November 19, 2019


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.

Ngozi Adeyemi sighed and sat back from the scanning electron microscope. She said, “This machine…”

Ibrahim Eto'o Fils held up one hand, then lowered it, knowing it might be offensive as he said, “I know. It’s ancient. I’d rather have a QTM. But the Chinese aren’t exactly handing them out to West African disease researchers.”

She shook her head. “I was educated in England, worked for seven years at the CDC in Atlanta, and chaired the International Society for Infectious Diseases for six years. I’m not just a ‘disease researcher’!”

Ibrahim held up both hands in defense. “You won’t get any argument from me, Doctor Adeyemi. It’s been a privilege working…”

Ngozi brushed him away, “Save the flattery for someone who’ll believe it. You’re as skilled as I am and you’ve been here longer. We have work to do – and two of us may be the only ones who can accomplish it.” She paused. “When we finally tracked down the initial outbreak of the AIDS virus; and finally eradicated Ebola, we got cocky.”

“We didn’t,” Ibrahim said as he settled onto his lab chair. Another wave of his hand and his virtual computer screen materialized over the lab bench. “We know what we’re dealing with here. Climate change cooled Sahara and brought rain it hasn’t seen for over a thousand years. We’re afraid it’s also reactivated extinct pathogens.”

Ngozi sighed. “That’s why I came home. There’s something going on up north – it feels like a disaster waiting to happen. But there’s no proof,” she gestured at the SEM. “We’ll never get it if we have to work with stone knives and bear skins!”

Ibrahim grinned, “Thank you so much, doctor! These are the tools I used to earn my doctorate!”

Ngozi let herself lean forward until her forehead rested on the microscope’s control panel. “No offense intended, Doctor Eto’o Fils. It just frustrates me. We conquered hundreds of diseases with tools less complex than this, but I’m less afraid of disease than I am of attitude.”

Ibrahim puffed a laugh and said, “We thought we had climate change under control – and then it flipped from warming trends to cooling trends and wild solar weather.”

“We can’t control attitudes the way we can control viruses and bacteria – a few antivirals here and a vaccination campaign there. It’s this damnable community attitude.”

“That’s why I came back to Lago. So many western doctors think curing the common cold by fighting it with a molecule-evolving mutation smart drug signified that they’d claimed the Grail.”

“Monty Python and the Holy,” Ngozi said.

“I take it you experienced the movie?”

She sat up and gave him a sad grin, “With both English and American friends. You’d be startled how different their responses are.”

“How so?”

She shrugged, “I can’t quantify it. The movie was identical, but the two groups of people – all who’d seen it dozens of times – laughed at totally different places and repeated totally different lines. And I  laughed at different times from both of them! It was embarrassing both times!”

Ibrahim sighed. “We need to get back to work. I’ll get back online and see if can’t at least get a virtual QTM to work for us.”

She called up the next slide and got to work, muttering, “If we can’t beat this now, it’s going to go global in ten months.”

He shot her a look and added an emphatic plea to his email just before he sent it.

Names: Nigeria; ♂ Cameroon     

November 17, 2019

WRITING ADVICE: Leaving My Mark On the World #1 – What Mark Do I Want To Leave On the World?

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”.

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!

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to write on this morning. I had a bunch of scattered thoughts, but then found myself drawn to my own advice – the posts I’ve made that I kind of clumped together into the “What Went Right With…” essays.

The published pieces cover decades of writing – the earliest published piece (that wasn’t a sort of shot-in-the-dark like a piece I wrote for a local student magazine called LITTLE BIT when I was seventeen) is from the June 2000 issue of ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact.

Then there was “bit” of a lull that included an acceptance from a magazine called ANTITHESIS that folded before they were able to publish it…the story was called “Dogie” and while I still have a typewritten copy, it’s far from publishable in any sort of pro market.

As for the others, if you look left and scroll down to Professional Publishing Credits, you’ll find a list of those stories that have found homes. Under that you can find stories that are still available online or that I’ve posted on an adjunct to my regular blog called The Work and Worksheets of Guy Stewart (

So, as illustrated over there, I’ve had forty-one stories published; I’ve commented on eighteen of them, poring over what I thought made them successful sales. Some have garnered positive reviews online; one got a “review” in the form of a fan letter! I’ve even thought about collecting and self-publishing all of my YA/children’s science fiction in one place; and I’d probably do both published and unpublished work. Of the stuff over there, most of them are stories with adults as main characters.

What I’d like to do is begin to distill my own “wisdom”; at least distill my own experiences and reflections as I try to not only duplicate what I did to get published, but to figure out if there are themes in my writing. I’ll start with what I seem to have done right in my published stories.

The first thing I notice is that every story has something of me in it. That seems obvious as I’m the one who wrote it; but what I MEAN is that every story has something I’ve wrestled with as a person – either a young person or an adult.

