angrily, his hand squeezing the phone. Good thing he was a wimp or he’d have crushed it. “I’ll get even with her for this.”

“That’s fine, but first tell Mr. Jalfroun tomorrow that you’re not quitting his team.”

“But I sorta am.”

“Going to Carter doesn’t count. He’s the assistant coach there.”

CJ opened his mouth to reply just as Mai Li screamed.

Image: http://s4.hubimg.com/u/920491_f260.jpg

November 23, 2011

RIP Anne McCaffrey




Found out yesterday that Anne McCaffrey passed away -- I began reading her books as a young adult, re-read them dozens of times then introduced both of my kids to them.







In this family, she will be profoundly missed...





Ideas On Tuesday 38 -- Zomboid Mary...


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: post-apocalyptic world
I KNOW I’ve done zombies before (http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2011/08/ideas-on-tuesdays-26-zombie-researcher.html and http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2011/06/ideas-on-tuesday-18-stalking-abandoned.html) but they were from different points of view than this. This is a warning from the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. Granted, it’s a bit tongue in cheek and the intent is to bring up the necessity for people to prepare for ANY kind of disaster, but it gave me an idea…
The CDC urges you to become a member of the Zombie Task Force.
What if the “joke” has been perpetrated by that once-in-a-millennium occurrence, a zombie CARRIER (no, I don’t mean a semi-trailer designed to transport zombies stacked like cordwood, though that’s an interesting image…) – I mean someone who is only a partial zombie. They don’t walk around with outstretched arms, they don’t thump around at the speed of a tumbling tumbleweed. In fact, a zombie carrier is someone who, like Typhoid Mary spread the zombie disease without themselves being a zombie (“Individuals can develop typhoid fever after ingesting food or water contaminated during handling by a human carrier. The human carrier is usually a healthy person who has survived a previous episode of typhoid fever yet who continues to shed the associated bacteria, Salmonella typhi, in feces and urine.” From Wikipedia, Typhoid Mary)
So, a high school senior who is virtually invisible at her school, is the only child of a couple who have been doing research on the reanimation of dead human tissue. They live far on the edge of town and she has been driving herself to school ever since she got her license. She overhears them talking one night and figures out (finally) that they are zombie carriers.
In order to find out if she is, she thinks about a particular clique of girls who like to tease her and this guy who she likes but who mocks her and decides to…
Image: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_MFslwcqLKIE/Sme8ud9e-tI/AAAAAAAAAmk/zA79yKs-qz8/s400/boy_eats_girl_8.jpg

November 20, 2011

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS – OCCUPY Portland, Science Fiction, Writing and Faith…a Volatile Combination

(The photo above is of Jeff VanderMeer who, when you GOOGLE “activist science fiction writer” pops up first. Second place is awarded to Cory Doctrow.)

Last weekend, I was in Portland, Oregon becoming more educated on the philosophy and changes of a program called International Baccalaureate(http://www.ibo.org/); which is a methodology and framework for delivering a world-class, globally-aware education for kindergartners through seniors in high school. My daughter was in the IB program from 6th-12th grade. The training she received both philosophically and academically have been very helpful in her college education.

OCCUPY Portland was there as well and provided me with a different kind of education.

I confess that I had no idea what was going on. I’m an old guy and protesting is, as Captain Kirk once said, “…a game for the young, Doctor.” The first time I heard the Occupants chanting, I couldn’t make out the words OR the placards (it was late at night). I thought they were advertising Wendy’s – “…something…something…something…99 cents!”

Yeah, I know. What a dork.

As the weekend spun out, though and the IB conferees completely ignored the protest (because they were, after all, globally-minded teachers); the news reported on the unusual peacefulness of the confrontation between police and protesters and the metaphysical prophecies of a man who, while meditating with a rock that was purported to produce sympathetic vibrations of peace, had had a vision of rain and peaceful protesting (and had offered the crystal to a police officer in the riot line – who had significantly accepted it); it all began to sink into me.

