January 31, 2013

THE RECONSTRUCTION OF MAI LI HASTINGS 46

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 several pages back until you get to the bottom first entry – which happens to be Chapter 2...

In the front row of the church during the funeral, Job leaned over to CJ and whispered, “I can’t believe she’s gone.”

Talking out of the side of his mouth, CJ said back, “I can’t believe it’s like a million degrees in here.”

CJ’s mom gave the boys a side-long pained look and they stopped.

The service was short, quiet and small.

School had been out for four days and after the late nights and rushing around was more-or-less over, CJ had finally gone into the back yard and stood over another grave. This one he had dug himself. Him and Job had buried Butterfly Beardsley. He died the day after Mai Li and CJ had cried harder for the guinea pig than he’d cried for his sister.

After the service, Mom said, “If you boys want to leave you can. All this is going to be is a bunch of old people mourning their own dead.”

“You mean it, Mom? You gonna be all right?”

She sniffed. “I’ve handled you and your sister for the past fifteen years, I can take care of the relatives.”

Job said, “Are you gonna handle the reporters outside, too, Mrs. Hastings?”

She smiled sadly and said, “I hired lawyers and bodyguards for that.”

“I thought you hired the lawyers to sue Dr. Douchebag?”

“That,” she smiled. “But I got other lawyers to take care up us...”

CJ cut in, “They’re going to sell Mai Li’s inventions.”

Mom said, “More like patent some of the inventions – like the reading teacher, the brain-repair nanomachines, and the silicon brain.”

“Silicon brain?” CJ asked.

Mom nodded. “You remember when she started her research? When she tied all those electronic toys together, she made a sort of human brain. The lawyer company I hired will get the patents so that CJ can go to any college he wants to go to.” She smiled at Job and said, “I’ll be setting up some scholarships at Carter High School. You can probably apply for one to go to college, Job. No go before one of my old aunties starts patting your cheek.”

CJ and Job ducked out of the meeting room that was filling with people dabbing their eyes and walking toward Mom. They were outside a few minutes later. The sun was hot on their heads and they were only a few blocks from CJ’s house, so they started walking. Job said, “You buried Beardsley the Killer?”

He wasn’t sure why, but all of a sudden, he got teary-eyed. He nodded, “Let’s go. I gotta put some flowers on Beardsley’s grave.” Job nodded slowly. CJ took a deep breath and said, “You know what the French word for bearded is?”

Job scowled. They had to take a language in middle school in eighth grade and they knew that there’d been lots of pirates who were French, and their favorite flatties were THE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, so they figured it’d be fun. He said, “Isn’t it something like Algernon?”

CJ smiled and nodded as they headed for the house. Summer was starting and he had a lot of time to have a lot of fun. He looked at Job, said, “Race ya!” and sprinted down the street.

“Hey!” shouted Job and raced right after him.

END

Image: http://themindgarden.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/indian-sunset-with-boys-running-dan-brady.jpg?w=468

January 29, 2013

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 97

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: a sorcerer who is dead but his “soul” lives on trapped somewhere
  
Martin Jönsson stared at the blog and said, “You’ve read this stuff?” He scratched his scruffy blonde beard – little more than rough peach fuzz

Vukosova Gavrilović, long-time friends and NOT girlfriend, smirked. She learned the Swede phrase for her buddy’s newly sprouted beard was duniga skägg. She considered teasing him, but the look on her face warned her that he probably wasn’t in the mood tonight. Instead she said, “I read it. What about it?”

“It like, says that people can soak up ancient energy and transport it from place to place!”
Vukosova shook her head. Her friend was a philosophy major – she wished him luck in finding a job as something more than an intelligent garbage collector. She was a physics major, and if her freshman grades and undergrad presentation were any indication, she may have just written herself a ticket to the Cooperative Lunar Colony Fusion Research Center after she graduated. The CLCRFC – better known by its euphemistic name, The CooL Co. FuR Center and what NASA insisted on calling ClickerFick in its press releases – was every physicists dream. Nuclear fusion was a hop, skip and a jump away from becoming practical. All they needed to do was solve one or two containment issues...she yanked her attention back to Martin and said, “We’ve been soaking up energy and taking if from place to place since the evolution of the first life form.”

He finally looked up from the screen that showed some wackoid Egyptian goddess background overlain with a the foolish ranting of someone who was certain they’d been able to imbue and ancient Egyptian site with energy sucked up in their souls from Atlantis. He said, “This is amazing! It sounds like what you guys are doing in that science class you’re taking!”

