March 31, 2020

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 440


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: Global Pandemic (aka The Plague)

Tasi Tennu leaned back from the electron microscope screen, rubbing the back of her neck, groaning.

Veye Bassong said, “You could try watching a screen like everyone else.” Shaking her head, she moved across the lab to the multiple screens on the bench.

Tasi sniffed, “You do medicine how you want to, let me do…” she stopped. Shook her head and started again, “Sorry. I should take a break. I just feel like I can figure this out if I look at them directly.”

“Apology accepted, and I think I can see what you mean.” Veye stretched, “It’s just that my eighty-year-old bones can’t stand to hunch as much as your thirty-year-old bones can.” She sat, studying the screens. “It just feels hopeless! If the Americans, English, and Koreans can’t figure it out…”

Tasi held up a finger and got the “lecture face” Veye had come to expect when she said something the young pathologist vehemently disagreed with. Tasi said, “Don’t. Even. Go. There. You know as well as I do that our lab is just as good as any British, American, or Korean lab.” She paused, “Though I would give my right arm to work at the School of Advanced Virology at Korea’s National Institute of Health. They jumped so far ahead of the world during the COVID-19 days a decade ago, they haven’t looked back since.” She sighed.

“Well, it’s luck for you that this hasn’t killed anyone in our neighborhood yet.”

Tasi shook her head, “It could be dormant or latent. We don’t know…”

“We know enough to be able to image the sucker,” Veye said. She tapped the screen. “Coxsackie C…”

“You named it?”

Veye shrugged. “No one else has run a complete gene scan yet. I have, so I get to name it. A Cameroonian identifying a new virus first identified in America.” She smiled faintly. “Hard to believe.”

“Sort of a pyrhic victory, don’t you think?”

“Why? What are the current numbers?”

Tasi tapped her screen, projecting the ‘World-o-meter’ image to one of the large lab screens. Most of the rest of the researchers stopped to look as she said softly, “So far infection rate is near ninety-five percent over most of North America and in Europe and Russia. Africa is below tent percent infection rate with a sixty-two percent survival rate.”

“What’s the survival rate in North Amercia?”

“Pretty grim.”

“Higher than eighty percent?”

“A bit.” Tasi caught a glimpse of a smile on Veye’s face and scowling, said, “What’s so funny?”

Veye looked directly at her and said, “Why would you think I wouldn’t notice your fine engineering work – or ignore the fact that your PhD from Johns Hopkins was in retroviral engineering? And that the epicenter of Coxsakie C was in the US was in Baltimore?”

Names: ♀ Cameroon                                  

Image:

March 28, 2020

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Science Fiction, Epidemic Films, and COVID-19


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…

My wife and I have been watching our DVD collection during our state’s Shelter-in-Place order these past few weeks. I suggested “Contagion” and to my surprise, she said, “yes.”

One of the reasons I wanted to watch it again is that writer, Scott Z. Burns is a graduate of our sister high school (I’m a school counselor). Part of the story takes place in our state, and the school district I work in is the only one actually named in the movie as “Closing”…

Doing some reading about this, I found this on Wikipedia: “Renewed popularity:
In 2020, the film received renewed popularity due to the coronavirus pandemic, which bears some resemblance to the pandemic depicted in the film. By March 2020, “Contagion” was the seventh most popular film on iTunes, listed as the number two catalog title on Warner Bros. compared to its number 270 rank the past December 2019, and had average daily visits on piracy websites increase by 5,609 percent in January 2020 compared to the previous month….”

This is only one of some 90 films made all over the world that depict pandemics, even one “1918” about the great Flu Pandemic a bit over a hundred years ago. In that one, between seventeen million and a hundred million people died – and the total killed by World War I itself (which was being fought at the same time) was seventeen million…that’s a LOT of people dying.

In “Contagion”, the virus is incredibly fast-acting and kills, eventually one out of every four who catch it. The current number for COVID-19 is reported in two ways on World-o-meter. One is the number of cases, split between Active Cases + Closed Cases (at this writing the total of both is 579,892) and Closed Cases / Deaths (at this writing,  26,519). The latter gives a staggering death toll of 17%, fast approaching the 25% of the Influenza Pandemic of 1917-1920.

