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.

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Dispatches From The Future (B-List)

Since I started the Dispatches I’ve been getting a minor bump in readership. That’s a good thing. Nothing like what I expect should I bleed on the blog about my seizures, but a bump nonetheless. That’s something because its not about me breaking down. Those reads are about me making something.

Also, it should be noted that I’m opening this up. I’ve written a couple so far and I’d like to see what you guys might have up your sleaves. Rules? Simple. There are some great examples of what I’m looking for at the PopSci link. These are vignettes of life at some point in the future. They should be around 500 words. More is okay, but less is much better. If you need assistance with editorial work, I’m happy to help.


Scare Tactics

“Should you decide to step out of line,” said Detective Pérez, “know that you’ve already been caught. It might seem a little like magic, but it’s math.”

The response from the classroom was predictable. A communal noise somewhere between a scoff and a irreverent chuckle. One of the kids, a skinny caucasian boy wearing an Ubu LED light up shirt and Freez boots, crossed his arms over his chest and said, “You can’t catch nothin’ Cheezer. Nothin’ but dust.”

Pérez tapped her right temple and bracketed the kid’s head with the target reticle floating in her vision. An eye blink later his dossier became an augmented vision floating transparently before her.

“Reuben Seth Wilson, you’ve already been arraigned twice in Juvy court system. And it looks like you’ve got a hearing scheduled next month for a traffic ticket. Thirty-five over the limit? Hum, you should prepare for a Reckless Endangerment charge too,” Pérez said.

The snicker-sneer was now focused on Wilson who shrunk a little in his seat. “Everyone gets caught, because everyone is in the system,” Pérez continued. “Wilson you signed a EULA when you purchased that Ubu shirt and those sneakers you’re wearing. That EULA tied you into the internet of things and gave law enforcement access to any meta-information you produce while wearing your stylish garments. We know everything about you. We’re better than Santa Clause that way, because once you’re beyond the Juvenile system we don’t have to wait for you to fuck up.”

A stillness descended on the classroom for perhaps the first time in the history of the building. “That’s right, you’re all nearing your eighteenth birthday. That’s why you’re here. The idea is that I’m supposed to scare you into minding your P’s and Q’s. But that never works. I’m a little woman, and a cop to boot. I can’t scare you with my piece or my authority, so I’m going to do it with math. Predictive data science to be exact. I know when you’re going to commit a crime before you do. So enjoy the little bit of time you have left before your next birthday, because after that day, I’ll have officers waiting to bag and tag you. You’ll be arraigned and processed and on your way to lockup from sentencing within seven business days of capture, and you’d better prey that you don’t already have a record of sociopathic behavior, because you’re future will be bleak if you do.”

What I Was Going to Write

What I was going to write, when I sat down at my desk this morning, was the conclusion to the second story in the Birki’s coming of age tale and maybe some sort of summary of the last year on the blog. I’d been thinking about these two things, sort of a pre-writing construction exercise, since I woke up to the chill, snow blanketed morning and blue sky to share a steaming cuppa with my lovely wife. I had it all worked out, what I was going to write, when I sat down and put my fingers to the keys.

The problem started when I put my headphones on my ears and called up Rdio to stream some music while I practiced my craft. There were a couple of notifications waiting for me in the upper right hand corner of the browser and I hate leaving those unanswered. They nag at me. If you want me to take care of something, just cut out a bright, red circle of paper, add an arbitrary white number in the center, and affix it near the thing you want done. Post-it could make a fortune with that idea and the mental health industry would discover a pile of new patients.

So I clicked the notifications to discover an artist I enjoy had a new single out. Bon Iver has re-recorded “Beth/Rest”. I clicked play. And I’ve been sitting here externally stunned and internally roiling ever since.

This song does not need words, at least not for me. It is the sound. Like the howl of a lonely wolf, it speaks to me without requirement of meaning. It is a sound that pushes my soul around, leading it in a dance around the tribal fire.

Now all my planning has fled. If I wrote on paper, I’d toss the stack into the air.

Hearts and Minds

A recent article and a collection of subsequent posts by PZ Myers, author of “The Happy Atheist“, have made it to the forefront of my mind for consideration of late.  I’ve been forming a new opinion about my life as an atheist, which as per PZ’s Washington Post article “An atheist’s guide to the good life“, is thankfully devoid of much intrusion these days.  I stopped tolerating dogmatically inspired patronizing sympathy for my lack of faith a long time ago and I’m pretty sure that while I have my faults I’m not so much of an amoral monster as some would choose to characterize atheists in the light of their mutually exclusive modes of living.

PZ posted something on Facebook today which got me to thinking, a blog post entitled “It’s good to be annoying the Christians again“.  It is sort of a summary of what happened (mostly on his Twitter feed) after his piece in WP was published.  The whole chain of events can be summarized like this:

  1. PZ publishes an article on the Post
  2. Fundamentalist trolls, respond en mass to opinions they have obviously either ignored or not understood
  3. PZ posts a broad response to fundamentalist trolls, but also, in part to his atheist audience who like it or not are sometimes subject to this kind of persecution both online and in their daily lives
  4. Matt thinks long and hard about all this

And in that summary lies the key to my mental discontent.  Persecution is hostility and ill-treatment, esp. because of race or political or religious beliefs.  And our contemporary society has a lot of this, perhaps as much as humanity has ever had; despite our rules for tolerating one another we’re still keen on fighting some sort of messy, trumped up battle over our opinions.

