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”.


What I’ve Learned (2016 Edition)

Six years ago today (sort of), I sent my first story to a professional science fiction market.

Nebula Nominee

Today I am a Nebula Award loser. And losing has never felt so good.

Of course, I can take comfort that I’m also an AnLab winner.

AnLab - Racing to Mars

And that Nebula-nominated story, “Today I Am Paul”, has been or will be translated into French, Hebrew, Italian, German, Czech, Chinese, and Polish:

Nowa Fantastyka - Today I Am Paul

And it has been selected for Neil Clarke’s The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 1, Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016 Edition, Gardner Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection, and Allen Kaster’s Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction 8.


But the title of this post isn’t “What I Accomplished”, it’s “What I Learned”. So here are some of the things I’ve learned about writing (and the business thereof) in the past year.

  • Friends are better than any award. I can’t emphasize this enough. Stand by them. They’ll be there long after awards are forgotten.
  • Readers are also better than any award. The reader response to “Today I Am Paul” has overwhelmed me.
  • But awards are pretty cool, too! Even when you lose. And especially when you make new friends along the way. (Hello, Nebula class of 2015!)
  • I learned an amazing amount of astronomy in five long days at the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop. I’ve already written one story based on what I learned there, and more are in the works. Bonus: I made a bunch of new friends!WIRO
  • Under the tutelage of Mike Resnick, I’m learning to identify international markets for my work. I need to keep at this, but it’s a start!
  • I learned that the people at Writers and Illustrators of the Future really mean it! They care about the careers of their winners. That was even more clear as a returning winner than I ever realized as a new winner. The judges and the Galaxy Press staff welcomed us back as family.
  • I learned (again) to listen to Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Lessons that they taught me five years ago keep bearing fruit today: trusting yourself and your sense of story; making writing a habit as a way to encourage your brain to write; getting out of your way; persistence; engaging the senses; putting a character in a setting with a problem in the very first paragraphs (and then keeping them there!); and so much more.
  • I also (re)learned to listen to Rebecca Moesta and Kevin J. Anderson on the topic of professionalism. Treat every reader, every writer, every editor and publisher and worker well, because it’s the right thing to do. There are many benefits that come from this, but even if there weren’t: It’s the right thing to do.
  • I learned the power of Cyberoptix Tie Lab. Their ties have become my trademark. (Me, a guy who hates ties!) They’re amusing, and they also serve as ice breakers. People ask me what tie I’m wearing today, and why. (And there’s always a why.)Laser KittyCommand ModuleRobot Rampage
  • And perhaps most important for my writing, I’ve learned the power of dictation. Oh, I’ve dictated stories for a while now, including “Today I Am Paul”. That story was a single, fifty-minute dictation session; and what you see in print is pretty close to what I dictated. But eventually I realized: Every story that I sold in the last three years was a dictated story. Dictation works for me, so I decided to do more of it. So now when I climb into the Aldrin (my Jeep), if I’m not listening to traffic reports, I dictate into my hands-free app on my phone. As Dean and Kris teach, it’s both a habit and a way to get out of my way and let story happen.

So there it is. It has been a fantastic year, no doubt. Now I have to get back to work and make this year even better!

The story behind “Unrefined”

“Unrefined” is my Third Place story for Quarter 1 in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 31. Here’s an audio sampler:

Thank you to Tung Chi “Jessica” Lee for the amazing illustration for my story, and to Scott R. Parkin for his powerful narration in this sampler.


Where did this story come from? That’s a complicated question for most stories, but I remember the sources of this story pretty clearly.

It started as a story about an asteroid mining team that must deliver a payload under stressful circumstances. I had a vision of a miner having to ride the payload to its destination (that never made it into the story, but I’ll use it some day). I also had a vision of the mining team, a family (more or less) headed by a matriarch trying to hold her team together after her husband died in pursuit of this load.

But characters don’t exist in an economic and social background. Who is this payload for? Where are they shipping it? Where did they travel from, and where will they return to? I had an idea of a mining society based somewhere in the asteroid belt; but immediately I said, “I can’t write that. Jerry Pournelle would never forgive me.” Back in the 1970s, Dr. Pournelle wrote an essay “Those Pesky Belters and Their Torch Ships” (collected in A Step Farther Out). The essay explained that fundamentals of rocketry tell us that the SF classic “Belter” civilization (miners that live in some asteroid capitol and then travel through the belt, mining loads to ship to Earth) makes no economic sense. Even a large asteroid has almost no gravity, so it can’t help you to catch it. You have to burn fuel all the way there, and then burn more fuel to get back to your capitol. It turns out to take less fuel to set your base on Earth or Mars. A society that can live in the asteroid belt can live anywhere in the Solar System. So my belt society just wouldn’t work.

