No, Mesh is Not a Stephen King Rip-Off

I was watching the Colbert Show today – catching up on Youtube as one does – and I ran across Stephen King talking about his new book, “The Institute.” King described his book as a story where kids ‘fight the power,’ and I immediately got scared. Would readers of The Institute think Mesh is a rip-off of Stephen King? I’m happy to say the answer to that question is: no.

Here’s how I know. Quick google-fu gets us to the synopsis, which reads as follows:

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of It, The Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

My story’s about kids going to a school for super-smart teens. No murder, no telekenisis, no brutality. Here’s the synopsis again, for the curious: Continue reading

Mesh – Crowbard

Apologies for the delay in posts. I got some feedback about Mesh that essentially required me to take a look at the entire novel. Not a fun exercise, but valuable. It’s forced me to streamline the exposition, trim the fat, and add a new character. As frustrating as that can be sometimes, I’m happy that my Beta Readers are honest with me and I think ultimately it will help Mesh be a better book.

I use the crowbar metaphor to talk about the new character, because you can’t just force a new character into the story with a crowbar. They must be included in the story organically, and get a chance to grow and flourish along with the other characters. To give Mesh the right level of attention, I turned off blogging for a while.

Eventually, I’ll get back to posting. I have some thoughts on old sci-fi, bad storytelling, and whatever is going on with Walter Mosley at Star Trek. The book, the story, has to be first priority. I hope to have more to share with you soon.

The Rocket – Now Available for Free

You’ll be happy to know that I’m now including The Rocket in my list of titles available for free over at Free Stuff. The Rocket, of course, is my Twilight Zone-esque tale of a man confronting his absent father, right before humanity’s extinction. Not a bad read, according to people other than myself. Here’s the description:

In the last few hours before life on earth ends, a young dad has a chance meeting with his estranged father. Will this be a moment of reconciliation, or recrimination? How can you communicate with someone who refuses to listen? Mike Crane takes one last shot to save his father’s life before he boards THE ROCKET.

Get The Rocket For Free Now

One Big Fat Reason I Keep My Mouth Shut

I only ran across this article the other day, but the second I read it, I was like “I must blog this.” The cautionary tale of Kosoko Jackson perfectly illustrates the one big fat reason I keep my mouth shut when it comes to current events, social issues or anything not having to do with my writing.

Jackson, in a nutshell, is an underknown YA author like me. Not afraid to make his opinions known, he found himself the target of social media outrage when an upcoming novel met with accusations of insensitivity. Before you could say ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ Jackson’s book was dead on the vine, a victim of the controversy. Kosoko Jackson has since moved onto other projects.

So imagine that you spend hundreds of hours developing and writing a story. Hundreds more finding an agent, a publisher, an editor. Here comes your moment, the part in the story where your book, your novel, is out there in the universe. Then, before that moment can happen, your project explodes. You watch your dream, your baby, burn like a roman candle. The dream is over before it got started. What an awful, sickening feeling that must be.

Reason makes no bones about the implications: “Maybe there’s some actual fire here, but determining that would require a close read of the sort that sociopathic social-media dogpilings rarely afford. Zooming out, these episodes will inevitably affect YA publishing, and perhaps other areas of publishing if the fever spreads.”

I’m just a guy, a guy who writes stories. News like this make me want to crawl in a hole, be happy with my disability check, and forget I ever heard of book called ‘Mesh.’ It also helps explain why my social media engagement is pretty neutral when it comes to controversy. My voice is something I’m responsible for, and honestly I can’t handle the responsibility of being a mouthpiece. Please don’t ask.

All of this makes me think of that famous quote: Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt. – Maurice Switzer, but commonly attributed to Abraham Lincoln

I’m keeping my mouth shut, and writing my books. I hope, at the end of the day, that it’s worth something.

Here’s Why You Write Every Day: Jerry Seinfeld

Love him or hate him, Jerry Seinfeld is both talented and hardworking. His rockstar career in the world of comedy is due in no small part to his work ethic and the structure he brings to his craft. Here, in this video cast with Tom Pappa, Jerry discusses why you write every day. As a writer, I found a ton of valuable insights and you will, too. Take a look:

It would be fair call this a ‘masterclass in creative professionalism.’ You have to structure your creativity, hold yourself accountable, and get your stuff out there so you can learn and get better. Not everyone is willing to put the hours in, but Jerry is, and that’s why he’s Seinfeld.

