Thursday, October 28, 2021

Free Pies!

Here in the US, we’ll be having an election on November 2.  It’s not a Presidential Election, and for most people you’ll only be voting for local elections or issues, but voting is important.  So if you’re an American citizen over 18, I hope you’re registered and will be voting.

Every election I try to have a sale for Political Pies, my collection of forty short stories of a political nature.  And this election will be no different.  So, from Friday, October 29 through Tuesday, November 2, you’ll be able to grab the Kindle version of Political Pies for free.  If you get it early, you can have something to read while you wait in line.  And if you’re not an American, well, you can still get it, and I hope you are peacefully involved in your own nation’s politics.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Free story idea – Over the Edge

I have a lot of ideas for stories.  Like, if I wrote a novel’s worth of them every month, I’d still most likely die before getting through them all.  I will admit that some of the ideas probably suck, but I think there are some that a good writer could make something of them.  I’ll just never get a chance to.  So, I give them to the world.  If you can make something of these, go right ahead.  And if these are the ideas I’m giving away, maybe check out the ones I keep.

Over the Edge

In an episode of Disenchantment, Bean goes to the Edge of the World and starts to climb down it.  As I watched that, I thought someone climbing over the edge of a flat world could make for an interesting story.  After some thought, I came up with an idea, but it ran into a problem.  So I reworked it, but that version also ran into some problems.  But the third version, has some potential.  And problems.

Version 1

In this reality, Earth is flat.  The sun rises in the east, the whole world has daylight, and it sets in the west and the whole world has night.  There is an ocean around the Edge and water flows over it.  Any ship – this is set in the age of sailing vessels – that gets too close to the Edge are caught up and go over, never to be heard from again.  About five miles from the Edge there is a small island.  Enter this world’s version of the great, Victorian explorer.  I’ll call him Guy.  Guy goes to the island with five miles of rope.  He ties one end to a small rowboat and loads it with rocks and lets it drift towards the Edge.  He is able to pull it back, so takes the place of the rocks.  Guy discovers that the seafloor steadily rises the last mile to the Edge, until the water is only a few inches deep going over.  But, it’s going so fast that it stings your fingers if you reach into it.  Guy goes right to the Edge and looks over, but there is mist and doesn’t see anything.

He tries to send a rowboat over the Edge and pull it back, but it tips and sinks.  So he decides he’ll need a barrel.  He gets one, fills it with rocks, and sends it over the Edge and pulls it back just fine.  So he gets into it, and goes over the Edge.  Then the rope breaks.

A few years later, Guy’s son … um, Dude, decides to go over the Edge, but this time he’ll use chains.  But you can’t really haul five miles of chains with a rowboat, so he builds a series of barges about a mile apart that are each chained back to the island as well as to each other.  The last barge is a hundred yards or so from the Edge.  He does several tests with the barrel filled with lead, so it’s three or four times heavier than Dude.  All come back without issue.  So Dude gets in, and goes over the Edge.

And that’s when we come to the problem.  Because what is under the Earth has to be mind-blowing.  It either has to be so grand that it would make angels weep, or so terrifying it would give Cthulhu nightmares.  Anything less – elephants on a turtle – would be anticlimactic.  And I’m not that good of a writer.

Version 2

Version 2 goes back to Guy, but this time he builds the barges and chains.  But he doesn’t want to be the one that goes over, he has a family to think about.  So he figures the best thing would be to use a convicted prisoner.  Guy sails back to his home in Country A, which has just finished their latest war with their great rival, Country B.  In this war, there was a Captain, um, Bro.  There was a situation where Bro was ordered to charge some fort.  But he knew it was pointless, and would only kill his men.  So he refused.  He was stripped of command and the leaders of A thought about executing him, but then they noticed that a large portion of the men who they had just given weapons and training to liked him because he didn’t waste their lives.  Did they really want to make a martyr of Bro?  So they just threw him in prison. 

