August 28, 2012


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. (BTW – it’s school time! For the next few weeks I might get behind on my posts as school, schedules and rebooting the OLD work-a-day takes precedence over posting – Bruce Bethke calls it: The Rule of Otogu! (Other Things Of Greater Urgency)...

H Trope: (reference: I think I’m going to mine THIS idea in various ways for a while!) the transmutation of species…

Of course the FIRST idea that pops into our pointy little heads are werewolves and other were-things. But let’s go BEYOND that. What could we think of that’s really horrible; something that transmutes one animal – or human – into something else…what if it wasn’t dark forces, but the human capacity for all kinds of things.

Etinosa and Osayimwese Ransome-Kuti twin sister and brother came to Minnesota for college and dropped out shortly after the school year began.

When they disappeared Ransome-Kuit’s parents, high officials in the opening shots of what the world media is calling the Reorganization Wars that might redraw the map of the African Continent, call on their supporters in the US to find their children.

Behind closed doors, they send agents to slide secretly into the state and do some checking. Daniel Edet Efanga is one of those agents. He reaches Minnesota and can’t find the kids. He’s approached by a poor, elderly woman who tugs at his shirtsleeve, muttering something he can barely understand until she pulls him down to her level and screams, “Raccoons! Hydrophobic, drooling, snarling monsters! Biting, hurting, infecting the children, the men, elder women! You must help! You have the mark! The mark they leave when they bite!”

She pulls back her tattered sleeve, revealing a bloody bite. Daniel recoils, pushing her to the ground and flees the scene; a light rail stop between the Old Courthouse and the towering glass and granite of the New Courthouse. Middle of the night. He’s a black man and while he has his Nigerian visa with him, he is marked as a black man no matter country he’s from.

He takes a hotel room to figure out what to do next. He falls asleep and dreams of the event all over again. He wakes, falls asleep. Wakes, falls asleep and finally is thrown from his bed by a nightmare. The woman is beating him. This time and in his dream, when she pulls back her sleeve, the bloody mark flares scarlet – and it’s not the simple puncture wounds you would expect from an animal bite. It’s recognizable; it’s a crest of Nigeria and beneath it is…

August 26, 2012

WRITING ADVICE – SL Viehl #8: Keeping Notes For Posterity And Other Fantastic Futures

I stumbled across the writing of Sheila Kelly (aka SL Viehl, Gena Gale, Jessica Hall, Rebecca Kelly and Lynn Viehl) about eleven years ago with the publication of her first novel, STARDOC. I was looking for the work of a current writer to replace one of my favorite kinds of science fiction – human doctors in a space hospital working on aliens. I discovered this genre as an adolescent in Alan E. Nourse’s STAR SURGEON, followed it into James White’s SECTOR GENERAL books and A.M. Lightner’s DOCTOR TO THE GALAXY. S.L. Viehl’s books satisfied that itch – but I learned about a year ago that she is so much more than just a “space hospital” writer! The bits of writing advice in this new ten part series are used with her permission. This one is from:

My first response to this essay on using electronic notebooks to organize your "writing stuff" was: “Oh, puh-LEEZ!”

My second response has been, “Hmmmm.”


My current work-in-progress (in case you don’t know the terminology: wip) is OMNIVORE’S DEBT. When finished it will be about 110,000 words. It’s part of a future history I plan on writing. For right now the action takes place at the International Wolf Institute near Ely, MN in a future I’ve created in which petroleum is gone, 9,000,000,000 Humans live in 20,000 Vertical Villages connected by maglev trains and 1,000,000,000 Humans grow all of the food for the 9 billion on land from which all traces of Human artifacts – except for agriculture – have been erased. Humans are one of 57 intelligences making up the 100,000 year-old Unity of Debt.

I have lists of Vertical Villages, Towns and Hamlets; some mentioned, some not. I have a list of characters – some Human, some not. I have lists of aliens and footnotes on their characteristics, culture and behaviors. I have Staff at the IWI, I have information on InterPol and ranks in the armed forces. I have a webpage link that allows me to keep tabs on the REAL International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota. I have data on wolves and I have two dictionaries of invented languages: Shabe and Unity (which is sounds, gestures and movement).

I also have scraps of paper with unorganized “important facts”, dialogue clips and plot points. I have a calendar of events (beginning on November 30, 2087 through January 3, 2088) and a chapter-by-chapter single sentence outline which I can check off when I make sure I cover all the facts.

