July 31, 2016

Slice of PIE: Building Character

Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, August 2015, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #4615 . The link is provided below…

Characters with “Character” in YA Fiction Not all characters are created equally. Some are made for moving the plot along, some are created for comedy relief, and some crafted to inspire. A book is created around characters readers can get behind, love, hate or empathize with, laugh at. From heroes to villains and more, authors share some of their favorite YA fiction characters and what makes these characters so interesting. Find out what characters work and what characters don’t for young adult readers. William Campbell Powell (m), Gail Carriger, Deby Fredericks, Rebecca Moesta

Ugh – building believable characters is a real weakness of mine…

So, how does the panel qualify?

William Campbell Powell (m) – a solid SF book under his belt. Check.
Gail Carriger – commented earlier, she wrote the Parasol Protectorate books. Check (again!)
Deby Fredericks – a few Kindle books in fantasy. Check.
Rebecca Moesta – no comment needed! A spectacular writer whom I respect and love to read! (For those of you NOT in the know, she’s written more than a “few” STAR WARS books with her husband Kevin J. Anderson.)

There’s some real fire power here and I’m sure the discussion was fascinating.

How DO you build believable characters?

RM first: “YA and middle grade fiction has been my favorite to read since I was about ten. Somehow, I never outgrew it. There’s a magic in YA: it’s the literature of transformation. Something essential always happens to the main characters. The journey from childhood to adulthood presents challenges and rites of passage that are social, emotional, physical, and moral. Our protagonists confront issues like first love, conflicting loyalties, losing a family member, false friends, uncertain values, leaving home, poverty or violence, idealism vs pragmatism.” (http://www.rowena-cory-daniells.com/2011/10/01/meet-rebecca-moesta/)

GC: “…my favorite kind of character to write – practical to a fault, capable in a crisis, frustrating to the other characters around her, and all too often getting herself into impossible situations out of sheer nerve. It can be a little annoying trying to write myself out of the corner they have gotten the plot into, but they are so rich in friends, they have help in times of dire need.” (http://gailcarriger.com/about/never-ending-interview/)

WCP: “…told through diary entries from the main character with a couple of other things thrown into the mix. I was strongly reminded of The Testament of Jessie Lamb while reading Expiration Day, since most of the book deals with the day to day adventures of a teenager in a world that is collapsing out from under the human race.” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/814967264?utm_campaign=reviews&utm_medium=widget&utm_source=faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com)

OK – so I know I CAN built characters, but I don’t know the formula yet!

How do I do it? I’ve read books and I’ve tried to reduce my own successes to something I can use more consistently. People seem to like Emerald. I think they’ll like Zechariah in HOTSS: Zechariah of Venus the new book I’m working on now.

But if there’s a formula here, I could pull this from the three observations above:

1) “Something essential always happens to the main characters…”
2) “…practical, capable, frustrating to the other characters, sheer nerve…”
3) “…told through diary entries, day to day adventures…”

July 29, 2016

I Will Return!

After a lengthy illness, on Monday, July 25, 2016; my mother passed away.
The funeral was last night.
I will be back on Sunday and resume blogging.
Thank you for your understanding.

July 27, 2016


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: Interstellar Travel

Giovanna Mukhomorov shook her head slowly as she stared through the meteoroid [meteor = “celestial (brighter among the stars) phenomenon”; oid = “still seen”; ite = “a piece of”]-scarred window of the International Space Station. “When the old NASA announced this in 2014, my mom said she cried.”

Artyom Pai-Teles snorted, staring out the same window. “My fathers both shook their heads and said, ‘American hubris’.”

Gio didn’t bother looking at him as she said, “Thirty years later, the same might be said of them when they first planned your genstruction.”

“Hey! I was a successful...”

“How many times did they have to try, AP?”

He could do nothing but grunt. They’d been best friends up here since the day they’d arrived in space. Two years ago. Sometimes he thought it was too bad she was straight gay.

He sighed and she added, “It’s never gonna happen, AP.”

He said, “A man can dream about stroking those massive engines, can’t he?”

She slugged him, forgetting to hold herself down and floated away and into the main stream of older men and women, prime-age men and women, young adult men and women, and a smattering of boys and girls. Most of them politely excused themselves, bouncing like oddly-shaped ping pong balls as they moved hurriedly around Gio.

One of them did not. A young adult grabbed a bar near her feet and said, “You need to stay out of my way, kid.”

Flicking her toes, she came within a millimeter of his rather big nose. He flinched but didn’t move. Impressed despite herself, she said, “Titus, you’re ninety-one days older than me. You were one grade behind me. Even if you do the simplest math you’re most capable of, you still come out behind and I still don’t like you.” She pulled herself up and shoved herself toward the assembly area. “Come on Artyom. We have a galaxy to explore.”

He followed her, taking her hand, but she didn’t see the look on Titus Polamalu’s face. He did. He not only didn’t like the look, somewhere deep down inside of him, he found himself terrified of the mind of the man who watched his best friend.