She sighed and said, “It’s called Elementary Nuclear Fusion – and it doesn’t have anything to do with storing energy. It’s about creating energy.”

He frowned then said, “I had some science classes in high school...”

“That was last year, wasn’t it?”

“Hey! Just ‘cause I’m a prodigy doesn’t mean I don’t deserve respect!”

“You were a prodigy in acting, Martin! Now you couldn’t shake a stick at an T-comp without breaking into a cold sweat!”

He stood up abruptly, snapping the cover in his computer. “Shows how much you know! I’m gonna see if I can soak up some fusion energy from...from…”

She smirked and said, “Idfu – it’s on the east bank of the Nile in east central Egypt.”

He glared, “You think you know everything just because you’re a physics major! But there’s another world out there, too. One you can’t see! It inhabits the same realm as your gravitons.”

“Gravitons are real!” Vukosova exclaimed.

“Yeah? Show  me one!”

“Well, you can’t just open your eyes and see one! You need special equipment…”

“And then can you see one?”

“Well...not exactly. But we can see evidence that gives a strong indication of the properties and the effects of...”

“So your gravitons are as imaginary as my negative Atlantean energy.”

“They aren’t the same...”

Martin turned away and stalked out of the dining hall. He stopped just before he slammed the door and shouted, “We’ll see whose god is more powerful! The trapped sorcerers of Atlantis and Ancient Egypt or the trapped gravitons of the Unified Field Theory!”

She blinked in surprise as he finished his rant and stomped away. She muttered, “I didn’t know he knew anything about the Unified Field Theory!”

Name Source: Sweden, Serbia

January 27, 2013

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: The Twenty-five Percent Ceiling

After two “no thank you” emails this week and little or no movement on my other submissions, I took a hard look at my submission/publication data. You can see it below:

2008: Accepted/Submitted = 14.2%
2009: Accepted/Submitted = 9.67%
2010: Accepted/Submitted = 16%
2011: Accepted/Submitted =  15.1%
2012: Accepted/Submitted = 11%

Average Accepted/Submitted = 13.194%

I have never sold one out of every four manuscripts that I submitted. Ever. My percentage will also be plummeting because the website that I regularly contributed to has ceased publishing.

So now what? How do I increase the number of MS that are accepted? Is there any advice on the internet? Is it valid advice? What IS my plan?

Let’s go!

Hmmm. Here’s one I can access for $24.39: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/alpsp/lp/2013/00000026/00000001/art00006, though in essence it seems to suggest that “targeting” your MS is effective. It posits that there are lots of easy things a writer can do to make their submissions more likely to be published. (I suppose the publication of their article is a case to point…)

This one’s free, and even though it’s about scholarly article submissions, points out that people submit to journals based on their perception of how large of an impact publication in that journal will have: http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2012/10/15/mapping-the-flow-of-rejected-manuscripts/

How about this: “The reader is given an ‘I’ or ‘eye’ in the text to escape into. If the protagonist is just like themselves, or how they’d like to be, the job’s done. It’s also the secret of a great conversation. Stop talking about you. Start talking about them. And it works in novels. Write about your reader.”

There’s always self-publishing. Then I can say that 100% of everything I submit is published. http://io9.com/5911634/the-most-successful-self+published-sci+fi-and-fantasy-authors

Multiple hints here about what to do when you WON’T be making any money as a published writer – but not much about how to become a BETTER science fiction writer so I can sell more: http://www.intergalacticmedicineshow.com/cgi-bin/mag.cgi?do=columns&vol=carol_pinchefsky&article=015

A few hints offered here, but what it boils down to is “write a lot and send out a lot”: http://www.jamierubin.net/about/how-i-became-a-professional-science-fiction-writer/

And HERE we have a fount of endless information:

Information is out there. I can mine it and so can you. What about my plan? Here goes:

GOAL: Increase manuscript acceptance beyond current levels with a goal of 25% or more.