All of these things are on sheets of paper variously stacked, clipped, stuck between a folded piece of paper with a category written on it. The file is beat up and about 2 inches (5 centimeters from anyone reading this anywhere on Earth except the US) thick.

And now, Sheila Kelly tells me there are, hidden inside my computer, ways I can ORGANIZE ALL OF THIS WITH THE DOCUMENT!

Of course, I might note that ironically, she has a later post that points out the inherent problem with using such a system: In what possible way are any future generations going to access our current online, on-disk, MP3 player, ipod, etc? Paper, stone, clay and plastic are virtually the only way to preserve something for long periods of time. How would someone in the future access work from my jump drive if I can’t even see what’s on the 5-inch floppy disks I first wrote my stories on anymore?

Previously, I noted that I would give writing the last chapter of OMNIVORE’S DEBT. I’ve started that task and it has granted me a remarkable bit of clarity about where I’m heading with the novel. I am also going to be extremely careful about keeping my story down to 110,000 words as an one of the members of the online writers group I belong to discovered to his dismay when he wrote a 200,000 word sequel to his first novel and was told it was too long – and now there’s no clear date for when (or IF) it will ever be published (For the whole story, see this:

So – I’ll be poking around in my Microsoft Word 2010 to see if there’s any kind of tool to organize notes in there. I’ll let you know next time what I find out!

August 23, 2012


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.

Freddie Merrill tried to crawl under the seat, shouting, “They’re gonna kill us!”

Tommy Hastings tried to pull him out, shouting, “They can’t see us!”

Edwina Olds, Lieutenant, WACS (ret.) hit the brakes of the logging truck, setting them so hard that the entire rig bounced along the road running north from Two Harbors to Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada like it was driving on rubber marbles! Neither boy had heard the words she used come out of any girl or woman in their neighborhood since they were born. Once the truck stopped moving, she turned a fierce, angry glare on them and shouted, “What in God’s gracious name are the two of you doin’?”

The boys cowered in the corner. Freddie said, “Ma…ma…ma…ma…”

Tommy said, “The mobsters! They want to kill us!”

Her anger drained, giving way to a look of total confusion. “What?”

Freddie found his tongue and Tommy started in, giving her the tale of their journey from Loring Park to just-north-of-Two Harbors.

Edwina’s head swung back and forth between them like she was watching a tiny ping-pong match. When they’d both run down and were both so red they looked like they’d been sunburned, she said, “Well I’ll be a son-of-a-gun!” She stared at them a moment long, the burst out laughing. Dragging them back on to the seat, she started the logging truck with some difficulty.

Tommy managed to get the door open and, blushing like he’d be caught with his drawers down in the middle of the Aquatennial Parade, tried to jump out. Edwina grabbed his belt and hauled him back in. He was still holding onto the door handle, so the door dragged shut, too. “Oh, come on back, Thomas! I ain’t laughing at you!”

“Then who you laughing at?” he shouted back.

“I’m laughing at both you boys, now calm down and let’s get back on the road and I’ll help you figure out what to do with the mobsters.”

Both boys stared at her, blinking. “You mean you believe us?” Freddie asked, his thirteen-year-old voice picking that moment crack into soprano. But even that couldn’t distract him.

“Course I believe you. You’re coming from Duluth. The place is lousy with union busters,  socialists, commies, Nazis, Japs and draft dodgers. Why not mobsters, too?”

“The two people in the car are mobsters, Ed!” Tommy cried. “We saw them at the socialist meeting at the Mansion on Lake Superior!”

Ed scowled and said, “What were you doing at a socialist meeting? Kinda young to be into politics,” he scowl deepened and her lips thinned. She added a moment later, “Then again, the Hitler Youth was all kids, too.”

Eddie’s eyes widened in horror as he cried, “It wasn’t me! Tommy’s mom and dad met at that big mansion on the lake and he wanted to see if anyone knew them. The next thing we knew, we were with a bunch of crazy people who were talking funny!”

Tommy shoved Freddie and said, “My mom and dad weren’t socialists!”

“I didn’t say they were!” Freddie shoved back.

Ed bellowed, “Both of youse shut up or I’ll throw you out on the road right now and you can fight that brown bear for the moose coming out of the forest!”

Both boys turned to see a moose meander from one side of the road and a small black bear wander out of the other side. With a scream, they grabbed hold of each other.

August 21, 2012


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. (BTW – it’s school time! For the next few weeks I might get behind on my posts as school, schedules and rebooting the OLD work-a-day takes precedence over posting – Bruce Bethke calls it: The Rule of Otogu! (Other Things Of Greater Urgency)...

