Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Same old comfort

Like many people, I’ve rolled my eyes and sighed whenever I hear some studio announce that they’re going to reboot some beloved franchise from decades ago.  Or, you know that standalone movie from twenty years ago that had a satisfying ending?  Here’s the sequel you never asked for.  I groan and nod along as people who know more of the industry explain that movies are expensive things to make, so if people already know about this superhero or whatever, you don’t have to spend as much on marketing so there’s a better chance the movie will make big bucks.  And while people will complain that Hollywood keeps remaking the same four movies and demand something new, Hollywood will keep remaking those movies because they know how to make money from them and new things risk losing money.

For the longest time, I felt that I – obviously – was in the “Give us new stories!” camp.  It seems every few years I hear about a reboot of one of my favorite shows from back in my late teens, early twenties.  And even though some of the original people are involved, I wince.  Because one of the reasons I loved that show so much was because it was different from the other shows at the time.  So that newness ship has sailed.  A reboot would either be likely just a nostalgia sequel, or one of these, “We know you enjoyed all these things from the original show, so we’re going to do something completely different now.” Statistically, the odds of the lightning still being in the bottle are slim. 

But recently, I’ve noticed that I’m getting a bit stuck in my ways.  I still watch new movies, or read new books, but it seems I’m finding fewer gems.  Is the new stuff just not as good as the old, are my views on what I enjoy fossilizing, or as I grow and mature as a person and writer, am I getting more critical?  Are there movies that I would have absolutely loved ten years ago, but now I just shrug and say they’re okay?  Or is life just difficult now?  Like, do I want to watch this acclaimed new movie about the Holocaust, or get some ice cream and just sit back and watch Zootopia for the eighth time?  And the answer is … I don’t know, and likely never will.  Which is annoying, but – I’ll admit – a bit of a comfort.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Free story idea – For Black History Month

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.

I don’t really have a title for this idea.  It’s an idea I had just in early January.  I was still playing with it when I went, “Oh, if I make the main character black that could … mean I probably shouldn’t be writing this idea.” As a white guy I know some things about racism in the US over the past century, but I haven’t lived it which is probably necessary for this story to really hit home.  Also, if any of the plot points I’ve come up with dealing with racism are factually wrong, it’s just my ignorance. 

I don’t have any names figured out, so just for simplicity I’ll call the characters Grandfather, Father, Son, and Brother.  Son being the main character born in the summer of 1941 somewhere in the deep South.  Just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Grandfather starts pressuring Father to join the military.  His reasoning is if the white folk see black folk fighting for the country, that will surely weaken racism.  At the time Grandfather is in his early forties, and would join himself but he has a limp or something.  At first Father doesn’t want to because it’s war, but also he has a wife and six month old to take care of.  But he eventually does volunteer.  And nine months after he ships out, Brother is born.

Now, as a black man fighting in World War II, the clichéd – and tad racist – idea would be to make Father a Tuskegee Airman.  But in this story, he spends most of the war doing the logistically vital job of unloading ships in Italy.  I’m not sure where black units served, but that seems likely.

As the war in Europe is winding down, or maybe just after it finishes, Father receives word that his wife has died.  She was hit by a car, which didn’t stop.  And while she was only a block or so from a hospital, it was a White’s Only hospital.  She bled to death while a Good Samaritan was trying to get her to a black hospital on the other side of town.  And when Father returns home, he finds his service made no impact on the racism he faces.  So he becomes rather bitter and disillusioned with everything. 

That’s the backstory.  The main story starts in 1958 when Son is seventeen.  In 1957, Russia launched Sputnik, and the space race was on.  Son is optimistic for this new age, maybe even fantasizing of going off to fight Space Nazis.  Some of this is from his Grandfather, who still holds out hope we can all live together.  Father is still bitter, and has possibly become an alcoholic.

One day, Son is walking down the street, when there is a bright flash, some pain, and he ends up in this blasted area with odd equipment scattered everywhere.  There are a couple of people there, and at first they talk to him in an unknown language, but then they switch to this terrible Shakespearean style of English.

The story, Son eventually figures out, is that about 500 years from now, these aliens attack Earth with a sucker punch that kills most people and forces the survivors to flee.  And for the next 500 years, the survivors fight a losing guerrilla war against these aliens.  Along the way, they come across the remains of several other alien races the bad aliens have exterminated.  One of them was working on a time machine that they had about 90% complete.  The humans gather everything and spend a few decades finishing it. 

