June 29, 2014

WRITING ADVICE: Have a Plan – Guy Stewart #3

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

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

In the writing class I teach to gifted young people during the summer, we had an interesting discussion.

Keeping in mind that young people – in particular many highly motivated (you can read that “obsessive”!) gifted kids – live life FAST. They’re intrigued by the ideas they’re exposed to and then barrel ahead, gung-ho! to achieve success.

I introduced my class to twitter fiction and four or five of them took off. They produced “stories” of 140 characters and after I introduced them to the market, Nanoism (http://nanoism.net/) and fired them off. One of them got a rejection three hours later...

Not one of them thought that plotting a story – even a story as short as 140 characters – was something they had to consider. I also “forced” the class to write poetry the very first day and the same thing happened. No plan. No drafts. Just bang out a piece and bring it up to me for perusal.

Part of the problem is that I hadn’t really considered plotting my twitter fiction until recently. Not being a poet, I never ONCE thought that a writer had to plan, plot, and draft a poem. I knew that it was a matter of word choice. I knew it was a matter of expression.

I just never applied the “P” word to those two genres.

I should have known because writing stories for kids at magazines like HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN, LADYBUG, and SPIDER is an exercise in writing flash fiction – and I’ve stories in the upper aged magazines of the CRICKET family. My first professional publication in ANALOG was a 400 word flight of fancy called “Absolute Limits” for a department they call “Probability Zero”. My most recent semi-pro sale was to PERIHELION SCIENCE FICTION – and was a mere 1300 words (set to appear in the July 12, 2014 update of the magazine – you can read it by following the link above once it’s up!)

While I didn’t spend hours, days, and weeks plotting the short fiction – which I did when I wrote the two novels I have waiting at MUSE IT UP PUBLISHING (https://museituppublishing.com/) – I did draw out what I call a circle plot. Keeping the story on one page has become a standard exercise for me now.

Starting with the opening incident on the top left of a sheet of paper, I describe what happens in ten words or less. This leads to the next incident, then the next. In writing a novel, I do the same thing for each chapter AFTER I have the overall plot of the entire novel. Doing this has allowed me to write at least four novels: VICTORY OF FISTS, HEIRES OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES, CARNIVORE’S DEBT, and the very first drafts of two others.

However – that doesn’t mean I’m not open to a new methodology. I have started to sketch out my next science fiction novel, tentatively called GROWING EXOTICS. That probably needs to change, but we’ll see.

So – what are you? A plotter or someone who simply lets the story grow in whatever direction it needs to?

June 26, 2014

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 56: Aster of Opportunity

On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official Unified 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.

Aster Theilen’s father, Abedne Halle-Theilen, accepted the peck on the cheek with a smile and said, “I will, Sweetie.”

She headed out of his apartment, scowling. What was so important to him that he’d felt moved to bring up that silly Old Testament story about one of Xerxes’ queens of Persia? She just wanted to survive her ‘relationship’ with Mayor Etaraxis and hold out long enough for him to lose interest in her. She’d no intent on going on a crusade for better rights for those still clinging to the Old Religions, especially the Gang of Three. Mars had enough contemporary problems. It didn’t need to fight ancient battles again.

Unfortunately, there were those who still felt it their bound business and calling to root out anyone with private feelings about Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Hence the occasional believer being shoved out through an airlock or murdered outright. Martian law didn’t hold with such violence, but typically sentences were likened to those whose drinking and driving murdered someone back on Earth – a few months of hard labor or community service, and their penalty was considered served.

She was so occupied, she didn’t notice a shadow detach itself from a corridor vending alcove and pad silently after her. Aster didn't see the shadow pause at her father's door and touch the edge of the game then move on. She made her way to Opportunity's Core. The city was mostly underground. Except for the agriculture domes on the surface, people "lived like groundhogs". She had no idea what that was. Her father would know.

"Your father knows a great many things, Consort Thiesen," said Hanam vo'Maddux as she appeared abruptly alongside Aster.

Though Aster didn't flinch, her blood pressure shot up. She said, "He's my mentor as well, Chief vo'Maddux. He's almost one hundred years old. He's seen quite a few things. Certainly more than you or I have."

"At least more than you have," the voice of the Mayor's Chief of Security was pitched so that her words rang with authority that accepted no dissent.

Aster begged to differ, she said conversationally. "You were born on Mars, too, weren't you?"
Silence. After a moment, Hanam said, "I was. It's in my records."

