March 30, 2012

Ghost Ship

Entry in the 4/7/12 FRIDAY CHALLENGE

“I knew this would be boring,” said Hadley McDermott.

Serena La Fontaine, aka Tanisha Smith, slugged him in the shoulder. “You said you wanted to do an Alaskan Cruise instead of doing the Bahamas. Well, here we are. You better enjoy it ‘cause it’s the last cruise we’ll be taking for a while.” She left him at the railing of the Denali Princess and headed back to the casino below deck. She’d really wanted to see orcas, but the ship’s entertainment director said it was the wrong time of year. She sighed. She would rather have gone to Roswell, New Mexico it being the 65th Anniversary of the Incident and all. She shook her head. Maybe it was more than that. Maybe she just needed a change. Maybe even a new identity. She shuddered, even a job at Macy’s would be more exciting that the way things were.

Maybe, just maybe, it was time to leave Mr. M for greener pastures.

For his part, Hadley lifted his chin while Serena made her exit. It wasn’t that he was tired of her. It wasn’t that he was tired of his business – an online secure banking provider which was doing shaky business in the wake of the looming PawnBranking boom.

He sighed. He’d wanted to see orcas, too.

Truth be told, he’d wanted to see something besides the back side of his girlfriend. He’d even thought about asking her to marry him, but she seemed so...tired of him. He wanted an adventure, he guessed. Something different. Something that might put the spice back into life again.

Sunset over an unsettled Pacific was no help. Weak crepuscular light seemed to leak from tattered clouds on the horizon, dribbling over seething water the color of lead solder. He sighed. He’d seen better sunsets from his parent’s house in Plummer, Idaho than he’d seen on the two days since leaving Seattle.

He sighed. Just one thing that would make a difference in the unending regularity of life. That’s all he was asking for.

He scowled. In the distance, something white bobbed on the ocean. He took out his cellphone and hit the GPS. About a hundred miles out to sea from a Canadian park reserve of some sort with an unpronounceable name. There were binoculars in a rack against the wall behind him so he grabbed a pair and trained them on the object.

He grunted, then muttered, “Some sort of ship. Doesn’t appear to be under power.”

The lights behind him flickered and he heard surprised little squeaks and one honest-to-goodness scream. He hoped it wasn’t Serena. The steady thrumming he’d felt underfoot; couldn’t get used to the first night; and now didn’t even notice skipped a few beats, then stopped.

The lights went out. He turned to look at the cruise ship, scowled then turned around to look out to sea at the drifting ship.

“Protect me from what I want,” he muttered, squinting against the rubber eye seats.

Closer now, he could see that it wasn’t in very good shape. The side it presented to him was in shadow and the light variable but it was clear that some of the antennae were bent, railings missing and the whole thing had the appearance of being white with scabs. The drifter seemed to be riding the swells like a cork, no lights of its own.

Wrong, he saw immediately once a bank of clouds covered the sunset, dipping everything into a premature, temporary nightfall. There was a light on the drifter. Not “eerie green” or “ghost-like” or  like he expected, rather the slowly pulsing red of an emergency lamp.

The deck beneath his feet shivered at length – rather like when someone was trying to start a cold engine and there wasn’t quite enough battery juice. Despite the lights out, the purser’s voice came on weakly over the PA, cutting out intermittently, but the message was clear: They were working on the problem.

“More than a problem,” Hadley said, scanning the area around the drifter. That was when he noticed that it was the center of a circle with a diameter of about six hundred feet. “What is that?”

“What’s what?” a voice said at his elbow.

Serena stood very close to him. He handed her the binoculars. She took them, removed her ridiculous, supposedly fashionable cat-eye glasses and watched the drifter with amazing stability. He sniffed and said, “You never mentioned you were good at sea.”

She pulled away from the binoculars, looked over at him and grinned the first genuine smile he’d seen from her in months. She said, “Honey, I’m good anywhere.” She went back to studying the drifter then said, “The circle around it – looks like something is lying submerged just underneath it.”

Nodding he said, “Perfectly circular thing like that couldn’t possibly be natural.”

She leaned back from the glasses again, gave him a long look and said softly, “This might be better than a pod of orcas.”

March 29, 2012


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 speculation about things I've always wondered about 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.

Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill reached the road that ran alongside Lake Superior well before the sun rose over the lake.

“We gotta stay outta sight,” Tommy said, standing in the ditch. “Good thing it’s July, ‘cause I think if it wasn’t, we’d be up to our neck in water.”

“Or snow,” said Freddie. “I wouldn’t want to be here in the winter.”

Tommy nodded and sank back down, turning his back on the road and settling into a patch of foxtails. The soft, green fluff stirred in a faint breeze. “We just gotta wait until morning to do anything.”

Freddie sat down next to him and said, “What are we gonna do?”

“Don’t know,” he said at first. Then took a deep breath, let it go and replied, “We gotta go north.”

“Any farther and we’ll be in Canada.”