They sneak back to the wastes of Earth, and set up the machine.  Their plan is to send someone a thousand or so years into the past with knowledge of advanced technology.  They’d start spreading this out to jump start our technology, so hopefully we’d be better able to defend ourselves when the aliens show up.  They sent the test subject back, but unfortunately, it was just where Son was and he got sucked into the future and the system overloaded and the time machine blew up.

So Son gets to live his fantasy of fighting space Nazis, which he quickly learns isn’t great.  And even with some benefits – he has new genes he can … inject into the somewhat shallow gene pool – he does want to return home.  He also learns that the person they sent back was a black man, which probably didn’t go over well.  And he has to explain why.  After five centuries of progress, then an attack which destroyed or made the survivors leave behind 99.9999% of historical records, and then five more centuries of bleak survival, the people in the future have absolutely no idea what life was like in the Twentieth Century.  One of the few things that survived is Shakespeare, which is what they figure people in the past talked like.  To them, the concept of racism is so bizarre they figure Son must be pranking them. 

It takes a few years to gather the parts and remake the time machine.  In that time Son teaches them the technology of his time, so they give him some things that would probably be developed in a few decades.  Unfortunately, since the first machine was destroyed, they don’t have the precise numbers, but they think they can get him back to roughly the right time.

Son is sent back, and ends up on the side of the road about now.  A case could be made that he showed up around the time George Floyd was murdered, but I leave that to anyone who writes this story.  It might be raining, or just about to, when a truck driven by a white guy pulls over and asks where Son is going.  As a 1950’s black kid, Son replies, “I’m just heading to the library, Sir.” But then he’s surprised when the man tells him to hop in and he’ll give him a ride.  Now the driver, seeing a young man who calls people Sir, figures Son must have been in the military.  He asks where he served, and Son just muddles through saying he helped unload ships.  And the man thanks him for his service. 

Son tries to hide his confusion when the man drops him off at what – in the 1950’s – was the white library.  But he sees white and black people going in, so he goes in.  This is where he meets Girlfriend.  Her story is that she works at the library part time while she goes to college.  The reason she is there is because you need someone to believe that he traveled from the past to the future and back to now to explain to him how the internet works or who Obama is, without just writing him off as a crazy person.  At first she thinks he is a crazy guy, but then he shows her the technology he brought back, which I’m not sure what exactly it is, but it’s a different way of doing something we already have.

Anyway, once Girlfriend is convinced of Son’s story, she helps him find out about his family.  Grandfather and Father are both dead, but Brother is still alive in a retirement home.  They go to visit him, and learn what happened when Son left.  That same day, this weird black guy tried talking to some white woman about some random technology, which caused an incident and the man ended up being lynched.  His family figured Son somehow got caught up in it all and was lost in a ditch somewhere. 

And that’s all I have.  This idea just started as someone from the 1950’s seeing the bleak future, and then ending up in this time.  I wasn’t sure what else to do with it, but then when I thought about making the main character black, it opened up a lot of possibilities.  We can see 1950’s racism, a world where – through time and tragedy – racism has been forgotten, and the racism of today.  For example, I left open the race of Girlfriend.  Maybe she’s third generation Hispanic still being accused of being in the country illegally, or maybe she’s Korean and some accuse her of releasing Covid.  There is the potential for a lot of meat to this story.  Hopefully, somebody writes it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Random Writing Tips – Have a fun project

Writing can be a chore.  Maybe you’re working on a difficult chapter, or you’re so annoyed with some of the characters you just want to strangle them, or maybe you’re a bit under the weather but you still want to do some writing that day.  My suggestion is to have a fun project.  This is just something you can do for a day or two as a break from your more serious project.  These could be anything from “The Continuing Adventures of Queasy-Man,” or maybe you try to write a sentence where every word begins with the same letter.

Now some people – for one reason or another – feel that all their writing activity needs to build to a story or a book that they can sell.  At first, they may feel that a day not working on their big project is a day wasted, but these fun projects can easily be turned into blog posts, or bonuses for people who preorder your book, or even an ebook you could publish under a pen name.  Or they could just be used as a writing exercise to spark or explore new ideas.  A fun fact about writing is that putting words to page or screen is writing. 


