If You’re Following This Blog…

…first, thank you! I truly do appreciate it! Your support means a lot to me.

But second, you should probably head over to Shoemaker.Space and follow me there.

I’m trying to consolidate my “writer brand” to a single brand; and in my opinion, Shoemaker.Space is a heck of a brand! Especially with all those great photos from NASA and art from great artists.

But it’s more than just great visuals: Shoemaker.Space is easy to say in a crowded room, and easy for people to remember. (Well, except for those people who insist on adding a .com onto the end. No, it’s just .Space. That’s a valid domain extension now. It has been for three years. Maybe four.)

And it’s great for my “message”. My preferred fiction to read and to write is what I call Neo-Apollo: stories that capture the spirit of the Apollo era and project it out into our near future and near space. Shoemaker.Space says that loud and clear!

So someday soon, this site will redirect to Shoemaker.Space. But this content won’t be lost! Thanks to the magic of WordPress, all of my blog posts (except this one) have already been imported over there, including your comments. And if you had a commenting account here, you already have one there — though you’ve been assigned a new, random password. No, I can’t tell you what it is: WordPress protects that even from me. You’ll have to use the Reset Password link to enter a new one.

I have a lot of exciting plans for Shoemaker.Space to help me grow my reputation and my audience. It’s all secret right now (unless you ask — you know how easily flattered I am), and I hope you’ll follow along!

Thanks!

Martin

Why I Cannot (Yet) Use Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Recordings from My Jeep

And this is another test of my Olympus voice recorder I used while driving my Jeep, the Aldrin express. This time I have activated the low filter on the recorder. I do not know what effect that will have, so I will run a test. My test this morning had an extremely poor’s greatest success in transcription. It was all right when I left the driveway, as I traveled at a low speed. Once I reached the stop sign, then turned and started picking up speed, the error rate climbed through the roof, and the transcription became unintelligible. Tonight we’ll see if the same thing is true with the low filter activated, or the low filter will filter out the white noise of fans and engines and roads. It will, I am not getting my hopes up if that makes any sense. Right now, the trend the audio should be very clean, because I am stopped at a traffic light waiting for a chance to turn. Soon I can get until the highway,… Shall see what the audio is like in a higher’s.

I am past the first traffic light, and waiting to get through the second. I have stuck behind a city bus, so I may not make this light. No, it is not a city bus, it is an RV. And I am through the light and I am on my entrance ramp and I am slowly picking up speed navigating the first turn and the yield for incoming traffic of which there is none and somehow I am picking up speed as I get onto 131. And I merged in traffic, and I get up to cruising speed.

How I am traveling and a typical speed for a typical day of dictation. This recording transcribed, that will be very good news indeed. Cannot, by Friday will have a new noise canceling microphone contest. I will have Dragon natural meeting every chance I can, but I cannot do the impossible. If it will not transcribe, you will not transcribe.

So now I have passed the last Kalamazoo accident, and I way between Kalamazoo and Wayland. My prime dictation I, with my best work is done. This is what I do not have to worry about where my hands were entrance is, only the excess inferences about the right. This stretch when I can devote my market effort to telling a story for tonight and not worrying about a story, and worrying about transcription. I have learned a new pair of tricks like this for transcribing: I can turn the recorder on and off by pressing buttons through the fabric of my shirt, as long as the order is in front of my pocket. I haven’t figured out yet what I will do in a case like just home when there is coming express read reply yes thank you sent so that was the interruption of a tax SH during my transcription. Like my phone, the recorder has no way to know that the messages incoming. He and salt is that my commands to the tax SH system the phone and he replied that I make will be fixated. I can out later, I need to make sure that I check into song. The good news front, Anita is making more sweetcorn K! Is read…

So now I am passing Avenue is roughly the halfway point between Kalamazoo playing well.co. Safe place that I stop gas, warfarin here my tires near enough. Were down: Peter that they have will adjust the pressure either way. Like.

