Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Free story idea – “Evil” gem

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.

This is a pretty unique Free story idea.  From the time I got this idea until the publication of this blog was … four days.  The reason this happened was because the free idea I was working on – A new mythology – was taking longer than I expected, and I was seriously thinking of delaying it but then I had this idea and figured I could put out this quick, short one and have more time to finish the mythology one. 

This idea began as a dream.  In this dream, some guy in a lab coat went into this radar station on the edge of an airport.  He went into a secret hallway where a guard watched as he unlocked a box to get a key to open a door.  In this room there was this glowing gem.  The guy went around and turned on all these monitors, and then a blindfolded subject was brought in in a wheelchair.  The subject – even though they were blindfolded – were to describe what they saw when they watched a movie.  Because of the gem, the ending of the movie would be changed to an “evil” ending.  Like, you put in the DVD of Toy Story and now it ends in a blood bath as the toys kill all the humans.  That’s when I, more or less, woke up.  This is a more coherent version of the dream since the actual dream was more … dreamy-weamy.  I liked the idea, and over the next twenty or so minutes as I fully woke up, I worked with the idea and came up with the following.

I think this idea would work best as a short, computer animated movie.  It starts with the super clean, futuristic city.  Everyone is happy and healthy, but everything does seem a tad … sterile.  The main character goes into a lab where the gem is.  In my dream, it was just your standard glowing, bright blue, but I figure why not make it where there are dozens of colors all swirling around and brightening and dimming in a random manner.  Something to really show off the visual effects.  What the gem is, is somehow they managed to collect all the hatred, greed, and all the “negative” emotions from all over the planet and crystallize it in this gem.  But now they can’t get rid of it.  They wanted to put it in a rocket and send it out into deep space, but the gem won’t move.  If they built a rocket under it and launched it, the rocket would be destroyed as it rammed into this unmovable object. 

Subjects brought close to the gem will have some reaction, which the main character is studying.  I guess the point of the story would be them wondering if they should destroy the gem.  Yes, locking all the “negative” emotions up sounds like a good idea, but surely there would be some unforeseen consequences that they need to work through.  What those are I leave to whoever writes the script.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Don’t take it personally

Years ago, I dated a woman who was a painter, but she wanted to try her hand at writing.  I tried to help her out, even pointing out a small magazine that had published a couple of my stories which I thought would be a good place for her to submit her first story.  I can’t remember what this magazine paid, maybe $5, and they published six issues a year, and before she even submitted something she was budgeting in $30 a year from them.  I tried to caution her that her stories would need to be accepted first, but I think her response was along the lines of “Why wouldn’t they accept this?  This is the best story I ever wrote.”

On one hand, I hoped her story would be accepted because it would have been good for her.  On the other hand, I think if a writer’s first submission gets accepted that could lead to unrealistic expectations.  Her story wasn’t accepted, and while I tried to explain that that was normal and lots of my stories had been rejected, she took it personally.  She ranted and raved and was offended that her story wasn’t accepted.  She was probably even angry at me because my stories had been accepted there.

At the time, there was a writing group I went to that had monthly speakers on writing, either authors or editors or whatever.  A day or two after she got her rejection, I took her to one of these meetings where an author talked about their experiences.  Things were going fine, until they opened up for questions, and my girlfriend got up.  I believe the gist of her question was what to do when a magazine is wrong for rejecting your story.  I don’t know if the author managed to calm things down, or my girlfriend was just tired, but she eventually sat down.  I don’t remember what all was said, because I was too busy worrying I’d have to throw myself on a grenade. 


Some people just write for fun, and that’s all they do with it.  But others want to make some money out of it.  And what too few people – like my ex – realize, is that nothing is guaranteed in business.  History is full of stories and novels that were rejected dozens of times before finally being published and making millions and winning awards.  All because those authors didn’t take those rejections personally and kept on doing the business of submitting stories.  My girlfriend and I broke up a few months after all of this, and I haven’t talked to her in years, but I’d be surprised if she ever submitted another story anywhere else.  And that’s kind of sad.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Random Writing Tips – Mystery for mystery sake

 

There was a show I watched where I was debating giving up on it, but then it was cancelled, so problem solved.  It did end on a bit of a cliff hanger, so on one hand that sucked, but on the other hand the show wasn’t that great.  My main issue with the show was it was poorly written.  Probably the biggest issue I had was how they had several opportunities to explain things, but instead would give out little dribs and drabs.

Basically, the main character gets dropped into this weird mystery.  They dig around, and they eventually figure out about 10% of the mystery.  And then they meet someone who, doesn’t know the whole story, but does know about 70% of the mystery.  For some time there is the question on if the main character can trust this new person, but eventually they do.  Now, in the real world, the main character would then take an afternoon to sit down with this person and have them fill them in on everything.  But that wasn’t what the show did.