But! Dr. Pournelle’s essay ended with a workable alternative. Jupiter has gravity. Lots and lots of gravity. Enough to make it easy to catch with garden-variety rockets. And enough to catch millions, maybe billions of asteroids as little moonlets. Jupiter did the hard work of collecting them, all you have to do is harvest them.

So my asteroid mining ship became a small collection of mining ships and stations in Jupiter orbit (named the Pournelle Settlements in Dr. Pournelle’s honor). But if the rock is traveling all the way from Jupiter to Earth, the idea of riding the load in is untenable. The trip would take too long, and the miner would run out of food and air. I needed another method, and I settled on an old SF trope: the mass driver, a large linear accelerator that uses magnets to grab a load and launch it on a desired trajectory. But a big mass driver implied a big station, not a small family operation. Thus was born entrepreneur Wilson Gray and his Refinery Station.

Except for one problem: the original premise of the story was a problem with the delivery. After all that time designing my Refinery Station, I needed to disable it, maybe even destroy it.

And so begins “Unrefined”. Like many of my stories, it begins with a character hanging in an airlock, preparing to leap into space…

EDIT: Auston Habershaw shares the story behind “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration”.

The Troll Under the Fridge

Copyright © 2014 by Martin L. Shoemaker
Adapted from Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, De tre bukkene Bruse som skulle gå til seters og gjøre seg fete, Norske Folkeeventyr, translated by George Webbe Dasent in Popular Tales from the Norse, 2nd edition (London: George Routledge and Sons, n.d.), no. 37, pp. 275-276. Translation revised by D. L. Ashliman.

Once upon a time there were three Billy Goats, who were to go into the kitchen to make themselves fat, and the name of all three was “Gruff.”

In the kitchen was an old refrigerator with all the best food; and under the fridge lived a great ugly troll, with eyes as big as saucers, ears like skillets, and a nose as long as a carving knife.

So first of all came the youngest Billy Goat Gruff to open the fridge.

“Creak, crack, creak, crack!” went the hinges of the fridge. They were old and hadn’t been oiled in a long time.

“Who’s that cracking open my fridge?” roared the troll.

“Oh, it is only I, the tiniest Billy Goat Gruff, and I’m getting a snack to make myself fat,” said the Billy Goat, with such a small voice.

“Now, I’m coming to gobble you up,” said the troll.

“Oh, no! Pray don’t take me. I’m too little, that I am,” said the Billy Goat. “Wait a bit ‘til the second Billy Goat Gruff comes. He’s much bigger.”

“Well, be off with you,” said the troll. And the little goat grabbed a pudding cup and fled from the kitchen.

A little while after came the second Billy Goat Gruff to open the fridge.

“Creak, crack, creak, crack, creak, crack!” went the hinges of the fridge.

“Who’s that cracking open my fridge?” roared the troll.

“Oh, it’s the second Billy Goat Gruff, and I’m grabbing some lunch to make myself fat,” said the Billy Goat, who hadn’t such a small voice.

“Now I’m coming to gobble you up,” said the troll.

“Oh, no! Don’t take me. Wait a little ‘til the big Billy Goat Gruff comes. He’s much bigger.”

“Very well! Be off with you,” said the troll. And the middle goat grabbed a frozen package of macaroni and cheese and fled to the microwave oven. Fortunately no trolls lived under the microwave, only some dust bunnies, and they weren’t very hungry.

But just then up came the big Billy Goat Gruff.

“CREAK, CRACK!” went the hinges of the fridge, for the Billy Goat was large and impatient and he opened the door very wide to see what was deep in the back of the fridge.

“Who’s that cracking open my fridge?” roared the troll.

“It’s I! The big Billy Goat Gruff,” said the Billy Goat, who had an ugly hoarse voice of his own.

“Now I’m coming to gobble you up,” roared the troll.

“Dude… Seriously?” said the big Billy Goat Gruff. “You’ve got a fridge full of food here. Pudding cups and frozen jalapeno poppers and potato salad and cheese and hot dogs and broccoli and orange juice and… Hey, I think you have half a leftover turkey in the back there! That looks good! And there’s about a hundred more things in here as well. Troll, with all this food, why would you want to gobble me up?”

