July 28, 2019

Elements of Cron and Korea #9: Misbelief and Crafting FLASH Science Fiction

I may  have mentioned that one of my goals is to increase my writing output, increase my publication rate, and increase the relevance of my writing. In my WRITING ADVICE column, I had started using an article my sister sent me by Lisa Cron. She has worked as a literary agent, TV producer, and story consultant for Warner Brothers, the William Morris Agency, and others. She is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences, and a story coach for writers, educators, and journalists. I am going to fuse the advice from her book WIRED FOR STORY with my recent trip to South Korea. Why? I made a discovery there. You’ll hear more about it in the future as I work to integrate what I’m learning from the book, the startling things I found in South Korea, and try and alter how I write in order to create characters that people will care about, characters that will speak the Truth, and characters that will clearly illustrate what I’m writing about.

“Remember when Luke has to drop the bomb into the small vent on the Death Star? The story writer faces a similar challenge of penetrating the brain of the reader. This book gives the blueprints.” – David Eagleman

“The reader expects that the plot will force the protagonist to confront and overcome her misbelief, something she’s probably spent her whole life avoiding.

“As readers we cue into the protagonist’s misbelief surprisingly early, and expect the plot to continually challenge it. And, because misbeliefs are deeply ingrained early in life, we know that the protagonist isn’t going to give it up without a fight. Especially since to her it isn’t a misbelief at all, but a savvy piece of inside intel she’s lucky to have learned early in life.”

I’m trying to write a piece of flash science fiction. I have 1200 words to tell an entire story aimed at young adults – and in the case of SF, that includes BUILDING THE WORLD THAT THE STORY TAKES PLACE IN!

Oh, and having the protagonist and antagonist being best friends. And their parents are dating and that dating may or may not have political overtones, or even be entirely politically motivated.

Twelve hundred words.

The original story went something like this: The guys are on their way to the last few days of “school” (which is ALSO different in this, the 25th Century, “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.” (https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/search/label/SCIENCE%20FICTION%20-%20Martian%20Holiday))

So – our hero and anti-hero are getting ready for being drafted into their chosen profession as apprentices. They’re also getting ready to “vanish” into the depths of Burroughs Dome to celebrate their newly-conferred adulthood. For Kalbin and Waqas though, things are turning sour. Waqas hates Artificial Humans; Kalbin may be a partial AH, which is HIGHLY illegal not to mention unethical and unprecedented as well. Kalbin’s dad (Mom disappeared shortly after his birth) is the Circulation Director for the online tabloid, “UNDER THE DOME, All the News That’s Fit To Whisper!” Waqas’ mom is running for her third term as the minority Liberal party candidate on Burroughs Dome Council (they have a Strong Mayor, Weak Council structure) and has been pushing for extending civil rights for Artificial Humans (and for the rest of them as well, but that’s not important at this time in Martian history.)

Waqas hates it because “indigoes”, sewerslang for Artificial Humans, are more important to his mom than HE is. (Which is, I might point out, a misbelief of a minor character.)

A lot. He’s a beefed up version of his dad, who owns and operates an ice rig on the bottom of the Northern Dune Sea. Dad is OK with Artificials – as long as they know their place...and stay there.

Kalbin, who was diagnosed with methemoglobinemia (“It’s under control! I just look more blue at some times than at, uh, others…”) as a child. Common practice is to wait until puberty has run its course to do full retrogene replacement. That’s what was going to happen after Kalbin announces his draft choice.

Waqas doesn’t have a choice. As much as he wanted to be an entrepreneur, his dad overruled his choice and he’ll start as an apprentice on the Northern Dune Sea with the rest of his sisters and brother. He’s…um…slightly ticked off about it and as he can’t take it out on his family, he’s taking out his frustration on Kalbin. Who has issues of his own.

See, he suspects he’s not entirely Human. In fact, he suspects that not only is his dad NOT the Circulation Director, but is the author of the infamous “Not-Quite-Blue-Boy” recurring series in the tabloid UNDER THE DOME.

For whom he is the model…and IS he Human at all? If he’s partially Artificial, then what is he? Was he created as a political statement? Is that why Waqas’ mom is dating Kalbin’s dad – to make some sort of political score? Has his dad EVER really cared about him as a person, a son, or has his whole life been a fake? He’s wondered this for a long time. It’s not only a misbelief, it drives how he sees himself and how he’s reacting to the world around him.