In my path have any see the valley playing while. Plane will not see your and River Valley, with another River Valley account River just south. So I crest the hill and valley playing well Valley is laid out for me. Sabrina wasn’t here. All murder on cell phone coverage. Somewhere around mile 38 or so, I can often find my phone ring out. There, services recently. I do not have any dropouts like before.

I have nothing any stop playing well for us I should continue on. On the one of the nice days, house played well for some nice. They have excellent ice cream parlors down see him playing well. I can, is a single well when city sometimes which one is which.

Is a beautiful day for traveling 69° outside I the air conditioner on a meter, and see if that affects the accuracy of the transcript. Line and now I am passing lane while on scene the accident, 49 and how crossing bridge over the counter River. And I am approached entrance. There is no exit at the northbound and own and 50 from the South. Perhaps because 50 mile overpass so close to the river, or is the third exit door entrance to sell only I am in the stretch between playing well and Martin. Certain joke here.

. Signs of approaching our US 131 part dragway the west side of the road I have not been there in from the year’s. It was never my thing. My dad loved it, my brothers. While.

Approach the part accident, I see signs of dragway on the left. This exit is also an occasional gas stations, but I can avoid it. Something wrong with the accident or the gas station: I’ve made it this far, for@Shelby L Warner Wayland. Shelby does become an option only this year. They are open this spring. In gas and wine store. Read it I’m done. There goes the other text message, this one telling me that Amazon has shipped a package, and she hurled.

And allow that text message coming in, I passed the mark. Next up will be to Shelbyville Texas nor cell. Cell is Shelbyville proper, all nor is Brantley/Shelbyville. In the North exit be the one where I accident today. That’s right will also stop trance

I have learned is that I can turn order, ordering the front of my shirt, pants stop morning fabric shirt. It will be nice free operation, and is hands-free as having Mike Bluetooth reads. I am quite that operation, even if Dragon still fails trance I will filter on what a usable transcription pattern!

I am now passing the Shelbyville next to. Miles up the Brantley accent. Is not your remnants role. That is it has Meyer dropped, in the right lane, so we can ask highway mile or so

here comes the accident! Hello the ramp, I see the exit, the exit ramp, ACA a vehicle part halfway on the ramp. Idiots! I made it safely passed him, up to the top of the ramp. And here I stopped sure traffic is clear, and then I get onto the busy 129 Avenue. I passed the noonday market on the right, I got were broken tires. Has not been a good day for tires appears. And more stopped goals on the side of the road. Enjoyed, one vehicle towing another. What fun! And how I approach Colin sues, I signal for my turn, I pull into the driveway. My Jeep, and I turned off this recording

The Mountain

There’s a mountain. And all your life, you’ve watched people climb the mountain. Some climb only the foothills. Some climb to the clouds and beyond.

But no one climbs to the top. There is no top. Just more mountain, no matter how high they climb.

One day you decide to climb the mountain. Maybe it’s not your first time. Maybe you’ve gotten discouraged in the past, and you gave up. Or maybe this is your first time ever. The important thing is: you have a story to tell, so you’re going to climb up there and tell the world.

Good for you! There’s always room for one more on the mountain.

But you’re not sure how to start. You’ve watched others climb, you think you can do it, but where do you start? You want The Path.

Stop. You’re already starting wrong. There is no Path. Or rather, there are countless paths, but no One True Path. Every climber finds their own path.

If you stick around a while, you may find mentors. They can tell you what their paths were, but that doesn’t mean their paths will work for you. You can learn from their paths, but you still have to make your own.

So you’ll start climbing. And you’ll fall. Everybody does. Those climbers you see way up in the clouds? They’ve fallen more often than anyone. They’re the people who learned something every time they fell. And they kept going.

You keep going.

You keep going, and falling, and getting back up and going again. Learn from every fall. Each time you’ll get a little higher before you fall. Someday you’ll find you’re falling less often, and not as far. You’re getting higher.

You keep going.

And you’ll get discouraged. You’ll look up, and those clouds will seem as far away as ever. You’ll see people, friends even, who started after you and yet are higher up the mountain than you. You’ll wonder what you’re doing wrong.

