I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream – RIP, Harlan Ellison

Sad news in sci-fi land. Harlan Ellison has left us. After 84 years of manic, mad whimsy … our Harlequin is no more. John Scalzi has written a touching essay that’s available over at the LA Times and I link it here because I can’t do the man justice, myself. Tim Minear has a hysterical Harlan story over on Facebook.

For all the crazy stories about Ellison, one fact remained crazier – they weren’t stories. He really was a madcap bohemian rebel, determined to annoy, destroy, and disrupt any conventional piece of wisdom he came across. I never met him personally, perhaps this was a good thing. In memoriam, here is Harlan doing an audiobook reading of his famous short story.

Goodnight, you strange beast.

Emotional Authenticity: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day

Emotional Authenticity: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day

I picked up a copy of one of my favorite children’s books at the second-hand book shop here in town. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day was one of my favorite books as a kid. It’s like sunshine for the soul to come back to it now. One of the things that stands out with this book is its emotional authenticity. I didn’t notice it when I was eight, but it’s positively gripping to me now.

If you’ve never heard of the book, or if you’re only familiar with the movie, you owe it to yourself to check it out. The synopsis says it all: “From the moment Alexander wakes up, things just go wrong in his way. As he gets up, the chewing gum that was in his mouth the night before ends up in his hair. He trips on the skateboard and drops his sweater in the sink while the water is running. He finds out that it is going to be a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day.”

For a book that’s older than I am, the story holds up remarkably well. In 1972, there weren’t many stories that focused on the non-bucolic parts of a child’s life. In simple, pen-and-ink drawings, Alexander navigates the complex world of breakfast cereal, school, friendship, siblings, dentists and lima beans.

Although this sounds like it might be patronizing, the reality is that it isn’t. The book’s author, Judith Viorst, pulls together simple, powerful truths about the world from a kid’s perspective. Sometimes life sucks, and things go wrong, and it hurts when that happens. Even though the book ends on a quiet note, it hits the right tone: sometimes the best you can do is finish the day and try again tomorrow.

You leave AaTTHNGVBD feeling settled, happy, and understood. You can relate to Alexander, and you can feel like Alexander would understand what it feels like when you have a bad day, too. That level of connection is what makes this book so popular. That’s an important lesson for any author to know: we must relate to our readers if we want our readers to relate to our stories.

Emotional authenticity is one of the tools I need to wield correctly as I polish Mesh. As I noted elsewhere, the story has to capture the readers’ heart. If I don’t do that, then Mesh will die on the vine. This is too important to me, so I’m focused on making Mesh work and using different ideas and writing techniques to bring the story of Roman and his geeky pals to life.

So Alexander, I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to say it, but here’s what I want you to know: I’m sorry you had a bad day. You deserve to have a good day every day, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. But if it does, don’t worry! Things can get better tomorrow. In the meantime, we still love each other.

We would miss you if you went to Australia.

 

Star Wars Fans: Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’

I hate to say I told you so, but … there it is. Star Wars fans – a very small and vocal minority of them – are continuing to push us down a path of self-destruction.

According to this article, ‘The dark side of “Star Wars” fandom recently reared its head when Kelly Marie Tran, the actress who plays Rose Tico in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” was run off Instagram by misogynistic and racist messages from fans who didn’t like her character.’

That’s not the only example. Over the weekend, I found myself in the middle of some Reddit-shaming in /r/scifi. A poor kid, improving his writing skills, had the temerity to ask /r/scifi with help on some science fiction. It doesn’t get any more clear than that: we need help.

Other people have already attempted to put these toxic actors in their place, but the damage is done. Unless a strong community message comes forth, firmly advocating for the inclusion and tolerance we all claim to represent, I fear that the entire science fiction community is at risk.

As you can see in the Steven Colbert clip below, the world is already preparing itself to take out the trash. Angry, racist, and misogynistic speech was not supposed to be a part of science fiction, or geek, but it’s happening. If it doesn’t get better, we might all find ourselves banished to the Phantom Zone.

Colbert makes the joke playful, but it’s a joke with teeth. There isn’t an A-List celebrity out there that’s more into Lord of the Rings than Colbert. He knows geek, he is geek, and unless you like finding yourself called out every night on national TV, it’s time to take a step back. So, please.

