Fictioneer for 2011

It’s an old debate: are writers authors, or are writers writers? Technically, an author is a writer who has written, but most pros I admire abhor the word, standing on the argument that writers write — active tense — while authors merely enjoy having written — past tense. Me? I prefer something altogether different. Earlier in the year, at one of the workshops I attended, I recall mentioning to someone that we ought to start labeling ourselves as fictioneers. Folk who engage in literary derring-do. Anyone can write. Hell, look at the eighteen billion blogs and fan fiction sites around the internet. But not everybody can think up a story and type it onto the page — real or virtual — in such a way that it becomes entertaining for the average eye.

So, for 2011, I’m running with Fictioneer. It’s a handy, all-purpose word which properly expresses the nature of my job. It’s also a hat-tip to the pulp era, when the word was first invented and used (sneeringly) by the literary elite to put down people who told stories for fun and money. Nothing wrong with that, I say. In fact, it’s the whole gottdamned point of the enterprise.

Along with the new descriptive, I’m bringing in a new look. Somewhat self-portrait actually; yes that is pretty much what I look like at my writing desk, complete with pinned-up copies of the covers of the publications I’ve (so far) been in, with interior illustrations too. Probably I’ll update that cartoonish self-portrait from time to time, as whim and need arise. They say it’s good to establish a “look” for yourself; to stand out. I’ve been wanting to do something like this for awhile — shamelessly copying the style of the great Berke Breathed, whose Bloom County comic strip is as hugely influential on me as that of any novel writer. Hopefully with a bit of practice, it’ll look a bit sharper, a bit more distinctive.

Meanwhile, 2011 is less than 48 hours distant. I didn’t get everything done that I wanted to get done in 2010, not by half. But it was a grand year all the same, with several triumphs in several areas. Huge thanks to everyone who has been supportive. To everyone who visits regularly and posts comments, and to the new readers and friends that I’ve gathered.

I got 3 rejection slips for Christmas

You know what I got for Christmas? 3 rejection slips from major short fiction publishers: two paper, one electronic. Oh, and I also got the rest of the DVD sets to complete my collection of Star Trek: The Next Generation — major happy dance, that — but I wanted to point out those rejection slips, along with a statistic, to drive home the point that even when you’re professionally published, rejection never stops.

The 2010 statistic: 68 rejection slips, 4 sales.

I know, I don’t want to think about it either. I used to subscribe to the fiction that once you broke in — got your foot in the door of the publishing world — the contracts and sales would fall on your head. You’d be able to sell everything and anything. Sadly, ‘taint so. Yes, those rejection slips will become more detailed and more nicely worded, with specifics as to why a story didn’t work for a particular editor, and best wishes on the next try.

But a rejection is a rejection is a rejection, and they don’t stop coming just because you have a bit of success. I think that’s worth noting, all of you out there in Aspirant Land who are still working hard for your first professional fiction sales. Please gird your loins for the truth: even after that break-in sale, you’re going to have to keep working, keep expecting rejection, and you absolutely must not let rejection slow you down, stop you, or fool you into thinking the first sale was a fluke.

2011 approacheth. That is all, carry on.

Oh, and get your gottdamned manuscripts in for Writers of the Future. Deadline is this Friday! There are 12 empty seats waiting for you in Los Angeles. Volume #28 awaits. Get to it. Miss no opportunity.

Brad’s 2011 Writing Goals

Even more than 2009, the year of 2010 was my best year ever, in terms of selling fiction. Things got off to a great start with the sale of my novelette, “Outbound,” to Dr. Stan Schmidt at Analog Science Fiction & fact — a story that was later re-sold to Russia’s ESLI science fiction magazine. I sold two more stories to Analog throughout the year, have learned that another story is sitting in very-close-to-sold status with a highly-respected professional on-line publication, and picked up some monthly work with Writers of the Future to boot — as the administrator for the Writers of the Future on-line forum. Yep, it’s been a remarkably profitable year, and I’ve had fun the whole way.

However, I still have to admit to having fallen short on my raw production goals. I didn’t get as many short pieces done as I wanted, there was a lag in getting Emancipated Worlds chapters up on the blog, and I still have to wrap my re-write on my novel that’s going to a publisher (by the publisher’s request, after having queried them earlier in the year.) My second novel project splintered into three different novel projects, none of which are complete, and I’m rather miffed at myself for not having matched my sales mojo with even better production mojo.

But, it’s water under the bridge, can’t get the lost time back. And I don’t like treading into a new year with anything hanging over my head. So I am sweeping the decks and washing them clean. New year, fresh start, and a fresh list of objectives. Some of which have been brought forward from last time, some of which are totally new.

