September 30, 2010


Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON: the story has stayed with me for decades, a symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human mind. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I want to bring the original idea into the present millennium. To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll to the bottom.

CJ Hastings spent most of the next school day trying to hide the fact that he’d learned how to read over the weekend.

He also found out it wasn’t hard to hide it. Most people knew he didn’t know how to read. They figured that was how he was always going to be. Reading was his first class each day and they’d scheduled it that way so he could “warm up” for daily assignments.

He was staring down at a reading and writing in-class assignment when Mr. Quinn leaned over him in class and whispered, “We’ve just got to keep working, CJ! You may never read as well as other kids, but there are plenty of things you can do to help. You should be able to get all of your college books as mp3 files. Or even hire someone to read them to you. Just keep working as hard as you always do and you’ll keep getting better. That’s all we can do – keep getting better.”

CJ looked up at him. He was sort of a grandfatherly sort. The only kids who gave him a hard time were the real hard-cores. When they did that though, they found out Mr. Quinn was anything BUT a grandfather. He’d been coaching CJ since sixth grade. He’d even tried working with him after school, but nothing seemed to work.

Now, Mai Li said he could read at a ninth grade reading level. Would that continue to go up the more he practiced, or would the gains all of a sudden start to fade away and leave him worse off than he started? He leaned over the assignment. When him and Mai Li had been sitting in front of the computer and he’d been reading out loud to her – and she’d been grinning – he’d felt like he’d grown wings and could fly.

That was compared to feeling like he was retarded and barely had wing stubs because his measured reading level was equal to that of a second-grader. A NEW second-grader.

OTOH, he didn’t think he should just start reading at a ninth grade level all of a sudden. It might give Mr. Quinn a heart attack! Worse, he might accuse CJ of messing with people’s emotions all these years by pretending to need help reading. He hunched over the assignment even more and started writing at his usual rate – even though he could suddenly READ everything at was on the page.

He stared at it for a while. Why hadn’t he been able to read all these years? The phone rang in the corner and Mr. Quinn went to answer it. CJ hardly noticed, he was too busy slowing himself down. How was it that his brain had been unable to see, process and interpret the symbols on the page – he’d listened to people talking about him since he was in third grade and Mom had first worried about his reading – when he did it so easily now? The paragraph in front of him was like…a little kid's story.

At the same time, he knew he’d been almost completely incapable of reading this last Friday.

What had happened?

Mai Li…

“Mai Li…” Mr. Quinn said at the phone. The teacher’s eyes looked up and locked on CJ’s eyes at that moment. He covered the receiver and said, “Get your things and hurry down to the office, CJ. Your mother is waiting for you.”

“Why?” CJ asked, knowing as he said exactly how stupid it sounded.

“Just hurry. She needs you there right away.”

CJ ran.


September 26, 2010

A Slice of PIE: “My platform? Wazzat?”

Lately I've been shopping around three of my novels: INVADER'S GUILT, VICTORY OF FISTS, and HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: EMERALD OF EARTH. I also have a children's chapter book ready to go and I've started rewriting a novel I first posted here as a series of flash fiction stories, THIRTEEN SQUARE MILES.

VICTORY OF FISTS has been out there since December of 2008 (thirteen times, twelve to agents). INVADER’S GUILT since August of 2009 following a major revision (at least seven times to agents, probably more, but I may have started before I kept computer records); HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES has been out four times since May 2010, once in a contest and three times to agents.

So out of twenty-four submissions, there were twenty-one “thanks but no thanks”, one started as one of five thousand and ended up as one of the top fifty submissions in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, and twice agents requested partials. Nathan Bransford asked to see the first thirty pages of my initial storyline of INVADER’S GUILT (I’ve since revised it and narrowed it) and Caitlin Blasdell wanted to see the first fifty pages of HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES. Both passed on representation.

Lots and lots of times I sent it out. I never once mentioned my “platform”. What’s a platform – besides a place for the high dive to be taken from?

According to Nathan Bransford, “…platform is one of those nebulous concepts that will result in a thousand different definitions if you ask a thousand different individuals. But here's how I think of it: platform is the number of eyeballs you can summon as you promote your book. A ‘platform’ may be comprised of an Internet or media presence, a very strong reputation in a particular field, a TV show, affiliation with a popular brand, a connection to a popular writing collective, celebrity status, or ownership of the world's largest soapbox. When it comes to platform: publishers want authors to have it, especially for nonfiction, and it doesn't hurt for fiction either. ” ( )

So when I sent HEIRS out this last time, I included the following: “I also travel to two to five Young Author's Conferences each year, teach writing to young people during two or three sessions of summer school and typically coach several writers each year giving me a potential for reaching 200-1000 young people each year. My blog typically gets 70 discrete hits each time I post twice a week.