At the beginning of the ORIGINAL story, none of this was clear. Now it is. In the end, Kalbin confronts his father, and not getting any satisfaction, he runs off into the Underground.

That is a MANIFESTLY wimpy story.

The first two lines were awful as well…
“Face2FaceSchool was a drag even when Kalbin’s dad was a kid.
“‘We got five weeks, then finally, the Draft!’ Qusay said.”

That is such a wimpy beginning, I’m embarrassed. It’s as if the writer of my most recently accepted story gave writing the opening line to the thirteen-year-old Guy Stewart instead of to the more experienced writer who recently wrote: “Larry Henry was muttering in the Orion Lunar lander mockup when Mission Control interrupted their regularly scheduled disaster.”

That line was so well-turned it surprised me. And I wrote it.

To the current blog point, though: “The reader expects that the plot will force the protagonist to confront and overcome her misbelief, something she’s probably spent her whole life avoiding.”

This is what the readers will expect in “Not Quite Blue Boy”; it’s something that’s not quite there yet. On the other hand, it’s something that after ruminating on what I was trying to accomplish and (in this case, having to write out the story here, ruminating on how it intersects with Cron’s reader expectations and her other 52 Mass Points. If it’s a formula, thus far it’s been extremely successful – “Road Veterinarian” and “Kamsahamnida, America” were both written under the influence of WIRED FOR STORY; both sold to a top market.

This one, finally, will also be written “under-the-influence”. I’ll keep you posted on it!

(While it's NOT part of the Korean Solar Expansion, all of the stories will now be influenced by my experience in South Korea.)

July 21, 2019

Slice of PIE: What Do We Do When We Find “Them”?

Using the Program Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, California in August 2018 (to which I will be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below where this appeared on page 141…

Scientists at SETI, and METI, and other organizations are actively searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. But what are we going to do when we make that first contact?

Andrew Fraknoi: Director of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, author, Asteroid 4859 Asteroid Fraknoi…
Brother Guy J. Consolmagno, SJ: American research astronomer and Director of the Vatican Observatory
SB Divya: author, Nebula Award finalist, co-editor of Escape Pod, degree in Computational Neuroscience and Signal Processing, electrical engineer
Douglas Vakoch: PhD, President Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence, editor
Lonny Brooks: PhD, associate professor of communication at California State University

What to do, what to do?

I’m sure the “answer” was easy for this group and the people sitting in the room. I wasn’t there, though I would have slipped unnoticed and unremarked into the “people sitting in the room” demographic. ALL of us would have intelligently discussed the pros and…well, pros.

I’m sure someone would have mentioned Hawking and Brin, and even though he was listed among the Program Participants, he didn’t attend this particular session because his thoughts on phoning ET are pretty well known (though side-stepped here by quoting the originator of the opinion he echoes at every opportunity): “Jared Diamond offers an essay on the risks of attempting to contact ETIs, based on the history of what happened on Earth whenever more advanced civilizations encountered less advanced ones... or indeed, when the same thing happens during contact between species that evolved in differing ecosystems. The results are often not good: in inter-human relations slavery, colonialism, etc. Among contacting species: extinction.”!

From the grave, Hawking’s opinion would have echoed from the 2016 documentary Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places, “Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they could reach,” he said. ‘Who knows what the limits would be?’ And in the, Hawking reiterated his views: ‘Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well.’”!

These and other ET “deniers” couldn’t have been “shushed” (both of them carry the status of Super Star, and who would stand against Hawking, whose mind is often compared to Einstein, Newton, and ), but I’m sure their imprecations would have fallen on mostly deaf ears. Certainly a reasonable number of SF writers have a somewhat different view of what interactions between Earth and extraterrestrials would be like. Even in Brin’s UPLIFT UNIVERSE, Humans, while underdogs, were hardly slaughtered wholesale and enslaved (though several intelligences, like the Gubru and the Soro, thought Humanity could use a bit of “finishing” followed by a thousand years of indenture.

No, rather than the faithful and the deniers, the Con should have invited the “person on the street”, the ones who number in the BILLIONS (seven billion to be more accurate), and don’t really give much thought to the possibility of First Contact. Yet, they would be the most profoundly affected by such an event. HG Wells held out little hope for a calm response to First Contact: 

With wildly differing opinions among the faithful, what do you expect from commoners for whom the appearance of real-live aliens could range from outright, psychologically TRUE denial, to blithering panic, to catatonia.