F Trope: transmutation (reference:
“Transmutation circle, a circle used to perform alchemy” I think I’m going to mine THIS idea in various ways for a while!

Alchemy is thought to have been the deepest roots of the science we know as chemistry. As such, it had its origins in many, many cultures – from Pharaonic and Hellenic Egypt, Eighth Century Arabia (the name “chemistry” comes from an Arabic word, al-kimia), Medieval and Renaissance Europe, India, and China – then matured into the science.

Ishaq ibn Musa and Meitreyi Nur Jehan are friends at Obama Middle School. Ishaq – who tries really hard to go by the nickname, IM – was skimming TreeFlicks (3D online streaming videos) when he downloaded a flik of a person drawing a transmutation circle.

He got the measurements and veeked – visually communicated – with Meity J and told her to meet him at a nearby playground after school...

Meity waited for Immy with her arms folded over her chest. It was cold today, even though it was late August. “So much for Anthropogenic Global Cooling,” she muttered. She veeked him again, but he wasn’t answering.

Suddenly someone behind her shouted, “Boo!”
Meity J turned around and said, “It’s not even close to Halloween yet Immy.”

He grunted and said, “Who spat in your bean curd?”

“No one! It’s just that I have a hundred things to do before school starts next Tuesday!”

“Like what? We’re just starting a new school. Nothing’s going to be different...”

“Except in high school, we might actually get to see a physical teacher!”

He grunted and put down a small plastic bucket. His jacket bulged in odd directions, as if he were carrying packages underneath. “That has about as much of a chance happening as me turning you into an oriole.”

“Orioles are extinct,” she said, irritated that he chose NOW to pick on her favorite extinct animal. “That was really mean of you.”

“What,” he said, straightening up, “If I told you I could turn a pigeon into an oriole?”

“I’d say, ‘fat lot of good that will do the species!’ You can’t repopulate a species with one bird, stupid!”

With a flourish, he reached under his jacket and pulled out a plastic box. Inside, something brilliantly orange and black squirmed. He said, “What if you had one male and one female?” He popped the top off and an oriole – the first one Meity J had seen since she was a kindergartner and her director had used query markers on colorful birds to lead the class to a discussion about ‘extinction’ – flew out. He removed another box. This one had a pigeon in it.

“What are you going to do with that thing?”

He grinned, set the box down and started clearing a circle on the concrete game square. “We’re going to make a transmutation square and start making orioles out of pigeons!”

Meity J scowled for a bit, then said…

August 19, 2012

Slice of PIE: Back To The Past -- Watching A Few Old Movies and Thoughts About It

Watching my favorite of all time MOVIES -- Back To The Future and thought I'd share an essay I wrote in 2009 and was published on October 21 at THE FRIDAY CHALLENGE. Below, you'll find it!

Back To The Future: Why These Films Must Become The Archetype

Everything about these movies (released in 1985, 1989, and 1990) points to the necessity of making the THE archetypical time travel story.

First of all, a TRUE time travel story must use a mechanism. Psychic travel, dream travel, fairy dust, or other, non-mechanical means of moving from one point in time to another cannot be substituted for the machine. This eliminates such movies as PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED and AUSTIN POWERS. HG Wells’ time traveler used a machine, of course, though he was not the first to do so – only the best remembered. Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett Brown use a time machine that has been built into a DeLorean car. This deserves to become the archetype of all time machines because it was done with such class! No phone booths or weird special effects or tunnels for them! This is as all time machines should be.

Second, not only do Marty and Doc meddle with the “past” and the “future” but they manage both to change the “present” and the “past” (twice!) The movies cover all possible bases in the time travel genre as well as discussing alternate time lines (riffing off of the quantum mechanics PhD dissertation of Hugh Everett, “The Theory of Universal Wave Function” ( )) This same riff introduces as well, the necessity that every time travel movie must have at least an attempt at showing its root in real physics.

Third, Marty meets not only one of his own “present” selves, but his parents as well – more than once. (I know, it’s getting confusing!) He nearly causes himself to disappear from the time line by becoming the object of his adolescent mother’s hormone-mad and alcohol inflamed lust as well as watching himself help with the defeat of his father’s arch-nemesis, Biff Tannen – who is teenager, elderly man and scion of an industrial complex that would EXXON look like a tree-hugging, save-the-whales, environmentally friendly lobby group; and an automobile detailing blue-collar service employee. Biff also meets a younger version of himself as well to warn him of Marty or Dr. Brown’s possible appearance.