Instead of the main character learning more than they wanted to know, coming to grips with it, and then going on to solve the rest of the mystery, the new person gave them some crumbs which lead to a shocking reveal.  And then the following week they’d give out another crumb which lead to another shocking reveal.  The next week, another crumb and another shocking reveal.  And all the while there was a super basic question the main character never asked; for a real person in this situation it would probably have been their first question.  I don’t know if the scene was cut for time, or what, but its lack left me somewhat dumbfounded. 

Now, there are a few ways this could have been done better.  Maybe the new person only knew 30% so most of the mystery is still unknown, maybe they only have ten minutes and can’t tell the full story, or maybe they could have written more interesting characters so “How will X react to this shocking reveal?” doesn’t need to be used every week to get people to come back.

If you hold too much information back, you audience may get bored because nothing seems to be happening.  But if you flood them with information right at the start, they can get overwhelmed and give up.  So you need to find a compromise.  This, usually, is just giving as much information as is needed right now.  How else do you do you multiple seasons of a show?  But, if there isn’t some in-universe reason for the dribs and drabs of information, your audience may notice the manipulation and not be surprised, or care, if your show is cancelled.

***

Image from Pixabay.


Tuesday, May 3, 2022

The never ending To Do list

I’m a bit of a procrastinator, especially when it comes to writing.  Like, I’ve been thinking about writing this blog for a couple weeks, at least.  It’s gotten kind of bad over the last few years, so I’ve been trying to get around it.  One thing I’ve tried is a To Do list, which has and hasn’t worked.

The Version I To Do list is something I’ve done for years, which is where I basically make a list of all the things I need to do, usually broken up between writing stuff and everything else.  The problem with this is that you end up with a sheet with like fifty items on it which becomes extremely disheartening because you feel like you have to do it all by tomorrow.  And when I don’t get it all done, it feels like it’s just hanging there above my desk mocking me.

For the Version II list, I tried to solve the problem of too much stuff by scheduling only a few things each day.  I have a part time job where I, usually, only work Saturdays and Sundays.  So I started making a list of things to do on each of my five days off.  Mondays I’m a little tired from work, so I usually only had simple things like water the houseplants, make sure all my bills are paid, stuff like that.  And then for Tuesday I’d schedule myself to finish some blogs and work on a story, and so on.  But what seemed to happen a lot is that I’d spend Mondays doing the simple stuff and then relaxing by binge watching some show on Netflix.  I’d go to bed planning to spend all of Tuesday writing, only to wake up with a toothache which made me not feel like doing anything but binge watching Netflix.  And then I’d spend Wednesday trying to catch up only to throw off the whole thing and wonder why even bother.

In theory, Version III of my To Do list fixes the problems of the earlier versions.  I basically now have three lists: long term, shorter term, and this week.  Long term is for projects I really should do, but there isn’t much pressure to do them soon.  This ranges from novels I want to write to garden plans I thought of in the middle of winter.  Shorter term is for things that have more of a deadline, like blog posts or getting my taxes done.  These are usually written on little legal pads, while the “this week” list is on scrap paper.  It’s for the simple tasks like watering the houseplants, as well as the shorter term items I want to get done.  I still have fifty some items on my To Do list, but I only really see the ten or so items I can, or need, to get done this week. 

It is not a perfect system, but it does feel like I’m slowly getting more stuff done.  Most weeks.  There are times where I’ll put “The Week Of X” at the top of the list, but by the end of the week I’ve only crossed a few things off, so I’ll just change the date instead of rewriting the same list. 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Ebook sale!

 With everything going on in the world, I figured I should try to make things a little brighter.  But I couldn’t really think of anything, so instead I’ll just have a sale for some of my ebooks.  The following three ebooks will be free from Monday May 2nd, through Friday May 6th, so get them while you can.

The Future is Coming

As a science fiction writer, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how technology will change the way we live. I’ve come up with these ten short essays about science fictional elements that will – almost certainly – one day become science fact as a way for people to start coming to terms with them. Because I’ve spent time thinking about clones and AIs, I feel I’ll be okay when they do finally show up whereas most people will probably freak out. I hope these essays will get people to start thinking about the future because, no matter what we do, the future is coming.

The Moon Before Mars

Over the last few years a lot of people have caught Mars fever. It seems a week doesn’t go by without a report of some new group wanting to send people to Mars, or some big name in the industry talking about why we have to go to Mars, or articles talking about the glorious future humanity will have on Mars. All of this worries me. In my opinion, a Mars base is currently not sustainable because there’s no way for it to make money. A few missions may fly doing extraordinary science, but if it’s then cancelled for cost the whole Mars Project may just be seen as an expensive stunt.

