Points of Pride

From a newsgroup post dated May 17, 2011:

Like most people, I take pride in my accomplishments. Sometimes, though, I suspect that what I consider impressive accomplishments would not be on anyone else’s list.

For example, I am very proud of having sold stories with these titles:
“Dead Babies”
“Science Fiction”
“Ghost Stories”
“New Worlds”

I’m proud of having written the title story for an anthology that wasn’t supposed to have a title story — “Beneath the Tarmac.” I consider it completely unfair that the publisher then retitled the book Deathport.

I’m proud of having written and sold a story that was specifically designed to violate an anthology’s guidelines, “The Pick-Up,” even though in the end I sold it to a different market that paid more than five times as much. This was a particular challenge because the guidelines accidentally said they didn’t want to see a character turn out to be a vampire, werewolf, elf, alien, and Elvis, instead of “or.”

In general, I take pride in perversity. “My Mother and I Go Shopping” was written specifically because an editor was complaining about rejecting a story with that title as totally inappropriate for a fantasy market. Unfortunately, that editor was no longer buying by the time it was finished, so I had to sell it somewhere else.

“Remembrance of Things to Come” was written to fit the description in a cover letter an editor was using as an example of the ridiculous crap he had to put up with. I was very disappointed when the editor didn’t think my stunt was funny, and I had to sell the story somewhere else.

“Mittens and Hotfoot” was written because a friend was complaining about the work in a convention art show, saying that there were all these pictures of kittens and baby dragons, but no one wrote stories about kittens and baby dragons.

A Weirdness of Beards

From a newsgroup post dated February 17, 2011:

I have a beard, as anyone who’s met me or seen my picture probably knows. I’ve had it a long, long time.

I started out with just a mustache — and when I say “started out,” I mean I have literally never shaved my upper lip (though it was once, and only once, shaved for me), so by the time I graduated from high school I had a mustache.

That was 1972.

I got kicked out of Princeton in February, 1974, and that was when I grew a beard — a Van Dyke.

Then when I dropped out in 1977, I stopped shaving entirely and grew a full beard. I eventually started shaving again when my neck got excessively fuzzy, but I still have a full beard, and except for two brief interruptions I’ve had it since 1977.

I used to have long hair. I started growing it out in 1969. It got cut back somewhat a couple of times, but basically stayed long until 1984, when I cut it for my youngest sister’s wedding, and so Kyrith, who was then a baby, would stop grabbing and pulling it.

I kept it short for a few years, and honestly, I don’t remember exactly when I grew it back out, but it was long (below my shoulders) through most of the 1990s and well into the 21st century. In 2008, though — I think it was 2008, might have been a year or two earlier — I saw a picture of the back of my head and realized I had a bald spot, and that, combined with the long hair, had me looking uncomfortably like Riff Raff from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” So that October I cut it short, and it’s been fairly short ever since.

There were other variations along the way, such as color, but we won’t go into that right now — the basics, long hair and full beard, were pretty much as described above.

And here’s the weird thing: People don’t see this.

The first time I encountered this was when I was readmitted to Princeton in the fall of 1975. People who hadn’t seen me since February of ’74 got to see me with my new beard.

Some people didn’t notice. Some saw that there was something different about me, but couldn’t place it exactly. The strangest was the girl who exclaimed, “You cut your hair!”

I pointed out that no, I hadn’t, my hair was still halfway down my back, but I’d grown a beard. She stared and said, “Didn’t you always have a beard?”

I never did convince her that I hadn’t.

Then at my sister’s wedding in 1984, nobody noticed that I had cut my hair, that it was at least eight inches shorter than before. I mean, nobody noticed. No one. When I finally mentioned it to someone, he asked, “Didn’t you cut it back in 1972?”

He’d seen me several times between 1972 and 1984. It was long every time.

I mentioned two interruptions in my beard. One of them was when I sold my beard to Gillette, for research, and there aren’t any odd stories about that, but the other one, well, one morning I just decided to experiment, and shaved half of it off, trimming it back down to the old Van Dyke.

No one noticed. It was like the wedding, except that this time even my own kids didn’t notice anything. So I grew the full beard back, because why bother maintaining the trim if nobody notices?

