October 30, 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: Alien artifacts

Hans Bonhoeffer and Sa’Niah Green pursed their lips as they leaned over the Plexiglas box protecting the ‘Pseudo-Tibetan Nazi Buddha’ under the lights of the University of Minnesota’s Weisman Art Museum.

His voice heavy with a German accent, Hans said, “Why would they carve it out of meteorite iron?”

“You’d think they’d just sell it. I’ll bet they coulda got twenty grand on ebay,” said Sa’Niah.

Hans snorted, straightening up. “Even so, it’s strange. Why would anyone go to the trouble carving it and then pretending it was collected by Himmler?”

Sa’Niah straightened up as well and looked at her friend. They were about as opposite as possible – he had blonde hair, blue eyes, almost two meters tall, lanky to the point of skinny with hands large enough to grip a basketball with just five fingers (if he cared, he was a European football fanatic). She was barely a meter and a half tall, her grandparents had come from Sudan, she was squat and round (her friends called her Black Winnie – after Winnie the Pooh) and she wanted nothing more than to play on the Minnesota Lynx.

Good thing he was gay, otherwise she’d live one frustrated life. They were also both history majors. Which reminded her, “Hans – how’s your book?”

He looked up and arched an eyebrow, “Why do you think I’m standing here with you discussing pseudo-Nazi alien artifacts?”

She snorted softly, “Because we’re best friends?”

“No, because you’re the only person I know of who’s read Harry Turtledove.” She grinned. They’d met in the Wilson Library during finals first semester of their freshman year the year before. They’d gotten into an argument over who would be able to check out the newest Turtledove novel. Ultimately Hans had won because he held the book over his head and there was no way for her to get at it. She said, “It’s a good thing you decide to share it with me at Caribou.”

He grinned at her and said, “Speaking of which.” He lifted his chin and made a motion toward Dinkytown proper.

She nodded and said, “I’ll even walk outside.”

Mock-amazed, he said, “What’s wrong? Have you contracted some spinal fungus you haven’t told me about and you are preparing to die?”

She laughed. Several other arts patrons glared at her. The Weisman wasn’t for giggling college sophomores. They headed for the exit then started up East River Parkway, heading for Southeast Fifth Street. Sa’Niah said, “So, what’s the story?”

Hans fell into one of his brooding moods. They’d almost reached Dinkytown when he said, “It’s not a story.”


“It has to do with my family,” he said, his accent thicker than usual. She’d noticed that happened when he got emotional – which happened every time he broke up from his current love interest. She just listened and walked, huffing slightly. When he wasn’t paying attention, he took long, long strides and it was hard for her to keep up.

“What would a fake Nazi-Buddhist made out of meteorite iron have to do with your family?”

They reached the Caribou, ordered their favorites and settled in a booth that allowed him to stretch his legs before he said, “My family were Nazis.”

She blinked in surprise. “What?”

“My grandparents – both sides, except for one of my father’s uncles. His name was Dietrich and he was executed by the Nazis.” She didn’t know what to say. He continued, “They also dealt with the regime in antiquities.” He paused, scowling then said, “The Nazi Buddha? It’s legitimate.”

“How would you know?”

“Because I have a picture of my great-great-great grandfather holding it. And he does not look Human.”

October 28, 2012


Somewhere around thirty years ago, I met Bruce Bethke for the first time – when responded to an ad in a newspaper for a science fiction writers group seeking new members. I called, then sent in an “audition story” and was invited to join the group at the ORIGINAL, original Loft Literary Center (before grant money started flowing) in Minneapolis. Bruce was there, along with a couple of other writers. One of THEM reviews books now, the other published a few books and short stories but no longer writes. Bruce doesn’t write much lately except for non-fiction; he is currently executive editor of STUPEFYING STORIES, an irregular anthology of new speculative fiction, he mostly works for a super computer company as well as presiding over Rampant Loon Press. These nuggets of wisdom can be found here: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/a-12-step-program-for-writers/. They are used with the author’s permission.

  1. We admit that we are powerless over publishers, and that our careers have become completely unmanageable.

This has a peculiar sharpness right now as I have a story that has been received at ANALOG since June. I’m at 129 days since that reception – beyond the number at which they recommend we inquire. I did THAT several days ago and I haven’t heard since. DUOTROPE gives the range of response times between 5 minutes and 231 days – though the average for a rejection is 23 days and the average for an acceptance is 95 days.

As I know I am powerless to sway editors, it makes it all the more difficult that former editor Stan Schmidt (who accepted the three stories I’ve had published in ANALOG) retired a few weeks ago and managing editor Trevor Qachri has ascended the throne. The question now is: does he like my writing enough to buy the piece or not? It helps when I remember that its premise is likely to be controversial.

