August 9, 2022

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 553

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 horror, I found this insight in line with WIRED FOR STORY: “We seek out…stories which give us a place to put our fears…Stories that frighten us or unsettle us - not just horror stories, but ones that make us uncomfortable or that strike a chord somewhere deep inside - give us the means to explore the things that scare us…” – Lou Morgan (The Guardian)


H Trope: "And I Must Scream" (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AndIMustScream)
Current Event: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/my-life-aspergers/201405/serial-killers-autism-and-mass-murder-once-again

Krzysztof Oja blinked and slowly shook his head.

Eden Ochion thought he looked like a shaggy orangutan. A scary one. "There's no way you can tell me what you're thinking?" she tried again. Krzy -- whose unfortunate name lent itself to being abbreviated to "Crazy" -- squeezed his eyes shut harder. "You have to tell me what's going on in that shaggy head of yours!" She said, reaching forward and rapping on his skull. Why couldn't she get through to him? No one had ever been able to resist her charms. People ALWAYS told her their secrets. It's why she was the most popular person at Barack Obama High School. If people made her mad, she could always spill those secrets. "Don't you have any secrets, Krzysztof?"

He stared at her, took a deep breath, opened his mouth as if he was going to say something and then closed it again. It wasn't like he was going to stand up and leave, Eden thought. She'd actually, physically glued him to his chair. She'd set it up so that the chair was the only open one in the library. That was because she'd coaxed, coerced, and blackmailed everyone into leaving it alone just so that Krzysztof would sit there. What was weird was that he hadn't reacted at all. She knew -- somehow that she wasn't sure of -- that he realized he was sitting on several mounds of hardening crazy glue. She smiled at the interior joke. "Crazy glue for a crazy boy," she muttered. She fixed him with one of her brilliant smiles and said, "Anything you want to tell me?"

She was wondering why he hadn't said anything about the glue when he looked up at her. The intensity of his gaze was startling after the way he'd always let her looks slide off him. She'd been trying to catch his eye since he got to school on the first day. It rarely took her more than a week to break a new person down enough to find a secret tidbit or two. Even the principal, one of the wiliest old ladies Eden had ever met, buckled after a two week onslaught of kindness and interest. In her heart of hearts, Eden called BO High a garden of earthly preflight...because once she knew what she knew, most people were ready to take off. Or do her bidding.

Everyone but little Krzysztof here. That was why she'd made him her special project for the past month. After the challenge of Ms. Zarinche the Principal, she thought he'd go down into a blathering heap as soon as she unleashed her feminine wiles. Now she had to face the possibility that he was gay and she'd have to have one of her coworkers do the attraction and extraction. She smiled into Krzysztof's baby blues. She studied them, looking deep. There was something unexpected in there; a deep, dark secret. Her smile spread from ear to ear. Here it was at last! "So, saxy boy, you got something you want to tell Mama Eden?"

His gaze didn't shift, except that it felt deeper, as if it were pulling her forward. She wanted to turn away because she'd always thought there was something to the idea that the windows were the eyes into a person's soul. She couldn't. He still didn't smile. In fact, his face had gone weirdly slack, as if he were concentrating hard. She tried to blink, but couldn't. She tried to take a deep breath, to sigh or whistle or something, but couldn't. Strangely, her breathing was slowing down despite the fact that she was starting to panic. This was incredibly weird...

Names: ♀ Hebrew, ; ♂ Czech
Image: https://cdn.britannica.com/40/11740-004-50816EB1/Boris-Karloff-Frankenstein-monster.jpg

August 6, 2022

Slice of PIE: DISCON III – #10: Expanding Stories into Longer Pieces


Using the Programme Guide of the 2021 World Science Fiction Convention, DisCON III, which I WOULD have been attending in person if I felt safe enough to do so in person AND it hadn’t been changed to the week before the Christmas Holidays…I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the Program Guide. I will be using the events to drive me to distraction or revelation – as the case may be. The link is provided below where this appeared!

Panelists:
Howard A Jones: Award-winning fantasy author
Jenny Rae Rappaport: author of short fiction
Mary Turzillo: prolific poet, award-winning author
Michael Swanwick: Hugo, Nebula, and Locus author of short stories, novels, and essays
AC Wise: prolific author

Howard A Jones:

- in a short story, everything is known and plotted out; in a longer piece, you have to scaffold to get to the end and it takes a long time.
- you have to be in love with your characters.
- in a short piece, the villain isn’t well defined. Even there, you have to find what your character wants and KEEP it from them.
- in a long story, I can do whatever I want to do.
- finding your way in that “whatever I want” is what makes the story happen.
- I’m an outliner rather than a pantster – but do both. Whatever works. Write your way through to the mountain.
- use the old with completely new, like TODAY’S episodic television.
- I ask myself, “Am I going to enjoy working with the characters.
- keep the important stuff, then change whatever I want to, though be consistent. I can EXPAND the story.
- in DESERT OF SOULS, I took Arabian Nights fantasies, that sort of worked. Then I asked if [something else] would work if I just slide it in. It did.
- sometimes, I get a surprise!