1) Finish Reardon’s Law re-write and send novel to publisher by January 15.
2) Finish Emancipated Worlds on-line web novel, post to e-reader markets.
3) Finish unnamed mil-romance (yes, you saw that right) project; send package to New York.
4) Finish unnamed mil-YA-fantasy project; send package to New York.
5) Develop 3 additional packages for totally new novel projects, send to new York.
6) Finish 2 short works every month, send to market; total of 24 for the year.
7) Word count NLT 2,000 words per day, Sunday thru Friday; Saturdays off.

That’s a very ambitious list. More ambitious than last year, but if I stick to #7 and don’t slack, then #1 thru #6 should be well within my capability. I’ve spent the last three months discussing it with my wife and slowly working my way into an early-morning routine that should let me produce a lot without cutting too much into normal family hours. I’ll be losing some sleep during the week, but Saturday is “off” day in many ways, so I can catch back up then.

The main thing for me is to make 2011 a truly professional year, in the production department. I’ve proven several times over I can sell. That’s not the worry anymore. Now it’s down to raw, dig it out of the dirt writing. Lots and lots of words on the page, with very few days off — and absolutely no excuses. None. The pros I admire most are working at this level, if not beyond it, and the time has come for me to put away the “hobbyist” production pace and graduate to a new level

Even more than last year, I can’t have a do list without there being a do not list to go with it:

1) DO NOT get on the internet and “surf” before the day’s writing is done!
2) DO NOT check e-mail before the day’s writing is done!
3) DO NOT allow writing-related internet activity to replace actual writing!
4) DO NOT substitute reading about writing for actual writing!
5) DO NOT play any video games before the day’s writing is done!

Lastly, 2011 is going to be the year I rediscover how to read. That might sound weird to some people, but the truth is I’ve been struggling with this for awhile, and it’s really gotten bad — the point that I’m just not finishing anything I start anymore. I didn’t finish a single novel this year. Nor even a single magazine. I slacked off on my critiques I owed people because every time I sat down to read, my eyes glazed over and it felt like a chore and I put it down and went to do something else. Or, as was often the case, I clicked off the light over my pillow and let myself retreat into blessed sleep.

But reading is the pump-primer of writing. I have learned from experience that when I am not reading routinely — and enjoying it — writing gets much harder. And because the last few years it’s been tough to get into my reading, it’s often been tough to build and maintain writerly momentum. So I am going to make a conscious effort to move reading up the priority totem pole — even if it means displacing some of the other recreational things I like to do. Which, I admit, there aren’t many. But some of them will have to take a back seat.

Space Opera rides again with Raygun Revival Relaunch!

I just got word on this, so I wanted to shout it out for the reading (and writing) masses. Raygun Revival is returning! Every Day Publishing has picked up the cosmic six-shooter and is bringing it back. First issue looks to go-live in February of 2011. What is Raygun Revival, you ask? I’ll let the magazine itself do the talking:

Ray Gun Revival (RGR) is an online magazine dedicated to fun stories, grand escapism, and good old sensawunda. RGRl provides just that, a throwback publication that revisits space opera and golden age sci-fi. Their stories focus more on character development than hard science and sail all the wide-open waters between science fantasy and harder SF. Think of the original Star Wars stories, Doc Smith’s Lensman series, the Warlord of Mars tales from Edgar Rice Burroughs. Think of everything from John Carter and Gully Foyle to Kimball Kinnison and Han Solo. They are bringing out the deepest elements of what has traditionally been rather superficial fiction and updating them for a new generation of fiction enthusiasts.

Are you excited? I’m excited! I’ve been saying quite a bit lately that Science Fiction has gone too far away from its pulp roots. Look at the box office and you’ll see: action-packed character-driven SF can and does do quite well. But where can one find this sort of two-fisted stuff at short story length? Looks like Raygun Revival will be (re)filling the bill. Two words: WOO HOO!

Emancipated Worlds Saga: Chapter 5

Emancipated Worlds Defense Force


The EWW Independence was one of the oldest ships in the Force Fleet. Like most of her sisters, Independence was of pre-War build, designed for interstellar policing and peacekeeping, not ship-to-ship melee. She had troop compliment and aerospace drop capacity to spare — since she’d spent most of her life orbiting over any number of colonies on the brink of revolt — colonies she’d helped put back in proper order, when she’d gone by the name Gendarme. Since the Emancipation, however, she’d undergone several retrofittings, equipping her with long-range interplanetary missile packages and a point-defense system built around electromagnetic rail guns. But nothing had ever prepared Independence — or her siblings in her squadron — to face the pack of wolves that currently threatened Independence’s home turf.