Image from Pixabay.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

KENP blues

For those who don’t know, KENP stands for Kindle Edition Normalized Pages.  As I understand it, since people can change the font size when they read ebooks on various devices with various sized screens, ebooks don’t really have a set number of pages.  So Amazon, I guess, set some number of characters as a “page.” The reason to do this is for the authors.  When you read an ebook with Kindle Unlimited, you’re not buying the actual ebook, but the authors still get paid.  What happens is Amazon takes some of the money from your Kindle Unlimited subscription fee, and sets it aside in this massive pool.  If in one month ten million KENPs have been read, they’ll divide that pool by ten million and give the authors their share based on how many “pages” of their ebooks were read.  That way, if someone only reads ten pages before stopping, the author still gets something. 

Now, on January 2nd, I saw that someone had read ten pages from one of my ebooks.  I know this because it shows up in my author reports.  Now, the ebook in question has 77 KENPs, but maybe they were just reading on their lunch break.  Who knows.  I waited, and waited, but they must have lost interest and didn’t pick it back up.  That’s a tad sad, but understandable.  At least they gave it a shot.  As one unknown author in a sea of millions, sometimes that’s the best we can get.

Then, on January 14th, I saw that twenty-five more KENPs were read.  At first I hoped this person had come back, but then I saw that these new pages were from Japan.  Oddly enough, fourteen were also from that first ebook, while the other eleven were from a different one.  It’s highly unlikely that two people in Japan each found one of my books on the same day, so I assume they started reading one, but lost interested, but they gave me another chance by starting another of my books, only to give up on that one as well.  Because – in the two plus weeks since then – my reports haven’t shown any more KENP read.

In less than a month, two people – at least – have started reading one of my ebooks, only to give up ten or fourteen pages into it.  Am I glad people are reading my stuff and I’ll get a little bit of money?  Yes.  Is it depressing that they gave up reading my stuff?  Definitely yes.  Will I go nuts trying to solve the unanswerable question – since they didn’t leave any reviews – of why they gave up?  No, it just sucks that I had a “sale” two days into the year which I had hoped would be a sign this would be a good year.  But here it is the beginning of February and I have the KENP blues.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Free story idea – Lost wallet

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.

To start, I don’t really have a title for this story.  For my records I labeled it “Lost Wallet” for reasons which will be explained.  The idea as I have it would work as a novella, but if you can think of more material to add it could be a novel, or even a series. 

There are over a hundred spacefaring civilizations around the galaxy.  They fall into basically four groups.  There are the ones that have been around for tens or hundreds of thousands of years and have technology that basically make them gods.  They are around, but nobody really knows what they are doing and they play no part in the story.  The second group – of a dozen or so species – have been around for maybe ten thousand years and are extremely powerful.  They are well on their way to being in the god tier, and the lesser species just hope not to be noticed by them.  The third group have only been around for a few thousand years, and are still figuring out the galaxy.  There are fifty or so species in this group.  They are the main movers and shakers in the galaxy.  There are trading stations every few hundred lightyears all over the galaxy – some have been around for thousands of years and nobody really knows who first built them – and most of the business done on them is handled by this third group.  And the fourth group are the newbies, and they are another fifty or so species.  They know of the larger picture in the galaxy, but they usually stay within tens of lightyears from their homeworld.  They maybe stick with just one or two of these trading stations.

Humans, are sort of a fifth group.  The story is, that an object was detected entering our solar system.  The more telescopes that looked at it, the odder it seemed, until the most likely explanation was that it was an alien spacecraft.  A probe was thrown together and sent, and it indeed was a damaged, alien ship.  It was recovered and scientists took it – and what was left of the crew – apart and figured out all the technology, including the warp drive, or whatever.  So Humans built a ship and went out to meet the galaxy.  But things didn’t go well.  Turns out, desecrating the remains of someone’s dead isn’t a great opening move.  The way I thought of it was humans found a wallet on the street.  We looked in it and saw the person lived a few blocks away.  But instead of walking it back to them, we took the money out of it and hired a limo to take us the few blocks.  And while we did return the wallet, we took all the photos and credit cards out and photocopied them.  Fortunately, for us, the ship was from a civilization in the fourth group who didn’t really have the clout to do anything about it.  If it had been a ship from the second group, they probably would have just wiped us out.  So Humans are out exploring the galaxy, but there is the feeling that we hadn’t “earned” the right to be out there so few species wish to deal with us.

