February 28, 2014


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 clips, click on the label to the right, scroll down to and click OLDER ENTRIES seven or eight times. The FIRST entry is on the bottom of the last page.

…if she’d happened along just then.

As it was, Tommy Hastings was snoring – he’d have cried out, “I don’t snore! Old guys snore!” – but he was no matter what.

Freddie Merrill’s head rose up and down and by the time the sun finally rose, he was curled in a ball, ear pressed on Tommy’s belly. It was probably the rumbling of his best friend’s stomach that woke him up. He say up, rubbed his eyes and said, “Jeez, I’m starving!”

Tommy sat up as well, though he grimaced. He’d stayed on his back the whole night. He said, “You’re hungry? I’m hungrier!” They both climbed to their feet, bewildered for a moment, then startled when a roar and grind thuttered through the heavy brush. The sky was dimly lit with almost-sunrise, but they could still hardly see anything. Only the steady drone of semi-trailer engines upshifting and downshifting gave any indication of where the road between Thunder Bay and the Pigeon River border crossing. Freddie started walking but Tommy said, “What if they’re waiting for us?”

“Why would they be waiting for us? We slept all night,” Freddie said. “Besides, we knocked out two of them – the Witch of Anoka and the guy who tried to strangle me.”

Tommy stared at him then said, “I think your brain must have gotten bigger, too.”


Tommy grinned and said, “Forget it. We have to hike to the road – it sounds awfully close.” They spent the next hour scrambling through the woods, dropping to the ground at the sound of any branch falling, any big bird squawking, or any truck backfiring on the highway.

By the time they could see the road through the trees, Freddie was panting. “I gotta sit down! I’m gonna die if I don’t!”

“You ain’t gonna die! The road’s right there. We gotta hitch a ride pretty quick.”


“Haven’t you been listening? There were lots of trucks when we started. There’s a lot less now.”

Freddie blinked at Tommy, his mouth hanging open. His stomach gurgled loudly. Tommy’s did at the same time. Both boys busted out laughing, falling over, rolling on the ground until they finally lay, looking up into the sky and panting. They rolled over on their stomachs and stared down at the road. In the distance was the growl of a semi coming south from Thunder Bay. “We better go now.” Tommy said. Freddie nodded and jumped to his feet, charging downhill. “Wait for me!”

They reached the road in time to see the black cloud of diesel smoke appear, followed by the rest of the truck. Sticking out their thumbs, they faced the oncoming vehicle. At first, it didn’t appear to have noticed them, roaring along steadily.

Then they heard the painful scream of airbrakes seeing applied. As the truck rolled closer, Freddie squinted until he saw the face of the man driving, “I was hopin’ for.”

“Me, too.”

He looks kind of familiar. Like I seen him somewhere.”

“Like where?” Tommy asked, throwing a wide eyed look at Freddie. “Not the mansion...”

The truck stopped, engine rumbling. A few seconds later, the door opened. A man with heavy eyebrows and dark eyes and a scruffy faced leaded out and said, “What you boys doing here?”

Freddie blurted, “Are you Finnish?”

The man’s scowl deepened and he said, “Not sure, you know someone named Ed – served in the Navy in the South Pacific.”

Tommy opened his mouth to reply. Freddie punched him in the kidneys, but it didn’t stop him from saying, “Yeah. She’s a friend of ours. What about her?”

The scowl vanished and the man said, “She’s my girlfriend. Told me to keep an eye out for you. Give you a lift to Duluth?”

February 25, 2014


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.

Change of pace for a bit – I’m going to look at elements of EXTREMELY popular SF, F, and H; break them apart and use each element as a jumping of point for a story idea…

Popular Horror Story/Series: Goosebumps Books

H Trope: Abusive Parents

Austin Ventura stood in his room. What should he do? What could he do? Carlos Rodriguez Cruz – his best friend since kindergarten – had run off somewhere. Worse yet, he’d been gone for anywhere from a few minutes to four hours. Austin texted Carlos’ sister, Paulina, “You still there?”

