Writing Update- August 2019

I received some excellent news a couple months ago. My Sci-fi short story, “Cephi” was purchased by The Colored Lens. This story is set in the same universe as “Feldspar,” but instead of a Mars Rover, it’s a 3D printing submersible off the west coast. The story follows Jerry, a window-washer in LA. When he finally meets one of the people he’s glimpsed through a high-rise’s window over the years, she has a request that is impossible to ignore. The dirt and rock about to be dumped into the ocean as part of a city expansion project will destroy the fragile ecosystem she and other Terraform Game submersibles have built off the coast. And she thinks he alone can save it.

You can read a preview of the story by clicking “look inside” on the Amazon page (click link below). Since mine is the first story, most of it is visible for anyone to read. If you want to see how it ends, however, you’ll have to buy it.

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If you need further convincing, this was a story I submitted to the N3F contest under the name “Nautilus” in 2017. It was a finalist, and the judge had this to say about it:

“Great story!  Exquisite pacing, excellent construction, a beautiful dramatic build-up to the climax, a strong and active climax, flawless narration, and good dialogue.”

With this story published, it marks the last of my short stories to find a home. Sadly, I think I will be taking a break from short story writing for a while. I need to finish up edits on my novel. Stay tuned for updates on this in the next few months. I will need to line up more beta-readers soon.

Overall, it was a very eventful summer. Before this most recent publication, “Icarus Drowned” was published in Final Frontier in time for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. The Got Scifi Group and I are currently looking for reviewers for Final Frontier. Let me know if you are interested. Review copies available in ePub, Mobi, or PDF.

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Finally, I plan to attempt NaNoWriMo again this year. To see how I did last year, click here to view my previous post. This year will prove to be more difficult than the last, I expect. Last year, I lived by myself in a small apartment, had minimal distractions, and my work was only a short commute away. Now, the opposite is true. I no longer live alone, my house is about 2000 sqft with a half-acre yard, and my commute to work is now 45 minutes. As if the constant chores, long commute, and the lovely company weren’t enough of a distraction, we now have a new dog. He is a 3 month old puppy, full of energy, and has a penchant for chewing anything made of wood.

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All that said, I’m not sure I’ll be able to manage the 1,667 words a day required to complete NaNoWriMo, but I’m eager to give it a shot. On the bright side, I have a new study area and am desperate to spend some time writing in it. It even has its own mini-bar!

That concludes my update. I hope to get back to more regular posts in the near future.

Until then, Write Well and Science Hard.

Writing Update- March 2019

It’s been a productive last few months, and I have some big news to share.

New Anthology Coming Soon.

The first piece of news is that I’ve just had a sci-fi short story accepted in a reprint anthology titled Final Frontier. The editor, C. Stuart Hardwick, reached out to me a while back to see if I had something to contribute. The anthology will be released in time for the 50 year Anniversary of Apollo 11, and Stuart requested I submit a story that “celebrated the indomitable spirit that carried mankind to the Moon.”

I did have just such a story in mind, one featuring a test pilot, a new kind of space craft, lots of danger and excitement, and lots and lots of science. I submitted “Icarus Drowned,” a short story published previously on this site.

The anthology will feature short stories and other works by award-winning authors including Mike Barretta, Marianne J. Dyson, Sean Monaghan, K. B. Rylander, Matthew S. Rotundo, Ronald D. Ferguson, Martin L. Shoemaker, Nancy Fulda, David D. Levine, Patrick Lundrigan, David Walton, C. Stuart Hardwick, and lastly, Spider Robinson, a winner of Campbell, Hugo, Nebula, and Heinlein Awards among others. If that wasn’t an impressive collection of authors already, the Forward will be written by Astronaut Stanley G. Love.

I will be sure to post another update as soon as the book is published. The expected release date is Friday, April 19th, 2019.

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Completion of my new Science Fiction book.

For my second piece of news, I’ve recently completed my latest science fiction novel! The working title is Grounded, and it rounds down to about 100k words. I’ve still got quite a lot of editing and proofing to do before I send it out to agents or publishers, but I’m very pleased with it so far. If you are interested in becoming a beta-reader, feel free to reach out to me. See the Beta-reader edition cover image and book blurb below (Note: This is a working cover just for the Beta-reader Edition. The final, published version will be much more professional, i.e. not put together in less than an hour.)

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Working title and cover for the Beta-reader edition

back cover

Working back cover and blurb for the Beta-reader edition

Blurb:

Hundreds of lives were lost to the sky during the Fracture, the result of an experiment gone wrong. In seconds, everything and everyone within a mile of the research facility became completely and irreversibly weightless.

In the aftermath, Kyle and the other survivors are given the chance to join a new space program. With New Heights, they will embark on an expedition to the sky and beyond without gravity to hold them back.

But to make it through training, Kyle must contend with a diverse and inexperienced crew, some of whom want nothing more than to see him fail.

 

I’ve planned for this to be the first book in a series, with subsequent books taking Kyle and the crew of New Heights to Earth’s upper atmosphere, the Moon, Mars, and even to float on the clouds of Jupiter and Venus. I mean, why not? If you no longer felt the pull of gravity, where would you go?

Until next time, Write Well and Science Hard.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Winner

I wrote over 55,000 words last month, which makes me a National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) Winner.

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This was my first year doing NaNoWriMo, which is odd, since I’ve known about it for many years. I guess I thought it wasn’t for me. I had several reasons for believing this, but all of those reasons turned out to be false assumptions. In this post, I’ll go over all those assumptions and debunk them.