I’d submitted HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: EMERALD OF EARTH to Andrew Hartwell, editor at HarperCollins Children’s Book in October of 2011. Not having heard anything by March 27 the following year, I sent a query at which time he said he’d get to it soon. I heard from him on July 20, 2012 – FOUR DAYS after my new agent, Karen Grencik (Red Fox Literary) emailed him about it.

It’s a good thing for me that my writing has not become a career. My career is teaching with a slight change of venue recently to become a school counselor. But I’d like my career to be as a writer. At least my second career as I contemplate retirement.

All right, I know now that I am helpless when it comes to editors. So what does the Twelve Step plan say for writers?

The “real 12 steps” of AA (which have been adapted to help people addicted to dozens of evils) reads “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.”
In terms of the Writer’s 12 Steps?

This means that the first step is the biggest step. The intent here is to break through a writer’s denial that editors have anything to do with their writing. It’s a decision to make a change, to see if the compulsion to have a writing career is detrimental.

“We admitted” is a declaration, an acceptance of our condition as writers. It’s a realization that we need help, and it implies that we are now pursuing a solution, a life-changing surrender, our biggest admission to the world. And surprisingly enough, this step can keep us in reality all by itself. A writer who fully internalizes the first step is well protected against that consistent belief that THEY are in control.

This is an argument against a writer’s typical line of insane thinking: that all I have to do is write a really fabulous book and it will get published. Once we DO get published despite the odds, our devious minds can be planning a full scale return to the belief that all we have to do is write…It’s this line of thinking that shows us the unmanageability in our lives that even if we are clean for a period of time, both our obsessive and our compulsive nature leave us no way to manipulate or wiggle our way out of a relapse.

The first step is our greatest defense against relapse, because it clearly reminds us of what we are inviting back into our lives if we choose to think we are in control again.

While I may be reading WAY more into Bruce’s humorous piece, there is more than a grain of truth here as I continue to write and continue to send my stuff to editors.

Does any of this resonate with your condition?

October 25, 2012


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  and I’m sorry, but a number of them got deleted from the blog – go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story. If you’d like to read it from beginning to end (23,000 words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

Stepan and QuinnAH – a blue, Artificial Human street urchin abandoned on the Rim –  slid down a filthy metal tunnel that angled into the Martian crust. Before Stefan could protest, the boy twisted in the tunnel and grabbed Stepan’s wrist, dragging him headfirst into the hole.

Stepan refused to give rise to the wail of terror trying to force itself out of his mouth. Instead, he squirmed to keep from crushing his communicator. He breathed through his nose, but even so, the dust was so thick in the enclosed space, he was wondering if they’d suffocate before they reached the bottom.

The angle decreased until they rumbled to a rusty, dusty stop.

Quinn jumped to his feet, not bothering to brush himself off and said, “You done pretty good for a real guy.”

“Thanks,” Stepan said after hawking up a load of mud and spitting.

Quinn took him by the hand and Stepan noticed then that the dust had obscured a row of LEDs set into the ceiling. They didn’t exactly illuminate the corridor Quinn set off along, rather marking place to aim for.

“Best set a decent pace, ‘cuz it’s a long way.”

“I know Burroughs is thirty kilometers across and that it takes about five hours to walk across it.”

“When you walk on the surface in the streets.”

“How long does it take through the tunnels?”

“Between five hours and thirty minutes.”

Stepan frowned as he followed Quinn into a larger tunnel – larger but more poorly lit. In the distance he could hear a deep rumbling overlain with a static hum, like a cheap fluorescent lamp from the early 21st Century. “Where are we…”

Quinn lifted a hand that was deep purple in the light. The ground started to shake. “We’ll be in the HOD in thirty minutes.”


The ground shook like the million-year marsquake was about to let loose.

“Get ready!”

“For what?”

“To...” Quinn grabbed him by the wrist again, crouched and as a circular wall filled the tunnel, the boy backpedalled abruptly, dragging Stepan backward to the ground, screaming, “Don’t jump!” They fell in a heap as a noise like a violent rushing wind filled the whole tunnel where they’d fallen.

“What happened?” Stepan asked as the noise faded back to the static hum.

Quinn looked at him and said, “You didn’t fight me.”

“Why would I fight you?”

“Because I was trying to make you do something you didn’t know about.”

Stepan scowled. He opened his mouth then closed it. Finally he managed, “I went with you because I trust you.”

Quinn didn’t respond at all. He jumped to his feet, went to look up and down the tunnel and said, “Looks like it’s gonna take us five hours, too. Longer if we have to run to get out of the way of the stuffcaps.”

“The what?”