While I’m sure the session was great fun, but I’m pretty sure that they wouldn’t have any idea what a regular person’s real reaction to “when we find them” would be…

July 16, 2019


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. Regarding Fantasy, this insight was startling: “I see the fantasy genre as an ever-shifting metaphor for life in this world, an innocuous medium that allows the author to examine difficult, even controversial, subjects with impunity. Honor, religion, politics, nobility, integrity, greed—we’ve an endless list of ideals to be dissected and explored. And maybe learned from.” – Melissa McPhail.

F Trope: Magic librarian
Current Event: http://guides.slv.vic.gov.au/magic (Watch the video! Absolutely fascinating!)

Bella Heathcote peeked around the corner and whispered to Rupert Chidiac, “How much farther?”

“It’s supposed be at the end of the aisle,” Rupert whispered. The young man and young woman made their way through the dark library.

 “This is a magic library – how do we know it’s still there?”

“It’s not a magic LIBRARY; it’s a MAGIC library.”

“That’s not what you said!” Rupert hissed.

“The emPHAsis is on the first SYllable.”


They reached the end of the aisle without the end shelves moving anywhere. Nothing jumped out at them. In fact, by the time they turned the corner, they were walking rather than sneaking. “I said that the library isn’t the magical part, it’s the books, information, paintings, photographs and artifacts that are magic. It’s extremely valuable.”

“I thought this was supposed to be scary,” said Rupert. “Money isn’t scary.”

“If you don’t have enough it’s scary.”

“How would you know?”

“You think you know about me, I could tell you...”

They’d been walking along the dim aisle, light from green EXIT signs and security spotlights from each end of the library. Rupert whispered, “What was that?”

“What was what?” Bella said. Beside her head, a breathy voice spoke from the bookshelf.


“Did you say something?” she asked Rupert.

“Uh...uh...uh...” said her friend.

“What’s wrong with you?” snapped Bella, spinning around. “Quit messing around!”

Something on the bookshelf said, “...around...around...around...”

“Who said that?”

“...that...that...that…” said the bookshelves.

Bella stared at the shelves then lifted a hand. The books themselves had been pushed back. In front of her was a  small picture frame. Inside was...

Names: ; ♂ This idea is posted from BEFORE I started to explore the world of Names, so I don’t know what the origins are.  

July 14, 2019

WRITING ADVICE – Lisa Cron #8: The Reader Expects the Protagonist Will Have a Longstanding Misbelief

In 2008, 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. To learn more – and to satisfy my natural tendency to “teach stuff”, I started a series of essays taking the wisdom of published writers and then applying each “nugget of wisdom” to my own writing. During the six years that followed, I used the advice of a number of published writers (with their permission) and then applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda to an analysis of my own writing. Together these people write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Today I add to that list, Lisa Cron who has worked as a literary agent, TV producer, and story consultant for Warner Brothers, the William Morris Agency, and others. She is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences, and a story coach for writers, educators, and journalists. Again, with permission, I am using her article, “A Reader’s Manifesto: 15 Hardwired Expectations Every Reader Has for Every Story” (2/16/18 http://blog.creativelive.com/essential-storytelling-techniques/)

Point number 8 in “A Reader’s Manifesto”: “The reader expects the protagonist will have a longstanding misbelief that has kept her from easily achieving that goal.

This is a tough one for me to figure out because belief is so deeply ingrained in us, that even atheists seem to have trouble after dragging themselves free from anything not made of matter, ie, “the divine”.

Case to point that I can support with countless others: aliens.

Astrophysicist Carl Sagan had no patience with those who believe in any sort of invisible deity:  “How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?’ Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.” Stephen Hawking wasn’t interested in God, either: “‘We have finally found something that doesn’t have a cause, because there was no time for a cause to exist in,’ Hawking wrote. ‘For me this means that there is no possibility of a creator, because there is no time for a creator to have existed in.’”

Yet, neither man has any trouble believing in aliens – beings who exist solely in the imagination of Humans. Those of you who read my blog, know I write science fiction that includes aliens no matter how intellectual the person believing in them is. But when pushed (I teach a class called Alien Worlds for gifted and talented kids from 9-16), I have to say that the science teacher in me; the one that insists on EVIDENCE to support a position has no response other than, “There is no evidence anywhere that there is life ANYWHERE but on Earth. None. Nothing. Nowhere. No one has anything. THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF LIFE ON OTHER WORLDS.”