“Not going anywhere. Really.”

“Can I come over?”



“Meet me at the school.”

“I can get there in ten.”

“No car. Give me an hour.”



“I can come and get you,” Austin clicked. He waited. His screen dimmed to dark. She wasn’t going to answer. Shaking his head, he left the house, walking out the

front door. Mom and Dad had long ago given up trying to keep him in the place – he’d “escaped” so many times…and they’d had to pick him up from the police station for curfew violations so many times, that they’d finally said if he was going to go out whenever he felt like it, he could pick himself up.

They refused. He tested their resolve exactly once. That was the night he had to walk home from down town Minneapolis. His parents insisted the cops turn him out. The also lied about how far away they lived – they said they were staying in a nearby hotel. It had been just before Christmas. Austin was twelve.

When a cop car stopped to nab him, it turned out it was the same one who’d grabbed him the first time. The lady had said, “Your parents made you walk home?”

Miserable – even in his fancy Columbia ReflectiveHeat Brand – in just his jacket and Converses, the cop relented and gave him a ride home. When he dropped Austin off in front of the mansion, he’d leaned forward, looked at the entryway and said softly, “I can file for child abuse if you want...”

“No!” Austin had exclaimed. The publicity would ruin Dad. Mom would never speak to him again. “I’ve learned my lesson.”

The cop had made a face, shrugged and said, “Suit yourself, kid. But if you ever change your mind,” he’d squirted a contact email to Austin’s cellphone then went on his way.

Austin-in-the-present shook his head and sighed, the only lesson he’d learned that night was that he had to be a helluva lot sneakier from then on. And he’d learned exactly how mad Dad could get. He set off to meet Paulina.

Names: Mexico, Mexico; Minnesota, Italy (= “baby in the woods”, “foundling”); Spanish form of French name

February 20, 2014


I am in Lawton, OK for the graduation of my son from Army Basic Training. Don't know if I'll be able to post or not. We'll see...otherwise I'll be out until NEXT Tuesday!


February 16, 2014


As writers, every one of us dreams of writing the “New Harry Potter”.

C’mon, admit it – don’t you wish you could come up with the just the right...the right...the right WHAT?

Listen. My kids – at the time of the first book, they were six and ten – eventually heard me read, then picked up and read, the HP books. My father – who was SEVENTY when he picked up the first book – read and enjoyed the entire series as well. How is it possible that people of such disparate ages could read and enjoy the same books?

While it’s not as if it has “never” happened before – adults and kids were reading TREASURE ISLAND, THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA long before JK Rowling gave literary birth to Harry Potter – what are some of the aspects of the phenom we might pick up as writers and apply to our own writing?

There are literally tens of thousands of pages of analysis of the books, ranging from fan sites to academic: “Despite being children's books, the Harry Potter novels have also been subject to serious social scrutiny, with studies of the series' political intricacies performed by columnists, professors and doctoral students alike. As of 2007, the catalog of the Library of Congress has recorded 21 volumes of criticism and interpretation, and at least seven master’s dissertations and 17 doctoral theses have been devoted to the Harry Potter books. Seriously.” (http://www.insidehighered.com/views/mclemee/mclemee133) This was in 2007 – how many MORE are there seven years later? Oh, by the way, these archives also hold an essay entitled: “Quidditch, Imperialism and the Sport-War Intertext.


I’m not looking for anything quite so esoteric, though a read-through of the doctoral dissertations might shed some interesting light on HP, I’m looking for practical, lay-person methods that might improve my writing.

One of the things that comes up most often is that the books include HUMOR. This is hardly a new tool for grabbing a reader’s attention. In fact, in their movie format, they might even be classified as dramedy – Comedy-drama (also known as dramedy, tragicomedy, comedic drama, or seriocomedy) is a genre of [literature,] theatre, film, and television that combines elements of comedy and drama, having both humorous and sometimes serious content.” My favorite example of this is MASH – in which nearly every episode had a serious message and a humorous story line.