The captain of the Independence, a silver-haired man named Donner Sanchez, brooded over his tactical display — his right fist crumpled against his cheek as he stared at the 19 red signatures co-orbiting the gas giant Muehling. During the Secession War he’d occasionally faced bad odds – and managed to win the day because his opponents had no experience going vessel against vessel. A penchant for unorthodoxy had helped him — had helped all of them — make a mockery of Peacekeeper tactics.

It was apparent the Colonial Administration Authority was intent on not repeating history. If their tactics had not evolved, their muscle certainly had. The mammoth battlecruiser at the heart of the Peacekeeper formation appeared to mass more than all of the Independence’s squadron combined. There were no tricks Sanchez knew to defeat such an armada. Even if he had a dozen squadrons at his disposal.

“What’s the word?” Sanchez said, his eyes not leaving the tactical image floating in the air before him.

“The Commandant has released official command of the Force to Noribatu,” said Vela Guppta, the ship’s Executive Officer. Even older than Sanchez, she’d been with him since the first silent rumblings of rebellion had surface among the Peacekeeper officer corps over forty years prior — when they’d both been green and idealistic.

“Bruce talked Tanna into it?” Sanchez said dryly.

“Was there ever any doubt?” Guppta replied.

Sanchez shook his head. No, there wasn’t. Most of the senior officers had always assumed Noribatu would be back, if ever the stakes got high enough. And the stakes had gotten pretty damned high. With footage of New Mojave’s annihilation spreading across the ansible network, Sanchez suspected that Noribatu wasn’t the only old soldier putting the uniform back on.

“And what’s the Senate saying?” Sanchez asked.

“So far the Senate is silent,” Guppta said. “I’ve made repeated requests for their opinion on this, and so far I’ve gotten nothing.”

“What’s our new — old — Commandant doing about that?”

“General Portland tells me that his squadron is speeding for the capitol. Noribatu is afraid the Senate will crumble unless she makes a personal appearance, appealing for courage.”

Sanchez’s laughter barked across the Independence’s tiny bridge. Asking courage of politicians was like asking turtles to do wind sprints. If the EW’s Senate had proven anything, it was that politics tended to attract the lowest common denomination of human being. He bitterly smiled at the fact that Noribatu had insisted on allowing the civilian government to remain in charge, following the Secession War. He wondered if she’d come to regret that choice in the years following. Her retirement in exile suggested she had, though whether or not overt military control of the EW would have been any better, Sanchez could not be sure. Exchanging one form of dictatorship for another was precisely what they’d all wanted to avoid.

The captain of the Independence sighed softly. Had it come down to this, then? A futile few years of squabble-prone autonomy, punctuated by a bloody re-fusion with the rest of humanity?

A bright chime sounded, and the duty officer at the bridge’s communications station tapped a few keys before looking over his shoulder at Guppta.

“Message coming in,” the man said.

“From the Authority fleet?” Guppta said.

“No, this is from the Muehling municipal government. They want to know our intentions.”

“Tell them I am waiting for instructions,” Sanchez said.

“Muehling’s message was quite emphatic — that they speak to you, sir.”

“Tell Muehling they can shove… as you were. Tell Muehling I’m in the middle of a conversation with my superiors, and I will get on the line with them as soon as I get off the line with my bosses. If they don’t like that, too bad.”

The young officer at the communication station nodded, and went to work.

90 seconds later, the officer turned back to face Sanchez.

“Sir, I’ve got an encrypted connection now. Command priority. It’s not local civilian.”


“Sir, it’s General Portland, on the ansible.”

Sanchez eyed Guppta, who eyed him back.

“Tell the Commandant–errr, tell the General, we’ll take it in the stewpot,” Sanchez said — the stewpot being the cramped conference room adjacent to the bridge.

Moments afterward, and with the hatch to the stewpot securely sealed, Sanchez and his XO stared into the holographic faces of both Bruce Portland and Tanna Noribatu.

“Donner,” Tanna said, inclining her head.

“Long time, Tanna. Retirement got you bored?”

“Safely bored, and happy to be so. Too bad it couldn’t have stayed that way.”

“Yes,” Captain Sanchez said, “too bad.”

“I’ll get to the point. As you and all the other commanders have no doubt been notified, Bruce has put me back in the driver’s seat. I’ve been looking at where our squadrons are concentrated, compared to where the Authority armada is now, and I’m giving you and your squadron orders not to attack.”

“We’re going to retreat?” said Guppta.

“No,” said Portland.

“Explain,” Sanchez demanded, though in as polite a tone as he could muster.