Fourth, the movies are confusing! This should be a prerequisite of all time travel stories. Certainly, THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT has this element, though there’s no apparent machine that causes the flipping back and forth through time. Star Trek’s FIRST CONTACT and THE VOYAGE HOME, while classics, do not meet this criteria either (as much as I’d love it if they did) – they are entirely too linear and are action adventure rather than “true” time travel. There needs to be a hint of mystery and confusion. USS Voyager’s Captain Janeway said it well: "Time travel. Ever since my first day in the job as a Starfleet Captain I swore I'd never let myself get caught in one of these god-forsaken paradoxes. The future is the past, the past is the future. It all gives me a headache." Janeway to Chakotay at Starling’s computer (“Future’s End”, part II)

Fifth, time travelers need to meet themselves or somehow threaten themselves in either the future or the past. BTTF does this in spades and all other movies are weaker for not doing it. It creates a sense of delicious “naughtiness”, so to speak, because which one of us hasn’t wanted at some time to alter some event in our past to give ourselves some future advantage. Marty McFly does this deliberately once – and is royally burned (the 1950-2000 SPORTS ALMANAC); accidentally once – (giving his dad self-confidence and the wherewithal to become a SF writer) and is royally rewarded (with a Toyota pickup, for starters); and again deliberately (saving Doc Brown in the Old West, then saving himself in the Old West as the (can you say “archetypical”?) Clint Eastwood good-guy gunslinger.

Sixth and last, the final stern resolution to never mess with time travel again. Of course, it’s clear that Dr. Brown does in fact mess with both the past and the future, but he doesn’t wreck anything. At least as far as we know, except marrying a woman who was supposed to have died in a wagon wreck and fathering two children who go on to…who knows? There is certainly room for another trilogy here. Which is of course, another thing that a good time travel movie should do – create the possibility of infinite futures.

I’m sure you’ll all agree with me, but if you don’t – TELL ME WHY!

(For another list of the Ten Best Time Travel Movies of all time, go to:

August 16, 2012


The idea for this starts with a story I tried to write about a thieving monkey who took keys and used them to unlock its cage. That was it. The story was called BRIGHT FLASH THE MONKEY’S PAWS. It was my third or fourth attempt at writing a picture book – and it was really bad. With the advent of the genre of steampunk, I started rethinking the story. Here it is –

The monkey rocked back and forth, then waddled down the  hall.

Clementine followed. She said, “Where are we going, Monkey?”

The monkey climbed back up the stairs, but it was slow.

Clementine picked it up and ran back to her room. She put the monkey on her toy chest and said, “Now what, Monkey?”

The monkey waited, steam fogging its leather ears. Clementine cried, “You want me to get dressed!”

The monkey whistled a happy song as Clementine dressed quickly. This would be a busy day!

August 14, 2012


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: Humans are Something Special in the universe

While this doesn’t rank HUMANS, it does rank COUNTRIES on Earth. What if there were a list like this of planets with intelligent civilizations – and Earth was last? It would explain The Fermi Paradox, wouldn’t it?

Fermi Paradox: “In an informal discussion in 1950, the physicist Enrico Fermi questioned why, if a multitude of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations exists in the Milky Way galaxy, evidence such as spacecraft or probes is not seen.” A clearer definition would be: “The apparent size and age of the universe suggest that many technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations ought to exist.
However, this hypothesis seems inconsistent with the lack of observational evidence to support it.”

So, here we go!

Bintou Kogda  and Ouedraogo Ye are both just eighteen and come from the country of Burkina Faso, which recently came through the Reorganization Wars that redrew the map of the African Continent. Their small country has encompassed the former nations of Ghana, Benin and Togo and because of the peaceful nature of its Reorganization, has risen to prominence.

Both are at Harvard in the United States, ostensibly to study law and nanotechnology under grant scholarships from their own government – and as part of a program the US has started to gain a foothold in the New Africa. They’ve never met – except formally at a reception welcoming all international students to Harvard.

While they love their fields of study, both are dissatisfied with the “boring life” they lead. When a small group of students begins to meet to discuss Extraterrestrial Intelligence, they both show…

“What are you doing here?” Bintou asked in French.

Ouedraogo replied in the same language, leaning closer to her than he’d ever done to woman – excepting his mother and sisters – and said, “The same thing you’re doing here. I’m bored and this sounded exciting.”

Bintou leaned away. She’d managed to maintain her sense of modesty despite the crazy American obsession with sex. She shook her head. She should have known that Ouedraogo would want to embrace that insanity.