“Stuffcaps – enclosed capsules full of stuff for the HOD. Sometimes they’re open. If it had been, we’d have been able to hitch a ride. But it was closed. If I’d jumped and you’d followed, we’d have been a red smear for half a klick down. Then we’d a been washed off tomorrow morning when the bots clean the tunnels. Nobody’d have known we was gone.”

“Thanks, then,” said Stepan as he got to his feet.

“For what?”

“Saving my life. I owe you one.”

From across the tunnel, from another, dark one, a voice said, “Then I guess I’ll be collecting from you, Mister Izmaylova.”

October 23, 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.

F Trope: nature magic

Anasazi Taveewach and Iobhar Seabright are descended from Anasazi shamans and Briton druids -- and they meet at the University of Auckland during their semester abroad studies.

During their orientation, they are whisked off to the island of Wahieke. Exposed to the Maori culture there, they both feel more at home than they ever did in the desert Southwest or Southhampton area of England...

Anasazi was listening with only half an ear to the Kiwi group leader – notably NOT Maori – as she droned on the about the need for them to be sensitive to the cultures of others and not to laugh at anything.

Beside her, without moving, a young man said softly in an intriguing British accent, “The name’s Iobhar Seabright, you can call me Ibby.”

Anasazi lifted an eyebrow. There was no denying that the young man thought he was attractive. And Anasazi had always been a sucker for curly red hair. She also knew he was trying to impress her by being ‘American’ and making up a nickname. The Europeans she’d known at her inner city college loathed the American penchant for abbreviating everything. She did, too. But not for the same reasons. Names had power in the cultural traditions she'd grown up in. She whispered back, “My name’s Anasazi Taveewach. You can call me Miz Taveewach.” She only just managed to keep the smirk off of her face.

She watched him struggle with a grin, but when he turned to look at her, she caught an odd glimmer. Not the smoldering seductiveness she’d expected – but a gaze that spoke of deep sadness. She frowned. The Kiwi said, “I’d like to turn the rest of your orientation over to the real guide here, Bianca.”

A short, dark woman stepped to the front and introduced herself, then said, “I’ll give you a couple of choices right now. I know you’ve had a long trip and some of you would just as soon relax, shower and unwind before we start our regular programming. Feel free,” she made a peremptorial, dismissive gesture then paused. The group started muttering happily at the thought of a mostly-free day. She continued, “However, if you were interested, I could take a group on a tramp. It’s a bit of a distance, but it would give you a clear picture of the island and what we’ll be doing this week. Any takers?”

Most of them opted out, but Anasazi, “Ibby”, and two other boys raised their hands. Bianca said, “Then I’ll set you free and the four of you can come with me.” They set off after she directed them all to make sure their shoes were firmly knotted and the boy’s belts were tight. At first they followed a well-worn path as it angled some down toward the beach. The walking track they followed went along the line of the peninsula to Maitiatia where the ferry launched, dipping down to the sand then climbing up rolling hills.

The tramp was, in places, AAAAAAAAAAGONIZING. Though Anasazi considered herself fit – she got good grades in physical education – she wasn’t super outdoorsy. She was willing, but not in great shape. The tramp took them up VERY steep hills on paths made of mud and then down equally steep hills.

After an hour, Anasazi was glad to see that the boys were panting as badly as she was and all of them were sweating through their shirts. As they slid down a muddy slope, she heard a thud and a loud grunt followed by muttering that she realized consisted mostly of imprecations against some deity and were mostly about appearing to be a clutz in front of an incredibly cute girl.

Anasazi wasn’t vain, but doubted that “Ibby” had the hots for the tour guide. That would only leave her...

That line of thought was scrambled when Bianca exclaimed down on a broad expanse of beach that sloped up from the ocean water. She waved excitedly for all of them to come to her. When they reached her and gathered around, she pointed down.

A stingray that was easily the size of the dog that had been tagging along after them lay dead on the ground. She said, “This is a tremendous good omen; a blessing! The stingray is a guardian of the sea god Tangaroa. Some of our people – you’ll meet one of them when you go kayaking later this week – will sometimes pray for a blessing when they see something like this!” She swept them with a serious, deeply humorous gaze and added, “He’ll also likely offer up thanksgiving -- after you’ve returned to shore from kayaking in one piece. The stingray is fairly far up on shore most likely because of the unpredictable weather lately. It’s been dead for a while – see the bugs and sand in the eyes.” She picked up a stick and poked the nose. “You see, the skin near its nose is getting springy.”

She shook her head sadly, clearly overwhelmed. After a few moments of silence broken only by the gusty wind coming in off the ocean, she said, “I’ll get Tops, the other tour guide, to help me carry it away and hide it. Once it’s decayed and dried, I’ll come back.”

“Why would you want to do that?” one of the boys exclaimed. His nose wrinkled in disgust. Anasazi recalled that he was a political science major. Wimp.