PLAN:

1)      Target my writing. There aren’t THAT many SF/spec fic markets and that’s mostly what I write. OTOH, I also write for young adults and children. Targeting there isn’t any different.
2)     Lower my expectations. I’m a high school counselor; I like my job a lot and I will retire from it in a finite amount of time. I can write SF novels and short stories and YA/teen/kid novels and short stories in my spare time. I also teach writing in the summer.
3)     PRACTICALLY speaking, I need to increase my story output while still working on novels. I currently write about four or five new short stories a year. Can I up the word output to seven to ten? Yes. I will.
4)     Write BETTER short stories. I once decided to read the collected stories of O. Henry. He was a master, right? I never went beyond his classics. I will write AND ANNOTATE the collected stories I have, realizing that this is classic literature. I will ALSO read as many BEST OF anthologies of science fiction as I can stomach this year.
5)     I will write more short stories.
6)     I will continue with my novels – with these, I use a tactic that I learned in an article in the January 2006 issue of THE WRITER called, “Get Your Novel Written In Three Drafts” (a version of the article is here: http://www.writingfordollars.com/ArticlesDB_Display.cfm?a=360)– the most important point was “Write like a Shark”.
7)     I will begin to “Tweet” writing advice once a week to build up interest in my blog. I tried once and was defeated by the fact that Twitter doesn’t let one person have two accounts.

So – as Miles Vorkosigan has said, “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy”, so we’ll evaluate the plan in a couple of months!

Image:





January 26, 2013

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 38: DaneelAH At Station Vogel

Overwhelmingly busy week -- sorry this is SO late!
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.

“What do you mean you’ve been expecting us?” asked AzAH as the airlock swung closed behind them.

The man smiled and said, “I can’t actually say anything more than that until the leader of our outpost has had a chance to talk with you. Would you follow me, please?”

DaneelAH, MishAH and HanAH stepped up beside the Translator of the group.

MishAH said, “This doesn’t look very good.”

HanAH, formerly a detective in Bradbury Dome, glared at his sister and snapped, “What was your first clue, Nancy Drew?”

She shot him an equally deadly glare and said, “I may not be your criminological equal, but who exactly came up with the connection in the Felix-Kaya murder?”

“Just because you think you know plants...” he said, turning on her.

DaneelAH, a forensic xenoarchaeologist attached to the Mayor of Bradbury’s research team, was the most recognizable face of their Artificial Human plaque; said, “If they’re going to kill all of us, I’m relieved to know that we’ll go down in our natural state.” He followed the man deeper into the outpost.

HanAH shot a vulgar phrase after him but followed anyway. MishAH and AzAH glanced at each other, smiled sheepishly, then followed the other two after clasping hands.

They passed several reinforced seams. HanAH nodded to one and whispered, “They’ve connected at least ten Combined Forces surplus bivouac domes into one. Looks like they just found a set of lava tubes, smoothed the surfaces then used the dome material to line them.”

“Pretty ingenious if you ask me,” said AzAH.

“We didn’t,” HanAH said. Clearly irritated, he slapped the wall. From far away came a groan.

“What was that?” DaneelAH asked.

From the front of their line, the man said, “The standard issue material has been impregnated with nerve and epithelial cells.”

“Your dome is alive?” MishAH asked. She stopped and leaned closer to the walls, touching them.

She started to take off her glove when the man from the front said, “If you’ll be patient, The Leader will see you shortly. Please come.”

She scowled, tapped the wall and despite a sound that was suspiciously similar to a giggle, she followed the others. The tunnel grew wider and unexpectedly, MishAH heard the sound of birds singing. Lots of them.

“Do I smell pine trees?” muttered HanAH.

The tunnel opened into a huge area. The four Artificial Humans stopped, blinking into brilliant light, surrounded by manicured lawns, slight hillocks, slender trees reaching ten meters up. The man leading them had turned to face them, smiling. He said, “Take your time. It hits most people this way. The actual room is only twenty meters across.”

“It looks bigger,” HanAH said, scowling.

“We have very good artists who use both conventional media as well as digital and holographic. I think it looks good, too.”

“Welcome, travelers,” said a voice. From ahead of them, around a corner, strode an extremely tall, very young-looking man. “Welcome to Emei Shan.”

HanAH snorted and said, “That’s a mountain in China on Earth. This is Mars.”

The young man smiled down at him then said, “An aficionado of our faith? Delightful!”

“I’m not a Buddhist,” MishAH said, obviously irritated.

The young man shrugged and said, “Nobody’s perfect.” He gestured to all of them, “I have tea laid out and I think rather than draw out the pleasantries inherent in our meeting, we must lay out our plans for war.”

DaneelAH stared at him, then said, “War?”

