July 30, 2015


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 clips, click on the label to the right, scroll down to and click OLDER ENTRIES seven or eight times. The FIRST entry is on the bottom of the last page.  ?zZ

Tommy Hastings said, “Geez, I don’t know how I’d have made it to Canada and back without a friend.”

Freddie Merrill nodded. “I’d’a died of fright by now like a hundred times if I’d had to go there alone.”

They both nodded and went back out to the room. Nilson’s mom walked out and said, “Where’s Nils?” They all turned to the door when they heard a harsh scream...

Tommy was out first, followed by Nils’ mother. Freddie stopped at the door as the other two charged into the darkness. He turned back to the kitchen, rummaged in the drawers until he found the biggest knife he could find. He strode out after them. When he reached the beach where the boat was, there was a group of men with flashlights, shining them on Tommy and Nils’ mother.

Nils was on the ground, curled around his middle, moaning. At least he wasn’t dead. Freddie stepped into the light, holding the knife up and shouted, “Get back or I stab the next person who tried to hurt us!”

Tommy spun around, face in the sudden dark, the flashlights behind him. “What are you doing!”

“Saving us from these guys! I’m tired of them chasing us! I’m tired of being afraid!” He looked into the lights and screamed, “Stop it!”

There was a dark rumble, then a shot rang out. Tommy and Freddie screamed and dropped to the ground. Nils’ mother raised her arm in the air, a gun in one hand and said, “Get off my property or I start shooting bodies.”

A voice accented with what the boys had come to recognize as a Finnish accent said, “You wouldn’t dare, woman!”

Another shot rang out and Nils’ mother said, “You punched my son. I have no husband to take care of me, so I take care of myself. Now you can rush me, but I have Smith and Wesson .38 that I learned to use and I can plug the bottom out of any tin can I throw into the air – three times – before it hits the ground. I also fought off a charging black bear sow.”

“You wouldn’t…” a woman’s voice said.

This time Nils’ mom put a bullet into the ground, then added, “Now get off my property. The second you are, I’m calling the police and because I used to date the chief, he’ll bring all of his deputies will be here in about five minutes. So I’m suggesting you leave for your Socialist hidey hole in Duluth now before they get here.” There was movement and she added again, “I also know you’re staying at the Five Pine resort, so get out of the cabins. And make sure you forfeit your fees.”

“You can’t…” a third voice shouted. This time, a bullet hit the trunk of a tree in the darkness. There was a scramble as the Socialists fled. She turned to Freddie, who was still holding the knife up like he was going to carve down the Socialists, and said, “That was incredibly brave, young man. Wish Nils had more friends like you.” Now that the flashlights were fleeing into the woods, the streetlight lamp outside over the dirt parking lot of the resort showed her face. “You and your friend are welcome to stay here any time you’d like.” With a nod, she added, “We’ll get you out of here and on the road in the morning. Now I’ve got a phone call to make. Would you see to Nils, then?”

Tommy was still staring at Freddie as he nodded. Freddie was kneeling beside Nils who was struggling to breathe. He was up on his hands and knees and Freddie patted his back then lifted the other boy’s arm, put it over his shoulders and stood. The two of them walked slowly past Tommy. He watched as they went into the cabin then followed after them.
Image: http://heblewherakiss.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/adc1.jpg

July 28, 2015


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. ? z Z

F Trope: illegal drugs open gate to wonder

It’s a search Humanity has been on for a zazillion years – a magic drug that would give us INSTANT sight into the future or the past or the present or the neighbors closet…

Science has given a patina of respectability to this search for the mystic by telling us (somewhere or other) that we only use 10% of our brain and that we really need to get on to the discovery that would lead us to be able to use the other 90% to perform all sorts of wonderful “stuff”.

Signe Bengtsson grew up in a home with parents who are no-nonsense psychiatrists, feet firmly rooted in reality and brain chemistry. For them, there is nothing outside of the material world of wet electrical circuits and chemical reactions. For them everything mind is explainable.

Dad has a heart attack because of stress (which is, Signe notes during an anger jag, invisible). Clot-dissolving drugs and blood thinners combine in him to send him into an hallucinogenic state that she witnesses as her dad dreams and talks about a strangely realistic-seeming world in which he has an adventure that ultimately ends in him running off with a circlet of metal forged in that world.

