November 30, 2014

Slice of PIE: Is Dystopia Finally Dead? – Followed By a Completely Unexpected Turn in Thought Flow…

“If you see yourself as a left-leaning progressive parent, you might want to exercise some of that oppressive parental control and limit your kids exposure to the "freedom" expressed in YA dystopian fiction. But let's not worry about it too much, the good thing about laissez-faire capitalism is that things come in waves and pass out of fashion quickly, and already people are saying that YA dystopia is dead…”

“Obviously dystopian is not dead. It’s just on hiatus. Watch 2015 for its return, except disguised as other genres.”

“Book industry experts [Agent Barry Goldblatt] say dystopian literature, previously represented by bestselling series like 'The Hunger Games' and 'Allegiant,' is done as a trend.”

“Why do I think the genre will endure? Because teens…and even adults…love to see overcomers in dire circumstances. The way we portray life today as on the precipice of destruction, the youth like to read that if the destruction succeeds, mankind can also triumph above those circumstances.”

“Dystopia can be bleak, which may make its popularity seem odd (even Cormac McCarthy probably reached for a comedy to read after Mockingjay). But the genre holds a certain allure. A typical tale involves a future society with an oppressive government that demands conformity. Sometimes this is in the wake of a disaster that has befallen humanity. Sometimes the oppressive government exists just because its rules are convenient to the plot…Stakes are high. Resilience is tested. If you can look past the occasionally goofy names of characters and places, it's material that makes for compelling drama.”

OK – fine. And there you go. The family and I will probably see MOCKINGJAY Parts 1 and 2; probably pick up MAZE RUNNER when it hits Redbox.

While all this is cool, I was just wondering: what are poor black, white, Hispanic, Asian, and other underrepresented youth reading? Especially UR youth with lower socioeconomic status?

Is there any data? Because it seems to ME that they won’t much care to read the dystopian teen lit because they’re already living a dystopian teen life.

I googled it – there IS no data that I can find under “favorite black teen novels”. I get all  kinds of things that black teens SHOULD read; lots of sites bemoaning the fate of black teens who don’t read. But no simple list.

I DID stumble across the New York Public Library’s Summer 2014 Reading Challenge. Twenty-two percent of the population of NYC is under 18. Twenty-six percent are black alone; 44% are white alone, the rest of the 100% is comprised of racial/ethnic groups plus some “more than one” groups. With a population of 8.4 million 2013, that means that there are nearly two million “kids” in NYC.

On the Reading Challenge list, I did not see even one dystopian book. THE HUNGER GAMES are absent.


No DIVERGENT series.

Nothing of the “the future will be crap” books.

Don’t you find that interesting?

I most CERTAINLY do, and while I started this essay out as a riff off of the waning of the teen dystopian book, it led me to a reflection on what is it, exactly that non-white kids are being made afraid of by the plethora of almost exclusively white dystopian authors? Oh, that’s right, maybe it was the reaction of HG “fans” to the casting of Amandla Stenberg as Rue that may have “slightly” offended black readers…

November 27, 2014

Blessed Thanksgiving To All!

Mindful of my blessings, I wish you and yours a joyful and deeply thoughtful Thanksgiving!

November 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.

Fantasy Trope: Heroic Fantasy (Conan The Barbarian)
Current Event:

Sukhjeev Hegde adjusted her brass brassiere and said, “Do you know why they make us wear these things?”

Shrugging, Vrishab Brahmbatt pulled up steel supporter and said, “Same reason I gotta wear this thing.”

“And that is…” she hefted the broadsword, swung it – and nearly chopped Vrish’s head off.

“Would you watch out with that thing!” he cried, then added, “It’s verisimilitude.”

“How can dressing this way be ‘an appearance or semblance of truth’ if it’s all fake anyway? We act like it’s true...”

“Why? So it will become truth? That’s the most fantastic thing you’ve said on this entire date!”

He pursed his lips, then said sullenly, “It’s not a date.”

