June 30, 2013


Now that summer is here in the Northern Hemisphere and I no longer have the grind of a “regular” job (though I am still teaching – just under a different paradigm), my wife, daughter and I have been watching movies.
Not the summer blockbusters, but rewatching movies from our family collection. That includes RUNAWAY BRIDE. (I should note here that my wife and daughter are also writers – my son is more of a DOer, but that’s a different story.) You’ve probably seen it at some point, but in it Richard Gere plays a columnist for USA TODAY whose purpose is to “push the envelope” but who has recently mostly directed bitter diatribes at the opposite sex. One diatribe is directed at a hardware store clerk played my Julia Roberts – and Gere loses his job when Roberts threatens to sue for libel.
Among other things, we typically note that we own an awful lot of movies that center on writers: ALEX AND EMMA, NORTHANGER ABBEY, STRANGER THAN FICTION, SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE, BACK TO THE FUTURE, FINDING FORRESTER, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES,  THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, 27 DRESSES, YOU’VE GOT MAIL, LETTERS TO JULIET, and THE PROPOSAL (to name some of them). I’ve also noticed that persistence is typically one of the messages that accompany the writer’s life. While that isn’t usually the main point of the movie, it always finds its way in there.
Despite being hammered with that message – and hammering it home to the children I teach at summer school in my Writing To Get Published class – I’ve forgotten it. In fact, the whole idea of persistence is one that’s drifted entirely off my radar lately.
It’s not that “life” hasn’t demonstrated time and again that what I NEED to do is the best job that I can while still pursuing the things I want. The job I’ve had for the past three years is a case to point: I’d wanted to be a school counselor since I decided to get my teaching license so that I could get into the counselor program. That was in 1978 and 33 years later, I finally sat my butt in my own office chair, a full-time high school counselor. *whew*
From my writing life: I started writing (in cursive with a pencil) in 1969, moving eventually to learning to use a manual typewriter, then an old electric, then an electronic typewriter, an Apple II, and from there to my current Toshiba laptop. I seriously started submitting in 1990 and in 1993, saw the publication of my first “professional sale” in a magazine named HiCall. Since then, I’ve fired off 820 submissions with 45 manuscripts seeing publication or production. A year ago, I finally got an agent.
Even in high school and college God (or “life” if you prefer) was busy teaching me this lesson: after getting my teaching degree in 1981, I didn’t get a permanent teaching job until 1987 (not for lack of trying!). In high school, I didn’t make the top choir my junior year (even though boys were supposedly badly needed) and had to wait until my senior year. I was passed over for promotion to “stocking” by a friend of mine – who I helped get the job as a bagboy and didn’t move up to stock until I moved stores. I applied for countless jobs as youth director – even in my own church – and was repeatedly thanked for my time and sent packing. After a year-long substitute teaching job at the high school I graduated from, I was told that “it’s too bad you’re not a woman” and let go at the end of the year.
Again in my writing life: my agent has been shopping a manuscript that won me a spot on Red Fox’s roster a year ago with nothing to show for it but polite rejections. Another manuscript resides in the “we’d like to look at it more closely” pile at BAEN BOOKS.
Persistence. Patience.
Even the Bible advises me with verses I KNOW I’ve read…but have forgotten:
“Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way.” Psalm 37:7
“The end of a matter is better than its beginning; Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit.” Ecclesiastes 7:8
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…” Galatians 5:22
“We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14
“And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise.” Hebrews 6:15
And finally:
“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.” James 5:7
So Hollywood, Folksy Aphorisms, Life, and God teach patience.
In the play, LIFE OF GALILEO by Bertolt Brecht (it was  made into a movie I saw and showed hundreds of times as a science teacher) that centers on writing, the scientist Galileo challenges not only the Church, but ALL current science when he discovers that the Sun is the center of the Solar System, not Earth. He is arrested, endures, recants, then (according to Scientism), recants his recantation, but regrets his decision at the end of his life:
“As a scientist, I had a unique opportunity. In my time astronomy reached the market
place. Under these very special circumstances, one man's steadfastness might
have had tremendous repercussions. If I had held out, scientists might have
developed something like the physicians' Hippocratic oath, the vow to use
their knowledge only for the good of mankind. As things stand now, the best
we can hope for is a generation of inventive dwarfs who can be hired for any

Patience then is not only a virtue -- it's part of science, it's taught in Scripture, and hundreds of writers urge it and practice it.

How is it then that I forget it so easily?

References: *Said to have originated in the PSYCHOMACHIA, a poem by the Roman poet Prudentius  (aka Aurelius Prudentius Clemens) around 392 AD; http://buehnenkunst.ohost.de/auditions_coming_up_files/Life%20of%20Galileo%20by%20Brecht.pdf