That tagline is my platform – the place from which I might be able to sell books. At first, I was sort of offended by this idea, but lately I’ve come to see both the wisdom of it and how it can work. I have a ready-made platform. I’m a teacher. Over the years, I’ve had some 150 students I’ve worked with each school year. My career has spanned almost 30 years. The number of kids I’ve connected with? 30 x 150 = 4500. As far as I’ve been led to believe, that’s pretty much a first run of an original paperback science fiction novel. Maybe more, maybe less for a teen book; less than that for a “kids” book. So that’s my platform – the place from which I might sell my book is among people whose lives I have become INVOLVED with. Not strangers whom I’ve never seen and certainly not because of an impersonal advertising square in LOCUS MAGAZINE. I’ve come to understand that while most publishers will HELP with that, it still remains the author’s responsibility to sell his or her own book.

My response to that is: “Well, duh!”

And the connection with faith? What is the platform from which we “sell” our faith in Jesus Christ? In his book, THE PRESENT FUTURE, Reggie McNeal points out that today’s Christian Church has, for the most part, adopted a “build it and they will come” attitude toward their fellowship. While this worked in the 1950s, people are more cynical and less likely to trust institutions in the 21st Century because schools, government, industry, banking and entertainment have disappointed over and over and over again. He advocates a different, "witness within the culture" sort of approach that, I think, still misses the mark by a long shot and creates a new institution sort of like a "Jesus welfare system".

What was the platform from which the apostles and young Christian Church sold faith in Jesus Christ? Sacrifice. They willingly gave up their lives for the cause of Christ and not surprisingly, even Reggie McNeal’s powerful book got that one wrong. Today’s Church, at least most of the American-style one, myself included, hasn’t sacrificed anything for decades…

My response to that is: “Well, duh!”

Maybe I need a new platform; one that will show willingness to die for my faith; and “die” for my writing.



September 25, 2010


My new job has had an impact on me in unexpected ways (please note I did NOT say, “My new job has impacted me in unexpected ways.” This is a ridiculous grammar mistake that has taken the media, church staff and high-powered business presenters by storm. It’s WRONG. “impacted” is adjective, NOT a verb!) Where I could often hand-write an essay in class during quizzes, tests, movies or prep time and post it later, that is NOT the case this year. The biggest difference between being a guidance counselor and a classroom teacher is that the latter runs on a predictable timetable, the former does NOT. I am therefore skipping last Thursday’s posting A SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH 16 and this weekend I will be writing next Thursday’s post, THE RECONSTRUCTION OF MAI LI HASTINGS 16 as well as my regularly scheduled SLICE OF PIE:…

September 19, 2010

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Perpendicular Thoughts on Objectifying Reality

In my mind’s eyes, I can clearly see my pastor where he stands on the stage, a music stand to one side holding his notes, a stool with a glass of water, himself sitting on another stool.

At the rear center of the worship center, over my shoulder and behind me, is a raised platform on which the closed-circuit camera rests, aimed quietly at the pastor. The image picked up by the trumpet-case-sized device, is projected up on a pair of HD screens on which the image is color-corrected to give realistic representation of the pastor.

I find my eyes drifting more often to the screen than to the person…


Why does science fiction on the Big Screen tromp, crush, smash and beat up science fiction on acid-free paper?

Over thirty years ago, I stood in a line that was blocks long, for two hours to get a chance to see the original STAR WARS movie (defying all logic, it is now Episode 4: A New Hope).

Today at Barnes & Noble, the number of STAR TREK, STAR WARS, HALO, WORLDS OF WARCRAFT and media-related novels almost matches the number of original science fiction and fantasy and horror novels.

It APPEARS to me that people would rather act out or watch others act out their SF/F/H fantasies – rather than invoke the words in a regular novel and with the author, create a totally new place.


Finally, in a line of thought not even cotangent to the above (though possibly perpendicular), I offer the following definitions:

OBJECTIFY: 1) exteriorize; make external or objective, or give reality to; "language externalizes our thoughts"; 2) depersonalize; make impersonal or present as an object; "Will computers depersonalize human interactions?"; "Pornography objectifies women"

Did you notice that they have opposite meanings (I didn’t even have to try to find them juxtaposed, they are the first two in GOOGLE define!)?