Jenny Rae Rappaport:

- sometimes you CAN feel what the characters want to do.
- every secondary character is a hero in their own life!
- return to your work often.
- if it’s NOT working, rewrite it.
- when reading slush, I try an see what makes the story go.
- a pantster DISCOVERS the story, plotting kills the story.
- I don’t personal have to “like” my characters.
- there ARE no rules about changing a short story into a novel.
- your story HAS to have a finish. How is the problem solved? Resolutions change the character.
- the reader needs to know everything that happens.
- research makes the story richer

Mary Turzillo:

- if you have a short story and want to make it longer, expand PAST the climax.
- you can also add a subplot.
- try to make her lovable, weak on the villain, in trouble every ten pages – that what makes it a PAGE-TURNER.
- give up when I hit a brick wall???
- every writer works in different ways.
- “red line of death” is somewhere in the middle of the title [I’d never heard the phrase before, so I poked around and found this: “…a top sci-fi magazine editor…puts a red line on the manuscript at the moment where he or she loses interest in the story. Because it’s focused on losing instead of catching a reader, this sort of exercise makes it easier for a piece with solid writing to do well vs. one with a distinctive action hook.” (https://alphawritersworkshop.org/beginnings/)
- a likeable character with undeserved misfortune…HOWEVER: “walking is controlled falling”.
- our story is in another universe.
- Poems are ads for short stories; short stories are ads for novels; novels externally…
- Anne McCaffery [in her Dragonriders of Pern series] started with short stories and ended up with numerous novels with few discrepancies. She kept what was in the short stories.
- Jeff Landis said, “I don’t sell exclusive rights for two years. The editors seem to be fair.”
- a novel has to be RICH. That richness is what it needs to BE a novel.

Michael Swanwick:

- fix-up novels never get respect.
- it can take as much time to write a short story as a novel, but short stories go away and novels stay with it.
- when you consider expanding a short story, you get an idea of how long it “should” be.
- a novel 100,000 words (20 chapters, 5000 words per chapter; but a short story has a “certain SHAPE”. It could be a first chapter or an inspiration for a novel.
- in a novel, you can explain what’s happening and WHY. You can’t in a short story.
- a short story about time travel; plopped it in the middle of a novel – then changed it all until it WORKS.
- The Gardner Dozois Slush Pile Anecdote: https://www.asimovs.com/current-issue/in-memoriam-gardner-dozois/
- EXPAND YOUR STORY, regardless of the method – meticulous, pantster, daydreamer…
- cut stories out of your novel. “The Man That Melted” – cut out, reworked with different stories; like the character who lives in one, dies in the other.
- how does your editor FEEL about you?
- THE ENDING AND EVERY WORD HAS TO BE USEFUL

AC Wise:

- when you see “what characters want to do”, ask yourself: is this a trick?
- you can insert more details to make is seem “real”.
- if you already have a published story [in that “universe”] where do you pick up?
- in a short story, you create a “tone”, in a novel, the character is CHANGED.
- when you expand a story, you have to change it – but how MANT changes do you make?

I’ve underlined above which comments left an impression on me – now all I need to do is study them and apply them!

Program Schedule: https://discon3.org/schedule/
Image: https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQY860vAI2izm2g2mUgxzT14fGVmoGh66B51g&usqp=CAU

 

July 31, 2022

Slice of PIE: How Do the Heptapods in “Arrival” and CS Lewis’ God Perceive Time?

NOT using the Programme Guide of the 2021 World Science Fiction Convention, DisCON III, which I WOULD have been attending in person if I felt safe enough to do so in person AND it hadn’t been changed to the week before the Christmas Holidays…I WILL NOT use the Programme Guide to jump off, jump on, rail against, or shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. 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 was having trouble writing this and couldn’t figure out why. After a six hour interval during which I went to a Celebration of Life for a work friend of mine, I sat down again to try and finish this.

The problem was that I hadn’t defined my goal; my question. I got hold of the question as soon as I sat down again: Why is an altered perception of time OK in an alien and ridiculed in God? Both the original story and the movie won glowing reviews:

“The Story of Your Life”: “won the 2000 Nebula Award for Best Novella, the 1999 Theodore Sturgeon Award; nominated for the 1999 Hugo Award for Best Novella; translated into Italian, Japanese, French and German”; James Gleick wrote: ‘[This] poses the questions: would knowing your future be a gift or a curse, and is free will simply an illusion?’, answering himself, ‘For us ordinary mortals, the day-to-day experience of a preordained future is almost unimaginable’, but Chiang does just that in this story, he ‘imagine[s] it’. It was reprinted ten more times before the movie came out. Besides the awards above it was nominated for a HOMer, a Tiptree / Otherwise Gender-bending SF, a Locus, and won a 2002 Seiun (Japan) for the Best Translated Short Story.

