IOTD

Arrival by TK769

Arrival by TK769

A note from a friend last night has me thinking a lot about humanity and Very Big Space Projects. My friend went to see The Martian at Seattle Science Center’s Imax theater (without me). After watching the cinema he bought the book and read it cover to cover. He wrote the following:

Got me thinking how it wasn’t Scifi, it was fantasy– in the sense that how in hell will NASA ever get consistent enough funding to put together a program like that? When administrations change every 4-8 years and reshuffle the priorities every time, there’s no way to put together this sort of 20-30 year project.

And he’s right, NASA is gifted such a paltry part of the national budget these days that even a 54 million kilometer, one-way trip to our nearest neighbor seems functionally way beyond our reach. But our conversation has been focused on the hairbrained idea of an international treaty of contributing members. Something like that would have several key advantages.

  • It would likely be focused on a single mission or objective. Send mankind to Mars or seed exoplanets in the galaxy, far-reaching goals are just fine as long as focus can be maintained over generations.
  • Participant involvement would likely result in participation advancement. One of NASA’s former functional justifications came from the notion that the science of sending people and robots beyond our atmosphere often resulted in usable technologies back here on Earth. The case can be made that our rocket and sibling technology development in the 1950’s and 60’s gave the US an technical advantage that lingers today. Participation in a VBSP would likely have very big technology payoffs that international participants would benefit from greatly.
  • Insulation for political upheaval, even variability. Treaties, once ratified by the powers that be are an excellent way to weather political turmoil. For VBSPs to even be possible this sort of stability is a necessity. You can’t have a fundamentalist political party cherry picking or even picking apart the science that science that must occur to make an object possible.

I’m sure there are complications and unforeseen problems I’m not considering regarding international treaties and VBSPs, but as I contemplate these I think that the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks.

Right now, I’m planning on making the first act of Distance about this. Who contributes to the VBSP I have in mind and why? Who does not? Where are the physical challenges to a VBSP when there is broad international support for a project of this sort? That sort of thing. I think the very nature of the VBSP changes the stakes of the game.

Some of my speculation leads me to believe that, in the same way that the US finds excuses to *NOT* become signatory to climate treaties, our nation would object to meaningful contributions to a VBSP treaty. We may have lost the foresight necessary to consider the benefits of big projects like this and consequently we routinely try to undermine their occurrence. The interesting thing is that other nations routinely ignore our international temper tantrums on the topic and simply proceed.

But if this is the case, what are the limitations our nation imposes on its citizens, specifically the ones most able to contribute meaningfully to science necessary to make a VBSP possible? Is the science persecuted? If you’re an American scientist, working on some part of a hypothetical VBSP would you fear only the insidious specter of underfunding or might you fear jackbooted stormtroopers knocking down your door?

Comments are, as always open, please be respectful and keep in mind that I’m plotting this story to host a debate on this topic.

IOTD

“Children of War: Zoah” by Junowski

I knew it was coming. Sometime early this morning the rain started to fall. My left foot hurt, radiating pain up my leg into my hip, which is why I never needed to look out the window to see the clouds moving. It’s also why, when I sat down this morning to start writing, the first thing I looked for was futuristic representations of prosthetic limbs.

Forgive me, I don’t blame anyone for this pain and I’m happy I got to keep my foot. When it starts acting up, after I choke down too much Ibuprophen, when I have to explain with the same tired old answer why I’m limping around like a gimp I wonder what the future might bring.

Reaching

Back in the coffee shop. Getting ready for a productive morning of writing. I’ve got edits and more edits and an outline I need to finish, but I spent a little time getting caught up. Scalzi has this lovely piece about friends that I’d put up on my mental-nightstand; he posits that, despite the currents of mid-life, he’s made more and better friends than he would have otherwise. I appreciate his observations about conventions in this article, and to tell the truth, his words make me want to get back to Detroit and elsewhere. I think, “Hanging out in hotel bars, staying up late with deep (and not so deep) conversations about work and life” might actually be my favorite thing about this business. It’s not something I do too often and when it happens it’s usually memorable and a breath of fresh, adult air.