Tommy nodded. “The witch and the mobsters and the socialists wouldn’t be able to get us up there.”

They sat in silence for a long time. Waves on the shore were a distant rustle as they stared into the night. Far off, blinking lights made their way across the water, out of the harbor. Lighthouse beams swept out from two points – one on the Wisconsin side, one farther north of where they were. Finally Freddie said, “Your mom and dad are socialists.” He paused. “What are you gonna do when you get home?”

Tommy didn’t say anything for a long time. Freddie didn’t either. The light on the water crawled farther out. It disappeared. “No idea. They don’t act like socialists.”

“What’s a socialist act like?”

Tommy shrugged, “Like a Russian, I guess.”

“Russians were Allies, too. They kicked out the Nazis.”

“Yeah, but they’re still Communists and that’s bad.”

He looked at Freddie finally and said, “I know Commies are bad, but why are they bad? If they helped us kill Nazis, how can they be bad?”

Freddie shook his head. “I don’t know. Dad cusses ‘em out all the time.”

“He cusses you out all the time, too. That mean you’re a Commie?” Tommy grinned. The sky in the east had started to gray up. Morning was coming and maybe… “We should be able to hitch a ride north pretty soon.”

“In what? A milk truck?” Freddie snarled. He stood up anyway as Tommy flexed his hand. It was mostly better now. They turned south toward Duluth. The city was lit still, though most of the buildings they could see were dark. But there were still headlights here and there. Bunch of them headed uphill. He added, “Looks like most of the milk trucks are headed up to Land-o-Lakes.”

“Yup. Maybe there are tree trucks we can ride in.”

“‘Tree trucks’? What’s a tree truck?”

“I don’t know! But there’s lots of trees up north. Even more in Canada. I don’t even know what Canada makes – maybe they like chop down trees for wood or something.” In the distance, they heard the clear sound of grinding gears. Tommy said, “If we get up on the road, maybe we can hitchhike to Canada!” They scrambled up to the asphalt, reaching it in time to stand on the roadside. Five minutes later, the powerful beams of a massive truck caught them in its sights. The truck behind them slowed, gears grinding. Airbrakes hissing, it rolled to a stop with the door right next to them. The logo on the side read BLANDIN PAPER COMPANY.

The door swung open and a woman looked down at them, spit a wad of tobacco, scowled and said, “What d’you want?”

March 27, 2012


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.

F Trope: a REAL elf is stranded here…

What if elves were real?

What if they WEREN’T Orlando Bloom in a blonde wig?

What if they were creepy…

Ailill Lewis is a firey redhead who meets and exceeds everything everyone says about red heads: smart, argumentative, hot-tempered, passionate (about the written word), and very opinionated. In his senior year of high school, he’s with his mom in Paraguay where she is a visiting genetics professor at National University of Asunciòn. Dad is home in Idaho where he’s lieutenant governor of the state…

Renée Espinola is a street-smart student who came from a poor family but passed all of the tests and exceeded most of them. She’s a high school senior who was invited to study at the University on scholarship in music and mathematics…she’s also a believer in “The Pombéro is a mythical humanoid creature of small stature being from Guaraní mythology. The legend, along with other mythological figures from the Guaraní, is an important part of the culture in the region spanning from northeast Argentina northward through the whole of Paraguay and southern Brazil. Pombero's original name in the Guaraní language is Kuarahy Jára, literally "Owner of the Sun", though he is said to be a primarily nocturnal creature. In some parts of Argentina he is known primarily by the Spanish translation of his name, ‘Dueño del Sol’. Although accounts of the Pombero's appearance and nature vary slightly from one community to the next, he is usually described as being short and ugly, with hairy hands and feet. His hairy feet are said to give him the ability to walk without being heard. He is also often described as wearing a large hat and carrying a knapsack over his shoulder. It is also said that the Pombero generally dwells in rural areas, living in the forest, although he will sometimes choose to inhabit an abandoned house.”

Of course, there’s an abandoned house near the University and Renée has heard whispered stories and of COURSE, she’s got to go there one night. Ailill, who’s also heard the stories is there on the same night as well…

I’m sure you can make up a story from there – in fact, I might have one in mind already, too...if you want to grant that the Kuarahy Jára is an ALIEN...

But you do whatever you want! Obviously Ailill and Renée meet, sparks fly, intelligences clash...and they find that they make a good pair.

March 25, 2012

WRITING ADVICE – SL Viehl #1: Metaphor In Image and Writing

I stumbled across the writing of Sheila Kelly (aka SL Viehl, Gena Gale, Jessica Hall, Rebecca Kelly and Lynn Viehl) about eleven years ago with the publication of her first novel, STARDOC. I was looking for a the work of a current writer to replace one of my favorite kind of science fiction – human doctors in a space hospital working on aliens. I discovered this genre as an adolescent in Alan E. Nourse’s STAR SURGEON, followed it into James White’s SECTOR GENERAL books and A.M. Lightner’s DOCTOR TO THE GALAXY. SL Viehl’s books satisfied that itch – but I learned about a year ago that she is so much more than just a “space hospital” writer! The bits of writing advice in this new ten part series are used with her permission. This one is from:

I’ve been toying with metaphor for many years and only recently started to write it intentionally.