Even so, she bumped his shoulder as a young man stood at the front of the room and clapped his hands, saying, “Let’s get this gig hummin’!”

Bintou puzzled for a few moments. Though she spoke English as well as anyone who completed high school in Burkina Faso, American idioms still left her totally confused. Especially when they piled them on top of each other. She could only deduce that it meant “This meeting will now come to order!” because others started taking seats. No one sat in ordered rows, it was more like a circle without any definition.

After the chairs were done scraping across the floor, the young man said, “Hey! My name’s Edgar Bailey and I’ll be the moderator tonight for this first meeting of the ET Discussion Society. If you’d tell us your name before you speak, it’ll help us get to know each other. To start things off, I’d like to toss this out to the group.” The lights dimmed abruptly and a projector hanging from the ceiling flicked on, projecting a web article.

Ouedraogo groaned. Bintou had managed to sit across the group from him. She also kept her dismay to herself. Edgar stood on his tiptoes to locate the source of the groan. He snapped, “What’s wrong with this article?”

Ouedraogo stood up and replied in English. Bintou shook her head. It was unlikely that his heavily accented English would impress the people in this room as he said, “First of all, the article is almost twenty years out of date – the information is patently wrong...”

Edgar cut him off by saying, “The information is unimportant...”

Ouedraogo fired back, “It’s important to some of us! You’re perpetuating a stereotype!”

Bintou sighed. So much for keeping a low profile. She stood up and said, “What Ouedraogo is trying to say is that he and I are from Burkina Faso and this list places our former country at the very bottom as the worst country in the world from 2008 to 2009. Unflattering, to say the least. But what you’re implying by using this is that Earth has somehow gotten on the bottom of some interstellar ‘worst place to live’ list and that that’s the explanation of what puzzled Fermi and Hart?”

Edgar blinked slowly, massively as Bintou sat down. A moment later, there was a crash as Ouedraogo knocked over his chair and stormed out of the room. Beside her, a young woman with wildly uncontrolled, curly red hair nudged her and said, “Nice going! I’m glad someone shut down the pompous windbag before he went on his superior rant about Fermi.” She snorted, “You even mentioned Hart.” She raised an eyebrow and added, “You probably made his most-hated person list today!”

“I didn’t mean...” Bintou began.

“Don’t worry, you just made it on to about sixty people’s ‘OMG, I have absolutely GOT to get to know this woman!’ list. You’re certainly on mine. I’m Ginny Phleger. What are you doing after the meeting?”

August 12, 2012


The local Public Broadcasting System is running a special on Simon & Garfunkle. Among that esteemed group’s greatest hits is a song that has the line, “Slow down, you move too fast…”

Last night, I spent a few hours with an old friend of mine gazing up at the stars while we were on a camping trip. The Milky Way was clearly visible as he found and aimed his telescope at the intergalactic wonders of M81, M82 (aka The Cigar Galaxy), M13, M51 (aka The Whirlpool Galaxy), M27 (aka The Dumbbell Nebula), and M57 (The Ring Nebula).

It took quite a while to locate, aim the telescope and find the objects of our desire, but my friend was diligent and found every one. He even impressed the park rangers who came by to “check up on us”.

My pace just before this new school year begins is supposed to be picking up. It has every other year since I started teaching 32 years ago. I really should be getting up to speed! “Getting up to speed” is a common aphorism in the Industrialized World in which roughly one in ten of us live.

But what speed are we supposed to be “getting up to”? The cell phones, wireless laptops, microwaves, email, radio, Twitter, Google-Plus, television, FaceBook, and skyping ALL operate at 300,000 kilometers per second; the speed of electromagnetic energy – the speed of light. Is it conceivable for your average student, business person, factory worker, security guard, executive assistant, bank manager, NYSE trader, president of the United States – heck even Stephen Hawking or David Brin to REALLY “get up to [this] speed” any time this week? This year? This lifetime? This aeon?

I hereby tender that it is NOT possible.

Not only is it impossible for a Human of any sort to “get up to speed” because the electronic gizmos we’re supposed to catch up to operate at the speed of light, it is ultimately deadly to even try. I don’t need to iterate the ancillary problems “getting up to speed” has created that expresses itself as increased stress. No need to point out that the number one killer of teenagers in the US is “accidents”, a frightening number of which occur while these teens are trying to get up to the speed of light that we elders believe they should be at.

