Wednesday, October 31, 2012

'The Art of Murder,' an excerpt.

Gilles had been reading a little bit more about Leblanc and what he called the ‘sensual restlessness’ of the age. Perhaps that was what he was feeling right now. The song was haunting, full of regrets, and he wondered. If love was such a beautiful thing, why were there so many sad love songs?

She knew they were there, of course, but making any assumptions as to how she might feel about it was tricky. She might hate them, but he thought not. She might resent them, and he could understand that. She might see it as heaping additional trials on her slender yet well-formed shoulders, and yet at the same time she might accept that. He wasn’t even sure why they were there, but seeing her in her own natural environment was informative.

She had beautiful shoulders, and Gilles felt a strange stirring of something deep inside of him. When she turned, the bone structure of her naked back, and of her shoulder blades, was amazing…just amazing.

The lady clearly belonged there. She had found some inner well of fortitude, enough to make her smile a sad, tired smile when she saw the pair of strangers come in and find a small table off to one side and near the door. She had smiled when she recognized them.

She smiled sadly at the inevitability of it all, and that said something. It was an acceptance of all that had to be, an acceptance of life’s tragedies, and the knowledge that they were going to do their job no matter who got hurt. Gilles had never felt less like smiling when he saw that.

She must know a lot of things that he never would. Yvonne would be easy to fall in love with for almost any normal man. He was a very small boy when it came to women like her. Maybe that was what she saw.

She was a mystery, and he was a very small boy.

The song was a lullaby, an old standby, but rather than putting the baby to sleep, she was saying something about the human heart in all its tenderness and all of its potential coldness. On her lips it was a lover’s song, the kind of song you wished you hadn’t heard just then, and you knew it would stick uncomfortably in your mind for a long time afterwards.

Andre had eyes for no one but her. Gilles was a little more objective. It occurred to him that the five piece ensemble might be an indifferent sound without her. On listening further to the soft drums and the cadence of the bass, he realized it was perfect. They highlighted her, and she was the sound, with the drummer playing in shirtsleeves, and the soft slow rasp of the drums, and then the piano, played by a smallish man in evening attire, beads of sweat glistening in the dim lamplight of the overheads, the slash of blue light falling across the face of the man on the saxophone. He didn’t know much about modern music, but he found he quite liked it.

The saxophone had its own song, but only when she went quiet. It was superb.

Gilles watched and listened to the bass for a while, noting again its restraint, and along with another man with a different kind of horn, he thought a bassoon, trying to isolate each sound and feel its place in the composition. As individuals, there were intent upon their own work, and yet they had to play as a group. It was a team, in every sense of the word. He saw them play off of each other, and the way she turned and engaged with them, in some unspoken way from time to time, and marveled at just how many things a man might never comprehend, not even at the most superficial level. It was two entirely different worlds up there under the lights and down here in the shadows, with the clink of a glass or a dull murmur coming to remind him that he was not alone, and would never have to be alone as long as there were places like this in the world.

She had the perfect voice for it, low, and husky, and perfectly controlled in the trills, and in harmonious resonance with the low-ceilinged, intimate club.

The orchestra without her might not be lost—they were the consummate professionals, for surely they understood their art and their medium far better than he ever would. She was beautiful, of course, and yet there was clearly something strong, deep inside her, and not just the superficialities of skin and hair and eyes, and red, red ruby lips almost touching the microphone as she made eye contact and nodded at him and Andre. With a life like hers, she must have a kind of resilience.

A tear falls to the sand

Waves and wind sigh in mourning

Over the sea to a far distant land

Up to the horizon and then a pause

And then he is gone

Heat of the sun never ceases

Gulls plaintive cries without cause

Forlorn hope never stops to sing

Blinking in the glare, she waits

The end is also a beginning

When ships with butterfly wings

Beat into the wind on a quest so fine

Lovers torn apart for a time

No one can say the why of these things

The bonds have been released

Each is free to be their own

This is a seed that must be sown

And no one can say its fate

Sometimes there is no way to win

But only to endure.

When ships with butterfly wings

Beating into the wind

Carry your heart across the ocean

It is all you can do, sometimes

To wait and to pray.

And to mourn…

Gilles would remember those words as long as he lived.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Near death experience.

