May 28, 2017

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With “Test” (HiCall, October 1993) Guy Stewart #40

In 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, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Since then, I figured I’ve got enough publications now that I can share some of the things I did “right” and I’m busy sharing that with you.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote above will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

This was the very first real science fiction story I was every actually paid for. The milestone was incredible as it was the absolute peak of my writing career at that time. The family was living on a farm in western Wisconsin while the paperwork for our first home was wending its way through the banks; I’d gotten a surprise job working with the Science Museum of Minnesota’s NEW EXPLORER’S project, “Dive Into Darkness” – but I’d never had a story published in a major magazine before this one.

Science fiction in a religious magazine had always seemed to be to have to include some sort of “Jesus” scene – but I hadn’t written that into the story. Briefly, a young woman was training for a paramedic-type corps on a colony world that had been forcibly settled by Muslim and evangelical Christians by Earth’s government, in an effort to eliminate anyone who disagreed with the United Faith in Humanity [the YA novel I’m writing here takes place in the same universe at a different time. You can read MARTIAN HOLIDAY by going here: http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2009/02/possibly-irritating-essay-paulo-on-mars.html I started this novel eight years ago and it’s part of my round-robin posting. Also, there are missing chapters. Not sure why, but there are. From chapter 26 forward though, there aren’t any breaks. Remember it’s a FIRST draft!]

At any rate, Keen Hernandez is ostracized because the paramedic corps is largely male and Muslim. The story is predictable – she’s gifted, her commander/teacher hates her guts but secretly believes she’s gifted. He’s injured during a training mission that becomes a real emergency. She saves his life despite his orders to leave him alone. He demands to see her after the emergency and she expects to get canned. Instead, he admires her, passes her, and asks to hear about Jesus from her.

It was so predictable it was formulaic.

But that’s what worked here. The publication was a Christian teen take-home magazine designed to reach kids and give them tools to witness to their faith. Science fiction, while a powerful tool, was highly unusual in the realm of Christian fiction. It still is. Especially when it was grounded in reality and written by someone who has secular SF credentials.

Another reason it sold was because the world it took place in was one I’d been playing around in for a few years. I can describe it to you clearly and since the publication of “Test”, I’ve written two other stories set on this planet (which was named after a friend of mine who has since passed away). One of them, “Teaching Women to Fly” was published in the first issue of STUPEFYING STORIES, two others, “Krasiman, Monkeyboy, and the Frog Father” and “THE GRASSRIVER GAOZHONG BRICK AND MORTAR & VIRTUAL HIGH SCHOOL HONORARY MARSHARK FROM OUTER SPACE” remain unpublished but both helped me develop Enstad’s Planet more fully. I knew this world; knew its history, its people, and how it was set up. There’s industry, and despite what the government of Earth wanted to happen, the Muslim colonists, the Christians, and a smattering of Hindu created  viable and vibrant society.

There are more stories here. Lots more. Maybe Keen Hernandez will come back!

In summary, the things that went right with “Test” were its uniqueness, an editor who prized it for its uniqueness, and the well-developed world it took place in.

I like Enstad’s Planet and I want to see other things happen there. In the four universes I’ve drawn up, I once realized that there are trillions of stories in those worlds. There are WAR AND PEACE stories, VORKOSIGAN SAGA stories, DUNE stories, THE FAULT IS IN OUR STARS stories, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE stories…in all of these universes. I am not good enough yet to tease out the really grand stories.

But I AM good enough to tease out the small ones. This was the first. It hasn’t been the last, and perhaps someday they will all come together into a Future History that will bear my name!


May 25, 2017

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION: Chapter 63

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. All three intelligences hover on the edge of extinction. The merger of Human-Kiiote-Yown’Hoo into a van der Walls Society might not only save all three – but become something not even they could predict. Something entirely new...

The young experimental Triads are made up of the smallest primate tribe of Humans – Oscar and Xiomara; 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)

The Pack seemed to sink to the floor and I recognized the scent of Kiiote fear.

Xurf straightened himself into humanoid shape, shaking out his arms, then straightened himself as much as a Kiiote could and said, “These are the demons of a shameful past, we believe they are sent to torture our minds.” He paused a long time before he said, “We had no idea they had come to Earth.” He hung his head.

Qap had stretched into humanoid form as well and she stepped next to him and said faintly, “We are more than sorry. Much, much more than sorry. We are, as a people, ashamed. We have poisoned your world with these demons…”

Shay said, “What do you mean, ‘demons’? Did you summon them from the land of the dead?”

Xurf sneezed. It was a Kiiote expression of extreme disgust. “There is no such thing! The conjures are constructed from a special kind of matter. They were created to work in high energy environments – on the surface of planets nearer the sun, planets caught in radiation belts of stars…”

Qap added, “In emergencies, they could be sent into highly radioactive environments.” She snorted, “They are expendable where we are not.”

Commander Patrick Bakhsh – we continued to call him Retired – hadn’t said much since our run from the destruction of the farmhouse. When he spoke now, his voice was low and sort of soft. Even so, it sounded dangerous. Like he’d discovered a bomb in one of backpacks, he said, “You’ve been experimenting with solid life.”

