Monday, November 25, 2013

New Short Story Collection--Epic Fails

I had a lot of fun writing these between books.

Eight epic fantasy stories that have a common theme—failure. Sometimes dark but often funny, these tales paint other worlds where things didn’t work out the way the main character planned.
  • A Lesson in Summoning—an apprentice learns how summon Shrong demons.
  • A Boy with No Name on a Horse Called Spot—a young man must earn his adult name.
  • Cheating Death—an untrustworthy Greek wizard finds a way to live forever.
  • The Loneliness Drug—a new drug hits the market with side effects.
  • Of Mycenaean Men: an ancient foible—a Monty Pythonesque spoof of the Odyssey.
  • Native Intelligence—a teenaged Indian learns magic from his grandfather.
  • Agents of Fortune—an Appalachian witch helps people by listening to the right voice.
  • Zaboath Must Die—a post-apocalypse where one person’s heaven is another’s hell.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Random Sequencing

I just finished two books and am still in the edit process for one. Now is the time in the cycle to start something new. Have you ever wanted to see inside the head of a writer as he develops a story idea from scratch? It’s a process I refer to a random sequencing. The only comparisons I can use are outlining an invisible person using a ping pong ball in a tornado or panning for gold in a canoe. In days of listening to music and musing, I get maybe one nugget. It takes at least three compatible puzzle pieces to make a novel. Directing the process is worse than herding cats. I want my muse to develop my budding story “Behind the Walls of Sleep.” Before I can write past the fifth chapter, I need to finish building the world. From experience, this can take six to eight weeks, with no guarantee of outcome. The last time I tried to finish this story, the idea for “Jezebel’s Ladder” intruded.

Day 1

I try to develop the mechanics of the dream world. I get two single-spaced pages about rules for goblins. Wizards treat them like trash but they’re really important lesser faerie. To keep them from tunneling into your stronghold, there are four methods: stone slabs, renewing magic wards daily, pockets of nightmare in your basement, or hiring a dim goblin to be your janitor—he’ll keep the others out with goblin hospitality rules.

Day 2

Flesh in the dream world is the same as spirit here. I talk with a zen master character about what the dirt in Astra is made of. He says the same thing as here: crushed mountains, dead things, manure, insects, worms, and microorganisms you can’t see. These all have analogues in the dream world. What’s the bottom layer? Adam or a giant turtle. I Google fairy rings as gates and boundaries. Today is only one page of notes. This is frustrating so I concentrate on the details about the goblins. I decide they could be Japanese bakemono.

Day 3

I look into bakemono and feel a resonance for the part where they are yokai who can transform. In this case, the one in the tavern in town is a giant rat. Oni with an iron club is also an interesting concept I’d like to use--similar to double Varja. I research Shintoism next. The barriers between the mundane and sacred space are the most interesting.

Day 4

I decide that my fantasy stories don’t sell nearly as well as my science fiction. I have NO idea whether I can pull of YA literature and have been advised to stick to my strengths by colleagues. Okay. Let’s try to direct the muse to a well-constructed science fiction world where I can establish a series. My first two ideas only cover half a page and they are superhero driven. Those don’t sell well, and they are more fantasy. The third starts interestingly enough with the recent destructive “asteroid” in Russia being an emissary from another world—one of their royals. Common enough, but in this story, we kill him pretty quickly. Scientists gleefully examining his craft and body for new technology discover a signal being transmitted. A fugitive from the galactic empire on Earth tells us that this is the destruct button. We just declared war on the empire. Our only hope is to send out two missions: one to hide the seeds of our race in the galaxy hub, and the other to a prison world on the edge of the blight. If we can convince the royal imprisoned there to help us before the fleet crosses the blight, we have a slim chance. Either way, it will be a war against species extermination. Only a small minority of humans have the mutation that can survive the imperfect jump drive we cobble together on hollowed asteroids of our own. Some volunteer, but mutations with ANY criminal record are drafted by the UN to fight for us. Lots of exploration and meeting odd aliens. This space opera also verges on comic book. I did similar things for role playing campaigns—not mainstream enough.