And I bring this all up now because at Capricon this past weekend, someone I hadn’t seen for a few years saw me and exclaimed, “You grew a beard!”

She had never, ever seen me without a full beard. The actual difference was that I’d cut my hair since she last saw me. Well, that, and I’ve gone mostly gray.

But she saw a difference, and somehow that became I’d grown a beard.

I find this phenomenon baffling.

A Little Game

From a newsgroup post dated January 30, 2011:

This is swiped from a private mailing list I’m on; I hope they won’t mind…

Let us suppose a network decided that you, yes you, are a marketing genius, and they hired you, at extravagant rates, to create three series for them.

The first is to be a continuation of an existing series that was cancelled too soon — tell them which series should have been kept alive, and what direction it would take to prevent a second cancellation.

The second is to be a remake/re-imagining of a canceled series, and you have all of TV’s history to play with, from the 1940s to last week.

And finally, give them a spin-off — doesn’t matter whether the original series is still thriving or long dead.

My original three (later revised, but we’ll get to that) were:
Revival: “Invasion”
Remake: “Car 54, Where Are You?”
Spin-off: “Wesley Wyndham-Price, Rogue Demon Hunter”

Note: I have 345 more saved newsgroup posts. No, not all will wind up on this blog. I started with 589, and I haven’t posted anywhere near 244 here. Most either just get trashed, or saved as text files for my own use. The ones that wind up here are the ones I think might be of interest.

Follow-up note: I just did another pass through the backlog, and reduced it from 345 to 288.

The Muse Plagues Me…

From a newsgroup post dated August 30, 2010:

I’ve been reading Kushiel’s Dart. Not rushing, just reading a chapter or two every so often.

I read two chapters tonight, and one of them has a scene where Phedre goes to the temple of Kushiel to do penance. It’s not an important scene, and does nothing to move the plot forward, though it’s important to the character on a personal level.

And that scene, not much more than a two-paragraph throwaway, has me plotting a new story based on one passing detail in Carey’s description of Phedre’s arrival at the temple.

I’m not sure where my story is going yet, and since it’s high fantasy it may not be marketable, but it intrigues me. There’s an acolyte, you see, who discovers a secret she hadn’t wanted to learn…

The Muse Plagues Me

From a newsgroup post dated July 27, 2010:

Here’s another story idea that’s annoying me: Aliens come to Earth to exterminate a deadly threat to their civilization. They can’t explain how they know, but they’re absolutely certain that if they don’t wipe out every single carrier of a particular gene sequence, in about a thousand years their species will be extinct. They don’t want to hurt anyone else; in fact, they’ll be happy to give humanity their FTL drive and lots of other advanced tech and other goodies, and to welcome Earth into the galactic community — as soon as That Gene Sequence is gone. They’ll pay bounties for carriers, destroy entire cities that shield carriers, whatever it takes.

Some of the carriers are apes; in fact, a couple of endangered species are going to be completely wiped out.

And some of the carriers are human, which is where the story comes from.

The Rules

From newsgroup posts dated September 5, 2007 and July 25, 2010. Long ago I set myself rules to help with the self-discipline necessary to be a full-time professional writer; if I only wrote when inspired, or when I felt like writing, I’d have starved:

These are my official rules:

Four pages a day, minimum. They can be on one, two, three, or four projects, but there must be four pages. A page is defined as “Enough text to get onto the next page without altering any margins or spacing or anything,” no word-count is specified.

“A day” is defined as from the time I get up until the time I go to bed, but does not include any such period that either begins or ends somewhere other than my own bed, nor any period when I’m away from home for more than four hours.

Starting a new project does not count toward my four-page quota. “New project” is defined as a file that’s been open less than forty-eight hours, or that contains less than two pages of prose.

That last provision is because writing new openings and starting new stories is fun; it’s finishing them that requires discipline.

The Muse Plagues Me…

From a newsgroup post dated July 18, 2010:

This week I bought a comic book called Strange Science Fantasy #1.

It sucks; I’m sorry I bought it. It’s not even going into the “for sale” stack; I’ll be giving it away. It’s an incoherent post-holocaust alchemist gearhead story, which sounds much, much cooler than it actually is, as the “incoherent” trumps everything else, and it’s all done with three panels per page, no dialogue, captions only, and the art’s not very good, either.

