Category Archives: Patreon

Everything Explodes – SciFi News Network, 2041

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(Original appearance: 25 April 2017 on my Patreon page)

NO GLORY

A syndicated conflict blog

Rose L. Parimoo

Everything Explodes

 

04 May 2041*

It does, you know. Everything does explode. The sheer carnage one sees here, day and night, is amazing. Is amazing the right word? Yes and no. Amazing, horrific, awful and awe-inspiring in a sad and pathetic and scandalous and phantasmagorically grievous sort of way. It’s beyond words, really. But here we are in a medium of words. So.

Soldiers bearing the marks of frantically rushed training and gear bearing the marks of hasty 3D printing flood in daily, and daily the Hadesbots drag off as many, give or take a little, to bulldozed pits or even tumble them into a convenient natural ravine. Dead, destroyed, consumed by the appetite of the war.

The vultures are so sleek and fat I’m amazed they can still fly. That’s a good thing in a disgusting and depressing sort of way.

It makes the fake vultures easy to spot. The exploding drone vultures are normal looking, even a bit gaunt.

That ease of identification doesn’t stop the soldiers and defense bots (and all of the civilians, who, after all, are equally opposed to dying) from shooting down every vulture they can shoot. And any other bird they spy, for that matter. They’re all suspect.

Everyone, that is, but the smattering of American medics. They are strictly unarmed – not even a sidearm, not even a little one – by the terms of their surprisingly enduring cease-fire with China.

It’s an uneasy cease-fire, to be sure. But nobody wants an escalation, not even the nuclear powers or their allies who are the ones actually fighting this nakedly proxy war.

The Americans are nervous, yes. Yesterday one lost a chunk of his calf muscle to a butterfly.

A butterfly. Who expects a butterfly to explode?

Can you imagine the insanity of troops carrying state of the art smart assault rifles trying to shoot down the butterflies as they pass a field of wildflowers? Smart rifles are not made to target butterflies.

Can you imagine, then, how much ammunition a war on butterflies demands? A war on butterflies and every other threat, which is everything, because everything explodes? How many delivery drones to carry the ammunition to the soldiers who are not only engaged in killing their human and butterfly opponents, but also must kill every bird, rodent, cow, goat, chicken, snake, and insect they encounter?

If civilization ends in this war, lays fallow for ten thousand years, and is reborn, their scientists will believe an enormous asteroid made of metal struck here, because there are so many bullets scattered about after two years of this madness.

Bullets turn up in every tree passed, every latrine pit dug, every wall taken shelter behind. They glimmer in pockets all down every streambed, winking like clutches of gold nuggets. Nuggets that are stained with death. They trigger somber reflection at their discovery, not the excitement of a windfall.

The windfall we receive here is living through the day. Not only surviving the relentless drone fauna, but the snipers and the migratory landmines with their subtle borers and seismic imagers, and of surviving the threat of worse.

Every time there is a retreat of any sort, even of a single squad of soldiers, thoughts turn to the threat of nuclear annihilation. Are they clearing out so this place can be wiped smooth and radioactive?

A nuclear weapon could be aboard the great eagle I’m watching as I write this.

It’s circling a mountain peak, tracing the thermals through the sky in a crooked path that never quite retraces itself.

Eight of the nations embroiled here, directly or via proxy, are nuclear capable.

Three of those nations are known to have the capacity to custom-print nuclear warheads on only a few days’ advance notice.

Theoretically, a custom-printed subcritical nuclear bomb could fit aboard a false cow or sheep or horse. Even, perhaps, a goat or a dog.

Or one might just fit inside one of the numerous and enormous eagles that call these mountains home. It would have to spend most of its time gliding on thermals, though. Even the tiniest nuke would be heavy, and a drone eagle would have to flap unrealistically quickly and hard to gain altitude without the help of the warm air rising off the sun-warmed mountains.

As quickly as new troops are slaughtered – and they’ve grown noticeably younger and older as the demand for soldiers outstrips the human speed of reproduction – the survivors go dead-eyed and silent at the realization that there is no competence or heroics that can guard against a nuclear attack, even if one can imagine defending themself against deadly butterflies and unseen snipers.

The only defenses are to resign oneself to the inevitability of death, or to go mad.

Some do the latter. Very few of those are so obvious or dangerous to themselves and others as the movies would have you believe. It manifests, instead, in ways that choke off the humanity inside, as too-hard earth chokes off a sapling and leaves it withered.

More than any war in history, death and fear saturate the environment.

A week or two agao, a tree branch killed two men. In the shrapnel they found the joints of little robotic legs, like the legs of a centipede but made of kevlar and carbon fiber. The walking tree branch drone, a robot built around an explosive core sheathed in a titanium sleeve grooved to shatter into a thousand flying nails, had climbed into the tree and settled down to wait for a target to pass.

Nobody knows how long it waited. It could have waited mere hours, or waited two years. Subtle solar panels smaller than the scales of a trout powered it.

Is there one, or are there several perhaps, in the glarled tree beside the latrine pit I visit here in camp every day?