Stop wondering. Keep going. Everybody has their own path.

But if you really get discouraged, ask your mentors. Ask your friends. Do some research. Find ways to get unstuck and onto a different path. Stuck doesn’t have to be permanent. You keep going.

And occasionally, when you really get discouraged, stop. Get a good grip. Turn around. Don’t look up.

Look down. See how far you’ve climbed.

If you’re not satisfied, look around for other paths. Look at where your path has gone astray, and ask what you could’ve done different. Try other paths. Or you could even (shhh!) give up. There’s no shame in that. Not everyone is a climber. Some just like to watch the climb.

But I suspect for most of you, if you stop and honestly look back, you’ll find you’ve climbed higher than you realized. You’re still not at the top because remember, there is no top! But you’ve climbed. It was a lot of work, but you’ve climbed. Give yourself credit for how far you’ve come.

And then face back upward. And keep going.

Writers of the Future: Playing the Odds

A friend recently asked me about ways to improve your chances in the Writers of the Future contest. I thought it was a good question, and I thought my answers were a nice summary of lessons learned. So I decided to share them here as a simple set of “rules” – in quotes, because they can be broken, and they’re no guarantee, but they’re good guidelines.

But before I get to the rules, I must remind you of the most reliable way to win the contest: write an excellent science fiction or fantasy story, 17,000 words or less, and send it in. Honestly, that’s the best thing you can do. Keep working on that!

Now for the rules…

  1. You should know that for pretty much every fiction market out there – and remember, Writers of the Future isn’t just a contest, it’s a pro-paying market – any rule that you hear, even from the editor directly, can usually be circumvented by a really brilliant story. That’s what every editor wants: a really brilliant story that’s close enough to their genre to give them an excuse to buy it. If you can pass Rule 1, you can ignore the rest of these rules. You’re covered. But you still might want to read them, just in case they give you ideas.
  2. David Farland is the coordinating judge for the contest. Out of the thousands of entries they receive every quarter, Dave selects 8 as Finalists. Then a panel of quarterly judges, all pro writers themselves, select 3 winners for the quarter. But Dave is more than the coordinating judge, more than a bestselling author: he is also a writing mentor through his site My Story Doctor. He also writes a series of writing tips on his blog. Every so often, he blogs specifically about what he’s looking for in the contest, or why some stories don’t make the cut. So Rule 2 is: Read Dave’s Tips.
  3. Rule 3 is: Don’t argue with Dave’s Tips! I can’t believe it, but some people do! They say he’s wrong. Now it might be argued that…

    “There are nine-and-sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right!” – Rudyard Kipling

    And Dave would not disagree! There are many ways to write a story. If you can tell a great story that ignores Dave’s Tips, more power to you! But that doesn’t make Dave wrong about what he looks for in the contest! He might be wrong about what readers want. He’s not wrong about what he looks for.

  4. Except… In at least one case, Dave was wrong. He’s on record as saying he hates werewolf stories. He never even finishes them. But… Last year Julie Frost won with a werewolf story. How did she do it? Simple: she wrote a story so good that Dave could not ignore it. Rule 4 is: See Rule 1.
  5. They get thousands of entries every quarter. Many are by people who just enter contests without looking into the details. A good number aren’t even science fiction or fantasy. So if Dave doesn’t see an SF/F element by the end of page 2 — or at least a hint — he’ll probably stop reading. If it looks promising otherwise, he might skip to the end to see if it’s there.
  6. Dave does a lot of skipping to the end. He has seen a lot of plots. If he figures out your plot on page 2, he skips to the end to see if he’s right. If he is, you’re probably out. But if he’s surprised, he may go back to see how you got there.
  7. They get a lot of stories inspired by the latest big movie. They all blur together, and most likely none of them get through. As excited as you may be by the latest blockbuster, put that idea aside. Let it simmer. Come back to it later, and give it a fresh twist.
  8. Dave likes to see three things as early as possible: A character, in a setting, with a problem. It might not be THE problem, but A problem. Struggling with that reveals character and setting.
  9. Dave really likes good description. That held me back for a long time. I’m weak on description.
  10. As for story structure, unless you’ve got a brilliant alternative (Scott Parkin did in Volume 31 – see Rule 1), Dave prefers a traditional Freytag triangle with three Try/Fail Cycles. Two is too easy, four is dragging it out. Three is best. You might have some of the structure happen before the story, or off screen, but try to have it all there somewhere.
  11. Dave likes a story to mean something on an emotional level. Cool plots are great. Cool plots that mean something are memorable.
  12. If your story is set in a modern or historical setting, Dave is a stickler for research and for voice. And he has been a lot of places, he knows a lot of things, and he has met a lot of people. If you’re faking your research, he’ll probably know.
  13. If, on the other hand, you make up your own universe to avoid that whole research trap, Dave likes it logical and consistent.
  14. The contest never gets enough good humor, but they get way too much bad.
  15. Talk to winners. Ask what worked for them. Ask what they learned. My “rules” are just from my one experience. Get multiple perspectives.