For example, my most recent story, “Kamsahamnida, America” deals with aging, self-image, and self-confidence. Larry Henry (besides my envisioning him as a black man, but that’s beside the point) is a “…bitter, sarcastic, old man with no descendants whatsoever…” While I have descendants (two NextGen; three grand) I have been known to be bitter and sarcastic. And I’m competitive. Maybe not as much as Larry, but I absolutely worry about the legacy I’ll leave when I die. Larry goes to the Moon in a new space race sparked by the South Koreans landing a human on the Far Side of the Moon, hoping to create a legacy…

Let’s go back farther: “Fairy Bones”. A bitter, sarcastic old woman wonders about the legacy she’ll leave behind after she dies. When she – with the help of a deeply sarcastic teenage grandson – discovers fairy bones in owl pellets…

“Mystery on Space Station Courage” in which a young girl (the artist envisioned her as black and while startled, I was delighted!) struggles with the death of a friend and how to move forward without becoming (from the viewpoint of an adult, so she doesn’t THINK of this) sarcastic and bitter…

In “A Woman’s Place”, a sarcastic and bitter ex-husband goes into danger, forcing his ex-wife, whom he must work with, to rescue him – and become a mythic figure in a series of stories and a novels I’m writing.

Are you sensing a pattern here?

Better still, are you seeing what I’m seeing? My characters struggle with the kind of legacy they’ll leave behind once they are gone. The fact is that, I not only struggle with that myself, I intentionally direct my students to the same issue. Dozens, maybe even hundreds of times, I point to a small “handprint” I have pinned to a bulletin board in my office with an image similar to the new icon above, but simpler. (I may take a picture of the one in my office, so we'll see!) and I ask the student, “What kind of mark do YOU want to leave on the world?”

I ask this of myself, I ask it of the rest of the world. Because the issue is relevant to me, it leaks into my stories; because it’s an important issue, its importance lends import to the story. Others wonder the same thing, and so, (perhaps) that’s why my stories started to sell when I finally figured out what drove me.

References: (my catalogued stories at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database) http://

November 12, 2019


Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc.) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

H Trope: Spiders

Nanami Ng stared down at the steering wheel of her Driver’s Training car and said, “I heard like, all of these cars got recalled.”
The driver’s trainer, Marcus, looked up from his tablet computer and said, “What?”

Lan Cai leaned forward from the back seat, sticking his head between them. “Wasn’t it spiders or something?”

“What?” Marcus exclaimed.

Lan turned to Nanami and said, “Yeah. They were like sucking all the gasoline out of some car – like wasn’t it a BMW or something?”

Nanami said, “Mazda, and they didn’t drink gasoline. That would be stupid.”

“What would you know about stupid? You can’t even pass the bio test without writing the answers on your hand.”

Nanami blushed deeply, though mostly just her ears turned red. Marcus said, “Get driving! We don’t have time to waste on stupid Halloween stories.”

“It wasn’t a Halloween story! It was real?”

Lan turned to look at Marcus and said, “Hey, Nanami might not be able to test herself out of a paper bag, but...”

Both of them pushed him back into the back seat and Marcus said, “Your opinion stinks as bad as your breath.”

Nanami laughed as she pulled with jerky pedal pumping out from in front of the school. Marcus said, “You haven’t spent much time practicing, have you Nanami?”

“My dad won’t drive with me! Our car was in the garage! The battery was dead! I was so busy with school!”

From the back seat, Lan sat with his arms crossed over his chest. He muttered, “More like you were too busy lip-locked with the bf.”

“You’re just jealous!” Nanami shot over her shoulder. The car screeched to a stop just before she ran over four ninth grade girls. “I didn’t hit the brakes!” she shouted.

“Good thing I was watching, then, wasn’t it?” Marcus said, making a mark on his clipboard. “That’s the second time this week I had to use the brake. One more time and you’ll have to take a two week break and then start all over again.”

“That’s not fair!” Nanami and Lan exclaimed together.

Marcus looked back over the seat at Lan, then across at Nanami. He said, “I don’t make the rules. I just enforce them. If you two want to file a grievance, start talking to the camera.” He gestured to a spot just above the read-view mirror. A red dot glowed there, recording their words and actions.

Scowling, Nanami edged ahead slowly as a car behind them laid on their horn. She got out to the side road and drove to the stop sign, rolling slowly to a halt. The car behind them honked again. She opened her mouth to comment, then closed it, rolling forward. She was driving past the playground, suddenly tense as a couple of little kids playing on the swings jumped off and started chasing each other. The kids ran toward the houses, away from the road and she was so busy watching them that she didn’t see the car stop at the light. Marcus slammed on the car’s brakes. “That’s it,” he said. “Let’s go back.”

Nanami looked at him and despite the car behind them that started honking. She stuck her fist out the window, flipped them off and then stomped on the brake, then kept stomping on it as she shouted, “Just practicing! Practicing stopping! See! I’m practicing.” She stomped harder and harder, screaming. “Practice! Practice! Practice!”