Names: ♀ Brazil, Russia; Russia, Brazil, Hawaii, Hawaii
Image: http://f.tqn.com/y/inventors/1/0/x/w/Solid_Propellant.jpg

July 22, 2016


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

The truck roared on. The sign on the road read, “Minneapolis 50 Miles”. Edwina Olds Lieutenant, WACS (ret.) said, “We’d better have a plan, boys, before we get down there.” Both boys nodded as the truck roared on. Neither one spoke. She said, “So, what’s the plan?” She leaned forward a bit, shot a glance at Tommy Hastings. “This is your mama we’re talking about here, son. What would you like us to do?” She turned her attention back to driving.

Tommy’s eyes practically bugged out. He swallowed hard opened his mouth then closed it. Finally, he said, “I can’t do nothin’.”

“Like hell you can’t!” Ed shouted.

Both boys slid away from her, scrunching against the door. Finally, Tommy said, “We have to get there before everyone else does.”

“So far, we’re fine,” Ed said. “We’re ahead of the Socialists for certain. What about the witch?”

Freddie Hastings said, “She’s from Anoka.”

“Hmmm.” Ed paused, “That’s a lot closer.”

“But she wasn’t bad. Scary, but not bad.”

“So we don’t have to worry about her?”

Tommy piped up, “Like Freddie said, she wasn’t bad. Just creepy. Why would she want mom’s picture?” He shook his head. “It wasn’t her.”

Freddie said, “What about the mobsters?”

Tommy stared out the window, his short hair rippling in the wind roaring through the window. “I dunno. Could be.” He shook his head. “I don’t think so. They were too…neat.” He shrugged. “She was beautiful, sure. He looked cool. Like a movie. But they didn’t even seem real.” He watched for a while more. “Nah. It’s the Socialists. They want Mom’s picture.”

“Then we’re ahead of them,” said Ed. She paused, downshifting to keep from crashing into a pickup truck, sweeping around it.

Tommy was looking in the window of the car. The driver was a stranger, but the head that leaned forward suddenly looked directly up. It jerked back as Tommy shouted, “One of the Socialists is in that truck!”

Ed floored it and cut back into her lane as a car appeared over a hill. She used a bad word. The truck driver laid on the horn and hit his brakes. Ed hit the accelerator and the truck roared down the road. “You’d better come up with a plan really, really quick, kid! I’m gonna be downtown in about an hour and a quarter.”

Tommy closed his eyes and leaned forward until his forehead smacked against the hot dashboard. He sat that way for a long time. Freddie tapped him on the shoulder. Tommy’s voice was barely audible when he said, “Leave me alone! I’m think up a plan!” Freddie and Ed looked up, eyes locking. Both sets of eyes bulged.

They rode on in silence. After twenty miles, Tommy sat up suddenly and said, “I think I got an idea.” He looked over at Ed and said, “Can you drop us off in the alley behind my house?”

Ed pursed her lips then shook her head. “Afraid not, kid. Those are too narrow for a rig like mine.”

“Can you drop us on Hennepin and Fifteenth?”

Ed grunted, nodding, “I can imagine what you’re planning, kid. I think it’ll work.”

“You think you can have a little engine trouble then?”

This time Ed grinned, nodded, and said, “I believe I can, son! I believe I can.”

July 19, 2016


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 REAL elf is stranded here…

What if elves were real?

What if they WEREN’T Orlando Bloom in a blonde wig?

What if they were creepy…

Ailill Lewis is a firey redhead who meets and exceeds everything everyone says about red heads: smart, argumentative, hot-tempered, passionate (about the written word), and very opinionated. In his senior year of high school, he’s with his mom in Paraguay where she is a visiting genetics professor at National University of Asunciòn. Dad is home in Idaho where he’s lieutenant governor of the state…

Renée Espinola is a street-smart student who came from a poor family but passed all of the tests and exceeded most of them. She’s a high school senior who was invited to study at the University on scholarship in music and mathematics…she’s also a believer in “The Pombéro is a mythical humanoid creature of small stature being from Guaraní mythology. The legend, along with other mythological figures from the Guaraní, is an important part of the culture in the region spanning from northeast Argentina northward through the whole of Paraguay and southern Brazil. Pombero's original name in the Guaraní language is Kuarahy Jára, literally "Owner of the Sun", though he is said to be a primarily nocturnal creature. In some parts of Argentina he is known primarily by the Spanish translation of his name, ‘Dueño del Sol’. Although accounts of the Pombero's appearance and nature vary slightly from one community to the next, he is usually described as being short and ugly, with hairy hands and feet. His hairy feet are said to give him the ability to walk without being heard. He is also often described as wearing a large hat and carrying a knapsack over his shoulder. It is also said that the Pombero generally dwells in rural areas, living in the forest, although he will sometimes choose to inhabit an abandoned house.”