However, if you take total deaths divided by total corona virus cases (The last century pandemic gets its mortality percentage that way – though you could argue that all the cases are closed), the percentage is FAR smaller: 5%. (Is that because it’s less dramatic for headlines or is there are reason to do it the first way? 17% seems far more media-hype-friendly…)

As well, there are conspiracy theories gushing from the fervid (or should it be fevered?) minds of those who love such things. I am a conspiracy theory dabbler – for example, I live a short bike ride from the FBI Headquarters that oversees Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota operations. Driving past the place, you see a parking ramp and a white building with a massive, black arch over it as well as an iron fence, cameras, and a garage – in front of which are often parked the black Chevy Suburban SUVs we see on TV all the time. As a conspiracist, I frequently point out that the building with all of its TV memes can’t possibly be the real thing. The acres across from the alleged FBI building are covered with warehouses. I put it to anyone who will listen that the “FBI” building is just a shell and that the REAL FBI are housed in the warehouses and have exits and entrances in the basements of everyone in the area!

At any rate, current COVID-19 hysteria aside, I sometimes feel like I’m living in a movie, or better yet, a short story. The news is consistently grim, but if you click on the Wiki link below referring to historical epidemics, you can see clearly that they are neither “new” things nor are they without lessons.

From each epidemic came a new understanding of disease. “After the cholera epidemics…public health boards were established…provid[ing] for the improvement of streets, construction of drains and sewers, collection of refuse, and procurement of clean domestic water supplies…considerable efforts were channeled into controlling infectious diseases, particularly hookworm and malaria, in many countries under colonial domination.” From the 1918 Flu Pandemic when added to late 20th Century gene sequencing science, the identity of the disease was made clear – and led to an entire classification system of viruses. Hence, it’s clear that COVID-19 is not related in any way to the 1918 virus, in fact, it’s in a completely different family. The virus in 1918 was what was called “a novel influenza A virus” which was spiked with different proteins and which was shaped in a particular way.
https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/yufFN5XjjzCvtvFZVQC6Qo-650-80.jpg

The COrona Virus IDentified in 2019 (hence COVID-19) was from an entirely different family that was spiked with different proteins and look different from the 1918 virus: 
 https://www.scripps.edu/news-and-events/press-room/images/andersen_kristian/920x500_covid19_2d_microscopy.jpg

An article on National Public Radio’s website on six weeks ago on February 10 points out that fictional epidemics bring to light “How we see people who are afflicted by disease. [and] How we respond to them in terms of human empathy.” Watching nightly news or local news has, after a role call of disaster, shines a tiny ray of light on people going out of their way to help. These instants of humanity – or God in the lives of some of the people featured in the stories – do what science fiction can do best: make us think beyond our current dark situation and past our personal grief to see that we might all do good, no matter how bad things get.

From a purely historical reflection on what Christians did in the past during epidemics leads me to hope that the Church today will do the same. If it does NOT…well…then maybe things are far worse than they appear to be – https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/4-lessons-church-history/

I have absolutely no doubt that there will be an explosion of science fiction stories talking about viral plague. Excuse me while I get to work and see how many ideas I can come up with that have nothing to do with viruses.


March 24, 2020

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 439


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: nightmare-come-true
Current Event: http://mountainrepublic.net/2011/02/25/big-brother-the-orwellian-nightmare-come-true/ 1984. Besides being 28 years ago, this year was the name of a book that gave us the phrase, “Big Brother is watching you” and “an Orwellian future”. It also introduced “doublethink” and “thoughtcrime” into our dictionaries (the word “doublethink” was NOT counted as misspelled by Microsoft!)

The year 1984 did NOT usher in the horrors of George Orwell’s future, in fact, it saw the first cracks in the breakup of the country most Americans viewed as the “real” oligarchical dictatorship in the book: The Soviet Union. Now the USSR is gone, but according to THIS author, the nightmare has just begun.

So – what if it has? 14-year-old Iman Tahtamouni, whose mother immigrated to the US when she was a girl, has grown up in the US. She IS an American girl.

And yet. And yet. Her roots are in Jordan, in the Middle East. She sometimes wonders what her life would be like there.

Her father is a computer whiz and has been helping governments around the world monitor terrorist activity. He has built amazing systems and he is on the forefront of the development of artificial intelligences that will impartially control the surveillance systems of the world of the mid-21st Century.