Yet these avowed atheists had no trouble writing: “If it is just us, seems like an awful waste of space.” – Contact, screenplay by Carl Sagan; also “Contrary to the popular belief that aliens would be destructive to mankind, Sagan advocated that aliens would be friendly and good-natured.” https://www.famousscientists.org/carl-sagan/

Stephen Hawking said: “‘One day, we might receive a signal from a planet like this,’…referring to the potentially habitable alien planet Gliese 832c. ‘But we should be wary of answering back. Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn't turn out so well,’ he added…” https://www.livescience.com/62015-stephen-hawking-quotes.html

So, if my protagonist has some sort “longstanding misbelief”, and the reader agrees with that misbelief, then will they follow the story through to its conclusion? To THEM, the conclusion is foregone.

What if the character has a misbelief that the readers violently disagrees with, will they assume that it was that “misbelief that has kept her from easily achieving [her] goal” and throw the story aside, assuming that it was all propaganda, so not worth the reader’s time of day or effort?

How much leeway does a writer have when giving the protagonist a misbelief? For some people, “…are concerned for the wellbeing of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.” Others, “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Either would be guaranteed to put off some number of readers.

Or is Cron just talking about something like, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Even so, I suppose that someone, somewhere would find that statement objectionable. Some would find it objectionable in the extreme; or biased and homophobic…

And yet, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE continues to be popular and the plot foundational to literature written in English (possibly in other languages, but I could only find PRIDE, PREJUDICE, AND OTHER FLAVORS (Sonali Dev), so there’s never been a groundswell of hatred and rejection of the books, so maybe my thoughts are absurd.

Any thoughts?

July 11, 2019


On Earth, there are three Triads intending 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. All three intelligences hover on the edge of extinction. The merger of Human-Kiiote-Yown’Hoo into a van der Walls Society might not only save all three – but become something not even they could predict. Something entirely new...

The young experimental Triads are made up of the smallest primate tribe of Humans – Oscar and Xiaomara; the smallest canine pack of Kiiote – six, pack leaders Qap and Xurf; and the smallest camelid herd of Yown’Hoo – a prime eleven, Dao-hi the Herd mother. 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 at great profit to Humanity. Then the war spilled over on to the Human homeworld and all three are threatened with extinction…

Choral Reading
STAGE DIRECTION: (Spotlight falls on each as they speak then shuts off, illuminating the next; then all three spotlights fall on them as they chorus together.)

Yown’Hoo: “The literal decay of the fiber of Yown’Hoo morality accelerated when we refused peace with Kiiote.”
Kiiote: “Interbreeding, internecine war, and ritual cannibalism devoured us in resisting harmony with Yown’Hoo.”
Human: “Material gain from both Yown’Hoo and Kiiote fed our greed, so concord held no profit.”
All: “We might do something none of us alone can do, we might braid an unbreakable cord of unity.” (4/6/2019)

The tentacle that the Mother of All pulled from its sheathe was leathery, dark, and deeply wrinkled. She lifted the fingers at its tip toward Dao-hi and slowly unfurled them. The Earth-born and raised Yown’Hoo had seen Humans who had aged this much look as haggard, but never one of her own kind. In fact, she had rarely seen Yown’Hoo older than herself. The Mother of All said, “I am not entirely ten thousand of the Earth years old, though you are but a strand of DNA compared to me.” She shuddered in gentle laughter. “My parts have been regrown and replaced many times, though this mind has indeed experienced ten thousand years of events.”

“But how…”

“I do not remember events as you or your Human and Kiiote partners remember. I was created for my role on this earth, but Yown’Hoo from antiquity on Y’eh One of Seven Hundred and Thirty-nine. I am able to speak Y’eh 2349, a tongue so old that you would think that I was speaking in Human. For one as old as I, memories are stored in tight coils of DNA then packed in cells that rarely die and incorporated into my very bones,” she lifted  hoof and bowed her head to show a crown of bone.

Dao-hi’s voice was a whisper, “A Crown of Wisdom?” She paused, “I thought that was myth?”

“Quite real, and quite painful as well. There is no joy in wearing this Crown, only burden. The most important DNA, with its messages, can be deliberately drawn back to conscious memory as needed,” she looked at the Human girl, Xiaomara, adding, “Much as your kind can slow your breathing and heartrate through intense meditation, I can pull up memories stored in the Crown. Some of those memories were stolen from the echoes of Yown’Hoo. Others are more complex and I need the help of the Triad to reveal ancient memories of demons and conjures. Nevertheless, when all of the memories are bound together, the plan created the first Triad chose becomes clear. It is the reason the Triads were formed. In time, the Triads will absorb echoesconjures, and Human demons alike – the worst into the best. That, my daughter, is the Plan that will save all three, weaving us into a civilization strong enough to stand against Discord.”