Fortunately, there are other places in the solar system besides Mars. While bases on the moon and amongst the asteroids won’t be as “inspirational” as one on Mars, they will have opportunities for businesses to make goods and services as well as profits, meaning less chance of them being outright cancelled. This will make life better on Earth and secure a firm foothold in space for humanity. The essays in The Moon Before Mars: Why returning to the moon makes more sense than rushing off to Mars allow me to describe my ideas on what can be accomplished on the moon and with the asteroids, and why Mars isn’t the destiny of humanity its cheerleaders make it out to be.

An Ounce of Prevention


Like most people, Jason Fisher wanted to make the world a better place, but he doubted he would ever have the chance to make much of a mark. Then a “woman” came to him, asking his help to save humanity by threatening it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Free story idea – Timeline designer

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.

This idea begins with a guy next to a window in a building.  There’s a crowd outside, but he’s hidden behind some boxes.  He checks his watch, and then takes out a gun.  Moments later, he hears someone walking towards him.  A guy with a rifle comes up to the window, and is surprised to see someone there.  The main character shoots this guy, but there’s no gunshot or bullet.  Instead, the guy clutches his chest and falls over, dead from an apparent heart attack.  The main character takes the rifle and leaves.  There are then a few other scenes of this guy killing people with his heart attack gun. 

In 1961, JFK challenged the Soviets to a race to the moon.  There is a story that apparently, by 1963 some of the Soviets knew that they were likely to lose the race.  So to not lose, and to appear as the better men, some proposed that instead of a race the US and Soviets should pool their resources and go to the moon together.  Before this offer could be made, there was a shakeup in the Soviet Union, and then JFK was assassinated.  So nothing came of this idea.  At least, in this timeline.

The idea of the story is that at some point, a way to time travel is discovered.  Now, this prime timeline can’t be changed, so if you went back and killed Hitler, there would be the prime timeline as well as a new branch, Hitlerless timeline.  Other alterations can be made to the branch timelines.  And before you ask, the method of time travel only works when connected to the prime timeline … because.  So not only can nobody in the Hitlerless timeline build a time machine and come to the prime timeline, they can’t even go back in their own branch timeline.  Anyway, rich people start hiring timeline designers to custom make worlds where X happens instead of Y.  The opening scenes are our main character making a world where the US and Soviets went to the moon together.  He stops JFK from being assassinated, and kills some people – when I worked on this story I was thinking one of the founders of the Taliban – who would eventually cause problems for US/Soviet collaboration.

That’s an interesting premise, but what’s the actual story?  Well, I think the main character has the reputation of a fixer.  It’s easy to create a new timeline, but it takes finesse to steer it to where you want it to go.  For example, one timeline is set up by a commando team showing up at the Alamo.  What can ten guys do against an army?  Well, with armor piercing rounds they start shooting all the cannons half-a-mile away, and then they start shooting the officers.  And when the Mexicans try to storm the Alamo to find this unprecedented weaponry, they get mowed down by machine gun fire.  The Alamo isn’t stormed, and a new timeline starts up.  But such a brute force move has unintended consequences.  So the owner of the timeline – who maybe went with the commando team to play soldier at the Alamo – calls in the fixer to try to clean up the mess. 


And that’s pretty much all I had thought through.  It could be that he uses all the money he makes to build a special timeline where his wife – who died in the prime timeline – will live healthy and happy, but that’s rather cliché.  Or maybe he’s an undercover agent trying to infiltrate whoever is using their branch timeline to make supercrack, or whatever, to bring to the prime timeline.  Something could be done with this, but I couldn’t think of what.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Random Writing Tips – Necessary distractions

 

Twentysome years ago, when I was getting serious about writing, I bought a phonebook sized listing of writing markets.  Basically every magazine would have a half-page summary of what kinds of stories they were looking for, what they paid, and where to mail your submission.  I went through this and marked every place that I might be able to send something.  And for the next few years, when they came out with an updated book, I would buy it and do the same thing.  But as things became more and more online, it was easier to get the information from a magazine’s website.

For a few years I used a site that let you search for markets for, say, science fiction stories.  But then they moved to a subscription base and while the cost wasn’t that much, it was still more than I was making from my stories, so signing up kind of defeated the purpose. 

I think a couple times I tried making my own lists, either as an Excel sheet or HTM file.  But these weren’t all that successful because I think I tried to do too much with them.  It wasn’t just this site takes scifi stories, it was this site takes scifi stories between X and Y words, it pays Z cents per word, they prefer these types of stories, they don’t want these types, they want a detailed cover letter, they also run contests from time to time, etc., etc., etc.  All that information was nice, but I didn’t have a way to clearly organize it.