“Sure it is!” Sukhjee said. “You asked me to come with you on this adventure thing and I said yes, if we can have a good cup of coffee afterwards.”  She glared at him and added, “You’re not thinking of reneging on the coffee, are you?”

“No, we’ll still do the coffee, it’s just that I forgot to tell you something about this simulation.” The ground trembled suddenly and the rest of their mutuality turned to the castle gate as it wound down on heavy chains. The computer-generated images – Sukhjee had called them barely adequate shimmered and seemed to take on the weight of reality.

Without looking at Vrish, she said, “You forgot to tell me that at some magical command or when the Moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligns with Mars that peace won’t be guiding the planets – those gigantic monster sheep with glow-in-the-dark scarlet eyes will?”

“You took the words right out of my mouth.”

"So, do we run or fight?” she asked.

 What he assumed were the ‘real’ people had dropped their weapons and were running away from the sheepsters. “It’s a first date, I’m open to whatever you’d like to do.”

Sukhjee tossed her sword from one hand to the other, almost dropped it then grinned at Vrish then said, “Let’s go fight us some sheepsters, sweetie!” Along with the once-simulated army, she charged the creature who’d been joined by four others.

“Don’t call me ‘sweetie’,” Vrish said as he charged after his date.

Names: Sikh, India ; Hindu, India

November 23, 2014

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Cancer, The Future, and Something About Faith

My most recent post on my GUY’S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER deserve reiteration. To read the entire thing, you can go here: However, the most important point is below:

“adolescents from EVERY walk of life – internationals, recent immigrants, born-and-raised-heres, white, black, Mexican, Ecuadorian, rich and privileged, poor and homeless, and from every socioeconomic status and race you can ask about. They all understood; they all offered various degrees of sympathy (the ones who were grossed out covered their mouths in horror and apologized), and there were others as well, who totally ignored the elephant in the room (or the gauze on the face as the case  may be).

“I got the same response when it became general knowledge that my wife had breast cancer.

“For whatever reason, this horrendous disease unites people across all sorts of boundaries, imagined or real. This joins people into a cohesive mass that says only one thing, “I know someone with cancer, and I hate cancer.” It unites us in our Humanity through our vulnerability. Breast cancer, skin cancer, liver cancer, leukemia, brain cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer...and every other kind of cancer can strike any person, any where, any when. You can live in a New York penthouse and have 82.2 billion dollars and you can get cancer. You can live in the Congo-Kinshasa and make nothing a year and you can get cancer.

“At this time in history, the only thing all Humans share cancer.”

For all we trumpet our miraculous advances in this, that, and the other thing, we do NOT have a handle on cancer. Certain kinds of cancers we can successfully treat – childhood leukemia, breast cancer (if discovered early enough), testicular cancer (again, if discovered early enough); others are a death sentence – pancreatic cancer, brain cancer, lung and bronchial cancer. I’ve known people who have recovered from and died from all of the above cancers. When viewed from a certain perspective, it is grim indeed.

The SF community, which has typically assumed that cancer “will be cured in the future”, occasionally admits that science will NOT discover the silver bullet for every disease known to mankind: “[Laura] Roslin is told that she has breast cancer and a year to live. Roslin attends the ceremony, and upon leaving, the Cylons attack the Twelve Colonies.” [reimaged BATTLESTAR GALACTICA]. I can’t find another SF novel that has as a major theme a character with incurable or inoperable cancer – so if anyone knows of one, please share it below and I’ll integrate it into this essay.

So – the question is WHY, when so many Humans suffer from some sort of cancer – don’t we offer solutions as readily as we offer paeans to our eventual Transcendence? Why do we focus on our hard work at shattering the light barrier? How about aliens – how many aliens do you know of in SF who “have cancer”?

Is the assumption that cancer will be cured, if not tomorrow then eventually, as much a myth as FTL, aliens, interstellar civilizations – and therefore it’s not something we need to write about?

Perhaps some of us SHOULD start writing about it. Cancer is a nearly universal Human condition. While Ebola makes better press copy, the fact is that over eight million people on Earth die every year from lung, liver, bowel, breast, and stomach cancer. Eight billion people and eight million deaths by cancer each year means that ANY Human’s chance of knowing someone who has died or will die of cancer this year is one chance in a thousand.