Another thing people mention often is that the books deal with racism obliquely, never coming out exactly and saying “don’t be a racist” – and never actually dealing with Human races, but confronting the whole issue of pure blooded wizarding families and kids who come from mixed-blood families is a deep issue that plays a major role in driving all seven books. Racism still haunts us. We want to see it dealt with even when WE aren’t the ones doing the dealing – we’re just reading about it.

Lots and lots of people comment on how Harry Potter and the rest of the characters “felt as if they were alive”. My rebuttal for that is that they had BETTER seem alive after a million words of story! Realistically however, most of us will never be allowed to have a million words to make our characters come alive and the truth of the matter is that neither did JK Rowling. By the time she reached the million words, the world was gripped by Pottermania. I worked at Barnes & Noble during the release of three of the books – ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE and THE DEATHLY HALLOWS. People were desperate to read the books before Rowling reached 500,000 words! Why did people fall for Harry? Because he was an “every man” (or boy) who was picked on mercilessly by his “parents”, his “brother”, relatives, neighborhood kids, and his classmates (though we never see that, we assume it’s true). Every single person who read a Harry Potter book – and I make absolutely no distinction of culture here – had been picked on by someone, somewhere, at some time. The connection was instant – what might be called the “poor me” syndrome – is literally universal. Translation of the books into at least 70 languages should be argument enough that the syndrome is universal.

Two other aspects twine together to form another frequently mentioned aspect of the books: people working for good who are so far “under cover” that for all intents and purposes, they are evil and the idea that it’s OK to admit you were on the wrong side and you can switch over to the right side…but there will be a price to pay. These twined concepts might be shortened to “deception and disloyalty are OK under the right circumstances”. Wrapped loosely around this, I might add the moral imperative that recognizes that murder is wrong – but right under certain circumstances.

So how do I make usable tools out of all of that?

1)Use humor to leaven tragedy.

2)Deal with real issues imperceptibly.

3)Use the “poor me” syndrome.

4)Deception, disloyalty, and murder are usually wrong – but infrequently right.

OK – I’m going to go apply this to the story I’m working on now and then analyze stories I’ve written that have been published, and finally take a long look at the pieces I’ve written recently.

February 13, 2014


The Cold War between the Kiiote and the Yown’Hoo has become a shooting war.  On Earth, there are three Triads one each in Minneapolis, Estados United; Pune, India; and Harbin, China. Protected by the Triad Corporation, they intend to integrate not only the three peoples and stop the war that threatens to break loose and slaughter Humans and devastate their world.; but to stop the war that consumes Kiiote economy and Yown’Hoo moral fiber. The Yown’Hoo know about the extra-Universe Braider, aliens whose own “civil war” mirrors the Cold War. The Braiders accidentally created a resonance wave that will destroy the Milky Way and the only way to stop it is to physically construct a sort of membrane that will produce a canceling wave – generated from the rim of the Galaxy inward. The Braiders don’t DO physical stuff on that scale – the Yown’Hoo-Kiiote-Human Triads may be their only chance of creating a solution. The merger of Human-Kiiote-Yown’Hoo into a van der Walls Society may produce a stability capable of launching incredible expansion, creativity, longevity and wealth – and building the Membrane to stop the wave.

The young experimental Triads are made up of the smallest primate tribe of Humans –two; the smallest canine pack of Kiiote – six; and the smallest camelid herd of Yown’Hoo – a prime eleven. On nursery farms and ranches away from the TC cities, Humans have tended young Yown’Hoo and Kiiote in secret for decades, allowing the two warring people to reproduce and grow far from their home worlds. Grendl, Manitoba is one such place. No one but the Triad Company has ever heard of it and the physical plant goes by the unobtrusive name of Organic Prairie Dairy.