For the last couple of years, this hasn’t been an issue since I didn’t submit any stories anywhere.  I finally got around to submitting a story a few months ago, but it was to a big magazine that I knew and had submitted to before.  If, when, it was rejection, I knew of a couple others I could submit it to, but that was it.

About the time I submitted this story, I saw a tweet asking if anyone knew good markets for microfiction.  A lot of people replied with sites they knew of, and I bookmarked the tweet, but that’s not a very efficient way of keeping information on sites to submit to.

So I decided to try again making my own list.  I did this in Excel with one sheet for paying markets, and another for non-paying.  I kept it simple, with columns listing the name, minimum word count, maximum word count, pay, and some notes like if they do themed issues.  I later added in a column if the site asked for a cover letter.  I went through the tweet and searched for all the mentioned sites, and I also went through my list of places I’ve submitted to.  All of this took a few hours, spread out over three or four days. 

As I was finishing up this little project, I thought, You know, I could make a separate sheet where I put in how many days it took for me to hear back from the sites I submitted to.  To keep everything neat and tidy I’d just have the average response time show up on the main sheet.  Because that is a nice bit of information to have when submitting to a site.  I almost started doing it, when I wondered, Would my time be better spent actually writing a story to submit?

Was my Markets spreadsheet useful?  Well, so far I’ve only used it for the one story, but I have ranked the eight or nine sites I could submit it to by how much they pay, and I’m working my way through them.  Which is easier to do when all the data is in one spot.  Could I spend hours more adding various bells and whistles to make it slightly better?  Easily.  Would that be a distraction just taking away time I could spend writing?  Definitely. 

Over the last twentysome years, I’ve spent untold hours searching through books, magazines, and webpages for places to submit stories.  Would some of that time have been better spent writing?  Certainly.  But spending some of your precious time to figure out where to send your stories, is a necessary expense.  Worse, there is no “best” way of doing this, so you’ll have to spend even more time figuring out what system works for you.

***

Image from Pixabay.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Seeking help from lunar scientists

I am, ever so slowly, working on a story set on the moon a hundredish years from now.  It is a time when lunar tourism is thriving and there are museums and other attractions on the moon.  I have the idea for one museum, but I’d like to put it in a specific location on the moon, but I’m not sure where such a location is, or if it even exists.

I know there is this thing called libration which – oversimplified – results from the moon’s orbit not being a perfect circle which allows us to see more of the moon than you’d think.  One side of the moon is always facing Earth, but with libration we can peek over the edges and over time we can actually see 59% of the moon’s surface from the Earth.

Which means, that there are spots on the moon’s surface where you would see Earth rise up, then sink back down below the horizon.  My questions are: how long would that take, does the Earth get high enough to clear the horizon, would it be straight up and down or curved, and where could you see this?  The ideal spot for this museum would be a spot where Earth would only be visible half the time.  The ultimate ideal spot would be where Earth would only be visible for half the time and it would just get above the horizon.  But that would be too cool, so it probably doesn’t exist.


I’ve done some basic searches online, and while there are tons of videos showing libration from Earth, I’ve yet to find one from the moon’s surface.  I’m sure someone has simulated this, I just don’t know where to look.  So if you can answers these questions for me, or point me to somewhere I can get the answers, I’d really appreciate it.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Writing Newsletter First Quarter 2022

 

To start 2022 off, I reposted the stories “No Shame” and “The Gift of Vomit.”

I published the story Scratch Left” on my Mastodon page, as well as a poem on Instagram.

#

The only big writing “news” I had this quarter is that I submitted my story “Being First.” That shouldn’t be big news, but it was the first story I’ve submitted in two years.  There are six sites I can submit it to, and just the other day I sent it to the third one.  If none of them take it, I’ll dig around to find some other sites to send it to, but if nothing else I could self-publish it with a couple other stories.  We’ll see.

***

Image from Pixabay.


Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Format beast

Recently, I did something that I haven’t done for a couple of years: submitted a story.  Over the years, I’ve learned the basic submission format, but since it’s been a while and things change, I’d take my time and go through the sample this magazine uses.  And I think the only new aspect I saw was the whole one or two spaces question.  But as I was reading through this format example, it reminded me of a formatting experience I had years ago.

It was probably fifteen, or more, years ago and I wanted to submit a short story to an ezine.  And I think they were trying out this newfangled electronic submission thing.  Which was great, except the software they used to publish stories on their ezine was seemingly held together with chicken wire and duct tape.  I think they even called it “The Beast.” You could send in a story in whatever format, but then they’d have to retype it if they accepted it, or you could make it easy for them by following this forty-step program to convert your story into the proper format. 