The troll scratched one big ear. He had only three fingers on each hand, but that was enough to scratch with. “Ummm… I never thought of that. Hiding under things and gobbling people is the only job I’ve trained for.”

“Well, take the day off! You’ve got plenty of food. Hey, we’re watching the big game in the den. Sixty inch TV! Kickoff’s in ten minutes. You should join us!”

So the big Billy Goat Gruff grabbed the leftover turkey, and the troll grabbed the jalapeno poppers and popped them into the microwave. Then all three Billy Goats Gruff and the troll really raided the fridge and set out a small mountain of snacks and drinks on all the tables in the den. The dust bunnies decided they were hungry after all, so they brought in some chips and salsa. Everything was ready just in time for the kickoff.

The game was a real nail-biter: it went into overtime, and a Hail Mary pass won it for the home team. Everyone roared with excitement, even the dust bunnies (though they roared very quietly). The troll and the big Billy Goat Gruff stood and gave each other a high five. (Well, high three for the troll and high two for the big goat, but you know what I mean.)

The Year’s Best Science Fiction selects “Murder on the Aldrin Express”

I’m a little late getting this on my blog, but here it is at last: Gardner Dozois, editor of The Year’s Best Science Fiction series, has selected “Murder on the Aldrin Express” for inclusion in volume 31! You can preorder it here!

Here’s the incredible table of contents:

1.“The Discovered Country” by Ian R. MacLeod
2.“The Book Seller” by Lavie Tidhar
3.“Pathways” by Nancy Kress
4.“A Heap of Broken Images” by Sunny Moraine
5.“Rock of Ages” by Jay Lake
6.“Rosary and Goldenstar” by Geoff Ryman
7.“Gray Wings” by Karl Bunker
8.“The Best We Can” by Carrie Vaughn
9.“Transitional Forms” by Paul McAuley
10.“Precious Mental” by Robert Reed
11.“Martian Blood” by Allen M. Steele
12.“Zero For Conduct” by Greg Egan
13.“The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard
14.“A Map of Mercury” by Alastair Reynolds
15.“One” by Nancy Kress
16.“Murder on the Aldrin Express” by Martin L. Shoemaker
17.“Biographical Fragments of the Life of Julian Prince” by Jake Kerr
18.“The Plague” by Ken Liu
19.“Fleet” by Sandra McDonald
20.“The She-Wolf’s Hidden Grin” by Michael Swanwick
21.“Bad Day on Boscobel” by Alexander Jablokov
22.“The Irish Astronaut” by Val Nolan
23.“The Other Gun” by Neal Asher
24.“Only Human” by Lavie Tidhar
25.“Entangled” by Ian R. MacLeod
26.“Earth 1″ by Stephen Baxter
27.“Technarion” by Sean McMullen
28.“Finders” by Melissa Scott
29.“The Queen of Night’s Aria” by Ian McDonald
30.“Hard Stars” by Brendan DuBois
31.“The Promise of Space” by James Patrick Kelly
32.“Quicken” by Damien Broderick

I am in amazing company! I am honored beyond words.

The people behind “Murder on the Aldrin Express”

“Murder on the Aldrin Express” is in the September issue of Analog!


You can order it from Analog Science Fiction and Fact or find it in your local bookstore.

This story started when I attended the International Space Development Conference in 2012, after taking second place in the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest. The first place winner, Rich Johnson, couldn’t attend ISDC from Australia, so he asked me to attend in his place.

So Rich Johnson is the first person behind “Murder on the Aldrin Express”.

At the ISDC, I had the pleasure to accept Rich’s award from legendary author and editor Ben Bova, who himself received a lifetime achievement award. I was also the guest of Baen Books editor and author Tony Daniel, and my host for the weekend was author and editor Bill Ledbetter.

So Ben, Tony, and Bill are the next people behind “Murder on the Aldrin Express”.

At lunch at ISDC, we shared a table near the stage with a number of professionals in the space industry. The conversation was fascinating, particularly that from one older gentleman whom everyone paid especial attention to. I am sooooooo dense! We were halfway through the salad course before I caught his name tag: Buzz Aldrin. I managed not to drop my salad fork, despite realizing that I was lunching with the second man to walk on the Moon. After lunch, I attended his talk on his plans for a Mars mission, as explained in his new book, Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration. A major part of Col. Aldrin’s plan is a Mars cycler, a ship that uses orbital mechanics to travel to and from Mars relying almost entirely on orbital mechanics, with minimal fuel use. Among many notes that I made at the ISDC was this: “A story set aboard a Mars cycler.”