The young man nodded solemnly and said, “Do you see the coming persecution going in any other direction than full scale war against all people who do not openly acknowledge the Unified Faith In Humanity?”

“Nothing wrong with that,” HanAH said.

“Certainly that is true – the problem comes when the adherents of that Faith insist we repudiate our own faiths. And force us to betray our friends.”

January 22, 2013

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 96

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: body transformations/cyber implants/the Borg…

[NOTE: STAR TREK’s Borg still creep me out and while they ended up defeated, compromised and hardly implacable by the end of all the series, I wonder if the writers did that to make themselves feel safer. When they first appeared in ST:TNG, they were anything BUT beatable…and they still creep me out…]

Hajnal Nagy stared at her lab partner. “What do you mean, they ‘creep you out’?”

Voytek Jankowski shook his head. “It doesn’t bother you that Ms. Hawkinson’s substitute is more machine than human?”

Hajnal shook her head. “Why should the ratio of Mr. Yakovlev’s flesh to metal and plastic bother you?”
“Didn’t you ever see the old movie, ‘Terminator’?”

“Duh. I like old movies as much as you do, so yeah, I saw it. But what does a time-traveling robot have to do with our substitute? He looks Human.” She glanced at the man where he was working with another student at the front of the chemistry room. While he certainly did look Human, the left side of his face was augmented by non-flesh implants. He’d told them he’d been in a car accident and they’d rebuilt his eye, ear and replaced the left side of his jaw with plastic bone and teeth. His hand was also partially prosthetic and, he’d added, even though they couldn’t see it, he carried a pacemaker to keep his partially damaged heart beating and had an implanted TENS unit to take care of his pain. He’d finally added that TENS was an acronym for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation unit.

He’d written that on the white board, smiling and saying, “Isn’t this one of those ‘teachable moments’?”

“You didn’t think him talking about ‘teachable moments’  was sort of creepy?”

“Why would that be creepy?” Hajnal asked.

“I want to know what he thought he was teaching us.”

Hajnal rolled her eyes and got back to the work on the page of problems. Voytek said, “But...” Hajnal waved him off half a dozen times before he left in a huff. Once he was gone, she found herself looking up at Mr. Yakovlev. He was leaning on one elbow, pointing to a worksheet and trying to explain something to a student.

She muttered, “Stupid Voytek!” and got back to work. But she couldn’t help it. Her eyes were drawn back to his face. The plastic skin was identical in color to his real skin. The eye had a white sclera, but the iris was silver and the pupil wasn’t exactly round but a vertical oval, almost lizard-like. The fake skin on his hand was also a perfect color match and – she noticed with interest from where she sat – there were hairs on both of his arms. “Stupid Voytek!” she muttered. She turned in her stool so her back was to the front of the room.

She was sitting like that, hunched over the worksheet, when a voice said, “Do you understand orbital notation…” the voice paused, rustled paper, then said, “Ms. Nagy?”

Knowing that she was blushing crimson, she didn’t turn or look up, but hunched farther as she said, “Uh, yes, sir. It seems pretty straight-forward.”

He hummed, “Perhaps you’d like to come up to the front of the room and demonstrate your methodology for the rest of the class. Few of them seem to understand why you do not fill in the 5s1 orbital until after you’ve filled in the 3d5 and 4p3 orbitals.”

Someone from the class called out, “Hajnal gets it!”

Someone else started pounding on the table, “Let Hajnal teach us! Let Hajnal teach us!”

She finally turned around. Now that she was thoroughly embarrassed, she looked up at Mr. Yakovlev as he said, “This is a teachable moment, Ms. Nagy.” He smiled and she noticed then that his teeth, instead of being white, were silver. And as she looked, a tiny red light lit up on each one, while at the same moment, the vertical oval glowed blood red…

Name Origins: Hungary, Poland

January 20, 2013

WRITING ADVICE: Bruce Bethke’s TWELVE STEP PROGRAM FOR WRITERS #5

Somewhere around thirty years ago, I met Bruce Bethke for the first time – when I 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. 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.

5. We have proclaimed to God, to ourselves, and to anyone else who would listen the exact nature of the many failings of our former editors and publishers.
 
Before I go on here, I should say that I have a deep and abiding respect for Bruce as a writer, an editor, as a teacher and especially as a friend.