So I started out on what I think turned into an almost hour long journey to convert my story to the right format for them.  It started easy with put everything to this font and this size and so on.  But then you got into stuff like putting <I> before anything you wanted italicized and so on.  Some of these steps I could skip because I didn’t have anything Bold or Underlined or whatever.  And then things got weird.  I had to open the “Insert” tab, then open some sub tab, and get into some page function that not only had I never bothered with but had never heard of, to turn something off.  I think the reason it took me an hour or so to properly format this two thousand word story, was because I had to get up and walk around my apartment because I was getting so stressed. 


I wish I could remember what site this was for.  I wonder if they’re still around, and whatever happened to “The Beast.” I wonder if all of that was actually necessary, or if it was just a no brown M&Ms type thing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Free story idea – Dragon sphere

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.

This is the beginning of an idea.  I have it worked out to a point, but I have no idea where it goes from there, or what the point of it will be.  Also, I’m American so I know our history and landscape, so there are some factors you’d need to figure out if you set this in another country.

It is explained in later chapters, but around 1820 there’s a farm somewhere in Pennsylvania, or Ohio, or maybe New York owned by a guy I’ll call Smith.  His eldest son eventually inherits the farm.  His younger son buys the farm to the east.  His daughter marries a guy who buys the farm to the north.  Throughout the 1800s, all the farms in the immediate area are bought by branches of the Smith family.  They even build additional houses so that four or five families can live on what was one farm.  They’re not inbred, they do go out and find someone, but they always move back to be near the original farm.  Some may live in towns ten or so miles away, but they are always welcome back to the Smith Farms, or commune, or whatever they call it.

The story itself starts with a prologue set around the 1980’s, the exact year depends on when you set the main story.  On the original farm, Smith built a barn around 1820.  The original barn burned down, and has been replaced a few times.  But it is mainly used just to store equipment.  While all the kids from the extended family are allowed to play wherever, the adults always tell them not to play in the old barn.  We are introduced to someone I’ll call John.  John grew up on one of the original farms and it is his sixteenth birthday.  His plans are to join the Navy and see the world, and only return for holidays.  His dad tells him about a family tradition whenever people turn sixteen, and takes him to the old barn, where he shows John a secret door that leads into a cellar.  In the cellar is an old chest, which his dad opens.

The main story is probably set in the present and follows Sue, John’s granddaughter.  John joined the Navy, saw the world, got married, and came back to the Farms.  He and his wife had a son, who eventually gets married and has Sue.  But the son and his wife die in a car accident, maybe a few months after Sue is born.  And John’s wife dies of cancer or something.

So on Sue’s sixteenth birthday, it is John who tells her of this family tradition out in the old barn.  I imagine Sue just texting and not really caring.  John takes her down into the secret cellar and opens the chest.  Sue looks in, and doesn’t see what the big deal is.  This confuses John.  They start arguing, and Sue asks what’s so important about a silver ball.  John is about to say something, but goes, “Wait, what?” He asks her what she sees in the chest and she says, “A silver ball.” John asks her to take a picture of it, but for some reason it comes out blurry.  John closes the chests and hurries back to the main house.

Many of her aunts and uncles are there to welcome her into the family secret, but John says that everyone needs to be there, now.  He won’t explain anything to anyone, saying everyone needs to hear it.  So the word goes out, and in half an hour there’s fifty family members.  More are on their way, but people can’t wait any longer.

John has Sue describe what she saw in the chest.  When she says she only saw a silver ball, everyone is shocked.  This really annoys Sue, who demands an explanation.  So John starts the story.  One night, back in 1820, or whatever, Farmer Smith hears a crack of thunder, but there isn’t a cloud in the sky.  The next morning he and his sons find a crater in a field.  At the bottom, is a small, sleeping dragon.  While he could have made some money showing off a dragon, there is a mild compulsion to protect it.  So he and his sons built a chest, and then they dug the dirt out under the dragon and slid the chest under it, since they can’t bring themselves to touch it.  They then built a barn over top of it to hide it.

Sue doesn’t believe this, but all the adults tell her it is true.  In the chest is a small, sleeping dragon.  All attempts to photograph it end up blurry, but several family members over the decades have drawn or painted it, and they show several of these to Sue.

And that’s about as far as I worked it out.  Where it goes from there, I don’t know.  Here are a few bits that might make it into the story.

Over the centuries, the Family has come up with several theories.  One seemingly now proved is that it isn’t really a dragon, but some probably alien device that just projects the image of a dragon.  The question now is why is Sue able to see through that?  Have humans in general evolved to see through the deception, or is the evolution limited to the Family, or is Sue the Chosen in some non-genetic meaning?  Is the silver ball just another layer to the deception?  In ten generation will someone see something else?  Will Sue still have the same compulsion to protect it, or will she have a new compulsion?