That’s the backstory, but what’s the actually story?  To try to give Humans a better name, several ships are sent far across the galaxy with samples of art.  There is music and sculptures, but the main thing are books translated into several of the bigger languages.  The story basically follows a trader trying to sell Shakespeare to aliens. 

The version I came up with had a father set out with his young daughter to spread the “Humans aren’t all bad” message.  So the daughter grew up interacting more with aliens than Humans.  And after her father died – probably just some accident – she continued.  It may have been twenty years since she’s left Earth, and over a decade since she’s spoken with a Human, but she’s still on the mission because it was important to her dad.  Her father was something of a poet, and after he died she started including his work in the sample of great Human artists.  Which means that at some point, hundreds of years later, when people finally reach this area of space, some of the aliens might want more work from this great Human artist, and the people won’t know who they’re talking about. 

But what’s the meat of the story?  I don’t know.  Maybe some other Human comes looking for her.  Maybe they had a similar origin story and they’ve gone looking for other orphans among the stars because they haven’t had Human contact for years either.  The bland story would be the two would fall in love and have a child to carry on the mission for a homeworld they’ve never seen.  But something different would probably be better. 

Or, maybe it’s a deep dive on what does it mean to be Human.  Like she’s spent so much time with aliens she’s more comfortable with them.  Maybe on the other side of the galaxy, she comes across members of a Fourth Group species that – from a distance – look Human, and she freaks out.  She is so accustomed to “alien” that something “humanoid” disturbs her. 

There are various things that could be done with this, but some things would probably be best not to do.  Like there’s some sinister plot in the galaxy and this single Human is the only one who can stop it, seems like a story from the 1960’s.  Or that by traveling across the galaxy she discovers some long-kept secret from Earth’s past, which seems like a 1990’s story.  A story where Humans aren’t the center of the universe seems more befitting a modern audience.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Random Writing Tips – Cliché timing


Imagine this story.  One of the main characters is traveling to some castle and comes across a woman.  We the audience know that she is the other main character, the Queen who was travelling amongst her people and got lost, or something.  They start heading to the castle, and have some adventures on the way, and the Queen falls for the other character.  She finally works up the courage to tell them who she is, just as they crest a hill and see a dragon rampaging over her castle.  Interrupting someone just before they can tell a big secret is dramatic, but it has been done so often it’s now cliché.  You can probably think of a couple examples from movies or TV shows without straining too much. 

Another example of cliché timing is how someone will be explaining their backstory, or some key aspect of world building, and just as they finish – sometimes within seconds – an alien will burst out of the wall for an action scene.  On one hand, having action scenes in between all the exposition dumps is an efficient way to give all the necessary information without it being too much, but on the other hand we’ve also seen that a thousand times before. 

Cliché timing is an efficient way to give the readers needed information and to keep some tension for the sake of drama, but it also makes it easy for the reader to see the scaffolding the story is hung from.  And when the reader can see the structure of the story, it becomes harder for them to get lost in it.  Some cliché timing can help the story, but too much can leave the reader rolling their eyes.


Image from Pixabay.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

My writing goals for 2023


One of my writing goals for 2021, which carried over to 2022, will carry over to 2023.  That’s to finally finish, and publish, my collection of fifty stories about writing, The Uncapped Pen.  I am nearly done with it.  There’re one or two stories that are about 90% done, and the entire thing needs a good polish, or two.  But my goal is to finish it up and get it out, hopefully by April. 

Last year I wrote that I hoped to finish off a story and start submitting it to magazines.  I did finish it, and I did submit it to four or five magazines, but none took it.  There are a couple other places I could submit it to, but they’ve been closed to submissions.  Some because they only take submissions for a couple of months each year and I missed them, but others because they had all their upcoming issues filled.  So I need to keep a watch for when they open so I can submit.

My general plans are to write more, try to finish more stories to submit, and to start work on my next collection, Collection X.  We’ll have to see how things go.


Image from Pixabay.