June 27, 2013


            The Cold War between the Kiiote and the Yown’Hoo has become a shooting war. The only way to stop it is to lock Kiiote, Yown’Hoo and Human into a matrix of need – to create “super beings” capable of not only living together, but combining three different technologies into one.
The Triads are made up of the smallest primate tribe of Humans –two.
The Triads are made up of the smallest canine pack of Kiiote – six.
The Triads are made up of the smallest camelid herd of Yown’Hoo – eleven, a prime number.
On Earth, there are three Triads – one in the US, one in India and one in China.
Protected by the Triad Corporation, they intend to integrate not only the three peoples and stop the war that slaughters Humans and devastates their world, but to stop the war that consumes Kiiote economy and Yown’Hoo moral fiber (literal in their case) – and eventually confront the extra-Universe aliens who created the Interstice.
According to the best and wisest of the Triad Societies, the Merger of Human-Kiiote-Yown’Hoo into a Congenic will produce a stable construct capable of incredible expansion, creativity, longevity...and wealth – for it seems that it is the Three alone who inhabit the Milky Way, though unknown to them, there is another called the Hive which must complete the Triad – hold it if you will.
Earth-Free Activists plan to blow up one of the Nurseries – places where the Yown’Hoo and Kiiote can actually breed and the young survive far from their homeworlds. One such is south of Winnipeg on the Canadian Prairies. It falls to the North American Triad to move to stop them without letting them know that they have been betrayed...or discover that Humans know that the entire Milky Way has been betrayed.

 ‘Shayla, the only other Human in the Triad and who is sometimes my girlfriend, stared at me.

“What do you mean by that? Why would the Kiiote and Yown’Hoo shoot up Earth? They birth and raise their kids here!”

I shook my head. “That doesn’t matter! They’ve been fighting each other since Cortes committed La Noche Triste on the Aztecs – they aren’t likely to stop just because we made the Triads.”

“But they signed the treaties not to fight on Earth!”

“Humans have broken enough treaties in their civilized life to know perfectly well how easy they are to smash and bash – and exactly how sincere they were when they first made them.” I let the implication hang. “Why would they be any different than us?” The bus traveling along a programmed route. Especially because we were in it. We were important and it was supposed to avoid the worst parts of the city. If the program messed up, the Human driver was supposed to take over.

Something smacked against the wide window of the bus. Suddenly we were surrounded by a silvery bubble. The driver screamed as she was automatically stunned. The rest of us were grabbed by robotic arms in the seats we’d been sitting in, dragged into them and locked down. The bus sped up, turning abruptly and throwing us into the belts. Seconds later, it slowed down and came to a stop. The bubble flickered then the doors snapped open, slammed shut then snapped open again.

Qil and Fax, the beta female and male of our Kiiote pack, leaped from their seats, one going to the front door, the other to the middle door, but not exiting.

Standing in the center of the bus, Dao-hi, the Herd mother – even though she was barely older than me but had five kids who were immatures – swung her llama head back and forth. The Middles – males Zei-go, Seg-go and Ai-gol and the female fighters Lan-mai and Ked-sah boxed Dao-hi and the immatures in with their butts.

After worming my way around her, I headed for the front while ‘Shayla headed for the back.

“We’re probably in front of the Dome,” ‘Shayla said.

“We hope you’re right,” Dao-hi said.

I went down the steps. It was dark and starry. Fax followed me. Qilthebitch followed ‘Shayla. Humans always went first. We use to think it was because the Kiiote and the Yown’Hoo thought they were better than us. One night they told us that Human physical flexibility and a mythic penchant for attracting individual luck – good or bad. Humans were in always led the Triads – or the few other places Herd, Pack and Tribe attempted to cooperate.

We weren’t the only interspecies attempt at working together – we were just the most successful.

Nothing happened except the bus abruptly powered down. ‘Shayla was standing at the far end of the but with Qil. The rest of the Pack followed a moment later, then the fighting Herd. Lan-mai said, “She-neh.”

Fax said, “Yoo-yeh *tail twitch*.”

I said, “What smells wrong, though? What kind of wrong?” The Human sense of smell was pitiful next to that of Herd and Pack – so we deferred to them in that.

“Food,” said Fax.

“Death,” said Lan-mai.

“Crap,” I said. We were in a bad part of the city. It had been bad before the Annexation of Humanity and the Birthing Treaties – both of them made in secret with different Human governments.

My mom had warned me about North Minneapolis.

The sound of lots of Human voices – ‘Shayla and I looked at each other. Some of the voices were angry and they drifted to us on the warm night air.

June 26, 2013


I started reading F&SF late in the 1970s and I’ve had a subscription on-and-off since then. When I haven’t had a subscription, I buy the occasional issue to catch up on the style of fiction I’ve come to expect from the magazine – what the genre calls “literary speculative fiction”. Practitioners of this (who just happen to have been published in this magazine) are people like James Morrow, Thomas Disch, Daniel Keyes, Kate Wilhelm, Eleanor Arnason, Gene Wolfe and many others. For the most part, their fiction has sought to explore issues using the genre with the tools of social commentary.

It’s what I expect of the magazine.

I responded to a Face Book offer of a free magazine if I promised to post a review. I quickly received the July/August 2013 issue. Below you’ll find my review...

First of all, I was thrilled to discover that nothing has changed at F&SF! The magazine is still packed with fascinating stories and features – and it is those features I’ll start with.

The book reviews were well written overall, but Charles de Lint did something unexpected – he used his review as a teaching opportunity. As a writer and sometime submitter to F&SF, I appreciate the easy grace with which he both reviewed the books and passed on some of the wisdom he’s gleaned. In this age of multi-volume, endless series (a half dozen LEAP to mind), he points out, “…instead of being able to follow the further adventures of whatever sort of character tickles your fancy, the writers are giving us complicated story arcs that play out over a number of books...which makes it daunting to the newcomer who isn’t a part of ‘the club’.” This set his review above the others. Paul Di Filippo’s “Plumage from Pegasus” was a delightful romp as well.