Has an exploding rat crept beneath my cot while I was at the latrine? Is it waiting for me to finish this bit of writing and lie down to sleep, unexpectedly forever?

Will a deadly butterfly find a gap in the mosquito netting in the morning and end me while I brush my teeth?

I’ll have to leave this place soon. I can feel myself slipping away under the constant fear that even invades my dreams.

It is worth remembering that the soldiers, those who live, lack the luxury of leaving when they feel themselves slipping slowly into madness.

I won’t survive much longer here.

Then again, nothing does.

END

*The fourth of May is only a publication date. Per my agreement with the Indian Army, I an say only that the situations I describe occurred within the past one hundred days. Details may be altered to protect individuals or operational security. The post above was required to clear Indian Army intelligence before publication. This disclaimer is required to appear here, and I am required to abide by its terms and additional terms as required by standing military orders and the orders of officers of the Army.

Sometimes I Forget To Mention It Here And I Have No Idea Why…

…but I do maintain a Patreon page. Because I am a poverty-stricken writer (yes, actually under the poverty line for a family of 5. Or even 4 if you count my college student stepson as an adult, even though his full time job is college student and he lives here with the rest of us in our itty-bitty trailer), and while the readers I have are wonderful and sometimes even take a moment to tell me so on Twitter or in a review…

…and because Patreon is now a way for creators to make a wee bit more money than they would if they can think of something to offer people who like what they do, and I can — for example, I just posted some brand-new microfiction over there…

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…and often I post it over here eventually, but not always. And I never post links to free ebook copies over here, but I do over there for my $5 or more patrons…

…so, yeah. I’m a big fan of supporting the arts, and these last few years I have become part of the arts. If you’d like to see some of my arts before other people get to see them, Patreon is the place to go.

Thanks for reading. Wherever you read.

Flash Fiction: Under Ashes

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“Anything worth a damn is made on a coast and ships from a coast. By air or sea.”

That’s what the president said. At least, it’s what was reported on the shadow web that snakes through the makeshift network of “smart” stoves and washing machines and automobiles (if you can afford them!) and can openers and athletic shoes and disposable razors and anything else with WiFi and an app.

The authorized news, on the other hand, ran a piece on how the economy was so gloriously rampant and virile that airlines have formally discontinued coach and business class seating, leaving nothing but a spacious expanse of first class and super luxury class seating in their cavernous airliners.

The anchorbot’s perfect on-air voice floated like a cloud behind the image of an iron-haired general, her chest a solid plastron of stars and ribbons like a compacted galaxy. Her feet were up on an ottoman and a masseusebot worked the suspension bridge of corded tendons in her neck with eight-fingered silicone hands.

Then, as the anchorbot droned a lulling narrative bridge, a puffy gilded teen cherub sat with a megaplatinum record from Motherland Records on a hefty wood base with a tall glass cover occupying a seat of it own beside her. A stewbot cracked the claws of a four pound lobster with deft blurs of a little brass gavel and slid the laden tray before the starlet who tucked into the chow with a flood of melted butter.

Finally, the anchorbot burbling upbeat and drawing to a conclusion, the vid showed a man in an immaculate dark suit and bright tie. The men are always first or last, symbolic frames of the stream of words and images, carrying with them weight and importance, tangibility. The lights and vids of an array of three monitors suspended from the ceiling (the “overhead” on an airplane, is it called?) flickered gem-reflections off the heavy steel rims of harsh six-angled eyeglasses. His hair was a blond cap, waxed down like a helmet. Sideburns trimmed to stilettos stabbed the angles of his jaw in the new style I can’t get used to. A trackball in each hand, he Does Important Things for the cameras.

The images fade to the state news logo and the anchorbot climaxes and relaxes into a commercial.

We all have televisions so we can see how good things are. We may not have hot water, or even running water. We only have electricity part-time. I can’t afford the simplest drugs to treat my pre-diabetes or even aspirin for my arthritis half the time. I set snares for squirrels or I’d have nothing to go with the endless lumps of hard bread (gotta soak it in a bowl of water to eat it) and cheese the Army hands out to keep us from starving or rioting or both.

But the state provides televisions. A new one every Christmas, even if you forget to bring them the old one to trade in.

We’re doing great, dammit. We’re finally great again. The television tells us so. All the biggest world powers respect us they way they should, the announcerbots say.

Just outside the city line – I can see it from the kitchen table in this two room shack I’m blessed to share with just two other bachelors – a bot crew and one Christ of a huge fanged combine-thing, driverless and nameless, chews up the old interstate highway and loads the bits into an endless stream of self-driving dumptrucks that take the blacktop south to do God knows what with it. Thin dribs and drabs of snow float through the scene like in a snow globe, and icicles hang from the noses of the workbots. They don’t care, of course.

I hear blacktop is made from oil. Maybe they’re squeezing the oil back out of it to ship to India or China or Brazil. Those places are hungry for oil and any other resources they can get their hands on, the shadow web whispers from the WiFi toilet when I crap. Who knows if it’s true. The television doesn’t say a word about that.