Qap and Xurf suddenly panted. That was a sign of extreme Kiiote distress. Finally, Qap said, “To our shame, I have to tell you that the Kiiote have.”

“How do you know all this?” I asked. “You’ve been with us since you were weaned.”

Xurf gestured to Qilf and Fax, the Pack seconds. They rarely spoke, never made decisions unless Qap and Xurf directed them to, and I’d never seen either one do more that follow the Firsts. Fax, the male said, “Our job since weaning, when we are not learning to lead, has been to comb through Kiiote news – dispatches, communiques, entertainment broadcasts, and private messages.” He nodded to Qilf.

She said, “Our job is to listen. We listen to you, we listen to Human news and words and messages from the Herd’s Plateship in orbit. We listen to them, interpret, discuss, then offer summary to the Pack Leaders.”

“I’ve never seen you talk to them!” Shay said.

Qilf yapped in amusement. “We do not share in words but in taste and smell. You know, Triad-mate, that all Kiiote speak on multiple levels. We have experienced tiered communication between the two of us.”

I didn’t know what Qilf meant, but Shay suddenly started to shift back and forth on her feet, cleared her throat, and clasped her hands behind her back. She did the same thing the first time we’d explored sex together – for about a week.

Retired pursed his lips then said, “How long has the Pack fighting over Earth known about the escaped conjures?”

Fax shook himself hard, the Kiiote equivalent of a Human shrug. “We knew seventeen of your months ago. They may have arrived on your world before that, but there is no clear evidence to indicate that they had. We’d heard nothing of the Solid Ones before that.” He paused. “But we do not guarantee that they were not here.”

Retired sighed and went to the room’s table and gestured for us to get comfortable on the floor. GURion closed the door into the tunnel and pulled a lever, locking it from our side, cutting off the flow of cold air. He looked to Qilf, “They can’t pass through solid matter, can they?”

She shook her pelt. “We do not believe so. They are made of coherent matter and while our people manipulate it, we do not entirely understand it, much as Humans began their journey into nuclear power.”

Retired shook his head, “Thoughts of lecturing you – and your entire civilization – on the foolishness of what you just told me are both self-evident and unlikely to make any difference. What do the conjures do when they attack beings made of regular matter?”

“Aside from strangling them, breaking bones, or inflicting other physical damage?” Retired snorted. “They can destabilize their own matrix through a voice command to the device that holds them together, not only destroying themselves, but causing standard matter to destabilize as well.” She paused, adding softly, “They turn into a pile of spreading gold slime.”

“Gross,” said Shay.

Retired sighed and said, “We need to sleep. We have a long trip ahead of us before we reach Grendl. The anti-Triad faction will be looking for you, the Kiiote and Yown’Hoo will be doing the same; and now conjures will be after us as well.”

Fax said, “It wearies me simply thinking about it.”

“Sorry son, that’s the least of our concerns at this point.” Fax nodded and headed for the Pack’s room.


May 23, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 306

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.


Carlos Bander looked up at Djeneba Abuladze and said, “There’s something here.”

“Duh,” she said, squatting next to him. The joint of the wall and floor along the hallway of the home looked sealed tight. “But how? He was pretty specific about what he saw.”

. He saw an intruder.”

“Who suddenly disappeared with a ‘clattering swish’.”

“His exact words, correct?”

She pointed to the base of the wall. “We’ve scanned the house. There’s no way the intruder could have escaped. The door,” she nodded to the entryway. The door to the outside was reinforced concrete. “He say to you why he has a door designed to protect him from a nuclear blast mounted in a frame that’s closing in on a century old?”

“He didn’t say anything to me. He just stared at me like I was crazy whenever I asked him where he thought the intruder escaped to.”

“Me, too.” She stood up. “There’s only one thing we can do.”

He stood next to her, “We tried surveillance, but there was nothing – even though the intruder appeared to him during that time.”

“What is he?”

Carlos stood up, pursed his lips, kicked the wall gently then said, “What if the intruder isn’t a ‘who’ but a ‘what’?”

Djeneba stood up beside him, crossing her arms over her chest. “We’ve tried setting traps for ghosts, spirits, trolls, and any other apparition we’ve dealt with.” She took out her cellphone and after tapping it a few times, turned in a slow circle, scanning the hallway. “There’s no residual ectoplasm readings that I can pick up.”

Carlos hadn’t moved. He took a deep breath and said, “Try scanning for non-human DNA.”

“What?”

He shook his head slowly. “If it’s not paraterrestrial, maybe it’s extranomal.”

She hummed as she made adjustments on her phone, then swept the hallway again. She paused, facing the bathroom door. “I’ve got an anomalous reading from the door.”

“Behind it?”

“No. On the door.”

“Anomalous in what way?”