Metaphor has a long and illustrious history in literature. Metaphor has a long and illustrious history in science fiction. One of my favorite episodes in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION is one in which an entire people communicate through metaphor. Of course, no one on the Enterprise (or in the rest of the Federation) knows that until, through a life-or-death threat Picard and the other captain, Dathon figure out how to communicate. Dathon’s people speak perfectly good English – but they cite examples from their history and mythology in order to make a point. They speak in metaphor.

While that was an extreme case, the fact is that every writer speaks in metaphor.

My problem has always been knowing what I was saying. Even when I wrote a story that was published – like “A Pig Tale” in ANALOG (May 2000) or “Dear Hunter” in CICADA (Jan/Feb 2000), I can honestly say that I had no intention of using my writing as a metaphor for advancing my personal agenda. Because at its base, when I use metaphor, I am using something “obscure” to say something plain.

In my short story, “A Pig Tale”, a researcher discovers a cure for Alzheimer’s that initiates the reconstruction of memory pathways damaged by the disease. During the reconstruction, the brain of the recipient is extremely susceptible to incorporating external stimuli. Left in isolation, the old memories return, restoring the Alzheimer’s sufferer to normal. The treatment also has sinister possibilities for use in brainwashing. It’s this use that the researcher turns to rewrite her parent’s grim recent history.

What did I intend to say with this story? What was this tale standing in the place of? What did I want people to walk away with?

In retrospect, I wanted to return to a simpler time of my life; a time I truly and dearly loved. We lived in the country, in an old/new house and did little but play with the children, mow the lawn, tend a garden and enjoy ourselves. But real life intruded not long after with sick children and me away for a week in the Cities. The metaphor “A Pig Tale” represented a realization that “You can’t go back to innocence without paying a steep price.”

IS that what I meant? I don’t know.

SL Viehl’s article has this to say, “The lovely thing about hunting and collecting visual metaphors are the many ways you can use them; they don't have to be assigned a single meaning. The hanging crystals are definitely going in the story I'm working on now; they'll serve very well as part of a characterization. I like the rusty bikes, too, and I think I know just how to use them to illustrate a chunk of backstory.”

She interprets metaphor more tightly than I do, but I have lots of things to learn before I begin to make regular publications. This is one of the things I need to work on.

What does metaphor mean to you and YOUR writing?

March 20, 2012


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: whistle-blower averts scientific disaster

The essence of this story is that the Klamath has four dams on it. For some time (and, I might point out, under an EeeeeVil RePUBliCan Administration) this river was intently studied. Just before GW Bush left office, an agreement was reached in principal; Obama et al made a detailed scientific study and from what I gather, the decision that has to be made by March 31, 2012 is contentious, bitter and filled with lots of angry people pointing their fingers and shouting obscenities and invective.

Republicans and Democrats BOTH!

Into this little story, how about we toss two teenagers and stir in Shakespeare; in particular Romeo and Juliet?

Let’s make it interesting, too:

Torina Lawvor is a smart and sassy high school senior who plans on leaving the Klamath Basin, going to UCLA and becoming a lawyer to return and practice in the area. Strong-willed, sharp-humored, she’s driven away more boys than she can count. She’s OK with that – she plans on getting the letters JD after her name BEFORE she gets the letters MRS in front of it. Her dad is an artist and Mom is on the Klamath Tribal Council; she’s the youngest of five kids. The only girl, all of her brothers have been fishing guides, computer programmers or farmers.

Sander Baine is a smart and argumentative high school senior who plans on going to New York to go to film school at Ithaca College. He believes that life on Earth needs to be documented in a format that doesn’t depend on delicate electronic and digital storage technologies. His dad is probably going to be the dam destruction Project Supervisor, and he’s there to scope things out and check out the living situation. Tomás’ mom died of a particularly nasty and fast-growing breast cancer when he was twelve. He was an only child.

They meet – and they are on opposite sides of the controversy. Mom Lawvor and Dad Baine do NOT like each other and they both think the other is arrogant and narrow-minded.

Threats. Counter-threats.

And Torina and Sander both love running long distance – and literally bump into each other on a running trail. They eventually laugh – and then part “enemies” when they find out their parents on opposite sides of the Klamath Basin controversy. Then they meet again. Then another time. Then they end up helping to find and rescue a lost child...and nearly die when extremists set off what panicked residents call bombs, but the police say they were “fireworks out of control”. They find out the truth and even though they sometimes can’t stand each other, they...

March 18, 2012

Slice of PIE: CONSPIRACY REVEALED! Adolph With Respect Issue + Idealist + Love Interest = Profoundly Interesting Story

I think I’ve discovered a conspiracy!