So at the end of the day, don’t be afraid to put the work in. It can only lead you to good places. Enough talk for now. Time for me to get back to work.

Your Top Ten Biggest Scifi Writing Mistakes

You. Yes, you. Stop right now and jot this down. There was a thread over at /r/scifi that listed out the biggest mistakes in scifi and I couldn’t help but take note. You should too, because these people are our readers and when they talk, we need to listen with both ears. To keep it super-simple, I compiled some of the best ones into a handy Top-Ten format. I want to keep this for my future reference and yours, too.

Good scifi cannot save bad writing. I think we all know that. At the same time, bad writing can be forgiven under certain circumstances (Looking at you, Ready Player One). Ideas, premises, tech that would interest a PhD cannot be mated to sixth-grade prose, just like you can’t expect to run an F1 car with a toddler at the wheel. We know that, too. So the question is, how to you write good-sci-fi? I’m still trying to figure that out. In the meantime, here are some ways to avoid writing bad science fiction. Let’s look at the top ten worst offenders, in no particular order: Continue reading

One Thousand and One Nights – Historical Scifi

Since I love since fiction, I’ve been doing some research about its background. Sci-fi is often viewed as a modern genre, but did you know that science fiction story elements date back as far as the 14th Century? It’s true. Sci-fi stories have a deep, historical background. In fact, they’ve been around about as long as The Canterbury Tales, and their birth took place during the Islamic Golden Age.

One Thousand and One Nights, AKA Arabian Nights contains many story elements we recognize in modern sci-fi. Wikipedia has more detail:

Several stories within the One Thousand and One Nights feature early science fiction elements. One example is “The Adventures of Bulukiya”, where the protagonist Bulukiya’s quest for the herb of immortality leads him to explore the seas, journey to Paradise and to Hell, and travel across the cosmos to different worlds much larger than his own world, anticipating elements of galactic science fiction; along the way, he encounters societies of djinn, mermaids, talking serpents, talking trees, and other forms of life. In “Abu al-Husn and His Slave-Girl Tawaddud”, the heroine Tawaddud gives an impromptu lecture on the mansions of the Moon, and the benevolent and sinister aspects of the planets.

You can continue reading about those fantasy and science fiction elements here.

The main takeaway from all of this is that science fiction has been entertaining people for many years, perhaps over a thousand if my math is correct. Anytime a nerd complains about ‘tired story tropes’ in 2019, just know they were probably doing the same back in 1019.

Nerd on!

 

Good-bye to Mad Magazine

There is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out. Multiple news agencies are reporting that Mad Magazine is ceasing publication after sixty-seven years. I know it’s not directly related to science fiction, but having to say good-bye to Mad Magazine still hurts. So, it’s worth talking about the satire magazine’s relationship with the science fiction genre.

Mad’s wiki article summarizes the magazine’s impact on American culture. In fact, reading Mad was an introduction for many American kids to satire, critical thinking, lampooning, and humor itself. Silly, without being subversive. Criticizing, without being critical. Mad never hesitated to take on important topics, find something funny to say about them, and challenge us to think on a deeper level.

Science fiction, of course, enjoyed Mad’s loving attention almost from the beginning. Throughout it’s publication history, every single important sci-fi film, book, TV show took their turn being roasted. For lonely, sheltered kids who had no exposure to the world of science fiction beyond whatever their parents brought home, Mad Magazine was a gateway drug to the vast universe of stories out there being told.

Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, Back to the Future, Predator and yes, Stranger Things … we cackled our way through the corny jokes, skewered the plot holes, and ultimately celebrated the victory of another successful science fiction story. We laughed, we kidded, but we loved. In fact, I remember working on a project with a rather talented actor. She said she ‘knew she had made it when she reached the cover of Mad Magazine.’ You can see a picture of Michael Biehn autographing the Mad Magazine that lampooned ‘Aliens’ on the wiki article. ’nuff said.