“Strong terrestrial insect DNA – about what you’d expect in a house this old. But there’s some sort of…” she paused again. She stepped up to the door, adjusting her phone. For an instant, the door lit up from top to bottom then went dark. Faint marks glowed. She stepped closer then back, frowning. She swept the screen three times then said, “The DNA has been altered. The only thing my T-comp can match with it comes from biological material that’s been…”

“Looking for someone?”

Carlos and Djeneba spun around. A Human figure stood at the end of the hallway, unmoving as its arm slowly slid up its leg from the floor. A faint, rattling hiss filled the close space. The creature said again, “Looking for someone Mr. Bander? Mrs. Abuladze?” The voice was raspy and seemed to come from the entire body of the creature rather than just its head. The light above them was dim and it was hard to see it.

“Your arm’s attached now. What are you going to do?” said Carlos carefully.

“If you’re afraid that I’m going to attack you both, you have nothing to worry about. I’m typically a scavenger.” It said the word with the emphasis on the first syllable, as if it were saying the name of the comic book and movie group of “Earth’s mightiest heroes”. It continued, “But I have a different mission this time.” With a loud rattle, the figure swelled until its head touched the ceiling. “I’ve come to prepare this world for occupation.”

Carlos and Djeneba frowned. Carlos cleared his throat, “This world has already been approved for contact – not…” The figure shimmered for a moment then seemed to melt as the rattling became deafening…

Names: ♀ Mali, Armenia; ♂ Mexico, Iraq
Image: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_OCWXw6InF70/TKigMBk87NI/AAAAAAAAAy4/tL7MhIfL9CM/s1600/2212_1025142570.jpg

May 21, 2017

Slice of PIE: YA Lit and Actions Without Consequences!

Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in August 2016 (to which I was invited and had a friend pay my membership! [Thanks, Paul!] but was unable to go (until I retire from education)), 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 #3264. The link is provided below…
Adult & YA Fiction: The Once and Future Teen – Estimates are that 80% of readers of YA are adults. How might this mix affect the growth and direction of new fiction? And what is it about YA fiction that brings adults and teens back for more?

Carrie Vaughn – author of like seventy zillion novels, lots with werewolves and someone named “Kitty”
Ms. Rachel Neumeier – author of several fantasy series and lots of stories
Shanna Swendson – author of a dozen fantasies that are FUNNY
Todd McCaffrey – duh. Author of INHERITOR OF PERN…and others
Jane Ann McLachlan – A professional ethicist and author of a SF novel

Some background on ME:

I started reading science fiction in 1969 when I was in sixth grade. SPACESHIP UNDER THE APPLE TREE and THE WONDERFUL FLIGHT TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET. I don’t remember if I read anything after that, but the next year in junior high, I discovered John Christopher’s WHITE MOUNTAINS trilogy. At that point, I also found that I could continue the stories I’d read and create new ones with my own writing. In eighth grade, I was deep into Andre Norton, Robert A. Heinlein, Alan E. Nourse, and anything else I could get my hands on.

Graduating to Bradbury et al, I haven’t stopped since then and now I’ve got a few dozen professional publications as well as having HAD two novels published.

I discovered Anne McCaffrey’s PERN books long ago and read all of the ones she wrote – multiple times. I tried a few written by Todd, but they never seemed to have the intensity of character that the originals had. I haven’t read a Pern book in several years…

Also, I rarely read fantasy. After CHRONICLES, LORD OF THE RINGS, and THOMAS COVENANT, the fantasy I read can be counted on a couple of hands. I rely on my daughter’s fantasy recommendations, so I have read JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL, and the Garth Nix ABHORSEN series.

As to WHO I am? I’ve been a classroom teacher for 36 years; mostly science, often writing. I’ve been a school counselor for the past six years. I think I can say that I have some kind of lock on what young adults and teens like. I also read YA science fiction and fantasy as well in order to keep up on the market. I loathe what I’ve come to define as “teen-slaughter-porn” and that others call “teen dystopian literature” exemplified by THE HUNGER GAMES and the MAZE RUNNER series – they’re novels in which old man and women attempt to justify slaughtering teens by creating situations in which teen slaughter is the “only” solution to whatever problem the story has manipulated itself into. As you can tell, I hate these books because teens read them all the time. An observation is that this sort of reading is contributory to the incredible popularity of the Netflix Cash Cow, “Thirteen Reasons Why”. I’m waiting to see how they justify a second season of a series in which the main character is dead…

In any case, the questions:

How might this mix affect the growth and direction of new fiction?

Not at all. It’s been my experience that the teens I work with and who read for entertainment sample widely. They read “adult” lit as well as lit “aimed at them”. Most read under their age group as well. Lots of my juniors (16 going on 17) read the PERCY JACKSON books as well as manga, comic books, and books like THE FAULT IS IN OUR STARS, and PANDEMIC, HANDMAID’S TALE, and others. Truth is that the “lines” are blurred already. Programs for gifted and talented students are regularly assigned books like MASH, CATCH 22, as well as HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES and KITE RUNNER.