Here were my initial assumptions:

Assumption 1- NaNoWriMo is for noobs, not something serious writers do.

Assumption 2- The quality of the hastily written manuscript will be poor.

Assumption 3- It’s impossible to find time for NaNoWriMo working a full-time job.

Assumption 4- It’s hard to be motivated to write when there’s no real prize for winning.

Assumption 5- You have to have a book completely plotted out before starting.

 

Now this is where I tell you how stupid I was to believe all that.

Debunking Assumption 1- It turns out NaNoWriMo isn’t just for newbies. Now that I’m on Twitter (@PhilipKramer9), I’ve noticed all kinds of NaNoWriMo-related posts from big-shot published authors, some of which have been participating for years. It didn’t even occur to me that these heavyweights sometimes needed a bit of motivation too.

A couple months ago, Dan Koboldt contacted me and other contributors from Putting the Science in Fiction, and asked if we could run a blog tour the month of October. He suggested we put together some writing prompts to help give writers inspiration for NaNoWriMo. But after a little bit of research, I realized just how many people were doing the same thing. It’s as if the entire world was preparing for NaNoWrimo. So I put together a post with some writing prompts and was surprised by the reception. A lot of people were planning to participate, indeed. The success of the blog tour and the book, which were targeted toward writers, really emphasized that.

Side-note: The book is going to become an audiobook, published by Tantor Media.

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It wasn’t until the end of the month, a day or two before NaNoWriMo was supposed to start, that I decided to join. Imagine my surprise when I saw there were 120 novelists just in my local area, with ten local forums, and a huge number of online and in-person events planned. I met several of these authors in person at some of the WriteIns over then next month, and many had already published several books and were full-time authors. Together, the region wrote over 2 million words in November. NaNoWriMo definitely isn’t for newbies.

Debunking Assumption 2- Let’s face it, the quality of any first draft is usually pretty terrible. That means a book written over the course of a month and one written over the course of a year, will both require large amounts of editing. I would argue that a book written in a shorter time will probably have fewer inconsistencies, since you are less likely to have forgotten the details of what you’ve just written. I experienced this personally. I was forced to write and think about the story so much, I rarely forgot even the smaller details I’d written just days before. The other advantage it that your writing style and voice is less likely to change over the course of the novel.

There is some truth to this assumption though. When you’re forced to write an average of 1,667 words a day, you’ll occasionally get ahead of yourself and your story, digging a plot hole too deep to crawl out of. That’s why pre-plotting is important, or if you are a pantser, regular brainstorming.

One of the most common pieces of advice I hear from people doing NaNoWriMo is to keep writing and don’t edit. In general, this is decent advice, as it keeps the forward momentum going, but don’t pass up the opportunity to highlight a section that needs work or leave yourself a note to add more detail to a specific sentence or paragraph. All too often writers say they’ll catch something later in editing, but it ends up getting overlooked or forgotten.

Debunking Assumption 3- It takes time to write a novel, and it’s not easy if you have no time to spare. Truth is, we all have a little time to spare in our schedules. If you enjoy  writing (which you should), it is relatively easy to cut down on other enjoyable things like reading or watching TV. Sometimes, if you aren’t in the mood to write, forcing yourself to sit down for twenty minutes is all that’s necessary to get you sucked back into the story. On multiple occasions, I ended up losing track of time and writing for several hours straight without any breaks.

I eventually decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, not because I thought it would work out, but because I really had nothing to lose. After several months of writing next to nothing, I decided the worst that could happen was I’d write a few thousand words before giving up. But hey, that’s a few thousand words I probably wouldn’t have written. So it’s a win-win. Not only did I find the time to complete the 50k words, I developed some good writing habits, and have already written another 10k more in the first couple weeks of December. It really gave me hope that one day I might actually have what it takes to be a successful full-time author, cranking out several books a year.

Debunking Assumption 4- Motivation is a tricky beast to tame. It’s hard to predict what will motivate me or give me the inspiration to write. Fortunately, I chose to write a book on a topic I was passionate about. Still, NaNoWriMo was asking me to write half of the book in a single month without giving me anything in return. What was there to compel me to write that much in such a short time?

It turns out there are multiple prizes for winning. You get a 50k word novel out of it, better writing habits, new writer friends, discounts on Writer’s resources, and even a nice little certificate.

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The NaNoWriMo website had a lot to offer to help you with motivation. It connects you with other people in you region, gives you access to forums, and a blog filled with writing tips. Check out one of my early posts on the Science of Motivation.

Their graphs and stats also really helped. It might not work for everyone, and maybe it’s just the scientist in me, but the ability to see how much I’ve written and how much is left in a line and column chart made all the difference. I really wanted to stay above that stupid gray line.

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Debunking Assumption 5- I’ve always been more of a plotter than a pantser, but NaNoWriMo changed where I fell on that scale. I already had a couple books lined up and plotted out, ready to be written, but things didn’t go exactly as planned. Because I was writing so much in such a short time, I started thinking about the story every waking moment of the day, and the more I did, the more I realized my plot was imperfect. After a few brainstorming sessions, I decided to restructure it, and am now much more satisfied with the story-line.

