IOTD

Recently, I was just interviewed for a radio show and one of the things we talked about was my belief that you cannot be a contemporary reader who doesn’t read science fiction. Rationally, it’s an impossibility. Even if you’re scanning the virtual pages of your Kindle, engrossed in a pre-historical treatise, you’re reading science fiction. You’re living it.

I bring this up because there have been so many instances since I became a full-time wordsmith that I’ve been asked, “What do you write?” Sometimes people show genuine curiosity, but all too often the response I hear is, “Oh, I don’t read science fiction.” Yes. Yes you do, and that should inspire you, is what I think.

I have friends who have been diagnosed with MS. I was born and raised in a place with a high incidence of the disease and I’ve watched vibrant, active and helpless people as their own immune systems eat them from the inside out. As little as 10 years ago, the idea that there would be a therapy to reverse this disease and return them all to full and productive lives was little more than fantasy. Back then, for them, we had some synthetic chemical treatments — their working mechanics a complete unknown — and a comfortable, lonely spot in an assisted living facility.

But, oh, the breakthroughs! Today, we’re on the threshold of rebuilding damaged neural tissues. Think about that for a moment, let it sink in. Despite what the standardized media outlets would have you believe, there is hope. We can fix inequity, right injustice, live together, and discover happiness. We just need the imagination to peer into that future.

Shadow Over Your Shoulder

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’ve just posted the short story for September on Patreon. I’m very proud of this creation and Shadow Over Your Shoulder arguably one of the better pieces I’ve written. I’d describe it as literary speculative fiction, a fantasy of sorts where the magic can be found in the mundane. It’s also a bit of a love story — not the spicy, passionate kind, but the stuff of commitment and compassion.

If you haven’t subscribed yet, don’t fret, there is plenty of time. If you’re not interested in subscribing, but would still like to read Shadow Over Your Shoulder I’m going to try something new. FeetForBrains is henceforth a small press all on its own, and that means you can buy my short stories directly.

Here’s how it should work. You can purchase access to Shadow directly, no monthly commitment, by clicking on the PayPal button below. You’ll run through their purchase rigamarole and eventually get a link to a Scribd version of the story. Keep in mind that my overhead is increased with this method of distribution, consequently so is the cost of the story (yep, $2 whole bucks). Go, go gadget micro-transactions!

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However you choose to support my art, thank you! And that’s what this is all about, we’re building a creative empire in increments. Of course, I’d love to hear your comments and impressions.

Cultured Meats

I’ve written about cultured meat, and I think that this has real potential to revolutionize the way humans do things. But — and this is a big ‘but’ — cultured meats have to be done right.

Obviously, this infomercial (is that what it is?) doesn’t address those concerns. They’re selling the idea and are looking only at the very high-level positives. Still pretty fun to watch.

So let’s talk about these problem areas and challenging constructs, just for a moment, in our march toward this future.

Adoption Yes, Now What?

At any given moment there are anywhere from 1.3 to 1.5 billion cows on planet Earth. At an average weight of 600 kg, we’d have a disposal problem that would, at least at that moment, seem like the forgotten biblical apocalypse.

That’s a lot of biomass, biomass that’s tied up in very complex systems which will be uneager to see the change. Just imagine what the beef industry commercials are going to look like when this day comes. Take what you see now and mix it up with a tobacco ad post-1998 Tobacco Master Settlement. Yeesh!

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And that’s just beef. Cultured meats can replicate just about any meat. Imagine no-threat-of-death Fugu (河豚) fish platters from your favorite supermarket sushi stand. Whole meat industries, as well as all their trappings, can and will need to be swept into history’s wastebasket. The institutional inertia behind these traditions will be difficult to overcome.

Intellectual Property

The only way I see whole populations successfully transitioning into a cultured meat future is if the creation of cultured meats becomes a practice of common knowledge. A billion bread-machine like culture devices in every kitchen doesn’t have the snappy ring to it that a “thousand points of light” did, but functionally it’s a much better idea.