Of course, there’s an abandoned house near the University and Renée has heard whispered stories and of COURSE, she’s got to go there one night. Ailill, who’s also heard the stories is there on the same night as well…

I’m sure you can make up a story from there – in fact, I might have one in mind already, too...if you want to grant that the Kuarahy Jára is an ALIEN...

But you do whatever you want! Obviously Ailill and Renée meet, sparks fly, intelligences clash...and they find that they make a good pair.

July 17, 2016


Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, August 2015, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #4198. The link is provided below…

Humor in Teen and Middle Grade Fiction Humor within young adult and middle grade fiction is abundant. What is it about the bending of these genres with humor that works so well? Why are we drawn to tales that make us laugh? Our panelists take a walk on the lighter side of speculative fiction for children and teens as they dish about their favorite authors, books, and stories. Frog Jones (m), Gail Carriger, Kaja Foglio, Nichole Giles

First of all, what do the participants know about humor in YA/MG speculative fiction?

Frog & Esther Jones – authors of the Grace series. Check
Gail Carriger – author of the Parasol Protectorate series. Check.
Kaja Foglio – author of the Agatha Heterodyne and the… series. Check. (She also does the art for Magic: The Gathering cards!)
Nicole Giles – YA writer, but as far as I can see, nothing funny…she’ll get a check, too.

So these folks know what they’re talking about.

I still can’t pull off written humor. I CAN make people laugh, though I’m not what you’d call a funny guy (get it?). I get laughs by doing word play, funny voices, physical humor, and timing comments – none of these seems to translate well into writing. If you think about it, The Three Stooges, or Jim Carey in LIAR, LIAR would have been hard to put into words. Though I suppose they were written somewhere – or were they “extemporaneous”?

As a guidance counselor at a near-inner-city (ie: 10% of our students are bussed in from a major metropolitan inner city district; poverty rate as measured by recipients of free or reduced lunches is about 45%) I KNOW my kids love to laugh. Race doesn’t matter when it comes to teens laughing. If you can get them to smile, even in a bad situation, they tend to feel better. I’m good at that.

But I suck at writing humor. I CAN do one or two funny situations, but on balance, my writing is pretty serious.

OTOH, I know humor writer Gordon Korman. His books are ALL funny! But he’s never won a major award – let me amend that: he’s never won a major award from ADULTS. Kids pick him all the time. What does that say? (He does write speculative fiction, too – the Nosepickers From Outer Space are right up there!) I could guess, but I’ll leave that action to you.

I have a COMEDY WRITING SECRETS (https://www.amazon.com/Comedy-Writing-Secrets-Best-Selling-Think/dp/1582973571/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468770151&sr=1-3&keywords=How+To+Write+Comedy) book; I read THE HUMOR CODE (https://www.amazon.com/Humor-Code-Global-Search-Things/dp/1451665423/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468770086&sr=1-3&keywords=international+humor+study); and like I said, I’m a funny guy. I’ve read collections of science fiction humor, too like ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact’s THE FUNNY SIDE (an old collection) and the Kelvin Throop III stories. Spider Robinson’s CALLAHAN’S CROSS TIME SALOON books.

But I can’t seem to make it work. Why? Am I not funny enough?

Did these people reveal the formula for writing speculative humor novels for teens and middle grade readers.

Probably – it’s just that I wasn’t there.

What does the internet say? Lots of things, so I’ll leave you with this – and I’ll start working with it as well and update you in the future. Accordingly: “J. K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Suzanne Collins all use a mix of:

 1) One-liners
2) Awkward situations
3) Fainting scenes

“…to lighten the mood.”

So there you go. What do you think?

July 14, 2016


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)

There was a long pause, then Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh (ret) said, “So you run an underground railroad of sorts to keep Triads, the Masters, and the rest of the Humans of Earth safe – both Natural and Artificial.”

“We do,” Great Uncle Tim said. He set the weapon aside and slapped the wall. Lights came on behind him, lining a corridor that shrank away to a single point of very, very distant light. “This is the way we have to go.”

“Where are we going?” I tried to keep the whine out of my voice, but it didn’t work real well.

GU Tim snorted – and I realized he didn’t have to. He’d been made. There were parts of him that were Human flesh, but most of him was either organically synthesized plastic, or metal. His bones were mostly aluminum; his brain, “What did they make your brain out of?” I blurted.

He shook his head. “You’re just like your biological uncle. He rarely thought things out before he talked.”

I hung my head. ‘Shay slugged my arm and said suddenly, “It is one his most endearing traits. He couldn’t wear a mask thick enough to fool anyone.”

Tim perked up, adding, “He can’t play poker to save his life?” I thought there was entirely too much glee in his voice.

And in ‘Shay’s when she said, “Not to save his life!” They both laughed together.

“I’m still standing here in case you were wondering.”

Retired laughed. Qap and Xurf even added yips. The Herdmother added a scent to the air that was distinctly flowery. “Oh, great, now I’ve become the butt of everyone’s joke!” I pushed through the group and past Great Uncle Tim.

He called after me, “How do you know where we’re going?”