The movie “Arrival”: was “nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay; won the 2017 Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation”. In addition, “It grossed $203 million worldwide and received critical acclaim, with particular praise…for the exploration of communication with extraterrestrial intelligence. Considered one of the best films of 2016, [it] appeared on numerous critics' year-end lists and was selected by the American Film Institute as one of ten ‘Movies of the Year’… ‘Adams received nominations for a BAFTA, SAG, Critics' Choice, and at the 74th Golden Globe Awards, nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress…The score…was nominated for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media at the 60th Grammy Awards.”

The thing is, I agree with all of the above hype. My question however, is WHY did the story and movie generate so much attention; so much praise; such awe? During a summer school class I teach called ALIEN WORLDS, I have my students watch clips from it. IMDb describes it this way, “A linguist works with the military to communicate with alien lifeforms after twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world.”

Really??? What it DOESN’T say is absolutely crucial: The aliens don’t experience time as Humans do. The aliens, whom people call Heptapods (from the Greek: seven + feet (as in podiatry, not units of 12 inches)) may possibly have a similar perception of time that CS speculates God does.

In his Section 3 of his book, MERE CHRISTIANITY, in “Time and Beyond Time”: “…in [this] final section of the book…C.S. Lewis addresses the question of how in the world God can hear all of the prayers in the world at once. In 1945, CS Lewis also addressed the same problem that Ted Chiang did. In his essay, he writes, “Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He know what you and I are going to do tomorrow. But if he know I am going to so so-and-so, how can I be free to do otherwise?...the difficulty comes from thinking God is progressing along the timeline like us…But suppose God is outside and above the timeline. In that case, what we call tomorrow, is visible to him just the same way as what we call today. All the days are ‘now’ for Him. He does not foresee you doing things tomorrow; he simply sees you doing them.’”

The Heptapods in “Arrival” make a similar statement. When Louise is behind the transparent shield and (apparently) breathing the same air as the Heptapods, and after she understands their language, she has a conversation.

Louise: Where is Abbott.
Costello: Abbott is death process.
Louise: I don’t understand.
Costello: Louise has weapon. Use weapon. We help Humanity.
Louise: I don’t understand.
Costello: In 3000 years, we need Humanity help.
Louise: [She experiences another out-of-linear-time event where her seven or eight year old daughter shows her different representations in different media of her mother (Louise) and her father (Ian)]
Costello: There is no linear time.

Chiang and Lewis explore a fascinating concept and somehow, they arrive (no pun intended!) with the same answer as they explore how aliens and God might experience time and how nearly-incomprehensible that seems.

My students were both captivated and confused with the Heptapods (of course, I can’t mention CS Lewis and God…though I suppose I could bring up Lewis’ Space Trilogy and the aliens in THAT).

Hmmm…

The upshot of this post is to bring to light that the question both Chiang and Lewis sought to explore were the same.

The answer they explored was also the same.

July 26, 2022

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 552

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.

Fantasy Trope: magic
Current Event: http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/magicandspellwork/f/Is_Magic_Real.htm

Jakob Josef-Büchel fingered the crest of his grandfather’s homeland then looked up at the piece of it that rested in the box in his lap. With his cell phone tucked between his shoulder and cheek he said, “I just got a box with a golden horn with a gold strap on it.”

Kiena Onorio said, “Sounds cheesy. Just throw it away…”

“I don’t think it’s something I can throw away.”

“Why not?” You have boat loads of junk at your house from your fancy-pants family. You must the only one who celebrates being from the smallest country on Earth.”

“I wouldn’t talk! Kiribati’s awfully small.” Kiena snorted. He knew there was no way she could argue. Instead he said, “How about we settle the argument once and for all?”

“I’ll be over in a minute,” she said. He lived across the street, on Embassy Row on the island nation of New Zealand. She scaled the wall between their compounds, waving at the security guard who watched her. She hated the fact that he thought the two of them were having sex. He wouldn’t have cooperated even if they were the last couple on Earth. He was deeply in love with…

She reached his window and said, “What do you have in mindtwo stones of red coral, one fruit of the non-tree, one old coconut, the first leaf of a seed nut, and the strong green leaf of an old tree”

“A contest,” he said, holding up the horn. She blinked in surprise. The way he’d described it made it sound like it was a cheap movie prop. But the solidity of it, even from across the room, made her feel vaguely uneasy.

She stepped back. “What are you talking about?”

He made a face then said, “What something from Kiribati that you know of that’s supposed to be magic?”

“Magic?”