The fact is that there are very few novels written from the POV of old people. Of course, there’s Santiago in THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA; Gandalf in LOTR; Merlin in THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING…but the fact is that the majority of characters in best sellers today are young. I don’t see that as changing much. In fact, “old teenagers” may be the ones driving the 80% of YA readers. Like high school juniors who reread the first HARRY POTTER books, they may be merely longing for their youth.

What is it about YA fiction that brings adults and teens back for more?

The speed of the story.

There’s very little pissing and moaning about growing old, or losing skills, or wondering if this is “right or wrong”. Teenagers are provably insane (THE PRIMAL TEEN, Barbara Strauch) and can pretty much do anything and the adults in their lives will just shake their heads and say, “Kids.” While there are consequences to behaviors – for teens, children, adults, and retirees – there appear to be fewer for teens. At least that’s how adults perceive it; broken hearts over a shattered three-month romance make adults roll their eyes, then warm up to a REAL LIVE heartbreaking story, “That’s nothing, kid! Wait ‘til you’re married for fourteen years and your husbandwife runs off with an eighteen-year-old bimbostud and leaves you with the kids and the mortgage and credit card debt up the yinyang! THAT’S something that’s worth crying over…”

In the world of the YA, stuff just happens with virtually no moral or societal judgement. How many people did Katniss kill? She’s a hero! How many other kids attempt suicide and get dead – while Hannah gets revenge on the whole world? How many did Percy Jackson slay to no consequence? (There’s actually a FAN list of his murders! http://riordan.wikia.com/wiki/Deaths_(CHB))

This is why more adults read YA than YAs read the stuff.

My personal opinion is all this is. It’s probably mislaid. Possibly Irritating. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure this isn’t what they talked about at the Con…and maybe it’ll spur you to thinking…

Image: https://readbynicka.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/image6.jpeg

May 18, 2017

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 102: DaneelAH and Company in Burroughs

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. They are HanAH, the security expert (m); DaneelAH, xenoarchaeologist (m); AzAH, language expert (f); MishAH, pattern recognition (f).

MishAH said, “This Paolo person knows exactly where we are. He could report us at any moment and our time here would be over.”

No one spoke for some time. Finally DaneelAH said, “But he hasn’t, so it’s probable that either we have something he wants – or he has something we’ll want.”

“What could we have that he wants?” HanAH said, shrugging irritably. He swung his arms hard, then grabbed his hands behind his back.

“We might not have anything he wants. But he may want to give something to us. Something that would bring Mayor Turin over to his side or induce the Mayor to…to…” said AzAH.

“Do something for him,” said MishAH. “Do something like send him on a mission to get the rest of the proof. The…bones, perhaps? Or artifacts?”

DaneelAH pursed his lips then said softly – as softly as he could over the low-pitched roar of the Dome’s mall, “Maybe both. If this Paolo has the proof Mayor Turin has been after all these years, there’s no telling what the Mayor would do for our new master.”

“The only thing he could want is information. In that case all he would have to do is capture us and torture us to get what he wants from the Mayor,” said HanAH.

AzAH shook her head. “The information he’d be looking for would be too precise to extract it that way. It would need to be accurate – and untwisted by us. Torture is too likely to distort whatever information he’s looking for.”

“What could Mayor Turin want that he wasn’t able to get from us after he captured us?” said DaneelAH.

“Something we didn’t know then – and have learned since,” said MishAH. She locked gazes with DaneelAH.

“What are you staring at me? If there was data to be gathered covertly, it would be HanAH’s purview.”

All three vatmates turned to HanAH. He shrugged, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

MishAH squeezed her lips with her right thumb and forefinger, then said, “Not consciously at any rate.” She paused, “I think you possess a key piece of information in this whole puzzle. For some reason, we’re linked to this Paolo. We don’t know anything else about him except that he’s a Christian and is underground. We’ve never heard of him...”

DaneelAH held up a finger, silencing the group. “More or less true – but he’s connected with a network of underground Christians here and maybe other places.”

“How can you know that?” MishAH exclaimed.

“Because we’re here and no one appears to be the wiser. We haven’t been met by force – in fact, even though we’ve apparently be brought here specifically. In fact,” he turned slowly, “no one seems to be interested in us at all.” He gestured to the crowds streaming all around them, parting then reforming as if the matched set of vatmates was a rock set in a stream of intelligence.

HanAH crouched slightly. AzAH, DaneelAH, and MishAH smiled. “What?”

“You always crouch when you think someone’s watching you,” said MishAH.

“I do not!” he exclaimed.

“Yes, you do,” said AzAH and DaneelAH together. DaneelAH added, “But only when you’re around us. In your usual Mayoral capacity, you don’t hunch.” He paused, “Not so that anyone who doesn’t know you as well as we do would notice.”

“So, what’s making you hunch?” said MishAH.

A young blue boy appeared out of the crowd, looked up at DaneelAH and said, “You’re new here, aren’t you?


May 16, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 305

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. Regarding Fantasy, this insight was startling: “I see the fantasy genre as an ever-shifting metaphor for life in this world, an innocuous medium that allows the author to examine difficult, even controversial, subjects with impunity. Honor, religion, politics, nobility, integrity, greed—we’ve an endless list of ideals to be dissected and explored. And maybe learned from.” – Melissa McPhail.