I hesitate to presume anything so rash as that I “know him”. Our lives have intersected a number of times, in several ways, and at more than a few venues. We’ve lunched together, worked together and argued. But I cannot presume to know him because much of our relationship is through the internet.

On the other hand, I do know that he has a razor sharp sense of humor, a critical and perceptive eye and I take anything he says seriously.

However, I do NOT take everything he says at face value!

When WORKING together, I interpret his comments to mean exactly what he says. In personal commentary, I ALWAYS take his comments to be carefully and clearly expressed. When we discuss the state of the world however, I take what he says as I would take a grain of sand (some would say “salt”, but I’ve learned his crystals aren’t that small, so I’ll say sand here and imply that it is a granite crystal): a possible irritant designed to elicit honest discussion or to simply make me think.

A bit of background before I go on: I am the oldest child in my family, first born male child and a son of privilege. I married into a family in which I was the last adult before the children were counted and figured sometimes I BELONGED at the children’s table at Thanksgiving.

As the usual oldest, I was always cast as the part of a parent or the shoemaker or the princesses father in high school. I had one friend who was older than me and mobs of friends who were younger. I was consistently cast in the role of “mentor” and have been my entire life. I had no older brother; I had no one to kick my metaphorical ass when I made stupid choices or decisions.

From the beginning, Bruce became my mentor. He’s not a lot older than me (I got to be a grandfather first!); but as far as writing and life experience, he is indeed my mentor. His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer before mine was and as a result, he was able to pull me up beside him and be a shoulder on which I could lean. He was an “award-winning author” first; published first; created a genre-defining word first; and was an editor first.

All of this I say to point out that I don’t take EVERYTHING he says as serious and sometimes have to search a bit to find the meaning.

The meaning here, if I may be so bold as to speak it, is that we should refuse to burn our bridges no matter how awful our experience. By this I do NOT mean that we be doormats to whims of agents and editors, I mean that gossip, slander (even if it’s true), and bad-mouthing someone is NEVER appropriate; not because “today’s junior prick is tomorrow’s senior partner” (in case you were wondering, it’s a line from WORKING GIRL) but because nothing ever happens in a vacuum and everything is fodder for character building.

Bruce is a smart man; he has learned from experience. He takes what he has learned and passes it on. Sometimes he passes it on without embellishment and sometimes he makes me dig for meaning. This is a “dig for meaning” kind of wisdom.

And if it wasn’t meant that way? Meh. That’s how I’m going to take it!

By the way, Bruce is writing a series of articles about writing, publishing and the history of STUPEFYING STORIES. If you want to skitch over there, here’s the link: http://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/

January 17, 2013

SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH #45: July 19, 1946

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

They drove in silence for a few miles before Edwina Olds, Lieutenant, WACS (ret.), said, “So what’d you boys do to raise the ire of such a scummy-looking passel of bullies?”

Both Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill started to talk at the same time.

Freddie said, “We were just hitchhiking and minding our own business...”

Tommy said, “It’s all my fault! If I hadn’t come up here tryin’ to find out...”

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” Ed exclaimed. She upshifted the truck as they sped along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Only a little traffic passed them as they roared along. It was getting on toward early evening and Ed had promised they’d stop and eat before moving on. “I’m hearing two mighty different stories, boys! Freddie’s saying that nothing’s your fault, it’s all people picking on you. Tommy’s saying that it’s ALL his fault and you boys brought this on yourself.”

Tommy and Freddie blinked like deer in headlights, Freddie leaning forward to look past his friend. Tommy said, “Well...”

Ed snorted. It was a very unladylike sound; like she’d learned it from sailors on Iwo Jima. She had. As she said, “You boys are gonna have to get your stories straight,” she pulled a cigarette pack from her pocket, popped one out by slapping the top against the side of her hand. She offered the boys the pack. Both of them leaned hastily away, remembering a certain city cop tugging on their ears. Ed glanced at them and nodded, “Smart move, boys. Smoking’s a nasty habit and I’m probably giving myself lung cancer or something.” She glared, “So don’t you smoke ‘til you’re good and old enough.” Wide-eyed, both boys nodded as they passed a highway sign that read, “Grand Marais 55 miles”. Ed continued, “Now, get your story together, pick one of you to tell it and let’s get on with it.”

Freddie’s elbow in Tommy’s side made him wince, but he got the message. He started from Lake Calhoun and stopped when she picked them up just outside of Duluth. They drove maybe twenty miles, and the mid-summer sun had finally started its long slide to the horizon when she leaned forward and said, “Your Finnish Socialists and their witch lady are following us.”