In 1984, I wrote a science fiction poem (and updated it for here). It was rejected so many times that my future as a poet was crushed. But I offer it to you (for free!) below, because it speaks to me in my present state of mind, and it might speak to some of you as well:


i don’t stop and look at the stars anymore,
i read sky and telescope and astronomy instead.

i don’t imagine life in space anymore,
i read analog and the journal of exobiology ( instead.

perhaps I should renew
my subscription
to the stars
before it

I contend that if we refuse to slow down, we will both fail to consider and increasingly risk the real world we (republicans, democrats, libertarians, green parties, communists, constitutionalists, and independents) live in.

Your thoughts?

August 9, 2012


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 five pages back until you get to the bottom.

It was pitch dark outside and no one really paid much attention to him. The security guard at the hospital entrance looked up. CJ said, “I’m with my sister in 1311. It’s a private room. My mom and my best friend are sleeping. I just need to get outside to breathe.”

The lady studied him for a moment then asked, “What’s your name, kid?”

“CJ – uh, Christopher Hastings. My mom is Jessica Hastings.”

She logged him into her computer then nodded, “OK. Just make sure you check back in when you’re done.”

He nodded and walked outside. Once he was clear of the windows, he started running, screeching to a halt a second later. Job had hidden the bikes! He turned in a full circle but didn’t see them. “Come on CJ, think! Job’s your best friend – where would you hide the bikes if you were him?”

Not directly in front of the hospital, that was for sure. He ran along the sidewalk between the street and the building, past the EMERGENCY entrance and stopped in front of the brilliantly lit main doors. Purple flowering bushes, beds of red and yellow blooms and green hedges so well-trimmed the edges were sharp enough to cut skin decorated the mall. In the center a huge sign lit from within and from below announced the hospital’s name. The base was wrapped more hedges trimmed to look like steps leading from the ground up.

CJ grinned and scampered forward, falling down and crab-walking on all fours, ducking farther under the bush. He found the bikes and tugged his out, leaped on it and headed home. He and Job had ridden to the theater nearby and after planning the trip extensively with CJ’s mom and Job’s parents, they’d allowed the boys to go during spring break. He knew the way home by heart.

It would take him close to half an hour and it was late. He’d have to watch out for cops patrolling for curfew breakers. He pedaled as fast as he could, keeping an eye on the road and the shadows. By the time he reached the house, he was panting and had a stitch in his right side. He fumbled for the hidden key taped to the underside of the lawn light in the back yard then went into the house, ransacked his Life Box and found the squirt guns. All of them were full – of something. He carried the whole thing into his mom’s bathroom ‘cause it didn’t have a window, and turned on the light.

There was only one green squirt gun which he shoved into his pocket. He turned off the light after dumping the others in the sink. He stopped, reached back and grabbed three more, stuffing one in each pocket then headed back out to his bike, slipping the key in his pocket. He could put it back later.

The return trip was worse until the end because he was tired and part of it was uphill. But once he reached the little valley that held the hospital, the main road and four malls, he coasted most of the way back.

He stashed his bike again and ran back into the hospital, waving at the guard. She waved back. He didn’t pay any attention to the elevators and started up the stairs. He’d already biked six miles; his chest was heaving. He was sure that if he were an old man, he’d be having a heart attack right now!

A giant number thirteen appeared on the steps in front of him and the same number was painted in black on the door. He threw the door open.

Dr. Douchebag was standing two steps away. He held out his hand and said, “Give me the squirt gun, boy.”

August 7, 2012


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: Ancient tombs discovered/cursed/releases monster/mummy

Walter St. Vincent Clark is the son of a construction contractor who, after divorcing Walter’s mom, married someone only ten years older than Walter (who goes by the name, Saint) and then decided it was a mistake. He choose to go to Peru to help rebuild a village leveled by an earthquake – to do penance for a life wasted in selfish pleasure… “Right, Dad,” Saint said, “You’ve had a non-religious conversion. I’m thrilled. So what am I supposed to do while you’re building los haciendas?”

Dad rolled his eyes, “It’s de una haciendas. You sound like an idiot when you say it that way.”

Saint growled and turned away. “Whatever. What if I say I’m not going?”

“I’ll say, ‘Tell your mother you’re getting to be a pain in the ass. Have a nice time with your son’.”

He goes and Saint meets the daughter of the village elder, Kina Silvana Mantilla and they immediately…

hate each other.

She thinks he’s a stuck-up American who’s trying to show off his (really BAD) Spanish in order to woo her, figuring she’ll be amazed by the Big, Bad Americano. His announced attempt to her that he wants to be a poet seems absurd because the boy has absolutely no feeling whatsoever.