PZ is correct, in fact, could no be more correct, that some of the reasons he’s so happy as an atheist is that he’s is no longer subject to an arbitrary system rules of behavior thunk up strangers, both culturally and intellectually, thousands of years in our species past.  But, and this here is a bigger one, this is the way he enjoys living his life, more often than not cast out into the public forum as an example that might work for you too.

As an atheist I can understand the compulsion to reach out to my ill-informed brothers and sisters in humanity and point out to them how ridiculous their lifestyle appear to me.  I could (and hell, I have in the past) expressed my patronizing sympathy to others who chose a different path than the one I know is right for me, but frankly I’m no longer interested in playing the “Hearts and Minds” game that so many religious folks feel compelled to engage in.  From my narrow and simplistic POV I want nothing more than to just live my life.

And here in lies the trap contained in the liberty an atheist might expect.  An armistice is only possible when all parties come to the table and agree to disagree.  A struggle for the hearts and minds of a population will invariably violate that agreement, and always in a somewhat underhanded, and manipulative manner.  This means that not only is any future armistice less likely, but the foundation of trust that must be present in the first place will be irrevocably eroded.

I know that there are some “hearts and minds” atheists out there, and for their somewhat thankless work I’m somewhat thankful.  I know that there are faithful out there more interested in tolerance and maintaining a armistice that can only be stood up through careful consideration of all desires and requirements.  For these, I am perhaps, even more thankful.  This situation is optimal for me, I don’t want to fight with anyone about what I can and cannot do because of their belief system and I’m willing to concede you your freedom as long as you are willing to grant me mine.

Finally, I think that there is a seed of a novel in here somewhere, OSC you’re welcome to pick my pocket here so I can bump up my rating of “Ender’s Game” in response to your personal growth as both an author and a person.

Adaptation

I’ve got projects coming out of my ears.  In addition to the collected shorts I’m creating called “Sports in Space” and getting ready for NaNoWriMo, I’m currently working on a short story science fiction adaptation of the 1968 film classic Oliver!.  So, yes, I know what you’re thinking an adaptation of an adaptation.  Don’t worry there isn’t any singing.  But the meat of the adapted Charles Dickens story “Oliver Twist” is very exposed in the film version and that’s what I’m after.

As I write away, however, I often think of other classic tales that could be adapted (loosely) for the science fiction genera. The problem, if there is one, is that I read story blurbs like:

Musical adaptation about an orphan who runs away from an orphanage and hooks up with a group of boys trained to be pickpockets by an elderly mentor.

And then I think What would happen if …?

Given that I have a pile of Audible credits just waiting to be spent I’ve recently made it a habit of nightly sitting down and reading the “Publisher’s Summary” (as well as listening to the sample narration) provided for these books you read with your ears.  I keep falling asleep with a sort of twisted thought process running through my mind.  What might happen if I took something like this:

A Tale of Two Cities is one of Charles Dickens’s most exciting novels. Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, it tells the story of a family threatened by the terrible events of the past.

And re-wrote it. Turn it upside down and inside out maybe, but you see where I’m going?

A Tale of Two Planets is one of M. Thyer’s most exciting tales. Set against the backdrop of a revolution fought between a colony planet and its home world, it tells the story of a family threatened by terrible events spread across a solar system.

The idea of emulating, at least in part, classic stories isn’t a new one. I think its probably been done a lot more often than anyone likes to admit, and I’m certainly intrigued by the notion. I wonder if other people out there read about and/or read stories and think the same sort of things?  What are some stories you’d like to re-do or adapt?

Input Only or Closed Loop?

Where is the green?

I can recall when the first mission in Oracle, Arizona got started back in 1991.  The idea was for a crew to enter a segregated structure for an extended period of time and create a functional closed-ecological system that was self supporting.  If I recall correctly the first, two-year mission at Biosphere 2 never achieved much better than 83% efficiency, but even that it laudable since there were an endless list of assumptions prior to the start of the experiment.

Since then, it seems like there has been increasingly less support and interest in the development of functional space or Earth based closed loop systems.  NASA seems content to pour research dollars into methods of providing explorer sustenance which essentially rehash ancient methods of food preservation with the addition of plastic bags and vacuum sealing techniques.

The first HI-SEAS mission is currently looking at ways to make dried, canned, and freeze dried foods palatable over a long period (120-days), but lacks any means to integrate fast crops, compost, or intensive gardening techniques into the mission diet.  The Mars Society’s MDRS as well as this year’s FMARS missions will lack any substantive effort in this area as well.

Forgive me for being skeptical, but I cannot imagine a long term space mission that doesn’t involve at the very least a couple of hydroponically grown radishes.  Humanity has evolved to take advantage of fresh produce.  I’ve spent summers working into the fall and living on nothing much more than MREs.  I can’t fathom doing this, even with some of the tastiest of these meals, for years on end.