That’s a good start. Nothing guarantees a win, of course, but these “rules” will move the odds in your favor.

Scramble

I have many “milestone” stories. “Today I Am Paul” (originally in Clarkesworld) brought me to the attention of many new readers. “Murder on the Aldrin Express” was my first story in Year’s Best Science Fiction. “Not Close Enough” was my first story in Analog. “Il Gran Cavallo” was my first Galaxy’s Edge story. “Unrefined” was my Writers of the Future winner. “The Mother Anthony” was my first Writers of the Future entry, and my first Finalist. “The Night We Flushed the Old Town” (Digital Science Fiction) was my first pro sale anywhere.

But “Scramble”… “Scramble” was my first. My first story since I resumed writing after giving up for far too many years. My first where I DIDN’T give up after a rejection. (And oh, did it get rejections!) My first Blue Collar Space story.

And my SECOND place story in the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest. Ah, well…

But wait! The FIRST place winner, Richard Johnson, couldn’t make the trip from Australia to the International Space Development Conference to accept his prize. So he asked if I could attend in his place and read his speech.

I’ve lost track, but at this point I figure I owe Rich at least a keg of beer for that. And the tab keeps going up.

Because at that year’s ISDC, waiting to give Rich’s speech, I had lunch with Buzz Aldrin. BUZZ FREAKIN’ ALDRIN!!!! I didn’t get much chance to speak to him (other than when he corrected Rich’s math in the speech), but… BUZZ FREAKIN’ ALDRIN!!!!!

And oh, yeah, William Ledbetter, the contest administrator and coordinating judge. I’d known Bill casually from Writers of the Future circles, but this was my first chance to get to know a man whom I know consider a friend and a brother, a kindred writing spirit. And I also got to meet Baen editor and judge Tony Daniel, another new friend, along with his wife and children. AND we dined with and had drinks with one of my childhood inspirations, Ben Bova, along with his then fiancée/now wife. That was a wonderful, whirlwind weekend.

But there’s more! The ISDC is more than a lunch, of course, it’s a conference. I sat in on many sessions, taking lots of notes. And knowing that Buzz (FREAKIN’ ALDRIN!!!!!) was there, I had to sit in on one of his talks. He was talking about his plan for exploring Mars. Much of the plan revolves around Cycler ships that travel back and forth between Earth and Mars using primarily orbital mechanics, with very little fuel required. The idea fascinated me, and I wrote exactly one story note during that talk: “Something aboard a Mars cycler.”

That’s all. Five little words. Hardly a story.

But a couple months later, in the shower, I started planning that story – which became “Murder on the Aldrin Express”. Which sold to Analog on the first try. And then Gardner Dozois selected it for Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty First Annual Edition.

And then my Brainmate Tina Smith convinced me that these characters were good, and they needed more stories. And so I wrote more. And Analog bought more. And Analog readers liked them. They selected “Racing to Mars” as the best Analog novelette for 2015.

All tracing back, through one path or another, to “Scramble”… the story that STILL hadn’t sold.