After watching the movie MORNING GLORY (2010) last night and enjoying it completely...which we did after watching JANE EYRE (1996), I,ROBOT (2004), THE FORSYTE SAGA (2002), and added to my reading Robert Reed’s “Murder Born” in the February 2012 issue of ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE and rereading A THOUSAND WORDS FOR STRANGER by Julie Czerneda – as well as reflecting on the characters and stories I like best -- I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a formula here that I’ve never found in any book.

There is a formula at work that appears to come out of nowhere that no one seems to be sharing, teaching or writing about.

So here I am. Blowing the whistle. Uncovering The Conspiracy!

I posted my discovery so that anyone who wants it quick and doesn’t want to read my rationale can just swoop in and go ahead, start writing best-sellers! THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006)! Dicken’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL!

The formula appears to be this: if you take an Adolph (a link to the Urban Dictionary is here because I needed a stronger word than “idiot” and a word that carried the right connotations without writing the offensive word in my blog (besides, after I read the entry I REALLY liked the definition):; add an Idealist, toss in a love interest, you can create a profoundly interesting story!

An Adolph can be male or female, young or old. But the person must be more than just a “bad guy”. They have to be so subtly and complexly bad that a part of each book or story or movie is used up in teasing out the motivation of that person.

Two more examples, one from film and one from one of my favorite novels. In the movie STRANGER THAN FICTION (2006), Karen Eiffel (played brilliantly by Emma Thompson) is the Adolph – a brash, obnoxious, self-absorbed, selfish, respectless, chain-smoking writer who has no time for anyone and certainly no time for a gentleman who suddenly appears at her apartment door one day. Harold Crick (played equally brilliantly by Will Ferrell) is a dull IRS auditor whom we think of as a bore until we discover that he is an idealist! (Ana Pascal, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, is the Love Interest and an Idealist as well, but that doesn't matter in the movie). The end result, stirred with several other fascinating characters, is a marvelous, captivating film.

In KOMARR by Lois McMaster Bujold, the Adolph is played by Tien Vorsoisson – an obnoxious, verbally abusive, angry, actually-pretty-dumb, lazy blamer who has every opportunity but is too self-absorbed to take advantage of any one of them. In this case, the idealist is co-played by Miles Vorkosigan and Ekaterin Vorsoisson. Miles is mostly the idealist, whose view of life (while tempered with a healthy dose of reality) has always been positive. Ekaterin is constructed in his mirror image: defeated, crushed by reality, depressed and “nearly transparent” with pain, she clings to her last idealism – “I am Vor.” They are each other’s love interest.

All of these stories have penetrated my willingness to let just about any piece of writing or movie to slough off. I am a slush reader now for the anthology STUPEFYING STORIES and if most of the stories didn’t just slide off me without touching my heart, I would go mad! I am also willing to watch movies for those I love and have sat through more forgettable films than I’d care to admit in public.

The ones that touch me deeply (while it’s clear that they are NOT the ones that get the Oscars, Emmys, Hugos and Nebulas) are ones that follow this Conspirators formula. So if you’re shooting for a shiny statue, don’t use this formula. But if you want to write solid, character driven fiction – then this might be the ticket! It’s certainly one I’m going to explore.

Your thoughts?

March 15, 2012


I read the play version of Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON when I was in eighth grade. It has stayed with me for decades, a haunting 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 four pages back until you get to the bottom.

Mai Li Hastings patted her brother, Christopher Hastings clumsily on the head until he stopped crying.
When he sat up and  leaned back on his heels, she said, “Feel all better now?” CJ jerked his head back, but once he locked gazes with her to figure out if she was just being cruel again, he nodded slowly.
“What did you do this time?” he asked.
Mai Li rolled his desk chair backwards, picked up something and turned slowly. It was a needle.
“Hard drugs?” he exclaimed. “You don’t have time to mess your brain up any more than it is!”
Mai Li laughed, though it was a tired laugh and said, “You, little brother, are the only person on Earth who would have responded that way.” She shook her head and said, “I took a retroviral replicating vector intravenously, but because it can’t cross the blood-brain barrier, I had to piggyback it on the benzodiapazine from mom’s prescription sleeping pills. It usually targets brain tumors, but since I don’t have one – only these crazy nanomachines in my brain breaking it down, I figured the retrovirus would attack them instead.”
CJ blinked. “I got about every third word that you just said.”
Mai Li pursed her lips, thought briefly, then said, “Hooked a virus to a sedative and sent it to my brain to fight the nanos.”
He nodded, “Took a downer so a flu bug could ride into your gray matter and give the bad guys the plague.” He shrugged. “Why didn’t you say that in the first place?”
She tousled his hair and said, “Because you’re an idiot, not retarded and you’re going to need to build your vocabulary pretty quick so you can follow in your big sister’s footsteps.”
CJ jumped to his feet. “What? I’m not gonna be another Doctor Douchebag! I’m gonna play hockey for the NHL and then retire in Canada with a chain of ice cream stores!’”
This time Mai Li busted out laughing – a real laugh, not one of her Lady Genius Smarter Than The Whole World, but the one almost like the one she used to have when she was innocent. She shook her head and said, “Whatever you want to do, kid, is fine by me, just make sure it includes stopping Dr. Douchebag from making any more people like me.”
CJ stared at her and exclaimed, “Why would I do that?”
Mai Li frowned, “Because the thought of that Frankenstein getting rich off of raising and smashing people’s hopes makes me feel sick.”
“But you’re here! You’re wonderful!” CJ blurted.
Mai Li looked down at him, her eyes aime-wide and she blinked slowly then reached out and took him gently by the shoulders and pulled him slowly closer until her arms wrapped around him.
Hesitantly, he returned the hug.
They stood in silence for a long, long time before she finally said, “You, little brother, make the Now-me understand why the Old-me was so totally and completely in love with you.”
CJ sniffed and stepped back, saying, “Thanks, Sis.”
Mai Li opened her mouth to speak and collapsed at his feet.