Without turning around and feeling my ears burning, I said, “Even I can’t get lost in a straight tunnel.”

I head ‘Shay whisper, “Now we’ve hurt his feelings. He’ll play this up for days and be insufferable!”

“I heard that!” I said, then stalked on. I heard yips and snickers, and I was sure the air would be full of lilac if I was standing back by them. After stalking for a kilometer, the stomping had started to hurt my feet. It was also getting boring. It was also getting lonely.

I was thinking about going back and apologizing, when GU Tim said, “Stop stalking and come back with us, Oscar!”

“My name is ‘Car!” I called My voice echoed back to them.

“Come on back, ‘Car! I’m sorry for laughing at you,” ‘Shay said. I heard claws ticking on the concrete floor of the tunnel and the next thing I knew Fax had come up to me. He stretched out from his four-legged form to the more usual two, but just before he did, he licked my hand. Even though it didn’t mean anything to a Kiiote, he knew it meant something to Humans when their dogs did it. He wasn’t anything at all like a dog, but he was my best friend in the Triad. Even better than ‘Shay.

I looked at him and said, “I’ll come back because you asked and because we’re friends.”

He dipped his chin, a Kiiote nod. We walked back together. When we got there, GU Tim was all business again. “We’re going to camp the night here.”

Herd mother Dao-Hi said, “We just stand in the middle of this tunnel and sleeps?”

“It is somewhat cold for Kiiote,” said Xurf, “But if must lie here…”

“Don’t be ridiculous! You don’t think I’d bring you here just to have you lay down on this filthy floor, do you?” He tapped the wall of the corridor. There was a pause then a hiss. An oval ring of light appeared as a thick door slid backwards then to one side. Now golden light poured into the dim corridor. GU Tim stepped in, saying, “What your step.” He beckoned us in. But even Retired held back. GU Tim looked disgusted, shook his head and made to tap the wall again.

‘Shay said, “Wait!” She stepped toward him. “Why would you rescue us and bring us down here just to murder us?”

He said, “I wouldn’t.”

“We have your word, then.” She nodded and followed him in. I looked at Retired, then slightly down at Fax – I was actually taller than he was, and he was the tallest in the Pack – and said, “I’ll trust him. After all, he is my great uncle.” I followed ‘Shay. Everyone else followed after that – and I was glad we did.

“We have quarters for all members of the Triads. Temperatures are set for your comfort and there are sleeping arrangements and foods for you all.”

Retired was the last one in, standing in the doorway a long time before he finally said, “So it looks like you don’t need me anymore, so I’ll just be moving…”

GU Tim held up his hand, palm facing Retired, and said, “Not so fast, Lieutenant Commander.”


“You are essential to the plan we’ve got for you.”

“That’s the second time you’ve referenced a group.”

Tim grinned, “Exactly. We would like to retain you for your services.”

Retired scowled then said, “Who are you?”

July 12, 2016


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

H Trope: auto-cannibalism

Kari leaned from behind him while the movie in Forensics flickered on the screen in front of the class, whispering in his ear, “You know, if you bite your fingernails, the pieces will poke through your intestines and you’ll get a bleeding ulcer.”

“Shut up,” Mark hissed back at her.

Mr. Stanton looked up from the paper he was correcting and scowled at the two of them.

After class, Kari tapped Mark on the shoulder and said, “You’re the one who asked me to bug you about it.”

“Yeah, but…” he stopped talking as a pair of freshmen boys ran like elementary kids down the hall, cutting between him and Kari. It was a good thing, Mark decided. He’d almost told her the real reason he wanted to stop biting his nails. Or horking his snot or sucking the blood from a hangnail or any of the other instances of him eating his own flesh and blood. It started out as accidental. He’d been playing boot hockey over Christmas break and he’d been whanged in the nose and gotten a fierce nosebleed. Swallowing the blood to keep from grossing everyone out by spitting it on the ice had started something inside of him.

“‘Yeah, but’ what?” Kari asked when they pulled together again.

Mark shrugged and said, “I’ll tell you at lunch.”

Inside, he heard his Inner Voice say, “No you won’t. You won’t tell anyone about me. You just keep feeding me and when I’m big enough, I’ll come out and we’ll take over the world…

Name Source: Local, Minnesota

July 10, 2016

WRITING ADVICE: Can This Story Be SAVED? #1 “Hūmbūlance” (Submitted 8 Times Since 2008, Revised once)

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/9f/22/3b/9f223b1e57a36e14db3eb13715fbe3f9.jpgIn September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, In April of 2014,  I figured I’d gotten enough publications that I could share some of the things I did “right”. I’ll keep that up, but I’m running out of pro-published stories. I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it, but someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. Hemingway’s quote above will remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales, but I’m adding this new series of posts because I want to carefully look at what I’ve done WRONG and see if I can fix it. As always, your comments are welcome!

ANALOG Tag Line(What Did I Think I Was Trying To Say?): Given a choice of finding yourself or living a glorious lie, which would you choose?