“Calm down!” Marcus said. A sizzling sound came from the dashboard, like something was on fire.

“Sounds like squirrels are in the engine,” Nanami said.

All three of them were staring at the dashboard when the ashtray popped  open and a dozen red spiders came out, followed by more and more and...

Names: ♀Japan, Singapore; ♂ Vietnam, Taiwan

November 10, 2019

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Me, “A Pig Tale”, and My Father’s Alzheimer’s – An Unexpected Sygyzy

NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (to which I be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I would jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. But not today. This explanation is reserved for when I dash “off topic”, sometimes reviewing movies, sometimes reviewing books, and other times taking up the spirit of a blog an old friend of mine used to keep called THE RANTING ROOM…

I don't usually write things that can easily be cross posted between my two blogs -- Guys Gotta Talk... and Possibly Irritating Essays (maybe one other?), but it happened this time. The two parts of my life coincided and so here you go...

A study published by the National Institute on Aging, indicates that recent research identified a gene in a huge family that codes for early onset Alzheimer’s. A woman from a family whose “genetic data from a Colombian family with more than 6,000 living members”…found that those “who carry a rare gene mutation called Presenilin 1 (PSEN1) E280A, have a 99.9% risk of developing early-onset Alzheimer's disease.”

While this is one of those “sad-but-true” stories, the woman in question didn’t develop Alzheimer’s symptoms until she was in her seventies. Sad again, and true…BUT…the members of her family who had the odd gene combination without exception developed Alzheimer’s symptoms WHEN THEY WERE IN THEIR FORTIES.

It's a rare condition, and again, sad-but-true; but the research team didn’t let the story lie. They tested her and found that where you and I and all the rest of the humans in her family had a single gene called APOE3 Christchurch (APOE3ch) gene variant she also had two copies of it. She was the only one – and she was the only one who didn’t have early onset.

What does this “magical gene” do? According to the study (gibberish first, then I’ll translate the doctors) “…the APOE3ch variant may reduce the ability of APOE to bind to certain sugars called heparan sulphate proteoglycans (HSPG). APOE binding to HSPG has been implicated as one mechanism that may contribute to the amyloid and tau protein deposits that destroy the brain.”

First, APOE stands for APOlipoprotEin. The “lipo” part means “fat”. That’s the middle of this thing. It is a protein associating with lipid particles, that mainly helps with the transport of fat between organs blood plasma and liquids between cells called “interstitial” (just a fancy word for “the place in between”). It’s a very important component of blood plasma and it’s involved in fat production, conversion and clearance. All food things. The problem comes when APOE accidentally hooks up with sugars called heparan sulphate proteoglycans (HSPG). The research seems to point to this hook up as suddenly stopping the APOE from moving the fats around and instead helping to form plaques and tangle deposits you read about that eventually destroy the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient.

OK – all that is said and done. You maybe understand this line of research better.

At any rate, on to an eerie happening in my own life.

I had a science fiction story published in ANALOG about 20 years ago called, “A Pig Tale”. In it, my main character is experiencing a crisis – but she doesn’t realize that her father is as well.

In a really strange turn of events, I wrote this story long before my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; even longer before I found out about it and became the secondary caregiver for both Mom and Dad (they were in an assisted living facility, then moved into Memory Care); I was the contact, transportation, and eventually the one who arranged Dad’s funeral when he died a few years later than Mom, and pretty much a different man than he was before Alzheimer’s began to whittle away the personality that defined him.

So, if you’d like to read the story, the link is below. If not, that’s fine. But I’ve been thinking about doing another story set at the same time; different character (maybe), but take a look at the issue from “the other side”, after making my way through the experience my parents had.

Who knew that the fictional drug in my story was going to be the object of a billion-dollar search.

November 5, 2019


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.

Somokene shielded his eyes from the blood-red dome of the Sun as it set and said, “The new star does not fade with day. You know what that means.”

Squatting on the bare, rounded boulder, Bardinanda sniffed the air and said, “Yes. It means you need to bathe.”

Somokene shook his head, “Be serious, Sister!”

“I am always serious, Servicer.”

He squatted as well in the lee of the boulder. A cold wind blew from the south, off of the glacier wall that fenced the entire equator of the World in. It was impossible to go farther north or south without paying the exorbitant fees of the Ice Lords. He said, “It means that the end is nigh.”

This time Bardinanda laughed outright. “Which end is this, brother?”

“You know as well as I do.”

“But I love to hear you say it. It makes me appreciate history.”