Wiki Commons

He could find no hatred in his heart as the anesthesiologist slowly squeezed the plunger. The liquid going into his arm made him feel limp, and far away. He breathed softly, slowly, in the mask. The world faded into nothingness.

Some time passed, how much he could not say. All he knew was that some period of time had passed. He felt unreal. He could hear voices, faintly, as if from far, far away, echoing and attenuated by some distance, muffled and confusing, yet with the odd word coming in perfect clarity. But he couldn’t understand the words, even though he knew who was speaking. It was the doctor and his team of surgeons, the anesthesiologist, the nurses, the students observing this new, dangerous, and experimental heart surgery.

With a surge of awareness, he realized that he was looking down into the room as if the ceiling had been stripped off, open to the azure sky above. If he was awake, why did he not feel them poking and cutting into his body? Was he dead? Yet they all seemed so calm, even in this strange perspective, looking down on their heads and necks, the tops of their shoulders. The cool tones of their voices told him he was still very much alive.

Dr. Weinberg cut and clipped, and inserted long shiny metal things into his open chest as he watched. The only man in the whole world who could do this operation; a quiet codicil to a proposed ceasefire agreement between their two warring nations.

Weinberg had cheerfully agreed to the request, and he himself had submitted to the ministrations of the infidel doctor with few misgivings. Weinberg was known world-wide to be the best. At this point in history, his own life was a symbol, his own right to live or die transcended by the political reality; and the urgent need for peace. He watched in admiration as Weinberg’s long, spatulate fingers ardently probed with the caress of a lover, massaging the new assistance-pump into position near the aorta. The noises of the machines in the background, pumping blood through his very brain, confirmed whatever reality he was seeing. He was firmly convinced that this was reality of a kind.

He had heard of people being awake under sedation, but he could feel no pain, and no panic. He felt only peace and a kind of passive curiosity. Whatever it was, he could do nothing about it, and all would be revealed to him, perhaps? Perhaps…when he should have felt physical symptoms of fear, there was nothing…only nothing…there was no dread at the thought of death, merely a kind of dull longing for peace.

The room faded from his view, and for a moment or two, he found himself spinning and rotating slowly, as if he were floating in space above the Earth. Everything about him was blackness. There was no up or down, there was no dizziness, there was no need to breathe. It was amazing in its calm; one would have expected the fear-of-falling response, like when a person has a bad dream. All his physical fears were gone.

Was he dead then? He marveled at the thought, only half believing it. It was still unbelievable, that part seemed hard to take in. Did everyone feel like this, when they died? He wondered if his spirit was reluctant to move on, and he wished for release if that were so. The thought that he might be dead, and that was all there was to it, was something of a relief. Was the fear of death really nothing more than the fear of uncertainty, or dissolution? Or the most basic, animal fear, the fear of pain?

In the distance, he found a spot of discoloration, which slowly swelled and spun into a dot of dim white light, pale and diaphanous in his blurry vision. His sight had nowhere the clarity of the earlier vision of the operating theatre. He had no idea of what to expect, and yet he had preached what to expect for most of his adult life.

The pride-fullness that he must have exhibited in the eyes of God daunted and humbled him in its venality. But perhaps God could understand that it was all in His name, all in His good works? He had never really asked for anything for himself…not very much, anyway. All he had ever asked, was for the tools, the power to do God’s works, and to spread the truth of God.

He wondered if he was supposed to try to move toward the light. Merely thinking the thought brought him closer. Slowly the light spun closer, getting much brighter now. He could discern a figure, one that shimmered, wavering back and forth and then it oriented itself upright in relation to himself. Once again he marveled that he felt no fear, no dread, no guilt, no anticipation…nothing. The bearded figure beckoned to him.

The eyes, the mouth, the manly, joyful countenance of the Apostle of God hovered before him.

The Imam didn’t know what to think or to say. He suddenly realized that he had in fact doubted this moment all of his life, and that somehow much of the stridency of his message had been based on fear—his teachings were all the result of generations of fear, and anger.

“Move towards the light.” The figure of a man, a bearded man, with sparkling eyes greeted him.

He tried to obey, but the only thing he could do just then, the only thing he could seem to feel just then, was guilt.

“I—I’m sorry,” he tried to say, but he knew he could not say it without a mouth, a body.

Would the figure understand just how penitent, just how contrite, and genuinely confused that he was? And how could he enter paradise without a body?