He held up the horn easily, tossed it in the air, caught it and said, “Yeah. This thing’s supposed to have magical powers. We can figure out who’s got the best country by having a magic contest.”

“I don’t believe in magic,” she replied.

“Right. Is that why you keep make all those little pictures of us together then burning them with an incense stick – because you don’t believe in magic?”

“How do you…” He lifted his chin to the telescope on the veranda of his room. She’d always assumed it was there because his mother was a world renowned amateur astronomer as well as an ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Cameroun. “You didn’t think I liked space, did you?”

She could see where the conversation was going, so she said abruptly, “There’s this old legend that involves two stones of red coral, one fruit of the non-tree, one old coconut, the first leaf of a seed nut, and the strong green leaf of an old tree.”

“Sounds like a lot of crap to me,” Jakob said, laughing.

“The Kiribati stuff is supposed to help me establish a kingdom. What’s that stupid horn supposed to do?”

“When it is blown, the way I hear the story when I was little, it will revive the Kingdom of Bohemia with me as King.”

She shrugged. “So?”

He grinned, “Maybe you’ve heard of the Third Reich, then?”

Names: ♀Kiribati; ♂ Liechtenstein
Image: 

July 23, 2022

WRITING ADVICE: Creating Alien Aliens, Part 16: Kleptees – Alien Plant-Animals…

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!


Moving plants have always fascinated me – from the Venus Flytrap (I was crushed to find out how tiny they were…and how hard they would be to keep in my native Minnesota!

For a while, the sundew made me wonder about moving plants, especially when all the movies and pictures I saw of them made them look like gigantic, monstrous creatures! I was crushed a month ago to find that native sundew was TINY – a sticky head as small as a drop of water…

Pitcher plants were amazing, though they didn’t move, the idea of a wide open mouth inviting insects in, and then having them climb in and fall or slide down the open throat and into a puddle of enzymes that would slowly dissolve them away – was really cool!

Finally, my heart set on the mobile flagellated algae (sounds like plants that perform penance by whipping themselves)…but they were all microscopic.

Several years ago, I turned my inquisitive mind and a fairly newly minted biology degree to create an intelligent alien that was made of an amalgam of all of the properties of these species. What if life on Earth had evolved from flagellated algae instead of a maximalistic choanozoan ancestor?

Intelligent plants might have been the result. I created the WheetAh (whom I’ve mentioned before – see below!) years ago and have had a story about them published. As I mention in the post linked below in “writing-advice-what-went-right”.

In that one, I had Human teens and WheetAh “teens” on a boat doing a publicity stunt that might or might not build Human-WheetAh relations (which are strained at this point, maybe on the verge of war). They solve a murder by working together along with both sympathetic and antagonistic adults…

So, they behaved like inexperienced young intelligences. Do they learn the same way? No, but that never came up. Did they learn the same thing…hmmm…cooperation solves problems. While all adults know this to be true, they’ve found it to NOT be true enough times that they doubt it can work in “the real world”.

But, kids don’t know that. They haven’t had the “real world” knock them down often enough – at least not kids who grow up in a supportive environment where there are others who care about both what they know and what they need do know. Among Humans this is a difficult enough learning experience – how do plants learn? Can plants be “trained” even? Apparently the answer is a tentative “yes” – at least in reference to plants on Earth.

But what would a plant-animal that evolved from the flagellates I mentioned above? What if they look like the image above...These are the WheetAh I’m talking about. I’m no artist, but you can see the basic design, and I’ll add they “walk” by spinning (like the Masters in John White’s TRIPOD books). So, I’ll take that as a confirmation that it’s possible. My big problem STILL remains how would intelligent plantimals (I need another word, apparently “plantimal” is used in some sort of video game.) Maybe Kleptees (instead of EeTees)…

How do plants ACT? Hmmm…let’s start out with what they “are” first.
-single cell or multicellular organisms
-they make their own food (photosynthetic and contain a green pigment called chlorophyll, which enables plants to convert energy from the sun into food
-store their food as starch
-rooted to one place (some can orientate leaves towards the sun; some respond to touch)
-cell walls are rigid as they’re made of cellulose.
-life cycle of plants includes both a sporophyte and a gametophyte, ‘alternation of generations'
-lack central nervous system

How they act?
-anticipate future conditions by accurately perceiving and responding to reliable environmental cues
-exhibit memory
-alter behaviors depending upon experiences
-communicate with other plants, herbivores and mutualists
-emit cues causing predictable reactions in other organisms
-respond to cues
-adapt to spatially and temporally heterogeneous environments
-evolved plastic response systems

So – do plants act like Humans in funny green suits?