Bianca said, “I can use the bones...”

A buzz-cut boy, ROTC, who had tried flirting with her and as boring as dead skin, said, “That’s gross.”

“Ibby” stepped closer, “accidentally” bumping the ROTC brat. Brat spun in to kick “Ibby”’s feet out from under him. But the Brit gripped his hand, squeezed and soldier boy went down. He looked at Bianca and said, “Do you plan on using the bones for a ritual?”

Without skipping a beat,  Bianca said, “Art.”

Anasazi frowned at Ibby, looked to Bianca then back at him. “What did you mean by that?”

October 21, 2012

Slice of PIE: Real Life Story

The past week has been the strangest week of my life and has sparked more ideas than I currently know what to do with. As well, it has caused some growth in my heart that will, without doubt, appear in my writing.

The event that looms largest is the death of my wife’s brother, Daniel Richard Mooney.

As my wife is the youngest in her family, and I am younger than she is, I have the unenviable position as “baby of the family”. This gave my brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law endless opportunity to pick on me. Danny, ever the practical joker and the driest of humorists, often led me on with stories and jokes and comments. I rarely knew if he was being serious or sending my mind after some other tall tale – after which he would laugh at me and go on his merry way.

Being a jokester was in stark contrast to the life he had to live. Born a hemophiliac in 1952, he suffered often from procedures that we would call tortuous and gruesome today in order to save his life. In the early 1980s, a whole-blood transfusion gave him AIDS. No, he was not “only” HIV+. He had full-blown symptoms that included a half dozen opportunistic infections. But working with the University of Minnesota, he was subjected to numerous drug regimens to combat the disease. In the late 1990s, his doctors declared him HIV free and he began to gain weight and grew healthy again.

A double knee replacement gave him mobility he’d had only as a child.

Then came the news a few months ago: liver cancer. Again, there were treatments and for a while it seemed he was getting better. But his body couldn’t take it anymore. Brutalized by genetics, ignorance and disease; he surrendered to the inevitable, went home, saw as many friends and family as he could, saying his good-byes; then early on a Tuesday morning, he shuffled off the mortal coil – and (as I see it) leaped off the Olympic starting blocks to run a sprint he’d never been able to do in real life!

We had a day of numb rest while much-needed rain fell most of the time.

Thursday, we had a wedding rehearsal. Danny’s nephew was getting married! From grief to mounting anticipation, we HIKED (yes, hiked) to the wedding spot – a small shelter in the center of the park reserve in an outer suburb of St. Paul. After the practice, we dined Mediterranean style at my OTHER brother-in-law’s house. The next day was the wedding and after a long day of rain, drizzle and chilly temperatures, we stood in full suits, the women in long dresses as we awaited the arrival of the judge and bride. The ceremony was simple and brief – and abruptly crowned with a sunlight pouring through a rent in the clouds. Oak leaves shimmered mocha brown, poplar and aspen flared with lemon light, and singular maples blazed scarlet. The effect was glorious.

From the woods, we trekked to the JJ Hill Reference Library in the very living heart of St. Paul. The theme of the wedding had been “A Love Story”, so the bride had fashioned all the bouquets and boutonnieres from newsprint. Each table bore a tower of elder hardcover books topped with a few newsprint blossoms in a vase. Surrounded by three stories of bookshelves and marble columns, we toasted the bride and groom; ate tacos in celebration and salivated with stunned gluttony at the Sweets Table, which held a small wedding cake and countless petit fours, “cake suckers” (some with edible glitter!), bonbons, and truffles.

Saturday was a recovery day in which the glory of the wedding drained slowly away. Prosaic events replaced significant ones: leaf raking, getting the dog’s nails clipped, grocery shopping, housecleaning, filling bird feeders, responding to an editor’s notes. Normal stuff. Every day stuff. Early Sunday morning as I write this, we face the funeral – or celebration of the life of Danny. Somber. Likely graced with tears of grief as we say our good-byes and comfort one another.

To say this week has been a roller coaster ride of life would be an understatement. To say that I have grown in unexpected ways would be an observational truth no one but I could confirm. I have grown though, and the events of the week will be added into the mill of my writer’s mind and will come out in the stories I write from this day on.

Spiritually? I’ve not felt this deep in some time. It’s good to step into His pool of grace again. Very good.

Image: http://cdn.c.photoshelter.com/img-get/I0000KV_0DO9pGkE/s/700/700/A-Walk-in-the-Fall-Woods.jpg

October 18, 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.

Tommy Hastings hung his head.

Freddie Merrill opened his mouth, but all he got out was, “W...” before Tommy elbowed him hard in the ribs.