"Oh, that's right. Now I remember. My father was born on Earth. He came here when he was forty-eight. Sort of a birthday present. He and Mom rode the first High Boost Direct ship. Mom died after I was born." Aster paused. "I saw that your mother is hale and hearty. It's wonderful when a person can grow up with both parents." Aster stole a glance at Hanam.

She'd expected anger but unexpectedly saw despair.

The Chief of Security said, "You would think."

The two women walked side-by-side until they reached the lifts that would take them up to the agriculture level or down to the detention center. They stopped. The Security Chief pursed her lips, bowed, and said, "Good day, Consort Thiesen."

Aster mirrored the bow. "Good day, Chief of Security vo'Maddux." Hanam walked away, leaving Aster to study the back of the woman she was certain was her enemy but might have been an ally.

Image: http://image.shutterstock.com/display_pic_with_logo/563683/110386094/stock-photo-silhouette-of-two-woman-walking-into-the-light-at-the-end-of-an-underground-pedestrian-tunnel-110386094.jpg

June 24, 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.

SF Trope: Interstellar Travel

Giovanna Mukhomorov shook her head slowly as she stared through the meteoroid [meteor = “celestial (brighter among the stars) phenomenon”; oid = “still seen”; ite = “a piece of”]-scarred window of the International Space Station. “When the old NASA announced this in 2014, my mom said she cried.”

Artyom Pai-Teles snorted, staring out the same window. “My fathers both shook their heads and said, ‘American hubris’.”

Gio didn’t bother looking at him as she said, “Thirty years later, the same might be said of them when they first planned your genstruction.”

“Hey! I was a successful...”

“How many times did they have to try, AP?”

He could do nothing but grunt. They’d been best friends up here since the day they’d arrived in space. Two years ago. Sometimes he thought it was too bad she was straight gay.

He sighed and she added, “It’s never gonna happen, AP.”

He said, “A man can dream about stroking those massive engines, can’t he?”

She slugged him, forgetting to hold herself down and floated away and into the main stream of older men and women, prime-age men and women, young adult men and women, and a smattering of boys and girls. Most of them politely excused themselves, bouncing like oddly-shaped ping pong balls as they moved hurriedly around Gio.

One of them did not. A young adult grabbed a bar near her feet and said, “You need to stay out of my way, kid.”

Flicking her toes, she came within a millimeter of his rather big nose. He flinched but didn’t move. Impressed despite herself, she said, “Titus, you’re ninety-one days older than me. You were one grade behind me. Even if you do the simplest math you’re most capable of, you still come out behind and I still don’t like you.” She pulled herself up and shoved herself toward the assembly area. “Come on Artyom. We have a galaxy to explore.”

He followed her, taking her hand, but she didn’t see the look on Titus Polamalu’s face. He did. He not only didn’t like the look, somewhere deep down inside of him, he found himself terrified of the mind of the man who watched his best friend.

Names: ♀ Brazil, Russia; Russia, Brazil, Hawaii, Hawaii

June 22, 2014

A Slice of PIE: The Novel As Theater


If by this the speaker meant, “There’s WAY more that goes on behind stage than what happens ON stage,” then I agree.

I was never “the star of the show”. Some of my best friends were. Some people who were best friends before the show were no longer best friends after the show. Of course, this just proves my point...

A science fiction novel starts long before we get to buy it on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble. Some writers are transparent in how they work. Author Julie Czerneda loves to share her work and her working environment so that neophytes like me can see EXACTLY how much work goes into creating a novel. She lets us know what she cuts:


Others put every thought that went INTO a novel IN the novel, the end result being a book brimming with details which is very satisfying to some, and very confusing to others (I think this happened in David Brin’s newest, EXISTENCE).

My opinion is that a novel should be exactly like theater – almost all of it should be hidden with only the action visible. I don’t want to know how many scenes are hidden back stage. While it might interest me later, I don’t want to know anything about the prop set-up, the make up, the costumes, the lighting, the sound system, or the choreography. Maybe I’m wrong, but when I go to see a play or a musical, I want to see the story – not the back story or the pre-story.

There’s also a flip side to this. I would argue that a novel should NOT be improv. Don’t get me wrong, improv has its place in theater. I’ve had friends do improv and watched it – especially humorous improv and enjoy it immensely. The spontaneous nature of that kind of theater; its ability to comment in the moment and allow actors to play off of each other is its strength.