So Col. Buzz Aldrin is the namesake and the next person behind “Murder on the Aldrin Express”.

After I put other stories to bed, one morning I decided it was time to write my Mars cycler story. As I showered for work, I thought about the story. I knew I wanted it to focus on travel aboard the ship itself, not on Mars. A key element of the cycler approach is that there’s a lot of time to kill between destinations. I needed a plot about what people do along the journey, but I wasn’t sure what sort of plot. Sure, I could do an accident, radiation hazards, or a lot of other shipboard mishaps, but none of them appealed to me. I didn’t have an immediate answer, so instead I concentrated on the backstory and characters. I started to get a picture of the ship’s captain, a capable astronaut who would choose to serve aboard what Buzz Aldrin sometimes described as a subway train between planets. I decided he was a bit of a misanthrope, and he chose this duty because it cut down on the number of people he would have to deal with. Meanwhile, that phrase – “subway train between planets” – stuck in my head. From there I went to subway, train, express… And suddenly I had named the ship the Aldrin Express (though it’s really called just the Aldrin through most of the story). Immediately after that name followed my title, based (of course) on the Agatha Christie classic, Murder on the Orient Express.

So Agatha Christie is the next person behind “Murder on the Aldrin Express”.

And with a title like that, I knew the shape of my story: it had to be a mystery. Yet at the same time, it was to be hard science fiction, especially since I had Analog in mind for it the whole time. So it had to be a mystery where at least one vital clue was grounded in hard science. Before my shower was done, I had figured out the nature of the crime, the victim, the major red herring to distract the reader (I hope!), and the true resolution of the mystery. By no means was the story done, but I had a course set. But there was one crucial element still to be worked out: the precise nature of the scientific clue that unraveled the puzzle. For that, I tapped the family expert: my brother-in-law, Mark “Buck” Buckowing. Besides reading more than the rest of the family put together (and our family reads a lot), Buck happens to specialize in exactly the science I needed. (I won’t say what that science is because I don’t want to spoil the ending.) Buck gave me the start of an answer; but more important, he suggested Synthetic Spider Silk (S3) cables as a key element of the Mars expedition. I followed up Buck’s suggestions with more research, and I discovered how S3 cable was the perfect addition to the story, the single piece that made it all work out.

So Buck is the next person behind “Murder on the Aldrin Express”.

So I had the setting, I had the crime, I had the clue, I had the red herring, and I had a detective, Captain Nick Aames. I had most of the elements I needed to start the story; but I had a problem: the more I thought about Nick, the more unlikable he seemed. I didn’t want him to be unlikable, or at least no more so than Sherlock Holmes (as one example). Or maybe like Gregory House, M.D. I was attempting to make a thoroughly unlikable character yet one whom the reader would still root for. This seemed like a big challenge, and I wasn’t sure how to accomplish it; so as I do more and more when I’m faced with a writing dilemma, I went to Facebook and asked for opinions there. I asked (roughly) “For people who like and watch House, what draws you to watching such an unlikable character?” I got a lot of feedback from a lot of friends, and all of it was valuable; but the best feedback came from fellow Ann Arbor Duelist Robert “B.J.” Chavez. He said two things: we watch House because we like to see someone who won’t suffer fools gladly, and who will speak uncomfortable truths; and we particularly like House because we see that other characters, sympathetic characters, like and respect him despite his flaws. We like them, and they like him (when he’s not infuriating them), so we want to understand what they see in him. We’ll give him a chance because they give him a chance. Holmes has his Watson and House has his Wilson; Captain Nick Aames needed his first officer, Chief Anson Carver. With that, the story became Carver’s as much as Nick’s; and I started looking for ways to tie Carver into the plot and make it much more personal for him. I think that made for a far better story.

So B.J. Chavez is the next person behind “Murder on the Aldrin Express”.