Elevator Pitch: A man who has been cloned and whose DNA has been altered a dozen times since he proved his worth as a brilliant soldier in the mid-21st Century, discovers he’s a spy – and discovers that a second of him, a massive, obscenely manipulated “living ambulance” works in the clouds of a gas giant, River. It is in a region that is On The Verge of the Confluence of Humanity and the Empire of Man. River is a world whose population is polarized between democratic, genetic experimenters and Imperial, genetic purists. After he is kidnapped, Gordon is offered a job working with “himself”. Raised in the purist Empire, he is horrified and attempts to escape. Then called to a serious accident, he and the creature work so well together, they not only save the lives of the victims, but one wants to defect to the Confluence. Will Gordon follow him?
Gordon Oyeyemi Daboh was a soldier who fought in a series of wars that ended up both tearing up and unifying the African continent. I’ve got a story out right now with his very first “adventure” in it. It takes place some six hundred years before “Prince of Blood and Spit” (http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2016/06/writing-advice-what-went-right-with.html).

Opening Line: “Hūmbūlance” begins: “Dive-bombing through the air, the hūmbūlance opened his mouth.”

Autopsy: Not bad. It’s certainly grabs my attention. But this story is only 4100 words – the problem the main character faces needs to be next. Here’s what I wrote: “Hydrogen and helium from River’s atmosphere screamed down Irog’s kilometer-long throat raising an eerie wail like an old Earth, World War II stuka siren, growing louder and higher in pitch the faster he fell.

“Riding in a nitrogen-oxygen pocket inside Irog, black hand gripping a red plastic handle anchored on a milky white, cartilaginous wall, Gordon Oyeyemi shouted over the noise, ‘What are you doing, Irog?’ He slapped the wall with his other hand, shouting, ‘We’re in here, you know!’”

I’ve used 89 words and the story has gone nowhere. I don’t know whether Gordon is the main character or if “Irog” is what the thing is called or its name – and if it has a name, why is it so weird… I certainly don’t know what ANYBODY’S problem is – and unknown to the reader, there’s another character! There are only 4000 words left and in those words, I have to introduce a problem, make things worse, then solve it.

Another problem I noticed is that there’s a lot of jargon – and most of it I made up myself or is unnecessarily dense: nitrogen-oxygen pocket; milky white, cartilaginous wall; World War II stuka siren; black hand gripping a red plastic handle; down Irog’s kilometer-long throat. These phrases, while I know what I meant by them don’t clearly communicate what’s happening.

I get to the action on page 2: “Besides that, we just got a call.” What kind of a call? How does anyone know that? The reader is TOLD rather than SHOWN what’s going on. This is embarrassing for me. One of my primary lessons in the Writing To Get Published class I teach is on showing, not telling. Here I go and smash the rule myself!

Shortly after, I get to the conflict: We find out from the bottom of page 2 to page 3 that Gordon’s mad at Irog; Gordon is trying to impress the other guy; the other guy doesn’t like Gordon. In a 4100 word story, I have three characters among whom I need some sort of resolution of their conflict.

How is THAT supposed to happen? Do I have enough words to resolve it?

We may never find out, because now I throw an emergency at the characters. And I do it by writing a jargon-dense paragraph that the reader reads without having a sense of who the characters are and why she should care: “Patient Paolo Bianchi reports intense chest pain. He is a one hundred and nine year old male, with moderately modified DNA. His cloudwhale’s name is Reuben and they live in the upper temperate level of the Amazon cloud band. Reuben carries a twenty-two hundred hectare pharm and the corresponding buildings and equipment. The patient, four mod-mod minor children, two profoundly modified DNA adult children, and thirteen environmentally adapted humans work together as the Reuben-Perez Botanical-Pharmacological Cooperative. Bianchi’s mod-mod wife died two years ago of natural causes. She had a Do Not Resuscitate and a Do Not Intubate on file.” Again – I am telling the reader. I could have shown this easily and skipped Irog messing around. I should be able to better illustrate my background without sacrificing story. In fact, so far, there’s no real story here.

What Was I Trying To Say? I knew what I wanted to say, to explore, but thus far, I haven’t given any reason for the reader to follow me. What I want people to know is that half of this world judges your worth as a Human by how much original Human DNA you have. Sixty-five percent and more, and you’re part of the Family! Sixty-four point nine or less, and you’re an animal.

Did any of that come across? Did Gordon face ANY kind of challenge here? None. He seems flat and uninteresting and I can’t imagine that anyone would be interested in what was happening.

The Rest of the Story: By page eight, the intrepid crew of the hūmbūlance Irog have saved a life – which life was connected to a deep moral issue as well as a political one. They trick an alien creature called a cloudwhale that has a pharm on its back (jargon and enough implied backstory to write a novel) and a family whose inheritance AND internecine war at stake into reviving the tycoon into thumbing his will (jargon). Then they leave. Oh, and there’s a love interest here, too.