But no novel should be written that way. While I enjoyed the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novels as a young adult:

, this is not what I’m looking for as a solid read as an adult. It’s neither substantial nor is it fulfilling. When I read a novel, I want a memorable experience. While I loved these as a kid, there isn’t a single adventure of the “40 possible endings” that I can remember.

When I wrote my second-most-recent science fiction novel for adults, INVADER’S GUILT, I tried to tell the story through the eyes of five different characters. That was not a good move as it was hard to follow and readers couldn’t form relationships with the characters. Forming relationships with characters is what reading – and theater-going is all about. Some actors make us feel “as if” we were there.

Others lack that ability and the show suffers for it. Think about it: how many times has ROMEO AND JULIET been performed? A gazillion times (or as source state, “countless times”) since it was written in the 1590s? Who is your most memorable Romeo? Who is the Juliet who stands out in your mind? It will be different for every person. Do you remember the costumes? The props? The set?

None of the above. We see the play and watch the movies for the story. No matter how it is twisted and revised and revived, the STORY stays the same and that is what we return to.

The novel as theater – a new methodology for me: keep almost everything back stage and concentrate on the STORY. I can have the prop set-up, make up, costumes, lighting, sound system, choreography, back story, and pre-story all there. But the only thing my reader should see is the STORY. In order to do that, it has to be a GOOD story. An eternal story. How many stories are there? Depends on who you ask. But that will be the subject of another essay.

June 19, 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.

“Why do they want us, Arnie? What’s in the picture that they want it so bad as to chase all over creation?” Tommy Hastings said, his voice was so close to being baby whining, that he cleared his throat into his fist and said, “Why do you think they want us?”

Arnie Volz, truck driver and boyfriend of Edwina Olds scowled then said, “Only thing I can think of, boys, is that the picture shows not just your mom, but the two men shaking hands are not supposed to be friendly to each other.”

Freddie said, “You mean like one’s a socialist and ones a Communist?”

Arnie’s eyebrows went up as he said, “That’s EXACTLY what I mean, son. Exactly.” He paused then asked, “Do you know either of the men?”

"I never seen ‘em before. Dad says he hasn’t seen them either.”

 Arne shrugged, “Can’t imagine any man admitting his wife was with another man, he wasn’t anywhere in sight,” he paused, “Was he?”

“Was he what?” Tommy asked.

“Was he in the picture?”


Arne gave him a strange look before he said, “Was your father in the picture of the two men and you mother?”

“No! I said that! That’s why the Finns want the picture!”

“Because your ma was with a man who was a socialist – who was caught on film shaking hands with a man who was a communist, right?”

Tommy blinked in surprise, eyeballs reflecting light from the gauges on the dashboard of the truck as it trundled down the coast of Lake Superior. Night had fallen quickly, and it was dark as pitch outside the cab. Occasional headlights passed them going north, but for the most part, it was dark, and it was night. Finally he said, “Nobody’s sayin’.”

Freddie piped up, “That must be! I seen the picture, too! In the kitchen cabinet, behind the nice dishes – but sorta hidden like.”

“My mom’s got nothing to hide!” Tommy exclaimed, shoving Freddie – and setting as a lie what he was saying with his mouth. In truth, he wasn’t sure that Freddie was wrong. Arne seemed to believe it.

Arne said, “Duluth in the early Oughts was a hotbed of Socialist revolution. That’s what Ed says, and she’s lived up here her whole life. If the man hangin’ on your ma’s arm was a socialists – maybe even someone who’s famous now – and she has a picture of him making all nice with the Commies, that could be bad for him. ‘specially now.”

Tommy sat back. “You mean my mom and dad were messed up with Communists and Socialists?”

“The Socialists for sure – that’s what your mobster friends are.”

Freddie said, “You mean they aren’t from the mob?”

“You make it sound like that’s a good thing, kid.”

“It’s not?”

Arne drove for a long time in silence until he finally said, “Mob involvement is local, kid. Socialists and Communists? That’s world-wide. Your parents could be in some deep trouble, Tom. Real deep trouble.”

June 17, 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.

F Trope: good versus evil

Nivi Critchlow said, “How,” her voice screeched a bit, so she cleared her throat and started again, “How are we supposed to do magic when something like this is watching all the time?”

Krish Zeeb shook his head, saying, “You worry too much. Satellites have been watching us forever...”