Movies are reviewed competently, Curiosities are entertained, and the Science column was grossly fascinating – and provided me with a story idea! I should point out right now that I am extremely choosy in what fantasy I read. It must come with a powerful recommendation in order for me to crack the cover of your average fantasy novel. As a junior high and high school science teacher for the past 32 years, my heart and interest lean strongly toward the sciences and science fiction.
That being said, I’ll dive into the stories in this issue starting with the ones that didn’t strike home in the target of my particular heart and ending with the ones that I will likely keep in mind for some time to come.
I found that the weakest story in the issue was also the longest. “In the Mountains of Frozen Fire” by Rus Wornom, takes a trip into the past and tries to put a new spin on an old genre – perhaps best illustrated by the fourth Indiana Jones movie, “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”. This story had the same effect on me that the fourth Indie movie did: while it tried very hard to recreate the sense and rhythm of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, it ended up being derivative and tedious and I found myself wishing a couple more short stories occupied the forty-four pages this story took up.
Next was “Half a Conversation...” by Oliver Buckram. It left me scratching my head and trying to figure out if the other half would have made the story better or worse.
In “Kormak the Lucky”, by Eleanor Arnason (an author local to me), I found a quiet tale – like an instructive fairytale – well told but not as exceptional as other stories she’s written. It’s nice – but not memorable – except for the enchanted train connecting the world of the fey and the real world. That was a nice touch.
Harvey Jacobs’ “The Miracle Cure” was too cute for my usually broad taste. The introduction of Dr. American Gothic while interesting seemed arbitrary, at least as far as the story went. I expected it to be a metaphor, but if it was, I am not sharp enough to catch what it was representing…
“The Nambu Egg” was competent and almost cute, but was extremely talky – in a bad way. While I was never drawn into author Tim Sullivan’s imagination and I had trouble suspending my disbelief, what I found to be the biggest barrier to entering the story was that the character Adam Narya never really faced an obstacle to his mission. The denoument was too easy.
“Oh Give Me a Home” had the feel of an O. Henry, not so much in length as in setting. William Sydney Porter loved the old west and that kind of love brought this story by Adam Rakunas to life. Where I was unable to “be in” the Mountains of Frozen Fire, here I had no trouble being in some undefined place on the Great Plains and living this story. Science fiction in methodology, it serves its literary master by being about family, relationships, and frustrated hope. The title – as I’ve come to expect in litspecfic – had multiple meanings and contributed to my delight in this tale.
Ken Altabef evoked a deep sense of sadness in me while introducing me to a world I knew nothing about – Inuit mythology. I loved that part and while I never really found myself carried away by “The Woman Who Married the Snow”, it left me with a melancholy that says it tweaked me and left behind a bittersweet memory.
The cover story by KJ Kabza, “The Color of Sand” rose to the top of my list and had to do battle with my first and second favorite stories. The concept is fascinating, the world it creates real, and the conundrum that faces Fairday, her son Catch and the sandcat Bone reaches from fantasy into reality, asking “How far is a parent willing to go to change the future of a child who makes a mistake?” When her son makes a terrible mistake, his mother goes – literally in this fantasy – to the end of the world to rectify it. Guided by their personal counselor, Bone, mother and son do what is necessary to “fix” the mistake. When all seems set and done the mistake is undone far beyond Fairday’s simple wish – and something else entirely new and unexpected comes out of the affair bringing about unforeseen changes. This is exactly what the very best fantasy should do – and what is DOES do here.
I do not often stumble across writing that spears its way into my heart – no pun intended – but “The Heartsmith’s Daughters” does exactly that. I have a daughter, a foster daughter, a daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter and I could not help but see each of them in Harry R. Campion’s story. I refuse to tell you who I saw where, suffice it to say that these daughters of mine are strong-willed women who never flinch from what the world brings them. In this story, Ironheart, Brassheart, and Goldheart do not flinch, either. Their only flaw is naiveté and that is sadly rectified when Goldheart must become Stoneheart. From that point on, the daughters grow in their humanity, the narrative deftly and cleanly drawing me into a sad reflection on the necessity of such a transformation in order for women to survive in today’s world. I loved this story and it will, sad to say, haunt me for some time to come.
My favorite piece in this issue was “Year of the Rat”. Chen Qiufan clearly knows the setting as with the same spare strokes an artisan uses to craft Chinese logographs, he creates a living, breathing world. This is far, far more than a simple science fiction story of a dystopian future dominated by a technologically advanced China. It is, at its heart, a story of friendship sacrificed for personal advance; it is a cautionary tale that warns gently that if we focus our vision too narrowly, we will miss the broader impact of science as it trickles into the lives regular people. This is, as I have come to expect from F&SF, literary speculative fiction at its very best as it deals with important issues with grace and elan.
I think "Year of the Rat" and “The Heartsmith’s Daughters” will be on more than my personal shortlist for awards this year.








June 25, 2013


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

SF Trope: The rag-tag rebel army/fleet struggles valiantly to overthrow the Evil Empire (The TV series FIREFLY used this trope to great effect!)