They SHOULDN’T…yet, I may have made them do just that. So, I have work to do as I think this all through…

Expect more about the WheetAh as I continue to grow them (no pun intended) into the ALIEN ALIENS they are…

Resources: https://physicsworld.com/a/replicating-how-plants-move/, https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/info/plants-that-move.htm, https://www.progardentips.com/plants-that-can-move/, https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/buffalo/weather/2020/08/29/the-science-behind-why-some-sunflowers-move, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2019.01621/full, https://gardenofeaden.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-happy-alien-plant-calceolaria.html, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6960400/, https://www.science.org/content/article/momentous-transition-multicellular-life-may-not-have-been-so-hard-after-all, https://prelights.biologists.com/highlights/the-single-celled-ancestors-of-animals-a-history-of-hypotheses/, https://indianapublicmedia.org/amomentofscience/can-plants-learn.php#:~:text=kinds%20of%20animals.-,In%202016%20an%20international%20team%20of%20researchers%20published%20evidence%20that,arm%20of%20the%20'Y'., https://www.illinoisscience.org/2020/02/can-plants-learn-heres-some-evidence/, https://sciencenordic.com/animals-biology-denmark/weird-plant-animal-baffles-scientists/1438173, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesodinium, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18400016/#:~:text=Plants%20exhibit%20memory%2C%20altering%20their,respond%20to%20such%20cues%20themselves.
WheetAh essays: https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/search?q=WheetAh, https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2022/02/writing-advice-can-this-story-be-saved.html, https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2015/05/writing-advice-what-went-right-with.html, https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2016/10/writing-advice-can-this-story-be-saved_30.html, https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2013/08/writing-advice-julie-czernedas-writing_25.html[GS1] , https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2017/11/writing-advice-can-this-story-be-saved.html, https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2020/01/slice-of-pie-creating-alien-aliens.html
Image: My own


July 16, 2022

WRITING ADVICE: Writing My Way Back Into Publication…I Hope…

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!

It feels like my writing – well, to be honest, my PUBLICATIONS – have hit a brick wall.

VICTORY OF FISTS and HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: Emerald of Earth, were available as ebooks briefly, but the publisher was ignoring my agent’s request for royalties (which actually never came). Because "Life in these United States", VICTORY will never be published. HEIRS is currently being serialized here: https://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/2022/01/heirs-of-shattered-spheres-emerald-of.html

At any rate, I had a few stories published at the beginning of this year, and it looked to be good.

Then I hit a brick wall as you can see if you look to the right at PROFESSIONAL PUBLISHING CREDITS...

In trying to “leave a mark” or “say something”, I may have stumbled. Since my last sale, I’ve submitted sixty times with no acceptance. My recent stories have fallen on ponderously deaf ears.

“What the Cockroach Said” (N-S Korea), “Storm Change” (Native American sovereignty), “The Princess’s Brain” (What fraction makes us Humans?), “And After Soft Rains, Daisies” (Alzheimer’s future care), “Talking my Way Back Into Life” (what happens when you’re suddenly older than you were?), “Rock of Ages” (When you’ve hated someone for two hundred years, can you make peace?), “Titan Mission Drops Bomb” (scat humor in space…OK, maybe I get it for this one…), “Lovely to Behold” (incredibly weird biology leads to murder; accused of being magic…), “Possums Don’t Have Belly Buttons” (cute but ultimately futile), “Candace Mooney and the Princess of Mars” (homage to ER Burroughs), “The Daily Use of Gravity Modification in Rebuilding Liberian Schools” (this one is my biggest disappointments…I wanted to show the impact of a technological breakthrough on an everyday job in a civil war ravaged country (I’ve been there, seen the results of war) and how it might be used to help raise a place up; as well, my agent and I parted ways (amicably)…and now I have a slew of stories that don’t seem to be going anywhere.

I am so tempted to be bitter and blame The Media, but the fact is that I’ve turned into my now-least-favorite-author in that I’ve allowed my “message” to sublimate my story. Have I lost focus because I’m intent on “leaving a mark” on society? It’s what I challenge my seniors to do as they contemplate graduation in the spring of 2018. I am trying to meet that goal myself, but…it’s FRUSTRATING. I also wonder about how this blog impacts my work. My politics and religion don’t line up at all with…well, the circles I choose to be in – speculative fiction and education. Seems that how I see the world is diametrically opposed to the majority in both places…

So, I’ve been reading and I’ve started to pick up some wisdom. The three most important things:

1) Think before you write. THAT’S a hard one to do for me. I tend to just pop off a story without much thought as to the emotional and intellectual impact I’m looking for. That segues into…

2) Advice Nancy Kress gave that I’m working hard at absorbing: “How can I lay out a story so that a reader will be ‘always absorbed’?” and “How can I lay out a story so that a reader will END the story with a different perspective, a confirmation of their belief system, or discover a new, interesting place?”

3) VERY recently, I discovered this from Chuck Wendig: “All stories need unanswered questions. All stories demand mysteries to engage our desperate need to know. Storytelling is in many ways the act of positing questions and then exploring the permutations of that question before finally giving in and providing [some] answers.”