March 13, 2012


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: uncontrollable plague kills men/women/kids/dogs/bugs

I was inspired to do a similar post several months ago ( on this whole idea of surviving a world-wide plague. Lots and lots of YA lit has recently looked at the results of teens as the sole survivors of planetary plague:

GONE (series) by Michael Grant
GALAHAD (series) by Dom Tesla
UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi
WORLD WAR Z by Max Brooks
ENCLAVE by Anne Aguirre

So what can you or I add to it?

How about this: Fereshteh (angel) Mazandarani has lived in the US her entire life – but has lived with her parents being harassed during the Iran Hostage Crisis from November 1979 through January 1981 – and long after; to experiencing fierce prejudice against herself when she was in fourth grade on September 11, 2001 – and long after.

Now the world is shaken by religious turmoil. Fanatics of every stripe have started to vie for supremacy. Even religions that once were seen as “peaceful” have resurrected their darkest sides. Buddhist terrorists hold thousands hostage in Australia during a soccer championship. Christian fundamentalists flood Indian subways with poison gas. Muslim fanatics use an ancient nuclear weapon to disintegrate Paris. Fringe groups of all religions battle in the streets of major cities. The governments of the world unite at the UN and declare that they have had enough and will force ALL religious sects into a single philosophy: the Unified Faith In Humanity.

This of course, forces the religions underground and finally to unite against the monstrous Apocalypse Demon. Sides are being chosen.

Fereshteh’s parents were gentle Muslims and her boyfriend Dain is a social justice aware Lutheran. Best  friends have begun to polarize as the world stumbles toward the End Times. When Fereshteh discovers an uncle of hers was a member of the Iranian Taliban early in the 21st Century; and Dain that a distant relative was convicted and executed for shooting doctors who performed abortions…they find that they are marked by the hate mongers on BOTH sides of the conflict.

The newly minted Corps For United Humanity approach them. The plan is to release a newly enhanced bubonic plague virus in Beijing, New Delhi and Los Angeles – and blame the fanatic terrorists for it…  

March 11, 2012


I do not speak from authority but rather from a few random observations.

I do not want to hurt feelings, but what I think I’ve seen some may find possibly irritating.

I’d like to talk about science fiction, fantasy and (to a much smaller degree) horror fans. Not in a broad sense of people who read or watch or write the stuff. I’m going to make some observations about the people who go to sf/f/h conventions.

My wife and I attended a moderately-sized local event with an Actor Guest of Honor, a Writer Guest of Honor and a few other Guests of Honor I neither knew nor cared about.

While I’ve attended a total of four such events (as well as been to four book signings by four really MAJOR authors) and was actually on a panel with an infamous author; I can say that after the most recent one: Conventions Are WEIRD! Weird in the sense of the following synonyms: "unnatural; preternatural; eerie; unearthly; uncanny; mysterious and apparently outside natural law; suggestive of the fateful intervention of supernatural influences in human affairs; suggesting the ghostly; that which seems by its nature to belong to another world; that which is mysterious because of its apparent defiance of the laws established by experience."

My thesis statement then, which I’ll defend briefly below is as follows: SF/F/H Conventions (aka as “cons” after this) attract people from opposite ends of a “Public Acceptance Spectrum”. This PAS is a measure of how the average member of a given cultural population (in this case primarily white, middle class, urban/suburban Americans of both genders and a variety of advertised sexual orientations) reacts when confronted with another human being in a public (or rarely private) situation. The scale sets 20 as “adulation and praise” and 0 as “revulsion and derision”. Unlike life outside of the con, there are more people clustered near 0 inside the con. Without moving my head and with a single long look at the con we just attended, I could see a 20 and a 0. I only rarely observe such a phenomenon.