F Trope: divination (especially water (how Stephen King got his start)

While not “current”, it’s interesting to note that horror writer, Stephen King became a writer because of water dowsing (also called, “divination”): “explains his childhood fixation with the imagery of terror and horror, making an interesting comparison of his uncle successfully dowsing for water using the bough of an apple branch with the sudden realization of what he wanted to do for a living. While browsing through an attic with his elder brother, King uncovered a paperback version of the H.P. Lovecraft collection The Lurker in the Shadows, which had belonged to his long-since-departed father. The cover art—an illustration of a monster hiding within the recesses of a hell-like cavern beneath a tombstone—was, he writes, the moment in his life which ‘that interior dowsing rod responded to.’”


Sui Fun Fong Eu and her boyfriend Chang-Lin Chiao are New York natives, two generations separated from their Chinese heritage – neither one speaks Chinese, likes Chinese food or has any desire to be anything except another invisible New York, high school seniors. They aren’t brilliant, both have older brothers and sisters who are lawyers, doctors, physicists and a pro-basketball player; so no one expects anything for either of them.

Both of them plan on “going to college”. Neither one knows what they want to major in except, “business”. They are comfortable with their lives and they are comfortable with their relationship – sexy, but not crazy (a pregnancy outside of marriage would STILL be a “bad” thing for them).  They are simply, COMFORTABLE and happy to be that way.

That is, until they’re walking through Central Park one afternoon and see someone with a white stick – a slender single end splitting half-way up and the elderly man holding the two ends in his hands, intently studying the ground.

“What’s he doing?” Fong asked.

Chiao shrugged and went back to scarfing his McDonald’s fries. He finally glanced at the old guy and stopped walking, squinted and said, “I think he’s looking for water.”

“In Central Park?”

Chiao shrugged again. “None of my business. Just another crazy New Yorker.” He kept walking, but Fong stopped to stare. He reached out and tugged her sleeve. “Don’t do that. He might be a mugger.”

“I don’t think some old geezer can hurt me from, like, the middle of the park,” she said, laughing.

Suddenly the old man looked up. The dowsing rod plunged to the ground like he’d caught a hundred pound tuna. He shouted angrily then the ground fountained up into the air, throwing him back. Something large, dark and insubstantial – like oil smoke – spewed from the ground. A limb of the smoke speared the old man in the chest. He spasmed once, then lay still. The cloud slid across the grass and before it reached them; before they could move or even scream, Fong could see that the grass beneath it curled into brown deadness.

Chiao said, “I think we should get...”

The oily smoke...

Names: and ♂ China                                

May 14, 2017

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Laughing Aliens and Dragons

Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in August 2016 (to which I was invited and had a friend pay my membership! [Thanks, Paul!] but was unable to go (until I retire from education)), 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 #2600. The link is provided below…

Truly, Madly, Funny: SF That Makes Us Smile: Although the humorous SF or fantasy story is often said to be a rarity, there are numerous authors who write funny tales all of kinds. Living post-Pratchett, where can you go for your humor requirements, and what makes us laugh?

Alex Shvartsman –  A person I “met” in the CODEX Online Writers Group I’m a member of and editor of (oddly!) UFO Magazine – Unidentified Funny Objects
David Gerrold (M) – Author of THE funniest Star Trek ever: “The Trouble with Tribbles”!
Connie Willis – Award-winning SF writer also has a keen and sharp wit – to say nothing of the dog…
Tina Connolly – Also a person I also “met” in the CODEX Online Writers Group I’m a member of and writer of several YA fantasies.
Cynthia Ward – speculative fiction writer and editor/owner of Market Maven…and co-author of an incredibly serious book with Nisi Shaw, WRITING THE OTHER.

By now, I hope you know that I enjoy laughing. I can also make other people laugh. F course, one of the most humorous science fiction writers left us with THE HITCHHIKERS’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. Another funny fantasy writer left us with THE DISCWORLD books. These two writers are world-renowned for their sense of humor in their writing.

I’ve read the entire Hitchhiker series at one go (several weeks, but without a break). I’ve only read one of the DISCWORLD books. Of current authors, I loved Scalzi’s REDSHIRTS, and Willis’ TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG. Unlisted is Spider Robinson’s CALLAHAN’S series (which I love) and Wrede’s DEALING WITH DRAGONS books; Robert Lynn Aspirin’s PHULE’S Company series; Harry Harrison’s STAINLESS STEEL RAT stories; Lois McMaster Bujold’s VORKOSIGAN saga and Jonathan Stroud’s amazing BARTIMAEUS books.

I know what science fiction and fantasy humor looks like and I like reading it.

But…I haven’t figured out how to WRITE funny.

