Rumors, Scandals and Other People’s Drama, oh my!

I went through a lot of drama in my former marriage due to my wife’s mental illness. I didn’t realize until recent events how much that changed me. For one, I have a very low tolerance for other people’s unnecessary drama these days. There are things worth drama and things that are blown out of proportion. I see this a lot these days. Rumors, scandals and drama abound. People assume, get angry, start hurling insults, and it just escalates into real nastiness from there.  In the midst of such overwrought drama, real issues, real problems that deserve the attention get lost. People lose interest because they hate conflict and drama. Change doesn’t occur.

There are a few things I have learned that I wish a few others would learn about these kinds of situations. Here they are:

1) Freedom of Speech does not just apply to those you like and agree with.  People these days are quick to demand that those they find offensive shut up. So much for freedom of speech. Apparently it only applies to those who say the right things. Unfortunately, a little document called the United States Constitution would take issue with that.

2) People have a right to an opinion of their own. Even if it’s not the same as yours. That’s a founding principle for democracy, folks. And it should be treasured and respected.

3) When someone is offended by something because of their assumptions and background, not specific words, they are not due an apology. Happens a lot these days. Someone writes something and people interpret it as offensive. They demand an apology. Others line up to support them. But what the author owes them is: nothing. Common courtesy would suggest a clarification might be prudent even polite. And if the words themselves were clear and inherently offensive, then an apology would be appropriate. But if the complainers takes meaning not inherent in the words, they are choosing to be offended by interpreting the words a certain way. It’s not them to whom an apology is due. They owe one to the author. Especially if a clarification was offered and they refuse to accept it.

4) Sensitivity and Respect go both ways.  If you want people to be sensitive to your feelings, etc. or those of others around you, you cannot be dismissive of theirs. Impugning anyone with whom you disagree is no more appropriate or acceptable than anything you might accuse them of saying. If the response is just as or more offensive than what provoked it, you are also just as wrong. Bullying in the name of anti-bullying is still bullying, folks. Bigotry in the  name of anti-bigotry is still bigotry, too.

5) Your views can be just as offensive as those of your opponents. Especially for those watching you shove them arrogantly down everyone’s throats. In fact, I know many people who agree in principle with the loud voices who wouldn’t stand up and be counted because they don’t want to “act like that.” The harshness of the behavior does more harm than good to the cause. You won’t convince anyone to change by chasing them off with rudeness and insults.  If you are so aggressive that people shut up and walk away, you have lost, not won. You have defeated your cause. You have not been heard.

6) Just because a group someone belongs to was guilty in the past or has currently guilty members does not make all members of said group responsible. This is a big one. “You are a priveleged white male, so you are guilty of racism, sexism, etc. by being a white male.” This is just one common example. Sorry, but no dice. I am not responsible for the sins of my ancestors. I am responsible for my own sins and actions. If you can’t separate the two, the problem lies with you. This article on Kafkatrapping and Logical Fallacies addresses how ridiculous these claims really are. And I think we should judge people as individuals not classes, groups, etc. Isn’t that what eliminating discrimination is all about?

If more people remembered these things, I think the internet and society would be more pleasant. Certainly Science Fiction and Fantasy as a community could benefit, but I believe that’s just a reflection of broader culture. I need to remember these things.  I hope my readers will as well. Most of all, I hope some will learn to do them. Productive and effective communication doesn’t occur well in the irrational environment of inflamed emotions. But it can occur in productive, reasoned dialogue. As I said before, I’ll say it again, stopping the insult hurling and talking is the better path.

For what it’s worth…


Beyond The Sun revised coverBryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013) and is currently editing Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website at www.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.

Take Time To Be Present aka Turn The Damn Cell Phone Off

This weekend I had the privilege of attending the funeral of two high school friends’ mother. I call it a privilege because this was no somber mournfest. This was a celebration of life and love. In fact, it was so good, it made me regret not taking time to get to know their mother better when I had the chance.

The pastor recalled how when the mother learned her cancer had recurred she came to him and told him her diagnosis, the treatment, and that if didn’t work she’d die. Then she said something he hadn’t heard in twenty years of ministry. “I’m ready. Like anyone, I’d like more time. But I can deal with all of that. What I need your help for is helping me to walk my husband and family through this with me.”

Yep. The woman had been given horrible news about her life and possible death and he first concern was helping her loved ones.

But that’s the kind of person she was. And the more he talked about her life and joys, the more moving it became.

Until that cell phone rang.

And not only did it ring, but the guy reached for it then let it ring. He didn’t shut it off right away.

First of all, it ruined the moment. Which is selfish and disrespectful to say the least.

Second, if you left work in the middle of the day to come to a funeral, what’s so important that you can’t at least put your cell phone on vibrate?

Or better yet…turn the damn cell phone off.

The funeral isn’t about you. It’s about honoring a woman and her loved ones. I hadn’t seen my friends in twenty years, but I went because I remembered them well. Because of the closeness once experienced by me and them and by our parents who were colleagues. I went to show my respect, my support, and my caring. I didn’t want anything in return. I drove forty-five minutes each way, took ninety minutes out of my day. It’s a sacrifice, yes. But is that too much to ask?

I remember when my birth mother and grandmothers died. The people who surprised you by showing up just to let you know they care often were the ones whose presence meant the most.

And in this case, I was all the more blessed by the message of a life well lived. I’m sure I got more out of my presence than the family did. And what a blessing.

But thanks to the bozo who disturbed the moment. He didn’t ruin it for me, but he did interject a bit of a reminder of how selfish and stupid people can be into things.  The opposite of the person being recognized and honored, in fact.

Taking time to be present is a lost art these days, I think. But it’s so important and meaningful, I think we all should learn to do it more often.

Making time for others is an act of kindness, respect and love that means so much and takes so little. I still got my editing and work done that day. I just had to schedule around it. And in doing so, I got to see some old friends and get insight into their family I never would have had in a way that brought admiration and joy despite their sad loss.

Oh, they were all happy to see me and we spent time catching up, for sure. I even saw another high school friend.

But the most important thing was to be present in the moment and join with them. That’s why I went. It’s kinda why I assumed everyone went, and the service was well attended. Except the cell phone guy. He was too busy to make time, apparently. At least, that’s what the cell phone rings and his response implied. And it’s too bad.

One of my pet peeves in church and movie theatres has always been people who can’t be bothered to silence their cells. My dad’s a doctor and can’t turn off his cell or pager, but he always had a headphone earpiece he wore to keep them from disturbing anyone else. If he had to talk, he’d quietly slip out and do what he needed to do, then return.

I wish more people had such manners these days. Because sometimes people need your presence. They need your attention. They deserve your respect.

Turning off the damn cell phone is just one indication that you want to be there, that they deserve and have your respect, and that being there at that moment is priority number one.

Is that too much to ask to honor the life of someone?

I hope not.  If it is, maybe don’t bother. Don’t ruin the moment for everyone else. Don’t call attention to your lack of dedication. Just don’t come.

At least that’s what I’d do.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website atwww.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.

 

Ruminations on Freedom

Freedom is a funny thing. Celebrated far and wide as an ideal. Yet when you have it, you don’t always feel it, because freedom does come with a certain weight of responsibility. Some choose to ignore that. More and more these days, it seems. But that’s still true. After all, unrestrained, unabashed freedom can lead to chaos and conflict. Unless you live alone on an island with a volleyball, like Tom Hanks, perhaps.

Certainly I’ve always valued and appreciated freedom, most particularly freedom of speech, without which I couldn’t practice my trade as a writer and musician. And I’ve traveled enough to have some appreciation, though limited, of how fortune we are in the U.S. to have the freedoms we have. I used to take it far more for granted than I do today. But all things considered, we really do have it better than many, even most.

We haven’t always exercised our freedom wisely, for sure. The longstanding tradition of hailing ourselves as “the greatest country in the world” strikes me as arrogant these days. After all, others are proud of their countries, too. Do we deserve to consider ourselves better than everyone else? I certainly feel like the country has gone some negative directions of late. And history reveals many missteps as well, from those in times of war, to those in economic, political and civic matters and more. No doubt we are fortunate to be where we are. But we can do better, and we should do better. And one day, I hope we do again.

No, this is not one of those down on America posts. But given that patriotism tends to flare during July 4th, and it’s reflections of that Independence Day celebration which have led to this post, I wanted to admit, this is not one of those raging patriotic posts either.

For me, life is much too complicated.

Nations are only capable of being the best they can be on the heads of the people themselves, and given that people are flawed, with good and bad parts all, nations also struggle to rise to the top from time to time and even more to stay there. Doesn’t mean our nation isn’t wonderful. Doesn’t mean we aren’t fortune. But it does remind me that we mustn’t become to complacent or comfortable. There’s ongoing work to be done.

One of the things I appreciate about freedom is the ability to listen to and compare opinions with people from a variety of places, backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs. Compromise, after all, has always been vital to successful democracy, and from the very start it’s played a huge role in the successes of this country. And one cannot compromise, if one does not understand everyone’s wants, needs, etc. Understanding them doesn’t mean you agree with them or even like them, but that you acknowledge they exist.

And, to me, compromise is what’s missing all too often from our society these days. Everyone is so polarized, something the media and pundits love to exacerbate. Tempers flare and people rage at the slightest provocation, it seems. And people are quick to assume and impugn motives, too, seemingly always reading everything in the worst light, rather than the best, which just feeds their tempers.

For me, part of maturity has been learning to think calmly whenever emotions come into play. After all, while emotions are free, we all have them all the time, they should not just be given free reign. Emotions are fickle and irrational, the antithesis of common sense, the enemy of compromise. And especially in days of the world wide web, it’s hard to really know what someone means or intends without deeper conversations, unless you know someone well and have had interpersonal contact.

And sadly freedom these days also allows people to have ignorant opinions in an ongoing way. After all, to be informed or not informed, to be educated or not educated, are choices people make.  Intellectual capacity is not, however. And some of both come into play.

But I think racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry, while I wish they’d gone away, will always exist as long as humans exist, because we humans love to categorize everything from other people to beliefs, systems, things, etc. Inevitably such categorizations lead to comparisons, and feed the desire to distinguish one’s self from the pack in various ways. And that leads many, out of arrogance, insecurity or both, to find ways to  belittle others in order to elevate themselves. The fact that such is occurring using false criteria goes ignored. And that’s unfortunate.

As I said, there’s much work to be done. I’m of the belief that with freedom comes responsibility. And the greater the freedom, the greater the responsibility. Exercising freedom with responsibility means taking time to not assume and impugn but to question and dialogue and try and understand. You don’t have to agree, but chances are you’ll discover more common ground once you take that time and that will give you a foundation for deeper discussion. T0 me, such discussions have always proven worthwhile. The chance to look at the world through the eyes of Africans, Brazilians, poor, rich, and in between has made me a better person and broadened my worldview and perspective in every way. It hasn’t always changed my opinions. Often it’s affirmed them. But it has given me an ability to respect and value the diversity of our world.

For me, that’s one of the best parts of freedom–the ability to go and experience the world in broad and diverse ways through people, places, and things. It’s certainly been one of the freedoms I’ve most exercised, having traveled to Africa, Europe, South America and Central America numerous times over the past twenty years. And it’s one I hope to go on valuing, along with the freedom to take what I learn, process it, and let it inform how I live, what I do, what I say, what I write and more.

Freedom is a wonderful thing, indeed. I’m glad I have it. I hope others gain more daily. But I also hope they learn to use it responsibly. If everyone did, I have no doubt we c0uld create a better world. And that’s a goal I consider always worthy of hoping for.

For what it’s worth…


BTS author photo 2Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website atwww.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.

Guest Post: Genre Mashups by Michael J. Martinez

Daedalus Incident coverI love a good genre mashup. Elves in the 1940s? Awesome. Cybernetic werewolves? Bring it. Steampunk dragons? You bet. Horatio Hornblower in space?

…actually, I wrote that, more or less. Crashed a frigate into Mars and everything. Anyway.

Take your favorite sci-fi and fantasy subgenres, critters and tropes, write them on 3×5 cards and shuffle the deck. Chances are, when you draw two, you’ll end up with a whiz-bang clash of genre goodness. Unfortunately, turning that pairing into a setting, let alone a piece of fiction, isn’t quite so easy.

When you combine different genres, you have as much potential for an unholy mess as you do for greatness. It may sound good (“Dude…cybernetic werewolves!”) but I would suggest that it’s harder in some ways to create a mashup than to stick to one particular genre and make it your own.

Readers, I’ve found, are exceptionally and, at times, annoyingly perceptive. When something doesn’t make sense, their antennae twitch. Some can’t keep suspending their disbelief and have to put down the book. Others will keep reading, but look for more errors along the way, and may even take issue with stuff you’ve meant to put there. Two (or more) disparate genre elements can create a lot of potential for twitchy antennae.

Thus, genre mashups may start with an “ah-ha” moment and an aura of geeky awesomeness, but getting them to stand on their own requires discipline and diligence. This is where traditional world-building techniques come into play, but with special attention to the mashup elements. So you have cybernetic werewolves…OK, awesome. What happens to the hardware when they change? Do they have the mental capacity to use advance tech in their wolf-man state? Who, exactly, had the insane notion of rigging up a werewolf (a ’ware-wolf?) in the first place?

When I created the settings for The Daedalus Incident, I asked a ton of questions like those, often with answers leading to multiple additional questions. And as I wrote, I was careful to note other problems and disconnects as they arose, so they could be dealt with all together, at the same time, so that there’s a continuity of setting.

Now, I would say perhaps only 50% of that fully fleshed-out setting is in the book…but I’ve plenty of fodder for the next ones.

And of course, setting is only part of it. One of the mistakes I see in some genre mashups is that it’s enough to have a very cool mashup setting…sometimes at the expense of plot and character. Of course, any good book needs to have strong characters and a well-developed, well-executed plot. The mashup can’t serve as a crutch to prop up the other two.

Likewise, the plot and characters need to interact with the setting organically. You can certainly overlay a noir detective plot over an urban fantasy setting, but that’s not entirely original, now is it? How do the particulars of your mean-street faeries and vampires feed into that noir plot?

The point is, you have to stand strong against the geeky aura and do the hard work. People will expect a lot from a genre mashup – either because they love the idea, or because they think it’s a gimmick and it’s up to you to prove them wrong. The intensity and depth of your world-building after your ah-ha moment – and your plot and characters – will determine whether or not it turns into something great.