He sighed as he unfolded a heat cloth and anchored the four corners with the plutonium disks he carried. They had decayed to inertness and he had carved and polished the ancient reactor core slices himself. Incised on the surface were his logograph and Bardinanda’s. He tapped the cloth and it glowed red. He held out his hand and a moment later, she placed the aquapon gently in it. Far heavier than it looked, it was a gate into their food trough hidden on the other side of the World in Uluru. He set it on the cloth and said, “This is the one thousand, four hundred and sixty-ninth End Time; one million, three hundred and ninety-six thousand, four hundred and twenty-first Year since the founding of Human civilization.”

Bardinanda sighed and slithered down the boulder, flat, splayed feet gripping the rough surface. Patting Somokene’s bare head, she said, “You know that despite the fact that Endless Ending is a tenet of your faith, eventually it will be the Last End Time.”

“There is a sect that believes that, yes. I don’t belong to it, but I have studied it.”

She nodded, running slender fingers over the sensitive skin of his head. They both shuddered. Nodding, she turned her back on the setting Sun and said softly, “Then perhaps you are the best one to judge me when I say that I believe the Last End Time has come upon us and I am the Harbinger and you are my Prophet.”

Names: South American (Barbara, Diane, Fernanda); Chewa/Igbo

November 3, 2019

WRITING ADVICE – Lisa Cron #12: Always Something At Stake Forcing Your Character to DO Something, ANYTHING!

In 2008, 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. To learn more – and to satisfy my natural tendency to “teach stuff”, I started a series of essays taking the wisdom of published writers and then applying each “nugget of wisdom” to my own writing. During the six years that followed, I used the advice of a number of published writers (with their permission) and then applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda to an analysis of my own writing. Together these people write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Today I add to that list, Lisa Cron who has worked as a literary agent, TV producer, and story consultant for Warner Brothers, the William Morris Agency, and others. She is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences, and a story coach for writers, educators, and journalists. Again, with permission, I am using her article, “A Reader’s Manifesto: 15 Hardwired Expectations Every Reader Has for Every Story” (2/16/18

Point number twelve from the article linked above, is that “the reader expects that there will be something crucial at stake in every scene, continually forcing the protagonist’s hand.”

“…everything that happens…challenge[s]…the pursuit of her goal…every single scene – including subplots — [is] part of the plot problem’s cause-and-effect trajectory…in every scene…something integral to the protagonist’s quest [has] to be at stake…forcing her to make a hard choice…[in order to] change…how she sees things…forc[ing]…[her]…to struggle internally…cost her emotionally…learn[ing] as a result…chang[ing] her…[and] alter[ing] her plan[s].”

Yep, that’s a summary of the step, but I’m going to use it as a tool, so I had to make it and “active” tool because I’m going to use it on a story that I love but have been unable to sell.

In the story, “Weather Witch and Mole Man”, Larry Vyett, the Weather Witch of Palmer Station, and to begin with, his “goal” is to run away from the town and his job. I know, it’s an old, old story, probably with roots in Twain’s first historical novel, THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER; though likely even older than that. The question here as I wrote the story, is that it was never clear.

When Larry Vyett and Sami Skipper finally get down to the important question, I’m SEVENTEEN pages into a twenty-nine page story:

“You’re happy with what you do here?”

Ouch. Not fair, but I said, “I’m not happy, but Mom made a commitment to stay and I kept her promise as long as I could.”

“Your mom is dead. She wouldn’t know if you left or if you stayed,” she said. When I turned to snarl at her, both her hands were up. “My dad is dead, too. It’s my choice to carry on his job.”

I shook my head, “This isn’t my choice, though. I don’t have to come back. I don’t know if I want to come back.”

“You just said…”

“I don’t know what I want to do!” I couldn’t help it. I was mad. At Mom for raising me here and then making me stay. At Palmer Lake for expecting me to keep doing what Mom did and for never telling her that they appreciated her. At Sami for showing up. At myself for not being able to make a simple decision. “I want to see what the Companion is up to.” I jerked my chin up, “I’m going up to send out boonose and see if I can make the spysat do what I want it to.”

This is all fine as motivation, but I haven’t set up any kind of real problem for him to overcome. Cron used an interesting word here, “quest” when she noted, “…something integral to the protagonist’s quest [has] to be at stake…”

The definition of a quest is, “a long search for something that is difficult to find, or an attempt to achieve something difficult; [examples] “Nothing will stop them in their quest for truth.”; “She went to India on a spiritual quest.”; “She does aerobics four times a week in her quest to achieve the perfect body.”

It’s not a trivial word. It’s not just a vague disgruntlement with life in general. It’s specific. Like the “Quest For The Holy Grail” or the Indiana Jones movies (, the main character should have strong feelings and be driven to do something antithetical to the direction his or her life has taken up to that point.

I suppose – I just realized this! – that the story should begin at a profound ethical decision being forced on the main character by circumstances. The quest is a long search for something difficult to find. In “Weather Witch and Mole Man” – which is a great title! – I have Larry and Sami become buddies in the span of a very few pages. I can’t make his life that easy. They have to fight and struggle and MAYBE come to some kind of common ground.

