Friday, December 30, 2011


My subconscious is trying to tell me something. I have never dreamed about skunks before.

And yes, they were doing what skunks do.

I don't think I've written any stinkers lately...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Great Chefs

The Chef Rule

In our household, we have something called the 'chef rule'. It goes like this:

A good chef will serve you something you like.
A great chef will serve you something you don't like - and make you come back for seconds.

Right before Christmas, my mother-in-law took us to an exhibit of Rembrandt paintings. Now, when it comes to non-sequential visual art, the human form has to be my least preferred subject. In both painting and photography, I prefer landscapes. I seldom take pictures of people, unless it's as a record/memory of that person. So, an exhibition of portraits? Ugh.

Except that somehow, Rembrandt makes the portrait something special. It's what he did, and it's why he's considered a master.

Rembrandt is the art equivalent of a Great Chef.

In writing, of course, a Great Chef can serve you a genre you don't like. The problem is that because of the time investment in a book, most people don't want to spend time on genres they already 'know' they don't like. I'm guilty of it myself.

So, who are the literary world's Great Chefs?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Acknowledging Debts

As writers, we have debts to those who went before us. As a form of fiction, the novel did not really flower until the 19th century. Back then, people really did do things 'for the first time'. (Or rather, for the first time in print and in that form).

Most novels, at the time, were serialized. It was not uncommon for newspapers to print serials, the forerunner of the literary magazine. (Analog continues the tradition of printing novels in serial to this day).

However, most focused on what the author knew. In the 18th century, Jane Austen brilliantly described the world in which she lived, making of the sheltered lifestyle she led something of interest to many readers (Personally, I consider her to be the mother of 'chick lit'). Charles Dickens brought Victorian cities to life. Additionally, novels tended to be slower paced, in part because they were serialized, necessitating a certain amount of repetition. One of the biggest complaints often made about early novels is 'nothing happens' or 'you can tell the author was paid by the word'.

Today, we tend to think of most of the important literature being written in English, but I owe a personal debt to the first science fiction novel I ever read - 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne. Who, of course, was French.

Much earlier, a Frenchman of mixed race wrote several novels:

First of all, they were historical fiction, describing not the world in which the writer lived, but the world of two centuries previous. (Although the authors own time is, of course, echoed within them, as is unavoidable.

Second of all, by the standards of the time, they were remarkably fast paced, focusing not on intricacies of character or deep themes, but on high adventure. They were not written to educate, but to entertain.

I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that this may well have marked the birth of pulp. From this, of course, came much of the early science fiction and certainly, one can see elements of the plot of these books in much modern fantasy. (Even though many writers have never, in fact, read them, but only see the movies).

And, of course, thanks to the movies and at least one wonderful cartoon, everyone will recognize the names of his startling protagonists:

Athos, Aramis, Porthos and, of course, d'Artagnan.

Thank you, Alexandre Dumas, for handing down to the ages The Three Musketeers - and laying part of the foundation of modern genre fiction.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


First of all, this will be my last post until after Christmas. Family stuff is going to occupy most of my time for the next week or so.

Second of all, I'm pleased to announce that my historical fiction short 'The Emperor's Grandson' will be featured in Issue #2 of the new ezine Comets and Criminals. It's a mixed-genre magazine that should have something for every speculative fiction fan. The first issue is available in Kindle, Epub and PDF formats.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Stupid Neanderthals...

We tend to equate 'Neanderthal' with stupid, uncivilized, barbaric. Behind the times. Cavemen.

How about the eastern Ukraine a structure built primarily of mammoth bones has been found that considerably predates the expansion of modern man into the area. It was made by Neanderthals. Traces of paint indicate that they colored the inside of the structure.

No less than 24 separate hearths were found inside. Somebody was living there. Somebody was living there for a long time.

The area, close to Moldova, has no suitable wood for building, so they used bone. But one has to wonder how many other Neanderthal houses were built that we might never find...because the wood foundations are long gone and we have no clue where to even start looking.

Just how intelligent and civilized were they?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Chicken and Egg...

Which comes first...story or character?

With me, it is often character, and sometimes the most surprising revelations can happen in the middle of the story. I suppose that is part of why I find it almost impossible to outline.

What about the rest of you...where do you start? Story? Character? Maybe even setting?

Thursday, December 15, 2011


...working through the to be read pile. I am actually close to catching up with the husband on our Analogs (at which point I'll let him go first as I have SO many novels to read (or re-read in preparation for reading the next book).

And I keep acquiring more.