By comparison, my personal chance of knowing someone who died of Ebola SINCE 1976 are one chance in a million.

But the Ebola drama is more exciting, makes better fiction – and we know that with proper care, just about everyone who can be treated in the West will recover. There are no such happy statistics for cancer. No matter how much money we throw at it; no matter how rich we are; no matter how isolated a life we live; everyone and anyone can get cancer.

So how about it SF community – or even more interestingly how about it Fantasy community: shall we write about it more often?



November 20, 2014

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 62: DaneelAH & Company Enroute
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  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 (40,000 words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

DaneelAH nodded, “Something happened on Mars a long time ago and it’s driving the Mayors – almost as much as the rest of us fighting against Unified. We have to find out what happened on Mars, why it’s so important,” he paused, “Then we can figure out why the Mayors are willing to murder so many to maintain their control over the planet.”

AzAH, MishAH and HanAH had moved to their stations. Again, they all turned to look at him. He took a deep breath and said, “Out of the frying pan and into the fire.”

Only AzAH, the biological translator laughed. She glanced at the other two, shook her head, “I’ll explain once we’re under way.”

HanAH, created with unparalleled skills in security, detection, and investigation grunted, but started the marsbug and pulled away from Vogel Station. Beside him, MishAH thought then said, “The impact of a true pogrom – aside from the obvious attempt of the Mayors to create a Roman holiday – will leave the planet devastated. There has to be some other reason for them to push the persecution so far. The only thing that makes any sense…” she paused, turning her attention to the internal systems of the marsbug, balancing life support with the speed HanAH was attempting.

AzAH, from her station at communications, once she’d assured that the ‘bug wasn’t transmitting any kind of signal whatsoever, said, “What’s the only thing that makes sense?”

DaneelAH poked his head out of the tiny science lab where he’d stowed the illegal set of Earth-correct Holy books the Martian Dalai Lama had turned over to him. “What are you talking about?”

“The Mayors obviously have a plan – we don’t know what it is yet, though it most likely has to do with the United Faith In Humanity of which we are not a part.”

AzAH said, “No one’s really a part of United unless they unthinkingly reject anything that requires any kind of commitment.”

HanAH shook his head, “This isn’t getting us anywhere. What will get us somewhere is someone setting a course for us that will take us from this God-forsaken place all the way to Cydonia. Maybe Paolo has a plan to free Mars from the Mayors as well as United.”

“A way that doesn’t involve feeding all dissidents to the figurative lions,” said MishAH.

“In this case, I think the figurative lions are the very real near-vacuum on the surface via opened airlocks instead of the jaw bones,” said HanAH. He leaned into the joysticks and the ‘bug raced forward until the walls began to hum. “Make sure you have your helmets handy. No one in here’s likely to pull a RubyMar this far from the Valley.”

DaneelAH snorted, “Funny you should mention her – she risked her life to save her ex-husband, way back in the Lunar Colonial days.”

“That’s not the allusion I was trying for,” he said.

“That’s the allusion I got,” said DaneelAH. “And that’s what I’m going with.” The ‘bug bounced along the surface, heading steadily northwest and into the jaws of the lion.

November 19, 2014

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 184 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: "It occurs to me that robot stories about naturally-occurring robots present an untapped sci-fi resource in terms of commenting on what constitutes life, or a meditation on the machine like nature of biological man, etc."

Ebony Jones pursed her lips, tweaking the landing jets of the surface ship. “I don’t like how it looks down there.”

Marquis Deonte ran another scan, tapping one of the readouts as he said, “It’s mechanical life, sure. Maybe the first time we’ve ever run across it naturally...”

“There’s nothing ‘natural’ about ‘mechanical life’. It’s an oxymoron,” she almost added “Like you...”, but decided against it. They’d butted heads enough times on the trip out from Earth – mostly because you could only live out virtual adventures so many times before you got bored. You could also only prep for landing on an alien world so many times before you were twitching in your sleep with the movements you’d repeated a million times.