But the stock market is up again, and the Air Force says Fallujah will fall again soon.

There’s going to be a celebration when it falls, next month in DC. The commercial for it is on again. It has been playing twice an hour since spring.

The commercial ends and my gaze falls on the faded cap hanging on its nail across from the window. The cap is gray now, like my hair before it fell out, but you can still see the crimson fire peek out of the deep folds of the seams like ember under ashes.

I wish I could be in DC for the celebration. To wear the cap again, pump my fist in the air and holler again. Full of power, strong like a bear. Those were the days.

But the highway has gone away, and I’m not much for walking anymore. Nobody I know is.

END

(This post first appeared on my Patreon page, 02 January 2017. My patrons get to see a lot of things early, and can get free ebooks and even paperbacks! Come help me get the hell out of this damned trailer park and into a place where I can have even a small writing office and maybe even write ALL THE TIME. Well, almost all the time. I do have kids and a wife and a cat to think of as well.)

Afraid Of The Future

(Originally appeared on Patreon on the 6th of December, 10 days ago)

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The election of Trump — literally a caricature of stereotypical US flaws of arrogance, greed, vanity, and privileged brattiness — to the presidency has added notes of fear and worry to my vision of the future.

Well, I’ve long been a bit of a cynic. Maybe I should say more and louder notes of fear and worry.

Maybe you have similar feelings.

But also maybe I have a little extra insight into what that fear can mean, what damage it can inflict on us. If we allow it. And assuming the damage isn’t involuntary and external like a trade war wrecking the economy or World War 3 doing more literal wrecking.

I have the insight of having been paralyzed by fear of the future.

In my boyhood, my family moved frequently. Some people deal with that well.

I, an emotionally sensitive boy with an unstable home life — poverty, parents who argued frequently and loudly and worryingly — did not deal with it well. At all.

I cycled through ten schools (that I can remember — I won’t swear that there wasn’t an 11th) from kindergarten through ninth grade.

I stopped remembering peoples’ names, even their faces. Because they were transient. Because the world was unstable. Because I felt I couldn’t count on anything. Not anything at all, especially people.

To this day I have great difficulty remembering names and faces. Or what people do for a living, what their hobbies are, what they like and dislike.

I had become afraid of the future, and so I began to behave as if the future did not exist. As if I did not have a future at all.

The future only existed for me when I read science fiction. The future of science fiction was an abstraction. It was conjectural, imaginary, of the mind. And if it was in my mind, it was something I could count on.

It was safe in a way the future of my own life was not. Science fiction was my refuge, along with fantasy and history.

Maybe some of you feel the same.

As I progressed through high school — a relatively stable time, perhaps ironically; I stayed in the same school all four years but avoided engaging, waiting for it, too, to change — my fear stayed by my side. My grades declined. My teachers were a faceless blur, along with most of my peers. When it was time to consider college or a trade I avoided taking control. I avoided making any decisions.

I’d already decided, down deep in my marrow, that choosing was for suckers. That the fearful future was a negative thing that inflicted itself upon me. Beyond my control, a force of nature, like a tornado.

The only thing I could control, in my mind, was science fiction. There, I could wish for a future and see it happen. There I could hope.

I wrote a bit back then. Poetry and the occasional short story.

I had no ambitions for those stories. Imagining the futures that other people wrote was safe. But if I wrote them, let others read them, sent them out into the world to be considered for publication, tried to actually be a writer — that would be entering the real future and having real hope and I wasn’t ready for that at all.

That would require setting aside that fear of the future. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, think about it, even dream a little about it.

I wasn’t ready, then, to face a hope outside of fiction, a hope that would carry with it the responsibility of work and the responsibility of change and the responsibility of failing and having to try again and again and maybe look foolish in a way others might see.

Fear is like that. It grows. It expands its roots and extends its grasp from one part of your life to another. Like pernicious weeds engulfing field after field if left unplucked.

It took time and pain and effort and support and even lucky circumstance to overcome those deep-rooted and broad-branched fears of the future in my own life.

And overcoming does not mean they are gone, does not mean that I no longer have to fight them. I do. Nothing rooted so deep is uprooted without leaving scars. The fear left many buried seeds. I will always be weeding, every day I live.

Maybe this sounds familiar to you in some way.

You know, it’s good to have a refuge like reading science fiction. It is also good to realize that you cannot live in a refuge.

I cannot live in a refuge. Whether it’s from my own writing or the uncertainties of the rest of the world or from the damage that Donald Trump, President can do to our society and the rest of the world.

Having rediscovered hope, I must hope. And real hope means doing what you can to make the future a little better.

For me, that means writing about the future and trying to get paid for doing so. It means making myself plan and strive for a future of my own even when the fears and the doom that comes with them are upon me yet again.

It means advocating for a better future for us all. Taking up what tiny corner of that enormous task I might be able to grasp, even if it’s as puny as raising my voice in a blog or on social media.

It means trying to remember names and faces even though I have come to realize that I will never really be good at it, not after spending so much time hopeless and disconnected.