When Guy shows up asking for a condemned man he could chuck over the Edge of the world to see if he dies, the leaders of A said they had the perfect candidate.  At first Guy was hesitant, but then he realizes that Bro is literate, meaning he’ll be able to take notes while he’s dangling over the Edge.  So they head back to the island.

I figured the story would start with Bro chained up in the bottom of a ship.  But some of the sailors like him for what he did, so they sneak him food and news, such as their eminent arrival at the island. 

Guy takes Bro out to the last barge, gives him a notebook, shoves him into the barrel, and locks it shut.  Bro goes over the Edge, and there’s a momentary odd sensation, but then it just feels like he’s floating in the normal ocean.  Gravity has just tilted ninety degrees.  The chain lowers him down a hundred or so yards, and he looks around.  Right around him, it just looks like the normal ocean.  A hundred or so yards back the way of the chain – stretching as far as he can see in both directions – is a band of mist marking the Edge.  But about a mile or so in the other direction, there’s another band of mist.

Guy is ecstatic.  There were several camps concerning what was over the Edge, and he had been in the “silly” underworld camp.  The way this would work is that instead of the upper and underworlds being like the faces of a coin, they are more like shields.  That way the Edge is only a mile thick, but a hundred miles from the Edge it could be twenty miles thick.  That’s why canyons or mines don’t break on through to the other side.  I suppose if you wanted to be crazy, you could even make the world spherical, just with this one mile thick Edge right in the middle.  But the two shields idea is probably better.

So Bro goes over again with a mile of chain, and doesn’t quite reach the mist.  So they put a mile-and-a-half of chain and send him over.  Bro reaches the second band of mist, and again feels the odd sensation, and ends up in normal looking ocean, just with water rushing up over the Edge.  A mile or so from this Edge, there are some islands.  So Bro starts writing about them.  But he also takes a rock out of his pocket.  He reaches out and breaks the lock and he gets out.  He starts writing about these monstrous creatures that are swimming towards him and how they start attacking the barrel.  He quickly scribbles their version of God Save the King, and stashes the notebook.  Outside the barrel, he bashes it with the rock and manages to cut his hand so he smears some blood around.  He then swims towards the nearest island.

Bro has become sick of people, and sees this as a chance to get away from all of them.  His hope is that by the time they work up the courage to try again to come to the underworld, he’ll have built a boat and sailed far away in this new world, never to be found again. 

Unfortunately, for him, there are people on the island.  They are the decedents of all the shipwrecked crews from the last few centuries.  Some still feel themselves to be citizens of Country A, or B, or C, while others feel they belong to no country.  They all have their own little kingdoms, and they still go to war.  Although they are stuck just using knives and spears. 

This is where Version 2 started having problems.  Because it didn’t seem like the right fit for a story about an underworld.  You could just have an antisocial prisoner somehow manage to be the only survivor of a shipwreck who ends up on some uncharted island with earlier survivors who have formed some twisted society and he learns some lesson.  You could do that without leaving our world.  I needed something … more.

Version 3

Version 3 starts by combining the first two.  Guy goes over in a barrel with a rope, but it breaks.  Dude builds barges and goes over in a barrel with chains, only to discover the underworld.  Dude goes back to the upperworld, and builds a bigger barrel so he can carry about a mile of rope.  Back in the underworld, he lets the current carry the rope towards the island.  The current is still strong near the Edge where the barrel is, and he didn’t think he could swim against it.  He goes down the rope, and at the end the current is more manageable.  He swims to the island and looks around.  Dude eventually finds a camp.  Guy survived his barrel crashing on the island, and he had explored some of it, but then he broke his leg or something and he died.  Dude only finds a skeleton.

Dude swims back to the rope and manages to fight the current and climb back to the barrel.  There had been some pre-arranged time and they haul the barrel back to the upperworld.

There is excitement over this discovery, and expeditions are sent over to look for riches.  They do find some shipwreck survivors.  But the big discovery is some plant.  My idea was that rubber trees are only found in the underworld.  And quickly industrializing Country A could really use this rubber stuff.