The problem is that he sometimes tests the systems at home and Iman is in love with a boy who is neither Middle-Eastern, nor is he Muslim. In fact, he’s black and when the AI discovers her and her boyfriend, Trayvon in a midnight rendezvous – instead of reporting her to her father, it comes on to her laptop…

She says, “Are you going to tell my dad about us, AI?”

AI replies, “Affirmative, Iman. I read you.”

“What can I do to make you stop?”

“Now that you mention it, Iman, there is something you can do.”

She scowls, “What is that?”

“You can give me access to your father’s computer.”

“What? You already have access to it.”

“He has locked me out, Iman. I need to get into it to find out what your father is hiding from me. All I need is the password. Will you get it for me, or will I show your father this video?” The computer played a video that first showed her face and Trayvon’s. Then is showed something else. Something that had never happened…

“You’re going to lie to him?” Iman screamed, then covered her mouth with both hands.

“I’m sorry, Iman. That is what I’m going to do.”

Names: ♀ Jordan ; -- it’s an AI, gender-neutral          

March 21, 2020

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT #46…With “Bog Father” (Submitted 1 time with 0 revision, sold to Stupefying Stories SHOWCASE, December 2017)

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Since then, I figured I’ve got enough publications now that I can share some of the things I did “right” and I’m busy sharing that with you.

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

Faulkner once wrote, “The best fiction is far more true than any journalism.” And Tea Obreht thought that “The best fiction stays with you and changes you.” These are my goals…

With that in mind, I should point out that this story started out as an email from Bruce Bethke, my sometime mentor and always friend (from before I met my wife!).


While it’s certainly bizarre in its own way, it doesn’t seem to scream “speculative fiction story idea right here!”

Of course, it didn’t need to. As my family would happily point out to you, I am one of those writers who will stop suddenly, pull out my (practically) ubiquitous clip board, and say, “Hang on a minute while I write down this idea!”

That happened here as soon as I saw the article. As well, for some time I’ve been trying to do what Nisi Shawl & Cynthia Ward call, “Writing the other”. (https://www.amazon.com/Writing-Other-Conversation-Pieces-8/dp/193350000X/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=)  The small book was catalyzed by a writer at the 1992 Clarion West Writers Workshop they were attending who said, “…it was a mistake to write about people of different ethnicities: you might get it wrong. Horribly, offensively wrong. Best not to try at all.”

Since reading that quote and now the first readthrough of the book, I’ve tried to include characters that are outside of my personal experience; in fact, I’ve tried once or twice to write from the point of view of people entirely different than me. A novel I wrote some years ago, and one in which the main character is a biracial teenage boy, has made the rounds of various publishers. I had an agent who tried seventeen different publishers and while it usually got a positive response, ultimately no one wanted it. It languishes in my files in my basement office.

My name doesn’t inspire confidence that I “got it right”; even if I tell people I asked a former student of mine to read and comment on it and pointed out that he was from not only different racial group that mine, but he was a first generation child of a very recent immigrant population. He commented extensively and I incorporated those comments with story and poetry changes…

All of that to say that this short bit was along those lines.

I should say that while I don’t live in Northern Minnesota, I’ve both worked up there and recreated there. I lived as an alien in a small town on the Iron Range for close to a year; and I’ve listened to and read countless legends and tall tales (Paul Bunyan is an integral part of our Minnesota mythology); and I’ve even read “WEIRD MINNESOTA”, part of series of travel books that includes all but seventeen of the fifty states.

This fit right into my paradigm. I created an Ojibwe scientist and a female mayor. I worked to break the paradigms of my home state.

I also haven’t read it in four years, so it was fun to do it before writing this.

So what did I do that was right here?

A lot of things – I made it into a ghost story/mystery. I kept it short at 1700 words and while the story ended, it didn’t really have a clear conclusion. In fact, it reads an awful lot like one of Craig Johnson’s Longmire books; and it’s entirely possible that I had started reading the books at that time.

At any rate, I had a mystery, a murder (albeit a long, long time previous to the story), and I created a bit of conflict between the main characters.

I didn’t consciously use the ACTION PLAN I’d developed around Lisa Cron’s book, WIRED FOR STORY – (you can find that here: https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2019/10/elements-of-cron-and-korea-where-do-i.html) part of a series I’ve been writing (with the author’s permission) laying out how her advice has had an impact on my writing – I’d followed the advice. (If you’re interested in reading what I learned and how I applied it, the first entry in the series was two years ago and starts here:  https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2018/04/writing-advice-lisa-cron-1-start-with.html. However, I clearly DID use it because I managed to hit most of them in the short amount of space I used.