This would have been a great panel to sit in on. The question I would have asked is if you can “write” funny and not “be” funny…and conversely, can you “be” funny but unable to “write” funny. I’m a funny person. I have been making people laugh for years. I’ve tried writing a few things with a sense of humor – I guess “The Penguin Whisperer” (CRICKET Magazine, January 2013) had a bit of humor in it, but I didn’t try to write it funny – it’s just that penguins can’t help but be funny…and the two kids’ interactions with them, while serious, also had a humorous aspect to them as well. An ANALOG story I wrote that was a takeoff on Clifford D. Simak’s WAYSTATION novel…though almost no one else got it, the editor did!

So then, what are the essential elements of humorous writing?

I own and have read three times Mel Herlitzer’s COMEDY WRITING SECRETS (http://time.com/44168/how-to-be-funny-the-six-essential-ingredients-to-humor/) in which he points out that there are six essentials: target, hostility, realism, exaggeration, emotion, and surprise.

A different article has this to say regarding the elements of humor: (https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-essential-elements-of-comedy) superiority, revelation, incongruous, observational, and imitation  

Another one: (http://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2007/07/writing-funny.html) simple sentences, about PEOPLE, visual, leave room for imagination, use funny words, animal analogies, exaggerate, near-logic, come back to the first funny thing you wrote.

Four: (http://www.writersdigest.com/qp7-migration-writers-digest-conference/comedy-writing-secrets-excerpt) says imagination & creativity, call attention to yourself, this article quotes the world-famous humorist, Erma Bombeck, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”; consistency, and targeted material.

Last: (https://hubpages.com/education/a-few-essential-points-on-the-elements-of-comedy) machine malfunction when a person is working, the person malfunctions while the machine is working; timing, misleading cues, out-and-out trickery (this has to do with timing and letting someone THINK they know the answer then saying something else; make your reader WORK a bit for the humor.

So I’ve quoted five websites directing how to write humor. Are there any commonalities?

machine malfunction when a person is working
the person malfunctions while the machine is working
timing (2x)
misleading cues
out-and-out trickery
imagination (2x)
creativity
call attention to yourself
consistency
targeted (2x)
simple sentences
about PEOPLE
visual
use funny words
animal analogies
exaggerate (2x)
near-logic
come back to the first funny thing you wrote
superiority
revelation
incongruous
observational
imitation
hostility
realism
emotion
surprise

Hmmm…not a good list because there are like 20 things you’re supposed to do. Layer on top of that the fact that you’re using an unfamiliar background (science fiction and fantasy) and you can eliminate some of these:

timing (2x)
out-and-out trickery
creativity
consistency
simple sentences
PEOPLE
visual
exaggerate (2x)
observational
hostility
emotion
surprise

OK…so that’s a bit simpler to work with. I dropped some of the factors from the first lists because when you’re doing science fiction, it’s not about “me” per se. The first two things give me some incredibly interesting ideas…some of the others I eliminated because they were oxymoronic – SF/F is creative and can’t, by definition be “realistic”. Everything in an SF world would be strange, so finding something incongruous would be difficult at best, same goes for misleading cues (in an alien space station, what would be misleading? Everything.) Funny words and animals…confusing because with aliens and their languages…they might be mistaken for animals and their language may ALL sound funny (Example: the farting language, Flatula in TREASURE PLANET. Brilliant, but evidence for my point.)

I’m going to be writing a story to send to Julie Czerneda’s anthology about a place in her immensely popular CLAN CHRONICLES series. There is a murder in it, but the two main characters are going to have a humorous relationship and will do “funny” things. I’m going to take what I’ve learned here and apply it there.

I’ll eventually let you know the outcome!

AFTERNOTE: B&N posted a blog entry about this very subject -- with several NEW authors and novels today! https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/6-space-operas-explore-comedic-side-cosmos/


May 11, 2017

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION -- Chapter 62

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. All three intelligences hover on the edge of extinction. The merger of Human-Kiiote-Yown’Hoo into a van der Walls Society might not only save all three – but become something not even they could predict. Something entirely new...

The young experimental Triads are made up of the smallest primate tribe of Humans – Oscar and Xiomara; 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)

“The Triads are ready to go finally. You’ve had everything you’ve ever needed to grow strong and smart. You’ve got skills in all kinds of areas among you all. It’s time for you to join up and start creating a new society.” I opened my mouth to protest, but my great uncle Rion took my arm and kept me moving forward as he said, “But you’re not going to do it today. We have to get up to Grendl before our next real move.”

“Oh, so between today and a hundred and twenty-two hours from now is nothing?” I asked.

He snorted. It was a realistic sound for someone who didn’t even breathe. “Hardly. Most likely it involves not only hiking, but more driving…”

“Not a bakery truck again!”

“No. More likely solar-powered four-wheelers. Maybe motorcycles.”

“How would the Yown’Hoo ride a motorcycle?” I said.

“Sidecars.” The idea of the Herd Mother stuffed into a car alongside me, Xio, Qap, or Xurf made me bust out laughing. My great uncle added, “I know. The very idea boggles the mind!” I kept laughing until my sides hurt and I had to lean against the cold, damp wall of the tunnel. I laughed so hard I cried. I don’t remember when I leaned against him or when he put his arm around me, but the next the next thing I knew his shoulder was wet and I was blubbering like an infant.