“You are welcome here. You are forgiven.” Upon hearing those words, he wished that he had eyes, and tear ducts so that he might cry.

“I am not worthy,” he tried to say. “I have been so wrong, so mistaken, so arrogant.”

He was going backwards, fearing immediately that he had caused it himself. He could not stop it either. Somehow he knew that right away. He was in the operating room again, this time floating around at the same level as the eyes of the staff. He watched them hurriedly sew up some things and then try to start his heart. They tried again and again, and for one brief moment, amazing in its intensity, he hoped they would fail. Then he was back in his own body, and he was lying on the bed in the recovery room, and all was fuzzy and warm. Somebody was speaking softly to him, or about him, just a half-meter or so away from his right ear.

“Gave them a right scare during the operation, but he looks stable now,” he heard a female’s voice right above and beside him.

Someone with a hard, dry, strong hand squeezed his own. He heard a familiar voice, poignant in his ears due to his own new revelation. His faith in himself had been destroyed in the same moment his faith in God had been reaffirmed…he had been forgiven. He, who had never once thought he required it.

“Imam. Imam. Can you hear me? Squeeze just a little.” It was Ali, his aide, friend, and confidant of these many years.

Half a century had passed since he had begun to mentor the lad, and groom him as a protege. Had he failed Ali? How could he tell Ali that he had seen Mohammad, who had greeted him at the gates of paradise? He could taste the bitter salt tears, sighing in anguish at the thought of how little time he had left to try to do better. His eyes were open now. Ali was gazing down at him in wondrous joy at his recovery, and filled with the news that the operation was successful.

The Imam’s lips parted and he spoke.

“Scholars tremble when they hear the name of God, for God is mighty, and forgiving.”

He squeezed Ali’s hand as hard as he could, knowing that the pressure was almost indistinguishable. He was as weak as a new-born kitten.

“You’ll feel better in a few days.”

“Inshallah! As God wills it.” The Imam's voice quavered in shock, and humility, and shame.

Peacefulness stole over him, and then he slept.

Ali sat watching over him and holding his hand, grateful to a bountiful Providence that the hope of their nation lived on in the heart of this frail old man.


Note: Originally appeared in Danse Macabre, Nevada's pemier online literary magazine.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Moral questions.

In a previous blog post, I said ‘Science fiction should ask the great hypothetical moral questions,’ and used the example of a new medical treatment giving immortal life.

But let’s take it one step further. Is it possible that societal needs dictate moral beliefs? Are they matters of convenience?

In a society where people lived forever, the need for human regeneration would be much reduced. Old mores might die hard. In the present day, there are groups who would find this hypothetical, ‘what if’ world of the future quite threatening. It threatens their moral belief system in the present world. It has to. Morality is anything but logical. It is strictly utilitarian when we admit the need for social control.

In the previous post I mentioned ‘a moral baseline,’ the only real purpose of which is somewhere to measure from. For the purposes of discussion, we have agreed abortion and birth control are ‘immoral.’ Otherwise we must talk about some other moral quandary, and at least in this case pretty much everyone has an opinion.

While I doubt if morality can be reduced to mathematical constructs, the analogy is a useful one.

In the present, our life-span is about eighty years. In the future, it might be something a bit less than infinite. This represents two results of the same equation, i.e., ‘what is the span of a human life?’ Let’s call it ‘n.’ Where there is an ‘n,’ there must also be an ‘x.’ Let’s call it ‘morality.’

At one end of the scale, ‘n’ has a certain value, eighty years. At the other end of the scale, it’s near infinity. This represents part of a graph. There are other factors.

At present, for the sake of argument, we have our ‘moral baseline.’ As suggested in the previous post, a sort of morally-centred group, believes abortion and family planning to be ‘immoral.’ But since the life-spans are different present and future, does there not seem some mathematical probability that the result for ‘x,’ the moral factor, might change as well? Otherwise, how could we get two different results, in terms of the life-span, measured at different points in time? For surely human life-span affects human moral values.

Morality does change, and it changes with the times. At one time, slavery was seen as natural, and the inferiority of some races was validated by divine revelation. People quoted the gods in justification, which has been forgotten in the modern world. People saw slavery in moral terms, and they saw the movement to outlaw slavery in moral terms as well. In practical terms, in terms of farm production for example, freeholders and tenant farmers were far more productive than slaves, they cost less and were more useful as allies in times of war. They were protecting their own land, while a slave is only presented with the choice of a master. At one time, the life of a slave was held to be of little account—now even slavery is outlawed, and the murder of a citizen, is not just a crime legally, but a sin morally. So moral values have changed, haven’t they? And they will change again.

