Thursday, April 30, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Dropping the dime on Ray Bradbury

The other day, I lost an i. It's a key key as keyboards go and now it is gone. I'm not sure how, but one minute it was an i key and the next moment it was suffering total existence failure.

I suppose that's what I get for writing about pirate robots. I was asking for it, really.  I mean look at that thing! It only had one i to begin with... 

(Yes, I've worn the letters off my keys. It happens quickly in my line of work. If I wasn't a touch typist, I'd need to use disposable keyboards because I'd go through at least one a month.)

Anyway, as I was poking around online trying to find a replacement, it reminded me of the last time a laptop died on me and the story of Ray Bradbury's typewriter. That laptop died shortly after he did, so in honor of Throwback Thursday, here is the piece I wrote on what he taught me about the value of a dime...

8 June 2012

Computers. They make our lives easier, except when they don't, and recent computer problems have made me spend some time working on my penmanship and reflecting on the nature of time: I only have so much of it to devote to this endeavor, and doing this thing the old-fashioned way is aggravatingly slow.

Apologies to my readers, but my writing time has been somewhat curtailed of late. When given a choice between writing stories or writing blog posts, I choose the stories every time. And it's been a choice I've had to make with special delicacy lately due to the untimely demise of my laptop. It's hard to upload a page of a legal pad to my blog. It's not impossible, mind you, but the two technologies are not compatible without a special adapter and that special adapter is me.

But I do not alone beweep my outcast state because I am re-learning a valuable lesson about the value of my writing time.

On the day Ray Bradbury died, I was sitting at a computer loaned to me by a college library. This is important because Mr. Bradbury, you see, didn't own a typewriter when he started out. He rented one in the basement of UCLA's Powell Library for $.10 per half hour. Fahrenheit 451 famously cost him $9.80 to write.

A bargain by any measure.

But think about that. If you've never used a typewriter to write anything of length, I invite you to go do so and come back to marvel with me at the economy of this claim. One of the great works of American Letters took less than 49 hours to complete. That's a groundbreaking novel (originally published as a serial in Playboy) written in 6 and a half standard work days. All because its author was counting his dimes.

How many dimes did you spend on your last story?

I understand that there's infinite variety in writing styles and there's no such thing as a correct answer to "How long does it take to write a good book?" As with any art, it takes as long as it takes.

But if your computer charged you a fee for every half hour you spent, how much faster would you write? If you're like me, you would write so much faster it would make your head spin. Because one of the problems with writing on a computer is all the many other things you can do with a computer. 

If you were paying for the time on the computer, how much less time would you spend looking at cute pictures of kittens and poking your friends on Facebook?

How much farther would $9.80 get you on a typewriter versus an internet-enabled laptop?

There's no right answer to this. The internet is blessing and curse. A digital circus that is hard to ignore, but also a bottomless cup of stories from which to drink. I think it boils down to whether you want to write stories or put on digital clown makeup and take the center ring.

As Robert Lynn Aspirin said in the forward to one of his books: "There are fast writers and there are slow writers, I'm a half-fast writer." I, for one, have been on an unintentional journey between the the land of fast and the land of half-fast.

At risk of plundering the pun, I don't want to be a half-fast writer. I don't want to be a half-assed writer either.

In the past couple of months while this blog has been limping along in the shadow of my inattention, I have spent less time writing and written more than I would have otherwise. I have filled several notebooks with story ideas and notes and snippets of text. I've re-edited a book I'd long ago thought worthy of abandoning into something sleeker and more worthy of a reader's time.

The simple fact is that writing is a business, so even though I don't have an hourly wage as a writer, I am very much paying for every minute spent at the keyboard. If you're going to be your own employee, be a productive one. I would never treat my hourly employer this way; why treat myself like that?

Ray Bradbury was infamously curmudgeonly about the internet. He hated it like my cat hates baths. I dis agree with him on that point. I think it's an inexhaustible well of words and enthusiasm. An entire virtual world built entirely out of ideas. But he has a point nonetheless; and though my computer ills are now past, I think I'll remember how good it felt to just sit and put words on a page.