It means writing things like this even though it is painful and I worry that I will look like a fool (of course I will, to someone — someone always sneers).

Because maybe this will seem familiar to you, and maybe reading things like this readied me to have hope again, many years ago.

The Doppelgangers King — Original Flash Fiction

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The Doppelgangers King is a brand-new flash fiction piece I’ve just posted to my Patreon for anyone to read — you don’t even have to be a patron!

Read it — if you enjoy science fiction, grumble about politics, or have a cynical bone in your body, I think you’ll enjoy it. 🙂

Self-Publishing A-Go-Go **OR** Throw Some More Spaghetti At The Wall And See If It Sticks

 

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Source: AZ Quotes

I’m kicking around a new idea.

I want you to comment and tell me what you think.

And now you have to read this WHOLE POST BWAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHA

So. *Ahem* I’ve been knocking around this ‘writing (mostly science-) fiction’ thing for a while.

I like writing science fiction. I like writing nearly anything, but science fiction is the gravity in my personal cosmos, if you get my lack of drift. My mother has the first story I ever wrote, in fact. With hand-drawn illustrations, and you can REALLY tell my main talents aren’t in the visual arts — shame I don’t have a picture to post here. It was something involving dinosaurs flying around in jets and a time machine. I think I was 9 or 10. And off and on through the years I fiddled with storytelling in one form or another — writing the occasional story and a lot of pretty stinky poetry. Playing and especially refereeing various pencil-and-paper role playing games.

Around… was it 2008? My memory isn’t what you’d call a steel trap… I started writing a lot more. For myself at first, to see if I could do it well. I thought I might have something publishable and mailed a short story submission to Fantasy & Science Fiction around 2009 or 10. I ran across it a year or so ago and cringed. I still had a lot to learn as a writer.

It’s funny. ‘They’ say read if you want to write. They’re right, but you need to do a lot of writing, too. It takes practice to translate “I know a good story when I read it” into “I wrote a good story.” And an open mind and a mindful purpose to improve and yada yada if you write you’ve probably heard it all before, probably from Stephen King who sells WAY more writing than I do — and almost certainly than you, too, as you read this. And if you’re reading this and you can say you sell like Stephen King, I’m flattered a literary icon of some variety is reading my blog. Hi there!

BUT ANYWAY. I’m pondering trying yet another angle at this self-publishing thing, because what I’m throwing at the wall right now isn’t particularly sticking.

And when I ponder major changes in anything, I tend to beat around the bush a lot before getting to the point.

I’ll try to keep it to a minimum.

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I found this here.

I put my first self-published stories on Smashwords in early 2012. I have since pulled most of those early stories from my catalog and archived them — maybe I’ll rewrite them or repurpose their ideas for new stories; I’m not sure yet. As written, they share some of the just-beginning-to-write-with-publication-in-mind flaws that were in that first story I subbed to F&SF. But already, they were better. And I won’t elaborate more right here and now lest I sidetrack myself again.

Between then and now I have tried different approaches to gaining a wider readership as a self-published author. I have tried a little advertising here and there when I had the budget (Project Wonderful, concentrating on genre webcomics and Google Adwords). I have tried charging for every single story because some people say that’s The Way To Do It. I have tried higher and lower prices for the same reason. I have tried having both few and many free stories because some other people say… you get the point.

I have tried posting links to my stuff on social media often, and less often, and not at all. Scheduling posts and not scheduling posts. I have tried being serious, and I have tried being humorous, and I have tried being self-deprecating.

That last one, self-deprecation, is far too easy to actually do it very much without triggering some sort of depressive crisis. Because self-doubt is very easy when you don’t have a ton of fans — and when your earlier life has given you much ammunition for self-doubt, as mine has. (Which is where I say thanks to the Patreon patrons I have. Because not only do they think well enough of me and what I write to contribute a significant, pay-my-internet-bill amount of money, but they do that while being few in number (at the time of this writing — I hope for this to be incorrect in the near future). And only one of them is my mother! The majority of them are people I have never met in person. And since my personality is probably 51% annoying to only 49% awesome, they MUST believe in my writing.)

So how can I not believe? But, onward:

I have tried and am still trying to drum up MUCH NEEDED BECAUSE I AND MY WIFE AND THREE KIDS LIVE BELOW THE POVERTY LINE SO HEY COME OVER AND HELP ME OUT CANYA? support and readers on Patreon.

And now, shockingly, I’m getting to the point. My latest permutation on the How To Do Self-Publishing thing. Which is an I’m Going To Tweak How I Publish My Stories And Therefore How I Handle My Patreon thing.

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Columbia Pictures, When Harry Met Sally, via Buzzfeed.

Because there’s not really one way. There are the ways that make sense for you and that you like doing enough to do persistently. And, most importantly, that work. Different things work for different people. It’s a controversial point, but if you don’t go all buckwild taking it to absurd extremes and using it as an excuse to sit around and chow entire bags of chips when you should be writing and publishing, it’s also a true point.

Here (is/are) The New Thing(s) I’m considering doing.