STAR TREK, BARRAYAR, STAR WARS, DUNE, SAGA OF THE SEVEN SUNS, BABYLON 5, SERENITY and FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE never depict peaceful protests.

In fact to my knowledge, protests do not happen very often in science fiction. Two scenes I can recall are from David Brin’s SUNDIVER in which people wave placards protesting the extra-terrestrial presence on Earth; and the mob scene in the movie CONTACT which exhibits the absolute worst of Humanity.

In both of those scenes, the scientist-types scoff and shake their heads in disbelief at the insanity of most of Humanity (except for the unanimous scientific part). In neither case did the main characters join in and in neither case are the protesters objections addressed.

I suppose the same thing has happened with the OCCUPY movement – while investment in the sciences is (at least peripherally) controlled by large corporations like 3M, Boston Scientific, Bayer and Monsanto; while there certainly are scientists who participate (http://www.genomeweb.com/blog/phd-scientists-occupy-wall-street) those same scientists (upon whom the stock exchange depends – MMM, BSX, BAYRY, MON) eschew OCCUPY: “‘The Occupy Wall Street movement recently has drawn criticism, however — particularly from those who view the protest as disorganized and unsophisticated,’ The New York Times' Nelson Schwartz and Eric Dash say. ‘Without a coherent message, the crowds will ultimately thin out, Wall Street types insist…’”

Christians have a clear, ecumenical presence in the OCCUPY movement (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/12/us/at-occupy-protests-bearing-witness-without-preaching-beliefs-by-mark-oppenheimer.html?_r=2&hp).

So what am I trying to say? Just this: SF writers are typically made up of individuals who have a scientific bent (if not always degrees). They can have a profound impact on the scientific community. They should be writing to influence, not just entertain. They should be writing to empower change and not maintain status quo. They should encourage challenging the status quo – of COURSE while entertaining!

Where are the protesters in SF?

Excuse me while I get to work on a protesting scientist who happens to be a Christian as well (and no, it is NOT an oxymoron).

Image: http://danieljeffreygoodman.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/jeff-vandermeer.jpg

November 16, 2011

Ideas On Tuesday 38


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: immortality
While the Wikipedia entry explaining the Immortal DNA strand isn’t exactly a current event, the second entry IS and though it is a medical paper and written in medical language, it happens to be significant to the life of our family.
To make this understandable to lay people, I’d like to use those worn-out tropes of horror: vampires.
Let’s just say that the vampire DNA strand is immortal, but because so many vampires were killed in the 19th and early 20th century by various vampire slayers such as Koshiko Kamiyama, John Averill, Twelve String Digby (http://www.fvza.org/tophunters.html), Van Helsing and Buffy, it has become widely spread and doesn’t produce vampires any more.
It’s lengendarily reported that the vampire slayings were in response to an outbreak of vampires in the 17th and 18th Centuries (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/the-real-vampire-slayers-397874.html).
It is the 21st Century now and people travel everywhere all the time. A chance college meeting leads to romance for a couple with old, Eastern European roots – Curtis Allen is the result and he discovers his vampiric leanings not long after his mom is transferred to the 3M headquarters in Minneapolis. He attends a prestigious private high school…but the story begins when his dad has to tell him about the birds, the bees and bloodlust…

November 11, 2011

No Posts This Weekend!


I am going to be in Portland, Oregon until Monday night and so I won't be posting (I missed Thursday's post because I was working last night...)

At any rate, I'll be WRITING my POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY; I just won't be posting it until Monday night or Tuesday morning.

Later!

November 8, 2011

Ideas On Tuesday 37

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

F Trope: gypsy fortune telling

Current Event:

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/crime/fl-fortune-teller-fraud-court-20110819,0,3619467.story

Serena Buzău is a sophomore in a highly selective, science and math high school near Minneapolis and despises her parent’s business. They travel from one fair or carnival or cruise ship to another and visit the homes of the gullible and wealthy – as gypsy fortune tellers.