If I stood up and turned 360°, I would have seen far more 1s, 2s and 3s on the PAS than if I had done the same thing at the Education Convention in October, a Barry Manilow concert or the Body, Health and Life Expo. The other cons I have attended would have given the same result, and anecdotal evidence from still others from various other cons would have included seeing people with angel wings and gowns, Babylon 5 Minbari, Star Gate soldiers, Star Trek officers, Hagrid from Harry Potter, less-than-sleek Indiana Jones, Klingons, people with stuffed fire lizards clinging to their necks, Leelu-dressed women, John Carter clad males (of the last two, none of the imitators SHOULD have been dressed that way), and arrays of super heroes (see above), though only limited creations of other imaginations fertile, fevered or fervid.

Why is this? Why would otherwise sane people feel the need to dress up like fictional characters who live in worlds created by people whose worlds were invented for profit? What possible satisfaction could be gained from pretending to be from one world while obviously and ridiculously remaining in a 21st Century hotel – mixed in with people from OTHER pretend worlds?

Why do the people that do this appear to fall somewhere between 1 and 5 on the PAS and the people who are guests and rank somewhere between 15 and 20 on the PAS do NOT dress that way? By all rights, the PAS 20 guests could do so and claim to be reprising a role they created. Author guests don’t appear to dress as their characters either, though they could claim that “this is how the characters looked in my imagination!”

I postulate that the 1-10s are people who exist without their own dreams, imagination or aspirations who must live in the imagined worlds of others in order to escape the reality of the early 21st Century. The actors and writers, though they may READ and legitimately ACT OUT the stories of other worlds, are generally satisfied with the early 21st Century and have no need to escape its reality.

This phenomenon is the basis from which people who claim to be fanatical fans of various sports teams (and neither play the sport or no longer play the sport), feel qualified to comment on the performance of every player. They also loudly proclaim that THEY would have better judgment in creating, practicing and calling the plays that would have “won the game”.  Sports fans who claim expertise where none exists probably deserve PAS rankings from 5-12, though their friends often accord them 20s; the fact is that they most likely deserve 10s or less.

Even so, con-people have the more serious affliction and from my point of view, significantly lower ranking than the sports geeks.

My four cons and four signings may be a skewed sample, but I’m pretty sure it’s accurate.

Cringing, I ask: What do you think?

PS – Yes, I know I’ve been to cons myself. I also had a teal-colored sweatshirt with a black yoke.

March 9, 2012

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 27: Stefan On the Rim

On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official United Faith in Humanity, the Councils are teetering on the verge of pogrom directed against Christians, Molesters , Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Murderers, Muslims, Thieves, Hindu, Embezzlers and Artificial Humans – anyone who threatens the official Faith and the consolidating power of the Councils. It makes good sense, right – get rid of religion and Human divisiveness on a societal level will disappear? An instrument of such a pogrom might just be a Roman holiday...To see the rest of the chapters, go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story.

It took Stefan Izmaylova a week to find a way to the roof of the warehouse and QuinnAH – or Quinn as Stefan insisted on calling him – wasn’t much help. The blue boy would disappear at odd times, often when Stefan had questions about The Rim community, food supplies, if there were any gardens out here or if Quinn knew anyone who worked in the marketplace.

When Quinn gave him a puzzled look one day when Stefan had asked him to find him a nearby one, Quinn had said, “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”

“You know – a place where everyone sells their produce or home-woven cloth or...”

“What are you talking about?”

Stefan looked down at the boy. They’d set up sort of an office and Quinn had scavenged a plastic and a wooden chair, a plastic table with one slightly warped leg and a sheet of plywood with six small holes in – Stefan hadn’t wanted to know the history of the thing even though Quinn was eager to offer it. Stefan was sitting at the table he’d made into a desk of sorts and said, “Don’t you buy, sell and trade things in the Rim?”

“Oh, that! Nothin’ to buy, sell or trade in our neighborhood. People’s gotta go to other places to get stuff like that.”

Stefan blinked then sighed. Shaking his head, he said, “If I could find a way up to the roof, I could change all of that.”

Quinn stared at him a long time then said, “How’d you change it?”

Stefan jerked his chin upward. “If I could get up to the roof, I could scrape together enough marsdust to give us a chance of making some soil. With soil, we could grow vegetables. We could sell the vegetables...”

“Ta who?”

“The people in this neighborhood.”

“People here don’t got cred!”

“Then we barter.” He pointed to the empty warehouse. “I need help to clean up a place in the warehouse so that I can start a church.” This time Quinn’s look was one of total non-comprehension. Stefan sighed. “A church is a place where people who believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God and that He deserves our worship gather.”

“You’d give people food just if they helped you?”

“Yes,” said Stefan.

Quinn was silent for some time before he said, “Then you gotta come on.” He left the “office”. Stefan followed. Quinn led him to the farthest wall of the warehouse, in a seemingly random place – not in a corner, the center of the vast wall or any other place that would have been apparent to anything but a thorough search of the pace with a spotlight. Quinn pointed straight up.