Then they’re off to save another life – oh, and this incident is fraught with political consequences! There’s an ethical issue as well when Rane (character #3) reveals he’s some sort of evaluating agent for Gordon and Irog, and he wonders if Gordon is bigoted against the Pure and would rather let them die than keep his commitment and help them.

Then I introduce a sport, intriguing even to me and I invented it: “It’s an airboard accident with a predatory cloud jelly.” (jargon alert!) And we also have wide-ranging consequences and show that both Confluence and Empire have problems: “Gordon exclaimed. “What’s the Purity League?”

Rane took a deep breath, released it and said, “Their little club makes the Emperor of Man and the Imperial Senate look like conservative candidates for the Confluence Congress.””

And this: “I’m a liberal Imperial” and “‘someone who’s fifty percent unaltered DNA is human?’ ‘I didn’t say I was a radical’” and “Liberals allow that sixty-two percent unaltered DNA is human” and “Hardliners need sixty-eight percent. Fundamentalists insist on seventy-five percent” and finally, “I’m a spy for the Reunification Church… [who] want to see humanity put back together again”…

End Analysis: I attempted WAY TOO MUCH here! I strained the credulity of the reader by having so many important things happen on this trip that the “story” became a sketch of this world. I never got to answer Gordon’s question, and the fact is that he never had a real  problem. There was no challenge, no climax, no resolution; this explains why it got rejected so many times – and that two of the editors commented on the world-building aspect, but didn’t get pulled in by the story.

The reason was that there wasn’t a story there to get pulled into.

Can This Story Be Saved? The simple answer here, is that as is, it’s unsalvageable. The more complicated answer is that there are elements of at least two stories here – the “Heart Attack On A Cloudwhale” one, and the “Sky Racer Nazis Get What They Deserve!” one. Either one would force Gordon to make a decision to stay in college and continue his masquerade as an Imperial or join the Confluan paramedic corp.

So – make it into two stories, slow down, and build Gordon and Irog up into believable characters. That whole vein of story is left unmined here.

Image: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/9f/22/3b/9f223b1e57a36e14db3eb13715fbe3f9.jpg

July 8, 2016

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 84: Aster of Opportunity

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/pv5BzHM3TJ8/hqdefault.jpg On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official Unified 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 (60,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

The Mayoral Consort, Aster Theilen smiled bleakly at FardusAH’s earlier response: “But they aren’t even Human! Some of the little freaks look like furless kangaroos!” She’d had the grace to blush black when she realized what she’d said. But FardusAH, with her network of assistants to all of the other Mayors of Mars, would be her most powerful ally.

In vo’Maddux’s mind, as was always the case with the Mayor’s head of Security, Aster should have been ensconced in the Pylon, starting party plans that would be little different – and have as negligible an effect – as her the ones her predecessors had made.  

Instead, Aster headed down to her Dad’s. Her father was very familiar with the proletariat, the person-on-the-street; those who had been called “blue-collar” workers back on Earth in the middle of its Twentieth Century. Those were the men and women who listened to her dad; who attended his secret Christian churches – and who quite literally kept Opportunity Dome from falling apart. She needed to let him know that what she planned wasn’t “a stunt” by the Mayor’s Office.

She needed to form a new union of Martians, is what she needed to do. The elite – which she realized uncomfortably – now included herself. She’d spent her first two decades as an adult doing secretarial work. On Mars. She sighed. Who’d have thought that Humanity’s first extraterrestrial colonies would be just as mired in bureaucratic red tape as the colonies had been when the term was first coined? Her own life had been focused on survival and living her “own”, unquestioned style. “More questions,” she muttered to herself as she headed for the lift shafts. She didn’t want to waste any more time walking the thirty floors down to where Dad lived.

“On the other hand,” she paused. Following the spiral down would take her from the wealth of the upper levels to the lowest levels where the poorest birth Humans lived. She’d only heard rumors that artificial Humans lived under the city, in the maintenance tunnels and sewers. It wasn’t much different from the way the poor had lived in the supposed White Age of North American civilization when people whose skin was the wrong color were ostracized and forced to live in separate neighborhoods so that their appearance was hidden from whatever color the dominant wealth was.

She set off, looking carefully for the first time in a long time. While each level had been constructed from a master plan and was identical to the one above it, differences had crept in. Near the surface, forty units might have had the walls removed and the resulting space was occupied by one person or a small family. At the bottom, the same forty units had been divided four times – and held nearly two hundred people. The corridors gradually filled with the equipment, detritus, and signs of crowding the farther down she went.

Dad lived ten levels up from Zero; comfortably. He had a large unit to himself. He’d moved down from Fourteen when she moved into the Mayor’s Suite on the Pylon. Level One Oh One was actually two levels below the surface of Mars. One Oh Three was directly under the surface and was primarily water storage – to protect against surface radiation and micrometeorite strikes – warehouses, and heavy manufacturing. One Oh Two was light industrial and research labs as well as the University of Mars, Opportunity Campus. The Pylon itself passed through the Dome, a kilometer into the thin Martian atmosphere. She’d stood at the huge picture window for hours at a time when she first moved there.