MJ MartinezMichael J. Martinez is the author of The Daedalus Incident, coming this summer from Night Shade Books, and is serializing his novella, The Gravity of the Affair, on his blog at michaeljmartinez.net

 

Revised Table Of Contents and Cover For Beyond The Sun

Beyond The Sun revised cover

10 Introduction • Bryan Thomas Schmidt
13 Migration • Nancy Kress
30 The Hanging Judge • Kristine Kathryn Rusch
45 Flipping the Switch • Jamie Todd Rubin
61 The Bricks of Eta Cassiopeiae • Brad R. Torgersen
77 The Far Side of the Wilderness • Alex Shvartsman
85 Respite • Autumn Rachel Dryden
97 Parker’s Paradise • Jean Johnson
111 Rumspringa • Jason Sanford
132 Elsewhere, Within, Elsewhen • Cat Rambo
146 Inner Sphere Blues • Simon C. Larter
161 Dust Angels • Jennifer Brozek
169 Voice of the Martyrs • Maurice Broaddus
185 One Way Ticket • Jaleta Clegg
200 The Gambrels of the Sky • Erin Hoffman
206 Chasing Satellites • Anthony R. Cardno
219 A Soaring Pillar of Brightness • Nancy Fulda
236 The Dybbyk of Mazel Tov IV • Robert Silverberg
253 Observation Post • Mike Resnick

**

BEYOND THE SUN, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Orig. Price: $17.99
Sale Price: $14.99
Availability: in stock
Prod. Code: FP13-2

 

AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER

This title will be published in August 2013

Colonists take to the stars to discover new planets, new sentient beings, and build new lives for themselves and their families. Some travel years to find their destination, while others travel a year or less. Some discover a planet that just might be paradise, while others find nothing but unwelcoming aliens and terrain. It’s not just a struggle for territory but a struggle for understanding as cultures clash, disasters occur, danger lurks and lives are at risk. Eighteen stories of space colonists by both leading and up and coming science fiction writers of today. Mike Resnick spins a tale of aliens who find Earth future diverse and surprising as they plan an invasion. Grandmaster Robert Silverberg examines what happens when Jews tired of fighting for their homeland start over on a planet then must deal with a dybbuk (spirit) and aliens who wish to convert to Judaism. Autumn Rachel Dryden has colonists threatened by alien animals which burst out of shells on the ground like piranhas ready to feed on flesh. Jason Sanford has Amish colonists on New Amsterdam finding their settlement and way of life threatened by a comet and the English settlers who want to evacuate them. And a new story from Hugo and Nebula-winner Nancy Kress.


“Jack Williamson used to say that spaceflight was to science fiction what the Trojan war was to the Greeks. In recent years, myth is being replaced by the pragmatic, and this insightful anthology demonstrates that truth.”

—James Gunn, SFWA Grandmaster

Beyond the Sun mixes courage, redemption, and stark terror in tales of distant worlds. Buckle in.”

—Jack McDevitt, author of Firebird

“Thomas Wolfe said, ‘You can’t go home again,’ but in this thoughtful, exciting collection of stories about mankind’s push to the stars, we see that we take the attributes with us that make us human. A wonderful collection of space-faring stories that reminds us that all we can depend on when we explore the universe is the unexpected.”

—James Van Pelt, author of Summer of the Apocalypse

“This is science fiction doing what only science fiction can do—pushing us out past the warm envelope of our biosphere,exploring our ultimate destiny as a species. A truly phenomenal collection.”

—Ted Kosmatka, author of The Prophet of Bones


BTS author photo 2Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website atwww.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.

A Culture of The Worst?

Optimist Pessimist memeI love interacting with people from other cultures. Discovering the world through their eyes, looking through that other lens, exploring it, seeing where it leaves, discovering new questions, new answers, new approaches. It’s why I got hooked on traveling to foreign places like Ghana, Brazil, Mexico and more, interacting with natives and trying to understand their lives, their world, etc. for over a decade. Those times enriched me and expanded my own box in so many ways. So it’s ironic to find myself a bit flummoxed by my own culture these days.

I grew up being mostly an optimist. While, as Christians, we believed in the depravity of man and doctrine of sin, my basic assumption was that most people are good people or trying to be. Every once in a while you’d run into someone who tested your faith in that theory, but mostly it panned out. A lot of people were doing good things to make a better world, a better life, a better community, sometimes with great sacrifice. And most people I met, it seemed, had a sense of fairness and politeness that dominated them.

But these days I run into more and more people who seem to believe the opposite: all people are evil and trying to be evil. They seem to automatically assume the worst in every case from actions to words to events, etc. Everything someone says is analyzed, and dissected with the assumption it’s meant to insult, offend, or malign. They jump right onto it too, accusing, blaming, critiquing and riling up their allies about it, all the while impugning motives that may or may not be the truth. Intent no longer matters. Who can be bothered to try reading intent in the modern technoage anyway, right? Intent can’t be discerned well via the web, so why bother?

Yet, I come from a belief that intent matters, and more than that, you can choose be insulted or upset, or you can choose to assume the person means well until they prove you wrong. Not so this new breed. (Or maybe they’re an old breed I just hadn’t encountered much before.)

Although we definitely are a more cynical and nihilistic culture now than we were then, it’s flummoxing for me because you really can’t argue or respond to that kind of flawed reasoning. It’s emotionally based, which is irrational by its nature, and it’s fed by deep seated hurts and insecurities that no words can ever heal.  It’s a rather unfortunate way to go through life, if you ask me. I certainly don’t enjoy wallowing in misery or past hurts and pains. I’ve tried it, believe me. Moving on is always better.

After all, there’s plenty more to come. And plenty to be genuinely upset about without looking for opportunities. They will find you no matter what. No need to seek them out.

But for some reason there are people who operate this way. It continues to puzzle and sadden me. The results are often false assumptions, broken relationships and destructive behavior patterns, all of which seem to feed on themselves.

In a nation already polarized over politics, religion and more, that just adds to existing problems, I think. And it’s unfortunate, because, again, trouble will find you all by itself without asking or going looking for it. That’s the world we live in. Regardless, I hope that this way of thinking remains the minority. I certainly have no desire to culturally adapt. It offers no appeal whatsoever, just a whole lotta unneeded drama, and who needs that? I’ve had enough, thank you very much.

Unfortunately, it’s become more and more the kind of trouble that will find you whether you look for it or no. As has happened to me and several others of late. So be it. If it happens to you, my advice is be nice, don’t waste time trying to argue or engage, just let your life speak for itself. And know that, in the end, that will speak louder than any rumors and last far longer. You’ll be happier, too.

You can be the hero of your own story, despite the flaws. And I’m talking about the kind of hero others might look at and identify as heroic, not the kind that makes people wonder are there any heroes left these days? You don’t have to put on tights and a cape and be perfect. We’re all flawed, that’s not the point, but you can choose to rise above your flaws and work harder to be a better person and positive contributor, or you can live for “me first.” That choice is yours.

Not that I have that all figured out, mind you. I’m still flummoxed. But that’s the dynamic of cultures for you. There are always things we struggle to understand about each other; things/ideas/concepts/behaviors/traditions that challenge us to accept or reject them but refuse to allow us to deny they exist.

When you’re a guest in someone’s country, the polite thing to do is to make those reactions internal while maintaining a respectful interior — something not always easy, I admit but which all too many American tourists get wrong to our country’s detriment. But when it’s in your own country, it’s harder. You start seeing it around you more and more, and there’s no escape. You can’t go home and remove yourself, because it’ll still be there tomorrow, waiting, lurking in the shadows, so to speak.

So you carry on and find a way to live with it, I guess. For me, that involves learning how to identify it and also how to avoid adapting it myself. That might not solve the issues it creates, but it sure makes for an easier walk, if you ask me.

For what it’s worth…


BTS author photo 2Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website atwww.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.

WriteTip: Using Assumption as a Dramatic Device

WriteTips-flat

Since I’ve talked a lot about assumption over the past week, it seems appropriate to point out how useful it can be in creating conflict and tension in your fiction. Assumption is deadly for unity and relationships, most of us have learned this by experience or will at some point. The same can be true of your characters. Nothing quite ups the ante like having characters miscommunicating about something. When readers realize they are doing so because of false assumptions on the part of one or both, it just ups the tension and desire to see not only a resolution but how they’ll get there.

As a device, this is quite common in interpersonal relationships. The wife sees the husband talking to a woman. They’ve been fighting. She begins suspecting him of an affair. Then various circumstances happen and the wife assumes the worst about each. Pretty soon she’s c0nvinced the affair is real and confronts her husband, who can’t imagine where she ever got the idea.

This also commonly works well in detective stories. The detectives/cops/investigators gather evidence and make certain assumptions. They choose suspects and treat them accordingly. When an assumption is proven wrong, they move on to the next suspect, but in the process, they’ve been in conflict with several suspects during the investigation as they narrow down the list.

In any scene, this device can add tension and conflict as the goals of various characters oppose each other and they begin assuming things. How they get around the assumptions and resolve the situation, creates the dramatic arc of the scene. Now, sometimes the assumptions only last for that scene, but often, it’s far more effective to have them carry over further into the story, acting again and again to misdirect and mislead the protagonist or antagonist as they work through obstacles toward their goal.

It’s a very effective device. How do you put it into action?

First, identify what each character’s goal is for a particular scene. Then identify what their goal is for the entire novel or story. All characters, even minor ones, have driving goals. Identifying them allows you to juxtapose them against each other for dramatic tension.

Second, once you’ve identified the characters’ goals, ask yourself how the goals can act as obstacles for other characters? What are some was they can lead to miscommunication, misconstruing of another character’s actions, etc.

Third, decide if the resulting conflict is just for the present scene or something to carry out over two or more scenes.

Then construct a scene wherein the character’s goals cause them to come into conflict with each other.

If supporting characters embrace the assumptions of one or the other, this can only up the tension. For example, the detective who suddenly finds himself confronting an angry crowd who support one key leader’s assumptions. Or the knight up against angry villagers when he takes on one of their own. None of the supporting characters must have exactly the same goal as either key player here, just aligning themselves on one side or another is more than enough.

The result is a rice in tension that helps pacing and drives to story forward, making readers want to know what happens, how it happens, etc.

There’s nothing quite as effective for drawing in readers as a conflict which deepens despite its apparent simplicity in clever ways due to the characters’ actions and assumptions. When they are characters we care about, especially, these situations remind us of similar situations in our own life experiences. And we feel empathy for the characters experiencing them because we know how difficult they were to deal with ourselves. If the characters get themselves into more and more trouble with further assumptions, that just makes the tension all the stronger, creating more and more questions readers can’t wait to see answered as the story continues.

This is a device which works well in any genre or dramatic setting, too. It’s often something storytellers use without being aware of it. But building awareness allows you to be more deliberate in how you employ such a tool and to use it more fully when you do so.

What are some devices you enjoy using in fiction? What are some devices you’ve discovered through another author’s work? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

For what it’s worth…


BTS author photo 2Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website atwww.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.

A Mistake I Don’t Regret

Don't be a hater logoTwo days ago, I posted a post I’m proud of. I worked hard on it. Since then, it has led to anger and vitriol being aimed at me. The intention was to promote civility and temperance in important discussions on issues in the SFF community. Not to silence anyone but to encourage dialogue presented in a way that it can be heard by those who need to hear it. The result was a lot of support but also some people who just want another target for bashing. It’s unfortunate. I remain a nice guy. I won’t behave that way, even if they do. But I did temporarily take the post to private for a few days until things die down, because, frankly, I’m just exhausted from the emotional drain of dealing with the vitriol.

Was it a mistake to post such a call? I don’t think so. Some friends don’t think so. I certainly don’t regret it.

But I do regret that the SFF community is unready to hear such a call. I think it’s to the detriment of that community. It’s most unfortunate. I wish it were more surprising.

Oh well. I tried. My conscience is clear. If people want to misconstrue, mischaracterize and assume the worst, they are going to do it no matter what I say or do. I choose a different path. Hate breeds hate as they say. But I choose love.  That hasn’t changed. I hope these attackers find the healing and help they need. Because clearly there’s a lot of brokenness out there. And stop attacking someone who actually support equality in so many ways, including equality in stories I buy and more. Giving back to someone else what was done to you is not a victory. It’s a diminishment of self.

B

In the meantime, posts on related topics which might be of interest:
On Sexual Harrassment: http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2013/06/03/lets-talk-about-hitting-on-girls-boys-i-e-dont-sexually-harrass/

Cat Rambo’s great post on arguing on the internet, which is similar in take to mine: http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/2013/06/17/arguing-on-the-internet-the-dwarves-are-for-the-dwarves/

On reaching beyond female stereotypes: http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2012/05/24/the-importance-of-reaching-beyond-female-stereotypes/

On being true to yourself in world-building: http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2013/06/03/write-tip-worldbuilding-follow-the-truth-not-someone-elses-agenda/

And finally, if you just need a laugh, our most popular post ever: http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2012/06/11/guest-post-your-punctuation-personality-type-by-leah-petersen/

Enjoy!

My Campbell Conference Agenda

I am privileged to be an Author Guest at the Campbell Awards Conference at University of Kansas this weekend, sponsored by Center For The Study Of Science Fiction. Here’s the agenda items I’ll be involved with. You can find a full agenda here.

Friday, June 14

 

 

 

  • 9:00am – 4:45pm: The Spencer Research Library will display a selection of rare SF materials from the special SF collections in the Johnson room. Stop by any time. If you ask about the SF display at the front desk, Special Collections Librarian Elspeth Healey will come out and personally tour you around the items, so don’t miss this great opportunity!
  • 2:00pm – 2:45pm: Best-selling author Kevin J. Anderson talks about dreaming big and making unrealistic expectations pay off.
    LocationKrehbiel Scholarship Hall 1st Floor lobby (1323 Ohio St – information here) near the KU campus.
  • 3:00pm – 4:30pm: “Secrets of Successful Speculative Fiction” discussion with our attending guest authors during the Workshop. Though this is of special interest to our Workshop attendees, all Campbell Conference registrants with writing aspirations are welcome to join.
    Location
    Krehbiel Scholarship Hall 1st Floor lobby (1323 Ohio St – information here) near the KU campus.
  • 6:00pm – 9:00pm: Awards Ceremony and Banquet for the John Campbell Award for best SF novel of the year, the Theodore Sturgeon Award for best short SF of the year, and the newLifeboat to the Stars Award. The Banquet costs extra, but all Conference attendees are invited to attend the Awards Ceremony (starts at about 7:00pm) that follows the meal. Even if you do not intend to eat dinner, you must contact Lydia Ash (lash@ku.edu) in advance so we can arrange for seating.
    Location
    : Griffith Room in The Oread hotel. Valet parking in The Oread‘s garage; parking is free on the hill as marked.
  • Evening: Reception immediately following Awards Ceremony.
    Location
    : Griffith Room in The Oread hotel.

Saturday, June 15

  • 9:00am – noon: Round-table discussion. 
    Location
    : Gathering Room 1 in The Oread hotel near the KU campus.
    This year’s topic: “To the Stars.” Valet parking in The Oread‘s garage; parking is free on the hill as marked.
  • Noon – 12:45pm: Break for lunch. The Oread contains several eating establishments. If you wish to dine downtown, click here for a good list of Lawrence restaurants.
  • 12:45pm – 1:30pm: Autograph session with attending authors and editors.  Location: All Season’s Den in The Oread; you can purchase books in the adjacent bookstore. This event is free and open to the public.
  • 1:45pm – 4:30pm: Readings from new work by by Kevin J. Anderson, Andy Duncan, and James Gunn. Location: Gathering Room 1 in The Oread hotel.

Sunday, June 16

  • 9:00am – 11:00am: “Meet the authors and editors” informal talk with our attending guests and authors. Some pastries and beverages provided.
    Location: All Season’s Den in The Oread hotel.
  • Noon – late afternoon: Informal afternoon gathering at the home of Ruth Lichtwardt. Munchies, wine, and craft beers will be served.
    Location: (information in your membership packet). Sponsored by Kansas City in 2016, a bid for the 74th Worldcon.