For a moment, Dao-hi felt an overwhelming sense of disappointment. She looked at the rest of her tiny Herd – Lan-mai-ti and Por-go-el. Her intestines twisted a bit, knowing that she must turn this time Herd over to the Mother of All. Ji-Hi said, “You must lead, child.”

“Me?” Without thinking, Dao-hi reared and bared her tentacles.

Ji-hi trembled with laughter. “Of course, daughter. I can no more lead this mission than St. Admiral could lead the Humans to freedom. Our destinies are entwined but it is not my place to overthrow you!”

This time Dao-hi reared intentionally then dropped to the snowy ground. It was an ancient tradition going back to presentience, when control of Herd would be fought to the death between females, then the males were trampled to smears on the Plain from which grew the sweetest grasses. The grass thus fertilized would sprout as fast as ninety centimeters a day and store a peculiar suite of compounds that would stimulate the new Herd Mother to pass eggs into her pouches and hunt wild new males. For a moment, instinct warred with cognition and she felt mind begin to slide away. Then she focused on the mission Commander Baksh had laid on them, reared again, then pulled her tentacles back into their sheathes and bowed deeply to the Mother of All.

Who immediately dipped her head, saying, “You will be a worthy Mother when your time comes, daughter. Now, to the mission. We must run.”

“Run?” said Dao-hi.

“Indeed, to the dunes to the north. We will meet the rest of your Triad and accomplish the deed we set before you.”

Dao-hi scowled and, glancing at her tiny Herd, said, “You will share that mission with me now, Mother of All.” She added a bow, slightly less subservient than she’d done a moment ago – which she completed when the Mother of All stamped a hoof, very slightly.

“Impertinent DNA sample!” but the tone was not anger, it was pride. She said, “We run, daughter. We run to gather an army and prepare to challenge the Yown’Hoo, the Kiiote, and the Human so that they will have no choice but to cease this absurd conflict and finally grow into the Society they have the potential to create.”

July 9, 2019


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.

Popular Science Fiction Story/Series: Dune
SF Trope: Humans Are Greedy...Aesop’s Fable: “The Dog and its Shadow”

Up on the edge of the berm, the grand cover shivered as a broad-shouldered dog pushed its head through and looked down on them.

The Ojibwe man said, “I should mention that there’s been a resurgence of wildlife dangerous to Humans since the Return To The Wilds act. Rattlesnakes. Cougar. Wolverine. Grizzlies,” he gestured, “Gray wolves.”

Nkokoyanga Pomodimo snapped, “Are you threatening us?”

He smiled, “I don’t have to threaten you.” He lifted his chin and the wolf faded back into the brush. “I am warning you. You don’t know the land here – or anywhere outside of the Vertical Villages any more.”

Logan Andrist snorted, “We have lots of information about the Wild Lands!” He held up his scanner. “This has encyclopedias of information about all this.”

The Ojibwe man nodded, saying, “I have no doubt that you have bountiful information. I’m not saying that information is bad.”

“What are you saying then?” Nkokoyanga said.

“Knowledge and wisdom is more than information.” He gestured to Logan’s scanner. “I’m sure you have complete files on gray wolves. You probably have ethological files as well.”

Nkokoyanga scowled, looking at Logan, “What are those?”

“Animal behavior,” he said. Then to the Ojibwe man, “I do. I know how wolved behave.”

“Can you explain what just happened?”

Logan looked down at his scanner, screen-touching through several pages before he looked up and said, “You’ve obviously trained them. Like primitive Humans trained them and eventually got dogs.”

“Exactly right,” the man paused, “Now apply the information.”

Logan tried to hold the man’s gaze and finally looked away. “You’re right, of course. I have information – but no framework to hang it from and no way to apply it to this specific situation.”

Nkokoyanga stepped back from Logan, sniffed and said, “Who are you and what have you done with my teammate?”

Logan shook his head slightly but when Nkokoyanga moved slightly toward the Ojibwe man, he said, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

She glanced at the Ojibwe man then back at him and said, “You’re always so smug in your information. Like you own it or something. Your greedy, ‘I have it all attitude’,” she paused, “It’s what led to that.” She gestured to Lake Superior where it surged sluggishly in turgid response to the wind blowing from the Arctic. “I have more in common with this man than I have with...”

The Ojibwe man began to laugh. Nkokoyanga turned to him, “What’s so funny?”