Current Event: http://metro.co.uk/2013/06/25/star-wars-actor-warwick-davis-id-love-to-be-a-villain-with-a-lightsaber-in-episode-7-3854887/

Zehra Borg bit her lower lip, then remembered that it wasn’t exactly the most impressive look in the world. Captain Fenwick was up front, trying to cut a deal with the insectoid Krkrach swarm leader. They’d watched the entire classic movie, DISTRICT 9 in order to get them ready for this.

Still, the things were creepier than all get out – and she wasn’t helping to create a fearsome Human image by biting her lip.

Beside her, Warwick Yilmaz dug his elbow into her side, leaned over and whispered, “They really do look like crickets on steroids!”

“That’s ‘allies’ to you, boy!”

He subsided and grunted. They needed all the help they could get. The upper stratosphere of the Empire was controlled entirely by Humans. There wasn’t a single alien in any position higher than the Secretary of Inter-Species Affairs – and it’s job was mostly ceremonial. The real decisions were made by the Human Director of Inter-Species Affairs. The Secretary, while it certainly seemed to be an intelligent snail-like being, didn’t seem overly smart. She sighed. That was how she’d gotten involved in this whole rebellion.

From behind her, a thorny creature known to Humans as an Athing, nudged her, nearly knocking her off her feet. While most Athings were polite, philosophical if somewhat long-winded beings, this one was rude, obnoxious – and seemed to be out to get her goat.

Warwick saw what Geffner – that’s what this one’s name (or title, she wasn’t sure) was – did. He flushed red and balled his fists, muttering, “If the captain weren’t trying to negotiate help...”

Geffner rumbled something back and while none of them had their translator circuits tuned at the moment, its intent was clear. Warwick murmured back, “You and what part of the squad?”
Suddenly the Captain turned around and snapped, “Geffner, Borg, Yilmaz and Kachuh’Gna – forward!”

Zehra’s eyes widened and she glanced at Warwick as she snapped to attention and went forward. Geffner farted – an Athing’s response to unexpected stress. She wasn’t exactly sure what Kachuh’Gna did, but the amorphous alien was suddenly resting near the Captain, it’s pangolin-like pet seated on top of its pulsating blob of a body.

Zehra and Warwick stepped lively, though Warwick had to step faster than she did because his legs were markedly shorter – he was from Human stock that had once been called “midgets”. Kachuh’Gna was already there and after a moment of immobility, Geffner had lumbered up to join them.

The Captain said, “You four are going to be doing a solider exchange. We need to better understand the Krkrach. You four are the best we have at adapting to alternative life forms. So you’re going to live with the Swarm for the next two  months. You’re going to share your ideas with each other and you’re going to make the integration of our two forces go smoothly and without a hitch. The Flota de Rebelde is planning an major incursion into Imperial space and we need every advantage we can get – including a thorough understanding of our new allies’ military and communication abilities.” She nodded to them, then turned and bowed to the Head Cricket On Steroids...

Names: Turkey, Malta ; England, Turkey  
Image: http://themovieblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/thing.jpg

June 24, 2013


Somewhere around thirty years ago, I met Bruce Bethke for the first time – when I responded to an ad in a newspaper for a science fiction writers group seeking new members. I called, then sent in an “audition story” and was invited to join the group at the ORIGINAL, original Loft Literary Center (before grant money started flowing) in Minneapolis. One of THEM reviews books now, the other published a few books and short stories but no longer writes. Bruce doesn’t write much lately except for non-fiction; he is currently executive editor of STUPEFYING STORIES, an irregular anthology of new speculative fiction, he mostly works for a super computer company as well as presiding over Rampant Loon Press. These nuggets of wisdom can be found here: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/a-12-step-program-for-writers/. They are used with the author’s permission.
11.We have sought through prayer and the Internet to improve our conscious contact with Our New Editor, praying that she will stay with the publisher long enough to get our latest book out the door.

Of course, this implies that I had an OLD editor.
Given that, I can relate one experience in which the editor I worked with changed and I had to re-establish a new relationship with a new editor.
In 1995, I wrote and sent a story called, “Mystery on Space Station Courage” to HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN magazine. It was written specifically for a call they’d posted for “science fiction for children”.
They didn’t want it.
I sent it to CRICKET MAGAZINE, whose editor was Deborah Vetter at that time. She saw something in and after working with me for several weeks, accepted the story and published in 1997.
Fast forward to October 2011. Minnesota SCBWI holds its annual Conference at the beautiful campus of Metropolitan State University where we listen to a number of speakers – one of whom is Lonnie Plecha, most recent editor of CRICKET MAGAZINE. After listening to him, I craft and send a science fiction story for children (which they still apparently seek!) called, “The Penguin Whisperer” which combines not ONLY Space Station Courage, but also a recently discovered phenomenon called colloidal jamming in which penguins move constantly through the flock from one edge to the other and back in order to keep warm during very cold periods.
He accepted the story with relatively few changes and while I didn’t experience shepherding a story from one editor to another, I DID experience a shift from one editor to another. I am hoping to do the same with Trevor Qachri at ANALOG. He recently assumed the helm from long time editor Stanley Schmidt who retired. I’ve only sent two stories there since the change-over, but I have a third that is there presently. We’ll see if my writing matches the direction that Trevor Qachri will be taking ANALOG in the future!
I can possibly see this in my relationship with my agent, Karen Grenchik of Red Fox Literary. I do NOT want to bother her, but I definitely want to keep in touch. I recently became discouraged with the lack of positive response from editors who have seen the manuscript, VICTORY OF FISTS. I emailed Karen and asked if it was time to pull it down and give up.
She (sort of) laughed and said, “...please don’t give up hope on VOF.  I just sold a middle grade novel for an older man who’s been writing daily for 20 years.  He quit submitting ten years ago when he received his 300th rejection.  I will keep trying to find the right home for Victory.”
I love her for that (as much as you can  love a person you’ve never even met!) and I have some decently shaped hope as a result of that brief message.
How MUCH does this relate to Bruce’s 11th Step? Not so much, but it certainly got me to thinking about exactly what it takes to stay in the writing business. As several people have pointed out – including Bruce and Kristine Kathryn Rusch – this is, after all, a business. And while it certainly involves ART & CRAFT, it is really more about keeping your product on the market, watching market trends, and then trying to tweak your product to meet the needs of the market.