Though I will occasionally still publish a free story, I’m planning on pulling most of the ones I have out at present to be integrated into small collections priced at 99 cents. They’ll have a minimum word count of a novella (7500), and probably not much more than a novelette (17,500) on the high side.

I’m still planning on publishing a big collection, Closer Than You Think, in December. It will probably be my last novel-word-count-length collection for a long while.

Currently, I submit stories to various zines for publication. In fact, one is scheduled to be published in Amazing Stories in November.

I’m thinking of stopping that. Not because I don’t like being published. I do! But maybe if I’m going to self-publish I should concentrate on, you know, self-publishing.

Instead, my thought is that I should publish all of my stories straight to Patreon for my patrons to enjoy first. Then publish the ebook, still at least 30 days later as I do now. And usually, now, significantly later, because I’ll be sitting on them until I have enough to fill out a small collection with some kind of unifying theme.

Or should I just sit on all the individual stories and publish the collections, and maybe the longest ones individually? HMMMMM!

With, for the first time, an actual reward structure for patrons. Because I don’t actually have one of those things at the moment. I’m just thankful for the support and give everyone some posts and fiction and ebooks.

Public/ no pledge: microfiction under 250 words, and blog posts.

$1/month pledge or more: gets to see (and get any ebook file I have to give) flash & short stories (7500 words or fewer).

$10/month or more: same as above, but also gets to read novellas & novelettes & collections over 7500 words.

$20/month or more: same as above, and I also mail a signed paper copy of anything I publish in paperback (probably through Createspace).

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The source for this one has BIG BIG DRAMA on it. You have been warned

So that’s what I’m thinking of doing. What do you think of it? Anything you’d do different? Tell me!

Most People Give Up

So I saw this tweet today…

…and the title above popped into my head. Along with the very large number of times I have stumbled upon a self-published short story or novel that wasn’t bad, showed promise, and was written five years ago with zero followup and some links to a blog and social media presence aimed at getting people to buy it or download it for free that lasted about a year and abruptly stopped.

 

Most people quit.

Some of them, to be sure, decide that they want to take a different direction and concentrate at succeeding at something else. Well, bravo. Getting good at something takes time and focus, and it’s way too tempting to try to focus on 847 things because they’re all appealing. I know. A ton of things interest me, and I’ve gotten sort of okay at about that many of them. I am distractable. I know what it is like to be distracted by something that seems cool at the moment.

But plenty of others…

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Source. There are others!

…give up because it’s too hard to stick with something until it catches. Hey, we’re all online, we all see stories about Person X who posted ONE LOUSY THING to Place Y and BOOM all of a sudden they’re famous and rolling in dough.

Yeah, maybe it happens once or twice a decade out of the billions of people who post stuff online. And all the rest, there’s a year or ten of steady work getting better at whatever it is they do before that one thing catches on.

If you like what you’re doing — for me, it’s writing science fiction type stuff — keep doing it. If you don’t, you’ll never succeed.

Oh, and talk to other people who do it and like it, whatever your “it” is. Hell, make a Patreon or something about it. I did. Because you never know.

Planning A New Collection For December!

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Look, I’m thinking or something. Do I look thoughtful? I think I might think I look like I’m thinking.

I’d have posted a cover, but I don’t have one yet. I may make one, or my stepson Erik may create one. He did the cover for Isolation and Other Stories and it came out great. 🙂

The working, 99.9% sure I’m using it, title is Closer Than You Think and I’m planning to have it ready for pre-order as an ebook in November and released in December in time for Christmas!

I have over 50,000 words of short stories and novelettes ready for it right now, and if a couple more stories come together I hope to release it at 60,000 or more. That’s on top of the serial I’m doing over the next couple of months. And tweeting too much. And my coursework in my second master’s degree (Communication / New Media — the first just wrapped up in June and is in, surprise surprise, English / Creative Writing). And Patreon pieces like SciFi News Network and thirteen word stories. And homeschooling our 3 and 5 year old sons with the help of my wife and adult stepson. And any work the ugly, rickety trailer all five of us live in needs to keep it from falling apart before we can move the hell out at some as-yet-undetermined date in the future which will be sooner rather than later if you are kind enough to buy, read, and review some of my stories or head over to my Patreon to help me improve my life and income and readership by establishing some reliable and significant income from this writing thing I’m doing.

Um, hint-hint. Seriously, if you can, do the stuff I just said. Because living in this little crappy trailer and having next to no money is stressful and makes it hard as hell to write anything at all because DISTRACTIONS and WORRIES and from the list of stuff on my mind in the previous paragraph I’m also WAY TOO BUSY but everything has to get done if I want to make sure MY FAMILY DOESN’T END UP LIVING IN A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER. *cough*

VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER

But I was supposed to be telling you about the collection so let’s do that: Closer Than You Think will focus on human stories on or near Earth. No aliens, no space travel. Just the future of humanity right here in our cozy ancestral home which we’re currently polluting and crowding up and apparently baking with this climate change thing we’ve done to ourselves.