And look, I get it. I stopped reading Mad years ago. In fact, I think you’re supposed to. It’s sophomoric humor is designed to appeal to the male 12-18 demographic. Gross-out, libidinous humor that’s just this side of acceptable … I graduated from that and moved on, as many others did. In a world of dying print magazines, I guess this was inevitable. It just makes me sad all the same.

Many others are sharing their sadness.  Weird Al Yankovic said on Twitter: “I can’t begin to describe the impact it had on me as a young kid – it’s pretty much the reason I turned out weird. Goodbye to one of the all-time greatest American institutions.”

Weird Al echoes the experiences of several generations of creative, funny people. Mad Magazine’s departure will leave a hole in our collective souls for many years to come.

I originally posted this on Reddit.

The Schöner Machine of ‘Stranger Things’

A phrase in William Gibson’s ‘Hinterlands’ that keeps running through my head as I binge-watch Seasons 1 and 2 of ‘Stranger Things’ in preparation for Season 3. It’s ‘schöner machine,’ or ‘beautiful machine.’ Like William Gibson’s ill-fated astronaut, I can’t help but marvel at a beautiful machine, and that’s why I’m totally in love with this amazing Netflix show.

Stranger Things, above all, is a brilliant story. The Duffer Brothers’ ability to combine Eighties zeitgeist with classic science fiction mysteries and still create a completely authentic, autonomous universe is nothing short of remarkable.

The show drips with rich, elegant visuals that invite you to travel back through all the parts of the Eighties you don’t remember. Beautiful cinematography takes you through thick pile carpets, wooden console TVs, wood-paneled walls, and goofy retro bedrooms straight out of Better Homes and Gardens. You can’t help falling in love with the series for the design elements alone.

Verisimilitude is defined as ‘the appearance of being true or real.’ From the studied detail of the film scratches in the title sequence to ST’s epic soundtrack, all you feel is the reality of the universe. But the show doesn’t stop there. No, Stranger Things is a dense, thoughtful, and action-packed journey through one of the most interesting science fiction mysteries of the past decade.

Equal parts funny, scary, touching … you feel every square inch of Joyce’s torment at losing Will. You feel the boys’ love for their stricken friend. You feel Eleven’s conflicted feelings over her captors, her powers, and her new-found family. Even after you escape the primary story arc, there are other places to go. The show explores other parts of the characters’ lives with care and precision. These things are the hallmark of great storytelling, and Stranger Things has that market cornered.

Then you have the kids. God, I hope they turn out okay. I mentioned two years ago that I admire Gaten Matarazzo for how he’s handled his cleidocranial dysplasia. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: In science fiction, there are no weaknesses … there are only strengths you haven’t discovered.

Every actor inhabits a three-dimensional character that feels like someone you know from high school, your neighborhood, or your job. I’m particularly happy about seeing Winona Ryder and Matt Modine on screen again. The growing cast of child actors are incredibly talented. I hope they have long, safe and successful careers ahead of them.

So in short, I’m a fan of Stranger Things in several ways and for several different reasons. I love sci-fi and it doesn’t get much better than this. Not only that, the production of Stranger Things is a classic underdog tale.

We’ve been on a journey since the Duffer Brothers leap-frogged from short-film producers to pro filmmakers to rubbing elbows with M. Night Shyamalan on Wayward Pines to successfully pitching Stranger Things to Netflix via 21 Laps Entertainment. Stranger Things is the answer to every person who says ‘there’s no room for the little guys anymore.’

As Season Three comes out tomorrow morning and I settle in to binge-watch , I want to take a moment and say ‘Yes!’ Stranger Things is a beautiful machine, and until I started watching I had no idea how much I needed one in my life. I’m betting you do, too.

New Short Story Submitted – ‘They Did the Math’

New Short Story Submitted - 'They Did the Math'Pleased to say a new short story popped out of me. I submitted ‘They Did the Math’ to Terraform on Saturday, a short story about the discovery of time travel.

Although most people will think ‘Back to the Future,’ let me assure you that I went a different direction. Like the discovery of fire, or atomic weapons, a working time travel technology would have broad implications for humanity and I wanted to explore those ideas.

Now we wait to see if Terraform likes ‘They Did the Math’ enough to buy it. If they don’t, I’ll be submitting it elsewhere. I’ve got a good feeling about this one.