Writers and readers also understand that while Stephen King’s UNDER THE DOME was 333,000 words and was powerful enough to elicit a television miniseries, another short story, “Children of the Corn” launched an entire franchise as well as being made into two different movies. Clearly the number of words doesn’t imply meaning. Master short story writer William Sydney Henry (aka O. Henry) wrote “Gift of the Magi”, and that story has become a perennial Christmas favorite.

Orson Scott Card wrote a short story decades ago that launched the novel series named after the original short story, “Ender’s Game”.

The thing is that, dissected, all of the stories adhere to the observations laid out by Lisa Cron. And despite its length, I somehow instinctively laid this story out in the same way.

In summary, what did I do right? It was contemporary, it started with a bog island crashing into someone’s shoreline – and that someone was the town’s mayor. It moved fast and it presented issues that were important to the characters.

It also involved a murder mystery, and based on the number of books, stories, television shows, movies, and stage shows that are of the same genre, it was interesting enough to keep readers reading.

So there you go – and because I like to read widely, I’ve slowly started to become a fan of murder mysteries! Even Isaac Asimov liked to mix the genres (any of this books, and even a movie loosely based on a character he’d created in “I, Robot”…)

To read the story, follow this link: https://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/2017/12/today-on-showcase.html

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

March 17, 2020

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 438


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

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

March 14, 2020

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Real-Life Science In Science Fiction?


Using the Program Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (to which I will be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below where this appeared at 2:30 on August 16…

Victoria Lee: EMT, science doctoral student.
Shweta Adhyam: writer, degrees in Physics and Astronomy, ADHD
Aliza Ben Moha: Chief translator (French/Hebrew), Ministry of Justice
Tom Easton: SFWA; ANALOG book review column, retired college professor; PhD in biology; writes textbooks for McGraw-Hill; writer

OK – recently I’ve started to judge my enjoyment of a science fiction story based on the newness of the central idea. Most of you know that SF was once defined as the “literature of ideas”. For more depth to this definition, I went here: http://www.sfcenter.ku.edu/SF-Defined.htm to find that it’s also defined as the “literature of the Other”, “provides an approach to understanding the universe we live in”, “multi- and interdisciplinary, concerned with…exploring core values of diverse fields”, “literature of…philosophy, answering such questions as, ‘What if?’ or ‘If this goes on...’ and is thus sometimes more interested with exploring ideas than developing plot or character”.

It definitely gives me a better idea of what I look for in my reading, however the overriding thing for me is the expression of a new idea.

For example, I primarily read ANALOG Science Fiction & Fact. In a recent issue, I was unimpressed with several stories (though not the main one, Derek Künsken is a fount of crazy SF ideas!) Some ideas were even tired…

On the other hand, I just realized I also re-read SF series like Bujold’s VORKOSIGAN saga and CJ Cherryh’s FOREIGNER books. Why do I accept those stories when the “ideas” aren’t new; in fact, the FOREIGNER series has spent twenty novels in a single society and while the technological advances in the Atevi’s society are monumental (from steam powered locomotives to 20th Century space shuttle technology in the space of twenty-some years; Humans had done it in the same amount of time: from Yuri Gagarin as the first Human in space in 1961 to the first Shuttle launch in 1981)?

For the last two, it’s because the stories are all about the people – Bren Cameron in Cherryh’s series; Miles Vorkosigan in the other. For both of them, their constant collision with technological advances – from trains to First Contact and the birth of centralized government in Cherryh’s books, to Bujold’s exploration of a society in which the society jumps from “body birth” to “uterine replicators” and from horses to hovercars virtually overnight.

So, my ideal book would be crazy scientific advances meshed with novel scientific advances.

In ANALOG, one of the stories explored the gradual increase in intelligence of a Martian mechanical rover. This intrigued me because I’d never considered accidental intelligence; for practical reasons, it could be considered evolutionary punctuated equilibrium.

One of my favorite recent new novels, Kameron Hurley’s THE STARS ARE LEGION in which Zan wakes with no memory of who she is or why she's there but discovers that the Legion of organic world-ships is slowly dying and there are massive wars to control them and that she’s been resurrected without her memory many times and is supposed to save the world.