The stories will progress roughly from near future to far future — from tomorrow to a couple thousand years in the future. There will be stories of failure, disaster, ambition, success, mistakes, and just plain weird futures where humanity has become something most of us would consider just a bit… alien. Despite the lack of “Little Green Men” in the stories.

It’s going to be awesome, and you’re going to love it.

Just wait.

 

Rewriting In Action — “In Real Life” (Plus an unexpected conclusion)

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[This post appeared on my Patreon page on 3/29 — become a patron, see my work before anyone else!]

I’ve begun rewriting that early story of mine, “In Real Life”.

(The new cover is better than the old, don’t you think?)

It was published in 2012, but it was written, to the best of my recollection, in late 2010. Maybe I’m wrong and it was early 2011, but it’s no more recent than that. That wasn’t too long after I took up writing again – by that time I had worked the most egregious bugs out of my writing, I think – but I temper that thinking with the fact that it’s something of a yearly affair to look back at what I have written and think, oh, I wouldn’t have written it that way now. I could have improved on that. Go ahead and read it with a critical eye, see what you think.

#

I’m helping the last customer of the day pick out a low-end cosmetic skin for his personal Heads Up Display when my PayDayFeed blinks three times and turns yellow. That’s the signal that I’ve gone into overtime. The dollar counter speeds up, reflecting time and a half, and the HUD Gear corporate overlay adds a digital countdown to the icon population floating in my view. I’ve got half an hour before I get a disciplinary notice; the company is very serious about limiting overtime outside of major shopping holidays. I perk up my tone as I list the features of the skin the lean pimple-faced boy seems most enthusiastic about, guiding him to a quick decision. We ShareSpace our HUDs through the retail interface, and I nudge his skin’s icon over to his side. He double clicks it to accept, and his account transfers the $119.95 to the store account. The receipt icon appears and I move it over for him to acknowledge. I’m loading my closing checklist at the same time I’m walking him to the door. It’s going to be close, the counter is down to 00:24:36 when the lock clicks shut.

It clicks shut again, behind me this time, freezing the countdown at 00:04:09. Good. I still have 42:21:55 working time until my last OT warning goes inactive. I really don’t want a second one. I smile as I slide behind the controls of my aging Honda/soft three wheeler…

#

As I read over that, making mental notes about where to make changes, I thought, this is not going to be a cosmetic rewrite. I am going to rework this sucker bigtime. I haven’t developed just in terms of story mechanics or of smoothly communicating the story and scene to the reader. My style has changed. I have (I hope) a better feel for what needs to be explained overtly and what can be left to the imagination or assumption. Yeah, this story is going to change a lot. And that affirms my idea that the original text will be included after the rewritten story when I create the ebook. The reader ought to have the opportunity to see what the new edition sprang from.

Picking out details as I tackled the rewriting, the first thing that caught my eye wasn’t a miss in terms of writing, but in terminology. “Heads Up Display” (HUD) isn’t the worst way to describe “augmented reality,” but it’s not really very good, either. I hadn’t yet encountered the term “augmented reality” to describe the species of virtual reality in which the user sees the physical reality around himself, but with a visual overlay or modification added. A “skin,” to borrow a term from videogaming. HUD usually refers to a similar idea in which the augmented reality is projected on a transparent surface like the windshield of a car. So one of my first changes is to replace HUD with augmented reality and introduce my own take on the inevitable slangification of technical terms with “augreal.”

I also thought I leaned a little too hard on the details of how the transaction was navigated. Other things I changed were based on subjective feelings – I felt the flow of the original was a little choppy. I think I paid more attention to describing the action and being linear and chronological, and less to how the language sounds – I bet I didn’t read the first version to myself out loud. Now I pay more attention to that aspect. Prose may not be poetry, but it should be good storytelling, and good storytelling engages as much through the feel of the words and sentences as it does through definitional means of describing the setting and action the writer is imagining. At its best good storytelling prose feels a bit poetic in a way, transmitting something emotional and subjective, not just a dry description. Did I hit that mark? I don’t know, it’s notoriously hard for a writer to judge his or her own work. Did I at least get closer? I’m pretty sure I have.

These kinds of conversations with myself (is this good storytelling?) remind me that it’s easy to be a perfectionist in theory. I’d love my writing to be “perfect,” whateverthehell that is. In reality, indulging perfectionism kills productivity. No writer is perfect. Every writer misses the mark sometimes. No writing is ever loved by everyone who reads it. So I have to set myself a limit – I’ve tinkered with this enough, now I’m no longer improving the prose I’m delivering. I’m just tweaking the arrangement a bit, changing for the sake of changing.

Perfection is an illusion. Always strive to improve, never expect to be perfect.

Here’s the rewritten opening:

#

I’m already trying to hurry the last customer of the day through his purchase when the world grows a blinking yellow border – I’m now trespassing upon the dread domain of overtime pay. My bank balance, always present in the lower left of my augmented reality, ticks over faster with time-and-a-half. Glowing red digits appear in the center of my vision, ghost-translucent over the face of my customer – the Worktime corporate skin on my augreal counting down the half-hour of OT I’m allowed before I’m written up.