“Don, you know as well as I do that you’ll be dead meat the minute you open fire on those Peacekeepers. You’re outnumbered almost 5 to 1 and you’re outgunned probably 50 to 1. If we’d had enough warning we might have been able to concentrate several squadrons into a task force capable of taking the Peacekeepers on, but as it stands we left everything distributed, which means nobody is currently in a position to offer sufficient resistance.”

“What’s the alternative, then? Total surrender?”

“No,” said the Commandant, “we’re not going to do that either — the wishes of some Senators be damned.”

“I’ve been trying to get through to the Senate,” Sanchez said. “They won’t respond.”

“I’ve ordered that all inquiries from all squadrons to the capitol be ignored. This is a delicate decision point, Don. I don’t want any squadron leaders making any moves based on what their local Senator might say. People are liable to begin ordering that their home systems and planets be given priority over the larger strategic situation, and I can’t allow that. So for now all Force communications to the capitol have to go through me.”

“Is it your intention to declare martial law?”

Sanchez saw Noribatu hesitate — but just for a moment.

“No, we’re not there. Not yet. I’ll be able to tell you more once I’ve had a chance to stand on the Senate floor and assess their collective state of mind. For now, know that we’re following strict chain-of-command. No going through back channels or calling in favors. It was a long, lovely peace, but now it’s over and we’re going to have to show the CAA that we’re as military as we’ve ever been. You get me?”

“Understood,” Sanchez said. “So what are your intentions, for myself and the 7th Squadron?”

“You’re closest to New Mojave. I want you to prepare to break Muehling orbit and rendezvous with the 4th, 9th and 11th Squadrons.”

“Seems a bit too late to help New Mojave, don’t you think, Tanna?”

“No,” said the Commandant flatly.

“But what about all these Muehling civilians? If we abandon them here, the Authority armada is sure to wipe them out — down to the last habitat. We’re the only defense they have.”

“And if you stay and fight, Don, you’re going to be wiped out along with them. Oh, knowing you, I am sure you could bust out a few Peacekeeper teeth, but in the end it would be hopeless. So I am not wasting you or your ships on a gesture of symbolic defiance.”

“You expect me to tell Muehling’s governor that I’m abandoning them in place?”

“No, I’ll talk to the governor as soon as we get off this link.”

Sanchez sighed an audible breath of relief — and immediately felt guilty for it.

“What if the Authority attacks us as we try to leave?” he said.

“I’ve already dispatched an official Force communication to the Brynhildjur woman, telling her that I’m evacuating EWDF vessels from Muehling space preparatory to talks. They’ll be expecting you to leave.”

Captain Sanchez leaned close, the floating pixels of the Commandant’s face distorting slightly as his nose approached the ghostly version of Noribatu — as rendered by the Audio-Visual array installed in the center of the stewpot’s oxbow conference table.

“What the hell kind of game are you playing, General?”

“The only game I know how to play, at the moment,” Noribatu deadpanned. “If I am right, Muehling has nothing to fear. When you arrive at New Mojave, you and the other squadrons will be given additional instructions. Until then, you’re to go out of your way to avoid confrontation with the Peacekeepers. Understand me, Don? Avoid confrontation.”

Sanchez slowly sat back in his chair, a hand running along his jaw.

“Roger that, ma’am. We will comply.”

“Hook up with the other squadrons when you arrive in New Mojave orbit. I’ll be in touch then. Just stay cool and follow orders. This thing isn’t over. It’s only gotten started. But you have to trust me to know what I am doing.”

“I’ve always trusted you, Tanna. We all do.”

“Thanks, Don.”

The quietly humming AV unit went dead, leaving Sanchez and Guppta in the low-lit confines of the stewpot, the bass vibrations of the Independence filling their ears.

“You think she really has a plan?” said Sanchez’s XO.

“Maybe, and maybe not.”

“We’re leaving Muehling to die.”

“It would appear that way, yes. But the Commandant is right. If we stayed and took our best shot, we’d wind up dead too. Whatever was in that message Tanna sent to the Deputy Overseer, we’ll have to hope she’s right — that it will get them to hold their fire until we can… do whatever it is we’re fixing to do?”

The last was an open question that hung between them.

Guppta shook her head and slowly stood up. “I’ll get the word out to the other XOs. We’ll be breaking orbit in one quarter of an hour.”

“Do that,” Sanchez said.

His XO stopped at the hatch, while her boss remained seated.

“You’re not coming back to the bridge?”

“Not yet. In a moment. I need to do some thinking. Alone.”

“Gotcha. I’ll ping you if you’re needed.”