Signe falls asleep and wakes up the next morning; the nurse says that her dad is out of the dark but will be sleeping a lot for the next few weeks. She stands up and a heavy wire circle slides from her lap and falls to the floor, ringing like a bell, deeply. The sound seems to penetrate, ringing the bones in her head then fades slowly.

With the circlet in one hand and the arrival of her mother, she hurries off to school; exhausted and shaken…

July 26, 2015

Slice of PIE: Immigrant Alien, Emigrant Monster

Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in London this past August, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below…

Crossing Boundaries: Histories of International SF/F for Children: Is there a ‘shared’ understanding of the fantastic across cultures? How have F&SF narratives for young readers evolved in different countries and storytelling traditions? What kinds of stories succeed or fail in crossing national borders and why? How are these transnational stories from ‘Other’ places received and read in their new contexts? What are some affinities and tensions between these different ‘imagined communities’?...international traditions of F&SF for young readers and the relationship between the local, the national and the global in the world of children’s literature. Drawing upon the range of the panelists’ national and transnational experiences, we will explore issues around the intersections between regional, national and international literatures and the representation of diversity, identity and the Other in fantastic texts for young people.”

I think it would be a good idea to start with three definitions, based in part on the LonCon blurb and my essay title.

Immigrant: a person who comes to live...

Emigrant: a person who leaves a country...

Culture: something new, and useful that does not exist as a physical object, and is expressed in the behavior of a group of people...

So – aliens who come to live on Earth (or invade it, or get something from a culture); monsters who go to live in different cultures (or eat them, drink their blood, or terrorize a different culture) all will be considered here. As well, I’ll poke around at monsters who immigrate to new cultures and aliens who come to live.

As I don’t know any other cultures, I can only comment about this one we live in.

Let’s start with monsters: “there’s a whole world of spine tingling tales out there, stories of ghouls and ghosts from all corners of the Earth, which’ll blow the Mary Celeste out of the water and make the Enfield poltergeist look like a mere public nuisance.” Swedish ghost trains, Maori dead chiefs in boats, Japanese samurai bewitched by a dead girl, horned ghosts of a British forest, haunted North Dakota libraries, ghostly German hitchhikers, Polish ghost soldiers, Brazilian weeping ghost woman, and a Korean ghost woman with a horrible face...add to this, of course, Egyptian mummies, evil Arabian genies, Phantoms of the opera, Nepali abominable snow monsters, Transylvanian vampires, Irish and Xhosa sea monsters, along with Godzilla  immigrating from Tokyo to Los Angeles, and I think the answer is pretty clear: yes, scary things have no trouble immigrating across cultures. The fact that all Humans die and that (it appears) most Human believe that there is more to a Human than meat that simply stops being a Human eventually contributes to this concept and monster and ghost stories for children abound.

Aliens? Recorded in the ancient writings of Hebrew culture for example, Ezekiel 1:4 “As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures,” as well as the meticulously researched and eminent work of skilled scientists like Erich von Däniken and his aliens who were the basis of not only all Judeo-Christian God stories, but also the various and sundry gods of Inca, Aztec, Mayan, Hopi, and quite literally all Deity stories Humans have ever told or written down. Whew! And here I thought God was a spirit! Silly me! China is building a new radio antennae to search for alien life as well...

So – do aliens and monsters appear to be cross-cultural phenomenon? I think the answer is clearly, “Yes!”

What do you think?

July 24, 2015


I know, I know, I know...but it WAS a busy week! I swear!

1) Coaching Serious Writers Workshop 2015 -- five incredibly talented young people writing their hearts out and then taking my critiques seriously and every one of them growing as a writer!

2) Helping Mom and Dad -- it was my week! (My younger brother and me trade off every other week!)

3) Lastly, the cover of my book came out yesterday and I was too flustered to do ANY hard work! Here is the link to it on my facebook page:


I'll be back to normal on Sunday!