In fact, that’s exactly what I did in “Road Veterinarian” – again though, it happened too fast. Stories that get awards (the popular one, like to Hugo) oftentimes present a totally new idea in an entertaining way. DUNE by Frank Herbert has been called the most popular SF novel of all time. Greg Bear’s “Blood Music” looked seriously at the advent of nanomachines used for medical purposes. Even FRANKENSTEIN or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelly, the parent of science fiction, had at its foundation a profound concern about how electricity might be used to unravel the moral foundation of humanity by allowing almost anyone to “create a human” by stitching together parts of dead people and reanimating them by electricity; which itself came from experiments done “in the middle of the 18th Century” (approximately 1750, though there is a woodcut from 1780 showing the set up), experiments with something called “medical electricity” (, that caused the limbs of dead animals to jump at the touch of a battery current. Shelly’s FRANKENSTEIN was published in 1818 following, it notes here, a sort of “ghost story competition” (

At any rate, “a quest” is what should drive EVERY story. How does my writing stack up to that? It doesn’t at all in “Weather Witch and Mole Man”. Maybe in “Kamsahamnida, America”; it’s been a while since I read any of my stories, but after starting “A Pig Tale” (my first short story sale to ANALOG), I can see why Stan Schmidt liked it. It started very strong: “Damp, cool air carried the words clearly. Rachel Sheffield said, ‘We’re splitting, Dad. I know you don’t like it, but…’”

Clear conflict; she’s getting a divorce; then her dad tries to kill himself; then she illegally uses an experimental drug on him…her hand is forced along by choices all the way. “The Last Mayan Aristocrat” starts strong – even the title hints at high stakes, and the first sentence carries it through subtly, without smacking the reader in the face: “She knew it was going to be a bad day when Kish, the last high priest of the Maya, was already on his step, panting, waiting for her.”

What about stories in submission? “May They Rest” and the “Panhandlers”:

“Tiviifei Jones straightened, no longer leaning on his cane as the gMod platform sank to the ground. The Human Cemetery and Memorial was still, cool, Earth green, and vast. A final resting place for ten thousand, four hundred, and eighty-two Weldon colonists slaughtered by invading aliens.”

“My sixth Side-By-Side Partner Ride saluted one of the panhandlers standing on the intersection island and said, ‘You became a teacher to “help people”?’ He guffawed. ‘I could name a thousand things that would have been a smarter move than that!’”

OK – I’m pretty satisfied. “May They Rest” is in a style similar to that of Clifford D. Simak, a fellow Minnesotan. As a young adult, I’d dreamed of one day driving out to his home and introducing myself. I was crushed when he passed away in 1988, less than a year after my wife and I got married. All that time, wasted…Stan Schmidt agreed that it was in a style similar to Simak’s, what I eventually discovered was called “pastoral speculative fiction”. “Panhandlers” hinted at the conflict, though it wasn’t specific. Of the two, I think “May They Rest” had the stronger beginning; it also deals with anger, abandonment, and end-of-life issues (like “A Pig Tale” did.)

So, maybe I have learned this lesson. Only time (and editorial response!) will tell.

October 29, 2019


(Sorry this is late -- on Wednesday, I was in charge of coordinating the administration of a whole-grade, standardized test called the PSAT. I was a bit busy on Tuesday!) 

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: “The Chronocops travel in time to catch a Bad Guy who escaped into some other era.”

Bolormaa Teuku scowled at her physics partner, “What do you mean when you ask, ‘Could we travel so fast that we’d start to slide back in time?’”

“We’re supposed to brainstorm, not beat up every idea someone throws out,” said Rayyan Batkhuyag. “The point is to ask questions that may not have immediate answers.”

“Yeah, but the questions have to make sense!”

Rayyan used the vernier jets on his EVA suit to gently turn until he faced the Sun. It loomed giant in space. In the previous century, he would never have been able to do anything like this. But his suit was unlike anything else in the Solar System – except for the rest of the team on the Gravity Well Mission. “You think floating around in mirror suits less than sixty million kilometers from the sun makes any sense?”

Bolormaa grunted as she turned in the same direction. “I see your point.”

“So then – my question: could acceleration reach a point where we would actually go back in time?”

“That’s so very…STAR TREK of you.”

“Right, right, I know. I don’t mean we fly some tiny tin can into the well then yank it out.”

“What do you mean?”

Gravitational redshift follows on from the equivalence principle that underlies general relativity. The downward force felt by someone in a lift could be equally due to an upward acceleration of the lift or to gravity. Pulses of light sent upwards from a clock on the lift floor will be Doppler shifted, or redshifted, when the lift is accelerating upwards, meaning that this clock will appear to tick more slowly when its flashes are compared at the ceiling of the lift to another clock. Because there is no way to tell gravity and acceleration apart, the same will hold true in a gravitational field; in other words the greater the gravitational pull experienced by a clock, or the closer it is to a massive body, the more slowly it will tick.”