“Yeah, government ones. This is a commercial satellite. ‘Profit knows no boundaries’. Governments have to follow laws, businesses only have to appear to. With this thing, who knows...”

Krish shook his head and dropped his tablet computer on his lap. With complex gestures he started his computer, connecting to the mundane internet instead of the broader connections of enchantnet. Hunching, he shook his head after several minutes. “Lots of mundane chatter about the good an evil of GOOGLE being able to have a peek at whomever they please.” With a different motion, he cleared the screen and shut it down. A moment later, skirls of light began to spin around the tablet. When the screen lit, it was liquid silver, rocking slowly back and forth. He swiped a finger through it, speaking a spell for his favored search engine. He spoke then typed. After a time, he looked up, “Lots of magic chatter about it as well.”

“What are we going to do?”

“What do you mean by ‘we’ and ‘do’?” he said, leaning back and squinting at her.

“We can’t just let GOOGLE take over!”

“Yes, we can.”

Nivi looked at him, scowling then finally said, “Aren’t we supposed favor good over evil?”

“‘Favor’ good, yes; fight evil, absolutely not!”

Nivi stood up and said, “I guess I’ll have to find a new best friend then.”

Names: ♀ Greenland, Guyana  ;   Guyana, Greenland

June 15, 2014

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Seventeen Novel Drafts Is The Charm!

I have no published novels.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t written drafts under editorial or agent direction.

Let me back up a bit more. My first (and currently only) book was published in 1998. It’s still available in print from Amazon.com – http://www.amazon.com/Simple-Science-Sermons-Little-Kids/dp/0788012940,  or direct from the publisher – http://store.csspub.com/prod-0788012940.htm.

I wrote it, sent it, they took it, offered me a crappy contract which they neither fulfilled nor apologized for, then kept the rights for the book despite two requests to have the rights return to me. *sigh* I pretty much gave them a major “something” for nothing.

My next experience was soul-crushing. I’d written a novel about a girl who survived the Great Hinckley Fire of 1894. An editor was interested enough in it to have me rewrite it four times. I did it gladly because she was both an editor at a major children’s magazine and an editor at the book publishing arm of the magazine’s parent company. She also suggested I write a short story that took place at the same time, and I wrote “Firestorm!” which was published in 1997 and nominated for the Paul A. Witty Short Story Award – the editor also asked for an historical sidebar, for which she also paid me. Not counting the original writing and editing phase every writer goes through, I did four more complete drafts. Then another publishing company put out a novel...that not only covered the same time period, but whose main character’s name was Maggie. My main character’s name was Megan. The publisher dropped RED DEMON (my book) after sympathy, offers to read one final draft to fix some problems, and a long letter explaining that it just wasn’t going to work.

My third and most recent experience is still (a bit) ongoing. In response to an agent’s quip that the YA novel I’d sent him wasn’t “edgy” enough, I wrote VICTORY OF FISTS (you can find the first two chapters here: http://theworkandworksheetsofguystewart.blogspot.com/search/label/Victory%20Of%20Fists%20--%20Chapter%201%20and%202), finishing it in 2007, I polished it and started sending it out in November of 2008. When an agent finally expressed interest in it in 2011, I thought I had it made! On July 10, 2012 – six drafts later – the agent accepted the manuscript and began the process of submitting it. It went out eighteen times...and returned the same number of times. We have given up now and though VICTORY OF FISTS is at its “last-chance” publisher, I have no real hope. Even my former agent said, “It feels like a miracle when a sale occurs.” Not just about this book, but about ANY book.

And so, back to the title of today’s essay: “Seventeen Novel Drafts Is The Charm!” One of my favorite science fiction writers, Jack McDevitt, shared at a conference I attended last summer, that he’d written seventeen drafts of his novel THE DEVIL’S EYE, part of his Alex Benedict series before it was finally published. This wasn’t his first novel (that was A TALENT FOR WAR ((1989) One other novel appeared before that, which he’d written, then discarded the entire first half); it wasn’t his first story, “The Emerson Effect” (1981) (he was 46 years old!). THE DEVIL’S EYE was his fourteenth novel, and he’d written sixty-four short stories prior to this one, as well!

The takeaway from this essay? Persistence. Keep on working. Hmmm...Maybe I should work on some more revisions of VoF? I’ve got a loose plan to re-write RED DEMON as a time-travel novel...

What do YOU think?