Edwina Olds, Lieutenant, WACS (ret.) continued to study them as the logging truck shuddered in idle. The big monster wasn’t used to sitting around doing nothing – neither the truck OR the woman.

Tommy said, “If I was you, I’d throw us out and let the ravening wolves eat us.” He looked up. “But the truth is – well, you’ve heard the truth, Ed. We’re in way, way over our heads all ‘cause I was tryin’ to find out if anyone knew anything about Mom and Dad.”

“Why would you care, son? Everybody’s mom and dad are different; strange in some way.”

“Not like his,” Freddie exclaimed.

“How so?”

Tommy shook his head and finally said, “They’re different. Dad’s almost eighty. Mom’s like – well, she never says, but she’s younger than Dad by a lot.”

Freddie added, “Tommy’s dad’s a lot younger than mine, that’s for sure even though his mom and mine look the same.”

Ed nodded and said, “So you want to know how they met?”

Tommy nodded. “They’re such a weird pair, I wanted to know.” He looked over his shoulder, “And we had to get Freddie away from his dad.”

“Why?” she asked, looking over Tommy’s shoulder.

There was a long silence then Tommy said, “Freddie’s dad’s a drunk and beats on him.”

Ed hummed then turned and put the truck into gear again. They drove for miles until she finally said, “All right. You’re a couple of sad sacks and I’m always a sucker for a sad sack. I’ll take you north to Thunder Bay. After that, you’re on your own.”

“What if the mobsters come after us?” Freddie said.

She snorted and said, “I doubt that they’re really in the mob.”

“What about the violin case?” Tommy tried.

“One of them plays the violin!” Ed shook her head.

“They looked like Connie & Clyde!” Freddie exclaimed.

She laughed out loud then said, “Lots of people look like the movie version of Bonnie & Clyde! They been dead since ’34 and they were gangsters, not mobsters.”

“What’s the difference?” Freddie asked.

“There’s lots of differences, but the biggest one is that people don’t read about mobsters – the Mafia’s truly dangerous – they mostly smuggle things, murder people and wage mob wars. Your friends don’t sound like mobsters. Gangsters are from the 1920’s.”

“What are they then?”

“Probably socialists seeing they’re hanging around the Duluth Socialists of various kinds – and they probably know your parents.”

Tommy exclaimed, “My parents aren’t socialists!”

There was a long pause as the truck rumbled farther and farther north. Finally Ed said, “They may not be any more, but they were at one time and now there are people who want to talk to you about it – because you let people know who you are.”

Tommy didn’t know what to say, but what he knew she was right. He’d brought this all on himself. He’d endangered not only himself but Freddie and Ed – and Mr. Fairlaine and Charlie and maybe even his cousin and Mom and Dad. If anything happened to any of them – he was the one to blame.

October 16, 2012

Ideas on Tuesday: Go Dan, GO!

Early this morning, after a life lived with the challenges of hemophilia; the horrors of AIDS from a blood transfusion; and a brief fight against liver cancer...my brother-in-law went home to be with his Lord. For the first time, Dan Mooney can RUN like an Olympic sprinter off the blocks. Go Dan, GO!
Write an inspirational story about a teenager. That is all...

Image: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2012/06/05/article-2155050-1376997D000005DC-456_468x286.jpg

October 14, 2012

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Wanna Try To Prophesy The Future?

Imagine my amazement when I found out that this little device:

both NAMED and inspired this little device:

In case you didn’t know, taser stands for Thomas A Swift’s Electric Rifle.

This one is self-explanatory:

It’s obvious it inspired this:

Or how about this lesser-known device as the inspiration:

For this:

Those of you familiar with old science fiction movies will recognize this gentleman:

But how many people would have predicted this?

In 1951, Isaac Asimov wrote this in “The Fun They Had”:

"'Gee,' said Tommy. 'What a waste. When you're through with the book, you just throw it away... Our television screen must have had a million books on it and it's good for plenty more. I wouldn't throw it away.'"

Sound anything like this?

So – my point here is NOT to trumpet the exactitude of science fiction writers predicting the future. There are, to tell you the truth, more dismal failures than shining dreams-come-true.

Aliens have NOT come forward.

There are NO colonies on the Moon, Mars, Titan or any other place but the colonies of fungus between my toes…

Science has not triumphed to bring utopia on Earth.

My point is to ask you to take a science fiction idea or invention (or one of your own) and twist it JUST enough to give something like flip open cell phones from Star Trek walkie-talkies. Cells – and in case you didn’t notice, flip opens are mostly owned by elder folk like myself! – only superficially resemble Star Trek communicators.

Iphones® bear only a vague relationship to Dick Tracy’s “Two Way Wrist Radio”.