He didn’t say anything. Didn’t try and tell me it was all gonna be OK. He also wasn’t embarrassed and he didn’t tell me to “Be a man.” When I stood up on my own, I wiped my face on my sleeve and said hoarsely, “Let’s keep walking.” He nodded and set off into the dim tunnel. I fell into step beside him and pretty soon we’d established a matched stride and the meters started to disappear below us. We didn’t say anything for a long time until I asked, “You have internal guidance, right?”

“Yup.”

“You know how far we have to go and stuff, right?”

I nodded. “Can you tell me how far we have left to walk?”

“Yup.”

I rolled my eyes. He’d always had a thing about word order and semantics. Even when I was a little kid, he’d correct my phrases and force me to ask a question clearly and unambiguously. I hated it sometimes. Other times, I learned from it. Times like this, it was normal in a totally abnormal situation. “Please tell me how far we have to go.”

“Another kilometer will get us to within calling distance of the others.”

“You mean like we can use our cellphones?”

He snorted, “No. Literally ‘within calling distance’.” He picked up his pace, forcing me to do the same. I wanted to point out that while he was made of artificial muscle fibers over a carbon fiber skeleton slimmed down from the Human original model, I was all natural and I was starting to get tired.

“Let me know when we’re there and I call the group.”

“Right.”

We’d walked for another twenty minutes when he said, “OK – make your call.”

I shouted for Xio and we listened. Instead of her calling back, we heard a muffled mountain lion snarl. “What’s that?” I said.

He didn’t say a thing, instead he pressed me down so that I was hunched over like him. I heard, “Run light and fast.” He took off and I followed, not sure if I’d heard him speak or not. I knew what he wanted, but for a moment I would have sworn I heard him in my head rather than with my ears.

Not long after we started, he slowed just as we saw a faint white light ahead, though it was brighter than the glowing slime. He hugged the wall and crouched lower, so I did, too. When I could just see the shadow cast by GURion’s legs, he stopped. Again, I heard his voice. This time I was sure it was in my head as he said, “You dive to the floor, I’ll jump.”

He charged ahead. I followed. We came into the light. I fell to the floor, he leaped, and as he did, his arm peeled back, the fingers disappearing, , replaced by a tube. Something like a lion or tiger, or panther stood upright, one paw wrapped around Qap’s neck. The creature – an alien – was roaring, but not like an animal. The sounds had the rhythm and purposeful cohesion of langue.

Qap snarled back, barely able to speak because of the pressure on his throat. The lion-creature snarled and threw him across the room, bowling over the rest of the Pack, which huddled – no, cowered was a better word – they cowered in a corner as far from the lion thing as they could get.

The lion roared, a deafening sound in the small space and leaped at GURion. Without hesitation, his arm glowed, hissed, and the thing vanished, howling like a banshee. “The hell was that?” I think I said. After a moment of thought, I realized I hadn’t spoken out loud. I repeated myself – not for GURion, but for everyone else.

Shay stepped from around a corner and said, “No idea. It was waiting for us when we got here.”

“Humans call them ‘conjures’ – it’s the most apt term in English, Chinese, and Bengali. They’re creatures who are…pressed out of coherent matter. If you were to cut one open, it would have no organs and there would be no differentiation inside, but they are living – in a sort of…virus way. They’re easy to make but are only good for a few things – they originated on Kii.” GURion said, turning to the Pack. They seemed to sink to the floor and I recognized suddenly the scent of Kiiote fear.

Xurf straightened himself into humanoid shape, shaking out his arms, then straightened himself as much as a Kiiote could and said, “These are the demons of a shameful past, we believe they are sent to torture our minds. A Human analogy would be the chemical Agent Orange you used during one of your violent tribal conflicts or the chlorine gas of another.” He paused a long time before he said, “We had no idea they had come to Earth.” He hung his head.

Qap had stretched into humanoid form as well and she stepped next to him and said faintly, “We are more than sorry. Much, much more than sorry. We are, as a people, ashamed. We have poisoned your world with these demons…”


May 9, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 304

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.



Iceflame swooped down on the forces of the Jade King. The United Warmachine was a pathetic, patched together conglomeration of cavalry, siege machines, motorized tanks, and flyers. He gathered a breath to let loose a searing blast. A geometric kaleidoscope sprang to life before him. Before he could back wing, the kaleidoscope grabbed him and violently twisted him into a place he couldn’t understand at first.

From his belly, Durdleslip said, “What the hell’s going on out there? Your guts clenched up so tight I thought I was back in the constrictor!”

“I’m…” Iceflame stammered then closed his mouth. He hadn’t uttered a sound anywhere but in his mind. He couldn’t hear anything at all. I thought, “Space. We’re in space.”

Durdleslip squirm and felt Iceflame’s stomach surge, saying “No one can hear you scream, my host.”

“Shut up,” thought Iceflame.

“Let me see what you see!”

Iceflame shuddered and Durdleslip could see. If he breathed, he’d have gasped. Instead, he turned into a tumescent corkscrew, thinking, “Turn it off! Turn it off!”