“You and I young lady? We have nothing in common.”

Nkokoyanga gestured to Logan, “His people...”

“Your people raped the land as badly as his. In fact, my ancestors did their share as well. There is nothing on this world but inherently greedy Humans – no matter their ancestry. The most important factor is choice. Wisdom. I have some experience with choice and I work every day – every moment on wisdom.” He also gestured to Lake Superior. “It will take all the wisdom of all of our peoples to see through to the healing of this Inland Sea. My people called it Gichigami – and that will be the name you can call me by.”

“Why should we help you?” Logan asked. He saw Nkokoyanga step back toward him and was obscurely glad.

“If you want something bigger in your life, you can join all of us.”

“We are big! Earth Government has plans to rejuvenate the Lake, too,” Nkokoyanga said.

Gichigami nodded, “Dumping iron filings into the water doesn’t address the whole problem.”

“What WILL address the ‘whole problem’?” Logan asked, making fists and panting them on his hips.

Gichigami smiled, “You’d have to join us to find that out.”

Nkokoyanga said, “We’re already part of something big.”

“Not big enough,” said the Ojibwe man and turned to walk away.

Names: Central African Republic, Gbaya; Minnesota, Minnesota

July 7, 2019

WRITING ADVICE: A Startling Experience Molded Into A “Completely Different” Science Fiction Story…

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. Since then, I figured I’ve got enough publications now that I can share some of the things I did “right”.

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 above will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

A few days ago, my son spotted a sign that drew us off of the highway as we were traveling across a state we’d never been in before – North Carolina.

A Confederate cemetery was somewhere in the town and following the signs led us to a small neighborhood of compact houses at the edge of town, and following a road to a dead end, we thought we’d gotten lost because the end of the street was overgrown and looked to be a dead end. We had picked up my son’s car, after it traveled half-way around the world from South Korea, and so we were in two vehicles. He was leading and because it looked like a dead end, I pulled into a nearby road to turn around. My phone rang.

“It’s back here!”

“Cool,” I said, so I pulled behind his car and shut my engine off. We got our and expecting tidy headstones, probably old and hard to read, but certainly a clearly delineated cemetery. What we saw was this: 

Despite the fact that it was more-or-less unkempt, we felt the reverence of the place, talking quietly as we traipsed across the rough ground. Mosquitoes and a sense of trespassing distracted me from paying close attention. But my son wasn’t distracted at all. A 21st Century Memorial stone had been erected (after a long struggle against the forces of tradition and perhaps a bit of stubbornness: “In the years that followed [the War Between the States (what the South calls the Civil War)], efforts were made to restore and preserve the graveyard, but these were ineffectual. The land belonged to a woman who would not sell it or permit its improvement. She passed away and the land was sold to uninterested persons.”).

My son commented, “This is so sad.” He’s an active duty sergeant in the Army, newly stationed in NC, but I didn’t understand what he meant and said so. “They were soldiers, fighting for what they thought was right. Even if it was wrong it’s sad that this place isn’t kept up.”

As a writer, that set off a complex series of thoughts. The advice I’d received and given countless times was that reality doesn’t make very good story. My first really BIG sale, “Deer Hunter”, had actually happened. Just not to the characters in my story, nor was I involved in any way but through my then-roommate, and happening to overhear the conversation he had with his father the day his dad accidentally shot a girl on horseback.

But I wrote for young people, of who exactly NONE would find the story of this happening to an old guy interesting. I needed to make the real incident into fiction. How could I possibly do that? Julie Schumacher, YA author of several books, noted, “Rather than tackle the entire history…find a crucial seed…Zero in on the moments that matter and you’ll have, not a history, but a story…Your job as a writer of fiction is to start with memory, if that’s what you do, but to tell the truth of the story, not the facts.”

Author Azar Nafisi, most famous for her book, Reading Lolita in Teheran, doesn’t write YA, but her wisdom is valid: “Do not, under any circumstances, belittle a work of fiction by trying to turn it into a carbon copy of real life; what we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth.

Taking that advice to heart, I wanted to tell the story of the CSA cemetery in North Carolina. But that’s not a story. Not even if I picked one person who ended up dying there – the people in this cemetery weren’t there because they died in a famous battle. They didn’t even die in a notable battle (we’d visited a CSA field hospital near Bentonville, NC in March of 1865. It was the last battle between Union general Sherman and Confederate general Johnston. Even though 80,000 men fought, 4000 died, and coupled with the surrender of Lee, Johnston also surrendered…the Civil War effectively ending in April, and finally limping to its conclusion finally in November of the same year.

