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.