Read more:

I’ll start with terraforming – that is, changing a planet that is definitely NOT Earth-like into one that IS. It’s an idea explored by writers like Pamela Sargent (the Venus series), Kim Stanley Robinson (The Mars Trilogy), Lois McMasters Bujold in Komarr, and Sarah Zettel (aka C.L. Anderson) in The Silent Invasion. To date terraforming has included crashing comets into a planet’s surface, seeding clouds with genetically engineered bacteria, melting subsurface ice, firing CFC rockets to increase greenhouse gases, focusing sunlight to vaporize water and increase temperature, shading from sunlight to decrease temperature, vaporizing moons to darken a surface, creating a solar shield out of floating cities, bombarding with magnesium and calcium, making space fountains to eject atmosphere into space – and there are others as well.

So let me twist it – we all KNOW that we couldn’t possible change a planet’s rotation. We certainly can’t change its gravitational field. But what if we could change the density of a planetary core? What if we sent a magnetic device (a toroid like those scientists are experimenting with to contain nuclear fusion) into the depths of Jupiter and extracted core material. Transportation to Mars or Venus – firing it in Venus’ case so that the impact would be at an oblique angle in the direction it is already rotating – would be accomplished with the same technology visionaries plan for moving comets. In both cases, we could open a “passage” for the super dense matter to follow. It would increase density of Mars allowing it to hold an atmosphere permanently and would provide enough inertia to strip away atmosphere of Venus on impact as well as speeding up its rotation to a more reasonable ten to fifteen hour day.

There’s mine. Do you have an idea you’d like to twist about?

October 11, 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 –

While the monkey climbed down the railing of the balcony, Clementine ran down the stairs.

“Where are you going, Sweet Pea?” Daddy called.

“I’m going out to play!” she called back.

“Good! Don’t stay out too long. Don’t pet any animals or look at any fish or play with any lizards!”

Clementine laughed as she closed the door. She didn’t need a real pet any more. She had the monkey. She stopped and looked. “Where are you monkey?”

October 9, 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: Demons (mean ones) released/summoned/etc.
Current Event: just type: summoning demon 2012

Dauda Shagari stared glumly out at the falling snow. He said, “You never had to grow up with snow.”

His father, hunched over his laptop as he tapped yet another diatribe against the forced reunification of African tribes and families, didn’t look up as he said, “You never had to grow up with famine and internecine tribal warfare or people coming into your house wanting to chop you into little bits with a dull machete.”

Dauda mouthed the standard rejoinder, bobbling his head back and forth.

“And don’t think I can’t see you mocking me,” Dad added, looking up abruptly. He smiled faintly to take the sting out of his words.

“I’m not mocking you!” Dauda cried.

“Could have fooled me,” Dad said, returning to his work. His accent was carefully schooled Midwestern, though when he was upset, it drifted back into difficult to understand Nigerian English.

Dauda sighed. Somebody pounded on the front door of the house the University lent Dad in exchange for teaching a few classes in Hausa for the Global Language Department and a few in Emerging Africa for the College of Diplomacy and Global Politics. Plus a few African Religions classes – which Dad hated because his family had been Christians for five generations…

Dauda leaped from his perch in the window seat and raced to the door, flinging it open. David Lurvey laughed and held out two sets of cross-country skis. “Come on out, the snow’s perfect!”

“It isn’t even…” Dauda began.

“Go out, son! You’ve been inside all day. You need some fresh air.”

Grumbling, Dauda bundled up in his winter coat and called out, “Someday you’ll acknowledge that I’m fifteen and can make my own decisions, Dad.”

“I acknowledge that you can make your own decisions. They aren’t always the ones that are best for you,” Dad called back as Dauda slammed the door.

He said to David, “This from a man who makes his living intentionally antagonizing a New World Order.”

“Yeah, but he’s the only Exile I’ve ever met in real life,” said David. They both laughed as they headed across campus to the edge of the frozen marsh. Instead of heading for their usual starting spot, David nudged Dauda to one side, saying, “We’re gonna take this trail instead.”

“What? That just leads to the old boathouse.”


David hurried past him. It was obvious that others had passed here recently; fresh footprints in the snow. “What’s back there?”

“You’ll see.”

Dauda snorted. It wasn’t like David to be secretive, but he followed along anyway. He heard the voices before he saw the boathouse. He grinned, “There’s a party down here?”

“Sort of,” David said as he leaned the pairs of skis against a board that had been nailed into the trunk of a tree. He went to the door and slid it aside. “Go on in.”
Dauda frowned and stopped walking. “Why do you want me to go in there?”

“Why wouldn’t you just go in?”

“‘cause this is weird,” he said.

“Why’sit weird?”

“Because you NEVER act like this.”

From the darkness beneath the bowed roof of the boathouse, came chanting voices followed by a group of college students who walked toward him. A girl he’d never seen before said, “C’mon, kid. We’ve got a surprise for you!”