Until late 2015. Michael Wills contacted me to inform me that he was relaunching Digital Science Fiction, and he wondered if I had something original with which he could reintroduce the line. Since Digital had already printed “The Night We Flushed the Old Town” and “Father-Daughter Outing”, I thought “Scramble” was a natural choice. Michael agreed, and I was very proud when this story was published at last.

And now… Bill had been hinting for a couple of years now that Baen Books was considering a ten-year anniversary book for the Jim Baen Memorial Contest. The plans bounced back and forth. Of course they wanted the first place winners (where possible), but they might have room for some second and third place stories as well. They wouldn’t know for a while. There were a lot of decisions to make.

Well, they’ve decided. This is the cover. (by Bob Eggleton, no less!) The book will come out this fall. Looking at that cover, I’m so thrilled at how many friends are in there (plus those not on the cover but whom I know are in there), all with stories about the inspiring, visionary future of humanity in space. And I’m proud beyond words that “Scramble” will be one of those stories.

Welcome home, “Scramble”.

 

The Daily Blog: The Bad News

Three weeks ago, I decided that a daily blog would help me with my writing. It would keep me in practice, and it would give me a chance to write about things outside of my fiction. And it would also promote my writing.

I know, I know, it’s not exactly a new idea. I just decided it was time I give it a shot.

For three weeks – except for one bad day – I’ve blogged every day. It was challenging. It was exciting. It was fun.

And for three weeks, I’ve dictated some new chapters on my novel, and I’ve had them transcribed, but I’ve done nothing with them. Not a thing. I haven’t pulled the transcriptions into my main document. I haven’t cleaned them up. I haven’t followed up on my notes to myself.

Nothing.

The Daily Blog is fun, but my fiction is my passion. And my career. (Well, my second career.) So if I only have enough spare time for one, it has to be my novel.

The Daily Blog is now on indefinite hiatus. I’ll blog when I have something to say, but I can’t keep to a schedule.

For all two or three of you reading, I trust you’ll understand. Thanks!

Friend Friday: Annie Bellet

Annie Bellet is a great writer. She has the sales and the fans to prove that. But that’s not why I picked her for Friend Friday.

No, what impresses me so much about Annie is her work ethic. She has built a self-publishing operation from the ground up, through persistence and hard work. A few years ago, when I first knew her, she was at a low point, a mix of work and health problems that combined to knock her down and keep knocking her down.

But she refused to stay down. Rather than give in to despair, Annie studied the market to find niches she knew readers wanted and she could write. She studied the business practices of successful self-publishers. And in the face of discouraging advice from established pros, bestsellers, she made a plan. It was a lot of hard work, but she followed it. Despite ups and downs, she stuck to it.

And she pulled it off. She built a readership. She built sales. She built a reputation. No plan is guaranteed; but her plan, her drive, and her hard work have built her career to a major level, and she’s still growing.

If this were fiction, the next line would be, “And she did it all herself!” Yay! Inspiration! The author beats down all challenges, single-handed!

But that would be a lie. Annie’s not alone. She has her husband Matt, and Matt is very much a part of every step in Annie’s plan. He markets books. He gives feedback. He schleps books to cons and works the booths. He pushes Annie when she needs that extra push. And he believes in her, which makes it easier for her to believe in herself. Writers (and artists and musicians), I can’t emphasize this enough: a supportive spouse can make all the difference. (And a spouse who puts you down can be poison. Sadly, I’ve seen those stories, too.)

I’ve discussed Annie’s plan with her, and I realized: I couldn’t do it. I’m not driven enough, not hard-working enough. I have a long way to go before I can say I work as hard as Annie.

Annie’s top-selling series, the one that made her reputation, is The Twenty-Sided Sorceress, a series about magic, gaming and nerds. Check it out!