Stefan tilted his head back, squinted into the darkness the bottoms rungs of a what appeared to be a ladder set into the wall. Safety hoops, clearly bent, possibly rusted, followed the ladder and disappeared into the inky black of the ceiling far away. “How am I supposed to reach the bottom rung?”

Quinn shrugged.

Stefan pursed his lips and said, “I need an antigrav plate.”

Quinn blew a raspberry then said, “I can get one for you. I got friends...”

“I’m not Fagin from DAVID COPPERFIELD.”


“No theft. What I get for the church I get without stealing. One of the rules I live by is that I don’t steal anything, even if I need it.”

“‘ow do you live wi’ou’ stealin’?” Quinn exclaimed.

It was Stefan’s turn to blow a raspberry. He looked up into the heights of the warehouse and said, “I live just fine.”

Quinn jabbed Stefan in the ribs with a bony finger. Stefan jumped to one side as Quinn said, “You’re kinda skinny to be saying something like that to impress me.”

Stefan shook his head. “I didn’t say I lived like the Mayor.”

“Nobody live like she.”

Stefan grunted, looked up into the netherworld again and said, “I have someone I can call...”

“No! Never call from the Rim! Never! Too many people pay too much attention and we’re all dead!”

Stefan put his commlink away and nodded slowly. “I see your point. I can go deeper into Burroughs.”

“Need to go to the Home Owner’s District to be really safe!”

March 6, 2012


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.

F Trope: government bans art; group uses it to restore…

Hector Blaine has lived his entire life on a ranch in central Kansas. When his family is killed in a tornado while he’s on a mission trip, he’s shipped off to a wealthy, elderly aunt and uncle who live in Minneapolis, not far from the Walker Art Museum in a huge house. He has a room of his own, but he never sees them – only the housekeeper and a cook.

He’s been in Minnesota for three months and he hates it, but the school year is starting and instead of taking his aunt and uncle’s suggestion to attend an exclusive private school, he opts for a public one, figuring he’ll have a better chance surviving among the poor and rough rather than among the rich and snotty.

They comply and he’s set to start Southwest Minneapolis High School. But he just doesn’t want to be here at ALL. He’s trapped. He can’t escape. It’s like he’s been captured, enslaved and totally out of control of his life.

NOT that he ever felt like he had any control when he lived in Kansas – his two older brother and older sister pretty much used him as a dumping ground for the chores and work they didn’t want to do. The kids in Brownell think of him as a country hick. The kids in Salina, Kansas (the nearest “big city”) – the one time he’d been there – had looked at him like he was from another planet. But at least they’d been from Kansas. He’s certain he’s going to DIE at Southwest.

So he runs away. Sort of. To the Museum, which is the only place he’s felt at home since he came to this Northern Nightmare. He wanders most of Sunday, ending up at a new exhibit of Roman artifacts. He has no desire to leave and hides, studying one of the things – a bucket of some sort – when a group of five people come in. They’re talking, and he hears them say clearly, “It’s not a bucket. It’s a helmet. A Roman helmet in a Briton dig.”

“What would a Briton be doing with a Roman helmet? Was he insane? A collector of war memorabilia? What?”

A softer, woman’s voice, with a clear British accent, speaks up then, “I think that instead of inventing fantastic excuses why a Briton couldn’t have a helmet, we accept instead the simplest answer – that during the First Century AD, the Britons and the Romans weren’t all about hating each other. Some Brits were accepted into the Legion as soldiers.”

“He’d have been a pariah among his own people!” one man exclaimed.

“Hated above all others!” a woman cried.

The soft-spoken woman remained silent until the others had finished then said, “A man set apart whether by choice or circumstance is still a man set apart – and he might have been set apart for greatness.”

Hector didn’t hear the rest of the argument, he reached up and touched the Plexiglas cube covering the “bucket”. For a moment, the people break into chaotic shouting, but the sound fades as does the room around him…

March 4, 2012

WRITING ADVICE – Kristine Kathryn Rusch #10: THE BUSINESS RUSCH – You Are Not Alone

I first ran across the work of Kristine Kathryn Rusch when her named appeared on the bottom of a standard rejection form I got from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, where she was head editor for several years. A short time later, I ran across one of her short stories (“Retrieval Artist” in the June 2000 ANALOG), which of course, led me t0 her RETRIEVAL ARTIST novels. I’m a fan now and started reading her blog a year or so ago. As always, I look for good writing advice to pass on to you as well as applying it to my own writing. I have her permission to quote from the articles. You can find the complete article referenced below, here:

This is a depressing chapter!

As a less-than-famous writer, reading this should make me give up and get ESPN and ESPN2 cable and watch sports non-stop like many of the men I know. At least then, nothing will be expected from me and I can stop flogging myself for no reason at all.

After paragraphs that wouldn’t be out of place in the Biblical books of Job or Lamentations, Kristine Kathryn Rusch offers an echo of hope and peace: “I could have been one of those casualties. I almost was. Three things saved me…I persevered… we learned…it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked to the ground. Nor does it matter how long you remain there. What matters is whether or not you get up…”

She added one other thing later on that I think is important and that I’ve advocated for in my life in general: “Have fun.”