But the people of County B – expecting a Great War to start between them and Country A any day now – would like this rubber stuff as well, but if they can’t have it they’ll settle for Country A not getting it.  So they sail as close to the upper Edge as they can, and they throw some barrels of saboteurs and equipment overboard, letting them wash up on the islands in the underworld. 

While this isn’t perfect, I do like the idea that for the saboteurs it’s basically a one-way trip: the only way back to the upperworld is the ferry like service that Dude starts.  And since this rubber stuff is militarily important, the island has been fortified against attacks from both the upper and underworld. 

So that’s the setup.  The actual details of a story I’ll leave to others.  But I will leave you with some of the random ideas I had.  There is an idea to dig a tunnel from the upperworld island to one of the underworld islands.  They may think about it, but are worried that if their calculations are off they could miss and open a tunnel into the ocean and flood the tunnel.  Or, whatever bedrock this world is made of is too tough to tunnel through.  Also, Dude with his ferry service for this precious material will probably become rather rich.  So maybe Dude Jr. has the money to play around with these newfangled aeroplanes.  He could be the first person to fly from the upperworld to the underworld and back again.  This could have a major disruption to the rubber industry.  Maybe Country B has an island that’s a hundred miles from the Edge, so they could never build a barge system, but they could fly that far.  Perhaps all this aeroplane development comes about because of a Great War and control of the Edge is a small, but important front in that war.  Or maybe there is plentiful food in the underworld and the shipwrecked crews quickly put aside their differences and the underworld society grows into a power rivaling the upperworld ones. 

I think this world with an Edge leads to unique situations that could lead to unique problems with interesting solutions.  If nothing else, anyone who wrote stories of such a world would annoy both physicists and flat Earthers.  That has to be worth something.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Random Writing Tips – Social experiments


Every now and then, I’ll come across a writer saying that they’re looking for an agent.  But instead of looking for quality writing, the agent is more interested in how many followers the writer has.  Because how many people you can spam with messages to buy your book is, apparently, an important factor in modern publishing.  I understand that it is a publishing business and businesses need to make money and they will try everything they can to get a slight edge.  I understand that, but it sucks for people like me who aren’t much for engagement.  I don’t have a panic attack if someone comments on a tweet of mine, but I will spend several minutes overthinking if I should reply and if I do, what should I reply.

Anyway, for the last few years, I’ve tried to engage more on social media.  Which is easier said than done.  Especially for someone like me who only has so much social energy and can’t just spend it willy-nilly.  For example, a couple years ago, I noticed that I sent out the majority of my tweets in the afternoon.  While that probably worked fine to find readers here in the eastern US, it was probably harder for potential readers in the UK and Australia.  So I started trying to spread my tweets out throughout the day.  Has this helped?  I don’t know.  Mostly because what usually happens is I’ll be sending out tweets about Book A, and someone will buy Book B, and I don’t know how they found out about Book B.  And even if they do buy Book A, unless they actually send a message, I have no idea if my tweets was what led them to it.  So I’ve had little success in judging how my tweeting strategy has led to book sales.

Earlier this year, I started a little experiment where I can actually get some results that may help me narrow down my strategy.  Each Monday I post a question, and I record how many comments, retweets, etc. it gets.  But each week I post it at a different time.  The hope is that a pattern will emerge of when my tweets get the most attention: maybe they’ll do really well in the mornings and I should refocus my tweets then. 

Even if you have tons of social energy and are constantly tweeting or Instagramming or whatever, it may be beneficial to do your own social experiment to see when the best time for you to post stuff is.  If you’re selling your books, then it is a business and you want the most bang for your buck.  And even if you just write as a hobby, would you rather have two readers, or ten?


Image from Pixabay.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Reboots, reboots, reboots

In the last few weeks, I’ve heard about attempts to reboot Quantum Leap, Babylon 5, even Jaws.  I understand that the entertainment business is a business, and they know they can safely make money by rebooting a beloved classic.  Even though half the money they make will be from people who only watch it so that they can bitch online about how the original was better, it’s still money.  And while they could make billions if an original project is successful and launches a franchise, it’s more likely an original project will only do okay, or even lose money.  I understand all of that, but it still hurts that there are countless fantastic movies and shows out there that will never be made because the risk on an unknown property is too great.