The Triads never hear of anything they aren’t spoon fed in their luxury worlds and have heard only rumors of the farms and ranches. Surrounded by a Humanity that has degenerated into a “duck-and-cover” society as the Big Boys fight their war, they don’t care about anything but their own lives. Oblivious, cocooned, manipulated, they have no idea that their privileges are about to be violently curtailed and all of their biology ransacked for the correct Membrane pattern. (update: 2/13/2014)

Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh, retired bowed, sweeping his arm in an arc that let his fingertips just brush the floor. “But be my guest. I hear you all are genius teenagers and the best of the breeds.”

“Who has told you such tales?” the lead pack female, Qap asked.

Bakhsh scowled at her until Shayla said, “We’re a team, interlocked and linked…”

“That sounds like advertising,” he said, then smirking.

“Call it what you will,” I cut in, “Our job has always been to forge bonds with each other.”

He grunted then said, “So – this map you saw as a kid?”


“You told me that one of your old query marker gurus showed you a map and told you to memorize it in case you didn’t have access to a tablet computer connected to the internet.”

“That’ll never happen!” I said. I pulled out the flextablet – not that it would display an old-fashioned screen or anything 20th like that! It was just a slice of circuitry that could project a virtual screen in front of me – or that anyone else could see. He snatched it from me, curled it in on itself then shoved it in his pocket. “Hey!”

His nasty look – I haven’t seen anybody look so nasty…well…I’ve never seen anyone look as cranky as this guy looked. He made me freeze with my mouth hanging open like I was missing a brain gene. He said, “You want the people who blew up the RetroMetroDome to find you? That was your home, your food source – and not just for you Humans! What about the alien bunnies the Kiiote eat or the meatgrass the Yown’Hoo eat? Not like you’re gonna be able to a buy a brace or a bale.” He fixed a long look at me that shifted to Shayla a second later as he said, “And it’s not like you two could survive anywhere outside of your little world.” He lifted his chin at the Herd Mother and added, “I think even you and your Kiiote counterpart might find life a challenge on Earth.”

A nearby doorway swung open and the lead male Kiiote, Xurf crawled into the room, warily looking up at Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh, retired. The Human bared his teeth. I knew it was a smile, but like any other canine on Earth, the Kiiote interpreted it as a threat gesture. Which was fine. Xurf and Qap as well as Dao-hi and me and Shayla were in lots of danger. I could feel it.

“I’ll give you your tablet back when you tell me what you saw on the old-fashioned map.”

I sighed. Shayla looked at me. I’d told her about the whole weird session with the guru – his name was Kan Yuen – right after it happened. We were ten and she didn’t care then. Now she flashed me a finger twitch. It was our personal language. We could talk when we needed to even with the rest of the Triad was around us. She told me to “Watch it!” I said to Bakhsh, “Why should I tell you? You might be part of the terrorist group that blew up the Dome.”

His eyebrows lifted and he nodded slowly, “Glad to see you’re not a total virgin.”

“I’m not a virgin!” I snapped. Then I felt myself blush like only gingers can blush – from my toes to the top of my head. I finished the sentence, “...at keeping secrets!”

Bakhsh was smirking as he continued, “If I was one of them, I’d have tied all of you up, thrown you in the basement and called in the choppers.” He went to the wall, tapped it and it blanked, showing a moment later, a complete virtual communication center. “I’d call up Terrorist Command and order them to come and pick you up.”

Shayla crossed her arms over her chest, making sure to lift her breasts a bit to keep his attention – he snorted, but didn’t comment – original question: why should we trust you?”

Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh, retired, pursed his lips, then grabbed them between thumb and forefinger after settling his left elbow in his right hand. He sighed, shook his head then said, “Because, my Human compatriots and their alien allies – I honestly think that except for me, you don’t have a single friend in this entire City.”