I hate to say it, but it’s impossible to pre-plot so well that you plug all the plot holes before they appear. When you write, you’ll have to fill in all the finer details, painting a picture of the setting for your readers, and give your characters life. Steering those now-living characters across your now-detailed world will inevitably result in some plot deviations. Humans are unpredictable, even fictional ones, and it’s hard to know what goes on in their heads until you’re right there with them, experiencing what they are experiencing. Those little overlooked details become even more complicated when you’re writing hard science fiction. As an example, trapping a person on Mars in their spacesuit for several days sounds like an interesting plot point, but the moment you realize they can’t go to the bathroom in their suit or lift their face-shield for a drink of water, you’ll have to either create a shelter for them, or shorten that timescale from three days to one. When writing during NaNoWriMo, you don’t have weeks or months to agonize and fret over how to fix things, you are forced to sit down and brainstorm until you figure it out. You don’t have time for writer’s block. Don’t get me wrong, if I hadn’t been thinking about this plot long in advance, I would probably have stuck with my first version of it, which was garbage. So it’s best to write a story you’ve been thinking about for a while, just be prepared for the story to change as you write.

 

Hopefully I’ve convinced at least a couple of people to give NaNoWriMo a try and dispelled some of your false assumptions about it. I suggest, however, that you don’t just take my word for it. This was my first NaNoWriMo after all. What works for me might not work for you. As always, Do Your Research!

Until next time, Write Well and Science Hard.

2017 N3F Short Story Contest- 1st Place Winner!

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I have exciting news!

I’ve won another contest!

This one happens to involve three of my short stories. In December, during my vacation, I came across a writing contest by The National Fantasy Fan Federation (N3F), the oldest international Science Fiction and Fantasy fan club on Earth. They’ve been publishing stuff since 1941. Per contest rules, I could submit up to three short stories. It just so happened that I had some sitting around, waiting for a publisher to snatch them up. I submitted all three, and a month later, I received an email that went something like this (excluding story-specific feedback):

“To the Author of Nautilus:
[…] Great story! Exquisite pacing, excellent construction, a beautiful dramatic build-up to the climax, a strong and active climax, flawless narration, and good dialogue. […]
Your story did not win in the 2017 National Fantasy Fan Federation Short Story Contest, but was one of the nine Finalists.

“To the Author of “Icarus Drowned”:
[…] Everything about this story is great. There is absolutely nothing I could teach you about writing!
Your story did not win in the 2017 National Fantasy Fan Federation Short Story Contest, but was one of the nine Finalists.

“To the Author of “Quantum Quietus”
[…] Wow! This is a totally nifty story! It brings new ideas to the table, in new ways. The protagonist is well developed, the narration is strong, the dialogue is mature, and the *ideas* are just staggering! […] The story is a gem and a joy.
This story has won First Prize in the 2017 National Fantasy Fan Federation Short Story Contest!

So in addition to taking up a third of the finalists’ slots, I also got 1st place!

True, I have no idea how many people entered the contest, but I’ll get some prize money out of it and a shot at getting another of my stories published.

The inspiration behind the winning story:

I was inspired to write “Quantum Quietus” after researching the strange and instantaneous communication of quantum-entangled particles, even over large distances. The only way to make sense of the phenomenon was to conclude that time itself did not apply to entangled particles. By acting on one, that action would reach back in time to the moment of entanglement, and define the properties of its partner. I envisioned a day when the pharmaceutical industry could make a drug that entangles our minds, allowing us to receive Feedback from seconds into the future. The story also delves into the dangers of playing with quantum uncertainty. In the words of the antagonist, “If humanity continues to allow the principles of quantum uncertainty to direct our future, it will discover just how uncertain that future is.”

Summary of the story:

Joe is one of the handful of people allergic to Quantanax, the latest drug from Prescience Pharmaceuticals. It gives people the near supernatural ability to see into the future. With just a few seconds of foresight, their reflexes become quick, their actions unerring, and their mistakes erased before they ever happened. They called it Feedback, the new sixth sense. Had things turned out different, Joe could have been like them. His life would be free of unpredictability and hardship, better in every way.

When television broadcasts are hijacked, and a man with a mask and synthesized voice walks onto the screen, Joe realizes he’s more fortunate than he first believed. The masked man has placed a nuclear device in the city, one triggered by a Quantum Random Number Generator. As the man activates the device, nearly everyone drops to the ground, catatonic, and overwhelmed as they experience their deaths second after second. Unaffected, Joe is the city’s only hope to find the bomb and shut it down.

 

I’ll be sure to supply the link to the award announcement as soon as the N3F newsletter is released, and another link to the story if/when it gets published.

I apologize to my readers for yet another writing update. I promise to get back to my regular Science in Sci-Fi posts soon. I do quite a lot of science writing for my day job, so my brain has been over-saturated lately.

Until next time, write well and science hard! (I think this will be my new slogan).

 

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Release Day- The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide to Seattle (free preview)

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Today is release day for The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide to Seattle. It is the sixth Episode of TPATG Series 1. Even though it is classified as a Novelette, it is just a few hundred words shy of being a Novella. To read more about the work that went into writing it, see my previous blog post.

This book is dedicated to my brothers, Ben, Tim, and Greg, for introducing me to Seattle. They made sure I stayed hydrated, well fed, and was given all the tours I could ever want. Thanks to them, my life in Seattle has been positively pre-apocalyptic.

My thanks to all those who pre-ordered. It is available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. Click the cover image below to be directed to the Amazon purchase page.

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Link to Amazon purchase page

Remember to check out the other books in the series, all of which were written by award-winning authors!