I am a bookaholic ;).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Really, Time?

'The Protestor' as person of the year? Shouldn't person of the year be, you know, an actual person?

I'm somewhat mystified. Yes, this has very much been the year of the protestor, but I don't think that an archetype or a type of person should be what is honored here.

Of course, that would require coming up with a good candidate. Maybe they were just stumped? They did consider Kate Middleton, but as nice as she seems to be, all she did was marry a prince.

Yeah. You know. If they were stumped, so am I, so maybe it was as good as anything else they could have done.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


If you notice that my profile has changed, it has. Blogger is finally integrated with G+, meaning that I'm now using the same profile for both services.

Secondly, I decided that as Smashwords is not going to get Amazon integration done in time for Christmas to also post The London Incident to Kindle Direct. Here's the links:


Monday, December 12, 2011

A Fermi thought

Any science fiction writer or fan worth their salt knows what Fermi's Paradox is.

If there are alien civilizations out there, why haven't they contacted us?

I've thought of many reasons over the years, including the difficulty and expense of interstellar travel (if faster than light isn't possible, then it's a very long...although far from impossible...trip).

Here's another thought.

One of the reasons commonly cited is that truly advanced civilizations would have a Prime Directive. This is generally mocked by most people who don't support it as 'why would they do that?'

Well, hear me out.

A civilization advanced enough to have interstellar travel is not going to be flying around the galaxy for resources or even finished goods. We're on the verge of having Star Trek style replicators ourselves. The only thing a starship might want from another system is fuel.

So, what IS worth trading between the stars?


Except that a truly advanced civilization isn't going to get meaningful scientific information from one that's lower in development.

What kind of information, then?




Intangibles. Things that will be different from system to system, species to species. Things affected by who we are and what our sensory capabilities are.

What does this have to do with the concept of the Prime Directive?

If you contact an insecure or unstable race, their culture will be irrevocably damaged. And what will be damaged will be those very intangibles that are the only things worth trading with them for. As the newly contacted species learns from you, there is a very real risk that they will trade their culture for yours...ruining their value as trading partners.

It is only worth trading with a mature species. Therefore, guidelines against premature contact would be in place to ensure that a species becomes 'mature' before they are contacted formally. (Informally might be another matter...but there's all kinds of stories there).


Friday, December 9, 2011


My Goodreads library is now pretty much done. Everything's in except the periodicals, which I'm not sure whether or not I want to put in there.

(Sadly, they don't consider 99 cent shorts to be books, so I can't actually promote them on there. Which is silly - if it has an ISBN, it's a book, surely?)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Horses, Courses, Success

Yesterday I rode two horses. Both of them are animals I've worked with before, but I had never ridden them back to back, one after the other.

It really highlighted just how different the two of them are.

G is a fifteen hand Quarter Horse who is dangerously close to what people in the horse world refer to as a 'tank'. He is short-coupled, compact, and holds a lot of power in his frame. His pedigree is a laundry list of some of the most familiar names in the ranch horse breeding world - Wimpy, Three Bars, Joe Hancock, Poco Bueno, King... He's close to being smarter than I am and an extremely dominant animal who wants to be top of the heap. Almost every time a new person gets on him, he tests their mettle by trying to slam them into the arena wall. His other favorite trick is to literally fling himself into the center of the arena. He even bucked me off once. But he has never been lame in his life, to my knowledge, and everyone who can handle him loves him.

Bo is about sixteen two and is believed to be a Thoroughbred. He has no racing tattoo and his past is somewhat murky, but he looks and moves like a Thoroughbred. This means he is long in all dimensions...long legs, long back, long neck, long stride. He's not quite as knife-blade narrow as many American TBs, but he's close. Being a Thoroughbred, he is often eager to go, especially on a cold day, although he also has his moments of not wanting to work. Also, like many Thoroughbreds, he spends much of his time rummaging around for a second braincell. Sorry, Bo, but it's true. But he's willing, and the worst thing he does is let you know that he doesn't understand or get what you want (he's still in training, so this happens fairly often) by just stopping and standing there until you explain it again.

Truth is, if you asked me which of the two I wanted to ride, I would be looking around for a coin. If you asked me which was the better horse? I couldn't give you an answer.

If you told me I could have one of them tomorrow...I would take Bo.

Why? I love and adore G, but he does not belong in an English barn jumping fences and trying to do dressage. He lacks the longitudinal flexibility needed to be a good English horse and really wants something to herd...he's tried to herd the barn swallows and even the barn CAT (somebody needs to tell him about herding cats...) He's a tough-minded, ranch-bred horse who would be absolutely great if I wanted something to ride across the plains or chase cows.