The Spartans were a moral people. Their morality differed significantly from ours, and stemmed from their philosophical beliefs and their political circumstances, surrounded by numerous enemies. Yet judging by way of life of their neighbours, it was not the only possible solution.

This kind of question runs the risk of triggering side debates.

Science and politics have always been closely intertwined. Religion and politics are also intertwined. Science and religion must therefore be intertwined. They represent ways of interpreting and dealing with our world, our society. Our circumstances at whatever point in time, hence the study of history. Whether it’s science, religion, law, philosophy, history, these are just tools by which we define our world. It represents our moral baseline—it gives us somewhere to measure from. By the use of these perceptual filters, we exclude what is extraneous to our model. We study a thin slice of it, suitably dyed to help colour our perceptions of it.

Certainly there are those science fiction writers who would like to give us a sense of optimism about the future, while cheerfully admitting that they can’t predict it. I would prefer not to be too much of a doom-sayer myself. But I actually think we can predict it, if only in the most general terms. Bearing in mind that a dummy like me can somehow survive and operate in the 21st century, where by all accounts high technology is both pervasive and advanced, it’s possible to predict that a dummy like me will find the where-with-all to survive and even thrive in the twenty-third century, or the twenty-fifth, or whatever. The education, or perhaps the ingenuity of the common man will keep up with the times.

Once we realize that we know about a million times more than Julius Caesar could ever possibly know, then it becomes obvious that the common man of the future will know things we could never possibly know. They will have huge advantages over their ancestors in terms of knowledge, opportunities as yet imagined, and yes, challenges that to us look insuperable, for example overpopulation, political instability, the peaks and valleys of a globalized economy, the tension between opposing world-views, the long term effects of pollution, whatever.

Let’s look at our original scenario, the one where a little girl was born and she was the first of a new breed of humans of effectively immortal life-span. If we accept that runaway global warming could in fact render all life extinct on Earth, then it should move us to ask what would be the results of a doubling of world population, and a mass increase in standards of living, if all other factors were allowed to remain the same.

Let’s assume the young human female is going to live forever, and presumably be relatively young and healthy, a completely new and unforeseen state of being. No one wants to be immortal and yet old, right? So now we have someone who can have an unlimited number of babies. And each and every one of those babies would also be immortal.

In the future, moral questions still predominate. People will still have opinions, some extreme. And in terms of perceptual filters, people will have the ability to tune in to whatever point of view they choose. Once it reaches saturation level, it becomes their new reality, one that is indistinguishable, in their eyes, from actually having an objective point of view.

Here’s the link to the original post, the relevant bit is way down at the bottom.

(Forgetting actual crime for a moment, is there a need for social control? -ed.)

(Yes. As long as there are people we don't approve of, doing things that we don't like, or that somehow don't fit into our moral belief system. -louis.)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Killing off a character and genre requirements.

Is there a right way or a wrong way to kill off a character? One of the great moral questions of the ages.

Of course not. When John Wayne dies at the end of ‘Cowboys,’ or when we discover that Bruce Willis has been dead right from the start, (“I see dead people…” –Haley Joel Osmont,) as in ‘Sixth Sense,’ in my opinion that was exactly the right thing to do from the plot’s perspective.

…and how the writer dealt with it was sheer genius.

Not every story needs to have a recently-deceased protag, and in the western genre in general, a living protagonist is preferable. It leads to a more romantic conclusion, and it allows for justice to be dealt to the antagonist. You need someone to ride off into the sunset. You need what the Navy calls ‘a warm body.’ Almost anyone will do. They just have to be awake and able to sit a horse.

The real question, I think, is in how many genre requirements we might successfully dispense with. In a romance, could a person be in love with a ghost? I would have to say yes, and in fact I seem to recall that it’s been done before. Do they have to be in love? Must they kiss at some point in the book? A romance where no one loved or pined for someone would be a pretty hard sell. I think it might be universally reviled. Love, or ‘romance,’ a word much misunderstood by males in a general sense, is the real protagonist in a romance. The characters are pretty symbolic in a Freudian way. They are plastic figures in a doll house, limited only by the imagination of the child playing with them. But certain things are expected of them by the readers.