“Now I’ve gotten used to it.” To wealth. Privilege.

By the time she reached Dad’s level, she was thinking about going Deeper; the biggest question though was how to reach the lowest levels. How could she even see where artificials lived? Pursing her lips, she went to the railing and looked over the edge. While she was only fourteen levels up from the bottom, the light farther below seemed to dim until she wasn’t sure she was even seeing the very bottom of the shaft.

There was only one person she knew who might actually be able to tell her how to reach the sublevels, but she doubted FardusAH would be willing to guide her. After a bit more thought, she smiled. Dad once said the Christian church had spread most deeply among oppressed peoples. She wondered…then set off, at her best stride, one guaranteed to leave friends behind and get her where she needed to go as quickly as possible.
Image: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/pv5BzHM3TJ8/hqdefault.jpg

July 5, 2016


http://f.tqn.com/y/inventors/1/0/x/w/Solid_Propellant.jpgEach 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

Current Event: Astrophobia is an irrational fear of stars and space and may take different forms, from fear of aliens to fear of space exploration. (https://www.verywell.com/fear-of-space-2671680)

Harper Zakaria pursed her lips. She tapped them for a moment then said, “So you want me to revive this…criminal so that we can escape the dirty sandbox people like you have made of Earth?”

Abdelkader Mäkinen scowled at her. In the past, people would have said his high forehead and wide-set, almost entirely brown eyes made him look like an alien. “I had nothing to do with Anthropogenic Global Warming. My ancestors lived in Northern Finland and Algeria – mostly they were teachers and scientists, so they had nothing to do with AGW and in fact, my great-grandfather started the first windmill farm in northern California in the early Oughts.” He actually sniffed and as Harper rolled her eyes, he continued, “Now that we’ve established my credentials and innocence…”

“You didn’t establish any credentials, sir. You just absolved yourself from blame because of something one of your distant ancestors did.”

“Now see here, young lady! My family…”

“Credentials?” she said, smiling.

He actually harrumphed then said, “I’ve been on the UN Global Climate Reconstruction Committee for fourteen years and was recently appointed Chair because of my brilliance and based on the plan I’ve devised that will…”

Harper held up a hand, pursed her lips, shook her head, then looked up at the tall meta-alien in her office. “So you want me to revive one of the bad-boys from the mid-Twenty-first Century so you can fly him to one of the Martian Colonies and get the Prairiedogs back into space again, right?”

He started at her, his mouth actually open. She considered pointing out that he was a cartoon cliché in the flesh, but was pretty certain he wouldn’t be a buff of TwenCen flat animated cartoons. She let him sputter a few moments, planning on interrupting him if it took too long when he said, “How did you…”

“I don’t spend all of my time watching the sleepers, Senator Mäkinen. I have to have something to do in my spare time. I’ve read up on the astrophobia pandemic.” She smiled sweetly. “I confess that you wouldn’t be able to pay me enough to leave Mother Earth, no matter how filthy she is.”

The man wasn’t going to respond, instead, he scowled more fiercely and said, “You can mock all you want, young lady, but those of us afflicted are all that we have left behind. It seems that somehow the Colonists took the wanderlust gene with them when they abandoned the Mother World.”

 She shrugged. “Not my problem, I guess. So you still haven’t explained why you want to revive prisoner,” she glanced down at her ‘pad, then up at him. “AAA000200.”

“That’s not for you to question, young lady! I have here,” he flourished an opad at her. She took it, glanced at it, and handed it back to him as he continued, “An order from the UN GCRComm demanding that you revive and release the prisoner to me.”

“It wasn’t countersigned by the Secretary General,” she said, handing it back to him. She grinned a toothy grin at him, then turned off the effect.

“It’s not necessary…”

She cut him off, “You may think I’m just a button-pusher, Senator, but as I said, I don’t just sit here watching the sleepers all day. I have a BA in pre-Law from Columbia Online and I’m two thirds of the way through Columbia Law School. I have my MD from Brigham and Women’s in CryoMedicine with graduate studies in Revival Mechanics.” She stopped, smiling at him.

He held her gaze for several minutes, then finally began to fidget, still maintaining eye contact. Finally he looked away, pocketing him ‘pad. He looked back at her, a different look on his face. He studied her then said, “I was told you were young and idealistic. I was also told you were smart and stubborn.”

“Correct on all counts.”

“But we need…”

She cut him off, “I agree, Senator. You need this prisoner in order to get the rest of us off Earth again. But I’m not sure you know who you’re dealing with.”

His ‘pad reappeared in his hand and he glanced down at it, “Admiral Concepción Shimizu was decorated…”

Harper glared at him as he continued reading, unaware of her regard. When he looked up finally, his monologue faltered then stopped. “What?”