June 23, 2013


Like it says -- we've been out of power since Friday night. (We live in the upper left hand corner!) I'll get caught up shortly!


June 20, 2013

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 43: Stepan Under The HOD Then Up

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  and I’m sorry, but a number of them got deleted from the blog – go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story. If you’d like to read it from beginning to end (26,000 words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

Stepan resisted bellowing in surprise as he and Quinn leaped from the platform.

Behind them, he heard Fagin scream for an instant. The sound was cut off as it felt like a wall smashed into him. But instead of crashing, he slowed then slid to the floor of a cargo transport. “I thought you were going to kill me,” he said to Quinn, who sat on the floor of the transport beside him grinning like an idiot.

“It was a bit of a risk and I haven’t practiced that since I was seven, but I didn’t lose my touch! I got us in safe and sound.”

Step stood, brushing his hands. Then he realized that the floor was covered with dried...something dark that smelled vaguely of sewage. He figured it wouldn’t matter if it were on his pants or on the floor. “So where to now?”

“Under the Home Owner’s District, of course. Didn’t you say you wanted to go there?”

“No, you said you knew where we could get an antigrav plate somewhere in the HOD.”

“Well, it’s the only place someone like us can get a thing like that, so we have to go.”

“Like I said, ‘I wanted to go there’.”

Quinn, the Blue Boy shot him a look then grinned. “You got a rotten sense of humor.”

“Not something I was known for.”

“I’ll bet. Let’s go,” he grabbed Stepan’s hand and started off into the darkness. He dropped the hand and kept on, weaving around obstacles, down connecting corridors and finally to a ladder that appeared to lead into the ceiling. He jumped up and hung for a moment and with a deafening squeal, it rolled down from the ceiling. He started up.

“You want me up there, too?”

“Duh. Who do you think is gonna ask OM Gillard to use his magic toy?”

“Me, I’ll bet.” Stepan follow him up into the narrow tube.

“Duh. I gotta stop.”

“You aren’t going to take a leak on me?” Stepan said, alarmed. He had four older brothers in the Earth-Orbit habitat he grew up in. The youngest of eight, he was either babied or battered – depending on what he was doing and was feeling good or bad. His next oldest brother had one time...He buried that memory back where it had come from.

A low-pitched grinding, much smoother than the ladder, came down from above. A moment later, bright light flooded down. Tinged with red, it obviously came from the real surface and Dome cleared of ubiquitous red Martian sand. Which meant only one thing.

Quinn made a noise from above, then his feet suddenly disappeared. Scowling, Stepan followed more slowly. As he poked his head up into the sunlight, a pair of hands darted down and yanked him free and slammed him on to his back, knocking the wind from him, banging his head against the fused-glass floor.

When he finally caught his breath and his vision cleared, he was looking up into the faces of six people. A grizzled old man said, “Who are you? And if you don’t give me the right answer, you’re a dead man.”

Image: http://s.mcstatic.com/thumb/6146929/17625124/4/flash_player/0/1/nbc_today_show_pee_yew_man_rescued_after_being_swept_down_sewer.jpg?v=1

June 18, 2013


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: Talking animals
Current Event: http://www.newsminer.com/article_a5663fec-92d2-57c6-b57c-743b4adf4194.html

Noah Rhydderch shook his head angrily, “No, I know what I heard!”

Machig Labdrön pursed her lips, then took her lower lip between her thumb and finger. Finally she said, “Ravens can’t really speak, you know.”

Noah rolled his eyes. “I know that they aren’t supposed to speak English. I know they’re mimics – but the bird wasn’t just mimicking me. It was trying to tell me something!”

Machig sighed. “Look, Noah. I know we want our research to show that they’re smarter than we’ve given them credit for...”

“Machig! Don’t patronize me!” He shook his head and dropped down onto the lab stool. The raven loft was attached to the lab building of the International Wolf Institute. They were working under a grant from the National Science Foundation – but that did little to make Noah forget his ancestral involvement with the birds. Machig had the same connections – ancient Hebrews, the Welsh and Bhutanese cultures all revered the raven. It was what had drawn them together in the first place (though in a distressingly asexual way). He continued, “Don’t you think I’m weirded out by what I think I heard?”