So I find myself drawn to a theme. Myke Cole makes the cogent observation; he writes “to not be alone.” This blog post feels a lot like a mirror, reflecting an image of my feelings back. Hell yes, most of the time I feel alone and so, despite being surrounded by people in a little coffee shop on a tiny island, I write lonely. But always, I’m writing because I wonder what you’ll think of what I’ve written.

It’s a strange business this. With the recent release of Immortality Chronicles I’ve been watching, with a touch of jealousy, as authors and readers post “in the wild” pictures of the anthology. The sense of accomplishment I feel when I send off a manuscript for publication feels somewhat incomplete because, in the back of my brain, I’m haunted by the simple question “Will they like it?”

The “wild” shots of a book, made possible only through the invention of social media, seem to be closure to that loop. Crazy, can you imagine life for authors before everyone had a camera in their pocket and an internet connection? In any event I know I’m looking forward to seeing more covers with my name on them showing up on Pinterest.

This reminds me of some really useful insight. Jane McGonigal has a new book out. SuperBetter is the pulp version of her excellent health game and its one of those things I can’t recommend enough. One of Jane’s key messages and possibly the one that I find the most helpful is a reminder that “You’re surrounded by potential allies.”

Writers this is important for you because you likely feel like a voice in the wilderness too. Here’s the catch, you can’t be the one to refuse the help.

Scalzi is right, this business is just jam-packed full of friend potential. If it is more difficult in mid-life — and I agree it is — to make and keep friends then at least in one respect science fiction writers and lovers have a huge advantage over the rest of the world. We’re most likely near our potential dearest.

It’s been three weekends that I’ve missed my writing group now. Guys, I’m kicking myself as much as you might be poking needles into voodoo dolls of me. I know that you deserve my full measure of attention, and I appreciate your patience. Things have just been crazy here. I will be there next Sunday. And Melissa, thanks for the kind words. They picked me up right when I needed them.

Same goes for the rest of you. Feeling a little isolated sitting in front of your keyboard? Start by reaching out to the people who will lift you up.

Don’t Forget to Dream

D.S.I Helium 3 Transport Vehicle by Adam Burn

I’m sitting in the coffee shop; A-bear is playing his heart over at preschool, and I’m just not getting into it this morning. Derp move number one, I’ve been tugging at my chin hairs while I read from the ever expanding athenaeum of “Advice Offered to Writers on Writing and Stuff.” The truth of the matter is that I’m not sure what I’m going to write next, and my Twitter feed has once again delivered up this highly distracting narrative in which I willingly participate. Hunched over and fuming, once more, it occurs to me that this is not a good way to live your life.

More importantly, it doesn’t seem like a very productive way to spend your precious writing time.

It’s probably not helping that the new baristas have changed up the music, and I’ve since had to plug my headphones in and crank up the subtle white noise of Coffitivity. Yeah, that’s right, I’m listening to “Morning Murmur” — a recording of a coffee shop while sitting in an actual cafe drinking coffee — how’s that for bathos?

“So what, precisely, is the problem Matt?” you ask.

Well, I started with this blog post from the esteemed and successful Chuck Wendig: Peaks and Valleys: The Financial Realities of a Writer’s Life. Realize, in no way is this me jumping onto his current cluster event. Rather, it’s me taking a critical look at why I seem to come away from his advice posts feeling defeated and ready to quit.

This post and the advice it references are just one member of a distinguished lineage of columns I’d like to label “The Stark Reality Collection.” I’m starting to wonder if it’s even possible for authors, especially those in the SFF community, first to begin making a living from their work and later not tell the world how hard it’s going to be. Often I come away from reading this stuff convinced I’ve done everything wrong. I live in the wrong place, I know all the wrong people, I didn’t go to the right school, or workshop, I write the wrong things, and I put my pants on the wrong way — that’s how wrong I feel.

Defeated before I begin, my options seem limited. Maybe I should just take Wendig’s intimation and “move on to more stable ground.”

Here’s the thing. Fiction moves me. Let me say that again. FICTION MOVES ME. I love a good story. Terry Pratchett’s farewell piece The Sheperd’s Crown recently reduced me to a blubbering mess more than once. And I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from my recent readings of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Wild Shore Triptych.