4) I also learned this from Lisa Cron: "Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future...we're wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the world." [From the Introduction]

Now, how do I combine those three things in order to take me into CONSISTENCY?

I’ll keep you posted…

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

July 12, 2022

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 551

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. Octavia Butler said, “SF doesn’t really mean anything at all, except that if you use science, you should use it correctly, and if you use your imagination to extend it beyond what we already know, you should do that intelligently.”

SF Trope: all major historical figures are aliens or work with aliens
Current Event: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/06/28/obama-vs-romney-who-would-handle-an-alien-invasion-better/

This is a bit of a twist, but with just the right twig, THIS might happen:

Rain Li is a Canadian studying in the US – Bemidji State University to be exact.

Boston Fournier is also Canadian, though he’s an exchange student from Quebec studying at the University of Minnesota.

At a Junior Student Research Paper Conference hosted at the U, they meet as the news breaks that not only do people think that Obama would handle an alien invasion better than presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, there is evidence that SOMETHING is happening on the surface of Titan (http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/underground-sea-liquid-discovered-saturns-moon-titan) as Cassini has reported massive geysers of ice and water seemingly exploding at random from the surface of the moon.

With elections only a few months away, political pundits and journalists alike begin to speculate. Of course, the WEEKLY WORLD NEWS – The Only Reliable Source Of News On Earth – reported that, like HG Well’s novel, WAR OF THE WORLDS…

“…with the amazing intelligence of a huge outbreak of incandescent gas upon the planet. It had occurred towards midnight of the twelfth; and the spectroscope, to which he had at once resorted, indicated a mass of flaming gas, chiefly hydrogen, moving with an enormous velocity towards this earth. This jet of fire had become invisible about a quarter past twelve. He compared it to a colossal puff of flame suddenly and violently squirted out of the planet, ‘as flaming gases rushed out of a gun.’” (Chapter 1)

Neither one paid it much heed, but certain quarters began to trumpet the end of the world; the end of the world as we know it; the dawn of a new age; the dawn of The New Age; proof that We Are Not Alone and proof that the invasion of Earth was drawing nigh…

Along among the delegates, Rain and Boston were the only Canadians (and Boston considered himself the only REAL Canadien), and really didn’t much care about the Americans, their election or whether Obama or Romney would be a better “Alien Hunter” (though Rain confided to Boston in French that she thought Barack Obama: Alien Hunter had a better ring to it than Mitt Romney: Alien Hunter). They were discovering each other.

It’s just that Rain accidentally got a text not meant for her, from Boston to one of his friends that read, “She’s just an American in Canadian drag. Homely at that. She’d never be willing to crack a fingernail in our cause…”

Cause? What cause? Did it have anything to do with the story buried in Section C of StarTribune.com about a recent uptick in the number of terroristic threats by the old mouvement national liberation quebec? Who was this kid, anyway and what had she gotten herself involved with?

And what about the cluster of weird lights in the sky in the direction of the bright, star-like object that Boston pointed out was Saturn?

Names: ♀ Germany, China; ♂ Old English, France
Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e1/Falcon_9_Demo-2_Launching_6_%283%29.jpg/220px-Falcon_9_Demo-2_Launching_6_%283%29.jpg

July 9, 2022

WRITING ADVICE: Can This Story Be SAVED? #31 “Extreme Contact” (Submitted 14Times Since 2013, Revised 0 times)

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 d
one WRONG and see if I can fix it. As always, your comments are welcome!

ANALOG Tag Line:
Extreme climates evolve extreme aliens – who need extreme measures to make a successful First Contact.

Elevator Pitch (What Did I Think I Was Trying To Say?):
Sacrifice is necessary to get what you want.

Opening Line:
“After watching the live, streaming reports of the Heinlein Dome disaster on the Moon, Zahar Qasoori was certain that dying to save someone’s life would be less painful than living as the bastard son of a rich interplanetary business man and playboy.”

Onward:
A couple of kids – who were captured as they were about to die – are used as a First Contact team with a bizarre society of intelligent beings descended from an Hallucigenian-like predecessor. Human adults in wheelchairs were insulting to the Ho*fart* and the Contact nearly caused Humanity to be FINED instead of gaining credit in the Unity toward the purchase of mathematical techniques leading to equations leading to a Human theory of faster-than-light space travel.

What Was I Trying To Say?
I was trying to counter the meme that seems to have swallowed the idea that sacrifice is sometimes required to advance either our personal goals – or the goals of society at large. That’s why the main character, Zahar, willingly gives his life in pursuit of a greater goal: to make sure First Contact with a weird alien intelligence is successful.