And from there, I was off and running, the story virtually flowing from my brain into my voice recorder. (Practically this entire story I dictated into my phone and then transcribed and cleaned up later.) It took about three weeks longer than I wanted (I had hoped to have it done by WorldCon); but in about seven weeks including work, WorldCon, and other obligations, I had 18,500 words that really hung together (I hoped). So I sent it off to First Readers: Tina Smith (ak.a. Tina Gower, Grand Prize winner in the 29th annual Writers of the Future contest), fiction author (and Gator fan) Elinor Caiman-Sands, author Jeanette Sanders, my mom, and my fellow Duelist, friend, and trusty editor Bill Emerson (a.k.a. Epee Bill, Editor Bill). With feedback from them, I tightened the story up a bit (adding 500 words in the process) and sent it off to Analog.

So Tina, Elinor, Jeanette, Mom, and Editor Bill are the next people behind “Murder on the Aldrin Express”.

Other friends and colleagues deserve mention. Some acted as sounding boards along the way (including author and WorldCon roommate Alex J. Kane and former Analog editor Stanley Schmidt). Kevin O. McLaughlin performed the small but critical service of pointing me to Dean Wesley Smith’s website; and Dean has proven to be a motivating and invaluable mentor in my writing. I wouldn’t have had the courage to put my work out there if Dean hadn’t talked me into it. And once I followed Dean’s advice and had a story judged a Finalist in Writers of the Future, I discovered WotF winner Brad Torgersen, who has generously blogged about his writing and sales process and serves as a great example and inspiration. I also received great moral support from the Writers of the Future forum and from contest coordinator Joni Labaqui.

As for me? All I did was put the words together. I know that sounds like false modesty; but honestly, at this point I can scarcely remember the writing process itself. I remember a night I spent writing at WorldCon, I remember the shower during which I titled the ship and the story, and that’s about it. The actual writing process is gone from my brain.

But all those people, and all the ways they helped? Them I remember, sometimes in very great detail. That’s why they’re the people behind “Murder on the Aldrin Express”.


Analogous to “autobiographical”, “autometaphorical” describes a story that is not literally true about its author, but which reveals truths about its author.

Related: Autometaphory, an autometaphorical story.

(I’m gonna need these two terms in a couple of days; so I figure if I introduce them now, everyone will understand them by then, right?)

“Father-Daughter Outing” is now available for Kindle

Find it here!

A 4,000 word short story (approximately 30 pages in paper).

Eliza Wall was the most space-happy young lady on the Moon. She spent all her time studying to become a great explorer. Then on one fateful expedition, she must put all of her skills to the test. Can she save herself… and her father?

This one started with a desire to sell to Redstone Science Fiction. I like the market, I like their stories, and I like their attitude; but they have a firm 4,000 word limit, and my stories usually start at twice that length. So I sat down to write a 4,000 word story; and more, I sat down and studied their magazine hard, so I would know exactly what sort of stories appealed to them. Magazine editors always say: “Read some issues so you know what we like.” And so I did that, and I found they liked hard science fiction stories very much like I like to read – and write.

And so I sat down and I wrote, carefully holding back my usual wide-ranging style to focus on a very small story. The end result came in at 3,996 words on the first draft; and I seldom do second drafts beyond a little cleanup work, so I just sent it off. The result was… Well, it was ironic, and I laughed:

Your speculation about living on the Moon is touching, but the subject is quite similar to some stories we have already published, making it not quite what we are currently looking to add to Redstone SF.

“Read our magazine,” my ass! I didn’t hold it against them, but I did start taking that particular advice with a large grain of salt. (And I haven’t sent them anything since, but not because of this rejection. I just can’t get under 4,000 words that often, and they only accept stories during limited periods and on limited themes. But someday…)

But the story had more luck at Writers of the Future, where it received an Honorable Mention; and it had even more luck at Digital Science Fiction, where it became the cover story for Heir Apparent – Digital Science Fiction Anthology 4:

I started with an idea from an old Alternity adventure that I ran at PentaCon one year. That idea was way, way, way too large for a 4,000 word story (it might become a novel someday); but there was one challenge I could lift from it and turn into a story. None of the same characters would make sense in this version, so I decided to recast it entirely as an Old Town Tale. Instead of a team of explorers escaping an international conspiracy, it became a young girl trying to save her father; and though I didn’t know it at the time, the young girl became Eliza, who would later grow up to own and run the Old Town.

Eliza has appeared in other Old Town Tales, and she’ll appear in more. This one is dedicated to Virginia and Ayanna, two young ladies who helped me figure out Eliza’s personality. My niece Virginia inspired Eliza’s sense of exploration and curiosity (and shoes!). And my friend’s daughter Ayanna helped me see the view of a young lady trying to both take on the world and hold tight to the family she loves.