Links of The Week Vol. 2 Issue 9

http://talktoyouniverse.blogspot.com/2011/05/gender-in-job-ads-and-subconscious-bias.html — Juliette Wade on subtle bias in language and how it effects people’s reactions to the text in job listings, etc. Food for thought.

A very helpful post on marketing books for authors from @yukongraham via Twitter: http://j.mp/mogMpJ 

Helpful post from my friend Sam Sykes (Tome Of the Undergates, Black Halo) on the pitfalls of the road to publication: http://samsykes.com/2011/05/sad-sacks-of-fears

A 22-year old performance poet, Sarah Kay, delivers an amazing oration dedicated to her daughter & more:
http://www.ted.com/talks/sarah_kay_if_i_should_have_a_daughter.html

Resource for Writers: Dictionary of Military terminology: http://www.militaryterms.net/

My buddy @eruditeogre reviews Sam Sykes’ Black Halo for Functional Nerds, a book I’ll be reviewing this week: http://functionalnerds.com/2011/05/the-outsiders-a-review-of-black-halo-by-sam-sykes/

My buddy Jamie Todd Rubin writes for SFSignal.com on time travel: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2011/05/traveling-through-time-and-other-vacations-of-the-mind-part-1/

And lastly two posts from me have drawn some attention this week so I’ll list them here in case anyone missed them:

My post on tips for being good beta readers has really taken off like hot cakes. Find it here: http://bryanthomasschmidt.blogspot.com/2011/05/6-tips-for-being-good-beta-reader.html

Excerpts from my debut novel “The Worker Prince” are out and generating buzz from the hits they receive. Here they are if you’re interested: http://bryanthomasschmidt.blogspot.com/search/label/excerpt

NOVEL EXCERPT: The Worker Prince Chapter 2

This excerpt is from Chapter 2 and the protagonist, Davi, has been discovering that life on the neighboring planet, Vertullis, for enslaved peoples (aka workers) is worse than he’d ever thought under his uncle Xalivar’s rule. He’s now finding himself torn and coming into conflict with friends and family as he begins to question it. Here he’s just received a letter from his mother about his questions.

Davi sat at his desk stunned. His mother had always been candid, but the content of her missive left him at a loss. He’d expected her to remind him of his uncle’s love and urge him to not be hasty in rushing to judgment, but he’d also expected her to tell him he did not yet have the full picture to understand the reasons behind the decisions his uncle had made in regard to Vertullis. Instead, she confirmed everything he had discovered and been wrestling with. What now?

He would have to be careful. Xalivar would indeed have spies and most people in the Alliance were loyal to him. Davi needed to control his feelings and consider each move. Would he take on the whole Borali Alliance as Farien had said? Not even his status as a member of the Royal Family ensured success. He would be fighting an entire system and way of life for his people, and he knew few would support him.

Slow down, Davi, and remember your place.

Needing to get out of this office and distract himself, he decided to explore areas of the capital he had yet to see. After all, for the time being, this would be home. It might be a good idea to get to know his environment. He deleted his mother’s e-post from the server and shut his terminal, returned the paperwork he’d been reviewing to his inbox and headed out the door.

Outside the noise of the city assaulted his ears. As the twin suns sank toward the horizon, the late afternoon light began to fade, dressing the transportation corridors around him in a mix of light and shadows. Past the end of a long block of administrative offices, he entered the narrower corridors of a residential district. The area surrounding the Borali Alliance’s offices had become prime real estate and contained some of the largest houses in the city, most occupied by off-world government employees.

A few corridors over, a tall security fence sectioned off that neighborhood from the adjacent one. On the far side, the houses changed noticeably, three story apartment buildings mixed with small dwellings, the landscaping sparser, the corridors narrower. He heard even more noise here than in the area around the government center. People bustled around the corridors past shopkeepers on sidewalks drumming up business. It almost seemed like earlier in the day, rather than early evening. In such worker neighborhoods, life began when the people came home.

He wandered, pondering the juxtaposition between houses which seemed run down, set between pristine, newer dwellings on either side. In other places, a thatch-roofed house would have added plants or laser displays on the sides, its small yard kept tidy and fresh, while vines ascended the walls of sleek modern transparent aluminum dwellings with overgrown yards. Finally, he reached a point where the corridor made a sharp turn.

Turning the bend, he found himself in the market with rows of stalls and tents of all shapes and sizes, bustling workers and vendors. A few saw his uniform and looked at him with wary glances but most went about their business as if he weren’t even there. The smell of various perspirations mixed with manure and fresh meats and fruits assaulting his nose.

Vendors offered everything from standard vegetables like green heads of lettuce, orange carrots, and shiny red tomatoes to more exotic ones like Feruca, Gixi, and Jax—fruits from other parts of the solar system. Feruca was black with a thin skin and soft pulp and was often served with various sauces. Gixi, a round, purple fruit grown in orchards on Vertullis and Italis had a delicious, tender pulp and sweet juice. Jax were blue and oblong with crispy pulp and a taste, which went from bitter to sweet during boiling. All had been discovered when colonists first emigrated here centuries ago and now were regular staples of their diets.

Other vendors offered livestock for sale, everything from blue Daken and goats to Quats and Qiwi, a long antlered creature from icy Plutonis. Dark brown with white spots lining either side of their spines, Qiwi stood waste high on Davi and had four long legs ending in black hooves. Their antlers grew up to forty centimeters out of their skulls. He also spotted Gungors, the six-legged brown animals with yellow manes raised for their tasty meat. Davi moved on past as vendors hollered prices and argued with customers, while the various animals brayed and moaned around them.

As he neared a tent, someone grabbed his arm—a smiling vendor who looked half-human and half-Lhamor, gesturing with his bottom two arms when he spoke, his forked tongue giving him a strong lisp.

“’ello, Capt’in, my frien’, wha’ever you nee’, I can ge’ for you,” he said with the accent of Italis and patted Davi’s back like they had been lifelong pals.

There’s a reason others of your race use translators. “No thank you, just passing through,” Davi said, moving on.

The market fascinated him. He saw many species and products he’d never seen before, realizing how big the Alliance really was. He hoped someday he might have time to explore it. When he was younger, he’d dreamed of going on a starship to see the planets in the outer solar system—alien species, plants, animals, alien languages. He’d spent so much time in the office, he hadn’t even bothered to discover what awaited him on Vertullis. He dodged another eager vendor and ducked into an alleyway. Quats moaned and darted out of his path, scattering the trash crowding the walls as they ran.

Might as well see what the neighborhoods are like on the other side.

Entering a corridor so narrow it was restricted to pedestrian traffic, he set about exploring. The corridor and buildings curved, making it impossible to see one end from the other. He walked past doors and windows of one dwelling after another. Separate units shared outside walls like one long building. The area appeared deserted. Everyone must be at the market or already inside.

A woman screamed around the bend ahead.

He quickened his pace, rounding the corner to see an Alliance Captain the size of an air taxi with a worker girl backed into a corner. His gray uniform was dirty and wrinkled, his hair graying around the edges. The girl looked to be upper teens, almost a woman, her face full of fear and apprehension. The Captain struck her across the face with the back of his hand and was preparing to do it again.

“Please,” the girl pleaded, “let me go.”

“You’ll go, when I say you can go,” the Captain responded, his voice like poison.

Neither had noticed Davi creeping toward them along a wall behind them. As he drew near, his nose crinkled at the overpowering smell of the Captain. He reeked of sweat and alcohol. Not even the girl’s sweet, flowery perfume could overcome it.

“What do you want from me?” The girl demanded.

“I want you to show me the proper respect.” The Captain swung his arm, but instead of hitting her face, which she turned away, he grabbed the collar of her blouse and ripped it open.

She slid along the wall, trying to get away. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.”

“Workers like you are always disrespectful,” the Captain said. “Stop moving and come closer.” She shook her head as he grabbed her and pulled her to him, trying to press his lips against hers. She kept wiggling and pushing, making it difficult.

“I’m gonna teach you what it means to obey now, slut,” he said. Buttons popped as he ripped her blouse again and threw her to the ground, climbing on top of her and trying to force her legs apart.

Davi rushed up behind him, grabbing the Captain by the shoulders and pulling him off. “Enough, Captain,” Davi said.

The Captain swung to his feet and whirled around, pulling free with a power that sent Davi stepping back. The sobbing girl picked herself up and cowered against the wall behind him. “Who do you think you are?” the Captain sneered.

“A fellow officer concerned with a peer’s professional conduct,” Davi said.

“I’m off duty,” the Captain said.

“You’re in uniform,” Davi said.

“I guess this worker slut’s not the only one who needs a lesson in respect,” the Captain said, looking Davi over. He towered over Davi, muscles bulging from his jacket.

Davi stepped back. Maybe he has slow reflexes.

The Captain swung at him and Davi ducked, throwing a fist into the man’s gut. His fist throbbed like it had hit an iron wall.

The Captain laughed. “Is that the best you can do?”

“Run,” Davi said, his eyes meeting the worker girl’s. “Get away now!”

The Captain swung at him again as the girl backed away. “Where you going?” The soldier asked, missing Davi as he whirled and reached for her. Her blouse pulled loose into his hands.

Davi glimpsed a necklace around her neck with a blue-green crest at its center. The Captain knocked him to his knees with a blow he hadn’t seen coming.

Where are my friends when I need them? He struggled back to his feet.

The Captain swung again, and Davi dodged to one side. “You need to learn to mind your own business!” Keeping ahold of the girl with one hand, he swung again at Davi’s midsection.

Davi ducked to one side as the girl tried to pull free. His adversary found himself pulled in two directions but managed to grab Davi’s collar and jerk him roughly off his feet.

As the Captain pulled Davi closer and closer, the girl bit the Captain, who yelled and flinched, letting her go. Davi tried to use the moment to pull himself free, but the Captain pulled the collar tighter and cause Davi to slip and fall away from him and into wooden double doors which cracked loudly as they splintered from the force.

Seeing the girl slipping away, the Captain chased after her, turning his back on Davi.

Davi needed some kind of weapon. He thought for a moment of his blaster, but the Alliance had laws and he could think of none which would justify shooting a soldier, especially not to save a worker. Besides, the Captain had a blaster hanging on his hip.

As he climbed to his feet and stepped away from the door, part of it slipped back inside the house behind him. He looked at the splintered wood and began pulling free a section he could use as a club. Wood creaked and snapped as he pulled.

“Why are you doing this to me?” the girl screamed, as she continued dodging the Captain.

“Because you’re a worker,” the Captain said, grabbing her again as he looked around for something to tie her with.

Davi ran up behind him with the board. Seeing him out of the corner of his eye, the Captain turned, raising an arm, as Davi swung the board down hard atop his head.

The Captain’s arm deflected the board, sending it hard against the side of his head. He froze and emitted a loud gurgling sound, releasing the girl and falling to his knees as blood poured from his ears.

Davi pulled the board away and saw that a large spike had entered the man’s head at the temple. The Captain fell over face down and lay still as the salty smell of warm blood rose into the air from a widening pool around the Captain’s head. Oh my gods! I killed him!

“Is he dead?” the girl asked, petrified.

Davi knelt beside him, feeling for breath. The strengthened stench almost made him gag but he swallowed hard. “I think so. I don’t know.” The Captain’s chest wasn’t moving.

The girl gasped. Davi saw her pointing at his chest where his ripped uniform revealed his own necklace—an exact duplicate of the one she wore around her neck.

“Where’d you get it?” the girl asked.

“I’ve had it since I was a baby,” Davi responded.

The girl’s eyes widened as she turned and ran back up the corridor.

“Wait! Come back here a moment!”

But her footsteps faded into the night.

Davi glimpsed faces peering at him from nearby windows and heard footsteps behind him.

A worker stood in the splintered doorway as it finally sunk in—he’d killed an Alliance soldier.

Davi took dark side corridors all the way back to his quarters, ducking into alleyways every time anyone approached. Gasping for breath until his lungs were about to explode, he ran as fast as his feet would take him, his soaked clothes sticking to his skin. I hope no one got a good look at my face. How am I going to explain this?!

326 pp · ISBN 978‐0‐9840209‐0‐4 ·Trade Paperback/Epub/Mobi · $14.95 tpb $3.99 Ebook  · Publication: October 4, 2011  · Diminished Media Group
Available now for 20% off on preorders!!!

Trade paperback only

 EPUB or MOBI — please specify in notes on order

The Worker Prince: Book 1 In The Saga of Davi Rhii

Write Tip: 7 Tips For Being A Good Beta Reader

One of the things I’ve learned in the past year from working with editors and beta readers is how important a role these folks play in the creative success of any published product. Now there are good editors and bad editors, good beta readers and bad beta readers. I’ve been lucky with my editors so far but had a few beta readers who left things to be desired. (Actually my current crop are fantastic but took a while to find them.)

What you need to understand as a beta reader is that the author needs your focus and honesty to make a good book or story. In fact, without you, the story can’t be all it can be, so you’re actually participating in the creative process and can have huge influence over the final product. If it’s good–and even better because of your thoughtful attention–you can proudly brag about that, and I’m sure the author will credit you in the Acknowledgements as well.

So what does it take to be a good beta reader? Here’s Seven Tips:

1. Pay Attention. You need to read with focused care. Note everything that engenders a response in you. You don’t necessarily have to report them all in your notes, but pay attention, nonetheless, and analyze how that works as you assess the story. Because the author needs to know what works, what doesn’t, etc. This requires you to read with more effort and thought than you might be used to. So it may challenge you. But it will also enrich your reading life in later efforts by teaching you to look at things more deeply in ways you hadn’t imagined.

2. Ask Questions And Seek Answers. If you have unanswered questions or are confused, those are the first notes the author needs. Often we’re so wrapped up in our story with all its details, we don’t realize we’ve underexplained things or done so in a convoluted way. We desperately need you to point it out to us. And we’re thankful when you do. Sometimes what seems perfectly clear to us won’t be to you. This has happened many times editing my novel, and I’m always grateful for those chances to make it better.

3. If You Get Annoyed, Let Me Know. If I over explain or over foreshadow and ruin the surprise, I need to know. I need to know what bores or annoys you. You’re smart enough to realize when it was unintentional, so tell me, because I need to know.

4. Offer Me A Little Praise Too. I’m nervous and excited to put my work out into the world. I need to know the bad stuff, yes. But it’s also helpful to know what you liked. What made you laugh or smile? What surprised you in a good way? What made you want to shout and read it to someone else? Those things matter, and hey, the process is so long, I need the encouragement to keep going. Please let me know.

5. Don’t Be Afraid Of Hurting My Feelings. If I ask you to beta, I am giving you carte blanche to be honest. I need it to make my work all it can be. If I asked, you’re probably someone I trust or at least whose opinion I value enough to believe you can help. And although some of your notes may frustrate me, I won’t take it personally or hold it against you because I need your help. And in the long run, my writing will be better for it not just with this project, but every project to follow.

6. Take good notes. Either on the manuscript itself or via comments in Microsoft Word or on paper. Whatever the case note page and paragraph numbers and be as detailed as you can. The more you give the author, the more helpful your notes will be and the more impressed and grateful the author will be for your time and effort.