 

The Episode Blurb:

When the alien invasion ended, humanity strove to mend their broken world… until they remembered how much they enjoyed war. In Seattle, rival clans fight over territory and resources. Resh, the headsman of the Five Clan, has the power to conquer the entire city, but he has other ideas. He runs. Outside the city, far from responsibility and the risk of assassination, Resh comes across an abandoned hospital. Inside, he finds a young man climbing into a wheelchair. Suffering from a mysterious illness, the traveler makes him a deal he can’t refuse. But Resh takes on more than he bargained for. To help the traveler find the cure he’s after, Resh must return to a city filled with scheming and betrayal, and confront an organization with a terrifying agenda.

 

Free Preview:

 

The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide to Seattle

By Philip A Kramer

 

The building was abandoned. Trees and foliage grew unchecked along its perimeter, making it nearly impossible to see from the road.

Resh recognized the series of letters still visible on the partially collapsed awning. This was a Hospital. In Seattle, the W Clan made their home in one. It was a large network of buildings with hallways that stretched between them. This building was far smaller, rising just above the surrounding trees. Before the invasion, it might have looked welcoming. Now it could easily be a wolf’s den.

Resh looked back the way he had come. Night had already fallen, and he could make out a dim glow to the sky to the north, where thousands of Seattleites sat around their campfires. The city had been his home his entire life, but he was never going back. For weeks he’d been possessed by a singular urge to explore, to learn more of the world outside the city. The urge had become so strong; he had walked away from everything.

The same urge compelled him to carry on, to leave this building behind like all the others, but the needs of his body prevailed. He had walked until blisters formed on his feet, and continued to walk until those blisters burst. The muscles of his legs were knotted tight, and sharp stabs of pain radiated up his bones with every step.

If this Hospital was anything like the W Clan’s, it would have some beds inside.

Resh ducked under the sagging awning and through the shattered glass door of the building. He fished his lighter from his pack and flipped it open. By the meager light of its flame, he entered.

Most of the building had been picked clean of metal, but he found a few mattresses uninhabited by mice within a closet on the second floor. He collected branches from a tree sticking in through a shattered window and built a small fire one the ceramic tiles of a small shower in a bathroom. He stacked the small, thin mattresses on the floor beside the fire and fell asleep in moments.

He dreamed of familiar faces around familiar fires, until an unfamiliar sound woke him. He grappled in the dark for his knife, and his stiff muscles protested as he came to his feet.

The sound that had woken him repeated, a soft shuffling, the sound of disturbed leaves.

Resh rubbed the last vestiges of sleep from his eyes and brought out his lighter, sparking it into life.

The room beyond was quiet and empty, and Resh inched out into the hallway. The dim flame illuminated the dirty vinyl flooring at his feet, but the darkness thickened further down the hallway. The coating of dust and leaves that had covered the floor earlier was disturbed, brushed aside by something dragged across them. A long smear of blood confirmed what he suspected. This was a wolf’s den. A lone wolf he could deal with, and a new pelt and a week’s worth of meat would see him to the next settlement.

He held the knife out before him as he followed the faint sounds. When he rounded the corner at the end of the hallway, he saw a doorway that hadn’t been open before.

Placing his feet furtively, deliberately with every step, Resh entered the room. It was a supply closet, one he had given a cursory examination last night only to find nothing of use.

Unlike the night before, someone was in the room. It was not a wolf, but a man with shaggy, filthy hair and tattered clothes. Every inch of his exposed skin was red from excessive sun. His arms shook as he attempted to pull himself into one of the wheelchairs stored in the room. His legs did little to assist in this goal, dragging behind him like useless chunks of meat. He looked defenseless, with nothing more than a small pack on his back. It was a sad sight, one Resh did not care to watch.

Resh sheathed his knife, preparing to turn away, when a horrible possibility struck him. Could this man have been injured by something to the south? Resh did not want to end up like him, mauled by one of the mutated beasts rumored to roam the land outside the city. He could exchange a few words, learn of any troubles ahead, or even discover the best route down the coast.

The man finally pulled himself into the wheelchair and faced him. Behind the mop of disheveled hair, his eyes reflecting the flame of the lighter with a savage intensity. He didn’t look surprised to see him. Perhaps he was used to expecting the unexpected.

“It looks like you’ve seen better days,” Resh said, thinking some levity would ease the palpable tension.

The stolid features of the traveler transformed with a grin.

“Better days?” he asked with a grunt. His voice placed him as a young man, but his appearance suggested he’d fought hard for every single year. “I barely remember what those are.”

A moment later, the man’s face scrunched up in pain, as if he had only just become aware of his injuries. He lifted his hands from the armrests of the chair and looked at them. Blood oozed from ragged gashes along the flats of his palms to his elbows. His knees were large splotches of red beneath tattered jeans.

Resh had seen hundreds of men die in his thirty-six years, he’d had a hand in killing many of them, and he could tell when a man was near death. This man should have been dead already.

“Anything I should avoid down the road?” Resh gave the man’s wasted and bloodied frame a significant look. “Like whatever you got into?”

“My kind of trouble is…unique,” he said, his eyes looking distant, sad. “And mostly of my own making.”

It was a shame, Resh thought. Knowing what lay ahead might give him some sense of direction. It would be better than following this blind urge to walk into the unknown.

“Any information you have would be more than I’ve got. In exchange, I might have some water and a few bandages I can spare.”

The man dipped his head in agreement, with no small amount of gratitude in his eyes. He then lowered his hands to the wheels of the wheelchair, and winced as his hands encountered the metal bars.