I believe that we’ve pushed such an absurd idea aside in favor of…well, lots of things: personal aggrandizement, the sense that we DESERVE to have whatever we want, that other people should give it to us, and that we deserve it NOW. [Personally, I believe that’s why Hillary Clinton has (as they say in several of the Jane Austen movies) “disappeared from all good society”. She felt she deserved the presidency (as do her followers, who continue to tell me that “Trump is not my president!”…though, I’ll point out that I refused to vote for either one of them. BOTH were bad choices for America. I was, at one time, very interested in Bernie Sanders.]

The attitude I get more often than I like in my line of work, is this profound sense of entitlement; that the person “deserves”…well, to get whatever we want; good grades without working for it, be it education, advancement, wealth, position, or authority.

The Rest of the Story:
The main character sacrifices his life in the end to save the life of his First Contact partners – an older man who is really wheelchair bound – and another teen like himself. Together, the survivors can negotiate with the Ho*fart*, but only because the aliens are impressed by the sacrifice .

End Analysis:

On rereading the story, I found that the thing was more a vignette with all kinds of details describing the world and the Ho*fart*, both of which were cool, but the story itself was extremely weak, being more or less a thinly veiled excuse for me to show the place off.

That’s a Novice Mistake if ever I saw one. Oops.

Can This Story Be Saved?
The first question to ask is if it is, indeed, a story.

I’ve long believed that it is, until I just reread it and discovered that it’s not. So now what do I do? I may have to abandon THIS story, though I think the concept is fine. It’s just that I go totally lost in the world itself. If I can sideline some of the world building wonder and focus on character (which is a weakness of mine), I might be able to shave it down to only 4000 words if I cut out all the coolness. However, the complexity of the aliens and their world are integral to the actual story. Perhaps I could study Dr. Robert L. Forward’s world-building wonder DRAGON’S EGG or even Hal Clement’s short story, “Under” (ANALOG 2000) and MISSION OF GRAVITY (ASTOUNDING SF April, May, June, July 1953) to get a better idea of what to do with this place…

So, the answer is a definite, “maybe”…

July 5, 2022

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 550

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 horror, I found this insight in line with WIRED FOR STORY: “ We seek out…stories which give us a place to put our fears…Stories that frighten us or unsettle us - not just horror stories, but ones that make us uncomfortable or that strike a chord somewhere deep inside - give us the means to explore the things that scare us…” – Lou Morgan (The Guardian)


H Trope: “Alucard” – Dracula Written Backward as a way of disguise…
Current Event: http://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2012/10/50-scariest-monsters-movie-history/

“The word ‘monster’ comes from the Latin word monstrum which is an aberrant occurrence, usually biological, that was taken as a sign that something was wrong within the natural order,” read Wyndham D’Aquino.

“So, what are you trying to say?” said Charlotte Mogwai.

“Nothing,” said Wyndham, looking out the window at the house across the street. Small, run-down, it was just like the rest of the neighborhood. Pathetic. It was easier than looking at Charlotte. But he added, “You know, the fact is that it’s an aberrant occurrence.”

“Are you saying Dejario is a monster?” She snorted – a most unladylike sound, Wyndham thought – and said, “You’re just jealous!”

He shrugged and put down his tablet computer. “Yeah, but that doesn’t make Dejario any less a monster.”

“There is nothing wrong with the natural order! It’s just that...”

“It’s just that he’s not natural?”

“It’s not like he’s a vampire or a werewolf...”

“Those things aren’t even ‘monsters’ according to this definition! They were just made up in Hollywood to make money for the studios…” Wyndham said.

“So you’re saying that Godzilla was part of nature?” asked Charlotte.

He opened his mouth, paused to reconsider, then said, “Inasmuch as mutations are natural, Godzilla was.”

“Dracula’s natural?”

He shrugged, “Based on a real villain with a taste for bloody impalement of his enemies, then ‘yes’. Perverse but natural.”

Charlotte scowled, whipped out her tablet computer and said, “Cyclops, Mr. Hyde, Dracula, Frankenstein, Werewolf, Invisible Man, Mummy, Bigfoot, Dinosaurs, Zombies, King Kong, the Blob, CHUD, Cthulu, Kraken, Medusa, Triffid, Trolls, Freddy Krueger, Ghost, Hulk, Evil Clown, Leprechaun, Megalodon, Predator, Wolfman, Wyvern...”

“Stop! No, they’re not all natural!”

“So, he’s not a monster.”

“He is a monster!” Wyndham said. “Besides, his name is Namel B. Isivnieht, from Russia.”

“So? Lots of people have strange names! Especially when they come from Russia.”

“His name is The Invisible Man, backwards – what? You failed spelling and grammar in school as well as math?”

“I didn’t fail math!”

“I was there – you did! Big time!”

Charlotte was ready to slap his silly face off his silly head and raised her arm to do it when something gripped her wrist – and another part of her body – and said with a Nigerian accent, “You don’t have to worry about him anymore, girl!”