7. Check your political, religious and other opinions at the door. You should do this any time you read if you want to actually be informed by the experience. If you are only reading to reinforce existing opinions, your goal is not to grow. Being a beta reader is a challenge, growth is inherent for both you and the writer. It is liberating to set aside preconceived ideas and look at things in a new light, through someone else’s eyes. Reading it fairly doesn’t mean you have to agree or change your mind. But if you intend to help the author, you cannot operate under your own prejudices. Writers are human, our own biases do shape how we see the world and how we project it in our writing, no matter how hard we try to avoid it or how often some deny it. But it’s not your book. The beta reader’s responsibility is fair feedback, untouched by bias, to help the author make his or her book the best of theirs that it can be.

Well those are my seven. No list is perfect. But if you take my advice, you’ll have good success as a beta reader and probably get lots of chances to read stuff before anyone else. How cool is that?

For what it’s worth…

Review: THOR

Packed with action and humor with strong characterization, good special fx and a healthy dose of heart, Kenneth Branagh’s THOR is the best comic book movie I’ve seen in ages and destined to continue steadily earning boxoffice $s throughout the summer.

Chris Hemsworth is terrific in the title role, a god banished to mortal on a strange planet, trying to figure out who he is and where he belongs. Starting out arrogant and self-sure, Thor’s transformation to a new form of confidence is a journey many will relate to. At first, a fish out of water determined that his power and status still entitle him to whatever he demands, Thor quickly comes to realize his power and status mean little to the scientists who’ve discovered him in the New Mexico desert. As he uncovers their world and begins coming to terms with his mortality, he’s further discouraged by his failure to reclaim his hammer from Federal custody and restore the confiscated scientific equipment and data of his rescuers. Then his brother, Loki, played will by Tom Hiddleston, arrives to inform him the banishment is permanent, and Thor comes face to face with the reality his life will never be the same.

The characters are well drawn and used to full effect for both humor and humanness. Thor’s friends and their banter are both amusing and character building, and, along with the Earth characters, particularly the scientists played by Stellan Skarsgard and Natalie Portman, take what could have easily devolved into silliness and elevate it into a worth drama about coming of age, self-discovery, and family conflict. Throw in good special effects, plausible science mixed with magic (Magic is science we just don’t understand yet), and you have a very entertaining, crowd pleasing film.

The first 30 minutes was one of the best film openings to an action movie I’ve seen in the past decade–packed with action and good character development, it sets up the story and our players with a strong foundation which carries the rest of the film.

It was fun to see Rene Russo back in action film mode, however brief and small her part, and Anthony Hopkins made the most of his role as well. Idris Elba as Heimdall, the bridge guard also stood out to me and Jaime Alexander as warrior Sif added a touch of Xena to the proceedings, countering the damsel in distress heroine played by Portman. There’s room for strong women in more than one level in this franchise and that news bodes well for female filmgoers.

Unfamiliar with the THOR story, as I am not a huge comics fan, the movie sold me enough to make me want to go back and read the comics and the legends behind them. It will be fun to see what they do with further films in the franchise, including THE AVENGERS, which is due to arrive before another THOR.

Recommended to fans of all genres. A truly worthwhile afternoon at the cinema.

NOVEL EXCERPT: The Worker Prince (Chapter 1 opening)

This excerpt is the opening scene from Chapter 1 of my forthcoming debut novel, the space opera “The Worker Prince” wherein the protagonist and his buddies are introduced along with chief rival and antagonist number 2, Bordox:


“Why do they keep staring at us?”

Farien nodded toward the dance floor and Davi realized all eyes in the Bar Electric were focused on them.

Sweet, fruity perfumes contrasted with stale sweat from gyrating bodies and afflicted Davi’s nose. “I told you we looked good in our uniforms,” he joked as his eyes turned back to his friends. After twenty-one years, he’d never gotten used to it.

Farien stood shorter by almost a foot than his friends, but made up for it in a bulk which filled out his gray uniform. The shiny gold buttons and shoulder insignia appeared ready to pop loose at any moment. Yao was the tallest, thinner than the others. A humanoid from the planet Tertullis, he could pass for human if it weren’t for his dark orange tinted skin and purple eyes.

“I think they’re staring at you, Prince Rhii,” Yao said.

Like an old habit, Davi forced a grin and waved casually as the crowd watched his every move. “And to think I felt like just another cadet at the Academy.” He looked around. “Serve-bot!”

Metal feet pounding on the floor mixed with flashing lights and the electronic tones of a recent pop hit blasting through speakers overhead. The automated robot waiter waded through the crowd toward their table. Other cadets, a few officers, and regular citizens were scattered between the dance floor and tables as identical serve-bots worked the room with drinks and food.

The serve-bot stopped at their table on one corner of the dance floor. “How may I serve you, sir?”

“A round of drinks for everyone, on me,” Davi instructed.

“On you, sir?”

Davi chuckled. Bots’ vocabularies were simple, practical, devoid of any colloquialisms or idioms. “Bill it to the Royal Palace, please.”

“I’d need authorization—”

Davi sighed, holding up his ID. The serve-bot scanned it, its facial LEDs lighting up with recognition. “Right away, Prince Rhii.”

Yao and Farien chuckled as the serve-bot hurried off.

“Come on, Davi, when are you going to drop the childhood nickname and use your real name, like a man. Xander sounds much more mature than Davi.” Farien’s face was serious, yet Davi couldn’t help but laugh.

“It may be a nickname, but it’s one I like.”

Farien rolled his eyes. “Haven’t you been teased enough over it? Don’t you want to be taken seriously as an officer? We’re not kids anymore. We’re going into the world as adults.”

“Let the man choose his own name, Farien. No one’s asking you to change yours even though it sounds a little feminine.” Yao and Davi exchanged a look and laughed.

Farien scowled. “It’s not feminine! It’s a family name!”

Davi and Yao just laughed harder as Farien took a huge gulp of his beer. After a moment, Yao turned serious again. “Now that you’ve made the public happy, how are you going to deal with the other crisis?”

“What other?” Farien asked.

Davi and his friends came to the bar to celebrate after graduating from the Military Academy. After receiving congratulations and hugs from their friends and family, the three headed off to Bar Electric to discuss their assignments and dream about the future awaiting them—which meant Davi had skipped out on the celebratory dinner planned in his honor at the Palace.

“They’ll get over it.” Davi dismissed it with a wave.

“When have they ever gotten over it?” Yao asked with a knowing look.

Davi sighed. “Yeah, they’ll make me pay, won’t they?” They both laughed. “Let’s make it worth it then!”

“Vertullis,” Farien muttered as he took another sip of his favorite off-world beer. “Babysitting slaves, great.”

Davi chuckled and sipped his own beer. “What did you expect—some grand adventure?”

“No, but maybe at least an assignment on one of the distant planets with breathing apparatuses, aliens to encounter…”

“We can make our own excitement, as usual.” Davi pointed at Farien and grinned. Farien rolled his eyes and they gave each other a high five.

“You’ll be there supervising work crew guards. I get to be supervised by some newbie fresh out of the Academy like you,” Farien complained, a glint in his eye. “Funny how your Uncle couldn’t pull strings to get you a cushier assignment.”

“You’re a newbie fresh out of the Academy,” Yao reminded him, shaking his head as Farien grinned.

“You can shut up, mister star-student-professor,” Farien answered. Yao had received the most prestigious assignment of all.

His uncle’s explanation was that Davi needed to earn the people’s respect, not just count on it because of his uncle’s favor or position. But Davi did sometimes wish his uncle would relax a bit and use his influence on his nephew’s behalf.

Seeing his friends staring, he brushed it off and reached over to squeeze Yao’s shoulder. “Yes, congratulations, Yao, it’s well deserved. The Presimion Academy is a fantastic school,” Davi said, proud of his friend. The ceremony had consisted of the usual speeches, and faculty aggrandizing, but Yao had won recognition for his skills with math and sciences, and Davi had received the leadership medal.

“Instead of serving alongside newbies fresh out of the Academy, he gets to prepare pre-Academy newbies.” Farien downed the last of his beer in one long sip and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “Anyone else want another round?”

Davi and Yao shook their heads as Farien rambled toward the bar. “We’d better slow him down or there’ll be trouble,” Yao commented.

Davi motioned to the door as three girls they’d seen on the front row at the graduation ceremony entered. “I think the diversion we need just walked in.” Yao turned toward the doorway as Davi stood, making his way toward the three beauties.

He approached their table and smiled. “You all look even better than you looked at the graduation.”

“You remember us?” the dark-skinned one asked as the girls exchanged shy looks.

Davi laughed. “Of course. Who wouldn’t notice you three?”

The music swelled as Davi asked their names and chatted with them a moment. Then he offered them his arms. They giggled as they stood, two of them looping their arms under his as he led them back toward the table.

“You know who I am, right?” he asked as they neared his table.

The girls all nodded. “Of course, Prince,” the dark-skinned girl said.

Davi preferred the rare woman who didn’t, but he nodded and bent to kiss her hand as they stopped at the table where Yao and Farien waited.

“Yao, these beautiful ladies are Bela, Jaqi, and Vivi,” Davi said, helping the girls with their chairs. They smiled at Yao, ogling his uniform as Bela and Jaqi sat on either side of him. What was it about Tertullians that seemed so irresistible to women? Davi took the seat next to Jaqi. The sweet scents of the girls’ perfumes teased his nose and made him smile. Vivi sat down on his left.

“We saw you at the graduation,” Yao said, smiling awkwardly as Jaqi slid her arm into his.

“Congratulations on your awards,” Jaqi said. “You must be very smart.”

Yao blushed. Despite the fact they seemed drawn to him, he’d never been as comfortable around females as his two friends. “Well, I studied hard.”

“Yao’s being modest. He’s been appointed a professor at Presimion Academy,” Davi interjected.

The girls exchanged a look, then Jaqi scooted closer to Yao, resting her head on his shoulder. They’d worn beautiful gowns at the ceremony, but now their form-fitting pants and low cut blouses flattered their impressive figures. The most exotic of the three, Vivi’s dark skin hinted at mixed racial blood, but Davi couldn’t guess which.

Farien returned with another beer and smiled at Davi. “I see you two didn’t waste any time.”

“Meet Bela, Jaqi and Vivi,” Davi said as Farien took a seat between Bela and Jaqi.

“So pleased to make your acquaintance,” Farien said, as he put his arm around Bela. She smiled, snuggling up to him.

“Are you going to be a professor, too?” Bela asked.

Farien grimaced as Davi and Yao stifled laughs. “I’ll be serving on Vertullis, making sure our worker population continues to produce at proper capacity.” It came out with such bravado that Davi and Yao couldn’t hold back.

“Oh, Vertullis. I always wanted to visit another planet,” Bela said, looking impressed as Farien shot his guffawing friends an annoyed look.

“What about you, Prince Rhii?” Vivi smiled at Davi. Her accent was Southern with slow and precise words. He wondered why her family hadn’t moved to another system with the others.

“Call him ‘Davi.’ He doesn’t like formality.” Ignoring sharp looks from Yao and Davi, he pressed on: “Our fearless leader will be leading the workers as well,” Farien said, ignoring the fact that Davi would be his supervisor.

“Oh,” Vivi said, her eyes sparkling. “I always wondered what the workers are like. I’ve never met one.”

“Me neither,” Davi chuckled. “We failed to offer you ladies libations. What can we get for you?”

As Davi turned to search for the nearest serve-bot, a group appeared in the doorway—Bordox and three of his cronies. A huge, hulking cadet with light yellow skin and a dark beard, he sneered as he spotted them, then led the way to a corner table across the dance floor. Davi frowned. He hadn’t seen Bordox at Bar Electric in months. Why today?

His mind flashed back to an incident at the Academy after he’d beaten Bordox on the flight simulators. Bordox let slip about a rumor claiming the “royal prince’s blood wasn’t so royal”—an attempt to rile Davi up and create a distraction.

Davi and his friends had demanded to know what Bordox meant.

“Who’d have known you’re so fond of folk stories, Bordox.”

“If it’s a folk tale, I guess you’re the folk lore prince,” Bordox cracked. “A starport rumor about a baby who arrived in a courier craft from the stars and landed near the palace, adopted by a lonely princess with no offspring.” Then he and his friends had laughed loudly.

Farien had wanted to tackle him, but Yao and Davi managed to hold him off. It took their professor threatening to charge Bordox with impugning the reputation of another cadet without cause to end the incident, but Bordox had never really let it go. From that day forward, he and Davi became fierce rivals at everything. Bordox was not as smart or coordinated, and far less likable than Davi, but they each had their crowd and were very competitive. Since the incident, each set his goals of achievement at a level designed to ensure he could better himself over the other.

Davi sipped his beer and reached down to finger the necklace he’d worn around his neck since childhood. His mother had given it to him, insisting he never take it off, even though the symbolism of it was lost on him. He’d never gotten around to asking her about it, but he’d never seen another like it, and he knew many regarded it as a symbol of his Royal heritage.

“Would you like to dance?” Vivi’s question broke him out of his reverie. He spotted Farien and Bela out on the dance floor, and Yao had taken Jaqi’s hand and was leading her there.

Davi stood and extended his hand to Vivi. “Absolutely. I thought you’d never ask!” Vivi laughed and took his hand as he led her to an open spot on the floor.

Davi hadn’t danced long when Bordox and his friends came onto the dance floor. Not finding immediate partners of their own, they began tapping the shoulders of other men, looking menacing if they showed any reluctance. Then, paired with the former partners of the frightened men, they maneuvered themselves to the area surrounding Davi, Farien and Yao.

Davi and his friends danced as if nothing mattered until the song ended, then Bordox smiled and leaned close to Davi. “So, folkloric prince, what assignment did you draw?”

“It’s nothing as glamorous as yours,” Davi replied, doing his best to ignore him. The music started again and Davi and Vivi resumed dancing.

“Lieutenant of the Lord’s Special Police,” Bordox responded with pride. The LSP was indeed a respectable assignment. Only the cadets deemed most loyal and sure to serve with lifelong honor at the High Lord’s beck and call would ever be chosen. It didn’t hurt that Bordox’s father, Lord Obed, ran the LSP.

“We’re going to Vertullis to keep the workers in line,” Farien said, breaking the lull.

“Glorified babysitters. I wondered if they’d let you three do any real work,” Bordox replied as he swung his reluctant partner around them. The girl seemed too afraid to do anything but try and keep up.

“Yao will be teaching math and sciences at Presimion Academy,” Davi responded.

Bordox’s smugness faded a moment, before he recovered. “Presimion, well, at least one of you was smart enough to draw a real assignment.”

Davi wanted to reply but Yao and Farien maneuvered their dates in between him and Bordox. He did his best to maintain his composure, but Bordox had gotten him fired up.

“Are you hungry?” Vivi asked as the song ended.

Davi smiled. Not many girls would be so direct knowing who he was. He liked this girl. “Yes, I am, as a matter of fact. Would you like to order something?” She smiled, then nodded and he led her back to their table. Farien and Yao followed with the others.

As he helped Jaqi into her chair, Yao leaned toward him. “Don’t let him get to you. It’s all petty jealousy. You’ve always bested him at every challenge.”

Yao’s eyes met Davi’s as Yao slid into the opposite seat. Davi smiled, calming the raging storm within. It was true. Despite the constant challenges, Davi had always come out ahead. Bordox was still looking for an opportunity to prove himself better. Davi sighed, as he glanced over the menu. Perhaps Bordox’s LSP assignment would keep him off their backs. At least Bordox could feel superior for the moment, if he wanted. He didn’t have to know that Davi would have turned down the LSP if he’d been asked. It held little interest for him.