In writing history, could we dispense with certain facts? I would have to say yes, as in ‘Heaven Is Too Far Away,’ I basically took known history and personalized it. Tucker is a fictional character. He has a lot of opinions, but couldn’t possibly have known much of what he states in the memoir except from the perspective of hindsight. It’s just another way of telling the story, or rather a story, of WW I, and what it ultimately did to a lot of people who otherwise started off in a kind of innocence. Can a WW I book be about innocence? Yeah, in some small way it can. Of course, in a much larger way it is about the loss of that innocence. There is a big dose of cynicism running through that book. That cynicism is the result of Tucker’s experiences at a young and impressionable age. Don’t forget he comes from a certain specific background. In a very human way, his experiences are unique.

In my books and stories I have killed off characters by means of bombs, rockets, missiles, machine guns, small arms, grenades, knives, swords, bows and arrows, giant mutant salamanders, they’ve been killed by guillotine and by disemboweling…the list goes on but my mind wanders. On the plus side, they seem to fall in love a lot. Some of them have quite a few friends and family. They care about each other for one reason or another. In spite of what’s been said above, I’m fairly gentle with characters—I’ve seen worse. What we write says a lot about us, that’s for sure. Fiction is a condensation of our views on the world, isn’t it? It’s a different way of saying things that maybe need to be said.

The most interesting characters are the ones that develop into someone different over the course of a story. I find the novel a lot easier to do that with. There’s simply more room inside of it. It really doesn’t matter what the genre is. A protagonist will always be challenged, irrespective of genre. The writer will also be challenged, no matter what the genre. It’s part of the game.

Lest this become all too generalized in terms of the typical blog post, let me also say that science fiction as a genre is about more than just ‘the literature of ideas.’

Science fiction should and must ask the great hypothetical moral questions. We should be the first ones doing that, if it is our job to look at society and technology and to try to extrapolate what might be just around the corner.

Here’s a quick example. Let us assume that some little girl born in our lifetimes will live forever. Let us also assume that she is just the first, and that whatever treatment she had will over time become available to the vast majority of humans. After three generations, the last of the untreated, surely the most miserable of humankind down through the ages, for they at least will know that they could have been saved, (except it was just too expensive, or it came slightly too late,) will die off. They will all be gone, and everyone born after that will be essentially immortal barring accident, murder, suicide, or war.

Let us assume as a baseline moral premise that abortion is immoral and that the use of condoms is immoral under any and all circumstances. This is not a moral question. It is a moral conclusion, one drawn or held by fairly large numbers of people.

Would family planning or any form of contraception, however we might choose to define it or what we might include in the category, still be immoral under the new set of human circumstances?

To kill someone, is to take the remainder of their lives, one assumption might be that an immortal life has more ‘intrinsic value,’ for want of a better term, than a life of a mere seventy or eighty years.

Which is worse, i.e., less moral?

Should we outlaw birth control and abortion, and simply dispose of excess humanity by warring over matters of speculative theological opinion? Should we try to maintain stable population numbers, barely fluctuating statistically, in order to manage societal resources? The questions are tougher to answer than to formulate. An immortal world is one where all moral questions have to be asked again.

Another genre requirement for science fiction is some discernable scientific extrapolation. This is considered to be near term, as what the world might look like in five thousand years is considered by some to be inconceivable.

If I want to keep writing science fiction, then I had better start asking some tough questions. It’s a requirement of the genre—like love in a romance, or ‘justice’ in a western.

Other than that, I shall answer all of your questions for fifty cents. (Each.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Working with Pete. A short story.

Pete and I stood by the big board where work orders were pinned up. They’re all on a computer, but we aren’t allowed to touch it for some reason. So they get printed out and pinned up on a wall.

“We can’t do that one.” He muttered, afraid someone would hear him. “We’re still waiting for the materials.”

“Right. Forty lengths of titanium angle.”

“Was it forty?” He gaped. “I thought it was four.”

“No matter.” I shrugged. “We can’t do it today anyway.”

“Why not?” He asked very astutely.

“We don’t have the materials.”

“Ah.” He thought as deeply as he could.

“Well, what about this one?” He pointed.