You could only tell someone you just wanted to be friends so many times before you both started to... Marquis cut into her litany, saying, “Didn’t you come out here to find life as we DON’T know it?"

“Of course it’s what I want! Just because I question the possibility of some sort of metallic, mechanical...”

“Look! Down there!” he said, aiming the external sensors at the roiling surface.

Ebony said, “Besides, water mixed with just about any kind of salt would be corrosive to metal...”

“Our bones are metallic,” he said, his voice taking on the deadpan, lecture mode they’d fallen into after they’d first become fast friends. Since about ten months into the flight to HD 196944, a star rich in heavy metals when they’d stopped being best friends and become the banes of their separate existences.
“True, that. But...”

“There’s something moving under the surface,” said Marquis.

“I don’t see anything...”

“It’s not visible in our part of the spectrum. Change the frequency reception of your scanner. I’m getting lots of movement in the UV band. Also IR.”

She tapped the screen, slid a spectrum bar and watched as the imaged jumped into view. There were larger shapes deeper down. Smaller ones close to the surface. They were angular rather than rounded; mechanical rather than biological. “What kind of ecology would they have?” she muttered. After a moment, she said more loudly, “There’s something – cloudy – under the surface. Seems to be...” she paused, defaulted to a space-view of the lander, zoomed in then added, “The cloud is matching the shape of our shadow.”

“Huh?” Marquis said.

“Our shadow! A cloud is forming underneath us in the water.” Below them, something burbled, as if the water were boiling. A larger bubble burst beneath the surface, splashing the lander. Ebony swung the imager to the belly of the lander and cried, “The ship’s skin is boiling! I’m taking us up!” Without waiting for his confirmation, Ebony pushed the throttle to full...

Names: , Top 20 Whitest and Blackest Names (

November 16, 2014

WRITING ADVICE: What Went Right With "Dear Hunter" (CICADA January/February 2000) Guy Stewart #5

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!

This one is perhaps the easiest one to comment on because the idea, growth, and eventual publication of the story are still clear in my mind.

 In synopsis, the story was about a young hunter in northern Minnesota who is with a friend deer hunting when he accidentally shoots a girl who is horseback riding. He refuses to acknowledge the incident emotionally and eventually breaks down. The victim forgives him publicly through a letter to the editor of the local paper that begins, “Dear Hunter”…

Yeah, I know, brilliant!

The story started as a real incident. My college roommate was related to one of the principals in the incident. When he got the phone call, his face drained of all color. I’d never seen that happen to anyone before or after that day. As the details of the incident came out, they never really arranged themselves for a story idea; they were mostly what I’d call “life experiences”.

I don’t know what initially started the story, but by the late 1990’s I’d had some writing success – breaking into both my favorite magazine, as well as the Lexus of children’s magazines, and I actually had a BOOK out!

So I tried something different. Using the incident my roommate had experienced as a foundation, I threw in a Vietnamese kid named Duy who’d been adopted; his best friend; and then I sent them hunting.

I quickly found out that because I’d never been deer hunting, I had absolutely no idea what I was writing about. I called my brother, pumped him for information, then write the story.

My college training was in education, so I’d seen students who’d survived traumatic situations. I put that experience into the story as well. I was well aware of how ineffective trying to ignore a traumatic incident could be; but I also couldn’t have an adult “figure out Duy’s problem”. Writing fiction for young adults and children – and other adults – has to be about THEM figuring out the answers. But my main character’s solution to the accident wasn’t working. He was starting to fall apart.

The problem was that I couldn’t have him walk into a counselor’s office and tell his story and be all better. While it was true that I needed to give him the tools to solve the problem, they needed to come from his peers, not his teachers, parents, or school counselor (I’m all three of those now).

When I was finished, I sent the story off to the editor of CRICKET and CICADA magazines – and she fired it back with comments about the legal aspects of the incident!