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Tanna pinched her nose between her thumb and forefinger, willfully resisting the subtle headache that was beginning to seep into her brain. She’d not slept nor eaten since coming aboard the Refusor, and it didn’t seem like she’d be getting any sleep for many an hour yet. She and Bruce had been in the Refusor’s own stewpot almost non-stop, issuing orders to various officers and constructing a diplomatically-worded rejoinder to the Colonial Administration Authority’s Deputy Overseer. If she’d shown confidence in herself while discussing her orders with her squadron commanders, Tanna allowed herself to be real with Bruce — one of the few men she’d ever trusted completely.

“You might be right,” Bruce said, his hands balled into fists and rubbing at his eye sockets. “The CAA might go for your request for parlay, and spare Muehling.”

“Even if they don’t, and Muehling gets wasted, we need every ship we can get.”

“Which is why we’re concentrating four squadrons in the system where the Authority armada used to be?”

“It’s a good cover story, Bruce. In case the Peacekeepers are still monitoring things at New Mojave. If we concentrate ourselves anywhere else, they’ll know we’re getting up for a counterattack of some sort. But they can’t very well blame us for sending people to mop up after the annihilation of an entire planet, can they?”

“Yeah, if there was anything to mop up. Which I don’t think there is. So what are we really going to do with those ships?”

“Did you ever hear of something called the 82nd Airborne Division?”

Bruce blinked incomprehension.

“Back during the Secession War, I got my hands on some very old archive material from Earth. Some of the ancient classified crap dating back to the pre-nuclear period. I was looking for information on what had happened prior to the United Nations, when Earth hadn’t been forcibly pacified yet. I wanted to look at the old wars, to see if there was anything there I could apply to our war.”


“It was hard to put together. So much of that time has been obliterated. I still can’t fathom how much we lost, or how much is still being held secret by the UN. But I did stumble across a photo image of a unit patch with a description attached. The patch was for something called the 82nd Airborne Division, and the description said that the 82nd Airborne had been an infantry organization specifically trained in doing aerial parachute jumps from aircraft.”

“Parachute,” Bruce said. “So, kind of like a combat drop using armor?”

“I think so. Only they didn’t have armor, and no thruster packs or other protection. Just helmets and soft uniforms, and rifles. They’d jump out the back of airscrew-engined planes and float down through Earth’s atmosphere like dandelion seeds, or so the description said. Their job was to land in enemy territory and disrupt and attack the enemy away from the front of battle. Hit the soft spots.”

Bruce suddenly straightened up in his chair. “You’re sending the squadrons from the New Mojave rendezvous to attack the CAA?”

Tanna nodded once. “It’s the last thing the Peacekeepers will expect. Last time, we fought them purely on the defensive. We drew a line in the sand and repeatedly shoved them back across it, until they went home. This time, we can’t afford to play it as cleanly. The obliteration of New Mojave tells me that the Peacekeepers are in Emancipated space for the duration. Either we throw them out again, or we make things hot for them back on their own turf so that they temporarily retreat to take care of business.”

“It’s a suicide mission,” Bruce breathed, eyes wide.

“I know. And if I thought I could spare either one of us, I’d have the Refusor leading the way. But I can’t do that. Our job is to placate this Deputy Overseer as long as it takes to figure out how we can break that armada up into chunks we might be able to take on separately.”

“The only thing that will placate the Deputy Overseer,” Bruce said, “is our necks in her noose. You saw the ultimatum. She wants all of the original commanders from the Secession War brought forward. They’re going to run us up on charges and have us executed.”

Bruce frowned deeply, his blue eyes shadowed by his eyebrows — now grown bushy. Tanna stared at his face, marked by lines which hadn’t existed last time she’d sat across the table from him. She knew where they came from — had held the Commandant’s burden for as long as she’d been able, before the collective stupidity of bargaining and hassling with the Senate had made it seem like a fool’s errand.

“You might be right,” Tanna said, watching him. “But if they want us, that means we have value. Bargaining value. Let’s use that value while we can.”

“And the Muehling government?”

“Oh shit, I had almost forgotten,” Tanna said. Then she keyed the AV and spoke to the Refusor’s bridge, asking for a secured ansible connection with Muehling’s governor. She hated what she’d have to say, knowing that it was mostly bluff. There was every chance the Peacekeepers wouldn’t accept parlay, in which case Muehling would cease to exist. All of its people — to say nothing of its shipyards and metalworks — would be history.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“You see now, Admiral?” said the Deputy Overseer. “These people can be sensible when they need to be.”

“I want to see it again,” Admiral Dung replied dully.