“The Doppler effect goes both ways. We’ve been stuck on the red-shift end of the EM spectrum – the effect that stretches out time making it appear to slow down to everyone around it. But we’ve never really looked at time and gravity the other way...”

Bolormaa turned to face Rayyan even though they couldn’t see each other. She finally said, “When an ambulance with a blaring horn is coming toward you, the wavelengths are shortened and we hear a higher pitch – with light it means that the waves are shorter, which means they’re blue.”

“They move faster. So – if we move slow enough, will be go back in time?”

They had continued to roll in space and as they turned to face away from the Sun, there was a brilliant flash of blue light. An instant later, two silvered bubbles floated toward them from the center of the flash…

Names: ♀ Mongolia, Malaysia; Malaysia, Mongolia

October 27, 2019

Elements of Cron and Korea #11: Where Do I Go NOW??? With The Korean Solar Expansion

I may  have mentioned that one of my goals is to increase my writing output, increase my publication rate, and increase the relevance of my writing. In my WRITING ADVICE column, I had started using an article my sister sent me by Lisa Cron. She has worked as a literary agent, TV producer, and story consultant for Warner Brothers, the William Morris Agency, and others. She is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences, and a story coach for writers, educators, and journalists. I am going to fuse the advice from her book WIRED FOR STORY with my recent trip to South Korea. Why? I made a discovery there. You’ll hear more about it in the future as I work to integrate what I’m learning from the book, the startling things I found in South Korea, and try and alter how I write in order to create characters that people will care about, characters that will speak the Truth, and characters that will clearly illustrate what I’m writing about.

“Remember when Luke has to drop the bomb into the small vent on the Death Star? The story writer faces a similar challenge of penetrating the brain of the reader. This book gives the blueprints.” – David Eagleman

OK – I haven’t written on this for a while, so I’m going to start speculating on a series of stories. I’m starting with a foundation from an essay I wrote on October 7, 2018:

1) South Koreans are “space crazy”. They have started their space program from the same “rock bottom” that the American space program started with.

2) As a rule, South Koreans love their history.

3) South Koreans are science and technology crazy.

4) South Koreans (as clearly as I could gather it), have flipped the American paradigm of a house being the dream home, and an apartment a “way station” on the way to a home. South Koreans have had to build vertically both because of the mountainous geography and the “soft” stone geology – mountains are “low” but cannot hold the foundation of any construction steady. The apartment is the Korean goal; homes are passe.

5) South Koreans are solidly rooted in a millennia-old culture.

6) Cheomsongmae is an ancient astronomical observatory that not only survived the southern advance of North Korea during the war, but is now a place Koreans visit. It has existed since roughly since 640 AD – about 1400 years.

7) South Korea is building at an incredible rate!

8) My son commented: “Koreans are aggressive drivers, but they’re not ANGRY drivers like Americans are.”

9) Ancient Korean “signature sticks” are now carved via a computer program.

10) A country with a population of 51 million (imagine the population of Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and the northern half of Texas…the area colloquially as Tornado Alley) squeezed into the southern half of Minnesota...South Korea has few murders, rape is unusual, and children can pretty much safely walk several blocks through a major city to school.

In addition, after reading Lisa Cron’s book, I extracted 52 key ideas that I needed to incorporate into my writing. That many ideas would be very difficult to work with and sometimes the concepts overlapped, so I compressed and rewrote until I had condensed them into 23 key elements to guide me as I write a story:

1)      Story is how a character reacts; to the plot which is what happens
2)      Grab reader, something is at stake on the first page
3)      WHY should they care?
4)      Every scene moves to the ANSWER and pacing is the time between moments of conflict
5)      Plot makes characters confront external & internal issues & CONFRONT THEIR INNER DEMONS
6)      Prose directly accesses character’s mind and what they want to happen
7)      Make us FEEL
8)     Character has ONE objective
9)      Start: character’s worldview is knocked down
10)  Arc: begins one way, ends another
11)   Character is action and anything they do makes things worse
12)  Poke the protagonist until they change, fling them into the fray
13)  Mislead don’t hide, lie, or keep secrets from your reader, or hide the road to the end, (CHARACTERS can do all of these), give information readers need to know
14)  Nothing CAN’T affect the arc
15)   Everything that can go wrong, should
16)  No one should every give up anything they aren’t forced to
17)   Challenges start small and end huge
18)  Threat should be active
19) Hero becomes one by doing something heroic
20)                        Anything that hints at being a pattern had better BE part of it Setup implies future action
21) Payoff has to be POSSIBLE
22) Subplots – MASH style – and mirroring subplots are cautionary tales, validation, or fresh perspectives
23)Keep track of each character’s version of reality

Integrating these two lists into a story produced the first of a series – who knows, maybe even a novel. While I have never met any of the Korean SF community, a friend of mine picked up a publication that’s an overview of that community. Maybe I’ll email one of the members and ask them to read my current story in ANALOG (

In “Kamsahamnida, America”, I’ve created the first block of a series I’ve been thinking about. This essay will be my first attempt at laying out the storyline. From another essay I wrote in September of this year, “In a story that will be in the November/December issue of ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact, “Kamsahamnida, America” (the first story in my Korean Solar Expansion (planned) series), I had a great deal of trouble writing the end of the story because I somehow got emotionally tied up in it.”