Resh waited a few more seconds, frowning. The traveler tensed as Resh came forward and then moved out of sight behind him. Resh grabbed the handles of the wheel chair and pushed the man out of the room and back to the bathroom in which he had slept.

The traveler looked from one end of the small room to the other, taking in Resh’s scattered belongings. Resh had never been tidy, and even a night spent in the room made it look like he’d been there for years. In Seattle, he’d had someone to clean up for him, to arrange his things, and to cook him food. That was over now.

The traveler’s eyes strayed to the small tin pot of water Resh had set over the fire to sterilize. The water was cold now, the fire little more than ash and embers. The man’s dry, cracked lips parted as he accepted the small can from Resh, and guzzled it down.

When he spoke again, his voice had lost its raspy edge.

“Where are we? How far to Seattle?”

“Just a day by foot. Maybe two or three in the shape you’re in.” Resh sat on the toilet seat and reached into his pack for a spare shirt. “Where you coming from?”

The traveler watched warily as Resh took out his knife and proceeded to cut the shirt into strips.

“The east, from a place you’ve never heard of.”

“Any better out there?”

The traveler smiled wistfully.

“There are still barbarians and cannibals if that’s what you’re asking. But it was better in its own way. It was home.”

His hands paused in their task as he regarded the stranger. Resh had been a barbarian once, but he refrained from saying so. He’d left that life behind him. He no longer had a home, and he preferred it that way. Now the thought of home carried with it a sense of restlessness and revulsion. How could anyone stand to stay in one place for so long?

The man squinted at him.

“Well?”

Resh realized he’d been staring.

“Well what?”

“Aren’t you going to ask me why I’ve come all this way? That seems to be everyone’s first question, usual right before they try to slit my throat and eat me or feed me to their pigs.”

Resh shrugged a shoulder.

“I won’t do any of those things,” Resh said. Unless you give me a reason to, he thought. “It’s none of my business, just as mine is none of yours.”

The man dipped his head in acquiescence.

Resh motioned for the man to lift his hands, and he complied hesitantly. He took his wrist and turned his hand palm up. He proceeded to rinse the wounds with water from his canteen and bandage them, ignoring the man’s curses and grunts of pain. He was not the charitable sort, but this man had information he wanted. If there was one thing he’d learned from his old life, it was the currency of favors.

Once he had both hands cleaned and bandaged, he turned his attention to his other injuries. Exposed bone jutted out from beneath the dirty mop of cloth and strips of skin of his knees.

“I don’t see any breaks.”

The traveler looked down at his legs and frowned.

“They aren’t broken. I can’t even feel them to be honest. They gave out yesterday.” He must have seen Resh’s look of confusion, for he added, “It’s a sickness, not contagious,” he clarified. “Still, I knew it would happen eventually.”

Resh was not reassured. He finished bandaging the man with the remaining cloth, and washed the blood from his hands with the last of the water.

“So why did you come here?”

“What happened to that being none of your business?”

“Guess I’m curious now. If you knew it would happen, shouldn’t you be at home, living out your days in peace or in the arms of a beautiful woman?”

The man looked to the ground as if he wished for nothing else, then he leaned back in the wheelchair and withdrew a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. Resh took the proffered slip and unfolded it. Printed in neat, tiny letters, like the kind he’d seen on signs and in books, was a message, and a logo: a shield with some kind of slender tree on it. Above that, there were three S’s, one of the few letters he recognized.

“I can’t read. What does it say?”

“In short? You’re infected with a disease that will eventually kill you. For a cure, come to Seattle. Good luck.”

“Who’s it from?”

“Synapse Sentries of Seattle,” he said, the S’s coming out as disdainful hisses.

“Never heard of it.”

He sighed.

“No I suppose that would have been too much to hope for.”

“I suppose there isn’t immediate danger down the road then?”

“Oh there’s plenty of that,” he said, chuckling. He pulled his pack out from behind him and took out a worn leather book like the kind he’d seen in the old libraries. Most of those had been used for kindling.

“What’s that?”

“A journal of sorts. A travelogue.”

“A guide?”

“Sort of. A recounting of my journey and the things I’ve learned along the way: People I’ve talked to, some history, and a lot of the troubles I’ve managed to live through. I’ve documented everything I’ve encountered since Louisville. I’d read some of it to you if you like, but there’s a lot.”

He flipped open the book to reveal a page with long squiggling lines. Resh squinted down at them. They were letters unlike anything he’d ever seen, not nearly as neat and small like those in books, but more elaborate and beautiful.

Resh had to have it. The man was incapable of putting up much of a fight. He could take the book by force, but what good would it be to him? He couldn’t read the words.

The man must have seen the desire in his gaze, for he closed the book and wagged it back and forth.

“If you help me find what I’m after. This cure. The book will be yours. You want to know the best places to visit? Avoid dangerous roads? This will tell you how. Get me what I need, and it is yours. It’s even worth something to the man who commissioned it if you return it to him.”

“I said I can’t read.”

“I will teach you. It could be days before we find it. That should be enough time. You’re not the first I’ve taught.”

Resh shifted uneasily. He had every reason to avoid returning to Seattle. Many of his former clansmen would like to see him dead, and that was the last thing that bothered him. Going back meant going in the wrong direction and losing several days. But if what this man said was true, it was a small sacrifice. Knowing where to go and what to avoid could save him weeks on the road and could save his life.