“The Night We Flushed the Old Town” is now available for Kindle


Find it here!

An 8,000 word short story (approximately 50 pages in paper).

When you’re an Ecological Engineer on the Moon, you get used to the mess, and especially to “that smell”. But one night, Scott Wayne discovers “that smell” is a threat to the city of Tycho Under – and worse, to his favorite bar! Can a bunch of neighborhood barflies save the city? Or will bureaucracy win out?

“The Night We Flushed the Old Town” is a tall tale of life on the Moon. Scott wouldn’t lie to you… would he?

This story, first published in Therefore I Am – Digital Science Fiction Anthology 2, was my first professional sale (though not pro-qualifying for SFWA or Writers of the Future, since Digital Science Fiction is not yet a qualified market). This is one of my Old Town Tales: a series of stories all set in the same universe and revolving around the Old Town Tavern, the best bar on Luna! The Old Town is located in the Corporation of Tycho Under, one of many underground cities on the Moon. (It is loosely inspired by that other Old Townvery loosely…)

Like many of my stories, this one started with a character who lives and works in Tycho Under, sitting down and telling me his story. These are ordinary characters living ordinary lives and working ordinary jobs – but their lives and jobs just happen to take place in space. (I call this subgenre “Blue Collar Space”.) In these stories, I usually don’t know what the story is, just what the character does for a living; and then I let him or her tell me what their work is like until eventually I find the story.

(Note: Yes, I know how crazy that sounds, my characters talking to me. Just pretend it’s real, OK? This is a lie we writers tell ourselves to explain the different places in our brains where ideas come from. Some writers speak of muses, some speak of messages from outside themselves; and some, like me, speak of the characters having minds of their own. We know that it’s all really inside our heads; but making up believable lies is just what we do, ya know? We don’t just tell these lies to our readers, we tell them to ourselves.)

In this case, I was looking for an aspect of Lunar life to explore; and I settled on waste treatment. Why? I dunno, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. So I sat down with Scott Wayne, and he started to talk to me…

No, we can’t do anything about “that smell”. I knew you’d ask—everybody does. But you haven’t thought it through. Take a barstool and I’ll explain.

And no, I’m no candy-ass for calling it “that smell”. You heard me down in City Engineering: I don’t exactly watch my language. But here in the Old Town, I try to be more circumspect. If you want to keep drinking in the best bar on Luna, you’ll do the same. Eliza—she’s the former drill sergeant behind the bar—kindly asked us in Eco Services to be a bit euphemistic when we talk about our work. She’d rather we not ruin any appetites. So, we talk about “that smell” and “liquid waste” and “sludge”, not… well, you know.

That’s almost verbatim what I wrote down on that first day. I can’t tell exactly where it came from (though it bears a tiny resemblance to a certain incident that involved me, a doctor, a flu shot, and a fainting friend in the ladies’ room); but with those two paragraphs I knew who Scott Wayne was. Then I let him tell me his story (with a lot of help from Wikipedia and other web searching), educating me on waste disposal and the contents and uses of… sludge. Eventually I learned some key facts, and I realized the threat to the bar and the city.

As Gaelic Storm sings:

And even if you saw it yourself, you wouldn’t believe it.
Oh, I wouldn’t trust a person like me if I were you.
Sure I wasn’t there, I swear I have an alibi.
I heard it from a man who knows a fellow who says it’s true…

This one is a bit of a tall tale. Of course it is: it’s told in the Old Town!

Where’s Evil Martin?

So 9,400 words in 6 posts in one weekend (boy, I wish I could keep up that pace on my fiction!); and since then, nothing? Where’s Evil Martin?

Well, I do have a day job, plus an hour commute each way. And the weekend’s writing exercises seem to have unjammed something: a story that had sat idle in my brain for going on two weeks has suddenly started flowing. But it flows as voice notes while I drive, recorded on my phone; and now I have to transcribe them all.

But the delays will continue! The next exercise in The Write Stuff is to analytically read or watch everything in my Vibes list.

That’s 77 items.

That’s gonna take a looooooooooooooooooooong time…

But I’m going to start by narrowing it down. Teacher says to concentrate on the big pile in the list, because that’s your natural domain. So I’m going to start analyzing there. So that’s hard science fiction.

Which is still… 17 titles.

That’s gonna take a looong time…

But I’m going to start working through them as soon as I get this story out of my head and into bytes. And I’ll make notes along the way.