I’ve started to take this advice more to heart. I know it’s primarily aimed at the “famous”, those who have contracts and whose careers are being crushed or who are managing to retool and readjust and reboot their careers.

But this is good advice for those of us who are NOT famous; at least not yet! Realistically, being a writer is a hard road to follow. I sometimes think I’d rather be swallowed by a whale than continue trying to write and publish. At least then I could write about my experience and sell a first person travel piece to some magazine or other...hmmmm, I think there might be a story idea here or something!

My daughter recently discovered that she might do well to start branching out in her writing – which has been mostly fantasy until now – when she emailed me, “I think I've found a way that I like writing short stories -- by telling true stories!”

As I’ve said before, I’m already a multiple-genre writer, I just need to spend MORE time writing. And this is where her admonitions and encouragement will be most effective. In the past ten articles, I’ve gleaned wisdom (as I hope you have) that might be summarized this way:

1) Write short stories
2) Don’t postpone your dream
3) Take risks
4) Give some of your stuff away
5) Failures teach you how to be a success
6) Write short stories
7) Follow your muse
8) Read about writing
9) You are responsible for your own career.

Those sort of sound like life wisdom, don’t they?

Given what I now know about Kristine Kathryn Rusch, that’s absolutely no surprise! A last bit of advice from the article above and we’ll bid the wisdom of Kristine adieu:

“We have opportunities here. It’s hard to see them when you’ve been pushed and shoved against a wall, when you’re crowded into a corner, and people are telling you lies to further their own interests. Shut down the voices. Remember who you are and what you want.”

Good advice -- has anyone else got a bit of advice they'd like to share or a story about how KKR's advice struck you?


March 1, 2012


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 speculation about things I've always wondered about 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.

Tommy Hastings blinked in the darkness and said, “What friend?”

The figure took a step forward, “You know what I mean, kid!”

Tommy stepped back and said, “What do you mean ‘us’? All I see is you there, standing on the beach.”

“I mean all of us! I’m the Witch of Anoka, kid! You’re afraid of me!”

Tommy tipped his head to one side. He’d never heard a witch talk like a regular person. He remembered her playing her guitar there in the amphitheater the morning after they’d left Loring Park. He remembered the mist drifting up cold and clammy from the Mississippi. He also remembered his cousin saying that there were Communists in Duluth. He said, “You’re not a witch.” The figure seemed startled and took a slight step backward. He continued, “And besides sing that weird song in the amphitheater, I ain’t heard you never cast no spell.”

“I hereby cast a spell on your mouth, to make it shut up!”

Tommy laughed. Out of the darkness something must have flown and hit her because she screeched and spun around.

“Good shot, Freddie! Keep shootin’ as long as she keeps shootin’ off her mouth!”

“I ain’t shootin’ off my mouth! I’m a witch and I’m gonna put a curse on…Ouch!” she screamed again.

“I ain’t never heard of no witch who says ‘ain’t’, either. They use spells and stuff that sound creepy. You just sound like my sister, and she ain’t no witch.” He took a step forward. “‘sides, I think you’re just as a afraid of us as we were of you and your communist friends!”

“We aren’t communists! We’re socialists…”

Freddie’s voice came from the darkness, “Same thing – filthy, un-American liars!” Anther rock hit her because she screamed and with a splash, fled into the water and began to run along the beach.

After a moment, the splashing stopped. Freddie came out from his hiding place and whispered, “I heard her trying to sneak up on me so I hid behind that huge hunk of wood.”

“I figured,” he paused then said softer, “But I don’t hear her no more. Where’d you suppose…”

The woman’s voice came from the rocks they’d been hiding in, “I may be a witch, or I might not be, boys; but I am a cunning woman no matter how you look at it. I also have powerful friends who could kill you where you stand if I had a mind to tell them to. And Thomas Charles Hastings, I do know that your mother and father were socialists of the very worst kind – and that had your sister not come along, you might very well have been born in Chile or even Russia. Then you’d REALLY be a Communist now.” The voice paused. Tommy could hear his pulse roaring in his ears. It came from even nearer, softer, more precise, “On your head, child; a curse that will last to your final day and then be cast on your children’s children’s children: that they never settle, never stay, never commit. I leave you to ponder that curse, boy.” The last words seemed to fade into the slow rush of waves on the shore.

Freddie whispered, “She warn’t no witch,” he paused, “Was she?”

Tommy shuddered. He started to speak but his voice cracked, bouncing into the highest register even though he’d now turned fourteen. He swallowed and tried again, “Nah. I ain’t never heard to witch talk that way, either.” He reached out and tugged Freddie’s T-shirt toward the road he knew ran from Duluth into Canada.

Freddie came along with him, silent. Neither boy noticed that Tommy kept hold of Freddie’s T-shirt for a long, long time.