Bo, on the other hand, has elasticity, he has the ability to 'float' in his action. He can do dressage and I rather suspect that when we start teaching him to jump he'll be pretty good at it. He's not the better horse, but he's the better horse for the job.

Relevance to writing? There's no sense submitting to the best publisher in the world if they aren't the right publisher for the job. Do they do your genre? Do they treat their existing authors the way you want to be the editorial style right? Would you honestly be better off with a small press or even going it alone?

Those are all things we need to think about when we're deciding which 'horse' is right for our personal 'course'.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Replicators are Coming

One of the most exciting technologies in development right now? The 3D printer.

It seems that most people who aren't geeks don't know anything about this.

A 3D printer is a fairly simple concept that's not dissimilar from the inkjet printers most of us have these days (If you have a photo printer, it's an inkjet, and most small desktop printers are inkjets.) Instead of extruding ink from the jet, the 3D printer extrudes plastic, metal, or whatever you need. 3D printers have been used for all kinds of purposes. Plastic printers can, for example, create a missing part for an old Airfix kit. Some restaurants have 3D printers that extrude dough, allowing the creation of intricate confectionaries that would be hard or possible to do by hand.

The cheaper kinds of 3D printers are now within the reach of individuals at prices comparable to a high-end laser printer.

But this is not what is truly exciting about 3D printers.

3D printers have been used to create muscle, cartilage and bone. There are 3D printers in existence right now that can be fed a small amount of cartilage taken from a person's joint and print up an ear - just add skin.

Medical researchers are hopeful that within a matter of not decades but years, they will be able to literally print replacement organs. They hope that bone printing will be approved in a year or two, potentially allowing the repair of complex fractures that until now have required amputation. In the longer term future, printing up somebody a new arm or leg, or at least the framework to allow that person to grow one, is now feasible. Not technically there yet, but feasible.

In the future, nobody will need a prosthetic arm or leg, but only an outer framework to temporarily support the limb and perform its purposes while it regenerates (such already exist). In the future, we will be able to grow somebody a new heart, lung or liver, from their own tissue (so no rejection problems), but with whatever defect or deformity was causing them to need one corrected.

And there may be other implications. Who remembers the Star Trek episode 'What Are Little Girls Made Of?' In that episode, the sinister Korby creates android copies using a blank and a device that might well be a highly sophisticated 3D printer.

More obviously (thank you Nobilis for pointing this one out) the recreation of Leeloo in the Fifth Element is definitely 3D printing.

Now there is a can of worms...are we ready for factory-made clones?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


'The Third Princess' is completed with substantive edits and being sent out to betas. Finally.

Of course, I'm betting there will be more substantive edits, but I can get it out of my head for a while now.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Where are we going?

There's an article in today's Washington Post. (You can find it here).

A successful man with multiple graduate degrees took a standardized test for 10th graders.

He basically failed.

NOTHING in the test was relevant to real world success. None of the math questions were math anyone in an actual job needs.

With the results he got, he would have been told not to bother with college, that he wasn't smart enough.

Where are we going with this education system? I know I rant about it fairly often, but I was raised by a teacher, so I know a little more about education than most. In fact, the only reason I'm not a teacher is because I'm the wrong personality to keep control of 30 or 40 kids. If I have 4 or 5, I can teach them fine. Sigh.

What do we need to do to come up with an education system that works? Any ideas?

Friday, December 2, 2011


I didn't do it for various reasons, but who completed NaNo this year? If so, you all deserve a big high five, especially if you did it for the first time.

Now go write some more...

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Yesterday, Bo cantered.

What? A horse cantering is an achievement?

It is if the horse concerned is barely trained and this is the first time anyone other than his original trainer has managed to convince him that cantering under saddle is actually possible.

Achievements are, well, relative. Your first credit is an achievement, but selling another story to the same magazine? Less of one. I'd go so far as to say that for something to feel like an achievement is has to register as an improvement. In writing, this might mean selling to an editor who rejected you 100 times with other works or selling for a higher rate.

Finishing your first novel, thus, is a greater achievement than finishing your second one - at least in your psychology.

But then, you can look at this another way. Everything you finish is an achievement. If you see it that way, you will feel better. Trust's hard to see finishing a novel as an achievement if you haven't managed to sell the last one, but it is.

And if that doesn't help, remember that there are people out there for whom getting through the day is an achievement.