So, as I’ve done before, I’m going to use the two lists above to sketch out an action plan.

First of all, I can’t use the main character from the short story in ANALOG. I need to use other characters. HOWEVER, I need to find a main character who is “me”. Working as I do in a very diverse high school, I know I have no right to cultural appropriation. I can have OTHER characters who come from other cultures (cautious to NOT turn them into stereotypes), but I have to see the story through my own culture. The first story was easy because the main character was me.

Now I need a new character, and I think I’m going to use a combination of my grandson, granddaughter, daughter-in-law, and son…

Japheth (“Call me Jay – NOT JC…”), one of the sons of Noah will be his first name. Their last name doesn’t have an ethnic origin I could find, so after poking around, it will be Karsten. Clementine will be his middle name (no end of teasing, but his mom wanted it and he wasn’t a girl, so there you go.) He grew up in South Korea, going to schools there until his family moved back to the US. He enlisted in the Air Force, became a pilot after going to college and getting his first degree in aerospace engineering. He trained as an astronaut/engineer and spent a few months at the expanded International Space Station, distinguishing himself as an invaluable go-between when South Korean sent up a massive module and nearly doubled the occupancy rate. Because of the relaxation of international regulations and the payment of a huge bribe, their work on nuclear fusion continued and concluded with a working fusion reactor which powered the station for an entire week without solar supplementation.

He retired, married a Korean woman he’d fallen in love with in high school, and settled in both Waegan and Minneapolis where he worked with 3M as a materials engineer for advanced spacecraft. He was 46 when his wife died without children. He was recruited by the Korean Space Program…

And I’m going to stop here except to say that HIS first story will involve dinosaurs and the Korean space program…


October 20, 2019

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: NOT Alternate History! “Time Alteration” Science Fiction

Also, NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (to which I be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I would jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. But not today. This explanation is reserved for when I dash “off topic”, sometimes reviewing movies, sometimes reviewing books, and other times taking up the spirit of a blog an old friend of mine used to keep called THE RANTING ROOM…

Time Travel Movies are undeniably my favorite genre of movie – ranging from obvious one’s like the archetypical BACK TO THE FUTURE franchise to the eerie soft time travel mainstream movie, “The Lake House” (ranked “Rotten” by Rotten Tomatoes because regular people didn’t understand it or accept the premise, and in Wikipedia is defined as a “romantic drama”, probably to keep the genre safe!)

While I’d love to review them all, I’m going to focus on three, all of them multiple episodes but part of a seamless whole. I’ll start with the one-sentence-blurb from Imdb:

BACK TO THE FUTURE – “The trilogy is about a teenager named Marty McFly who is able to travel in time. This is due to the invention of an automobile time machine made by scientist Dr. Emmett L. Brown. Living in 1985, Marty McFly travels to future 2015 and also to past 1955 and 1885. During these times he has several adventures in his home town Hill Valley in California.” (Simple English Wikipedia) Well THAT plays down what happened! My synopsis? Marty (more-or-less accidentally) and using Doc’s time machine, screws up the timeline by creating successful parents, then wrecks it again making nuclear waste and Mafia rule in his home town of Hill Valley, CA the norm. He’s unintentionally murdered his dad, and got Doc put into an insane asylum. Trying to fix THAT, Doc himself then screws up a timeline and Marty helps Doc find a wife and ends up almost back where he started from, though his gf now knows about time travel as well, but it doesn’t matter because the time machine’s scrap. (The body count in these movies is unexpectedly large: three Libyans (I); his dad, future 2 kids, and any number of other people who have died as Biff established BiffCo…(II); Doc, Mad Dog Tannen (III – who will obviously hang), but Doc doesn’t die and the formerly dead Clara Clayton is now alive…so 3 + 3 + 1 = 7.

Also, Marty never meets the “new him” who was shaped by the events he and Doc changed. He’s still the old Marty who remembers Biff bullying his dad and (possibly) raping – which is implied but never stated – that lead up to his trips into the future of 2015 and the past 1885. Who is Marty in the altered timeline?

STAR TREK: The Next Generation deals with the personality-changing results of this kind of time meddling in “Tapestry”. Jean Luc Picard, legendary and archetypical captain of the USS Enterprises both D and E finds himself a lieutenant of average skill, average personality, and most notably, an individual who was never interested in taking a single risk, always playing it safe when Q gives Picard a chance to change one event he regretted. He ends up unraveling the tapestry of his life.