I resist the urge to talk faster – nothing turns a customer off like feeling he’s being rushed – and pour on the persuasion. He’s a kid, pimple-faced and gawky, self-consciously coolish, browsing first person shooter skins for his augreal and avoiding the ones with the highest user counts. But he skips past the lowest, too, and I get it: the key to hurry him out the door. He’s a safe player, looking for the middle ground between Popular Fanboy and Ironically Uncool. I lean in, tipping my forehead toward his, the universal gesture: merge our augmented realities? He nods and I zip through the advanced search options too fast for him to follow – I’ve been here ten years; jobs for humans are rare and precious; nobody leaves one on purpose. I flip through three skins like the ones he’s been lingering on, heavy on reds and flamethrower effects, and repeat the magic words to death: you can exchange it within seventy-two hours, FREE, if you don’t love it. Finally he taps one of the skins. I pass him the TOS icon and he taps agree without reading just like everyone else, even me. Nobody reads the TOS. He passes over his $119.95 – cheap skin, lousy commission, but you don’t try to sell a cheapskate a rich skin. I give him the exchange period countdown widget and open it for him in his augreal. I’m already opening my closedown checklist as I give him the thank-you-come-again. Time is slipping away fast and I don’t need another OT writeup – a quick peek at that widget tells me I’m still three workdays away from the last one dropping off. I rush through the closedown and freeze the OT countdown at 04:09 by locking the steel security gate over the store’s door on my way out. Victory.

#

My impressions:

One: This immediately became a complete rework of the whole text. It’s basically as time-intensive as writing a brand new story. I may not do this again because I’d rather be writing something new. If I wanted to revisit this particular story, I could do just as well coming up with a sequel or a second story set in the same universe.

Two: I do like the new copy more than the old. And of course I do. I’m taking something that 2011 S.A. Barton liked and making it into something that 2016 S.A. Barton likes. People change, likes and dislikes change; this is just another illustration of this.

Three: I’m going to keep going on with this exercise, but it’s going on the back burner. It will be a fine thing to tinker with when I’m feeling otherwise uninspired. And it has inspired me to critically look at myself as a writer – that’s almost always a good thing. Also, I said I’d rewrite the whole thing, and followthrough is good – mostly. If I find it’s eating new work, it’s going to have to go in the trunk. Sure followthrough is good – but on the other hand there’s no need to go down with a sinking ship but pride, and if life as a poorish person has taught me anything its that you must choose what you take pride in with care because pride is a luxury in most cases and luxuries are simply not in the budget.

Four: Rewriting those couple of paragraphs led to this (longer!) post PLUS a few clarifications of my priorities when it comes to writing. Part of my slow progress as a writer is due to the volume of other things that occupy my attention: life in general, children, mundane chores like cooking and, soon, moving household, online classes because grad school loans are part of what supports me having a home and internet access with which to pursue matters of education, family, and self-publishing. Interruptions of writing, unless you’re a monomanac, are going to happen, and many of those “interruptions” are GOOD THINGS. I don’t want to miss playing with my kids and private time with my wife because writing. But part of my interruptions spring from lack of focus. I’m especially prone to defocus because I’m worrying about X, Y, and Z current things going on in my life. The usuals, like keeping vehicles running and people fed and what if a hurricane or tornado comes this year and what if there’s a bureucratic snafu or something and we can’t pay rent and what if my last story sucked and, and, and… and I’m guessing plenty of you reading this can identify with worry as an enemy of focus to one degree or another. I worry about things, it’s what I do – and I remember being a small child and my grandmother saying “we are a family of worry-warts.” Worrying about things is apparently genetic. But I worry, worry, worry. I worry that slow sales of my work stems from older, less attractive stories that turn readers off, for example – rather than the idea that short story singles are limited sellers and novels, or at least novellas, are where the sales are at in self-publishing 999 times out of 1000. Actually, is that the figure? I’m not sure I’ve EVER heard of an author, self-published or other, making a self-supporting income out of solely short stories. At other times, I glom on to other ideas. I’m pissing readers off with my tweets or my blog posts (and I’m sure I have, because having ANY opinion will piss SOMEONE off – you can’t please everyone, ever), but most readers look past differences of opinion with authors and save “I’m not reading that person anymore” for REALLY HUGE UNFORGIVABLE stuff like kitten-eating.

Still on point four: so it turns out this rewriting exercise wasn’t as much about rewriting and getting a few blog posts about the process of rewriting as I thought it was.

It turned out to be about settling some of my internal conflict over my successes, failures, and in-betweens as a writer and self-publisher. Just taking action on the start of this old story plus the thought behind writing this post led to what I hope are some positive conclusions. Writing new things is more important than rewriting old things.I recently wrote a post in which I said unpublishing is a giant pain in the butt and you should consider everything else, including rewriting, before doing it.