She dropped down on the stool next to him and put her hand on his knee, though she didn’t look at him. She said, “So tell me again – what did Katoohk say to you?” They’d named raven #13 of their survey flock an Anglicized version of an Far Eastern Russian creator god.

“See that was what was weird, he didn’t actually say anything to me. I...” he paused, shot her a look and said, “I dreamed it.”

She took her hand away, rolling her eyes as she stood up. “Oh, great! I can just see the section in our paper on ‘Dream Interpretation and Communication Skills of Corvus corax’!”
“I didn’t ask for the dream! I’m just telling you about it!”

“You’re acting like it’s significant to our studies!”
“I’m not the one who said it was – Kahoohk said what he had to tell me was significant!”

Machig took a deep breath, sat back down and faced Noah. She said, “All right. I’ll listen to your dream – but don’t interpret for me. Just tell me what happened to the best of your memory.” She set her ipik down and turned it on. “If what you say is relevant in any way, I’ll think about it and let you know if I think it has any significance.”
“You mean you get last say? That’s not fair! This is my research, too!”
She snorted, “That’s exactly what’s fair! It’s yours ‘too’! My name will be attached to it and I don’t know if I want it attached to some fairy tale!”
He opened his mouth. Shut it. Dropped back down on the stool and said, “All right. This is what Kahoohk said: “A hero of Ireland, Cú Chulainn had a son whose name was Connla, by Aífe. Connla has been long separated from his father and seeking him to sit with him and do the things fathers and sons enjoy, comes to Ireland in search of him. Cú Chulainn takes the son he does not recognize as an intruder and kills him when he refuses to identify himself. Connla's last words to his father as he dies are that they would have ‘carried the flag of Ulster to the gates of Rome and beyond’, leaving Cú Chulainn both without an heir and grief-stricken and with no understanding of what he did.”
Machig made a face and sagged in the chair. “I thought you were going to say something significant.” She laughed. “You don’t even have a kid!” When she looked at him again, his face was white. “What?”
“I suppose before we move any farther ahead or back in our relationship – or non-relationship as the case may be, I have something I should tell you…”
Names: Bhutan; Hebrew, Welsh

June 16, 2013

Slice of PIE: I SHOULD Write About Father’s Day, Right?

My banner above says, “Where Writing, Christianity and Speculative Fiction Interact and You Can Comment On My Fiction – So We Can Learn TOGETHER”.
I’ve meant that from the day I posted my first entry on August 1, 2007 six years ago.
Hardly anyone posts a response these days, but from what I read, that’s because:
There are over a billion FaceBook pages. I’m there: https://www.facebook.com/guy.stewart.946
There are half a billion Twitter account users. I’m there: @gstewart75 (https://twitter.com/gstewart75)
Outlook has almost another half billion. I’m there: gstewart75@hotmail.com
LinkedIn has 225 million. I’m there, too.
Dropbox has over 100 million. Working with a friend of mine on Dropbox.
According to my source, in 2012, there were approximately 31,000,000 of which 35% use eBlogger like I do. That comes out to 10,850,000 so I really DON’T feel bad that people don’t comment. I DO know that somewhere in the neighborhood of 35,000 people have stopped by during that time.
I DO know that there are 462 Comments and that I have fairly regular commenters.
So what have I learned in the past 6 years?
Lots – I learned that I LOVE writing in blog-bits! What are they? If you look at my sidebar, you’ll see A PINE IN THE CITY ALONE (picture book), A SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH (young adult/middle grade historical), LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION (young adult science fiction), and A MARTIAN HOLIDAY (science fiction novel for adults with a Christian worldview).
I’ve written three other picture books thus far (one went to my agent but she didn’t think it was strong enough, the second and third I’m still revising); two YA/MG novels (one I sent to my agent and she found it confusing, the other I’m waiting to publish my first NON-genre novel to jump into the genre novels for kids); a fantasy novel I am also waiting on my publication of one of TWO novels that are out there in Submission Land; and a Christian novel whose elevator pitch is “Jan Karon’s MITFORD series meets CROSS AND THE SWITCHBLADE (or for a more contemporary title, you could try CHASING THE DRAGON)”.
Have I sold any books? Nope.
Have I sold any stories? Yep. (See above for my most recent publication.)

Am I constantly writing?
As my Scandinavian forebears might have said, “You betcha!” 

I also learned that when I publish something in my blog, it’s considered published. Of course, the books I write are ONLY initial drafts – I play with ideas, characters, tone, and theme. That’s why if you read my posts in order, you’ll see that not only do the things I listed change – but names, genders and tenses change as well. When I do the final draft, all of that will be resolved – but that’s what I need the input for! I want to know what is working and what is not. I solicit the views of people of various beliefs as well – I do NOT feel called to write for the evangelical Christian market (except for some few, very specific projects). I need to know if my own faith is peeking through TOO MUCH. I don’t want to bury what I believe, but I don’t want to be offensive to my market, either.
I want to do what Jesus did – tell interesting stories that are perfectly legitimate on the surface of them, but can be interpreted on a deeper level as well. “The Prodigal Son” is an excellent piece of flash fiction (they called them parables in Jesus’ day) by itself. Makes you sigh and wish that your family was like that! (I talked about this long, long ago: http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2008/11/writing-advice-parable-storythat.html). But it can be read on a spiritual level as well and it was “for those who have ears to hear”.Anyway, I HAVE to get this posted, so I’ll end now. I LOVE blogging. I love comments.
‘nuff said.