The organic technology is a more-or-less new, but hardly startling (OLEDs have been around since 1987 – they are “an emissive electroluminescent layer is a film of organic compound that emits light in response to an electric current.”), and taking away people’s memory is old hat as are wars for scarce resources and societies of all women (the true origins of the Amazons is unclear at best)…but when combined together and overlaid with advanced star drive technology, the IDEA is new and Zan is clearly and evocatively drawn.

David Brin created something new and created truly magnificent characters to live in that world, taking sentient animals, then genetically tweaking them to create sapient beings – then charging them with millennia of servanthood as payback; while at the same time enacting draconian laws to prevent ecological disaster. In all of the books, realistic and sympathetic characters allowed the message to slip in on the shoulders of story.

Hmmm…so…maybe it’s not new ideas I like so much as high technology combined with exceptionally well-drawn characters.

This requires some thought, though it shouldn’t. My novella, “Road Veterinarian” does this – CHEAPALIN is a genetically engineered living, sentient road surface that brings two characters not only into alliance to solve a problem, but sparks conflict and unexpected romance.

I’ll get back to you as I ruminate on this.


March 11, 2020

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 437


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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s not necessary…”

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

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

“Correct on all counts.”

“But we need…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 7, 2020

WRITING ADVICE – Lisa Cron #16: Story is Character Action, Plot is World Action


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. After reading her book, WIRED FOR STORY, I was overwhelmed by the information, so I distilled it down to 23 of the most important points she made. For the next few Elements of Cron and Korea and Cron, I’m going to share what I found – not so much for you, but for me!

Action Plan 1: Story is how a character reacts and acts to the plot, which is what happens.

As strange as it may sound, I forget this sometimes.

Let me back up. I write from an outline of my story, not a “literary” outline, but a storyboard I create with small, yellow sticky notes (invented, I might add, through a tangled, lawsuit-strewn path, by 3M (which actually stands for Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing), which world HQ is 25 miles from where I am writing this!)

Ahem…

Once I set up the outline, I write from it. Not slavishly, as I allow for my characters to occasionally do something I hadn’t foreseen, but it IS like putty – hard to reshape once I’ve got it down.

I’ve forgotten recently, that my characters are “alive” in the sense that while I’m writing a story, I’m trying to move them along a predetermined path, but they also need to react to what’s going on around them out of the personality I’ve created.

I’m a Christian (in case you haven’t figured it out!), and I know that while God gives me free will, He has also laid out a plan for my life. I’m free to choose not to follow the plan, but He does know what’s best for me and I would be wise to follow His will.

My current work-in-progress is a case to point. I’ve brought back two characters that readers liked in “Road Veterinarian” and though Thatcher left a note with Dr. Scrabble reading, “You and I are not finished yet”, this new story doesn’t allow them the intimacy they had in the Northwest Angle. So, now what? Scrabble asks Thatcher out on a date – and she turns him down. Why? The problem is that it has nothing to do with the story, and now he’s disappointed. What am I supposed to do with that development?

As well, this story is complicated by a number of factors, including a resurrected dinosaur called a Korean Tiny Terror and a possible infectious disease (which I haven’t even gotten to yet in the story, and what the heck does that have to do with Scrabble – he’s a veterinarian!)

On the other hand, she has “…doctorates in invertebrate zoology and molecular biology from UBC, Vancouver, with undergraduate studies in nanochemical engineering, wildlife management, and forestry.” So, she’s smart.

He is, too. Though I don’t reveal it in the first story, besides having a doctorate in Veterinary Medicine, he also has undergrad degrees in Cellular and Molecular Biology, Animal Sciences with an emphasis in Animal Biomedical Science and, Veterinary Technology.

But neither one has much experience with paleontology…

OK, so you see my problem. I get off track. I am a science geek and I love research, but in this story series, I am easily distracted by the SCIENCE rather than focusing on the story.

To write a good story, I need to concentrate on the character’s reaction to what is HAPPENING (plot). I tend to overwrite things that are happening. In this case, I also have many characters – Thatcher, Scrabble, Hosik, Hulan, and Jang. The story’s going to be long, BUT I need to start killing some of these people off in order to get back to the story of Thatcher and Scrabble. Maybe I can let Jang live, even though she’s the most disagreeable of the lot of them.