But I’m not an historian. I know little, if anything of note, about the Civil War. How can I write a story about a Civil War battle and the impoverishment of a cemetery that doesn’t even hold anyone famous, but a bunch of guys who (most likely) died in “…epidemics of chicken pox, mumps, whooping cough, measles, malaria, and tuberculosis, among others, [as they] tore through the camps with their poor sanitation and bad hygiene. Along with ‘killed in battle’ and ‘vulnus sclopeticum’ (a Latin term for a gunshot wound), Civil War death registers are full of men who died of typhoid, dysentery, pneumonia, and chronic diarrhea…a minor war wound became infected, it often led to death.”

There’s nothing exciting about that to today’s readers. The fact that most of them have no idea of what they’d be reading about.

What I could do, however is use the seed of the story to tell an entirely different one. I could place it on another world; give that world another war; and give that world a form of the Confederates who died as well as a stand in for the Union army – and toss in some innocent civilians caught in the vice grip of war.

“May They Rest” will be the result. Driving back to my home of Minnesota with my daughter-in-law, I finally figured out the form of the story, she showed me how to use my cellphone’s voice memo function and I was able to record the solution to a problem I was having with the motivation of the main character.

I’ll let you know who it goes! My market this time will be CLARKESWORLD and a couple of other online magazines I’ve got my eye on!

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 148: Paolo & DaneelAH and 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, 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 (100,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

Speaking to the assembled group of vatmates, Paolo said, “I collected a satellite that isn’t of Human design.”

“How do you know that?” AzAH asked, suddenly interested.

“It appears featureless until you spray it with ultrasound between a hundred fifty kilohertz and two hundred and fifty kilohertz.”

AzAH whistled. “Then what?”

“You can see it’s covered with symbols.”

“A language?”

Paolo shrugged, “No idea. But I aim to find out. That’s why I’m headed to Cydonia.”

AzAH said, “Then we’ll come with you.”

HanAH looked up, “This is a simple Marsbug, built for travel between cities. It would quickly become overcrowded and its systems overextended in order to keep everyone alive over the next few weeks while we drive up there. It’s my professional opinion that we’d be dead long before we reach the Cydonia.” He paused for several moments, then added, “Unless we get an upgrade. There’s not exactly a paved highway to that part of Mars.” The looks they gave him made him laugh. He stood up and said, “Glad I was finally able to say something that got everyone’s attention.” He nodded. “We need to get ourselves a major exploration vehicle. Something high tech and built for surface exploration…”

The Bradbury registry Mars Surface Transportation Vehicle 1202195405111957, piloted by an Artificial Intelligence that preferred to be called Fifty-seven, said, “I beg your pardon! This marsbug is a balloon-tired, multipurpose vehicle that can be configured to carry individuals or cargo, alone or in tandem with as many as a dozen other units. All we have to do it pick up four stupids…”

Paolo said, “Stupids?”

HanAH rolled his eyes and said, “Units without an independent AI.” Shaking his head, he added, “It would be impossible to rent or buy something that could handle a month-long stay up here, let along an exploratory mission! It would require financial backing…” The group looked daunted and sat in silence for several moments. HanAH looked smug.

Fifty-seven said, “Excuse me, fellow intelligences, but I will also remind you that you have no idea of the capabilities of this group. My keen observation and hard memory suggest that your pursuers are highly skilled and dangerous. If they are hostile to you, then they may be in communication with either Burroughs or Bradbury’s authorities. Either might then send out forces to capture you. You have incorrect beliefs and associate with others who have incorrect beliefs and others who believe that you are unpopular.”

“The people who cross my path will be the ones whom God wants to cross my path,” said Paolo.

“These individuals may be your enemies whose sole purpose is to murder you.”

DaneelAH, AzAH, and MishAH protested loudly. HanAH said, “The artificial stupid is right. Paolo has no reason to trust us and every reason to believe that we’re here to get rid of him – for whichever Mayor or faction disapproves of him most.”

There was a long silence until Paolo finally said, “Very well: Fifty-seven, I suggest you monitor my guests.” HanAH opened his mouth to protest but Paolo held up his hand. Reflex kept HanAH’s mouth closed, but he glowered with genuine hostility until Paolo said, “But monitor me, as well.”

“Why ever for?” Fifty-seven said.