Images: http://us.123rf.com/450wm/creatista/creatista1211/creatista121100125/16472960-wide-eyed-european-male-with-beard-over-isolated-background.jpg,

July 19, 2015


Minnesota, where I live, is a state that knows a thing or two about trees. We’re home to the world’s largest jack pine, the largest tamarack, and the famous Witch tree of Lake Superior! We are acknowledged experts in the control of and management of forest fires. With a forest products annual impact of a bit over sixteen billion dollars, we may not be the biggest and best – but we certainly know our trees.

We’ve learned the hard way what NOT to do with our trees. In the 1950s, because of aggressive beautification programs, Minneapolis had over 200000 elm trees. Thirty years later, because of an equally aggressive epidemic of Dutch elm disease, the city had lost half of those. Entire streets went from lush foliage and sun-dappled sidewalks to stump scars in a matter of months.

This happened because cheap trees and public pressure to plant them overwhelmed common sense – at least what appeared to be common sense to us now. Why would anyone in their right mind plant almost a quarter of a million of the same kind of tree? No one will ever know for sure, but it’s clear now that the decision led to the loss of tens of thousands of trees in Minneapolis alone. Similar planting practices elsewhere in North America and in Europe; on city boulevards and in the forests, led to an estimated toll of over 40,000,000 trees – a loss of aesthetic, cash, and effort spent in removing dead trees. The pandemic stripped France of 95 percent of its elms!

The first paper cited below lists a number of times at which Humans could have intervened to save the trees or ameliorate the devastation – opportunities that were missed and would have likely averted the arboreal disaster entirely. The number one intervention: “What could have been done in the 1950s or earlier to minimize the possibility of future elm tree losses in Minnesota? Most obviously, we first could have stopped planting elms. Elms in nurseries should have been destroyed and no new elms planted.”
What does all of this have to do with science fiction, Christianity, or writing for young people? Not much except as a cautious cautionary tale. Watching the redressing of long-standing wrongs with instant, concerted action, I’ve seen a weeding out of individuals who stand out or are different; people who are not enough like what we now understand to be “good”. Long after the damage has been done – long after the 40,000,000 trees are dead and gone – we’re making sure that...what? That the correct trees are planted, absolutely. But have we eliminated Dutch elm disease altogether? We have not. The fungus that struck North American trees came from the Netherlands and progressed across the continent from 1920s well into the 1960s. Then another strain of the fungus rode a shipment of wood from here back to Europe in 1967, further devastating their elm population.

We were quite sure it had been taken care of. Quite, quite sure. But the fungus that caused Dutch elm disease is still active, still dangerous, and while most of us rest easy now that the obvious symptoms are taken care of and an admittedly difficult battle is over, the war, as they say is far, far from won.

July 16, 2015


On Earth, there are three Triads intending to integrate not only the three peoples and stop the war that threatens to break loose and slaughter Humans and devastate their world.; but to stop the war that consumes Kiiote economy and Yown’Hoo moral fiber. The Braiders accidentally created a resonance wave that will destroy the Milky Way and the only way to stop it is for the Yown’Hoo-Kiiote-Human Triads to build a physical wall. The merger of Human-Kiiote-Yown’Hoo into a van der Walls Society may produce the Membrane to stop the wave.

The young experimental Triads are made up of the smallest primate tribe of Humans – Oscar and Kashayla; the smallest canine pack of Kiiote – six, pack leaders Qap and Xurf; and the smallest camelid herd of Yown’Hoo – a prime eleven, Dao-hi the Herd mother. On nursery farms and ranches away from the TC cities, Humans have tended young Yown’Hoo and Kiiote in secret for decades, allowing the two warring people to reproduce and grow far from their home worlds.

“We had nearly fallen into stagnation when we encountered the Kiiote.”

“And we into internecine war when we encountered the Yown’Hoo.”

 “Yown’Hoo and Kiiote have been defending themselves for a thousand revolutions of our Sun.”

 “Together, we might do something none of us alone might have done…a destiny that included Yown’Hoo, Kiiote, and Human.” (2/19/2015)

“We’re a little busy right now, but as soon as we survive driving over this rickety old bridge, I’ll come back and tell you.”

“What rickety old...”

Suddenly, machine gun fire spanged off of the JACK’S BAKERY delivery truck. “Humans!” I shouted...

Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh (retired) called, “Just keep driving! Go, go, go!”

I floored the accelerator while he elbowed ‘Shayla and the Herd mother back into the rear of the truck and slammed the door shut. We plowed through some sort of flimsy barrier, rode over the bridge to the other side. On the right, where Retired had said there would be a mansion, was an inferno. A cluster of loosely attached Yown’Hoo herdships, hovered over the river, pouring lambent energy beams at the site.

A Kiiote “pack fighter” craft, flat, sleek, and deadly, returned fire, but was clearly abandoning the blazing mansion, sniping whenever the Yown’Hoo took a shot at them.

It was clear that the battle was over and lost. “I think I’ll keep going while they’re busy with each other!” I said as I roared past the carnage. Retired had fallen back in the seat, his face closed and guarded. I only saw that much because I had to slow us down to navigate around a tree laying across the road, burned nearly into charcoal now. The road past the bridge was clear now, dark, silent, and looking like it was abandoned. I said, “So, where’s the next Kiiote mobile hospital?”

When he turned to look at me, his face was lit only by the telltales on the dash as he said, “Not for another two hundred klicks.”

Horrified, I turned to face the night. Finally I managed, “How long can you survive the gelp?” He’d described it as a Kiiote fungus growing roots into his skin, seeking the warmth of his major blood vessels. He hadn’t gone any farther, but I could imagine. Part of my training in the old Dome had been in medicine. I was, according to the medical trail marker guru, only a class and an internship away from certification as a paramedic. Off-world diseases were rare; the Kiiote and Yown’Hoo catching Earth diseases even rarer. I’d heard tales from the first days of the Hot War; people hoping that the aliens would die as easily as the Martians had in the Human classic by HG Wells, War Of The Worlds.

No such luck. For a fleeting moment, I suddenly felt what it must have been like in those days – even the days of Retired. There must have been deep resentment. Hatred of all things alien. Humans not bred up like me and Shay – with everyday contact with them – must truly hate them, they’re so different.

Retired and I weren’t friends – but he was the first Human male I’d ever spent time with. I didn’t know what I’d do if he died. I took a deep breath and said, “My great uncle...”

He scowled and turned to me. “Yes?”

I took a deep breath, held it, and said, “I met a Kiiote when I was two years old.”

His look narrowed as he said, “You weren’t drafted into the Triad until you were five.”

I nodded slowly, turned my head and attended to my driving as a dark, heavy silence fell in the bakery truck’s cab.

July 14, 2015


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.

Ana Paula Ravlić peered around the corner of the crumbling building, then stepped back and shook her head.

Xyriel Jayasuriya whispered, “What? Did they get away?”

“No. They’re there.”

“What is it then?”

She sighed, pulling the stunner from her chest holster, “I just thought when we were recruited to do undercover surveillance we’d be doing something important.”

Xyriel barely managed to suppress a snort of laughter. He whispered, “What, making sure the fabulously powerful are supplied with wine and coffee isn’t your idea of an important...”

Her elbow to his solar plexus drove the wind out of the rest of his obnoxious comment. “Shut up...” She looked around the corner again. “If we don’t move in a minute, we’re going to lose them.”

He took a deep breath, then managed to say, “I wasn’t done...”

“Shut up and get ready,” she said. He was dressed like an average teenager in a post-ANTHROPOgenic Globally Warmed Society America. Beaten down by constant accusations of culpability by wealthy politicians and blameless scientists, he’d been drafted to pay for the (quite literal) sins of his father, a former climate scientist from the last century whose manner was so rude and condescending, that not only had he had a hand in destroying any sort of chance Humanity had had of pulling together to respond to global warming, he'd ignored his kids and took money from a PR machine no one had intended to build, but had appeared anyway. His dad had helped to drive the world economy into the ground. He'd ignored Xyriel...

Xyriel said, “If you’d quit angsting for a second, I have an idea. I think we might be able to do more than just steal grapes and coffee beans for the fat rats. There’s a group who are working to create conditions that will let us start over. It’s a sort of GMO Ark…”

Names: ♀ Uruguay, Croatia  ;   Philippines, Sri Lanka