As she struggled against the unseen hands, Wyndham suddenly crumpled across the room, blood spattering out from the back of his head as he pitched forward. A woman’s voice said, “Get your hands off her, Name – or the next bullet will be for your head!”

Names: ♀ France, China; ♂  England, Italy

Image: https://cdn.britannica.com/40/11740-004-50816EB1/Boris-Karloff-Frankenstein-monster.jpg

July 3, 2022

Slice of PIE: DISCON III – #9: Writing Short Fiction


Using the Programme Guide of the 2021 World Science Fiction Convention, DisCON III, which I WOULD have been attending in person if I felt safe enough to do so in person AND it hadn’t been changed to the week before the Christmas Holidays…I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the Program Guide. I will be using the events to drive me to distraction or revelation – as the case may be. The link is provided below where this appeared!


This was one of the two sessions I awaited with bated breath. What makes a good short story? How do you know it’s ready? Where should you send it and how should you respond to comments? This is your chance to ask burning questions to a panel of respected short fiction editors. HERE, I would discover the SECRET of breaking into ASIMOV’S, F&SF, CLARKESWORLD, and countless Anthologies…by hearing the secret advice of these fabulous writers:

José Pablo Iriarte
(JI)– lots of stories, several awards!
AT Greenblatt(ATG) – lots of stories!
Michael Swanwick (MS) – numerous stories, novels, and awards!
Rebeca Roanhorse (RR) – numerous stories, novel, and awards!
Kel Coleman (KC) – several stories, they are a new light in the SF sky!

From my notes of the session, I’ll summarize the most salient points each writer made.

Advice from JI:
“Focus on emotional PUNCH”, “I’m a plotter”; “You need SCENES”; “A novel is vignettes with characters”; “Life In Stone Glass and Plastic” – one of the first places I learned to ‘gut punch’ [with] an inevitable surprise ending.”; “Artwork that you really interact with.”; “Analyze the stories of others”; “‘Perfect’ is the ENEMY of good.”

Advice from RR:
“A short story is ONE IDEA I want to communicate. In a novel, I discover what the book is about”; “Write quickly and EXPERIMENT”; “Anthologies make money, sell reprints”; “Option your stories. Be strategic.”; “In ‘Welcome To Your Authentic Indian’, I wondered ‘what if a white person made a better Indian that the character is?’ I wanted to pull the reader into the story, so I used second person to explore ‘what is culpability?’ (read it here: https://apex-magazine.com/short-fiction/welcome-to-your-authentic-indian-experience/); “Write the story only you can write. DON’T copy or write to the market. Let the MARKET decide [if it wants you].”

Advice from ATG:
“Spark an image in your short story, the weirder the idea, the better”; “Check The Grinder and Ralan for anthologies”; “‘__________’ family in a mineshaft. Told by courses of a meal . Tension microaggressions. Visceral.”; “Read other genres – try something new.”

Advice from KC:
“How do you plot?”; “When you’re done, what do you do?”; “Demonstrating is best”; “What about chapters in a short story? JI: “Doesn’t seem to damage. Generally CAN’T stand on itself.”; “I’ve worked years on stories – seven years missing the skill set to TELL the story. Had to trunk it.”; “You need resources.”

Advice from MS:
“A short story should be THE most important incident in a character’s life. In a novel, it should be the most important PERIOD in the character’s life.”; “KNOW something – the story is shaped by your research. It’s a race between what the story and the research.”; “I laid in a parking lot to see what I could see. LOOK at things.”; “Ideas are NOT precious. They should be used!”; “SF writers don’t get paid much. Get the novel FIRST to support your short fiction. Poverty is your choice.”; “SF writers can ask questions – ‘Foresight’ in which consciousness is reversed.”; “Gardner Dozois: ‘Start the story, stick the ending.’”; “Publishing a part of a novel is hard to do. I have published the opening; then cannibalized the novel for a short story.”; “Write a story you HAVE to write; do it; send it.”

In brief:

José Pablo Iriarte: “Focus on emotional PUNCH…one of the first places I learned to ‘gut punch’ [with] an inevitable surprise ending.”
Rebeca Roanhorse: “A short story is ONE IDEA I want to communicate.”; “Write quickly and EXPERIMENT”
AT Greenblatt: “Spark an image in your short story, the weirder the idea, the better”
Michael Swanwick: “A short story should be THE most important incident in a character’s life. In a novel, it should be the most important PERIOD in the character’s life.”, “Write a story you HAVE to write; do it; send it.”

I learned and I’m applying this collection of wisdom. I hope you can use it as well. Good luck!

Program Schedule: https://discon3.org/schedule/
Image: https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQY860vAI2izm2g2mUgxzT14fGVmoGh66B51g&usqp=CAU