June 13, 2013


PERIHELION Online Magazine published a short story of mine called "Invoking Fire"!


I got the idea because my concern with the preponderance of electronic books and its impact on the poor of the world. When I TALKED about it, no one seemed able to see my point.

But this story seems to have gotten me an audience. Maybe more people will consider the impact of US going electronic on THEM who need the books we "throw away"...

In fact, this was brought abruptly to the forefront of thought when I got an email from an old student of mine. She's starting a non-profit organization bent on revitalizing the classrooms of Liberia with better classrooms...AND BOOKS...

From where?


When all of our books are self-righteously electronic, then where does that leave THE REST OF THE WORLD?


Image:  http://matthewsdent.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/perihelion-june-132.jpg

June 9, 2013

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: The Holy Grail in Ancient and Modern Times -- And The Movie of A Young Friend of Mine

A young friend of mine – whom I had the privilege of writing with in a class he took from me when he was very young (he’d already had three short stories published by then) – premiered a movie for which he conceived the idea, wrote the screenplay, directed and edited. For the complete story, read the article here:


As I shared the basic idea with my daughter’s good friend – a teenager’s favorite hat, one he wears only on the weekend, disappears so he sets off to find it and ends up crossing with gangs and twisting and turning with humor in what is billed as a “thriller with comedic twists” – I suddenly realized that I was watching LORD OF THE RINGS the next night (talk about comedic twists!).

My reflections on WEEKEND HAT and LORD OF THE RINGS abruptly began to range all over the place, lighting on MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL as well as other modern interpretations of the legend like THE FISHER KING, and THE DA VINCI CODE.  Ancient literature such as Conte de Grale, Percival, Morte dArthur depends heavily on the legend, but modern lit and speculative fiction in particular has mined the trope. From Samuel R. Delany’s Nova, to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover books, to Judith Tarr’s Kingdom of the Grail, Elizabeth Bear’s Grail, and Charles Stross’ Accelerando and the expectation that someday Humanity will transcend itself with the help of technology. 

“Why is the Grail legend, traditionally known as an emblem of Christianity, still so popular in a culture that has generally turned away from traditional religion? How does a legend steeped in medieval supernaturalism thrive amid modern skepticism and secular humanism? How does the Grail maintain relevance long after the culture that created it?” (The Science Fiction Film Reader by Greg Rickman)

This myth; this powerful image is diminished and made simple by our longing for a trinket or place or loved one taken too soon – something that I have lost or had taken from me. The concept seems echoed in everything we do.

From the loss of the cup Jesus and his followers used to drink and dine during the very first Jewish Passover that became Christian Communion to civilizations far flung in both time and technology seeking their origins, lost fleets, sons or daughters of Emperors or even the “glory of forgotten days” – all of these are recreated in speculative fiction of the past and today.

The Quest for the Holy Grail with its cascade of amplifying and diminishing movies and literature is also reflected in a little movie by a great young adult in the arts-friendly city of Minneapolis.

If you’d like, please share any other reflections of the Holy Grail you’ve read or watched lately!

Image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_axr1lLAbpwc/SfmhOiDMAiI/AAAAAAAAAcM/9kyRF1fWoxw/s320/1indy-idol-holy-grail.jpg

June 4, 2013


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: Post-cataclysmic rag-tag armies struggle to kick [some bad guy] out of the good ol' US of A
Current Event: http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/11/21/could_north_koreans_invade_america

Salvador Cadenas de la Parras screamed, “¡joda la tierra!”; he also cursed the sky and the very air he breathed. He threw his hat over the cliff and cursed an invisible America two thousand kilometers to the north.

Yomery Kauam smiled, shook her head then laughed, saying, “If only you’d have expressed you passion to the Commander in Chief, you’d be on Haitian and Dominican soil at this moment, smashing through that pestilential wasteland on your way to Florida. Instead, you’re here, throwing your hat over a cliff into the bright morning sun.”

Sal spun around, cursed her, fixing her with as fierce a glare as he could. “I wanted to be there!”

Yomery shook her head, “You didn’t want to be there – you wanted to be a hero with El Presidente’s medallion on your chest and women on your arms.” She gestured to the far-away target. “Invading America today is nothing at all like invading it forty years ago!”
“It’s the same!”
Yomery headed back down the hill. Sal ran after her, grabbed her shoulder. She grabbed his hand, stopped and let gravity and mass work together to flip him over her shoulder. Keep her hand firmly on his wrist, she pulled him back toward herself until he came to a sudden, breathless stop on his back, at her feet. She leaned over, kissed his nose and said, “Let’s talk when you calm down, OK?”
She scramble down the trail, listening carefully to make sure she hadn’t broken anything important on Sal. When she heard him groan and scramble to his feet, she headed to the monitor bunker they’d been sharing since Venezuela had launched its preemptive attack against what had formerly been the glorious US of A. She’d been born there in the Decadent Decade just before the Fizzle. The one-time world power was now reduced to planning invasions of one-time failed countries like Venezuela...
Sal limped up beside her and said, “¿Por qué hizo usted esto?”
She replied in unaccented American English, “Because you tried to bully me.”
“You should practice your English, Sal. We may not be in on the real invasion, but the occupation of America should keep us busy for…oh, the next decade.”
“America might...”
“America’s not going to do anything except surrender.”
He stared at her and said, “Haven’t you ever watched the Mad Max movies?”
“I don’t see what some ancient, flat, American movie...”
“It has everything to do with this whole invasion! We may be strong; we may be brave, but the Americans have corazón profundo.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“They have a deep spirit when they’re forced into a corner.”
She pursed her lips, glanced north in the direction of the legendary “land of the free and the home of the brave” and said, “That may be true, but I’ve heard that El Presidente has a surprise up his sleeve for the Americans.” Sal ran up behind her, reached to grab her arm then jerked his hand back. Without turning around, she said, “Let’s just say that Americans may have a history of resisting oppressors – Brazilians have a history of subverting our oppressors.”
Names: ♀ Venezuela (both);  Venezuela (both)