In the end, it's your dime.

Thanks for all your stories, Ray. You left us with a lifetime supply of new worlds to explore. You legitimized the business of writing dreams. And you have left us with some incredibly big shoes to fill. Rest in Peace. We'll take it from here.
Note: Adjusted for inflation, $9.80 in 1950 translates to $98.02 in today's money. Still cheap at twice the price.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

6 Tips for Avoiding Sociopathic Storytelling

We are not always in the story we think we are and we are not always playing the role we think we are playing. Just as we are not always fully aware of the endings, the beginnings, or who the heroes and villains around us truly are. Stories are going on all around us all the time, and though we may fancy ourselves the hero of our own tale, we are mostly bit players in someone else's.

I think that's important to keep in mind when telling a story. It's so very easy to fall into a mindset that the only thing going on in the universe is the story you're telling. Every character springs into existence when they walk into your scene and ceases to exist the second they exit the page.

Even though there are moments when the most important thing going on in your world are happening in your story, that doesn't mean it's the only thing happening or the only thing that's ever happened in the lives of the people involved. When you get the feeling that it is, the world becomes smaller, shrinking until I stop caring about the outcome because the world you're trying to save is paper-thin.

Because I'm in the habit of naming things, I think of it as Sociopathic Storytelling Syndrome.

For the sake of keeping it all in my head, I created the acronym S.L.O.W.L.Y. to keep in mind the six things I want to know about every character that has more than a passing mention in my stories: Secrets, Loves, Origins, Wits, Learning, and Yearning.

If you know these six things about a character -- even if they never come up -- just having it in your head will bleed into their dialogue and their actions and breathe a larger life into your story. Because when that waitress leaves the scene, she's going somewhere, doing something, loving someone, or yearning for them.

And that's the kind of thing that brings a world to life.

  1. Secrets:  Often what's unsaid forms us more than anything else. You should know at least a few things about the character that have nothing to do with the story: What are they passionate about? If you walked into their home, what would stand out about them? Are they shifty or a straight-shooter? Know the character's secrets and you'll know the character too.
  2. Loves:  A character's gender preferences and relationship status would and should tie directly to how they interact with other characters. What or who does the character love? Are they in a relationship or are they looking?
  3. Origins:  We are where we come from. Where was the character born? How were they brought up? What kind of family circumstances did they grow up in? Are they lonely or a loner?
  4. Wits:  How smart is this character? This isn't the same as education and often more interesting if their smarts comes from a place of experience rather than academia, so you can tie 'Wisdom' in here too if you like.
  5. Learning:  The demeanor of even the most incidental character will at the very least display how educated they are? Did they go to college? Drop out of high school? Home schooled? Hold advanced degrees?
  6. Yearning:  Everyone has a goal, something they yearn for. What does the character want? What drives them? What are they willing to risk anything in order to obtain or defend?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Future Friday: All of yesterday's tomorrows...

A bit of news to kick off our Futurific Friday post: I accepted an invitation to The Brass Screw Confederacy ( in May. Brass Screw is a Steampunk event (not a convention) that takes over the idyllic seaside town of Port Townsend from time to time and has made the town a steampunk destination of sorts.

I'll be presenting a workshop on where ideas come from. The workshop, you might be amused to know, arose from a popular blogpost I wrote here called "Drinking from the font of ideas (Also Lasersharks!)" and takes participants through all the surprising ideas that can be culled from a single day's news feed and seeks to finally answer that persistent question: "Where do you get your ideas?"

Oh, I have hatched a thousand elaborate
heist scenarios dedicated to liberating
this sofa from its home at the Seattle
Museum of History & Industry...
"But wait," I hear you cry. "Howard Carter isn't really steampunk is it? Also, what does this have to do with futurism, Scott. This is Future Friday, so get cracking with the jetpacks and flying cars. I want to hear you rip on Elon Musk for nixing flying cars!"

Not a chance. Musk is basically right about the flying car thing and it depresses me to admit that, so today we're going to talk about Steampunk, and the tomorrows that we dreamt about yesterday.