Please.

If you happen to be a toxic actor, or if you know one, please take this opportunity. Please take this moment. Please stand up for science fiction. We aren’t supposed to be like this. We aren’t supposed to be known for this. Science fiction rallied together to save Star Trek, in the late 60s. Science fiction rallied to name the first Space Shuttle Enterprise. We have been, and can be, a powerful force for good.

I said it before – let me say it again: “Sooner or later, history will allow us to look back on our time now with some candor and insight. Who do we want to be when we get there? How do we want to remember ourselves? How do we want the elder generation who entrusted this community and genre to us to feel? How do we want the younger generation to see us?”

Please folks – take a step back. We’re better than this. It’s time to show it.

Death Clock – New Microfiction

Death Clock - New Microfiction

Happy Sunday – here is some new microfiction to get you started on your week. I hope you enjoy it, I ended up typing the whole thing out on my mobile phone while I waited for a new writing computer to arrive.

The writing prompt was fairly complex, but the concept is simple. It’s based on that old Internet meme: ‘If you ask him, he can tell you how long you have left to live, but only because he shoots everyone who asks him with a revolver as a joke.’ I hope you enjoy …

Death Clock

Author Nightmares – Write Anyway

Another episode of ‘if you’re an author, this is terrifying’ happened this week. Chuck Palahniuk reports that he’s ‘close to broke’ after his literary agency’s accountant was arrested and charged with embezzlement. This kind of story is a nightmare to me, so I’m trying to explain why I have to write anyway.

I can’t expand on details beyond what’s available in the paper. It just feels compelling to say that a story like this represents my worst nightmare as I move forward with Mesh and other projects.

Look, it’s one thing if you’re crazy about money like Johnny Depp. But for a guy who just wants to tell stories and not go broke in the process, this is frightening. How am I supposed to justify this difficult path toward self-actualization, knowing how many risks are involved?

Continue reading

Docking Sequence – Scifi Wallpaper for May

Docking Sequence - Scifi Wallpaper for May

I’m very pleased with ‘Docking Sequence.’ This started out as a simple experiment with photomosaics and comic art and ended up being one of my new favorite wallpapers. With May drawing to a close, it makes me happy to end the month with a new chunk of scifi to share with you.

Creating new scifi all the time – even if it isn’t as cool as other artists’ work – is important to me. Along with finding my voice, I need to learn how to use it. Struggling, trying, learning – that’s all part of the trip. Putting your stuff out there into the world is a valuable skillset for any creator to learn.

Hope your summer is as good as you deserve it to be.

 

Lake Geneva Shores – New Scifi Microfiction

I won’t focus on Elon Musk this week. Wrote something nice for him the other day, now he’s pissing off the Internet. That’s life for you. Instead, let’s talk about ‘Lake Geneva Shores’ – this new piece of scifi microfiction I wrote this week.

People enjoyed it. I try to stick with writing prompts that are original and scifi focused. That’s what scratches my itch, and the itch of the readers I want to write for.  The prompt’s premise is simple enough: “‘Why does your ID say you’re only 17?'” “‘Time travel.'”

Sound like fun? Okay, let’s roll – hope you enjoy:

Lake Geneva Shores

What’s Wrong With Every User Community Ever

Whoa – I did not expect that. On a side thread about keto dieting, I stumbled upon an answer to a question I’ve been asking ever since the late 90s. In three paragraphs, a justifiably-angry Redditor outlines what’s wrong with every user community ever.

This Sub Has Really Gone Downhill

This doesn’t just apply to people on /r/keto, or Reddit. Forum trolls are a thing no matter where you go. User communites are designed to support an interest, and the benefits of welcoming new members should be self-evident. Not so, in the day and age of trolling. As the Redditor brings out, working for the greater good seems to be in decline, and toxic behavior leaves many communities with a bad name, as people leave discouraged, and defeated.

But you already know this.

This isn’t another point-at-the-problem post. God knows you’ve seen a ton of those. The real question we should be answering is, how do you avoid this behavior? How do you pull back from this reality? Good user communities are good tribes, and good tribes come from good tribal leadership. Let me share this Ted talk on Tribal Leadership with you, and I hope you find it useful in your community-building activities.