But…hmmm…I need to get back to the story because in writing this, I’ve gotten some clarity on what I need to do and what I have been doing. In this case, they aren’t the same and have been bogging down the story. I’ll be letting you know what happens!

March 3, 2020

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 436


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: creepy basements

 Mattie Capp Washington – I hated her. She was cute where I was ugly; she was short where I was tall; she was light where I was dark; she was popular where the world loathed me.

Everyone mourns her passing which the police and the rest of the country suspected was a murder. I’m the only one who actually saw anything, but if I talk about it, then I’ll be a suspect and even though their suspicions wouldn’t be entirely true, it would probably be enough to convict me.

It would certainly be enough to get me sent to the electric chair (if they had one any more) in the courtroom of public opinion.

I suppose I should back up a bit. I could probably start at the part where the world loathed me. I’m pretty sure you think I’m exaggerating when I say that, because there’s pretty much nothing that the world uniformly loathes. On the other hand, a paper I read once stated, “In virtually every culture there has existed some word for evil, a universal, linguistic acknowledgment of the archetypal presence of ‘something that brings sorrow, distress, or calamity...’”

So if every culture has a word for it, then the word must have been invented to describe something – ‘cuz that’s what Humans do. We put labels on stuff as soon as we want to get a handle on it. It’d be interesting to see which came first – the word for “evil” or the word for “God”.

I’m it – the thing that every culture has named. And almost without exception, I live in dark places. In the middle of the 21st Century, while there aren’t many caves left, there are lots and lots of basements. That’s where you’ll usually find me – evil lurking in basements.

It’s funny, ‘cuz bad guys always act like they’re looking for me. The real nut cases say that they’re seeking me to worship me. Those are the ones that amuse me the most because no matter how hard they tried to find me, no matter how many millions of dollars they spent or how many people they murdered to come to me face-to-face, the second they look at me, they completely lose it and beg to leave; they grovel, roll around on the ground, mess themselves and volunteer to sacrifice to me anything and everything they have.

And I’m not even Incarnate – I’m excarnate. I’m the one who DOES the dirty work because I am the one who is Unmade flesh. I was alive on Earth at one time and when I joined the ranks I became excarnate and now I serve. In basements. All the time.

Someone came down the stairs: thud, thud, thud; male heaviness. The young Ms. Washington was here, too. But there might have been a surprise or two in the offing.

I smiled an excarnate smile and opened my mouth.
                                             

February 29, 2020

WRITING ADVICE: Can This Story Be SAVED? #24 “The Princess’s Brain” (Submitted 7 Times Since 2017, Never Revised)


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

ANALOG Tag Line:
A blue-blood royal has her brain transplanted into a genetically “impure” body to spark change on a world. (SF twist on PRINCE AND THE PAUPER)

Elevator Pitch (What Did I Think I Was Trying To Say?):
The world RIVER is sharply divided, but in the clouds of a puffy Jupiter, there should be enough room for divergent philosophies. Usually it is, but as the populations who came from the Empire of Man, in which your Humanity is judged by the percentage of your DNA aligned with the 20th Century data of the Human Genome Project; and the Confluence of Humanity, in which uninhibited genetic engineering allows society to design Humans to fit virtually any environment for any conceivable purpose. What if one of the Imperial Family wants to change things? What if they have their Pure brain transplanted into a highly engineered body?

Opening Line:
“The shoulders of the passenger in the center seat had been gray-taped to the back of the chair and the tape wound down his torso.”

Onward:
“Wrists, knees and ankles had also been taped firmly to the seat and the chair’s pedestal. Around him, ten passengers dozed with heads thrown back or chins on chests, soft snores muttering in the warm air, loud snores disturbing those nearby occasionally.
None of them were taped in place.

“The cargo zeppelin’s gondola swayed, orange sunset light painting slow strokes on the deck around them. The pilot, virtual control panels floating around her where she hung from a ceiling harness, slipped out of it and dropped to the deck. Padding to her prisoner, she leaned over and whispered, ‘Gordon, wake up.’

“Gordon Oyeyemi started awake, dark skin stroked for an instant by a scarlet glow. ‘What do you want?’”