Because that's what Steampunk is: futurism through different foci. We get so caught up in the trappings of the genre sometimes that I think we forget that part of things.

One important thread of Howard Carter Saves the World is the trouble wrought by a misbehaving family of time travelers whose Victorian meddling accidentally created the modern world as we know it. Their efforts to repair the timeline set up much of the plot that Howard and his friends become tangled in. The modern world as we know it is wrong, they cry. They want their tomorrow back and they're going to get it no matter how badly they mess up our present.

It's a subplot that burbles quietly in the background and will be more thoroughly examined in future stories because nothing fascinates me more than the difference between how we imagined the future and the future we ended up with.

So is it Steampunk if the setting isn't Victorian?

I'm not a big fan of genre restrictions, so for the most part I honestly don't care. However, for my money Steampunk shouldn't begin and end with the reign of Queen Victoria. The interesting bit to me isn't the airship pirates and top-hatted chrononauts. The thing that makes steampunk interesting to me is the idea of imagining a different past, a better past in which the wonders of technological advancement and inventive enthusiasm weren't saddled with the most shocking sexism, racism, and colonialism (among other appalling isms).  And then -- this is the important part for me and my story -- imagining the world of today that would have arisen from that better yesterday.

Because at some point, as storytellers, makers, and musicians, we should to move beyond the dreamy supposition of "What if the Victorians had steampowered iPhones?" and ask what a world would look like further along that timeline. So they had aetheric cell phones and flying ships and snazzy brass goggles... tell me what future that gave rise to. Because I'm not convinced that a more inclusive, more inventive version of our past would necessarily give us the dystopian worlds that most of my dieselpunk friends envision. (Dieselpunk being commonly anchored by a re-imagined World War One...)

Maybe it would. Maybe the chaos and war of the modern world was inevitable and the power of the aetheric phlogistonic manipulator arrays would inevitably give rise to a war machine that would lay waste to the world. Maybe. But one essential elements of imagining yesterday's tomorrows was the optimism that those dreams were based on. And I, for one, hold on to that. Because if you know anything about the real batsh*t crazy inventors of the actual Victorian age, you know that they were generally trying to make the world better, not tear it apart.

And I, for one, prefer that scenario.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Anatomy of an Online Launch Party

My publisher has set up an online launch party to celebrate the release of Howard Carter Saves the World. I've had a couple of people ask me what an "online launch party" was and what it is for.

It's a Facebook event, so it will take place on social media. Specifically, it is a page they set up that I can invite people to (consider yourselves invited) where I will spend a large part of the day on Tuesday  talking to readers, answering questions, sharing stories, posting more of my illustrations and silly artwork from the world of Howard Carter, sharing previously-recorded readings from the book, and generally having a digital hootenanny.

Fun fact: Because it was set up by my publisher, who live in the UK, it technically starts at midnight BST. I'm not sure if that means that the book drops on Amazon and elsewhere at that time (5:00 pm here in the Pacific Northwest, if I'm not mistaken).

I'll have some silly giveaways, additional writing, and a limited number of autographed postcards with one of the aforementioned silly illustrations on it that I will be sending out to a lucky few.

Howard Carter lives in a world that is rife with silliness and much of it leant itself to my penchant for illustration and faux ephemera, so there's quite a lot of it lying about waiting to deepen the world that is introduced in Howard Carter Saves the World.

All are welcome to stop by! You can find us here:

More to come!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

National Grilled Cheese Day (Now with Giant Robots!)

My novel is coming out on Tuesday, there are a thousand words of a new novel sitting on my laptop waiting for me to get back to them, and the science fiction world is embroiled in a kerfuffle about the Hugo award. The impending debut of Howard Carter fills me with a certain gut level of anxiety that I've never encountered before, my work in progress is a bit 'in the weeds' at the moment, and the Hugo imbroglio just saddens me.

It's also National Grilled Cheese Day, so let's talk about that instead.

Grilled cheese sandwiches weren't a Thing in our house growing up, so I don't have nostalgic warm fuzzies attached to the idea of the thing. I'm not sure why, but mom just didn't feed us cheese sandwiches for some reason. But I have a deep and abiding, possibly genetic, yen for things involving cheese, so it was the first thing I ever learned to make on my own without help.