I know that I’ve discovered my earthworm. I know that my stories are good enough, and my writing is compelling and entertaining. And yes, I love doing this, even when it’s fucking difficult.

Standing up to assert these strong feelings of self-determination and conviction I rip the headphone out of my computer and nearly dump hot coffee all over my lap. “But really,” I say to myself taking a calming breath. “I don’t need anyone to tell me how hard it’s going to be.”

Want to help successful-author-making-a-living-from-your-words? Stop telling everyone about the big pile of shit we can look forward to wading. That’s the thing about piles of crap; they’re apparent. Everyone knows that they’re there, usually because, much like yourselves, we’re busy trying to clean it off our shoes.

Better, tell us what moves you. Why did you stick with writing even when you weren’t sure when your next meal was coming? What do you do in the morning to warm up for writing? What inspired some piece of fiction we can’t put down. How do you deal with criticism fro your readers or even your editor? Writer’s, especially the good ones, I’ve realized have developed strategies to exceed the piles of crap life leaves on our paths.

I write a lot, I don’t sell a lot (yet). I know that I’ve yet to develop a “real” audience. The numbers necessary to lift me out of this valley just aren’t there yet. This is the sole reason I keep looking into the Library of Stark Reality. I’m looking for feasible ways to grow my audience as I get ready for near term release dates. Want to help? Tell me about the concrete things you did to expand your audience.

And while I acknowledge that it won’t always be easy, this morning I’m resolved that as I build my author platform and find more readers, I will endeavor to imagine with audacity. The boundaries that limit me aren’t worth talking about except when exceeded.

 

Off to the Editor

Oh, that’s a good feeling. No, strike that, it’s a great feeling! I just submitted a 7,500-word short story for an upcoming Future Chronicles anthology. Doomsday Chronicles isn’t due out until February 2016, but my story is very done. I’m very satisfied with the work as well.

This piece should cement my SFWA membership, if not this year, then early next year. Added to this In Goat I’ve managed to turn out an entertaining, compelling, topical tale I’m certain will make readers think. So, yeah, I’m congratulating myself just a little bit. I think this may be an overlooked part of writing for a living that more authors need to take in hand. Celebrate your accomplishments people.

“What’s next?” you ask. I’m contributing to another anthology — this time steampunk’s Drifting Isles — and I’ve already begun this one. It’s due in November so I’ve got time and since this tale is outlined and just needs words I’m going to have more time to work on other things concurrently. So I’m left wondering where I should focus.

The top contenders are two novel-length projects and a novella length speculative fiction piece. Counterfeit Horizon is something like 70,000 words (currently) of very rough work. Part of my reluctance in finishing this story — that I began back in 2013 — is the sheer volume of editing that it’s going to take. Counterfeit was my first attempt at a novel length anything, and consequently it’s just riddled with mistakes and plot holes. One strategy I’ve been contemplating is to junk the old manuscript and just re-write the story using the characters, settings and plot I’ve already developed. I wrote the bulk of Counterfeit Horizon during NaNoWriMo, so I know I could knock this out comfortably in a short space of time.

Second is the novella project. Fire Weather is almost there now; a short sprint could have this piece ready for publication by late winter. With the incredible fire season, we’ve seen this summer the story is topical. Right now my big problem is that the tension in the tale tends to fall off. There are interpersonal battles, health issues, and of course, the fireline fight, but when I read my work I’m left wanting more. This story needs some Spike, and my feeling is that I don’t know how much to add. I suppose I can add spice in small amounts, reworking by chapter and scene, until I think it’s got the right flavor. Now that I write this out, this begins to appeal to me.

The final candidate is Winter City Above the Clouds. The first two chapters have been written, and I’ve spent some time this summer working on the outline for this science fiction epic. This project is daunting. And what I mean by that is that right now, I’m looking at what I want to do with it, and I’m not entirely sure I have the skills necessary to reach that lofty goal. I’ll be making everything up, and this tale requires a rich, expansive cultural backdrop just to make the stage believable.