Perhaps an aunt who has spent a lot of time thinking about the dragon wonders out loud if Sue’s kids will see the dragon or the ball.  This upsets Sue who says something like, “Yesterday I was too young for sex, now you want me knocked up for an experiment.” I think an element to whatever story someone writes of this, is that you have all these people who have lived their adult lives with a mystery, possibly finally getting some answers through this one person who doesn’t want any part of this.  There is plenty of possibility of drama there.

One little aspect I had thought of, is that this compulsion to keep the secret means that you need to be certain before bringing someone into the family.  For example, I imagine that there have been a couple of times in the past where some guy took his girlfriend to the old barn and showed her the dragon, and then proposed because, well, she knows the secret now so she can’t leave.  I imagine at some point they made a rule that you have to be married for a year before showing them the dragon. 

And that’s all I have.  My feeling is that it would be too cliché if Sue is the Chosen One, or if the “dragon” is finally waking up.  On the other hand, introducing a new aspect to an old mystery, but then not answering anything seems like something that would annoy readers unless done uniquely well.  Which is why I’m giving this idea away.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Voter registration drive and book sale

It seems every other year here in the US we face an election that WILL DETERMINE THE VERY SURVIVAL OF THE NATION.  And after going through this for the last five or six never-ending election cycles, there is a strong desire to just listen to music and play video games.  But to be a buzzkill, elections are important in that they will determine the intensity of the dumpster fire we end up in.  So I’ve come up with a deal: if you take a few minutes to register to vote, or confirm your voter registration, you can grab any – or all – of these six ebooks on Kindle for free.  Admittedly, there’s no way for me to know if you register or not, so we’re just working on the honor system.

How do you register to vote or check your registration?  You can either do it through your state’s website, or on a site like Vote411.  I don’t know how long it takes to actually register to vote since it’s something I haven’t dealt with since the last time I moved over ten years ago.  But checking your registration only takes a couple minutes.  The reason you should check your registration is that the lists of voters needs constant updating as people register, move, and die.  And even without nefarious voter purges, it’s possible for mistakes to happen.  If a mistake is caught early, it can be fixed early, and things can go smoother on Election Day.  You don’t want to find out you’re not registered after waiting in line for eight hours. 

If you’re reading this but don’t live in the US, then you can still grab my ebooks for free, I’ll just ask that you do whatever is necessary for you to participate in your political system.  If you live in a dictatorship where you can’t participate in your political system, I won’t ask how you managed to get online.

The following six ebooks will be free from Monday February 21st, through Friday February 25th.  But you can register to vote or check your registration anytime.



Political Pies

Everybody complains about politics, but does anyone do anything about it? Stephen L. Thompson’s attempt to do something about it is to collect forty of his short stories with a political element into his Political Pies anthology. His stories are either politically neutral or equally condemning of the national parties. Instead of trying to sway you to one ideology or another, his goal is to just get people thinking about politics in the hopes a rose might grow out of all the political manure.

Duty

For reasons of safety and avoiding paradoxes, Time Travel Incorporated assigns a Guardian to all its travelers. So when there is an accident during political historian Roj Hasol’s trip back to 1968, it’s his Guardian Susan who sets out on the arduous task of cleaning up the mess.

A Man of Few Words

A Man of Few Words is a collection of fifty flash fiction stories by Stephen L. Thompson. What would really happen if a “T-Rex on steroids” attacked a city? Why do science fiction writers make the best lovers? How does a company get to Second Base with VIPs? These questions and more are explored by Stephen using less than 1000 words and in various genres from humor to horror and general fiction to science fiction.

The majority of the stories were previously published (most by Stephen himself on his website) but all were revised for this collection. In addition, each piece is accompanied by some background information on the origin of the story or a funny tale about the writing of it to give a fuller experience.

Brain for Rent and other stories

Brain for Rent and other stories is a collection of five of my short scifi stories to give a sampling of my writing. The collection includes: “Brain for Rent” about a ne’re-do-well failed writer with a conceptual implant who discusses his work with a young woman thinking of getting an implant herself. “The Demonstration” is about a different young woman wanting to show off her latest body modification. “Self Imprisonment” offers one solution of safe keeping the backup copy of yourself. “The Best Job Ever” is about a necessary – yet unpleasant – human/alien interaction. And the collection ends with “Why Stay?” which explains why, after years of fighting the humans, the robots just deactivate.