June 2, 2013


Somewhere around thirty years ago, I met Bruce Bethke for the first time – when I responded to an ad in a newspaper for a science fiction writers group seeking new members. I called, then sent in an “audition story” and was invited to join the group at the ORIGINAL, original Loft Literary Center (before grant money started flowing) in Minneapolis. One of THEM reviews books now, the other published a few books and short stories but no longer writes. Bruce doesn’t write much lately except for non-fiction; he is currently executive editor of STUPEFYING STORIES, an irregular anthology of new speculative fiction, he mostly works for a super computer company as well as presiding over Rampant Loon Press. These nuggets of wisdom can be found here: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/a-12-step-program-for-writers/. They are used with the author’s permission.
    10. We will continue to take inventory of our old unsold stuff, in hopes that something will germinate in the dark and suddenly and spontaneously become a best-seller.
I completely get the first part – but I am puzzled by the last part.
So, I’ll do the tough stuff first: “...in hopes that something will germinate in the dark and suddenly and spontaneously become a best-seller.”
As I am an old writer, I do in fact, have paper files that would allow something to grow in the cabinet were seeds to get in and water seep create a moist environment conducive to germination and growth.
I also realize that paper is DEAD organic matter and turning into something that it is NOT is akin to expecting Spalanzani’s mesh-covered meat to burst with maggots and flies. It’s not going to happen.
I have submitted, at best count, something like 800 times. At a guess, I have on file (paper and electronic) something like 600 manuscripts. Of those, roughly 10% have been accepted for publication SOMEWHERE. That means that 60 of my manuscripts have seen the light of day and someone besides me has read them. If I were to dig back to my earliest attempts, I’d find completely unpublishable (note to self: “Self, is it significant to the state of publishing in this second decade of the 21st Century, that until I added, Microsoft Word XP did not have ‘unpublishable’ in its dictionary? This would make an excellent POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY!”)
To date, none of them has reached the NYT Bestseller List (though one is still available from CSS Publishing or Amazon.com).
The chances of one of the remaining manuscripts becoming a bestseller are the same as the chance of you spontaneously combusting in your rocking chair. According to Straight Dope, “Over the past 300 years, there have been more than 200 reports of persons burning to a crisp for no apparent reason.” That works out to a .18% chance that you will spontaneously combust today – with an average world population of 3.5 billion, you’d have to wait six million or so years before your turn came up. Your chances of being hit by a tornado are better: “Even if you were to camp out permanently in the heart of tornado alley, statistically speaking you would most likely have to wait 1400 years before being struck by a twister.” (Skyfire TV)
So germinating a best-seller from my earlier manuscripts is pretty much a bust. But I can SEND OUT earlier manuscripts to less exalted markets than I usually write for! I did that recently.
The first part of Step 10 is easier to understand and I have evidence that doing it on a regular basis might just net a sale for me.
I primarily write science fiction because I primarily read science fiction. (Of COURSE I’ve read Chronicles of Narnia (odd – Microsoft Word XP has the word “Narnia” in it…); Lord of the Rings; The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever; Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell; War For The Oaks; and Chronicles of the Deryni! (Who DO you think I am?)). I wrote a story I really loved and duly sent it out to my primary markets: ANALOG, ASIMOV’S, OSC’s INTERGALACTIC MEDICINE SHOW; and LIGHTSPEED.
Rejected there, I aimed at my second tier magazines: DSF, BUZZYMAG, and a few others. Finally, frustrated, I sent it to AURORA WOLF. The editor there loved it, paid me and published it! (See the link above if you want to read it.)
This was a story I’d almost given up on – I’d sent it out the first time in March of 2011 and revised it twice. It was in a world that was sparked by an idea that Bruce Bethke had tossed out and while it took two revisions PAST the usual number I do with a typical story, it did in fact, spring from my files as ultimately published! Another piece of fiction has the same story –written in 2010, it suffered through six markets over the next year and it was ultimately published as a PODCAST by an English online YA magazine! (Cool, huh? I’m published internationally!)
Anyway – I continue to mine my past for present and future ideas – and Bruce Bethke recommends that same! (Tongue in cheek, of course.)
Image: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_EdiSPJX1jg8/STgq3AHYToI/AAAAAAAAA6I/dzfU2LaUgos/s400/Redi.JPG