To compress a bit, the first definition makes something more real, the second less real. Is it any wonder that we have trouble with the concept of looking at something unreal and making it real – and looking at other things that are real and making them unreal? Is it in the nature of Humans to be able to do this without thinking – a nature that at the same time allows us to read words printed on a page and make from them a “reality” and look at a person in front of us and make of them a “thing”?


Could this confusion of definition lead to a situation like perceiving real people saying imaginary things, and hearing imaginary people saying things we perceive as real? (What pops into mind is when we put words into the mouths of politicians; and those who mouth the sayings of Paul Muad’Dib from DUNE as if they were real wisdom…)

Last thought to tie this all together: have we become so lazy of mind that the line between imagining reality and UNimagining reality has blurred to near invisibility?

Any thoughts on the subject?



September 12, 2010

WRITING ADVICE: Nathan Bransford 7 – How To Write A Synopsis

Nathan Bransford is a West Coast agent with the New York literary agency, Curtis Brown, Ltd. For the past nine years, he has been writing a popular blog reflecting on and illuminating the publishing world. Humorous, serious and ultimately enlightening, I’ll be looking at how THE ESSENTIALS (PLEASE READ BEFORE YOU QUERY) have had an impact on my writing. I am using them with his permission and if you’d like to read his blog (which I highly recommend) go to

This is particularly important right now as I am planning on submitting my 110,000 word, 603-page novel, INVADER’S GUILT to Penguin, Inc. They are the publishing conglomerate that owns DAW and ACE, both major publishers of science fiction. I want to go through an agent, but both DAW and ACE accept unsolicited manuscripts, though only if they are complete and disposable.

However, I’m planning to continue to solicit agents as well. The next one on my “hit list” is Mendel Media Group, LLC ( and Scott Mendel requires the first twenty pages and a synopsis of the book.

I’ve written synopses (Latin plural of “synopsis”) before, though I’ve never sold a book that went with one before. So while I reflect on this particular ESSENTIAL, I’m going to be quite literally, taking Nathan Bransford’s advice.

He says that a good place to go is the cover copy of a book – subtracting anything about the author and adding the ending. As an example and the one I’ll probably mirror, go here: In case you can’t read it, here’s what it says: “The Terran exploration vessel STREAKER has crashed on the uncharted water-world of Kithrup, bearing one of the most important discoveries in galactic history. Above in space, armadas of aliens clash in a titanic struggle to claim her. Below, a handful of her human and dolphin crew battles armed rebellion and a hostile planet to safeguard her secret – the fate of the Progenitors, the fabled First Race who seeded wisdom throughout the stars.”

The rest of the copy on the page is in praise of David Brin’s second book, which won both the Hugo and Nebula Award for 1983. So, here’s my first stab at a synopsis for INVADER’S GUILT: BOOK ONE OF THE GOD-PART FABRICATION.

Let me know what you think of this:

“The alien WheetAh are half plant, half animal and all ready to defend their homeworld from invading Humans. A Human armada has chased the aliens across the stars to this final battleground. Aboard one ship, a man stands ready to spread a genocidal plague; one woman flees the condemnation of a world for a designer drug gone wrong; another labors to atone for a horrible accident that decimated a peaceful race as well as her family. In the planetary capitol, the Landgrave of Landgraves will blow up his world if Humans breech the defenses. And while WheetAh revolt against WheetAh and Humans fight Humans in space, transcendent beings manipulate both as their own factions vie for control of the god-part created by melding WheetAh and Human cultures.”


September 5, 2010

A Slice of PIE: The NEW Natural Order of Things

After a brief overview of arguably famous writers (James Michener, JK Rowling, David Brin, Stephenie Meyer, Eoin Colfer, Julie Czerneda, Peter F. Hamilton, Anne McCaffrey, David Weber, Brandon Sanderson, Stephen King, Suzanne Collins and John Scalzi), I noticed that only three started their published writing careers after the age of 40.

Of course, I’d always been told that Michener didn’t start until he was like, seventy or something. That had always given me hope that I wasn't "too late" to start a writing career.

In case you didn’t notice, most of the writers above are speculative fiction (that’s publishing code for science fiction, fantasy, horror and indefinable work that has something futuristic, fantastic or horrible in it – though that can get pretty vague and you will find the likes of Stephen King, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE and A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT in “Fiction & Literature” at Barnes & Noble).

Most of the writers above seem to have published their first novels when they were in their thirties, though one notable exception started when he was the tender age of 27.