An Ounce of Prevention

Like most people, Jason Fisher wanted to make the world a better place, but he doubted he would ever have the chance to make much of a mark. Then a “woman” came to him, asking his help to save humanity by threatening it.

The Most Powerful Man in the World and other stories

The Most Powerful Man in the World and other stories is a collection of five, short, scifi stories to provide a sample of my writing.

A being from the distant future with almost unlimited powers comes back to help Ian Steele make the world a better place in “The Most Powerful Man in the World.” One bookstore customer has an entirely different reason for wanting books in “Black Market Books.” “Motherhood” tells the story of Thomas Gillespie, the surrogate mother for a baby AI. “Storyteller” is about an author thinking his book into existence. And “Deadworld” is about the alien world humans are reborn on – in alien bodies – after we die.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Random Writing Tips – Broken incentives

 

Many years ago, in an effort to increase my writing output, I set myself a goal of writing a certain number of words each day.  It’s a great idea, but I was rather hit-or-miss on meeting my goal.  So one day I decided to give myself a bit of an incentive.  I bought a bag of mixed little candy bars, and told myself I’d get one whenever I met my goal.  If I wrote twice my goal, I’d get two, and so on.  This worked for a couple of … days.  Then one night I was hungry for something sweet but didn’t have any cookies or anything.  I was looking at this almost full bag of little candy bars, and figured I could eat some now and just owe having to write those words.

Once that precedent was set, things kind of snowballed.  I quickly finished off that first bag, and a second, and a third.  It wasn’t long before I had a little container of balled up candy wrappers.  Foil ones, not clear ones, and only from little candies, not full sized candy bars.  That would have been weird.  Whenever I hit my goal, I throw one away.  Whenever I eat a little, foil wrapped candy, I ball up the wrapper and put it in the container.  As things stand now, I need to write a novel, or three, to pay off my candy debt. 

On one hand, this is silly.  It wasn’t long before I expanded on what counted as paying off the debt, such as submitting a story or, for the last couple of years I’ve tracked how much time I’ve spent on writing and writing related activities, and this year I’ve started counting an hour a week of writing as worth one candy.  Even with that, I’m still a novel or three behind.  And yet I stick to it.  I’d hate to die with a candy debt.  I need to write more, and/or eat less candy.  I just haven’t figured out an incentive program that would let me, ideally, do both.

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Image from Pixabay.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Why I’ve never written a trans character

I am a white, heterosexual, cis male who has been writing stories for twenty-fiveish years.  Back when I started, most of my characters were more-or-less versions of me because that’s what I knew.  When you’re just starting out writing, it’s a lot easier to stick to what you know.  But it wasn’t long before I started writing female characters.  The way I did this was instead of calling my character Dave, I called them Diane.  The reason this worked was that the majority of the stories I wrote back then were only a few hundred words long.  A typical story of mine back then was the main character walks around a corner and bumps into an alien, what’s their immediate reaction.  In these types of stories, there wasn’t need to explore the character’s genitals.

Along the way I also started writing non-white characters.  Although, again this was usually just done with a name, and often usually Asian.  For example, I’d have a thousand or so word story about a multicultural spaceship crew under Captain [Chinese name] coming across an alien spaceship and show their immediate reaction. 

I rarely have stories where I come right out and physically describe the characters, even for skin color.  And there are four reasons for this.  The first is that, I don’t have the numbers for this, but I’d guess that about 80% of the stories I’ve written are under a thousand words.  And probably another 10% are under three thousand words.  There isn’t much space to go into detailed descriptions.  The second reason is the idea that as long as my descriptions are vague enough, the reader will be able to put themselves into the story.  The third reason is that years ago I read a book where every time a new character showed up the author dumped a paragraph of description: height, weight, hair and eye color, shape of nose, their fashion sense, etc.  And I found it annoying, clunking, and generally pointless.

But probably the main reason I don’t give descriptions of characters is that I am terrible with faces.  I’m not face blind, I do recognize people, it’s just I can’t describe them.  When I think of people I don’t see a photo of them in my head, instead I get this ball of memories.  I can remember conversations I’ve had months, even years ago with someone, but I could turn my back to them and if you asked me what color their hair was I’d likely draw a blank.  Details like that just don’t register for me.  So if I describe a character at all, it’s usually just to point out something unique, like an eyepatch or tattoo, or something that is necessary for the story.  Other than that my characters are usually just “Person” you can picture however you want.

Probably about fifteen years ago, when gay marriage was a big issue, I decided to do my small part to help.  The way I did this was to have some gay characters in my stories, and the way I showed them to be gay was to have them in a same sex relationship.  Basically, that multicultural spaceship I mentioned before would consist of Captain [Chinese name], who would probably be a woman, with engineer Jeff with his husband Doug the botanist.  And any interaction between this gay couple would probably be the playful banter one would likely see in any sitcom married couple. 