He tapped a finger on the armrest of his chair, the bridge’s AV showing a replay of the short message that had been received from so-called Commandant Noribatu. He’d met her a few times at various Peacekeeper conferences, back when they’d both been young. Like himself, apparently Noribatu hadn’t ever been able to say goodbye to the military way of life. Unlike himself, Noribatu was going to end her career in front of a firing squad.

Presuming her promises were in good faith.

Which he was fairly sure they weren’t.

Not that it stopped Brynhildjur from smiling openly and rubbing her hands together with satisfaction. The Admiral worked hard not to wince at her overly demonstrative display of confidence. Being a bureaucrat’s bureaucrat, she should know better than to assume things would be going this smoothly. Then again, the Deputy Overseer might have spent enough time in her current office to become complacent about people jumping at her every whim. Dung knew the feeling. But the scars from the Secession War ached in his unconscious, reminding him of his true mission.

“It’s a stalling tactic,” Dung finally said as the message ended for the third time. “They want to preserve Muehling and buy time to formulate some kind of counter-strategy against us.”

“What strategy could they possibly come up with, Admiral? You’ve said it yourself, many times. The way to bring these children back into the fold is to do it with overwhelming strength. You’ve seen the little groups of ships they have protecting Muehling from us. Could any of those ships make even a small scratch in our fleet?”

“No,” Dung said.

“Then I think we can afford to be magnanimous. Even if they are planning something ulterior, let us wait for them to misbehave, and punish them for their insincerity. But not before, do I make myself clear?”

“Deputy Overseer,” Dung said, steepling his fingers thoughtfully while he metered his tone, “please consider things from my perspective for the moment. So far as we have seen, our Peacekeepers overmatch the Defense Force by an order of magnitude. But it has been many years since any Authority vessel plied this space. The Defense Force could be holding its best hardware in reserve, for when we’ve let our guard down. In order to meet them at their capitol in a position of full superiority, we need to show them we mean business at every step. Like New Mojave, Muehling is a chance to shock them. Moreover, it is a chance to deny them a very important industrial and war-fighting asset.”

The Deputy Overseer tsked at the Admiral from where she stood at his side.

“Then we would be proving ourselves as duplicitous as the Defense Force you refuse to trust. My instructions from the Security Council were clear, Admiral. Be blunt, but be fair. These worlds — these people — will be part of us again very soon. We need to try to make that blending as hurt-free as possible.”

Again, the Admiral resisted the urge to wince. Perhaps he’d sold his strategy too well? The Deputy Overseer was tying his fists at precisely the moment when he needed most to use them. To not only bloody the nose of the opponent, but break the opponent’s jaw for good measure.

Dung considered carefully.

“Very well, Deputy Overseer. I am bound, of course, to follow your directives. But heed this simple warning: Noribatu is a woman more cunning than meets the eye. She defeated us once before, when we also assumed we had superior strength. If it becomes plain that our desire to be magnanimous is compromising the safety of this vessel or this fleet, I will be forced to act — in accordance with my oath as a general officer of the Peacekeepers.”

“We both have our duty,” Brynhildjur said coolly.

“Then let us hope that Noribatu’s missive is sincere.”

A small alert sounded across the Secretary-General’s enormous bridge.

“Sir,” said one of the junior officers at his monitoring station, “we show residual anti-particle traces from multiple Korolovska Reactions. The enemy squadron has jumped away.”

“As was told to us,” the Deputy Overseer said.

Dung felt like the housecat who’s just watched the mouse walk out of the kitchen, unmolested. Worse yet, he was also being denied his saucer of milk.

“Orders, sir?” said the young officer.

Dung cleared his throat and sat up in his chair.

“Alert the flotilla. We’re due for a jump of our own. Set course for the insurrectionist capitol. Best possible speed.”

“All ships, sir?”

Dung locked eyes with his subordinate, and then glanced quickly up at the Deputy Overseer.

In an instant, he made a decision.

“No. Contact the Legislator, the Manifest, and the Oceanic. Have Captain Homonii appointed as Fleet Captain for that trio of ships. I am leaving them here.”

“What for?” Brynhildjur said, surprised.

“Insurance,” Dung replied. “They may be more inclined to play by the rules of we continue to hold this important piece of the puzzle under our guns.”

Dung waited for the Deputy Overseer to countermand him, his eyes not blinking.

She finally demurred. “Very well, Admiral. A prudent measure.”

“Thank you, Deputy Overseer.”

With that, Dung nodded his head at his bridge staff, and the countdown for departure commenced.

Click here to jump to Chapter 6

Click here to jump to Chapter 4

Click here to see the entire Emancipated Worlds Saga thread.

I am pulling my thumb out, I swear!