Tommy tried to lean over Freddie who elbowed him. They scuffled briefly, Ed laughing the whole time. Red-faced from blushing, Tommy leaned back, his arms crossed over his chest and growled, “What’s so funny?”

“You boys are funny!”

“We ain’t funny,” Freddie said, sulking as much as Tommy. “There’s witches and communists after us and we’re scared!”

Tommy snorted and said, “I ain’t scared.”

“You are, too!” said Freddie, shoving Tommy. He slammed into Ed, who rolled toward the door, holding the wheel and turning the truck. Tommy and Freddie shouted like they did once when they rode on the roller coaster at the Excelsior Amusement Park – Earl said they screamed like little girls.

Ed cursed as she brought the juddering truck back under control. Slamming the brakes on, she brought them to a screaming stop. The truck carrying the Socialists roared past them, the men laughing. Muttering darkly, she put the truck back in gear again and soon, the logs in the back were shaking against their chains again. By the time they were up to speed, Freddie said, “Sorry...”

“Sorry for what, kiddo? You think a bump from a couple half-pints could make me drive this rig off the road if I didn’t want it to?” She reached down and shifted into a higher gear still and cried out, “No way! This is what I was hoping for!” In front of the semi loaded with logs, was the much, much smaller truck with the Socialists and the witch. Ed said, "I ever tell you boys I drove a tank for a few hours on Guam? Never got over how much fun that was!"

Ed was closing the gap between them fast – and not one of them seemed to notice...

January 16, 2013

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 95

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: Tomes of Eldritch Lore

“You’ve looked at it a thousand times,” said Mnar Al Massri, leaning over the glass case. “Besides, this is a reproduction.”

Abbas Farhan shook his head without taking his eyes off the tablet. “My sources say that this one is the real one.”

“Why would they send a zillion year old Egyptian tablet to Moorhead, Minnesota?”

This time he looked up at her, still leaning over the exhibit. “Because they’re hoping someone like me will see it.”

She rolled her eyes. “You’re still insisting you’re some sort of reincarnation of Ptah hotep?” She snorted. “Aside from that being violently against everything we believe in, aside from the fact that when you claim that you sound like more of an idiot than you usually do, and if you exclude the fact that statistically speaking, this can’t possibly be the real – you have got to be totally delusional that something of this historical magnitude would happen to someone like you!”

This time he stood up. “Wha’dyou mean, ‘someone like me’?”

She shook her head. “Listen Abbas, we’ve known each other since our freshman year. We’re both in the second year of our masters degrees – that mean we’ve been friends for over six years. We’ve seen each other through who knows how many romances and break ups, an uncounted number of study sessions. We’ve gotten to know each other so well that my parents don’t even count you as a possible husband for me anymore! Dad thinks of you as his foster son.”

He snorted and muttered, “Thanks a lot for that.”

She shook her head, smiled and said, “You are a much, much better friend than a husband.”

Angry, he pulled away from her, eyes flashing and said, “When I have enough wealth to claim your hand, you’ll never say that and your father won’t pretend I’m just a good friend anymore!” He glanced down at the tablet and tapped the glass above a peculiar symbol and said, “This is what will make all of MY dreams come true!” He made a fist and slammed it down on the ultrahard glass case, shattering it in an explosion of shards. His face distorted as the alarm bells went off and security guards came running and he bent over the tablet and began to read in a voice so deep, Mnar couldn’t actually hear it but rather felt the ground around them shudder. But it didn’t matter any longer. When the guards reached the room...

January 13, 2013

Slice of PIE: Chrono-Perception and Life-Perspective

I am a member of a an online writers group that is made up of writers of many ages and at many experience levels. I’ve been with this group since 2005. After seven years of watching some writers mature and move on to much bigger and better things; watching others keep on and on and on at the same writing level neither getting worse nor getting better, I have an observation to make.

New writers are an IMPATIENT lot!

When I joined seven years ago, online submissions were rare. ANALOG, ASIMOV’S, FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION (still doesn’t), ABSOLUTE MAGNITUDE, STRANGE HORIZONS, TALES OF THE UNANTICIPATED, INTERZONE and more did not accept them.