However, visualize a future in which this knowledge remains proprietary. On in which, just like drug manufacturers, the owner of the process can willy-nilly raise the price of something most people depend on. Everyone eats, so if a very few people have control of the food, they’re wielding considerably more power than drug company executives who on a whim decide to inflate the retail cost of a drug they own.

Let’s be clear; I’m not advocating that this become a moment in time to justify some Marxist giveaway (although you have to admit not ever seeing a picture of another hungry child has a significant upside), but there are some pretty obvious choke points in even the most distributed meat culture business model that look an awful lot like mushroom clouds. Honestly, the papers are out there. The process is repeatable. I’m looking forward to reading how to grow my own meat on Instructables sometime soon.

Living Tissue, Intelligent Design

Meat is good, quite a few of us apes enjoy eating it. To make it in this world cultured meats are going to need to be meat. Living tissue with some stringy bits and gristle. Without this we’ll be growing zombie burgers and no one is going to eat that. So, cultured meats need to living, and they need to be better than ground beef or chopped liver, which requires that we develop methods to control growth at the cellular level.

Cultured living tissue technology creates some new doors for people. Imagine being able to extract a couple of clonable cells from your body so that you can culture a new heart, pair of lungs, or set of teeth. Take that a step further, if we can direct the development of tissues at the cellar level we can also design augmented tissues and organs.

I shudder to think of what will happen to the world professional wrestling. Pretty much anything you might imagine from space marines with super human strength to ocean crossing kitesurfers with a seabird’s sense of direction become possible when we cross this technological threshold. Can you see how disruptive this technology could be?

Designed Organisms

Writing, even a little bit about this, makes me want to put this away and dive back into Winter City Above the Clouds. Humanity already alters life to meet its needs and desires. Examples of this abound from contemporary cattle to black velvet tulips. The tools we’re working with, however, are slow and clumsy.

I believe there is a roadmap here that’s worth pursuit. Biophotovoltaics, dynamic living cities – grown and tended not built and maintained, sustainable living generation ships that will take us to the stars, these things are possible.

 

The Indie Trap: Or How I Learned to Play Non-Zero-Sums

My wife recently made the observation that I’m blogging a great deal about my struggles as a writer, and more specifically about the challenges I’ve encountered as I try to generate income from the work I do. And, after some consideration, I have to agree with her. She’s a super smart lady, and I’m lucky to have met her because she’s always got my best interests at heart.

If I were smarter, I’d just reply with a simple “Yep!” and then go do whatever she just told me to do. Writing about writing, especially the struggles a “new” author might experience, is an easy way to limit my readership.

Back when I was in much better health, I began this blog to journal my running experiences. Even then, I used it as a place where I could unload my frustrations and as a place to record and track my injuries and accomplishments. So it should cause little wonder now that I’m essentially doing the same thing, but that’s a trap.

When I wrote exclusively on the topic of running my readership was runners. They’d read about my lows and feel sympathy if not empathy for me in those moments, just like they might read about me running a section of the PCT and vicariously share in my sense of accomplishment and wonder at what my body was capable of doing. Together we created a positive feedback loop that reinforced my desire to run.

When I write about challenges and the difficulties I’ve encountered along my path toward success in publishing I may be getting those off my chest, but the outcome of this is not more words.

I routinely read the journals of some other authors — some at the top of the publishing world others who merely scrape by — and many of these people write about writing. But a moment’s self-examination should be telling me something significant. Authors who bemoan the state of the publishing world are attracting me to their journals because I understand their frustrations.

I am willingly participating in a feedback loop that based on negativity, and that’s not cool. It holds me back, as much as it disinterests you.

Given the current state of publishing, I think this is a critical realization. If I were to write this as a narrative, Hugh Howey would have just tossed me a life preserver — thanks, Hugh — because, within the domain of publishing generally, and speculative fiction specifically, there are a lot of us pretending that this is some sadistic zero-sum game.

The Trap

We’re about a week away from the giving of the biggest, best award in all of Science Fiction. And we’re yet another year into seeing that award coopted and consequently diminished by a small band of social terrorists. I’m not going to WorldCon this year — even though I have the time, money and ticket to attend — because I’m so sick and tired of the Sad/Rabid Puppy antics.