“I don’t care,” I said. “Let’s just grab one and get out of here before Fuckhead comes along.”

Just at that exact moment, Fuckhead, our immediate supervisor here on the station, stepped around the corner with a blank look on his face.

“Oh, there you are.” Coming from a man who normally set my teeth on edge, this was welcome news.

“Yes. Here we are.” I said it brightly; and chipper, too.

If he knew I loathed him, it would just lessen my displeasure.

“I need you guys to go over and fix loading dock four.” Assistant Commodore Bradley McGoohan was a didact and a pedant, which Pete would interpret as something that hung around the neck.

“Okay.” I was hoping to shut him off.

He’s not really in the military, although he might have been in the Space Cadets when he was younger.

“There’s the closer for the access hatch on the bulkhead in Bay Nine.” Pete mentally reviewed it out loud. “Then there’s the leaking seals on door thirteen-twenty-two-A, or the porthole replacement in personnel and administration.”

“No. I need you guys to go over and fix loading dock four,” McGoohan informed me, ignoring Pete altogether, which makes him either smarter or a whole lot smarter than I am.

“The guy from the other side called.” Give Pete an ‘A’ for persistence. “He was asking about the door to the recycling area. And don’t forget the broken lock on that toilet stall in the bachelor’s quarters.”

“We don’t really have enough materials for the job.” Bradley fixed me with a glance.

“Why not?”

“Because we only have about four lengths, and we need forty.”

“How in the hell did that happen?” His voice rose and the beginnings of a dull red flush crept up his neck.

Craning his neck a little and peering up in mystification, Pete waited for my answer along with the boss.

Pete was lead hand, due to having about five minutes more seniority than I do. Old Pete was in charge of ordering materials for the door and hatch repairs on the space station. His last name starts with a ‘D’ and mine with a ‘J,’ so he is senior man. He disembarked first. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.

“I don’t know.” I tried to subdue a pained expression.

“That’s okay. Some idiot probably just read four point zero when it really said forty.” Then he turned to Pete. “And you were supposed to be looking after her.”

McGoohan turned and did the one thing he was good at and went away.

“So…what do you want us to do?” Pete asked rather plaintively, and the boss-man spun around like a figure skater.

“I need you to go over and fix loading dock four!”

Bradley, unlike me, doesn’t take a whole lot of brain-dead, can’t be bothered-to-wake-up, why shouldn’t I point a loaded gun at your kid’s head, I checked and it’s not loaded, applied stupidness, gross ignorance, carelessness, just plain nonsense and applied idiocy from Pete.

That’s my job and he doesn’t cut my grass, as the saying goes.

“He wants us to go over and fix loading dock four,” I added reasonably enough to good old Pete.

“But why?”

“Because it’s broken,” Bradley and I said simultaneously, and both at once, with mutually reinforcing degrees of peevishness on both of our parts.

Pete was having a good day, at least so far. The important thing was that someone had made a decision and thank God it wasn’t him.

When Pete started using his head around here, things began to get really scary.


Left to our own devices, Pete managed to bang his head, and snag his helmet faceplate on the top of the hatchway. Since he’s eight inches shorter than I am, that’s a unique accomplishment, although our one-third gee status might be a partial excuse. He’s only been here three months, after all. I resolved to keep fingers and toes clear of pretty much everything for the rest of the day, or in other words to stick to standard operating procedure.


“Don’t put grease on those threads, Pete.”

“No, it’s too tight.”

I grabbed his arm.

“It’s an oxygen bottle, Pete. It will blow up.”

“Oh. Right. It’s a good thing you remembered!”

Pete yanked up his tool pouch by the buckle on the end of the strap and oddly enough, everything fell out.

“Aww, fff…” About then, Melanie, one of the scientists growing space-dope, local jargon for dope manufactured in space, walked past.

“Hi, Melanie!” She accidentally kicked a hex-driver, lost for days now, the length of the corridor.

In the low-gee of the station, the thing bounced and clattered its way up the curving floor panels and disappeared from sight about thirty metres away. The station is a big doughnut, and so is Pete, rather fittingly. Actually, the station is a pair of big doughnuts, with a spindle and some braces holding them together. It’s just like some long and interminably boring space movie which turned out to be all too accurate, insofar as the interminable part went.


Pete opened up the service bug, while on some insane impulse I went around the side and opened up the first tool bin. A handful of tools fell in a leisurely manner to the deck, although I managed to grab an open-ended wrench on the way past.