How the heck was I supposed to know? *mutter, mutter, mutter*

So I called a very old friend who was a deputy sheriff of a county north of the city I live in and he was very capable and willing to tell me exactly what would happen in such a case. I wrote the details in – fascinated despite myself – and sent it back. The editor accepted it and it was published. The check I got was...HUGE.

The upshot of this essay though is that my success can be boiled down to a very few things:

  1. The story, while based on a real life incident was not simply a recounting of the incident but used it AS A JUMPING OFF POINT. Virginia Wolff said, “Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.
  2. I did more research for “Dear Hunter” than I usually do for my essays.
  3. The main character had to solve his own problem – though he can have non-adult/authority figure help.
  4. Lastly, something I learned recently from the editor at CICADA: focus on one incident in a short story, then explore the ramifications of that ONE thing.

I have another story with CICADA’s editor now. We’ll see if I’ve effectively taken my own advice!

November 13, 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.

Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill heard grinding gears, but before they could run, a truck pulled into the parking lot, flooding them with its headlights. Every rock on the ground stood out like it was a boulder in the glare and as it poured across the parking lot. Disappearing over the top of the hill, the dark abyss behind them looked like they would fall into a bottomless canyon if one of them tripped. The legs of the water towers stood out in stark relief, painting black stripes from where they stood to the stygian depths at the edge of the lot.

The truck ground to a halt.

“Tell me when it’s over,” Freddie said, grabbing Tommy’s arm in a vise grip.

“Ain’t nobody gonna kill us, stupid,” Tommy growled and shoved Freddie away.

“The Communists will kill us!”
“It’s not the Commies want us, it’s the Socialists! My mom and dad were Socialists!” The words were out of his mouth before he realized what he’d said. He’d have punched Freddie for making him say if the truck hadn’t stopped and the door opened.

“What are you two idiots doing up here?”

“Charlie?” Freddie and Tommy said together.

“Who else?”

Tommy stared at the bright headlights then said, “Is your dad with you?”

The older boy laughed and said, “Nah. He threw his back out and the milk had to get up here and he couldn’t hire anyone else to do it for him on account of how stingy he is, so it had to be me or make the milk into sour cream.” He paused, “Why, you planning on turning down my offer of a ride back home if he was sitting here with me?”

Both boys stammered and looked around until Tommy finally said, “Your dad hates my uncle. He’d let the Socialists kill us rather than help us.”

Charlie said, “Hang on  and let me park the truck, then we gotta talk.”

The FAIRLAINE CREAMRY truck pulled farther into the lot then took a wide turn until it was position right near the towers. Charlie turned it off then opened the door with a rusty creak. He dropped to the ground then strolled across the gravel lot. He stopped in front of the boys. Freddie said, “You’re bigger than I remember you.”

Charlie laughed and said, “That’s what a month of running the creamery all alone can do for you.”

“You’re alone?” Tommy said, “I thought you said your dad just threw his back out.”

“Yeah, about a  month ago. In fact,” he paused, “Right after you boys left was when it happened.” He paused again then added, “You didn’t like curse him, did you?”
“We’re not warlocks!” Freddie exclaimed.

“Or Socialists or Communists or nothing else! We’re just a couple boys headed home.”

“Oh, so adventuring got the better of you, huh?”

Tommy shrugged, “Well, we went to Canada...”

“You got up to Canada?”

“Yep,” Freddie said, “We got up to Thunder Bay and almost got caught by the Socialists in Duluth and then they followed us with the lady truck driver…”

“A lady truck driver?” Charlie exclaimed.

“Yeah,” Tommy said, “She could beat the crap out of all three of us!”

Charlie snorted, “I’d like to see that!”

“She was a WAC in the Pacific during the war.”

“She was just a nurse…”

“Nah,” said Freddie, “A mechanic.”
“A girl working on trucks…” Charlie started. From down the hill came the roar of a truck climbing the hill. Over the grinding of gears, they heard voices. Charlie said, “That doesn’t sound like it’s in English.”
Tommy said softly, “It’s not English. It’s Finnish. The Socialists found us…”