“She’s a thief, a murderer, and despite the fact that she single-handedly stopped the South African Resurgence from turning the southern half Africa into a new Apartheid regime, she still single-handedly also severed this world from its Colonies when she bombed the Elevator.”

This time he was prepared and flashed a false grin at her before he turned it off and said, “That is why my plan is brilliant. We will give her the opportunity to redeem herself in the eyes of all Humanity.”

Names: ♀ New Zealand, Somalia;   Algeria, Finland; ♀ Paraguay, Japan       

July 3, 2016

Slice of PIE: Gasoline and Antimatter…

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/69/PositronDiscovery.jpg/609px-PositronDiscovery.jpgUsing the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, August 2015, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #4183. The link is provided below…

Super Science Saturday: Antimatter in Science – A Journey from Detecting Nothing to Reaching the Stars

What do research and engineering tools to detect atomic-sized voids or really “nothing” in materials have in common with attempts to reach the stars? Antimatter. I will present an overview of current research with one particle of antimatter – the positron – and the work in harnessing the potential of antimatter for space travel. Three fundamental challenges separate antimatter science fiction and science fact: generation, storage, and conversion to propulsion. Marc Weber

The most I could find out about Marc Weber (who has a picture on the Washington State University website (no CV, no nothing else…LinkedIn, FB, etc., all dead ends. An article says the following: “the work Weber does at WSU’s Center for Materials Research could one day help fuel space travel…antimatter is an ideal form of rocket propulsion. That’s because when antimatter reacts with matter, the particles explode, creating the most powerful energy source known. He and his colleagues are developing a way to harness and store antimatter particles called positrons.…” and “[one] of the foremost positron researchers in the world”.

In other words, he knows his stuff.

I don’t know much about positron generation, storage, or conversion to propulsion; BUT I wonder if the process might have an analogue in the generation, storage, and conversion to propulsion of gasoline in an internal combustion engine. Certainly the scale is different, but I wonder if there might be parallels – as the repercussions of the invention of the ICE and the invention of a workable “warp drive” powered by antimatter annihilation had…and might have…results so profound as to alter the course of civilization.

Briefly, the development of the ICE using gasoline as fuel goes something like this:

“Gasoline was around before the invention of the internal combustion engine but for many years was considered a useless byproduct of the refining of crude oil to make kerosene, a standard fuel for lamps through much of the 19th century.”

How did that useless byproduct end up powering the most dramatic change in technology this planet has ever seen? The invention of the internal combustion engine is studded with well-known inventors – al-Jazari , famed for authoring the Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices among which devices, you would find the crankshaft; Christiaan Huygens (yes, THAT Huygens – the one after whom the Titan probe was named…because he discovered the moon…) who found that he could use gunpowder to drive water pumps; and Alessandro Volta, who invented both the electric battery and a toy gun that fired a cork after hydrogen and air were compressed and sparked.

At first, the ICE went nowhere because the gasoline that some of them used was scarce and few people saw any need for the ICE-gasoline combination to move people around. The German Siegfried Marcus, “He never applied for a patent for the motorcar…never claimed to have invented the motorcar…[but] was the first to use gasoline to propel a vehicle, in the simple handcart of 1870…”  In fact, in England, Edward Butler invented the first “true” automobile (sparkplug, ignition, carburetor, and much of the rest – and was promptly slapped with a new law that prohibited ANY motorized vehicle from traveling faster than 2 mph. It also had to have a person walk in front of it waving a red flag. He gave up and went on to other, more lucrative constructions.

After several hours of searching, I could find nothing that dealt with the development of gasoline as the primary fuel used in the ICE, so I don’t know if thousands died making it to use it in cars, or if it was serendipitous and without it life as we know it wouldn’t exist. As I said initially, it was just waste – the REAL goal was to produce enough kerosene for the booming and totally essential lamp industry. Gasoline was like a resource waiting for a use.

So let’s see if there’s a parallel here for the development of antimatter as a fuel: positrons are naturally occurring particles. We never really bothered with them because we were WAY more interested in directing and manipulating electrons for the booming and totally essential electrical industry.

Thus far, no one has used positrons for much of anything except PET scanning and some experiments to look at bizarre, exotic particles. It’s like it was a resource waiting for a use…

Marc Weber is working to both collect positrons and store them. He has a dream to use them to power matter-antimatter annihilation starships; and that’s exciting!

However, I all of a sudden started wondering about the GETTING there. Even in Star Trek, we skip the development of the matter-antimatter control and go right to warp drive (STAR TREK: First Contact). Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any stories or novels that would be comparable to learning to use gasoline as a fuel during the development of the ICE – certainly it wasn’t the first choice. Steam engines are ancient and came first; coal gas and even coal powder was more powerful and easier to use. Gasoline use didn’t come until much later – and only then because certain inventors made certain choices.

What will be the history of the use of antimatter in Human civilization? I look forward to speculating! Any ideas?

References: http://www.greatachievements.org/?id=3677,
Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/69/PositronDiscovery.jpg/609px-PositronDiscovery.jpg