Day 5

I run with the genetic idea. I also like the idea of one-word titles to sum up the concept. The core McGuffin in the series will be a technique, available to any billion-dollar mega-corporation or government, to splice specific minor progressive DNA changes onto an embryo. They have very little idea what we’re doing, but it works through trial and error. The company that discovers a key sequence gets to copyright it for 50 years. Monsanto does this with plants now, and there are companies trying to do it with adult DNA of people they’ve tested. There have been a number of stories about trying to make the smartest/strongest person, but this will be about the wild west era before it is mainstream. Think of the race for the gene sequences to make newborns immune to AIDs or cancer. The effects can only be realized in the next generation. Since children have no rights, the parents have to sign the agreements. In exchange, the children are cared for in communal daycares (crèches). The desirable ones are educated for free and given limited use of their own DNA in exchange for corporate loyalty. Think of people like iphones—locked into one carrier, useless for any other vendor or if you fail to make regular payments. Governments like this arrangement because it lowers crime rates and population growth while raising taxes. It will need to be set somewhere with lax human rights and big problems. 3D printers should also feature prominently in this world.
Let’s explore what we can do with this groundwork and one interesting word.


This story is about a boy who was part of a batch of 100 trying to achieve a specific mix. The indicator of splicing success (glowing skin patch, eye color, etc) didn’t manifest, and he’s literally stamped as a reject. He’s raised in a crèche with 20 other rejects, many of whom don’t live long because the trait they are hunting is on a very narrow isthmus. His own mother refuses to visit him when she finds out he’s a reject. Instead, he bonds to one of the nannies and is the only one of his class to reach eighteen alive. He can solve genius level problems but takes longer than genius time. He’s a further disappointment and washes out of the scholarship program. From there, he signs an extension of his “mineral rights” to the company in exchange for college. At age 30, he still looks 20 and wants to date. To have access to his own reproductive organs, he has to get the device implanted in him “unlocked”. The corporate rights expired but they still refuse to release him. He has to find a lawyer to take his case for free/cheap. A woman with a maternal streak and bio-rights issues of her own takes the case. Perhaps he reminds her of a politician or philosopher long dead. Once she unlocks him, they have a brief affair, and as payment she collects her offspring with desired traits. Back at the corporate labs they discover he not only lived longer than all the rejects, but he lived longer than all the members of the near success group. Since he was never completely sequenced and his samples were discarded with forfeit of rights, the company is now hunting him. In the end, the lawyer claims first rights to his DNA sequence. Consider right of first refusal in contract. 


This is a beautiful word referring to the propensity for the next generation cell copy to degrade just a little. It causes aging and eventually mutation and death. This is our built-in self-destruct mechanism as a species. What if someone constructed a DNA sequence that copied true—it would be the next best thing to immortality.


The ultimate in self-gratification—a photo of yourself taken by you. Cloning is illegal, but if you find someone close enough, you can print-slice a very close image. This is ideal for organ transplants and more often: young blood. Getting regular infusions of blood and marrow from your younger self can help a person live twenty to forty years longer. Of course, they younger you might have something to say about his process...especially if there are coldblooded as you are.


In a rare genetic condition, non-identical twins in the womb fuse into one person—a chimera. These two sets of DNA can compliment each other or fight. The dynamic system is fluid and ever changing.


Conway’s Game of Life evolves as DNA computers become a reality. Viruses and bacteria join the model in our systems. The human body solves colds and infections every year. Complex problems can be cracked by setting up a person to live the problem to its conclusion. Not all problems are solvable in 70 years and sometimes the experiment is disrupted by external factors. Touching other humans changes the equations and microorganisms are exchanged. What happens when someone “solves” a big problem? We have to bring the answer back to the lab.

Next Step

Ideas won’t stop gushing. Now I need to do the hard work and build this world a layer at a time. Instead, last night, I get a dream about a whole new fantasy magic system where sound is the source of creation. Tuning forks, fairies, and angels feature. One character explains to me that angels were formed when God said “Let there be light”—resonance effects and wave interference patterns, standing waves and superstrings. Wait... change the channel back one!