Davi saw Bordox motion for a serve-bot, as he and his friends requisitioned a nearby table. They threatened the occupants, who stood and hurried for the door, while Bordox and his friends helped themselves to the food and drinks the party left behind.

Davi glanced over to where the bar manager and Bouncer-bot stood watching the events unfold. “Aren’t they going to do anything about it?”

“His father’s head of the LSP, remember?” Yao said. “They can pull bar licenses whenever they want.”

Davi started to stand but Farien reached over and pulled him back down into his seat. Both of his friends shot him warning looks.

“Maybe you ladies would like to find somewhere more romantic to dine?” Davi suggested.

Their dates smiled. “That would be nice,” Vivi said.

Davi and his friends stood, taking the ladies by the elbows and leading them toward the exit.

As they waited beside the air taxi post outside, Davi glanced through the Bar’s window and realized that Bordox and his friends had abandoned the requisitioned table. The blue air taxi arrived and Davi’s group climbed onto the two benches behind the cab-bot driver. As the door shut, Bordox and his friends appeared at the taxi stand, waiting impatiently for another taxi.

“He never gives up, does he?” Farien asked.

“Let’s make ourselves hard to follow,” Davi replied. “Taxi, take us to the starport please.”

“Of course, sir,” the cab-bot whirled around and steered the auto taxi into the flow of traffic.

Their dates’ faces lit up. “The starport, really?” Jaqi said.

“We’re gonna take a little tour before we head to the restaurant,” Yao said.

The cab-bot consisted of a torso with two arms and a head, on which lights lit up when it talked, attached to a seat facing the control panel at the front of the air taxi. Created to take over simple tasks like answering phones or loading cargo, newer bots now performed even more complicated tasks, including some trusted with the safety of humans.

Davi relaxed as the air taxi turned between a row of buildings and rose up onto the main artery running through Legon, the capital city. While Davi and the others enjoyed the ride, chatting with their dates, the auto taxi executed a few more twists and turns on the transportation corridor before turning onto an off ramp marked with signs for the starport.

“You’re not gonna fly us to some remote star restaurant, are you?” Bela asked.

“Not really. We’re just trying to lose our friends,” Davi answered as the air taxi threw him forward against the safety bar. There was another bump as something hit them from behind.

They all whirled around to see another air taxi with the cab-bot disabled. Bordox was at the wheel.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Yao muttered.

Davi turned to the cab-bot. “Please outrun that taxi and take us to the north shore.”

The cab-bot’s facial LEDs lit up in the shape of a smile. “I am attempting to adjust our velocity, sir.”

The taxi jerked as Bordox rammed them again. Davi leapt over the safety bar and pulled the manual override lever, pushing the cab-bot to one side and placing himself at the controls.

“Do you know how to drive this?” Vivi said, alarmed.

“Davi’s the top pilot in our class,” Farien said and smiled.

“Let’s see what this thing is made of.” Davi began pushing buttons, bringing the air taxi to a much faster speed.

Bordox launched another run at them, but Davi braked, and then slid in behind him, taking an onramp back up onto the air highway overhead. As he turned onto the onramp, Bordox’s frustrated face appeared in the rearview mirror. Bordox’s bulky body looked ridiculous behind the wheel of the air taxi. His dark beard couldn’t hide his aggravation as he struggled to turn the air taxi around.

As they merged into traffic, Davi couldn’t see Bordox behind them.

“Maybe we lost him,” Bela said.

“I doubt it,” Yao said as he and Davi exchanged looks.

In a moment, Davi saw another taxi racing up from behind. “Here he comes.”

Davi weaved their taxi in and out traffic, trying to keep Bordox at a distance, but the other air taxi continued to close on them.

“What’s his problem anyway? Why won’t he leave us alone?” Vivi said, her voice shaking.

“It’s a long story,” Davi replied, braking and bringing their taxi in behind the other. “Who’d have thought he’d fall for that twice?”

Yao and Farien laughed as Bordox hit the brakes, forcing Davi to dodge and bringing them side by side.

Bordox looked over—-his face a mask of bitter resentment. His friends stared at them with sneers of contempt. Bordox and Davi wove their air taxis through traffic, each trying to keep the other at bay.

“We’ve gotta get away from this traffic before someone gets hurt—” Davi was silenced by a jolt as Bordox slid his air taxi in behind theirs and slammed into them again. The windows around them cracked loudly as veins creeped out in all directions covering the panes.

“Better get us down to the lower airways,” Yao suggested, “before the windows disintegrate.”

Davi nodded and dove onto the nearest off ramp. Bordox followed. Now, buildings surrounded them, but the traffic had thinned. A group of barges plodded along ahead of them. He aimed the air taxi straight at the rear of one of them and accelerated.

“Do you know what you’re doing?” Yao inquired as he leaned over the safety bar close to Davi’s ear.

“Just secure everybody back there, okay? I have an idea.” Davi said.

“May the gods help us,” Yao answered, shaking his head. “You ladies might want to get into those safety harnesses now,” he said, motioning to the girls, as he and Farien began strapping themselves in. As the girls grabbed for their harnesses, and Yao and Farien turned to help secure and adjust them, Bordox rammed them again from behind.

The windows in both vehicles shattered, glass exploding around them with a deafening crash. The girls screamed. The wind blew against their faces, strengthened by their airspeed and pressing them back against the seats.

“Hold on,” Davi said. Slowing a bit as they approached the rear barge, he suddenly accelerated and pulled the air taxi up over the top of the barge.

Alarms blared from the speakers overhead. “Warning. Violation!” a computer voice screamed.

“Is this even safe?” Jaqi screeched.

“He knows what he’s doing,” Farien assured her.

Bordox’s air taxi cut across the incoming traffic lanes, zipping around the barge as Davi slipped between the two barges. In seconds, Bordox had squeezed in behind them again.

“I thought Bordox sucked at flying?”

“I guess he’s been practicing,” Farien said with a shrug.

Davi saw the first barge enter an intersection as Bordox accelerated toward them, and smiled. He had a plan. When the air taxi’s front passed the corner, Davi made a sharp turn, whipping everyone to one side and landed safely on a corridor to the side.

Bordox’s air taxi accelerated straight into the back of the second barge. Bordox and his friends looked shaken and confused, covered with blue Daken feathers from the barge’s shipment of the frightened, squawking birds.

Davi and his friends exchanged high fives, laughing. “That ought to hold him for a while.”

They watched as Bordox struggled to stand despite the slippery feathers all around him. His eyes met Davi’s in a hateful stare barely visible amidst the feathers dangling from the sweat on his face.

“He doesn’t look much different than he did before,” Farien joked. Yao and Davi laughed.

“Can we please get out now?” Vivi asked, trembling.

“Just a few more minutes. We know a great place on the north shore you ladies will love,” Davi said, relieved as he accelerated again and turned onto another corridor.

326 pp · ISBN 978‐0‐9840209‐0‐4 ·Trade Paperback/Epub/Mobi · $14.95 tpb $3.99 Ebook  · Publication: October 4, 2011  · Diminished Media Group
Available now for 20% off on preorders!!!

Trade paperback only

 EPUB or MOBI — please specify in notes on order

The Worker Prince: Book 1 In The Saga of Davi Rhii

Links of The Week Vol. 2 Issue 8

After a long delay, more helpful links:

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/08/book-publishing-glossary.html — Former agent Nathan Bransford offers a glossary of publishing lingo. Very helpful reference.

http://www.graspingforthewind.com/2011/04/07/sffwrtcht-a-chat-with-author-kristine-kathryn-rusch/?utm_source=feedburner&utm;_medium=feed&utm;_campaign=Feed%3A+GraspingForTheWind+%28Grasping+For+The+Win — my interview with author Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a lot of good info for writers. First in a column I’ll be doing weekly.

http://authorculture.blogspot.com/2011/04/how-to-offer-beneficial-critique.html — How To Give a Beneficial Critique

http://www.kirkusreviews.com/blog/science-fiction-and-fantasy/sf-signal-how-start-reading-science-fiction-part-1/?fb_comment_id=fbc_10150149431281144_15894166_10150149648101144#f1390c056c — SF Signal’s John DeNardo offers a new series on how to start reading SF for novices.

http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/onepercent/2011/04/barcode-scanner-for-zebras.html — Barcodes scanners for Zebras?  Scientists develop a tool to identify unique animals by their stripes.

http://lifarre.com/socialnetwork/pg/blog/read/1181/my-unbreakable-heart-why-we-stay — Author Kimberly Kincade’s powerful essay about being in an abusive relationship

http://www.hbo.com/video/video.html?view=grid&vid;=1170886&autoplay;=true — Awesome 15 minute preview of George R. R. Martin’s “The Game Of Thrones” which comes to HBO next week.

Immortal Blog Tour: Interview with Author Gene Doucette and an Excerpt From Immortal

My friend Gene Doucette has a new book out called Immortal. A combination of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, it’s hard to categorize neatly by genre, but he’s given me the opportunity to review the book and do an interview as well. As a bonus, you can find an excerpt below. I hope you’ll check it out, and, if you like it, you can order the book here:

Amazon.com says the following about Immortal:

I don’t know how old I am. My earliest memory is something along the lines of fire good, ice bad, so I think I predate written history, but I don’t know by how much. I like to brag that I’ve been there from the beginning, and while this may very well be true, I generally just say it to pick up girls. 

Surviving sixty thousand years takes cunning and more than a little luck. But in the twenty-first century Adam confronts new dangers: someone has found out what he is, a demon is after him, and he has run out of places to hide. Worst of all, he has had entirely too much to drink. 

IMMORTAL is a first person confessional, penned by a man who is immortal but not invincible. In an artful blending of sci-fi, adventure, fantasy and humour, Immortal introduces us to a world with vampires, demons and other magical creatures, yet a world without actual magic. It is a contemporary fantasy for non-fantasy readers and enthusiasts alike. 

Here’s my brief chat with Gene:

Immortality is a popular subject for a lot of writers.  What made you decide to investigate it with Immortal?
To be honest, I had no idea how popular it was until I started promoting it.  Then every few days it was, “Have you read…” or “Did you see…” I usually nod and try to point out where Immortal is different.  And it is quite different.  (I think the one story it has the most in common with is The Man From Earth, and the two stories are not at all close.)
I imagine I was drawn to it for the same reason most people were: the idea of being alive for long enough to have experienced things the rest of us have to read about is interesting.  Maybe it’s a fear of death manifesting itself creatively, I don’t know.
In what way is Immortal different from the other stories?
When I began writing I posited one basic assumption: maybe this is all there is.  I don’t mean religiously (although it made sense for my main character Adam to be an atheist) so much as intellectually and socially.  On the scale of Adam’s lifetime societies are extremely temporary and knowledge is largely localized.  There is a limit to the number of higher truths one can become aware of.  In other words, grasping Plato doesn’t change anything if you’re still stuck in Aristotle’s rational reality.
So there is no magic, or true gods, or unnamable higher powers.  And Adam has not become so detached from the world that he’s drifting through it like Bowie’s character in The Man Who Fell To Earth.  He experiences.  He interacts.  And he drinks too much.  He is a living representation of the history of mankind, but that history is messy and violent and not particularly full of enlightenment.
But you’ve included vampires and demons in this world.
I did.  And pixies and iffrits and dragons, and in the next book you’ll see satyrs and werewolves and a few other things.  But I took these beings and put them into a world without magic, and a world where history unfolds the way it has in the real world, in our world, meaning these creatures can’t have been significant enough to have had a direct effect.  These are beings on the margins. 
Including extra-human creatures was a concession I found I had to make to tell the story.  And I’ve found that as long as readers find Adam plausible—and so far they have—the beings he associates with occasionally are equally plausible.
One of Adam’s themes throughout the book is that people exaggerate things, and that while some of the legendary things or events may have existed or happened, they were not as epic as described.  It’s not a leap to have your main character declare on one page that the French Revolution was just an after-the-fact rationalization of a street riot, and on another page point out that the proportion of vampires that are also evil killers is roughly the same as the proportion of humans that are also evil killers.  

Is this book part of a series or a standalone?
It’s part of a series now.  When I first wrote it back in… good lord, 2004?  I wrote a story that answered most of the questions raised within the book, such that a second or third book would have been less necessary, let’s say.  But in rewrites I realized I’d crammed far too much into the final portion of the novel and it was killing the pace.  So I pulled out some things—the most significant being his history with a certain red-haired woman.  And then I went and wrote a second book that still didn’t answer those questions.  So it’s going to be at least three books long.
What other books have you written?
My other published work is in humor.  In 1999 I put out a collection of my humor columns called Beating Up Daddy and in 2001 I released The Other Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: A Parody which is a collection of fake “chapters” I did on my old website for fun.  I just released an anniversary edition of that with new chapters as an ebook.  I also put out a second collection of humor columns called Vacations and Other Errors In Judgment as an ebook a year or so ago.
For novels, I wrote a book called Charlatan before Immortal.  It was agented and shopped but didn’t get published.  I turned it into a screenplay a few years back, and that screenplay has won a few awards but isn’t currently optioned.  Which is a shame; I think it’s better than most thrillers out there right now.  And while Immortal was being shopped I wrote a novel called Fixer for which a deal may be pending.  Then there’s Hellenic Immortal, which is in process.
What made you decide to become a writer?
I don’t think I ever made that decision.  It was something I expected to be doing with my life as far back as when I learned how to read.
Do you outline, do character sketches, etc. or let the story unfold as it comes?
I start at the beginning and do the best I can to get to the end.  So no outlines or character sketches or anything like that.  But all that means is that I hold everything in my head rather than jotting it down.  It’s easier for me to make changes if it’s not committed to “paper” somewhere.  And my characters reveal themselves to me at the same time as the reader, usually through dialogue.  It’s not something I’d recommend to someone who isn’t really good at writing dialogue, to be honest.  (If I am allowed one moment of egotism: I am very good at dialogue.)  Character delineation through conversation was one of the first things I learned how to do well, as a playwright.
Intrigued? I know I was. So here’s an excerpt from Immortal chapter four, in which Adam ponders the nature of the only other immortal he’s ever encountered, a red-haired mystery woman he’s never spoken to and only seen in glimpses throughout history.
I ran through the possibilities again. Vampire was one that was most likely, as they are hypothetically just as immortal as me. Except I’d seen her in the daytime on more than one occasion. And, every vampire I ever met had black eyes. Possibly she was a vampire that didn’t need to hide from sunlight and had blue eyes, but thats a bit like saying something is a cat except it walks on hind legs and has no fur or whiskers.
I dont know any other sentient humanoids that have a get-out-of-death clause. Well other than me. And I don’t have porcelain skin and haunting eyes. So she might be like me, but was she the same thing as me?
What was she?
Mind you, I’d run through all this before thousands of times. I’ve taken suggestions, too. A succubus I used to hang out with insisted my red-haired mystery girl was death incarnate, meaning my endless search for her was actually a complex working-out of my immortality issues. (A note: succubi are notorious amateur psychologists and have been since well before Freud. In fact I have it on good authority that Freud stole his whole gig from a particularly talkative succubus he used to know. And if you don’t believe Freud knew a succubus, you haven’t read Freud.) I didn’t find the argument convincing. If I am to believe in some sort of anthropomorphic representation of mortality I should first develop a belief in some higher power, or at least in life-after-death.
I’m a pretty sad example of what one should do with eternal life. I’ve never reached any higher level of consciousness, I don’t have access to any great truths, and I’ve never borne witness to the divine or transcendent. Some of this is just bad luck. Like working in the fishing industry in Galilee and never once running into Jesus. But in my defense there were an awful lot of people back then claiming to be the son of God; I probably wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of the crowd. And since I don’t believe there is a God, I doubt we would have gotten along all that well anyway.
I probably wasnt always quite so atheistic. I don’t recall much of my early hunter-gatherer days, but I’m sure that back then I believed in lots of gods. And that the stars were pinholes in an enclosed firmament. There might even have been a giant turtle involved. And I distinctly recall a crude religious ceremony involving a mammoth skin and lots of face paint. But after centuries on the mortal coil I’ve come to realize that religion is for people who expect to die someday and really want to go to a better place when that happens. It doesn’t apply to me.
Now be sure and check out the rest of the blog tour, offering new features every day: http://genedoucette.me/immortal-blog-tour-2011/

Review: Star Wars-The Old Republic: Deceived by Paul S. Kemp

For me, Star Wars books are often like comfort food — familiar, not overly surprising, but good, an enjoyable way to pass the time. So when I scheduled Paul Kemp for my interview chat, I was surprised to learn his Star Wars books didn’t include those familiar characters I’d grown to love–the characters who made me fall in love with science fiction, made me want to tell stories. But Paul Kemp wrote a Star Wars book (three now in fact), and we’re close in age, so I wanted to commiserate. He must have viewed the saga at the same age I did with similar awe. What was it like to now be a part of that universe as a storyteller? So I ordered up some reading copies and read.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself engaged, even captivated by the characters. Kemp’s ability to create immediate connections between characters and readers is admirable. He had me at “hello,” you might say. And like a stalker, he never let me go, but in a good way. Even the antagonist, Darth Malgus is someone you can’t help but feel sympathy for. He’s relatable. He may be evil and dark and hateful, but he’s human, just like the reader. And Kemp brings that out so well you almost root for him at times against the protagonists. That’s great writing.