No, really. I have like a dozen unfinished things all demanding my attention. I am trying to prioritize these into my “real” work (ergo: Day Job & honey-do’s) and get the s*** knocked out. New Emancipated Worlds chapters are COMING! Additional short stories going to editors before the end of the month? Check. It is going to happen. It is. No, really. No, like, really really.

“Outbound” to appear in Russia’s ESLI

FYI for those who read and enjoyed my novelette, “Outbound,” the leading science fiction magazine in Russia, ESLI, which is translated to english as, “What If” or “If,” will be picking the story up for translation and print in one of their future issues. Many thanks to Alexander Shalganov for liking the story enough to bring it across the Atlantic and share it with his Russian audience. I’m going international! Also, a personal pimp, I’ve got fresh copies of the November 2010 Analog — where “Outbound” first appeared — waiting for holiday buyers who want a signed copy! Click on over and grab one of them!

On Writing and Skiing: Dare to Ski Bad!

My mentor Dean Wesley Smith is again taking aim at the myth that in order to be a good writer, you have to re-write your work over and over and over, or must somehow slave away at each page like someone will shoot you in the face with a bazooka if every line is not crystal perfect. Down in the comments of this thread I made the observation that writing is a lot like learning to ski — something Dean is well acquainted with, as a man who is a self-described skiing addict.

Having been asked to expound on this comparison, I’m going to import what I wrote at Dean’s blog, and take it a few steps further.

NOTE: it’s been awhile since I got on skis, but when I was a teenager my Dad and I used to frequent the usual Salt Lake City spots: Brighton, Solitude, Park City, and especially Alta. Being both a purist and a technician, Alta was and is my father’s most favorite of all the Utah ski resorts. He and I spent many a Friday — from December through March — playing hookie on the groomed (and not so groomed) runs up Little Cottonwood Canyon. Later this year I’ll be taking my daughter up on the mountain for the first time, so lately I’ve been contemplating my teenaged learning curve — and have been surprised at how similar it is to the learning curve I experience with writing.

Like virtually every sport, skiing has as much to do with muscle memory and unconscious reflexes as it does with deliberate, calculated decision-making. How you proceed down a given slope thus becomes a combination of keeping your eyes on the hill and deciding which paths to take, and letting your body do the rest — according to the accumulated physical stimulus it’s received over however long you’ve been engaged in the sport.

But when you’re very new and you first go up on the hill, regardless of how expensive or newfangled your equipment, you are going to fall on your face. A lot. Over and over and over. It might take you hours to get through even a single run on a modest slope, and you’re liable to come away discouraged and dismayed. What seems effortless in a Warren Miller movie winds up proving near-impossible when you’re doing it for the first time. Second time. Even fifth or sixth time.

So how do you improve your skiing? By reading books and magazines on skiing? By talking about how great it would be to ski, if only you had the time? Or the money? By putting on your bib and parka and boots and standing in the snow in your front yard, imagining yourself skiing? By sitting in the lodge forking out too much money on overpriced, bad lodge food? By complaining to the other lodge denizens about how your boots are too tight, the bindings on your skis are too loose, the snow conditions suck, it’s too cold to be any fun, and so forth?

Naw. You hit the hill! And when you biff it — all skiers biff it, it’s part of what it means to ski — you pick your ass up out of the powder, clear the snow out of the neck of your parka, find the end of the line for the ski lift, go back up to the top of the run, and do it again. And again. And again. And again. And you go home and you rest and heal up — skiing the first few times makes you work muscles you never knew you had — and you come back for more. More runs. More turfing it, sometimes in spectacular style when everyone is watching. Only, they’re not. It just feels like that as you trudge shame-faced across the width of the slope looking for gloves, goggles, poles, skis, and everything else that flew off when you went ass-over-teakettles.

Do this for a whole winter. Maybe take one or two ski classes from the surfer dudes — most ski instructors seem to share 90% personality overlap with their wave-riding brethren — running the hill’s resident ski school. But past that, just keep going up on the mountain as often as you’re able. Don’t worry about looking dumb or feeling dumb. Make yourself get over the fear of doing it bad and looking stupid. Nobody goes magically from beginner to advanced. Everybody has to learn by doing.

In other words, dare to ski bad! It’s the only aperture to improvement!

Keep hitting the hill. Half days. Full days. As often as schedule and other factors allow. Even if you don’t consciously try to improve, you will improve if you do it regularly. I guarantee it. It’s like the body — all on its own — begins to remember what works and what does not work. The more you allow your body to experience the act of skiing, the better you will get at it. Your body remembers, and adjusts all by itself without your having to make much overt effort. Just like riding a bicycle.