Well, I may be best off unpublishing a few things. I don’t know yet – it IS a pain in the ass – but it’s on the table for those stories of mine that aren’t my favorites. We’ll see. Having some short freebies, as I do, remains a good idea – the free story has been the centerpiece of self-publishing marketing/selling strategy for a long while (comparatively long in this young current and extensive incarnation of self-publishing). Keeping my longer novelette and novella singles is a good idea – long stories are more likely to sell. Shorter stories that are neither freebie or novelette, neither the fish nor fowl of the world of self-publishing – I need to take a close look at those. If they’re already in a collection, maybe that needs to be their home instead of living a dual existence as a 99 cent single AND part of a collection. If I drop the unpublishing axe at all, it’s going to be on some of those awkward short stories that are not also flash fiction, novelette, or novella.

I have a lot of thinking to do as a result of this exercise. That makes it already successful, in my book. Some of the points above are me thinking ‘aloud’ on the page – and I’m inviting all of you who have read this far to tell me what you think.

This post has been as long as some of my short stories. If you read it all, you are definitely one of the people I’d love to hear a comment from – you were interested enough to stick with me and my thoughts for quite a while, in reading-on-the-internet terms.

See you in the comments section.

Little Observations…

S.A. Barton Writes on Twitter   When today s toddlers grow up they ll assume  left to their own devices  is a modern expression meaning  alone   playing tablet phone games

…are a big part of being a science fiction writer. Of being a writer in general, really. Some nonfiction writers might be exceptions — a writer of specialized technical texts, maybe, for example — but even most nonfiction writers are doing the same thing that fiction writers and poets are doing: writing things that are meaningful to their readers.

That means being observant and making connections between the real world and what’s in your imagination. It’s a tired, old, often mocked cliche to say that writers are always writing even when they’re not writing.

But it’s kinda true. I think being a writer has got a lot in common with being a standup comedian — feel free to correct me, because I’ve never been a standup comedian. But both professions live by imagination and by inviting the reader or listener to think about how weird commonplace things we do are if you look at them with an outsider’s eyes, or how mundane things are even though we think they’re weird.

That’s what the tweet at the head of the story is about. It popped into my head, this expression we take for granted and how it might look through the eyes of my grown little ones (1 toddler, 1 kindergarten age). To them, “device” will be more common vocabulary. If you buy an ebook on Amazon, it may ask you which “device” you want it sent to, if you have multiple “devices.” More and more of us do, even if we’re relatively poor — a computer and internet connection is vital to my work, and to the classes my wife and I take, so we have a desktop PC. I have a Christmas gift laptop (thanks, Mom & Hal!). I thought of that example because I read ebooks on my phone — another “device.” When your phone or tablet gets an updated OS, the prompt tells you there’s a new OS version available for your “device.”

The word “device” has still got the old wider sense of a mechanical or electronic doohickey, hoobajoob, thingamajig, whatever you like to call such things. It still has the old sense of plan, scheme, or trick. But those older senses that are still much in the mind of a Gen-Xer like me will be overshadowed by the repetition of the word “device” in the sense of the smartphone, tablet, or other computerized whatsis.

To my post-millennial kidlets, “left to their own devices” will inherently suggest something different than it does to me. We like to call that sort of thing “the generation gap” — or at least, my generation did, inspired by the Cold War nomenclature of “the missile gap.”

If you’re too young to get that one without referring to Wikipedia, that’s cool. We like to mock each other for being different sometimes, but I’m not doing that. That’s more the wheelhouse of some comedians. I’m being a writer, and for us, and for the more thoughtful face of the standup comedy genre, it’s about finding the differences between the past, the present, and the future that may come, and spinning a yarn to entertain, and to invite us all to have a good think together.

 

[This post first appeared on my Patreon Page on 3/27/16 — they saw it three days before it appeared here. Everyone who supports me on Patreon, even for a single buck per month, sees nearly every blog post three days early. PLUS patrons get a FREE .pdf, .epub, or .mobi ebook copy of every new ebook I publish or old story I substantially revise and re-release, THIRTY DAYS before non-patrons get to see it. It’s free for patrons even if I charge for it elsewhere. I think that’s a pretty good deal, and it helps my family and I a hell of a lot. Last month our family van broke down, and Patreon paid for the power steering pump it needed — without those pledges, we’d have had to slog to the grocery store on foot until we could beg or borrow that money, if we’d been able to at all. And our funds available for food are limited — my wife stretches what would be a budget for a constantly thin pantry into something approaching comfortable, with plenty of good fresh fruit and veg for our two youngest (turning 3 and 5 over the next 30-odd days — my, time flies) with the magic of coupons and sale-chasing. That takes a working vehicle to do; it’s very difficult if you’re limited to the store you can walk to, and you are limited to the amount you can carry home on your back in the event that a markdown or amazing deal allows stocking up on normally-expensive staples and toiletries.

And I’m rambling. Hope you’ll consider heading over to Patreon to pitch in. And if you don’t, I’m still very happy to have you here reading — you help me, too. At the very least seeing new hits on my blog every day gives me a little boost as a writer. Hey, someone is paying attention! Yay!

I’ll end this now, before this “little” note on the end becomes longer than the actual post.]