Iceflame didn’t, amazed by the sight of the blue and white swathed, compressed octahedron spinning slowly below him. Continents visible through the clouds were normal, rough-edged. He reached out to hold the strange, living world between his claws.

“Turn it off!” Durdleslip wailed. There was a pause, then “Spikes!”

Pain lanced – literally – through Iceflame’s guts. He screamed in silence then tumbled into a fall.

By the time a rescue shuttle rapidly detached itself from a ramshackle, castle-like space station orbiting Tetra World, Iceflame was unconscious…

Names: Artificial names

May 7, 2017

WRITING ADVICE: Can This Story Be SAVED? #13 “Small Battles” (Submitted 9 Times Since 2014, Revised 1 time)

In 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:
Laughter is universal, though HUMOR is not – can learning to laugh together avert all-out war?

Elevator Pitch (What Did I Think I Was Trying To Say?)
The alien WheetAH are descended from mobile plants; Humans from tiny mammals. When war is imminent between the only two sophonts in our part of the galaxy and based on uncountable numbers of misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and outright incomprehension – can anything be done by anyone to stop it?

Opening Line:
“‘The literature supports slowing natural growth when WheetAH are anywhere off Wheet,’ said Martin Hardy.” (WOW! There’s a gripping beginning! Can you even wait to read the rest of the story???)

Onward:
“When had their friendship stopped being fun? ‘When the governments stuck their slimy noses in it,’ he answered his own question. When their co-authored literature review and speculation caught the eye of the Human and WheetAH military looking for a reason to accelerate their arsenals – or keep the other side from figuring out how to build theirs up.” This is an awfully obscure block of text – though it’s masquerading as something important. It doesn’t even “do it” for me…and I wrote it.

“Puffing, he headed for their usual watering hole, The Dirt-n-Drink, along cobblestone and lichen pathways. Beyond the edge of the campus, an old warehouse had been turned into an alcohol and sludgee bar for Human college students and analeptic-laced root boxes and a cheap selection of insects and rodents for WheetAh college students. Along with free stellarnet, The DnD exerted an inexorable force few undergrads of either Kingdom could resist” OK – THIS is somewhat interesting and I go on from here, but this doesn’t arrive until page three.

Page four is where the story starts: “He had a message. From Groan. He stared at the icon for five minutes debating whether or not to open it. A second message popped up as he watched. He swiped that one, and her image said, ‘I saw you come in. I’m in the back of the sunny side. Think you should get here fast. Trouble.’”

Trouble. That’s where the story AWLAYS has to start. Mine doesn’t…and in a moment, I’ll share with you a comment from one of the editors who rejected it.

What Was I Trying To Say?
I want to explore commonalities and differences and how war – and in the current political climate – folding our arms over our chests or breasts and intoning, “You can’t make me!” – will neither solve any problem whatsoever. We have to LISTEN. Listening and open discussion is the only way to avert war; it’s the only way to get things done. It seems that the current belief of Humanity is that the only way anything can be done is by shouting louder than the other party/candidate/country.

I am trying to say we have to talk, and perhaps the language of humor, explored with compassion and intelligence, might lead to understanding.

The Rest of the Story:
It can be summed up right here, from page twenty-two:

“‘They’ll need us when whatever plan the authorities tries fails miserably.’
“‘Why would they fail?’
“Groanhootpeefei said, ‘Because they don’t understand each other like we understand each other.’
“‘We understand each other?’ Martin said.
“‘Well enough to make a dynamite comedy couple.’ She spun up the ramp.
“Martin followed as the door pixelated after identifying them, and said, ‘We did, after all, win the comedy contest.’

End Analysis:
“‘What say we start a new group on campus – give the Comedy Club a little competition?’
“‘We could call it the Inter-Kingdom Philosophy, Religion, and Comedy League; and before you ask, our mission statement will point out that you can’t make people laugh until you understand them. To understand them you need to know everything about them – not just how they talk, act and reproduce,” Martin added, Ick Prickle.’
“‘Excuse me?’
“‘The I-K-P-R-C-L – Ick Prickle,’ Martin said, nodding but lifting his arms half-way up in an approximation of a WheetAh raising their head fans. ‘Good idea. We can get started when we have our proposal written up.’
“Groanhootpeefei sounded like bending timber as the door slid down behind them and she said, ‘We’ve got two weeks. Maybe we can find some of that coffee Barby was talking about and take our time writing the proposal. It’s got to be a real killer if we want the Committee to give us the grant.””

This is a good ending, but as the editor of PERIHELION noted: “I was expecting more dramatic tension.” I imply impending war, but never make it clear. Another editor said it was too long – though he liked the idea.

Can This Story Be Saved?
Yeah – but I need to re-write it from top to bottom; make it along the lines of Poul Anderson’s “Wings of Victory” that takes place against the background of impending war between Humans and the Ythrians. I don’t know if that would work. OTOH, I love this world and the characters. I want it to succeed, so I guess…I’ll do it. The name, however, may change…