Her life is good and outside of their “gigs”, her parents appear perfectly normal – her dad is an advertising consultant who runs his business from home and Mom has a beauty parlor in the basement. This gives the two of them freedom to do the “gypsy show”…though their “stage names” are actually their real names: Alin and Crina; and both are popular in the mountains of the Carpathian Mountain area of Romania.

They have their programs down to an art and occasionally – and ONLY if the money is right – they will cast curses.

This causes them no amount of amusement because they believe more in the power of suggestion than in the powers of ancient curses.

Then one day, word comes back to them that a curse they cast CAME TRUE exactly as they cast it. Others begin to come true as well. It soon appears that someone or something has decided to carry out the curses. Serena is up late one night, skyping with a friend of hers…

Image: http://workforcedevelopment.edublogs.org/files/2009/05/gypsy_fortune_teller.jpg

November 6, 2011

Slice of PIE – Change of Name?

After four years, I’m starting to think about changing the name of my blog. But I’m not sure that will make any difference.

After four years, I’ve had something around 15000 hits (I know the counter is different, but since I’ve started, for one reason or another, the counter had to be reset). That’s a lot of hits.

Twenty-one people follow me. I’m very, very grateful to them!

I’m also wondering if it would be better if I renamed the blog to something less threatening.

I mean, think about it – in this day and age, how many people WANT to be irritated? Even possibly? There’s plenty to irritate me out in the real world without my intentionally seeking out MORE irritating essays!

Also, doing this on purpose means I have to TRY and bug people. The rest of my blog isn’t about that – it’s about working on my novels and kid’s books and seeking comments. I post a spare idea every Tuesday. My other blog is my own take as I’ve walked alongside my wife in her breast cancer experience (I do NOT want to say “journey”. That word implies taking a vacation or going somewhere you want to go – and arriving unscathed. My wife’s experience with breast cancer has been horrible, painful and full of weeping. There have BEEN joyful moments, but always after weeping…how’s that a “journey” of any sort? If you’re interested, you can check it out here: http://breastcancerreaper.blogspot.com/).

So far, the tally isn’t very encouraging – one blog and one weekly post intended to help people; one blog post asking for comments on my work in progress (I work on three projects at a time); and even on Sundays, I have three subjects I cover: WRITING ADVICE, Possibly Irritating Essays, and (like this one) a Slice of PIE (intended to irritate people only a little bit).

The total? Of eight types of posts, six are intended to help others or to help me (though I’ve always hoped people commenting on my works in progress would learn a thing or two as I change foci, character names, locations and directions in the story as it develops. I suppose I wanted it to be a learning experience for them as well as me.) One is blatantly out to get people’s goats, the other can be but isn’t always. Sometimes it’s just observations on life.

So, how about an analysis? What are the titles of the top five most popular blogs on Blogspot?

Can’t seem to find that, but I did find this: http://technorati.com/blogs/directory/. Techorati lists 1,285,000 blogs in nine categories. The largest category is “Living” with 52000 blogs. Of those, the largest categories are “Arts” and “Home”, each with some 19000 blogs.

Another site (http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/blogs) lists popular sites as well.

When it gets to the Top ___ Personal Blogs, it gets very fuzzy. People begin to break them into categories such as Science Fiction/Fantasy; Finance; Health; Family and Inspiration. Then you have Blogspot’s “Blogs of Note” – though based on what people are saying, there doesn’t seem to be a specific process. Which is fine. It doesn’t bother me because they’re giving me a free forum with no strings attached. All I have to do is use it.

So – as I can’t change the system, maybe I’ll change the blog’s name…

How about INTERSECT – ‘cause I love CHUCK on TV. The word is also in the blurb under the title. I also like the implications as well. So we’ll see. PIE may soon be under a new name!

Image: http://www.polymercolor.com/plasticquestionmark.jpg