She crossed her arms over her chest and said, “What am I supposed to do with a spoiled, American...”

“He may be spoiled, but his father is trying to do something right. He’s trying to break a curse on his life by reaching far above his level of comfort.” He fixed her with a dark glare and added in Jaqaru, “We need his money. You will be kind and attentive to his son.”

He thinks she’s a stone-age hillbilly from the mountains. This girl thinks she’s going to be smart enough (and educated enough!) to get into MIT! Hah! He’s known some of the smartest people in his world who tried to get into that school and failed.

On the insistence of their parents, the two are forced to go on a walk through the hills below the city of Nazca. Much of the western part of the city was badly damaged and that is where the Saint’s father’s work is being done. Looking down on the city:

“It looks so small,” Kina said, crossing her arms over her chest.

“It IS small!” Saint said. Kina turned on him, ready to attack his American arrogance, but bit her tongue when she saw a strange look on his face. He pointed, “Those are the Grinning Skulls, aren’t they?”

“It’s the ‘Grinning Skeletons’, ‘Los esqueletos sonrientes’ en La Casa de todos los muerto de Chaucilla and what do you know about them?” she said. The monument was no secret, but the macabre skeletons, arranged so that they were all crouching and sitting up, facing the sunrise each morning rarely attracted American tourists.

“Creepy,” he said. He wasn’t grinning and she heard no mockery in his voice this morning.
“Some believe that they were executed instead of dying naturally.”

“So there’s some sort of curse on the place, like on the Tomb of Tutaknamen?”

Kina regretted saying anything immediately and turned away from him, heading down the trail into the cemetery. She heard him scurrying after her and she picked up her pace until she was jogging downhill.

Neither one of them noticed that a line of dark clouds had moved in from the west, roiling clouds lit by the bloody red light of the morning sun. As if they were sliding backwards from their usual climb over the Andes Mountains, they seemed to be rushing to the Nazca Plains and the tiny cemetery.

Catching up with her, he shouted, “What’s wrong? What’s the curse about?”

“There are no such things as curses,” she shouted over her shoulder as a thick, wet, hot wind rushed over them, carrying with it the smell of dense, forbidding jungle...

August 5, 2012

WRITING ADVICE – SL Viehl #7: Depth of Character

I stumbled across the writing of Sheila Kelly (aka SL Viehl, Gena Gale, Jessica Hall, Rebecca Kelly and Lynn Viehl) about eleven years ago with the publication of her first novel, STARDOC. I was looking for a the work of a current writer to replace one of my favorite kind of science fiction – human doctors in a space hospital working on aliens. I discovered this genre as an adolescent in Alan E. Nourse’s STAR SURGEON, followed it into James White’s SECTOR GENERAL books and A.M. Lightner’s DOCTOR TO THE GALAXY. S.L. Viehl’s books satisfied that itch – but I learned about a year ago that she is so much more than just a “space hospital” writer! The bits of writing advice in this new ten part series are used with her permission. This one is from:

A couple of weeks ago, CRICKET MAGAZINE accepted a story of mine about penguins on my imaginary Space Station COURAGE. Lonnie Plecha, the editor of CRICKET, asked for a few changes. “I’m not proposing a massive overhaul – more of an enhancing of what you have…You have an opportunity to deepen the story somewhat by elaborating on the dynamic between Candace and Dejario.”

In particular, he asked me to answer very specific questions (the initial word limit for CRICKET submissions is 1500 – there’s not an awful lot of room in there to provide all the elements of story! That’s one reason why I submit to children’s markets, I have to write literary, entertaining, genre flash fiction).

Some of the questions he wanted me to answer: “Why are they always sparring? How did Candace’s father die? What’s wrong with penguin whispering anyway? …are [they] about thirteen years old?”

All of his probing led me to expand of what was originally in the story and I ended up adding about two hundred words. This is exactly what SL Viehl is talking about when she says, “If you haven't gone deeper with your character (or any of your other story elements), and developed them to be more than what the reader initially encounters, how are you going to sustain interest? Remember, as with the gator, all that upfront cuteness only goes so far.” (You’ll need to follow the link above to understand the gator reference!)

I have no excuse as a writer when it comes to skimping on character building. This is an area of writing in which I am still very weak and one I’m constantly working on. Not that I’ve got this whole writing thing nailed down (now that I have an agent and all), but I have strengths and weaknesses. Character building is a weakness and I need all the help I can get.