Those of us who wrote then wrote on word processors, printed out a manuscript, wrote a cover letter, addressed two envelopes (one to the magazine editor, one to ourselves (called a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope)), stopped at the post office to get the thing weighed and sent it on its way. Then we waited.

I started keeping rigid records in January of 1990 – pre-Internet Age. I routinely waited eight to forty weeks to hear back from editors. Often enough to not be alarming, I sometimes waited over a year. During that time, I got back to work with the thought firmly in mind that I might not get a response for a year.

Reading the sometimes less-than-professional comments on the forum regarding how long some of these youngsters had to wait – and then loudly announcing that because an editor took 200 DAYS, they were striking that editor from their list of places to submit because they were TOO SLOW and THAT WASN’T RESPECTFUL OF THEM AS A WRITER – makes me smile and wonder how they would have fared in the “olden days”.

Not to say that expectations of instant response aren’t visible everywhere. It manifests itself in such things as pre-cooked pancakes that you simply have to microwave (really? What could be more simple to make from scratch than pancakes?) to express cash machines, drive-through restaurants and “Suddenly Salad” mixes.

The fact is that microwaveable pancakes – with their list of ingredients that goes far beyond flour, eggs, water, salt, and baking soda – don’t taste as good as homemade. No, really: if you’ve never made your own pancakes from a classic recipe and taken them hot off the griddle and compared them directly to frozen pancakes “fresh” out of the microwave, you don’t know that there is a difference. I suspect the quality of writing of today’s younger writers may be suffering as well. I am NOT saying that ALL young writers can’t write. I am wondering out loud if, in this age of instant gratification a young writer might not be tempted to write faster and ponder less, sending their brainchild out into the world before it has a chance to age to perfection; before it has a chance to be anything more than Boone’s Farm Apple Wine rather than with the patience that comes out of knowing you’re going to have to WAIT for a response and if you’re going to wait four or five or six months, you’d better do everything in your power to make sure the outcome is going to be in your favor – and working to produce a Chateau Cheval Blanc 1947.

The same might be said for the explosion of self-published SF novels. Writers who refuse to wait, then announce that Publishing Is Dead then follow a protocol, formatting their own work in mobi or whatever, buying or making a cover then putting their work online in hopes that their sales will match DUNE (which was, BTW, originally published by the very same publisher that produces CHILTON’S complete car repair manuals for virtually every can made since, like 1957….).

I’ve read several of them in various genres – horror, SF, fantasy, romance, even a textbook. Most of them read like wine that’s aged into vinegar would taste or like dumping three RAMEN noodle “flavor packets” into one cup of water only gets you brine strong enough for shrimp to live in tastes...awful.

I believe that the pursuit of instant publication has driven many young writers to engage in instant writing, sacrificing style, depth and thought for a “quick fix” of possible fame tomorrow.

How many of you are going to disagree with me?

[After I posted this morning, my FaceBook Feed brought me this article that not only says more clearly what I was saying here, it's saying it from an AWARD-WINNING blogger! http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-number-one-mistake-new-writers-make.html?spref=tw]

January 10, 2013

STEAMPUNK MONKEY #9

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 – OK, just realized that I wrote something entirely different for #5 than I thought I did. So…this is going to be where the story SHOULD have gone. If you don’t mind, ignore #6 above!

Clementine shouted, “You come back here!”

A pigeon landed on her foot, but Clementine didn’t sneeze.

Up on a stone wall, the steam monkey laughed at her.

She picked up the bird to throw it at the monkey and she still didn’t sneeze.

January 8, 2013

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 93

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: Magic librarian
Current Event: http://guides.slv.vic.gov.au/magic (Watch the video! Absolutely fascinating!)


Bella Heathcote peeked around the corner and whispered to Rupert Chidiac, “How much farther?”

“It’s supposed be at the end of the aisle,” Rupert whispered. The young man and young woman made their way through the dark library.

 “This is a magic library – how do we know it’s still there?”

“It’s not a magic LIBRARY; it’s a MAGIC library.”

“That’s not what you said!” Rupert hissed.

“The emPHAsis is on the first SYllable.”

“What?”

They reached the end of the aisle without the end shelves moving anywhere. Nothing jumped out at them. In fact, by the time they turned the corner, they were walking rather than sneaking. “I said that the library isn’t the magical part, it’s the books, information, paintings, photographs and artifacts that are magic. It’s extremely valuable.”

“I thought this was supposed to be scary,” said Rupert. “Money isn’t scary.”