The decision was made, and a bargain was struck.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed the free preview. For more, click here to purchase the book on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

 

sss

 

 

Writing Update- 1 Year Blog Anniversary

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My blog is one year old! In this past year, I’ve posted 30 times, have had nearly 300 followers, and over 3000 viewers. For a first-time blogger, I will call that a success.

My most popular posts.

The science of time travel

Writing Update- The Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest

The science of killing your characters

The science of gravity

The science of making your readers hate you

However, I believe the majority of people who visited the time travel post were referred by a conspiracy website where someone tried to draw some tenuous connections between me and the deceased bassist of The Iron Butterfly who shares the same name. Oh well, any traffic is good traffic, right?

Also in this span of time, I have interviewed scientists and have even been interviewed. I have published a short story and sold a couple non-fiction pieces.

Lessons I’ve learned.

  1. Have an original platform:

Creating a unique theme for your website is a great way to stand out among the thousands of other writing blogs out there. With a relatively original platform, you will be the first person to come to mind when writers and readers encounter a specific writing problem. For me, that platform is science in science fiction. I have received several science questions from authors over the past year and have tried to assist them with the science in their stories. I even received one question from a best-selling author!

  1. Write regularly:

This is obvious, but I feel obligated to mention it. The more posts you have, the more people will find their way to your site. Once you haul them in, chances are they will stick around to see what other posts you’ve written. Having an archive of posts will continue to draw in readers even if you haven’t managed to post anything new in a while. The longer gap between posts, the more likely the reader will forget your name, the content you offer, or their interest will have faded.

  1. Write quality posts:

This requires planning, patience, and quite a lot of research. Readers aren’t going to come by your blog if all you talk about is yourself and the day-to-day minutiae of your existence. Most people search for blogs because they are interested in learning something new, or are trying to find quality reading material, or an answer to a specific question. I try to keep my posts longer than 1000 words.

  1. Make writing friends:

I have met many other writers through writing websites and while writing for this blog. I would even call some of them friends, even though we’ve never met. If you’re lucky, these friends and acquaintances will help spread your name around and direct people to your website. Doing the same for them isn’t always expected, but it’s appreciated.

On that note, here are some websites that have been great resources for me. They are run by some very talented writers, friends, or host amazing writer communities and forums.

Resources.

Dan Koboldt

Amber Pierce

Judy Mohr

Corey D. Truax

Rick Ellrod

Writers helping writers

Critique Circle

Codex

Things I’m going to try next year.

  1. Guest posts:

There are numerous other areas of science in which I have no expertise, so new perspectives and advice will only help my readers. Plus, getting other authors and experts invested in the success or your website, if just to improve their own success, is the definition of a win-win. I would also like to volunteer to write more guest posts for the same reasons. The more my name shows up on other quality websites, the more readers will recognize and remember me.

  1. Post some of my writing:

This applies to those short stories or novels that I do not intend to professionally publish. They may provide a separate means of drawing in traffic and serve as a sample of my writing to future prospective readers, agents, and publishers.

 

Thanks again to all of my readers and followers and writer friends. I like to think I write and maintain this blog for myself, but the truth is, I do it for you!

“Feldspar” is now published

I’m happy to report that “Feldspar,” the story that won me the 2017 Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award, has officially been published on the Baen website, where you can read it for free!

Baen webpage screenshot.png

Screenshot of the Baen main page’s listing of “Feldspar.” Click the image to be redirected there.

Here’s the blurb they wrote for the story in their newsletter:

“In the future, a gaming company is accomplishing what governmental space agencies tried and failed to do: they’re slowly making Mars suitable for human habitation. But to do so they’ll need the help of a team of gamers back on planet Earth. One such gamer is Blake; his remote-controlled rover is Feldspar. But not all Martian exploration is done from the safety of an ergonomic chair in front of a computer desk back on Earth. Astronauts still make the dangerous trip to the Red Planet. And where human space flight is concerned, things can go very wrong very quickly. Now, Blake and his intrepid rover are all that stand between one astronaut and certain death in “Feldspar,” the grand prize winner of the 2017 Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award.”

Last month I flew to St. Louis to attend the International Space Development Conference to receive the award, and to meet with Baen editor, Tony Daniel, and the contest administrator, William Ledbetter. I had the chance to meet with several other authors at the conference, including the runner up, Stephen Lawson, and the third place winner M. T. Reiten. Baen also published Stephen’s story, Bullet Catch. It is a story stuffed with fascinating characters, science, and suspense. It is well worth the read.

Group photo

From left to right: M. T. Reiten, Me, Stephen Lawson, and Bill Ledbetter

Tony surprised us with a request for an interview at the conference to discuss our short stories and our backgrounds. You can listen to the interview below, which was aired on the Baen Free Radio Hour Podcast on May 26th.


The talks at the conference were amazing, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a huge nerd. I heard talks on space elevators, space beacons, space medicine, planet colonization and exploration, Mars simulations, and new ways to harvest asteroids and solar energy. I even got to share the award banquet with Linda Godwin, a former astronaut and recipient of the Missouri Space Pioneer Award. Needless to say, I came away from it with all kinds of new story ideas.

Linda Godwin presentation

Presentation by Linda Godwin

I don’t believe my own acceptance speech was recorded, but I’ve transcribed it for you below. To hear the introductory speech Tony gave, listen to the above podcast.