Like most Star Wars tie-ins the prose is kept simple, a few challenging words here and there, but not many. After all, these books are intended to be accessible for fans of all ages. And that requires talent, too. When the competition are sometimes books with extra effort at complex prose, to have written a book written simply but well which engages adults as well as children is a real accomplishment. One to be proud of.

I can’t wait to chat with Paul and find out more about his writing journey, to soak up the lessons he has to teach us about writing, and to call him my friend. He tells me his assignment was to do a story with Darth Malgus, a character from the forthcoming online multi-player game “The Old Republic.” He wrote a Malgus story with spades.

The book revolves around three central characters, the dark Sith Malgus, a rogue Jedi Aryn, and a pilot Zeerid. Malgus wants to conquer the universe for the Sith and rid them forever of the Jedi menace. Aryn wants revenge for the death of her mentor/father-figure at Malgus’ hands. Zeerid, an old friend of Aryn’s, is just trying to pay off a debt and provide artificial legs for his young daughter. Each of them gets sucked in by circumstance to a web of deception–both internal and external to themselves–and struggles to accomplish their goal. All of them wind up taking paths far different than they’d imagined in doing so. And all of them learn lessons that forever change them in the process.

Filled with action and moving at a steady clip, “Deceived” even includes a cute astromech droid character, who may remind us of ancestors to come. It has romance, betrayal, political intrigue, and rivalry. It’s a well told tale that could be set in any universe but works exceedingly well in the confines of the familiar Star Wars one. Truly these are characters worth discovering and enjoying. I’d like to see more of each of them.

I can’t wait to read more from Kemp. Highly recommended.

Guest Post: Defining Sword & Sorcery

Although it isn’t original to this site, I can’t resist reposting this article from www.howardandrewjones.com last December. Howard, one of the editors of Black Gate, is a talented author and somewhat of an authority on historical fantasy. His insights are well worth reading.
by Howard Andrew Jones
Some years back I decided that if I was serious about writing fantasy I’d best understand the roots of the genre, and I threw myself into reading work by its founding fathers and mothers. I came away with a deep appreciation of a number of authors I’d never explored in much detail before (Robert E. Howard, Lord Dunsany, Clark Asthon Smith, Poul Anderson, C.L. Moore, and others) and a better understanding of the kind of fantasy I most enjoyed. Some call it heroic fiction, and others have tried other labels, but the one that seems to have stuck the most is sword-and-sorcery, a term coined by Fritz Leiber. While I think I know it when I see it, a lot of different people have attempted to define it. Back when I helmed the Flashing Swords e-zine I had to tell the readers exactly what kind of fiction I most wanted to print, and so I set out to describe what I thougth sword-and-sorcery was all about. That’s been a few years ago, and the definitions have since been improved upon with some suggestions from John Hocking, William King, Robert Rhodes, and John “The Gneech” Robey.
  • The Environment: Sword-and-sorcery fiction takes place in lands different from our own, where technology is relatively primitive, allowing the protagonists to overcome their martial obstacles face-to-face. Magic works, but seldom at the behest of the heroes. More often sorcery is just one more obstacle used against them and is usually wielded by villains or monsters. The landscape is exotic; either a different world, or far corners of our own.
  • The Protagonists: The heroes live by their cunning or brawn, frequently both. They are usually strangers or outcasts, rebels imposing their own justice on the wilds or the strange and decadent civilizations which they encounter. They are usually commoners or barbarians; should they hail from the higher ranks of society then they are discredited, disinherited, or come from the lower ranks of nobility (the lowest of the high).
  • Obstacles: Sword-and-sorcery’s protagonists must best fantastic dangers, monstrous horrors, and dark sorcery to earn riches, astonishing treasure, the love of dazzling members of the opposite sex, or the right to live another day.
  • Structure: Sword-and-sorcery is usually crafted with traditional structure. Stream-of-consciousness, slice-of-life, or any sort of experimental narrative effects, when they appear, are methods used to advance the plot, rather than ends in themselves. A tale of sword-and-sorcery has a beginning, middle, and end; a problem and solution; a climax and resolution. Most important of all, sword-and-sorcery moves at a headlong pace and overflows with action and thrilling adventure.
The protagonists in sword-and-sorcery fiction are most often thieves, mercenaries, or barbarians struggling not for worlds or kingdoms, but for their own gain or mere survival. They are rebels against authority, skeptical of civilization and its rulers and adherents. While the strengths and skills of sword-and-sorcery heroes are romanticized, their exploits take place on a very different stage from one where lovely princesses, dashing nobles, and prophesied saviors are cast as the leads. Sword-and-sorcery heroes face more immediate problems than those of questing kings. They are cousins of the lone gunslingers of American westerns and the wandering samurai of Japanese folklore, traveling through the wilderness to right wrongs or simply to earn food, shelter, and coin. Unknown or hazardous lands are an essential ingredient of the genre, and if its protagonists should chance upon inhabited lands, they are often strangers to either the culture or civilization itself.
Sword-and-sorcery distances itself further from high or epic fantasy by adopting a gritty, realistic tone that creates an intense, often grim, sense of realism seemingly at odds with a fantasy setting.  This vein of hardboiled realism casts the genre’s fantastic elements in an entirely new light, while rendering characters and conflict in a much more immediate fashion.  Sword-and-sorcery at times veers into dark, fatalistic territory reminiscent of the grimmer examples of noir-crime fiction.  This takes the fantasy genre, the most popular examples of which might be characterized as bucolic fairy tales with pre-ordained happy endings, and transposes a bleak, essentially urban style upon it with often startling effect.
While sword-and-sorcery is a relative to high fantasy, it is a different animal. High fantasy, mostly invented by William Morris as an echo of Sir Thomas Mallory and then popularized by J.R.R. Tolkien, moves for the most part at a slow, stately, pace, meandering gently from plot point to plot point, or, as is often the case, from location to location. Movie critic Roger Ebert has some astute observations on The Lord of the Rings, which I will quote here.
 While exotic landscape is present, even common, in sword-and-sorcery, it is displayed differently and toward a different effect.  Sword-and-sorcery was birthed in an entirely different tradition. Robert E. Howard, its creator, wrote for the pulps. The pulp magazines, the television of their day, were fueled by quick moving action. The stories needed to grab you within the first few sentences so that if you were browsing the magazine at the news stand you’d feel compelled to purchase it to finish. The pulp stories were meant to seize your attention from the opening lines and never let go. 
 This difference in pacing is crucial  and there are hidden difficulties attendant in trying to create it on the page.  My friend, the mighty John Chris Hocking, added this to the discussion: “Some sword-and-sorcery authors seem to believe that swift pacing must equal Action.  And that Action must equal Violence.  Neither of these things are true.  All the fighting and running and frenzy you create will grow tiresome unless it is moving the story forward.  Sure, Action is great unto itself, but it is the unfolding of the plot that truly captivates.”
The best way to acquaint oneself with this style of pacing is to READ  the writers who did it. Certainly this is a far from exhaustive list, but this is a good start to the process. Read for enjoyment (if you’re not reading for enjoyment you probably shouldn’t bother trying to write in the style) but read critically as well. There are other fabulous works and fabulous authors, but this small selection cited here gives you a basic primer on sword-and-sorcery focusing mostly on shorter stories, short novels, and novellas. It is meant as an immersive introduction that will not take two or three years of study. Once you have the material in hand it would not take long to familiarize yourself with it.
Robert E. Howard: There’s a recent set of Howard books from Del Rey that collect all the Conan tales. Find a copy of The Coming of Conan and dip into the collection. At the least, read “Tower of the Elephant,” “Queen of the Black Coast,” and “Rogues in the House.” 
Fritz Leiber: Leiber’s famed Lankhmar stories have been reprinted so many times that it’s hard to suggest any particular volume because the contents vary. Instead here are specific stories. Read three or four of any of these: “Thieves’ House,” “The Jewels in the Forest,” “The Sunken Land,” “The Howling Tower,” “The Seven Black Priests,” “Claws from the Night,” “Bazaar of the Bizarre,” “Lean Times in Lankhmar,” “The Lords of Quarmall.”
 Jack VanceThe Dying Earth – sword-and-sorcery, science fiction, planetary romance—whatever it is exactly that Vance wrote when he bent so many genres (long before that was in vogue) he wrote it well, with amazing world building and vivid imagination. Don’t feel compelled to read the entire series, just the first short little novel.
Michael Moorcock: The first Elric novel or the first Hawkmoon novel.
Leigh Brackett: Beg, borrow, or steal the Sea Kings of Mars aka The Sword of Rhiannon. Sure, it’s really sword-and-planet, but sword-and-planet is really just sword-and-sorcery with a science fiction veneer. And Leigh Brackett was one of the very, very best sword-and-planet writers.
M.John HarrisonThe Pastel City.
What to look for when you’re reading?
  • First and foremost notice the pacing.
  • Notice the tone in Howard, the somber, headlong drive.
  • Notice how  dialogue is used to reveal the character rather than to reveal plot points and backstory. Pay attention to how the characters sparkle this way particularly in Leiber and Harrison. Notice Howard’s skill with Conan. He is far more than the stereotype suggested by his detractors, and more complex than barbarians crafted by most of his imitators.
  • Notice how atmosphere permeates everything in Brackett and Harrison and Vance—study their world building, and the sense of wonder they constantly evoke.
 One thing you should note is that none of these authors worked from templates. The character classes as typified by role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons were designed based on the works of these authors so that players might create characters like those from their favorite fantasy stories. Now many of those templates and settings have become rigid and unchanging. Castle, wizard with spell book, dragon, orc, halfing, thieves’ guild (from Leiber), chaos, law (from Moorcock). Too many of us have forgotten the source material. Those templates need to be set aside. If you’re writing for a game company by all means use elves, hobbits, ogres and the like, but otherwise leave them in their castles and invent something of your own. If you do want to write of elves or ogres, then you’ll need to do something unique with them.

The Importance of Preparedness In Event of Family Crisis

Okay, this is a departure from the usual focus of this blog. But most of you know I have been going through a huge crisis with my wife, Bianca. Bianca has Bipolar Disorder I, a serious mental illness which involves manic episodes in which she is very aggressive and angry and hard to control. Bianca hates lack of control anyway. I sometimes wonder if this is because her mind races out of control even when she’s stable and so she constantly grasps for control to fight her sense of losing control. I don’t know. I can’t be inside the mind of a Bipolar person. But I know that if I had ever imagined how bad a crisis could be, I would have been more prepared.

When Bianca is having a manic episode, she can seem normal to people who don’t know her. Sure, she talks a lot, but Bianca loves to talk even when she isn’t manic. And she can definitely exercise her will and free choice. The problem is, she is not rational and her choices are wrong and not in her best interest or even crazy illogical. But because of the stupidly written HIPPA law given us by Nancy Landon Kassebaum and Ted Kennedy, hospitals must protect patient privacy and that means, since the law is so broad, they tend to obey patient’s wishes until they are declared mentally competent by a court of law. So Bianca was able to shut me out of any health info, any visits, any decisions. She could order up medical tests which cost tons of money by claiming cancer or other ills. I don’t think she did but she could have. And I would have a bill to pay with no input on the decision.

What Bianca and I needed is what all of you with spouses need: executed power of attorney and medical power of attorney documents (also called designated health care agent). These documents, fairly standard, can be prepared for you by an attorney at low cost, signed before a notary, and then ready if you need them. Dear God, I hope you never do, but what if you did. What if one of you became brain damaged and was in dementia, making insane decisions but not able to be declared mentally unsound easily. What would the other person do? Want to feel helpless? Wait for that to happen. What if one of you was in a coma and the other needed to make decisions on co-signed finances or finances you didn’t know much about? About medical treatment, etc.?

If you don’t have those documents, you will have to file for guardianship like I did and it will cost you 20 times more money and stress. Don’t wait to find out, be prepared.

On top of it, if one of you handles all the bank accounts and stocks, etc., create a one sheet with passwords, account numbers, bank addresses, even phone numbers and contact persons for the other. Put it in a safety deposit box but let the other person and one friend you trust know it’s there. The person you love may be so distraught they won’t remember. The friend can remind them.

Here’s an example of the document as it is statutory in Texas: http://www.ilrg.com/forms/states/tx-powerofattorneymed.html

In most cases, you will want to assign two designees with health care power of attorney. That’s in case both of you are incapacitated at the same time in an accident, so someone can pay bills, take of the kids and pets, etc.  Don’t be afraid. The documents will specify the circumstances under which they can be used, and the length of time before the power is resumed by you. In case of divorce, the document can be listed as being nullified. It’s not giving up your rights immediately at any time. It’s for emergencies only. And it’s worth it.

Trust me. You don’t want to live the nightmare I am living. I hope to God you never face similar circumstances, but what if you do? It’s hard enough seeing the person you love in this condition. Having them fighting your every decision when you’re trying to just get them the best care. It’s hard enough having a hospital treat you like a stranger with no say. Do you really want that? Being prepared is the only way to avoid the stress and bankrupting expense I am facing. And you’ll be able to act quickly, not wait for court decisions. It may be the difference between life and death for your loved one. In my case, it’s not, thank God. But what if it was? Can any of us afford to take that chance?