“If you don’t have enough it’s scary.”

“How would you know?”

“You think you know about me, I could tell you...”

They’d been walking along the dim aisle, light from green EXIT signs and security spotlights from each end of the library. Rupert whispered, “What was that?”

“What was what?” Bella said. Beside her head, a breathy voice spoke from the bookshelf.

“...that...that...that...”

“Did you say something?” she asked Rupert.

“Uh...uh...uh...” said her friend.

“What’s wrong with you?” snapped Bella, spinning around. “Quit messing around!”

Something on the bookshelf said, “...around...around...around...”

“Who said that?”

“...that...that...that…” said the bookshelves.

Bella stared at the shelves then lifted a hand. The books themselves had been pushed back. In front of her was a  small picture frame. Inside was...

January 6, 2013

WRITING ADVICE: Bruce Bethke’s TWELVE STEP PROGRAM FOR WRITERS #4

Somewhere around thirty years ago, I met Bruce Bethke for the first time – when I 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. 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.

4. We have made a searching and fearless inventory of every old unsold scrap and fragment of manuscript in the bottoms of our filing cabinets, in hopes of finding something we can sell to somebody, somewhere.

Oooo.

Sitting beside me is a MS I will read then send to my agent – even after she told me she’d be happy to handle my NON-science fiction stuff, but just didn’t know what to do with my science fiction.

A bit of history, though. The reason it was never submitted...well, it WAS submitted. I worked with the editor of CRICKET BOOKS on it for nearly a year. She would send pages of suggestions, I’d rewrite and send the changes back. She’d make fewer changes, etc. All very cool and above-board.

Then something happened that I have never understood. I’ve pondered it for 11 years and I still don’t understand what happened.

Someone else published my book.

It’s true. Once day I was writing, happy as a clam, with a very possible publication contract approaching. A week later, the editor said I’d done good work, but we were done.

My book was an historical/fictionalized recounting of the Great Hinckley Fire of 1895. The event was not only full of excitement, but terrifyingly horrible and it was a local event, so few (if any) other people would have come across it. The same editor I was working with purchased and published a shortened version of the story in CRICKET MAGAZINE (where not only was it the lead story of the July 2001 issue, she also bought a “fact” sidebar, and wrote an editorial noting that one of the first women journalists had covered the GHFire! In my mind, I was practically THERE!)

Then the “other” book came out and not only did it recount the Great Hinckely Fire adventures of Maggie – but my (unpublished novel) recounted the same events and MY character was named MEG…

That was eleven years ago. The “other” book is out of print, the author hasn’t written anything new in years. My STORY, while similar, has a different emphasis and it just needs a bit of brushing and polishing and I think it might be ready. I told my agent I’d be sending it to her at the end of February.

I also sent off a short story that might or might not be dead. See, I “trunk” stories all the time. Most of the time it’s because they’re hideously bad. But sometimes I “trunk” them (I should probably change that. “Trunk” is an antiquated reference to taking a paper manuscript, tying it with twine and tossing it in an old-fashioned, round-topped sort of giant suitcase. I should say “archive”)…sometimes I archive them because even though I LIKE them a lot, no one else seems to.

As has been my experience in the past, for some of those storues, I just have to find the right someone. For example, “Mystery on Space Station Courage” was written specifically for HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN. They weren’t interested. When I sighed and sent it to the second market, CRICKET bought it and the relationship there has become a long-standing (and lucrative) one!

I had written “Peanut Butter and Jellyfish” specifically for ANALOG and while the editor thought it was nice, he didn’t buy it. I sent it around, then archived it. When I stumbled across a newer market whose audience was exactly the one I was aiming at, I sold it for a little bit of cash to CAST OF WONDERS in England. They made a podcast out of it that was fantastic!

Another was my first and only attempt at writing a literary SF story. That one bounced around forever because the people who read it were hideously "genre bound" and kept asking questions about why it didn't end like they expected it to, until the author of the 12 Step Program for Writers read it, liked it (a lot, apparently as it will be included in a "best of" anthology) and published it in STUPEFYING STORIES.

So – I just sent off a story I love, that I archived several months ago. We’ll see what happens.

While Bruce meant #4 tongue in cheek, I think I know him well enough to see that there’s a grain of real advice in there that has gotten me sales in the past – and just might get me sales in the future as long as I stir in a modicum of honesty when evaluating those old stories…