Recently, as trans rights has become an issue, I figured I should include a trans character in a story.  And that’s when I hit a wall.  Most of my stories are short and only cover maybe an hour, so I can’t really have Chapter 1 Frank become Chapter 21 Francine.  And I’m not just going to have some character introduce someone as, “Oh, this is Mike.  He’s trans,” because that’s – at best – clunky exposition.  Also, my stories don’t really have deep, character introspection, beside the trans experience is not something I really know anything about.  I could make a character be an asshole to someone who is trans, but I don’t do that for any of my gay characters.  The reason being that most of my stories are set in the future where – one can hope – people are better and someone’s sexual preference is as important as their eye color. 

I went through all of that to explain that the reason I haven’t written any openly trans characters is because it’s too complex an issue for my simplistic writing style.  Most of my stories occur over a short time period, don’t involve characters doing soul searching, and are usually set in a world where sexual and gender identity isn’t an issue.  I have yet to figure out how to have a trans character in such a story without them just being a shoehorned-in token character.  I mean, my best idea so far is to have my main character meet someone wearing a T-shirt with a progress bar from Jane to James about two-thirds filled in.  The main character sees that, chuckles, then walks with James around the corner where they bump into an alien.

***


As a final note, in the off chance that – probably after my death – some of my stories get popular and movies are made of them and a trans actor is cast and some asswipe comes out of the woodwork with, “The author never wrote this character as trans,” well, there’s a high probability that I never explicitly wrote them as cis either.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Random Writing Tips – Beware Frankenstein characters

 

Several years ago, I was designing a character and I kept adding traits: she had an interest in gladiators, a bit of a mischievous streak, a love of old movies and TV shows, etc., etc.  It got to the point where I started to wonder if a real person could have all these traits, or if I was just stitching different people together like Dr. Frankenstein.  It’s a problem that often comes up in TV shows, especially scifi or fantasy ones.  Like in the pilot episode we’ll meet a character who seems like an average person, but after five or six seasons we’ll find out they speak nine languages, are an expert in five forms of martial arts, can hack a computer with only a few keystrokes, and so on.  The vast majority of these talents only show up in one episode.  Like, maybe the bad guy needs some Mayan artifact to finish their doomsday weapon, and this character instantly knows what it is and what museum it’s in because, “Oh, you mean I’ve never mentioned my interest in Mayans?  How odd.” The good guys go to the museum, but the bad guy’s goons are already there so the character grabs a sword because, “I’m an expert swordsperson too.”

Real people do have wide and varied interests and talents: I’m interested in World War II, some people like the science fiction stories I write, I have some gardening projects I’m slowly working on, etc., etc.  Some characters feel like real people, while others are just plot devices.  There’s no clear dividing line between them, so it’s very easy to cross from one to the other. 

I think the main reason this happens is that it is easier for the reader to understand – and also easier to write – if we have basic characters.  Basic characters like the competent hero who can repair any mechanical problem with a paper clip and some duct tape, and the bumbling buffoon we can laugh at because they never do anything right.  Until right at the end when the buffoon somehow flies a helicopter and saves the hero.   

In reality, people are probably closer to the buffoon than the hero, but people read to escape reality.  But this can lead to people just expecting some hero to come save them from their problems.  So maybe next time you’re stitching together your hero, throw in some buffoon to make them more realistic and less the uber-hero.

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Image from Pixabay.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Interact with your audience

I am not a talkative person.  Even at family gatherings I’ll just sit and listen to other conversations.  The reason I’m bringing this up in a writing blog, is that my quiet nature also applies to social media.  If someone leaves a comment on a tweet, I’ll probably spend a few minutes debating if I should reply.  And the vast majority of the time I don’t.  This can be an issue since one of the common pieces of advice given to writers on how to sell more books is to “interact with your audience.”

Even if I did interact with people, I don’t know where to begin interacting with my audience.  Over the years I’ve gone to several forums and I’ll find a topic like, “Science fiction authors looking for readers.” That’s perfect, I’ll think, and then I’ll see that there are 14,000 comments stretching back six years.  I’ll read the last thirty and see that there are just four people having a conversation about some random topic.  Well, I’ll start my own thread, I’ll think.  That way I’ll be in the conversation from the beginning.  So I’ll start a “Science fiction authors looking for readers,” and nobody comments on it.

Writing a compelling, coherent story is hard enough, but then you have to talk to people to sell it?  Argh.  Isn’t there an easier way?  I know there are “services” that will promote books, I just wish they had $5 Test Package to see if it would be worth it to get the $100 Basic Package.