Of these projects, Winter City is where I’d like to be spending my time, it’s where I go to get lost in my own imagination right now. I based my first Future Chronicles contribution Ser Pan Comido in the universe I’ve been developing for Winter City. So it has that element of guilty pleasure about it. I just don’t want that to interfere with the final quality of the piece. Better, I don’t want to find myself back in the same situation I’m in with Counterfeit Horizon.

Conclusion, it’s sometimes very easy to be your own boss and other times it approaches impossible to be at the helm. Option paralysis is real.

IOTD

Warning: not everyone is going to want to watch this video.

On August 26th the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) rescue ship, the Bourbon Argos, rescued about 800 refugees from Tunisia and Syria. I chose this video, in part, because of the subject matter of the most recent story I’ve just completed. And also, because this rescue operation does not end in tragedy.

Ladies and gentlemen, the distance that separates most of us from this sort of fate is so precariously thin. I’ve spent years designing and building fault tollerant computer systems for Microsoft; take it from me when I tell you that the lifestyle you enjoy is likely one or two steps removed from a catastrophic systems failure. That’s a scary thought and most of us would rather just not entertain notions of this sort. Which is why, I believe, it’s so difficult for us to pay attention to the plight of others who must contemplate such measures.

The joy these people show at being plucked from the Meditarrianian should inspire you. Don’t get me wrong, I hope it goads you on. I hope the faces of these people compel you to examine your compassion and your own humanity. I hope you go find a way to help (even if all you do is politely ignore guys like Scott Walker and Donald der Trump). But they are happy to simply be alive, and that’s a boundless sort of elation.

The short story I’ve just completed, (working title is “Goat”) has me thinking about this sort of thing. The storm and brief power outage we just weathered this weekend and me thinking about what life is going to be like for my kids. I think that there is every reason to find out how deep our bucket of generosity is; to discover how much we can help.

IOTD

Micah True “Caballo Blanco” Running Free

“I remember this photo of Ali, running along the beach, on the sand in combat boots, so his boxing shoes would feel lighter when he was in the ring. He said something about the fight being won in the gym, out on the road, long before he danced under the lights. Ali was my Hero. He’d rather go to prison, than go to war. I always respected him for that. He was a great fighter, and a great runner.”When I was 21/22 years old, I had been smoking lots of dope, drinking lots of booze, partying hard.
I always wanted to run free. And I wanted to do something. And, I couldn’t. It was hard. My throat was bleeding. I was panting and feeling like crap, and determined I did not ever want to feel that way again. I thought I was too young to feel that way. It was one of those turning points where you either live, or you start dying. I have had a few of those every seven or eight years. I go through the same thing. So, are you going to let it go, or are you going to live?”

-Micah True

Today’s inspiration is there to help you sure, but it’s more to kick myself in the shorts. Caballo was already an old horse when I ran into him, but as far as I could see he hadn’t been dying until he went.

Last November I hurt my back lifting a goddamned box of ski boots. I’ve been to the doctor, I’ve made trips to the PT, and I’ve even tried to get back out on the trail a handful of times since then. So, between the pains of growing a little older and that injury I’ve let my narrative diminish. I’ve watered it down with excuses.

I’ve always wanted to do something and now I’m not doing. Not doing anything. I feel like I’ve slipped and when I allow myself to think about it, even a little, I feel horribly depressed which makes all the aforementioned sensations feel that much worse.

Here’s the thing. I know what I need to do, I just need to find the cojones to do it. It’s going to be hard, but I’ve been through harder and even better I’ve got examples and heroes like Caballo to show me the way.

So, here I am. At this turning point.

Thanks Micah, much gratitude for showing me the way.

IOTD

“Polar Bear in Tundra Bloom” – Dennis Fast

Today’s inspiration is very grounded. But despite being completely real, and an everyday occurrence at that, it’s all the more amazing because of its commonality. I’ll let you click through to the full story, but the summary is that a guy named Dennis Fast took some amazing images of polar bears frolicking in a bloom of arctic Chamerion angustifolium.

I love these creatures and I love that they live, eat and breath right through the harshest of winter conditions and well into the most spectacular of summer months. May they live and roam.