My prediction is that there will be an unmistakable current of stench flowing beneath the cheering and laughter and celebration. “Please God, let there be winners,” is what David Gerrold said before he and Tananarive Due opened any envelopes last year. Some people will walk away with rockets; others will feel insulted, disenfranchised and possibly betrayed.

For a genre of fiction mainly built upon stories detailing the many roads to utopia, I fear we have an existential crisis of sorts. It’s apparently pointless to note that this is the nature of awards. Someone will win, some more will “lose.” Perhaps it’s safe to say, “awards are a zero-sum game.”

The truth is that there are a lot of authors out there, people just starting out and even some who have been trying hard for a good long while, who feel disenfranchised. Most of them have more rejection letters than they’d like to acknowledge. Traditional publishing may not be for these and even if they find a way to make that work, their ideas may not sell well enough to be considered mainstream. And yet a smaller fraction of these feel that the indifference they endure is cause sufficient to act out. Or perhaps the periodic punches sent from above, compel them to their annual dump on the genre’s highest award. I don’t know, but Je suis accablé par la tristesse.

There is Hope!

Shit yeah there is! First, little ducks fluff up your feathers because it rains sometimes. But the wet days will pass. Next, realize that the trap is negativity. Become mindful enough to notice when you’re feeling overwhelmed or wronged or triggered. Then get to work.

Relative to where I began, in the past year, I’ve made some huge leaps.

  • Three more short stories in anthologies headlined by best-selling authors. A small press to be sure, but each time I’ve seen my author rank on Amazon above 100 in the work’s relevant category.
  • I’ve nearly finished my first novel-length manuscript and have the first episode on my own publishing table. Patreon has given me a tremendous amount of creative freedom and honestly I’m just sort of wallowing in it.
  • I’ve found a great writing group on our little island. They eagerly gobble up anything I send their way. The more I participate, the more we all improve.
  • I’m finally starting to get my author platform organized enough to see it working. Between Patreon, WordPress and MailChimp I’m finding new readers.
  • On GoodReads, out of 224 ratings and 54 reviews, my works average 4.10. Until Tess pointed this out to me, I didn’t even know that my collected works had been seen by that many people.

I didn’t realize it until I chose to acknowledge it, but I’ve got a ton to be thankful for and all this is just in the domain of writing. Since I took the time recognize all the excellent things happening around me, I’ve been overwhelmed with gratitude.

A Brief Review of Patreon

So far, so good. I launched my Patreon campaign six days ago and thanks to some heavy lifting from friends and family we’ve already beaten my first funding goal, and we’re quickly approaching the second.

When I started this I did not expect that people would be knocking down my door to get access, but I guess I also worried that people would just write me off — another artist casualty, a little guy swimming in an ocean too deep.

Apparently asking can make a world of difference. Since I began writing — “professionally” — back in 2013 I’ve been reluctant to ask. Ask for new readers. Ask for help promoting my works. Ask for advice about the direction I should be taking my business. Ask for lessons learned from others. And I didn’t ask because I feared being rejected.

I went into this experiment embracing my vulnerability. I asked, and a lot of people responded.

Recent Reviews

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One of the big lessons I’m just beginning to come to grips with is that while vulnerability can lead to rejection, disappointment, and loss, it’s just as likely the easiest path to grace, growth, and clarity. I’m learning to trust in strangers, in the idea that most of us prefer to go through our lives closer to this state of being than that sad, sorry existence. At our hearts, we’re altruists, one and all.

There have been some very kind words and reviews coming my way. Even a minor uptick in sales of stories I’d previously published, and while we’re still a long way away from a living wage I’m doing a whole lot better than I would have if I’d never asked.

Next Steps

I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating. Right now, what I want, what I’m asking for more than anything else, is readers. And consequently, what I’m asking for is new readers. If you sign up to my Patreon between now and August 12th, for any amount, you’ll receive Big Red Buckle in the ebook format of your choosing. PatronButton

Tell your friends, tell your family, tell your co-workers, but first find out for yourself.