There are a few nifty ideas and images buried in the mud, but mostly, it’s a waste of paper.

However, reading it triggered a story idea. I don’t know how or why or what the connection is exactly; I just know that trying to read this stupid thing gave me the set-up for an urban fantasy series, working title “The Ascent.” Or maybe “The Ascended.”

I think my protagonist is female for this one. Let’s call her… Lisa, maybe?

Anyway, Lisa starts seeing things. At first she assumes her eyes are playing tricks on her, then that they’re hallucinations, but they get more and more real, more numerous, easier to see, and harder to tell from ordinary people.

Eventually, they start talking to her. She finds other people who can see them and talk to them, too. And someone in there explains that she’s begun the Ascent. Only a tiny percentage of people ever do this, and of that percentage, most don’t get very far.

But most don’t start as young as Lisa has.

Why this happens, well, she doesn’t find that out right away, and I’m not sure yet myself.

According to people who have Ascended, she’s seeing into a higher plane of existence, and gradually transitioning from the mundane world into this new realm. As she continues, she’ll see more and more — but she’ll also gradually fade out of her old world, and eventually become invisible to everyone she’s leaving behind.

The thing is, it doesn’t stop there — some people continue Ascending, and leave behind that first higher level for even higher ones. Word has been passed down from level to level that there are at least six levels, maybe more — no one knows for sure how many. And as people Ascend, they gain powers over lower levels — but they also lose abilities. For example, someone on the second level or so can walk through man-made walls, and is invisible to the un-Ascended, but she can’t see the un-Ascended at all without making a conscious effort, and can’t hear them at all.

Lisa is Ascending whether she wants to or not, and doing so fairly quickly, to the point that some of the lower-tier Ascended are jealous of her progress — but she’s not sure it’s really progress, or that it’s really Ascent, and not Descent…

The Writing Life

From a newsgroup post dated June 11, 2010:

Julie rearranged her work schedule this week for complicated job-related reasons; she had Friday off but will be working Sunday. That meant she was home today with nothing planned.

So we went out for lunch at a tiny Thai place in Silver Spring, did a little shopping, and generally took it easy.

And at one point I was lying down, apparently doing nothing at all, and she remarked that I was obviously waiting for her.

I confessed that no, I was plotting.

Specifically, I was plotting Dumery of the Dragon, an Ethshar novel I may well never actually write.

Earlier, when she’d been talking to me about stuff at her office, I was plotting A Feather from Her Wing, another unlikely Ethshar novel.

Sometimes I think I’m so busy devising other people’s lives I forget to live my own.

Our Nation’s Capital

From a newsgroup post dated January 15, 2010:

You know those overhead signs in supermarkets that tell you what’s in which aisle? There are several variations, but I assume you know roughly what I’m talking about.

Safeway, at least around here, has them arranged to list a category, and then three items in that category you’ll find on that side of that aisle, such as:


or maybe

Canned meats

Well, tonight we stopped into a Safeway down in Washington to grab a couple of things, and Aisle 2’s left-hand sign read:


I suppose there might be some innocent explanation, that they moved the beer there from somewhere else and didn’t bother to change the top line, but still…

And that “and” just somehow makes it perfect; it’s not just beer, it’s beer and beer.

For breakfast.

The Muse Plagues Me

From a newsgroup post dated December 16, 2009:

And here’s another idea I didn’t need — suppose there’s a secret government project that’s opened portals to other realities, maybe on purpose, maybe accidentally. The other realities are inhabited by humans, or at least creatures indistinguishable from humans, who appear to have a lower tech level than ours — or at least a different tech level.

Our guys want to know what’s going on in these other worlds, but they don’t want to interfere, they don’t want to start any wars, and they’re not ready to make any direct, open contact; for one thing, they want to know who they should contact. Who are the good guys over there? Who are the bad guys? Who’s gonna be trouble?

These are other realities — are the laws of physics the same? Close enough for humans to exist, but is everything the same?

Someone gets sent in to scout. This isn’t something you can trust to civilian contractors, and it’s not really the military’s job, and we aren’t ready for the State Department, so the CIA gets the call.

So we have a 21st-century CIA agent trying to blend in in a fantasy world…