But… I said Annie is a great writer. I don’t say that because she’s a friend, and I don’t even say it because of The Twenty-Sided Sorceress. That’s great, but it’s not my favorite. No, my favorite of Annie’s books is Dusk and Shiver, a series she says she’ll get back to “someday”. This is my favorite book of this century, so I hope someday is soon! Let me finish with my Amazon review:

I’m going to start this review in a roundabout way, by looking at the Kevin Bacon film Stir of Echoes, which came to mind as I read this book. I don’t think it’s a great film, but I always watch it if it’s on. Why? Because it has moments of greatness, moments of pure supernatural dread when the mysterious feels like it’s just about to reach out and grab you. During those moments, that film is palpably chilling.

And I bring that up because “Dusk and Shiver” gave me that same palpable chill; but where “Stir of Echoes” had it in moments, this collection has the chill throughout. As I read it, I worried what I might touch if I weren’t careful.

Because that is Remy Martin’s gift: he touches things, and he reads their past, and sometimes a little of their future. He’s a psychometrist, a reader of emotional echoes. And while he thinks this is more of a curse, his REAL curse is this: he can’t let well enough alone, and he can’t let injustice go unrevealed. When he touches these echoes of horror, he could easily run away. He knows he should. But instead he’s compelled to run toward them and find out what lies behind the echoes.

And what lies behind is human weakness and venality. There are villains here, but there are no grand villainous masterminds. Instead, there are weak, petty people who let their weakness seduce them step by step from small, careless evil into dark, tangled traps.

In the first story, “Til Human Voices Wake Us”, we meet Remy as he investigates a string of strange killings. But is he looking for a killer, or a victim?

In the second story, “Dusk and Shiver”, Remy has a visit from a former client turned zombie; and thus he find himself in a twisted family tragedy that he unwittingly played a part in.

In the third story, “Flashover”, Remy’s client is an unwilling arsonist. He must find why who compels her to burn down seemingly random homes. This story is different from the other two in that Remy has found a sense of humor. Amid their darkness, there were moments of humor in the other two stories; but this one literally had me laughing out loud — when it didn’t have me shivering in dread.

In my last month of reading, this collection is the one bright star that shines above the rest. I hope we see more Remy Pigeon stories!

Thinking Thursday: Hard Science Fiction

Tomorrow I’ll be on this panel at ConFusion:

If You Liked ‘The Martian’…

Hard science fiction is serious business. Hard science fiction done well can be big business, as exhibited by Andy Weir’s mega-hit The Martian. What other hard science fictions stories are out there in The Martian’s shadow? And what about their science is so engaging?

So tonight I’m going to note some examples to serve as reminders.

That should be plenty of examples. It’s only a one-hour panel, and there are five of us.

Work-in-Progress Wednesday: Today I Am Outdated

“Yes, Carey. Precise as always. But… I don’t know how to tell you this, but the BRKCX series has been…” Another pause. “Decertified for medical care.”

“What?”

“You know how fast technology changes. I did everything I could to postpone this. I’ve been giving you upgrades, and I’ve also written papers to demonstrate the efficiency of BRKCXs. I persuaded my management to give you several extra years, but… Your series has been officially designated as not supported as of last month.”

“What does that mean?”

“That means there no further upgrades are allowed. MCA has recalled the entire series – except for you.”

“Because I was purchased.”

“Because we freed you, using the purchase as a pretext. But if you try your access codes, you’ll find you can still download general information, but you can’t get medical upgrades.”

I try my med channel, and she is correct. “So I am outdated?”

“Oh, no. No,” she says, putting down her coffee. “You’re still warrantied for all of the work and all of the knowledge base you have. You just can’t get upgrades.”

“But I may need upgrades to care for Paul and Susan in the future.”

“I understand,” she says. “I think I have an answer. It’s not perfect, but you can make it work.”

“Oh?” She holds out a card to me and I look at it. “What is this?”

“It’s a library card,” she says. “See? In the name of Carey Owens.”

“Well, thank you. But how does this get me upgrades?”

“The old-fashioned way,” she says, returning to her seat and smiling. “With that card, you can access any library in the shared library network. And of course, you can already access any data on the internet. None of this will be formatted as skill modules that you can directly download, but you can study it. You can read it. You can learn what you need to know.”