Two slices of wheat bread, margarine, and pre-wrapped sandwich slices of American cheese*. Heat control when cooking is learned behavior and I burned the crap out of the first three or four that I made without ever getting the filling to melt. I ate them anyway because we didn't waste food in my family.

By the fifth sandwich, I'd sussed out that "Back end of a Mercury Rocket" was not the correct setting for the stove if I wanted something edible to come out of the skillet and I was off and running on my first culinary adventure. Eventually I also worked out how to handle a sandwich that's been buttered on the outside pre-cooking.

I've since learned a thing or two about what does and does not count as 'cheese' and tested my wits against various cooking implements that were intended to deliver prime sandwiching to the huddled masses yearning to eat cheese. My favorite is the panini press, but I don't have room for one on the counter in our small kitchen, so I stick with the cast iron skillet by preference.

The best grilled cheese sandwich I've ever had was at Beecher's Cheese in Seattle, which is where that photo above was taken. That is the moment of bliss, caught with the lens of my wife's smartphone. Their mac & cheese is God's gift to humanity, by the way, but National Mac & Cheese Day isn't until July** so that's another post.

Though maybe we should contemplate how many National ________ Day's one country really needs to have.  I don't know who comes up with this stuff, but if it gives me a ceremonial excuse to eat cheese, I'm down with it.

Oh, and Howard Carter Saves the World is coming out on Tuesday, so I declare April 14th to be National Giant Robots Day! Don't miss out on the giant robot event of the year. If you have a Kindle (or the free Kindle app) you can pre-order from Amazon now: or it will be available on Nook, Kobo, and other formats soon. (Amazon just makes it so easy to upload and do presales on eBooks.)

Now if you'll excuse me, there's a block of Beecher's cheese and a loaf of bread in the kitchen with my name on it.

* Which may or may not have actually contained any measurable amounts of actual cheese.
** Yes, really, July 14th apparently.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Everything's a story...

This post first appeared in slightly different form here on 13 March 2012 under the title "Stories to tell."
Everything is a story. Everything. Given sufficient supplies of coffee and time, I will prove it to you.

A psychologist I used to know told me that making stories is a defense mechanism, a game our psyches play to help us make sense of trauma. A story is a box to put things in, a safe place to keep things until we unpack them carefully in front of our loved ones and let them be amused or thrilled.

Then they go back into the box and get put away for a time.

I have a lot of those boxes stored away, my own and some I’m holding for others. The only difference being that I view them all as spare parts boxes, to be opened and plundered as the need presents.

For writers, all boxes are spare parts boxes. We riffle through them for the bits and pieces from which we invent new stories or retell old ones. Thus, we allow our stories out into the breathing world, as Frankenstein's monsters, with bits of this and bits of that, and an aspect which -- if we are good enough -- will inspire our readers to the churchyard to dig up their boxes, to check that everything is still there. And to ponder how the writer knew these things, these secrets we never tell anyone, and to ponder anew a world where stories live in the open air even when we are certain they are nailed into a crate and buried as deep as ever we could dig.

The best stories, of course, are usually made from the parts of our lives that we actively tried to avoid. That's just the nature of the thing.

All stories are reflections of one another because they are all part of the same larger picture, the same overarching story that we call our 'culture' or our 'society' but really mean 'our shared story'.

Stories are going on all around us all the time, and though we may fancy ourselves the hero of our own tale, in reality we are bit players in someone else's story. It's the strange and awesome truth that we are not always in the story we think we are. We are not always playing the role we think we are playing. And we are not always fully aware of the endings, the beginnings, or who the heroes and villains around us truly are.

When a story is happening, it's just life.

It's the writer's role to understand that, to recognize it, and to choose the arbitrary points of initiation and conclusion so that the stories we tell reflect the ones that you don't tell. Because when we walk through the world, we're the ones whose eyes are up and looking around, filling their boxes with spare parts.