“Thank you, Tony.
It is an honor to receive this award as both a writer and a scientist, and to be here at this amazing conference.
I’d like to thank all those who helped make it happen, especially my family and friends who gave me valuable feedback on the story,  Bill Ledbetter, the contest administrator, and all the judges who chose my story from all the other entries. It couldn’t have been an easy decision. Finally, I would like to thank Jim Baen, for the impact he had on science fiction, and the legacy he left behind.
It would be difficult to find a scientist here who was not in some way inspired by science fiction. I think we’ve all dreamed of a future where traveling to space becomes no more routine than getting on the bus to work each morning. The part of me that’s a writer can only dream of this future; it’s up to the scientist in me, in all of us, to make it a reality.
Thank you.”

Last but not least, I got to explore St. Louis with my girlfriend, Megan. First on our to-do list was to RE-explore the City Museum. The last time we went, we lost a large number of our photos due to a cell-phone malfunction, so we had to re-document the amazing place. We felt like kids again.


Now for my regular readers, I’m happy to tell you that I’ll be getting back to my regular science in sci-fi posts. I have a big one planned for next month, so stay tuned.

Writing Update- The 2017 Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest

Feldspar

I am pleased to announce that my short story, “Feldspar,” won the 2017 Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest. It is an honor to be chosen as the grand prize winner from such a pool of talented finalists.

The contest.

Baen books describes the contest as follows:

“Since its early days, science fiction has played a unique role in human civilization. It removes the limits of what “is” and shows us a boundless vista of what “might be.” Its fearless heroes, spectacular technologies and wondrous futures have inspired many people to make science, technology and space flight a real part of their lives and in doing so, have often transformed these fictions into reality. The National Space Society and Baen Books applaud the role that science fiction plays in advancing real science and have teamed up to sponsor this short fiction contest in memory of Jim Baen.”

If you follow my blog, you can tell why this contest came to my attention. I am a scientist, but my narrow field of research only satisfies a small portion of my fascination for science, space, and innovation. I decided some time ago that the only way I could make a real difference in science (beyond my own research) was to write about it. With any luck, my stories will inspire other scientists to invent what I do not have the time, intellect, or resources to create on my own. Winning this contest means a lot to me.

As the winner, I will be professionally published by Baen Books sometime in June. This will be my first professional publication, so it’s kind of a big deal for me. Along with publication, I will be given a year’s membership to the National Space Society, free admission to the 2017 International Space Development Conference in St. Louis, an engraved trophy, and tons of other prizes. Needless to say, as both a scientist and writer, I am most excited about attending the ISDC conference in May. It will give me the chance to speak to leaders in the field of space development about topics such as living in space, the space elevator, planet colonization, and innumerable other topics of mutual fascination. A previous Baen winner was able to sit next to Buzz Aldrin at lunch *cue two months of giddy excitement*. With any luck, I may be able to discuss my own scientific research and how it could help prevent the muscle atrophy associated with low gravity. I hope to come away from the conference with many new contacts as well as exciting story ideas.

The story.

“Feldspar” is the story of Blake, a lonesome rover operator in the city of San Francisco. With the help of the gaming industry, space exploration has boomed, and Mars has become the largest sandbox game in human history. Over a hundred rovers prowl the surface of the red planet, harvesting regolith for smelting. The iron wire they receive in return is used to 3D print any object these gamers desire.  But they aren’t the only ones on the red planet. When Blake comes across the footprints of a NASA astronaut over a hundred kilometers from the Eos Basecamp, he becomes her only hope of staying alive.

My thanks.

I’d like to thank Bill Ledbetter, the contest administrator, Michelle, the “slusher of doom,” and all the judges, including author David Drake, for choosing “Feldspar” from the slush pile. I worked on “Feldspar” for months, gathering feedback from friends, family, my writers group, and even my uncle Wade, a NASA employee. I appreciate their valuable feedback. This was my first short story contest, and it gives me hope that there is a place and perhaps a need for my unique voice in the world. I will diligently continue my writing, hoping that my vision for the future of space exploration will inspire scientists to make it a reality.

Links to award announcement.

Locus

File 770

Baen

Writing Update-December

For those of you who didn’t notice, I failed to write a single post during the month of November. I didn’t forget about you. November was packed with all kinds of distractions. The first half of November was spent preparing for and then attending a science conference (Society for Redox Biology and Medicine) in San Francisco. I had a blast and learned a lot, but couldn’t get a whole lot of writing time in. The conference ended the weekend before Thanksgiving and I stayed in San Francisco to spend it with some family in the area. Because this post is light on visuals, I made this little squirrel to represent how I felt after the week of Thanksgiving:

thanksgiving-squirrel

November, as many of you know, was also National Novel Writing Month. I never participate in NaNoWriMo, but I did plan on getting my book edited. Sadly, after spending weeks without any creative outlet, I couldn’t bear the thought of editing. Instead, starting Thanksgiving week, I began a short story project. The story has been bouncing around in my head for a while, but I now had a reason to get it out on paper.

That reason is the Jim Baen Memorial short story award. I stumbled on to this contest last year, but couldn’t meet the deadline (Feb. 1st). The thing I love most about this contest, besides the fact that it is free to enter, is that they allow short stories of up to 8000 words in length. I have a hard time writing stories shorter than 4000 words, which is the norm for most contests. The other thing I love about this contest, is its mission. Not only is it requesting strictly science fiction stories, but stories that can help inspire scientific progress. This isn’t just meaningless propaganda either. They will give the top three finalists free admission to the 2017 International Space Development Conference as well as a bunch of other prizes.

I am almost finished with the short story and hope to share more details in the near future. In short, it is about a Mars rover operator who finds himself in a position to save the life of a Martian astronaut. I am tempted to call it brilliant, but I am still coming down from a creativity high. Its true quality will be determined during editing.