Someone rammed him from behind, knocking him over. Another voice cried, “We have a sacrifice for the demon! An African virgin!”

October 7, 2012

WRITING ADVICE – SL Viehl #10: Two New Lemming Metaphors

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 will be the final entry in the series! This one is from: http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/2012/09/lemming-writing.html

My daughter has taught me many things: how to love the inner city, what a “Miyazaki” is, and popular band names so I can be conversant with my students.

Something else she taught me is to loathe clone stories. The most recent of these is the whole “vampire/TWILIGHT thing”.

SL Viehl echoes a distaste for clone writing by calling it “lemming writing”.

I know everyone “knows” what a lemming is, but do we really know? Is there any more literary wisdom we can mine from this tired old metaphor?

I’m going to try here.

Physically, lemmings look like earless rabbits or tailless muskrats. Nondescript creatures, they would disappear from thought like Box Elder bugs do in mid-winter, except that they supposedly dive off cliffs to their doom into the ocean at the drop of a hat, giving us the grimly pronounced aphorism, “They’re following each other like a herd of lemmings”.

The facts are not nearly so colorful but they point to some inexplicable behavior by the animals nevertheless.

For example, when cornered or confronted by a predator, a lemming – all four ounces (110g) of it will fight rather than flee. In fact, they are aggressive even when Humans cross their paths.

Lemming populations fluctuate chaotically. The standard biological response to an increase in food – lemmings are almost entirely herbivores – is for a population to grow until it reaches a point where the number of mouths to feed overwhelms the supply of food. During the population explosion, the number of predators rises as well. When added to the depletion of the food supply, the predation brings the population back down to the usual carrying capacity of the environment.

Lemmings don’t do that – they keep breeding and breeding and breeding until the entire population is forced to migrate. At that point, they move out, seeking new forage. At times, they have to cross bodies of water and while some are able to make the crossing, many others  succumb to exhaustion and drown.

If they do NOT do this, the population plummets so far that, rather than leveling off at a reasonable number, it falls to near extinction. In particular, the Norway lemming and the Brown lemming follow this pattern – and it seems to happen about every four years.

How can I force these biological observations into a metaphor about writing?

Let’s first do away with the “diving over a cliff to their doom” metaphor. (The Wikipedia article points the direction for an avid researcher to check out the assertion that Walt Disney Studios CREATED the myth by filming imported lemmings in Canada being shot over a cliff with old-fashioned record turntables!) As this is clearly a fabrication of fevered documentary makers perpetrated on a gullible public, it’s about time the thing died.

There are enough verifiable facts here to contribute at least two new lemming metaphors to a writer’s canon:

The First Rule of Lemming Writing: No Matter What Everyone Else Says, Fight For Your Writing

JK Rowling, Stephen King, Shakespeare and Theodore Geisl blazed trails in a writer’s wilderness, fighting through stoat-infested tundra to get their initial work published. Once they’d cleared out the rocks, meticulously smoothed the ground and laid down asphalt, everyone else leaped on to the newly paved road and coasted into fame and glory (or at least financial liquidity).

The Second Rule of Lemming Writing: Once the Population Explodes, Get Out Early

Lavryle Spencer, Harper Lee, Poppy Z. Brite and Jim Crace all left their writing careers behind at the height of their popularity. Others – whose names shall remain unwritten (at least in this blog) – continue to write using fewer and fewer new ideas or with bigger and bigger axes to grind.

Shall we retire the Old Aphorism of Lemming Writing and go with these, or do you have others you’d like to add?

(PS -- I couldn't find a single PHOTGRAPH of lemmings migrating...anywhere...)

October 4, 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 four pages back until you get to the bottom.


“Huh. Funny you should say that. If my sister isn’t smarter than you, I must be.”

“You’re not smarter than me! You’re a retard!”
CJ’s raised his eyebrows and said softly, “That’s not a very politically correct term, Dr. Chazhukaran.”

“What, getting all formal now?” the man said. He hadn’t stopped moving, creeping up on CJ, acting as if he wasn’t stalking him. “If the shoe fits…”

CJ rolled his eyes, but he let them slip back to the two Hospital Security officers sneaking up on Dr. Douchebag. The woman officer’s eyes widened slightly as she and her partner moved smoothly and silently up toward the doctor. Both carried stunners. CJ said, “My sister says I’m not retarded, just stupid.”

“She’s just being nice.”

“Put your hands up into the air slowly, sir,” said the woman officer.

Dr. Douchebag’s eyes bugged out, but he didn’t make any move to put his hands up. Instead, he glared at CJ and snarled, “How are you doing that?”

“Doing what?” CJ asked.