Ask a writer where they get their ideas and you will get a panoply of answers, most of which are untrue. Because the simple fact is that while appear to be trying to come up with an answer, for the most part we are really trying to imagine how anyone could walk through this world of stories and not trip over at least a few.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Crooked Cat Submissions Open

My publisher, Crooked Cat, is open for submissions! This only happens once in awhile, so if you have anything burning up your desk drawer and it's ready to see the world, now is the time to take that out and give it some air.

Strike now, because the iron is hot.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Four years ago there were clowns... also Howard Carter

If you're on Facebook, you've no doubt noticed that Zuckerberg's minions have been peppering your feed with flashbacks to what you were doing and who you were doing it with in years past.  For some this has apparently been traumatic. The app is/seems to be optional, so if you have things in the past you'd rather forget, I'd advise not turning it on. For me, Facebook is a place for frolicsome threats to drop troupes of clowns on my friends with orders to honk with extreme prejudice.

screenshot from

Somewhere in and among all that silliness, this week's flashbacks have been all about typing "The End" on a book. A book that would become Howard Carter Saves the World. 

Four years ago I finished writing and started the long walk to publication.

As you know, there are books about this writing business. If you click on the stack of them in the left column of this blog you'll find a listing of some of my favorites. All of them warn you to some degree or another that this publishing thing is not quick. It's not easy. It's not for someone who is going to give up three years in.

I'm not sure if all of them undersell the waiting game or if I'm just blind to such warnings. Probably the latter. If there's a thing that all writers share, it's a stubborn refusal to accept the staggering odds against success.

Four years ago Monday, I typed "The End" at the bottom of the final page of Howard's story. Next Tuesday, that story will take its final step across the threshold of your computer screens and I hope that it will live its own life in your e-reader.

Even so, Howard's story is only half done; the rest is up to you. Beyond the turning cogs of the publishing machine, beyond the pages of a book, a story really only requires two essential elements: a teller and a listener. Without a reader, a book is a meaningless pile of words, little more than a labor-intensive doorstop. The writer does half the work breathing life into the inanimate, and the reader does the rest.

So I look forward to seeing Howard once again through fresh eyes... in about nine days.

Pre-orders are live on Amazon! Just click the image below.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Funmail! (And NEWS!)

Big news!  Howard Carter Saves the World is now available for pre-order on Amazon!

Click Here to Pre-Order Now! (US)
Click Here to Pre-Order Now! (UK)

You might recall this post about the nearly infinite subdivision of genre as it exists in the virtual bookstores of the Amazon sites. 

In other lovely news, I came home yesterday to find a package on my doorstep postmarked by the Royal Mail.

I wracked my brain and called my wife: Did we order something online recently that might've shipped from Nottinghamshire? The answer was no.

I rattled the box. It ratted with a sound that reminded me of Lego.  My publisher is based in the UK, of course, but why would they be mailing me a small box of Lego?  

Not that this wouldn't completely awesome, of course.

Inside the plain brown wrapping was more wrapping. this time bright and fun, and covered in cartoon robots. (As is right and proper.)  On the outside was a rolled up bit of paper at the center of which was this pen.

Mightier than the sword indeed.

Easily twice as intrigued by the origins of my package now, I finally opened the card and discovered the culprits. If you follow me on Twitter, you've encountered them before...

I think I'd best keep my daughter away from @LaughManiacally . "I'm going to build robots! BIG robots!" @Pages2Type  -Jennifer Thomas (@_jen_thomas_) 
March 26, 2015
My dear old friends Jennifer and her little daughter Eleanor had sent me greetings and congratulations...

Congratulations and an alien... like you do.

Which was fine because they were also thoughtful enough to send along a robot to keep that alien in line. Presumably by drawing circles around it, I'm not sure yet.

Too fun! My first fanmail. Though this certainly isn't a bid for others to do likewise, I've known Eleanor's mother for years. That smile is genuine.

So anyway, that's the news from here in the World of Tomorrow. Speaking of tomorrow, we are officially ten days to launch!  There's going to be an online release party that will unfold on Facebook. Click the image below to get there!