Do this for even a couple of seasons, and you’ll start to ski like you belong in a Warren Miller movie. You’ll get ambitious and graduate from green beginner hills to the blue experienced hills, maybe even the vaunted “black diamond” stuff that looks suicidal — at least when you’re brand new. Again, without any real deliberate effort. Let yourself go through the motions again and again and again, and it’s automatic.

But because writing is a largely intellectual exercise we tend to think we won’t get any better at it the same way we get better at a sport like skiing. Bullshit. To get good at it you have to do it. A lot. And not be afraid to biff it in front of the crowded lift line where hundreds of folk can all see your colossal blunder. No big whoop. The experienced ones know: they did it too. And still do it. You just get up, collect yourself, and get back in the queue for another ride on the chair.

Writing is a project of critical mass. It takes time and effort and constant accumulation, until one day **POOF** the contracts start coming in. But you won’t get that critical mass if you don’t do the constant exercise: writing fresh prose. Dean hammers this, and so does every other pro I’ve met who is working and making a living, yet this seems to be the hardest lesson for everyone to accept and internalize. Everyone gets wrapped up in one of several traps.

What are the traps?

Fear of rejection is a big one. This is the same fear that people will think you’re dumb if you biff it on the ski slopes. It’s an empty fear. Nobody on the slops cares if you biff it, and no editor or other writer will care if you get rejected. Rejections mean nothing about the story, are not personal in any way, and trying to read these tea leaves for insight on how to “fix” a story is a waste of time. Rejections also happen to everyone, high and low. Even bestselling authors. Even people with tens or a hundred books or more under their belts. I know this for a fact because I’ve talked to these writers working at that level and they all get rejected. So it’s not like rejection only happens to new people or the aspirant unpublished. I certainly get rejected, all the time, and I expect it will always be like that — even though I am also selling now too. So put away the fear about rejection, it’s a waste of time. And will stop you from mailing your writing to the editors — and you can’t sell or break in without an editor going, hey, I like this. Remember critical mass! You write enough and keep sending it out, some editor will eventually nab you.

Fear of being “bad” is another. Which is where endless re-writing (aka: polishing) kills people. I used to be in this group. I never had much fear about rejections — though I have let them erode morale in the past — but I absolutely bought into the idea that for a piece of work to be good, I had to re-write the f*** out of it. Every writer is different, but every successful writer discovers a threshold at which they say to themselves, “This is as good as I can make this book or this story at this time, so I am calling it ‘done,’ and sending it to an editor.”

Hence the old adage that stories and books are never finished, merely abandoned. To be successful you have to realize when revision — of any sort — has become an exercise in diminishing returns. For me, it’s usually the third pass. I write to a stopping point or reasonable place of conclusion, and go back through the story twice more: once to look for gross errors in grammar, spelling, bad sentences, etc, and once more to make sure the “feel” satisfies me. But even if I am not overly thrilled with the product, if I can “feel” that it’s as good as I can make it — in that time and place — I wrap it up and send it out.

And surprise, surprise, some of the stories I’ve had the least confidence in, have sold. Imagine that! A piece of work you don’t think is “good” rang true for an editor, and suddenly that editor is having his or her accountants send you a check. Sometimes, it’s a flipping nice check. And if you’d let fear get in the way of you a) declaring the piece complete or b) mailing it to someone who can buy it, that check would not exist. I have experienced this first-hand, as someone who was once badly, badly stuck in the re-write myth.

Let me repeat again, because this is too important for beginners and new writers to miss: if you let the fear control your actions — fear of being bad, of getting rejected — you will never make it. You have to ignore both of these fears because you will be cheating yourself out of opportunities to sell. Moreover, with re-writes especially, you won’t be doing the work necessary to improve. Like skiing, you have to ski to get better. You don’t get better at writing by re-writing. Lots of people will debate that, but it’s been my experience that it’s true. Re-writing is a different chore entirely from writing, and if you find yourself spending more time on re-writing than actual, fresh writing, you’re doing it wrong. And I will nail my butt to the wall on that one.

If you’re spending more time on re-writing than actual, fresh writing, you’re doing it wrong.

Once you learn to work through the fears, though — once you make working through the fear part of your paradigm as a writer… WHOOSH! You’ll be scooting down the mountain, accumulating unconscious writing experience at a cheetah pace! Your writing legs will be humming like the well-tuned shocks on a baja buggy — you’ll be zipping by the beginners and marveling that it ever seemed so hard. It will be liberating. A far cry from the first time you angled downhill, panicked, crossed your tips, and fell forward with arms and legs tied up like a pretzel.