For my last bit of news,  I participated in the Twitter SFFpit event for a few hours earlier today. I had one acquisitions manager from a small press show interest in Quotidian but I am holding out for a literary agent who can get me the best deal. For those of you who don’t know, SFFpit is very much like other Twitter pitch contests. Summarizing your book in 140 characters is no easy feat. To give you an idea of how short that is, this sentence is 132 characters long with spaces, and I haven’t even included the hashtag. You can check out my twitter feed on the bottom of the page to see what variations I tried. The SFF pitch event was hosted by Dan Koboldt. If you recognize his name, it’s because I recently wrote a guest post for him on Enclosed Ecosystems and Life Support.

December will be a bit light on posts as well as I will be in lab for 10+ hours a day trying to crank out some data before the holidays. Speaking of holidays, I will be in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, so there is little to no chance of me blogging during that time. I will be on a beach somewhere drinking cocktails and soaking my pale Seattle skin in sunlight.

With that, I am behind on editing and have a lot more to do before I can send my book to beta readers early next year. I’ve already put together a beta-reader book cover (below)! Wish me luck.

cover-quotidian

Beta-reader cover for Quotidian. It depicts a scene from the book.

Writing Update-October

fall-in-seattleIt is Fall, a beautiful time of year in Seattle. All the leaves are changing color, and the days are either rainy, sunny, or a bit of both.  I wish I could blame the weather for the late writing update this month, but the truth is, I just forgot. I do have some fun blog posts planned, but you will have to wait till next week to see them.

My works-in-progress.

The thing I love most about this blog is that it allows me to research dozens of topics I would otherwise have no reason to research. In so doing, it has given me more ideas than I know what to do with. These ideas have found their way into my writing and into the outlines of several new works in progress.

In case you missed it in my last post, I am working on a new story called Grounded (working title). Quotidian is more dystopian than sci-fi, but Grounded is very sci-fi. You can read the blurb here. It will be set in the near future, just like Quotidian, but unlike Quotidian, it will be chock full of science and innovation. It has been fun learning all about orbital mechanics and buoyancy and speculating about what will change when gravity has been eliminated. I have even consulted with my uncle, who works for NASA. You will be hearing more about this project in the near future.

Editing.

Quotidian is coming along slowly. In my August update, I had planned to make it through several rounds of edits and several drafts by the end of the year, but I am still wading through the current draft. The hardest part it deciding what stays and what goes. If a subplot doesn’t contribute much to the overall story, character development, or setting, I eliminate it. Unfortunately, this means I have to comb through the draft and remove all mentions of it. The earlier the subplot is introduced, the more there is to eradicate as the story progresses.

Typically writers fall into one of two categories: underwriters and overwriters. I think I am an overwriter, but not to the extreme. As I am editing, my word count is shrinking, but not by much. I think I outlined it well enough that there isn’t a whole lot of extraneous exposition or excessive subplots.

I usually write my entire story as one Word document. It is easier to keep track of the drafts that way verses having a Word document for each chapter. I regularly make new versions of the same document with a new save date to ensure, if I lose one copy or make a significant change, I can return to a previous version if necessary. This has resulted in a huge file of documents over the years. I love graphs, so I plotted the word count for each of my document versions over time to get an idea of my writing pace and speed:

quotidian-word-count

Word count for Quotidian

The book started relatively high in word count, but this was mainly due to all the notes, outlines, and about a chapter or so of actual story. It was pretty slow to get started because I was finishing Book 2 of the Abyssian. I didn’t start making headway on Quotidian until the end of 2014. Of course, this didn’t last long. I had to graduate. The next several months were spent writing my dissertation and graduating. I started my postdoc about a week after my last day in grad school, and that week was spent packing my bags, leaving Alabama behind, and traveling across the country to Seattle. Once in Seattle, the setting for Quotidian, I felt much more inspired. During the day, I was in lab, but afterwards I would find a quiet place in some nearby café or bar and write, nearly every day, until I completed Quotidian. Now I am in the editing phase, and I am really missing the daily writing. I have since started Grounded, but juggling both is making editing and writing progress pretty slowly.

Thankfully, I get quite a lot of editing and feedback from members of Critique Circle. On this website, I post chapters to my private queue, and my queue members read and critique it. I only have 16 chapters posted so far, but will be putting all of them up by the end of the year. In addition to finding me some alpha readers, CC was able to generate some pretty cool stats for my posted chapters:

readabilityadjectivesnounspronounsadverbsverbsprepositionsdeterminersdistinct-wordsdirect-speech

The readability stats indicate what grade level the reader needs to have in order to understand each chapter. Mine is pretty standard for a book targeting a broad audience, I think. The other stats give me assurance that my writing style isn’t dramatically changing throughout the story, and they show me where I am heavy on description or dialogue. I highly recommend CC to other aspiring writers. When I get into some other editing software, I will be sure to post my reviews and recommendations.

As a side note, I was thinking about starting up a scientific consultant service to cater to writers’ specific story needs. I would probably do this service for free, unless demand rises rapidly. So if you are having trouble figuring out the science involved in your story’s unique context, or if you simply want someone to help you brainstorm, please feel free to contact me. I will likely not be an expert in the topic you need help with, but I do enjoy researching new things.

I am also happy to take suggestions for future blog posts. Any topic related to improving the accuracy and believability of science in science fiction is preferred.

That’s all for today. Back to writing… and editing, I guess.