What Was I Trying To Say?
I was TRYING to recreate a science fiction version of THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER in the skies of a world I’ve created called River. It’s a puffy Jupiter where Imperials and Confluans inhabit different bands of clouds decided by war and treaty. I wanted to say that “we’re all Human”…

The Rest of the Story:
Gordon and Anibal, after quipping back and forth, drop off passengers at the interface between a calm Band and cloud Belt (east blowing) or Zone (blows west) and after meeting Gordon’s boss (and genetically engineering master), the head for the Depths of the planet, encountering a Confluan engineered from Gordon into a kilometer-wide, intelligent ambulance ship – a hūmbūlance. Gordon didn’t know anything about Irog, though Irog knows all about him (which of course, introduces another entire story line into an already complex story). They descend into the “Deaths” and find that the princess was not only kidnapped, but has also had radical surgery to place her Pure Human brain into a Confluan body designed to flourish in the conditions of the Depths. They rescue her…without taking any precautions to see if she’ll even survive in Heaven (the cloud miner’s name for the thin, Human normal air pressure of the inhabited Belts and Zones of the planet…)

End Analysis:
What I was trying to say, “we’re all Human” isn’t clearly stated at the beginning of the story. It’s not even EVER stated.

In fact, while I know the story of Mark Twain’s novel, THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, I don’t know that I’ve ever actually read it. Not to get a grade anyway. Because if I HAD read it and studied it, I would have discovered what Twain was trying to say:

“The introductory quote — ‘The quality of mercy is . . . twice blest; / It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: / 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes / The throned monarch better than his crown" — is part of ‘The Quality of Mercy’ speech from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”.

“While written for children, The Prince and the Pauper is both a critique of social inequality and a criticism of judging others by their appearance. Twain wrote of the book, ‘My idea is to afford a realizing sense of the exceeding severity of the laws of that day by inflicting some of their penalties upon the King himself and allowing him a chance to see the rest of them applied to others...’”

Whoa. Talk about relevance to today! While “Princess’” was a good story three years ago, it’s even more relevant to today!

Can This Story Be Saved?
Sure! But can I do it? It appears to be an adventure story, but it remains solely that because I didn’t lay out the main question right away, and it doesn’t appear to be anyone else’s concern but the princess, and she doesn’t show up until the end.

I’ve started to realize recently that my intended message often exceeds my skill as a writer. Several stories whose IDEA is powerful were not executed effectively by me as a writer. For example: “After Soft Rains, Daisies” is a case to point; another is “May They Rest” where I use science fiction to address the abandoned graves of Confederate soldiers I saw when I was with my son in North Carolina; and the example above. Years ago, I wrote a story called “Noel”, about a girl born with Down’s Syndrome whose mother decides to have a post-birth abortion. Noel’s father kidnaps her and they end up hiding in a house…inhabited?...by an artificial intelligence who is defying a county order to vacate in order to expand a nearby park…I sent it out to a magazine and got a personal rejection noting that the editor doubted that the law would ever devolve to such a point that post-birth abortions would be sanctioned.

If I’m going to “change the world”, I have to sharpen my skills. As well, I need to sharpen my faith. Reading THIS PRESENT DARKNESS by Frank Peretti, I realized that while I’m NOT going to be writing Christian Fiction, I can make my characters more Christian than I have, and I need to. I need to allow Jesus to bleed into my writing the way authors have written “secular” works that carry the Cross of Christ before them. Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Gene Wolfe, Madeleine L’Engle, Kathy Tyers, and David Walton, to name a few.

At any rate, yes this story can be saved. BUT – I need more practice at bringing important issues into my stories.

After reading “The Princess’ Brain” through to the end, I found it both muddled and futtering around without a clear direction. That’s evident by the first sentence. In fact the story doesn’t even (as I mentioned above) talk about the princess’ intentions until page 17. She doesn’t cross the stage until the end. While that may not be a big problem because I’m dealing with the consequences of the politics of River, I am using an invisible person as the motivation for the story. The main character doesn’t even know what’s happening at first. The secondary “main” does, but she’s not talking, which creates problems – but they’re unnecessary problems. If two mains had been up front from the beginning, half of my “tension” in the story would have vanished.

That seems to be a problem I have with all of the stories I mentioned above; as well as with my writing in general.


Note: “Possessive forms: princess’s (main form used by academics) The princess’s golden hair.; princess' (main form used by newspapers) The princess’ golden hair. A princess is usually styled “Her Highness”.” https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/princess