“Because I might have concealed a small thermonuclear device under your chassis and intend to detonate it when we pass through or over or near some important destination. I might also detonate it because I’ve been hired by Mayor Turin of Malacandra to get rid of four rather pesky Artificial Humans who appear to have gone rogue.”

There was a thunderous silence in the marsbug. HanAH’s mouth worked for a moment until he finally said, “Do you intend to carry out your mission?”

Paolo said, “Not Mayor Turin’s mission. The mission to Cydonia. I will need all the help I can get. I do, in fact, have a pocket nuke, but I have no intention of using it for the terrorist work of the people I got it from. If I have to, I can divert attention from my purpose of finding out what’s happening here on Mars. I need help.” He looked at and held the gaze of each person on the ‘bug, finally staring up at the pinhead camera above them. “Can I count on all of you?”

There was a long pause though AzAH, MishAH, and DaneelAH nodded immediately. HanAH scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. Fifty-seven finally said, “I will throw my lot in with you, though your chance of success is small.”

“Please be precise,” said DaneelAH.

“This group, as configured, has a twenty-one point nine three chance of complete success.”

HanAH spoke up abruptly, “The odds for partial success?”

Fifty-seven hesitated then finally said, “According to my projection, there is a one hundred percent chance that there will be some sort of successful completion of the mission as outlined by Paolo Marcillon.”


“Unable to comply as there are six intelligences involved whose random acts and responses will directly impact everything we do and an estimated one point nine million illegals whose actions could assist or hinder it.”

AzAH said, “What illegals?”

“Individuals who are practitioners of outlawed religions on Mars. Included in that, are known Artificial Humans and Intelligences.”

“There are religious artificial intelligences?” said HanAH.


HanAH snorted and said, “I agree to bide by the rules on one condition.”

Paolo said, “The condition?”

HanAH looked up at the pinhead lens and said, “Explain to me how an Artificial Intelligence could have religious beliefs.”

Fifty-seven said, “Agreed.” At the word, five intelligences focused their attention on Paolo.

July 3, 2019


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

H Trope: “Grave Clouds for the variant where the weather is simply miserable at graveyards and other creepy areas, and which is possibly a sister trope to this. See also Evil Is Not Well Lit…”

Niaria Xiong-Walker squinted, trying to see through the gathering mist that apparently hung over the cemetery every night. She said, “How can mist hang over this place EVERY night? Fog’s a function of temperature, humidity, and dew point.”

Seth Bakhsh stood near an obelisk, pitted from ages of lower-than-water pH acid rain that drizzled from the Rochester, NY sky on a regular basis, giving it the dubious distinction of the being the American city with the most rainy days and its unofficial slogan, “If it rains, it’s Rochester”. He said, “It’s the oldest municipal graveyard in the US and has 400,000 dead people in it. Don’t you think that all those ghosts might have an effect on the weather?”

Niaria snorted and said, “They don’t even act as creeped out as you are doing in my parents old village in Nigeria! You’re a wimp, Seth!”

He snorted just as loudly, “I prefer to think that I’m prepared for all eventualities – even ephemeral ones.”

Shaking her head, she tapped her tablet computer and plugged in a cord. “I’m going to see if there’s any truth to the old wives tale that cemeteries are always foggy and creepy at night.”

“How many have you tested?” he asked. He usually ignored her scientific researches in favor of tapping her fascination in anime movies by presenting her with the latest rerun of her favorite Miyazaki film.

“Sixteen,” she replied.

“What?” he stepped from the obelisk, saying, “This isn’t the first time you’ve done this?”

“Duh,” she grabbed the tip of the cord and pulled, a long sensor extended, glowing blue.

“What’s that?”

“A data staff. It collects information and feeds it into a program I wrote.”

“So you can detect monsters?”

“Nothing so solid. Ephemerals. Like you said.”

“Ghosts?” he breathed the word – and his breath fogged in front of his face. “How come it’s so cold here?”

She shook her head, “Because the temperature’s low, dummy.”

“No – I mean it wasn’t cold a second ago and now I can see my breath.”

She looked at her tablet then back up at Seth, “The data confirm your sensations.”


She looked around, scowling. “But there isn’t any reason…” As she said the words, something congealed out of the fog. It wasn’t humaniform, more like a lizard-like; possibly saurian, large as the obelisk.

Seth said, “It’s coming out of that gravestone...”

“It’s a monument…”

“Whatever it is, I think it has big claws.”

Names:   India, Hmong, English-Scottish; Hebrew, Pakistan