“Throwing your voice like that.”

The male officer said, “He’s not throwing his voice, Sir. You’re being covered by two full amp
taser stun guns. If you don’t put your hands over your head, we’ll have to stun you.”

Dr. Chazhukaran’s hands slowly went into the air, but he said, “This boy is a menace to society! His sister told me he’s not only retarded but he can’t read and he’s possibly violent! Please, you have to believe me! Let me stop this incident before it turns deadly!”

Both officers scowled and lowered their stunners slightly.

This time CJ’s eyes bulged and Dr. Douchebag started to grin. He kept talking, too, his voice smoother and oilier than CJ had ever heard it – except when he was talking to his staff or other doctors, or even CJ’s mom. It’s how he talked when we was conning people. He’d tried it on Mai Li and it had failed miserably, even when she was her brain was still scrambled or whatever had been wrong with her.

With that voice, the man would be able to get whatever he wanted from them. He’d get off the hook.

There was only one way out of this. His pulse suddenly began to pound as CJ said, “I can read.”

Dr. Chazhukaran said, “You can’t! Your sister said you can’t!”

CJ looked at the cops and said, “Do you have something for me to read?”

They glanced at each other. The woman raised an eyebrow then reached behind her back and pulled out a organic computer tablet. She activated it then handed it to CJ.

He swallowed hard. He hadn’t read in front of people out loud since he was in like, third grade. That was the last time that ever happened. His teachers must have passed word to each other that if you asked CJ Hastings to read out loud in class, you better have a barf bucket or a mop handy. He started skimming like Mai Li had taught him then smiled a little. He looked up at the doctor, then down at the tablet and read, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand these rights I have just read to you?”

Dr. Douchebag shouted, “He didn’t read that! He memorized the Miranda Warning!”

CJ said, “Whose warnings?”

The doctor lunged forward, crying, “You little...”

As the doctor screamed,  the woman motioned CJ down. He dropped as their stunners hummed. He felt a tingling sensation – like when he hit his crazy bone – for just a second. Dr. Douchebag crumpled like a puppet whose strings had been cut.

CJ scrambled to his feet and said, “Thanks! Now, I’ve got to get to my...”

Without lowering their weapons, the man said, “Hand over the gun, son.”

CJ frowned, holding up the blue plastic toy. “It’s a squirt gun.”

The woman said, “The last time someone came in here with a squirt gun, it had acid in it and they were set on attacking their ex. So give us the squirt gun and you can get to your mom and sister.”

CJ nodded and handed her the gun. She nodded, as her partner got on his com and called in back up and a cart. CJ hurried down the hall, hoping she wouldn’t ask if he had other squirt guns. She called after him and said, “Why did this guy want your squirt gun?”

CJ turned around and shrugged, saying, “He’s my sister’s doctor and he wants to go out with her. She thinks he’s too old and sorta stuck up. He thinks I can make her like him more, so he’s trying to pressure me into taking his side against my sister.”

The man shook his head. But the woman muttered, “Douchebag,” and kicked the doctor between the legs.

“Hey!” the security guy exclaimed.

She gave him a look and said, “Let that be a lesson to you, Maynard.”

CJ had no idea what was going on, so he turned and hurried through the halls of the hospital until he got to Mai Li’s room.

The other two squirt guns sloshed in his pockets as he scurried around the corner.

Another doctor was standing in front of Mai Li’s room. Mom was there – her head was in her hands. Job stood to one side, trying to be invisible. CJ said, “What happened?”

They all turned to look at him. Mom ran forward, bent down on a knee and said, “We thought the doctor kidnapped you!”

“Nah. He got stunned by security. How’s Mai?”

Mom bit at her lower lip. The doctor moved down the hallway. Mom shook her head. “Not good, honey. I told this doctor everything I know and gave him and the rest of the hospital complete access to your sister’s files. I also threatened a lawsuit against the University of Minnesota and promised to make sure to be ready for the lawsuit I was going to bring against them as soon as your sister died if they didn’t allow this hospital complete access to the research Dr. Chazhukaran’s been doing. They said they couldn’t do that – exactly, but that they would cooperate as much as they could.”

CJ snorted and said, “We don’t need their help any more. Mai sent me home to get the cure. I have it in my back pocket.” He almost pulled out the squirt guns, but didn’t know where the security team was and didn’t want to get zapped like Dr. Douchebag so he said, “I’ll go in…”

Mom held out her arm. “We can’t go in, Sweetie. Mai is in critical condition and she...”

CJ dodged around her and shoved open the hospital door, leaning back against it then looking at Mai.

His breath caught. She looked like she was tangled in a web of plastic tubes, wires, bags, suspended monitors and stands.

She looked like a monster.

Her head turned and she moaned…