The metaphor of the Great White shark having to keep moving forward or die was a powerful one for me. As a science teacher and a biology major, I have many more details than I needed when I drew on this one to motivate me and the metaphor became a powerful image for me.

Reading that character building should result in a character like an iceberg with three fourths of it hidden wasn’t very helpful.

But telling me that a finished character should be like an alligator – which hides almost ALL of its attributes underwater but which, nonetheless are still alive, vital, powerful and necessary for the story – now THAT’S a metaphor I can grab hold of!

August 2, 2012

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 32: Aster of Opportunity – Faith

On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official United Faith in Humanity, the Councils are teetering on the verge of pogrom directed against Christians, Molesters , Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Murderers, Muslims, Thieves, Hindu, Embezzlers and Artificial Humans – anyone who threatens the official Faith and the consolidating power of the Councils. It makes good sense, right – get rid of religion and Human divisiveness on a societal level will disappear? An instrument of such a pogrom might just be a Roman holiday...To see the rest of the chapters, go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story.

Flushing red from equal parts embarrassment and fury, Hanam vo’Maddux left the Mayor of Opportunity’s office.

There was only one thing she could do about this Aster Thiel of the Mayor’s.

Destroy her.

Sweeping down the corridor, she gathered her security detail without slowing down. Once she was in her own office, she dismissed everyone but her own lead security guard, Mason Akayev and said, “We need dirt.”


“Dirt!” Hanam shouted, rising from her chair. Clenching her jaw, she fell back into her seat until she had wrestled her temper back under her control. Closing her eyes, she tried a relaxation technique some Buddhist monk had taught her just before she’d had him executed for proselytizing in a public place. The man had thought that if he gave her something she wanted, she’d give him his life back. She HAD apologized – just before he’d been pushed out through the Execution Lock. That was as far as she’d been willing to go. After the fifteen minute exercise, she was back to her old self. Opening her eyes, she found Akayev still standing at attention in front of her. “I need evidence regarding the disloyalty or possible criminal activity of the Opportunity citizen, Aster Thiel.”

Akayev snorted as his arms fell to parade rest.

“What’s wrong with that request?”

Akayev shook his head, saying, “Better if you asked me to investigate you, Ma’am. You have a spotless record.”

“Of course I do! I wrote it!” She paused. “You mean this woman has a spotless record?”

“You had us investigate her before she accompanied the Mayor to the Solstmas Ball.” He shrugged, “She was clean.”

Hanam leaned back in her chair, lids partly closing. She steepled her fingers before her nose and said softly, “I’m not asking for an investigation this time, Akayev. I want evidence in order to press charges for criminal activity.”

She and Akayev had started working together for nearly a Martian decade. He’d been one of the people the Mayor had dug up with her. While he’d sent her first to the Marines followed by a college education and then what the Mayor euphemistically called “finishing school”; he’d sent Akayev into the Marines and left him there. The man had traveled all over the planet, ostensibly in the service of the Council of Cities. He’d really been in search of information that would help the Mayor of Opportunity not only consolidate his base in the City – but to lay groundwork for a Council of one in some undefined future.

Hanam wasn’t stupid. Some of the information Akayev gathered was on her. But doing double duty wasn’t a problem for him and she usually got first hearing on things that might have an impact on her job.

Her lead security wasn’t stupid either. He lifted his chin a fraction. He understood what he was to do. She added, “She’s moving in on my territory, Om. I don’t intend to hand twenty years of influence over to some office bimbo.”

“Understood.” She waved him away and he disappeared. Getting back to work, she let documents, reports, data, memos and summaries relax her. Even the Religious Climate of Mars document was lighter reading than usual. She paused and sat back, playing a dramatized public service message provided by the Committee For Freedom From Nonoperational Religious Fanaticism, colloquially, The Freedom Committee.

“For ten thousand years, Earth was home to religious belief systems that did nothing but foster a philosophy of war, persecution, institutionalized torture, brainwashing, genocide, murder and hatred. With the birth of the United Faith In Humanity, this philosophy has been largely replaced by one of peace, inclusion, personal assistance, mind-expansion, genoraphe, preservation, and love. Join us and help return Humanity to its rational, sympathetic, generous free of outmoded religious belief systems.”

She ran the message again. When it was over, she was smiling and the facial posturing had nothing to do with peace and love.

Word construct: geno: “race or kind” + raphe: "seam, suture" (medical), Modern Latin, from Gk. rhaphe "seam, suture (of a skull)," from rhaptein "to sew together, stitch" (see wrap)