For what it’s worth…

Space Opera: The Junction Between Worlds

Guest Post by John H. Ginsberg-Stevens

“But there was little sense, in criticism and reviewing of the fifties, of ‘space opera’ meaning anything other then ‘hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn’ SF stories of any kind” – Kathryn Cramer & David G. Hartwell, The Space Opera Renaissance (pp.11-12).
“Space Opera” always sounds so majestic when you first hear the term used. It conjures up a Wagnerian aesthetic, a vast, significant drama about to unfold. It evokes a grand canvas of interstellar wonders, of great empires and uncountable fleets clashing for the greatest prize: the galaxy itself! And then, you go to WIkipedia:
“Space opera is a subgenre of speculative fiction that emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, generally involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced technologies and abilities. The name has no relation to music; it is analogous to soap operas . . . . “- Wikipedia entry for “Space Opera.”
Well, heck. Space opera, while sometimes a magnificent, even ostentatious form of SF, is not the literary equivalent of “an extended, dramatic composition”(as dictionary.com puts it); in fact, its name signifies a past of pulpish adventures, base entertainments, and corny characters and ideas. 
But this is as much of a stereotype as the former idea. As Kramer and Hartwell also make clear, there is no widely-accepted idea of space opera. Like a lot of genres, it is something that we recognize, rather than delimit. Space operas may be “space fantasy,” but there can also have rigorous science behind them. Of course, even when grounded in science, space operas are rather fantastical. Even the most logical novum is overwhelmed by the combination of high and low drama that the stories contain. And, for me, the key element of space opera is drama, in space, of course. It is the transposition of two very human sorts of story, the epic and the romance (in the classical sense) into the vastness beyond our humble little planet.
The first SF book I ever read was space opera. When I was about 5 years old I was looking through some books at a yard sale, bored to death of Little Golden Books, Dick & Jane, and even Classics Illustrated comics (I had started reading when I was 3). I saw some paperbacks but they had pictures of swooning women, frowning men in suits, or bucolic scenes that were about as thrilling as watching a tree grow. But then, I found something that I had not seen before: a book with a rocket ship on the cover! It was expensive ($2!) but I convinced my father to buy it, and I brought it home and read it over the weekend, twice.
I have only two clear memories of the book: Jerry’s constant need to overcome a string of obstacles, and the small rock hitting their ship. But it inspired me to find more books like it. The adventure was a draw, but so was the combination of drama and different worlds. It was not just the future that was compelling, it was the place, the venturing out to unearthly realms. The aliens may not have been terribly alien, but the otherness of the setting made the adventures more consequential to me.
I eventually abandoned westerns and dove into SF. I soon found that I liked certain types of books: I favored Heinlein over Asimov, Burroughs over Smith, Reynolds over Clarke. The big ideas were cool, but what made the stories compelling to me were the effects on regular people. Heinlein’s juveniles were as much about coming-of-age and finding your way as they were about technology and galactic wonders. Burroughs’ books, while more planetary romance, and Reynolds more socially-oriented works wedded high and low drama together. That fusion was what drew me to space opera, the mixture of (sometimes bombastic) epicness and (sometimes melodramatic) prosaic in the stories. My heroes were Bill Lermer, Podkayne, Rex Bader, and Tars Tarkas.
A few years after discovering SF I was pulled away from it by my family. When I started high school years later I picked right up back and read more Heinlein, Niven, Cherryh, Poul Anderson. I exhausted my tiny school library’s resources, which turned out to be a good thing, because it pushed me out of my comfort zone and, with the assistance of an SF-loving teacher, I branched out and discovered the scope of not only SF, but all sorts of fantastika. But I still sought out stories like those I had looked for in space opera, what we nowadays call “character-driven” tales. I credit my early discovery of space opera with inculcating that proclivity in my reading habits, of the need to know how even the most cosmic,massive events affected regular folks.
That to me is the value of good space opera: thrusting average people into extraordinary situations in a world that might be possible someday. That fusion of spectacle and a good yarn was an excellent basis for becoming a good reader, and eventually a writer. Space opera taught me a few things about life, but more than that, it taught about how to look at life, to appreciate the great and the mundane and how they interacted with each other. Despite the roots of the word, space opera not only entertained me, but got me to appreciate the juncture between the marvels that could be and the people we are.
John H. Ginsberg-Stevens blogs at http://eruditeogre.blogspot.com/ is my writing blog. A frequent columnist for Apex, SF Signal and other sites, he’s a writer, husband, Da, ponderer, anthropologist, geek, bibliophile, bookmonger, anarchist, and generally cranky malcontent.


Can you really tell within a few paragraphs if something is good?

Guest post by Patty Jansen
Many people are surprised when agents and editors say that they often don’t need to read an entire story to know that they’ll reject it. Some writers are even insulted. But if you read five to ten story submissions a day, and you keep this up for a few years, you tend to develop an eye for picking the 10% or so of submissions that show reasonable promise to pass onto editors. How do you do it? Here is a quick checklist I use to weed out the stories that I’ll reject immediately from the ones I’ll continue reading—in the first few paragraphs (I usually do read a bit more, or skip to a different part of the story to see if the story redeems itself). I want to stress that this is my list, and that other people may well have different criteria. That said, the issues below will raise their ugly heads at some point in the selection process.
A decent magazine gets hundreds, or even thousands of submissions each year. They typically have a number of first-line slush readers. Those people will see hundreds of submissions. They don’t need to read an entire submission to know that they’re not going to pass it to the next level. Sometimes they don’t need more than the first sentence.
Why?
There is a myth in aspiring writer-land that grammar and style don’t matter all that much. That it’s the story’s content which determines its publishability, and that beautiful prose alone won’t sell your work.
Yes, yes, and yes.
That said, what sinks a lot of stories is a lack of what I’ll call natural flow in the text. It comes both from not listening to writing advice to taking it way too seriously. It comes from trying too hard to sound interesting and from lack of cohesion in the writing. It comes from tics every writer picks up somewhere along the line.
The most important reason a story gets rejected after a paragraph or two is that there are issues with the writing style and occasionally the grammar.
What do I mean by this, and what sets red flags?
Apart from the obvious (is the text grammatically correct and are there spelling mistakes?), an experienced slush reader will see:
If first few the sentences are unwieldy and trying too desperately to fit in too much ‘stuff’. Chances are that the rest of the story follows this pattern. Sure, this is fixable, but a lot of work for the editors, and a lot of communication with a writer who may not be ready for quite this much red ink. Too much effort. Reject.
The first few sentences contains odd word choices. The writer may be hanging onto the ‘no passive language’ or ‘use interesting verbs’ mantras too much. Again, this takes a lot of effort to fix because it will be insidious throughout the piece. Too much work. Reject.
The first sentence and the second sentence don’t follow one another. There needs to be a flow of logic in the text. If the first few sentences jump around like crickets in zero-gravity, chances are that the author has a problem expressing logic in a format readers can follow. This takes a huge amount of time to fix. Reject.
The first three sentences all start with the same word, usually a pronoun. A quick scan reveals that this continues through the text. Or the sentences start with some other repetitive pattern, like a participial clause (a clause containing the –ing form of a verb) or a prepositional clause, like: In the kitchen, there was…, or, After he did this, he… Writers often use these and participial clauses to avoid some other structure (never start a sentence with ‘There was…’ says the bogeyman), but the end result can become a repetitive mush of too-complicated sentences and death by ten thousand commas.
The story starts with an unnamed character and a quick scan reveals that there is no reason for the name of the character to be mentioned for the first time only on the third page. That by itself is not a great sin, but often, the lack of a character’s name will signal POV problems that may be more confusing.
The first few paragraphs contain words that are repeated several times, for example a four-sentence paragraph in which the word ‘door’ is used five times. Again, this is fixable, but if the writer hasn’t pick this up him or herself, it will likely occur throughout the story.
And an experienced slush reader will see these things even before he or she has started to take notice of the story’s plot or its central premise. The easiest way to make it past a first slush reader is to polish your style, and the best way to do that is by writing more and reading what you want to write. Meanwhile, try to volunteer as a slush reader some time. It’s a crash course in what works in fiction.
Besides a writer of crazy fantasy and hard Science Fiction, Patty Jansen is slush reader and editor at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. She blogs at http://pattyjansen.wordpress.com/, about writing, about science and about editing and slush piles. Patty is a winner of the second 2010 quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest and has published in the Universe Annex of the Grantville Gazette and has a story forthcoming with Redstone SF.

Memories of My Wife Bianca

Last Tuesday, 1 month before our 4th anniversary, I had to put my wife in the mental hospital against her will for the second time. Bianca is a highly intelligent, gentle, sweet, giving, joyful person. But when her bipolar II flares up she’s angry, mean, arrogant, and mischievous. I woke up at 5 a.m. and found her cutting phone chords and cables for the internet with a scissor because “I don’t like that stuff there.” This was after I’d already tried once to get police to take her in. They refused because she looked normal to them. They don’t know her. How would they know normal for her? In any case, I worried she’d cut an electrical chord and start a fire or electrocute herself. So it was time.

This is the second time in two years I’ve had to commit her. Having to put someone you love in the hospital against their will, while they beg you not to, is the most painful experience ever. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And I’ve done it three times, twice the first incident, once now. It took four of us to literally carry her to the car while she fought and screamed, then me to drive us 30 minutes to the hospital, again while she screamed and insulted us. It’s weird to look in the face of the woman you love and see a stranger looking back at you. A stranger who looks just like her, has the same voice, but says things which sound nothing like her.

I try very hard to block those memories. Most of the time I can. I don’t want to remember her this way. I prefer to remember her as the woman who blessed my life, the one I fell in love with. I’m pained by the memory of how much I took her for granted in the months preceding this relapse. I should have been her biggest cheerleader when she finally got to live her dream and go back to school to finish her degree. She was doing so well, making awesome grades, and she was working 30 hours and going to school 18. I was so wrapped up in my worries, I was lackluster in my enthusiasm, and I feel like such a jackass now. The times she wanted to cuddle and I was so busy with writing, I put it off and never got back to it. The times I didn’t listen when she was so excited to tell me something mid-draft. I feel like such a loser. Here’s the woman who chose me. After years of failed romances, after 37 years alone thinking I’d never find anyone, she chose me, and I was so unappreciative so much of the time.

When I went away to Rainforest Writers, my thought was that it would be good to have time away to refresh our relationship. The moment I arrived, I missed her and wished she was there. Little did I know that when I got home, I’d still be missing her, because I haven’t seen the real Bianca since before I left.

The real Bianca is such a delight to be with. She is so enthusiastic, often seeing the world through a child’s eyes. She’s fascinated by people, places, language — so many things I easily write off as ordinary. And through her observations, she helps me look at the world in new ways. It’s a real help to me as a writer. And it’s something about her I have always treasured. She’s a great cook and a good housewife. She’s thoughtful even when I’m not. Oh she has her faults, of course, but I have more. And the fact that she’s always loved me and thinks I’m cute, handsome, wonderful always blows my mind.

I so wish it could be me and not her. I wish I was the one in the hospital. I wish it was me losing my job, dropping out mid-semester of my school, etc. If I could take her place in a moment, I so would, because I suffer so much for her. It breaks my heart every time I think about it. I am crying as I type this because I feel such despair, such hopelessness, and such fear that I will lose her, that this is it, that she’ll never get through this. It’s so hard to not get much information from the hospital due to privacy laws. Biance is in no condition to sign a waiver, so the hospital has to protect itself from lawsuits, even though I’m the husband. It’s so difficult to see her struggling and not be able to protect her; to be made the bad guy in manic Bianca’s eyes, when all I did I did to protect her and get her the help she so desperately needs. I wouldn’t wish this situation on my worst enemy. And it makes me determined to do all I can to build awareness and find support for developing a cure to all mental illness.

What a horrible thing it is to see someone with such skill and potential robbed of their life by such a horrible disease. To see them so destructive when they don’t even know what they’re doing. To see them resist the help they need when it’s right there in front of them. I curse Satan and beg God to please help my wife. Give me back my lover, my best friend. I wish it was so easy. Every moment is agony as I’m forced to wait and see if things will ever be the same again. I have small hope in the fact that our marriage came back better than ever from the last time. I can only hope she’ll feel that way and be ready to try again.

It’s hard to know that this kind of thing will likely happen again–it’s cyclical, so probably every two years. On the other hand, I’ve heard stories of people who take their meds and are stable the rest of their lives, so I hope that for her. And yet I fear days to come. If I get her back I intend to treasure every moment, and I hope I don’t forget. I must never allow myself to be too busy to appreciate her. I must let her know how much she means to me, and I must remind her daily of that. Maybe the strength of my love will help her. I hope so. I know the strength of her love has helped me. And I know I feel so lost at the idea of going on without her. Sometimes you don’t realize what you have in the throes of everydaydom. How sad and pathetic a trait is that in human beings? Why does it take a crisis like this to remind us how lucky we are?

I don’t know the answer but I know I need to do better at fighting off that complacency and being appreciative. If only I get another chance. If only I get my Bianca back.

For what it’s worth…

Links Of The Week, Vol. 2, Issue 8

http://nyti.ms/exAwaz — non-traditional stores are selling more books than ever. Good news for authors, marketers, and publishers. And also for readers.

http://lmstull.com/2011/03/06/so-you-want-to-write-fantasy/ — a workshop on worldbuilding for fantasy authors and a contest to boot.

http://reluctantadults.blogspot.com/2011/03/that-setting-thing.html — Kat Richardson writes up her talk from Rainforest Writers Village Session 2 on “Setting”

http://www.shimmerzine.com/2011/03/16/confessions-of-a-slush-reader-why-should-i-care/ – a slushreader explains the slush experience and gives useful tips on how to get your story to succeed

A Letter To BiPolar Disorder

Dear Bipolar Disorder:

I hate you! You know who you are. You’re the one who takes a beautiful, intelligent, determined, kind, giving, loving, wonderful girl and turns her into a stranger who rants, yells, destroys, and insults. You’re the one who steals time, precious time away from her husband and family. You’re the one who makes her risk her life by wandering on an interstate, going where she shouldn’t go, doing what she wouldn’t go.

You’re a destroyer of relationships; a thief of hope; a breaker of hearts; a robber of peace. You’re a divider of households; a ruiner of reputations; and a restrainer of potential.

I swear, Bipolar Disorder, you will not defeat us. I will not allow you to be the winner here. I will not allow you to rule the day. You will lose this battle. We will fight until we find a cure. We may fail from time to time as we learn more and more about you. But we will conquer you, make no mistake about it.

We will win because our victory is founded on love not destruction. We will win because our determination is to live free, not die captive. We will win because we are stronger, we are more determined, and we are better than you could hope to be.

You’re going down one day, Bipolar Disorder. Get ready for it. We will dance together, hand in hand, upon your grave.

With all my heart,

Bryan

Rainforest Writers’ Village Session 2 Day 2

Today was a much better day as far as productivity. No more sickness, a settling into the routine. I produced 2725 words today, and despite the later hour, if inspiration hits later, I’ll keep going. The work today was all focused on novel 2 of which Chapter 4 is now close to complete. Although I still have other projects with me which need work, today I decided to focus. I hadn’t written on the novel in a week, and it was time to get back into it.

I also mailed off my signed book contract today for the first novel in this series, “The Worker Prince” which is due for release in late Summer. The editing notes are pending and artwork is being arranged. We’re on the road to publication, a good feeling.