STAR TREK: Voyager, “Year of Hell”, a “alien” scientist, fiddling with a machine that can alter the timeline in order to make the empire he lives in even greater than it is – imagine Hari Seldon in Asimov’s Empire able to instantly alter time so that he can achieve his goal of an eternally stable, galaxy-spanning Empire! He inadvertently erases his beloved wife and spends two centuries making carefully calculated changes to get her back – to no avail. Voyager’s sacrificial plunge into the ship as a last resort resets the original timeline, returning his wife.

I looked at the effect of altering a timeline we actually seem to be approaching in STAR TREK: Deep Space Nine’s episode, “Past Tense” in which the poor and indigent in San Francisco are herded into Sanctuary Districts that leads to the Bell Riots –

So, my question however, is, “Why do these stories touch something deep in you?” or more simply, “Why do I like these?”

First, I realized that these are different from Alternate History. MAN IN THE HIGH TOWER looks at “What would the world be like if Hitler had won?” In a recent issue of ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact, “Bonehunter” posits a present where the dinosaurs hadn’t gone extinct. AVENGERS End Game seeks to rescue half the lifeforms in the Universe from oblivion. These are stories that deal with huge issues and vast populations, and while there might be repercussions for individuals, the focus is on All Time. I love these stories, too, but they aren’t my favorites.

In a Time Alteration story like Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman’s “Kate and Leopold”, the grand sweep of history is beside the point.

The point is making individual characters happy.

During the landmark, paradigm changing Eleventh Series of the long-running BBC series, Dr. Who, The Doctor and her Companions find themselves in 1955 Montgomery, Alabama. In a (slightly) judgmental episode, filmed in Cape Town, South Africa, the English save American History by keeping the time-traveling mass-murder, Krasko from keep Rosa Parks from sparking the Civil Rights movement that continues today. While it seems like it’s an attempt at an Alternate History story, it’s far more a Time Alteration story – Krasko is a racist and wants “his side” to win. He identified Rosa Parks’ influence as a critical event.

In the Disney animated film, “Meet the Robinsons”, Lewis The Orphan wants to find his real family and rejoin them. Inventing a time machine, his sole focus is to change time to give him a family. The villain in the story, The Man With The Bowler Hat is just as intent on changing history, though in his case, it was a self-inflicted wound. While the future DOES change when The Man With The Bowler Hat – who has been a pawn of the evil artificial intelligence robot, Doris – steal a time machine, the intent of the story is to make Lewis happy…clearly a Time Alteration story.

So, coming back to my question, “Why do I like these?”

The answer on reflection, is simple, there are events in my past that I’d like to change! For example, I was a pretty sickly little kid, so when I was seven, my parents agreed with the doctor and I had a tonsillectomy. In 1964, this was a pretty standard operation, “In the United States, the number of tonsillectomies has actually declined significantly and progressively since the 1970s. The frequency with which tonsillectomy is performed varies from region to region. 30 years ago (1978), approximately 90% of tonsillectomies in children were done for recurrent infection; now it is about 20% for infection and 80% for obstructive sleep problems (OSA)…Extensive data shows the negative effects of OSA in children on behavior, school performance, and bed-wetting. Improvement for such behaviors following tonsillectomy is very well documented. Tonsillectomy for recurrent tonsillitis is effective at significantly reducing the number and severity of sore throats in children who are severely affected. There is also anecdotal evidence that some childrens quality of life is transformed by the surgery. This may be caused by a combination of factors that include the tendency of the frequency of recurrent sore throats to resolve over time and the elimination of a source of infection and of obstructive symptoms.”

So, in my experience, once my tonsils were removed, I started eating. Constantly. I became  blimp. BUT WHY? I remember being “abandoned” in the hospital overnight by my parents. I had no idea WHY. Then someone came in, shoved something up my butt, and then I woke up with a horribly sore throat, and spent the next several days eating ice cream and drinking 7 Up. The rest, as they say, is history. I have struggled with my weight since then. What if I had gone back, cured my “tonsillitis” with a current-day drug? Would I still struggle with my weight? Would I have my self-confidence? Would I be a published science fiction writer? I don’t know. But, I’d like to have seen the results.

Also, being able to change other events in my childhood and teenage years WOULD have made me a different person. A better person? No idea. So, the idea of playing with Time Alteration is fascinating; I’m even exploring my own feelings regarding my inability to “change people” in a series of stories I’m working on.

I know it’s not going to happen, but at least I have some idea why I like these things!

Resource: My other Favorite Time Alteration stories: “Men In Black III”, “Arrival”, STAR TREK: The Voyage Home, STAR TREK: The Original Series “City on the Edge of Forever”, STAR TREK: Enterprise “Carbon Creek”, TIME TUNNEL, and finally QUANTUM LEAP.