That leads me to conclude that The Natural Order of Things is for a writer to get famously published when he or she is firmly ensconced in their thirties. Ah well, that's it for me. Might as well throw in the towel and resign myself to a life of correcting papers and teaching ninth-graders about physics and chemistry...

Of course, it’s also in The Natural Order of Things to be turned topsy-turvy. That’s why James Michener is first on my list. His TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC, which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1949 and served as the basis for Roger’s and Hammerstein’s musical SOUTH PACIFIC, was published when he was 40. Anne McCaffrey’s “Weyr Search” and “Dragonrider”…well, let’s just say her work has given me hope. Writers of more recent vintage who started their careers later in life include Robert Jordan (though he was writing before The Wheel of Time series. THE EYE OF THE WORLD wasn’t published until he was 42 – just like Frontier Story (aka “Westerns”) legend, Louis L’Amour. Ellen Hopkins, best-selling author of the teen novels CRANK, BURN and others, was first published when she was 49.

And what caused me to begin to question The Natural Order of Things? Yesterday I became a father-in-law seven weeks after I became a grandfather. In my old life, I would have been more interested in The Natural Order of Things than I am now. I would have been more rigid, possibly even judgmental. Even so, my mind wandered (it does that a lot these days) and random thinker that I am, that newly-grown flexibility has started to spill over into my writing life. Maybe I can still become a new OLD writer! Why not? Anything is possible now that I'm starting to wrap my head around such a new (for me) idea.

I'm looking forward to exploring The NEW Natural Order of Things and I hope to take some of you along with me.


September 2, 2010


This series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, into Canada and back again. He was gone from home for a month. I was astonished and fascinated by the tale. So I added some imaginary elements and this series is the result. To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH, click on the label to the right. The FIRST entry is on the bottom.

They walked until the sun started to rise and Tommy Hastings said, “Maybe we better lay down someplace and sleep.”

Freddie Merrill yawned hugely, staggering from their side of the road to the far side. He said, “I’m not tired. If we just keep walking maybe we’ll make it to Duluth tonight.” He stopped, yawned again, stretching. He looked at Tommy blearily. “I’m good to keep going if you are.”

Tommy stared at him. Infected by the yawn, he did the same thing then answered, “No, I’m good. I can keep going.”

They kept walking.

Tommy tripped and fell down, catching himself on his hands and knees, cussing. He didn’t get up.

“Are you OK?”

“Yeah. Just tired, I guess. Feels better to sit here like this than walk.”

Freddie started back to him, stopped and looked around. “What’s that?”

“What’s what?” asked Tommy, looking up.

“That noise,” he whispered. Freddie closed his eyes and listened intently. “Sounds like cans clanking.”

“What kind of cans?”

“Like garbage cans or something.”

Tommy pulled himself to his feet, listening. “It’s coming closer.”

“Maybe we should get off the road?”

“And go where?” He looked wildly around. Mille Lacs was to their left. Nothing but really, really tall green grass and ponds of water on their right. Like a swamp or something.

They stood in the middle of the road, looking back toward Bayfield. Freddie said, “What if it’s the witch?”

“If it’s her, she’s driving a garbage truck,” said Tommy. The rattling grew louder.

“Shouldn’t we do something?”

Tommy squinted against the bright morning light then stepped over to the side of the road and said, “Yeah. Stick out your thumb.”


“If it’s the mobsters, they’ll shoot us. If it’s the communists, they’ll bomb us. If it’s the witch, she’ll hex us. Any way you look at it, we’re dead.”

“What if it’s a milk truck or something?”

“Then we can get a glass of milk.”

“Or a ride?”

“That, too.”

The rattling grew louder. From around the corner a flatbed truck roared, trailing a cloud of blue smoke. Tommy stuck out his thumb and Freddie followed suit. The truck slowed down and stopped, rumbling next to them. On the door was stenciled MOONEY MILK. A young, dark-haired man – barely older than them – slid over to the door, leaned out of the window and shouted down, “Need a ride?”

Tommy only nodded.

“Well then, get in back! I’m on a milk run and I’ll be stoppin’ at every Podunk from here to Glenn long as it’s on the road, so jump up. T’ pay fer your ride, you lug the milk cans up and load ‘em! Deal?”

Tommy nodded. Freddie nodded more slowly.

“Hurry yourselves up! I gotta go!”

Tommy and Freddie scrambled up into the truck. It had hardly gone more than a half mile and both boys were sound asleep.