I also finally got around to watching two movies today which I have long wanted to. “How To Train Your Dragon” is fantastic, a charming, fun, well made story which my friend Andy Romine worked on. At the moment, I am watching “Inception” for the second time. The first I was more distracted and didn’t pay as much attention. Those who’ve seen it know this movie requires focus and I am trying to do that tonight to see what all the fuss is about. Watching stories like this also inspires me. “Dragon” got me thinking how my first anthology acceptance, “Amélie’s Guardian” would make a wonderful children’s book and movie. And “Inception” is a complexity of storytelling which challenges me to dig deeper and try harder.

The nature and presence of other writers continues to inspire me here. Had a great chat with Kat Richardson and my friend Sandra Wickham today. Kat has a number of books out, yet treated me like a peer, which felt good. Mary Robinette Kowal has been much the same. I appreciate their generosity and kindness. And the encouragement of their joining us here in the community experience.

Tomorrow’s our last full day, and I hope to finish Chapter 4 and either finish a short story or start Chapter 5. I also hope to get in some nature time to explore the area, see the world’s largest spruce and take a few more pictures to commemorate the experience. It truly is the chance of a lifetime for me, and I am encouraged just to be here. I feel like a part of the larger community, like I’m making real progress. It’s a good feeling.

For what it’s worth…

Rainforest Writers’ Village Session 2

I’ve been given a tremendous gift in my sponsorship to Rainforest Writers Village, Session 2. Held at Lake Quinault, Washington on the edge of the Olympic National Forest, the natural setting is almost as inspiring as the vibe of my fellow writers as we write together at tables in the Lounge of the Resort restaurant. A popular summer getaway, in Spring the resort is quiet, so we have it almost to ourselves. Founded by Patrick Swenson of Fairwood Press, the retreat is in its fifth year and, for the first time, running two sessions back to back.

Four days with limited phone and internet access dedicated to writing. There are guests like Mary Robinette Kowal and Kat Richardson who speak on such topics as setting, how to give a reading, story lessons from puppetry and even how to multitask. None of these are required sessions, so writers are free to write through them. There are social opportunities at meals, on hikes and at meet and greets and signings. But the majority of the time is set aside for writing. I’ve wanted to attend the retreat ever since I heard of it on the wall of my friend author Ken Scholes. Seeing the list of those who attended: Jay Lake, Brenda Cooper, James Van Pelt, John Pitts, Nancy Kress — all people I admire, I just had to be part of it. But the session sold out in 1 day. I was out of luck.

By the time Patrick added the second session, I’d lost my day job and the finances seemed impossible. So I had to resign myself to waiting again. But I kept in touch with Patrick, who, knowing my enthusiasm, offered me the sponsorship when the original recipient dropped out, a month before the retreat. Using frequent flyer miles and with a few donations from others, the retreat is now a reality and what a joy it is.

You might not get it if you’re not a writer. After all, sitting around all day in silence writing probably doesn’t appeal to you. But for writers, it’s a tremendous opportunity to work with few distractions and get a lot of work done in the presence of people who are experienced and successful and offer encouragement just through their acceptance of you as a peer. It makes me feel like part of the science fiction writing business in a way I haven’t felt before, and that’s a good feeling, a feeling of success.

Making contacts and networking is another benefit. I’ve met fellow editor Jennifer Brozek, publisher Patrick, SFWA Vice President Mary Robinette Kowal, and more. Many Twitter friends are here as well. It’s a privilege to be among them, and a joyful opportunity to cheer them on.

Despite getting sick this morning and missing the hike due to a sore ankle, I have enjoyed the day and been so encouraged. I started a new chapter of the second space opera novel and worked on two short stories, as well as doing more editing on freelance projects. I’ve also blogged twice today, a first for a long time. It’s just refreshing, given the discouragements of the past 10 months. And I’m grateful for the privilege of joining this community.

I look forward to the days to come.

For what it’s worth…

News 3/10/11

Thought I should take a moment and fill you in on the latest with me. It’s been a while since I’ve done that and, in case anyone wants to know, here it is.

I finally signed the contract for my first book deal Monday after three months of negotiations and delays. “The Worker Prince” will be released in August from Diminished Media out of Hudson, Michigan. YAY!

Meanwhile, I am on chapter 4 of the first sequel in the series. Things are going well, about a scene day, with a few breaks to do other stories and such. This week, I am a sponsored attendee at Rainforest Writer’s Village on Lake Quinault, Washington. I hope to get more than my usual writing done. Lots of cool people here, including Kat Richardson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Jennifer Brozek and several Twitter friends. Good to be with them.

I also sold my first story to an anthology this week. It’s “Cats & Dragons” from Dreamzion Publishing and comes out in April. Yep. It’s a fast edit by my friend Dana Bell. So I’ll soon have an anthology to see you with my story “Amélie’s Guardian” about a dragon’s friendship with a little girl. It’s told in fairy tale style and, I’m told, a moving story.

I just submitted a story with a newly developed comedic character to the “Wicked Weeds” anthology edited by Jaleta Clegg. It’s for Cyberwizard Productions, on the companies which was interested in my book. This story is about a demolitions expert named Duncan Derring with a ship name Trini, after the words for TNT. It’s told in a noir style and was a lot of fun to write. I’d like to do a whole series. In the story, Duncan has to save a passenger liner from doom amidst space tumbleweeds.

I have stories currently out to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Port Iris Zine, Daily Science Fiction and Tales Of The Talisman, which makes five submissions total.

I am hoping to finish two short stories here: one a revision, the other half complete, so that I can send them out as well. Hoping for my first semi-pro and pro sales very soon.

Beyond that, the “Space Battles” anthology is a go but held up negotiating a contract with the publisher. So once that’s completed, I’ll move things along with the invitations to writers. Also, I am trying to sell my “World Encounters” anthology which has commitments from some name writers.

Lastly, waiting to hear this month if I got accepted to UTEP’s MFA in Creative Writing.

That’s pretty much the latest on my writing. For what it’s worth…

Links of The Week Vol. 2 Issue 7

http://www.blackgate.com/2011/02/27/epic-fantasy-notes-toward-a-definition/ — Black Gate column discussing what is epic fantasy?

http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150111579106705&id;=689201067 — Why heroes are still important, related to the above. Another perspective: http://bit.ly/hHRRfk

http://talktoyouniverse.blogspot.com/2011/03/ttyu-retro-show-dont-tell-exposed.html — Great post on Show V. Tell–often a bane of writer’s existences– by the talented Juliette Wade.

http://faerye.net/post/find-n — Great post by Felicity Shoulders on dealing with rejection as a writer.

http://bit.ly/dTATvX — a slush reader’s warning about getting your science right. Important for writers. From writer Patty Jansen.

SFFWRTCHT for March 9, 2011 with Kevin J. Anderson (Heckler Warning)

Very excited to have best selling author Kevin J. Anderson on the SFFWRTCHT next Wed but Kevin’s got some haters. In particular, a group of hecklers who follow him around and try and make things very unpleasant for him and anyone who dares talk to him kindly. To avoid problems, I have blocked them, as has Kevin. Please do not attempt to converse with them under the #sffwrtcht hashtag no matter what they say at any time. If they show up in the transcript, I will edit them out. They are not worth the effort.

To see how nasty they are, here’s my post about their 4 day harrassment campaign against me just for asking Kevin about his craft:  http://bryanthomasschmidt.blogspot.com/2011/02/i-am-victim-of-twithate-and.html

Here are the names of those you should block:
@Serkanner @RealDune @DuneSandChigger @SKKahl @DunesDreamer @Loteqs@IdunnAsynja

Folks, blocking people is serious. As moderator, I would normally deal with inappropriate behavior but this group is relentless and they might ruin chat if we don’t ignore them or just block them. I don’t want Kevin or any of you to have a bad time because Kevin’s got a lot of good advice to share I want to hear and I’m sure you do, too.

Anyway, your call on how to handle it but consider yourselves warned and please mention this post to anyone you know who plans to attend chat.  Thanks!

I appreciate the support. You guys are why I started SFFWRTCHT and why it’s a success with guests and everyone else!

BRYAN

Flash Fiction Friday: Merlin Meets Godzilla

“Merlin Meets Godzilla”
By
Bryan Thomas Schmidt

The beast came from sea, near the northern edge of the kingdom, and took the villages by surprise. The reports of devastation shocked Camelot, and Arthur hurriedly dispatched Merlin and Lancelot to address the situation, leading half the army.

“Do what you must” was all the King instructed. Arthur was as much at a loss as everyone else.

Uthor’s sudden death had left Merlin’s old friend stunned. His father was such a powerful figured in the young King’s life, and, although they hadn’t always seen eye to eye, Merlin knew Arthur’s loss was overwhelming. Merlin could only imagine how challenging it would be to both grieve such a loss and take over as liege of a kingdom. Arthur did his duty well, showing amazing strength, yet 
Merlin did everything possible to ease his friend’s burden.

Their bodies felt him before their eyes saw him—a day before, in fact. The monstrous creature’s every step shook the ground like an earthquake. He looked like a giant, mutant dragon–with rough, bumpy charcoal-gray scales, a long powerful tail, and jagged, bone-colored dorsal fins and as the beast turned and they finally laid eyes upon his arcing green-scaled back and dagger-like teeth, it left them all speechless, their jaws dropping to their laps. He and Lancelot had ridden together on the three day journey to coast, discussing strategy and comparing ideas. Neither felt confident that they had a workable plan, but once they’d seen the actual beast, Merlin’s mind felt like a castle surrounded by fog—everything hazy, no clarity. He could make no decisions; take no action.

“My God!” Lancelot wheezed beside him. They watched the beast pick up a barn, screaming animals still inside, and pop it into his mouth like a slice of bread. His jaws crunched up and down, smashing the barn like a straw, stone, and wood cake with red fleshy filling.

“What in hell’s army is that?” Sir Gawain said from behind them.

“That, Sir Gawain, may be the end of us all,” Merlin replied as all three kept their eyes focused on the monster.

“You two have a plan then?” Gawain asked, without his usual bravado.

“If it gets too close, run,” Lancelot said, eyes unmoved from the monster.

Merlin chanted a quick spell for the horses, who had begun whinnying nervously and looked ready to bolt. They’d been shifting their weight from foot to foot, ever since they’d first felt the tremors, and the sight of the monster looked to be pushing them over the edge from nervous to outright fear.

As their horses calmed, the men remained on edge. The monster, meanwhile, took no notice of them, continuing to stomp around the village, crushing everything in its path.

“You must have a spell or something.” Lancelot looked at Merlin with hopeful eyes.

“It’s like fighting a dragon, isn’t it? You’ve done that.” Gawain nodded with encouragement to Merlin, who fought to restrain the laugh he felt rising in his throat.

Merlin knew they were right. Magic alone held the answers for this beast. A full on assault would only make him angry and result in the sacrifice of Arthur’s army. With enemies huddling on their borders eager to test the mettle of the newly crowned King, the army’s strength was vital. Arthur had only sent them along as a psychological measure—to reassure the masses. Like everyone else, Arthur was counting on Merlin to save the day.

He flipped through spells in his mind, closing his eyes as he did. He’d long ago memorized them, still, the book itself rode securely in the worn leather saddlebag which banged against his left life with every bump in the trail as he rode. His mind flooded with memories—fighting  trolls and demons, plagues and a famine. Many of those enemies had been formidable, intimidating. All had caused him to doubt his abilities; to question how and if he would ever manage to find a solution.

The wind swelled and the smell of smoke and burning wood struck his nose. Mixed in with it was a fishy smell he suspected came from the monster itself. As the monster turned and came between the sun and Merlin’s party, their day turned black as night, all light overwhelmed by the shadow of the beast.

A thought came to Merlin: “What are you afraid of?”
“Him!” Gawain answered before Merlin even realized he’d spoken it out loud.

Merlin shook his head. “No the beast. If we knew his fears, we could use it against him.”

“Something that big must not fear anything,” Lancelot replied.

Merlin began chanting the words to a spell. The sky lit up as the clouds turned to flames of fire all around them. The beast reacted to the flames with a raging roar loud enough to  rattle their ears and cause the horses to whinny with fright.

“Perhaps if you’d lit the monster instead of the clouds…”

Merlin brushed off Gawain with a wave and continued the spell. Flames swirled overhead then converged together surrounding the beast. The beast roared again, swinging its tail in a wide arc as fire poured from its open mouth.

“I was hoping to drive him away from the village and back to sea.” He’d  once fought a dragon with fire balls. It didn’t have any long term effect but made the dragon change position. His mind raced for another tactic. “I need to be closer for this to work.”

“Closer? Are you mad?” Gawain looked to Merlin as if he might flee any moment.

Merlin ignored Gawain and looked at Lancelot. The knight nodded, showing no fear. “We’ll ride around to the north and draw his attention.”

Merlin smiled. “Thank you, Lancelot.”

“This had better work,” Gawain scolded as Lancelot gave the orders behind him and the knights rode off together.

Merlin steered his horse straight up the hill toward the village. The main road led to the sea from where they’d stopped, so he knew it would lead him to his foe.

As he rode, he continued chanting. The spell was complicated, with many sections. He’d only used it twice before, and it might be their only hope. In theory, the spell could shrink things. He’d only used it on objects before, and Gaius had implied it wasn’t meant for use on living beings. But given their desperation and the lack of options, he had to try.

The heat of the burning village increased with the smell of the beast as he drew nearer. Sweat dripped from his brow. He’d never been religious but felt inspired to offer a brief prayer, for the safety of his companions at the very least.

His horse stopped like it had struck a brick wall, almost throwing Merlin to the ground. Merlin looked around. Could it be another earthquake? Then he realized the horse was trembling with fear. He cast another spell to calm her, but the mare wouldn’t go on, so he dismounted, caressed her neck and went on alone.

As he strode through the outlying buildings, all he heard was the roar and the raging flames as the ground shook. Then he entered the village square and the beast was before him. He saw Lancelot and the knights squared off with it at the north end of the square. They were shuffling around like pieces on a chess board, weaving in and out of the buildings and brush. Their horses had apparently been abandoned also as none were in sight.

With the beast distracted by his companions, Merlin felt the energy rise in his eyes and saw flickers of the familiar glow they took on when he cast a spell. As he finished encanting the last section, he looked straight at the beast, which roared again, shooting fire at Lancelot, who barely dodged in time. Then the beast stopped, the fire ceasing as a strange look came into its eyes. It stumbled back a few steps on its giant legs, then began to shrink. The knights reacted with surprise as their once formidable foe reduced little by little to the size of a small ground squirrel.

The beast looked around it, as if deciding what to do. A small burst of fire left its mouth.

Gawain laughed. “He’ll make the King a fine pet now, won’t he?”

“He’s far too dangerous for that,” Merlin warned. Rushing forward, he scooped him up into a small box and whisked him away before the knights could even react.

“What will you do with him?” Lancelot called after him.

“Send him back to sea.” And that’s what Merlin did, setting the beast in a small row boat and sending it out on the waves, leaving it to its fate.

“What if the spell wears off?” Gawain read Merlin’s mind.

“It will eventually but by then let’s hope he’s far from here.”

Lancelot laughed and slapped Merlin on the back in congratulations. Then they turned and went off together to retrieve their horses.
THE END