Having said all that, here are some thoughts I’ve had for a reboot of Star Wars, because you know it will happen someday. 

First things first, this idea is for three trilogies, with the idea that the nine movies would be released over nine years, none of this decades between trilogies crap.  Each trilogy would focus on one character, these being Anakin, Leia, and Ben.  The Force would also be a little different.  Everyone would have midichlorians, but there would be levels.  Like below 500 you’re just an average human.  Between 500-1000 you’re pretty agile and have quick reflexes, so you make a good pilot, or shooter.  Han is like a 900.  But when you have midichlorian levels over 1000, then you can start doing all the cool Jedi stuff.  And in my version the Jedi are monkish, but they do marry and have kids; that’s where the majority of new Jedi come from.

So I haven’t thought much on the Anakin Trilogy, but basically you start with an average Jedi kid who falls under the influence of Palpatine who is staging a decades long coup to take over the Galactic Republic.  Episode III ends with Padmé (also a Jedi) giving birth to Leia and Obi-Wan saying he’ll keep her safe, because they’ve all seen what Anakin is falling into.  Obi-Wan goes off to put her on a shuttle with all the other Jedi kids, but there’s a problem.  Or maybe Yoda stops him because he has seen a glimpse of the future.  But Anakin/Vader shows up at Padmé’s room wanting to see his child, but she tells him she’s fleeing with the other kids.  Anakin/Vader is upset, because Palpatine had him set a bomb on the shuttle.  They have a convenient window to watch the shuttle take off and then explode.  Anger at thinking his child is dead because she didn’t trust him, Vader kills Padmé.

Obi-Wan takes Leia to Bail Organa whose wife has just had a son, Luke, but they announce that she had twins to hide Leia.  Only the Jedi knew that Anakin had betrayed them, so Obi-Wan tells Bail that Anakin died a hero trying to save the children from Vader. 

The Leia Trilogy is set seventeen or so years later.  Luke and Leia are going around the galaxy learning the family business of politics.  But secretly, they are gathering information for the Rebellion.  In this version, the Rebellion is basically the Empire grinding out the last bits wanting to return to the days of the Republic.  And after almost twenty years, there’s not much left.  In their journey they come across Han and Obi-Wan.  Obi-Wan starts teaching Leia and Episode IV ends with her using her new abilities to save a bunch of prisoners on, say, Hoth. 

Episode V will center on how the Hero of Hoth has injected new blood into the Rebellion.  At first, Luke is happy for his sister, but he starts getting annoyed when she keeps overshadowing him.  Also, he’s upset that he doesn’t have the midichlorians to be a Jedi. 

Episode VI starts with the birth of Ben, who is then taken away from the warzone.  The Empire builds a Death Star and use it to destroy several planets in rebellion.  So there’s a big mission to destroy it and kill Palpatine.  Along the way Vader turns back to the Light Side before dying. 

The Ben Trilogy is set fifteen or so years later.  Things haven’t gone all that well.  Leia wants a return to the Republic, but Luke has the idea that a less evil Empire is the way to security, with him as Emperor, of course.  Since she spent so much time fighting a war, Leia never fully went into the Jedi side of her life.  But she wants Ben to be the core of the new Jedi Order that will help keep the New Republic in line.  Which is a lot for a teenager, especially one who just wants to spend time with his girlfriend Rey. 

I’m not sure exactly what happens, but after forty some years of civil war, the younglings of the galaxy want to move on, let the past die, and not be stuck with the dreams of their parents.  Whatever happens, Episode IX ends with the birth of Ben and Rey’s boy, Anakin.  Is the cycle of war and darkness over, or is a new cycle just beginning?

So those are my basic thoughts on the Star Wars reboot.  I know it’s not the real Star Wars, but hey, nobody’s perfect.