The door opened and Pete started climbing out, the vehicle lurched forwards, and poor old Pete was hanging half in and half out.

“Whoa!” He squawked while desperately trying to disengage the power system.

The vehicle juddered to a stop, as Pete had accidentally jammed full power to it at about the same time he applied full emergency braking. Admittedly, this is not easy, what with only one foot in the vehicle and the controls well separated inside the cabin in order to prevent such incidents, which are very hard on the machine. The machine was exactly three-point-one centimetres from the heavily dented back wall of the hangar bay, or about average for a Monday.

“I just wanted to check and make sure my saw is in there.”

“It’s not.”

He nodded sagely.

“I knew that.” He turned and climbed back in.

“You are often pretty much half-right about such things.”


It’s hard to out-think someone who is truly stupid, but after the last three months, I was getting pretty good at it.

I was standing well off to one side, having anticipated this part of our morning routine, and so I wasn’t harmed or even crushed.

“I guess you forgot to snap the lid on my toolbox.” He informed me matter-of-factly. “That’s okay. You can pick all that up and load the bug while I go have a shit.”

“Would you like me to put the saw in there?” I asked courteously, which he takes at face value.

“Naw, we’re not going to need it.”

“I think Jerry’s done.” I said it in sheer bliss. “Today’s paper is probably still in there.”

My daily survival largely depended on using reverse psychology of a paranoid-schizophrenic nature to assign simple tasks to Peter that he might safely attempt without killing anyone but himself. This would be a big loss to his long-suffering wife back on Earth. Thank God. I figured out a winning strategy in time to save myself. As I recall, Pete sent me to get the work-completion form signed while he packed up all of his tools, (mine were already secured, because I don’t let him near them,) but the day before is ancient history to a guy like Pete. And it takes Pete a long time to have a shit.

To a guy like Pete, what happened yesterday stays in yesterday, and every day was like his birthday and Christmas, all wrapped up in a fresh box of strawberry douche-filled chocolates.

He climbed in and back out of the bug several times, in anticipation of a blissful half an hour or forty-five minutes alone with the paper.


The reader may think I am being a little hard on Pete, who is after all not here to defend himself. Bear in mind, I had plenty of time to observe the gentleman and I learned not to take my eye off of him for a minute, or even a second. (Unless he was safely taking a shit or something like that.)


“Whoa, Jeez.”


“The other reverse, Pete.”

“Oh, no! Argh.” He gasped.


“The other left, Pete.”

It looked like the door could be closed when we returned, and there was no harm in leaving it open all day. We could just hammer the tracks back into position. We hovered there uncertainly for a while, and Pete discussed with me why it wasn’t necessary to put in a report.

Then it was off to work.


The loading bay door is fairly large, but about forty lengths of titanium angle would have been enough, after straightening out the external sheathing, to have braced and reframed the thing, and quite frankly I was sure I could fix it if only left alone for half a minute. But I’m never too sure if I will live through the day. There were other problems, too.

“How are we going to do this?” He looked at me, as I knew he would.

Let’s face it. I’m the only one out there.

That’s the big drawback with being lowest in seniority. You don’t get any overtime unless it’s the shittiest job in the world, and you are expendable on a whim. In that sense, it really is no different from any other highly-skilled job back home in any type of construction, fabrication, or service industry.

Oh, yeah. they also stick you with a guy like Pete, who killed his last partner, although they don’t talk about it much when I’m around. No one wanted Pete for their helper, so they made him a lead hand and put him in charge of training me. Not that he hasn’t been doing a good job of that, and you have to admit it kind of kills two birds with one stone, um, sooner or later.

“We stick a big ‘out of service’ sign on it, and then we go back and tell Fuckhead to get on the horn and order forty lengths of titanium angle.”

“Four. But don’t worry, we can’t do it anyway.”

“Why not?” I was sure he would get to the bottom of something or other soon enough.

“That’s irrelevant, and anyway I’m not taking his shit. Besides, we can’t order it, because some things are better left unsaid.”

“It probably was my fault. I just wasn’t thinking.”

“You sure weren’t!” He grinned. “You know I’m no good at writing up estimates. Anyway, I guess we’d better get out there.”

Pete loves to work. I will give him that. It sure beats sitting there writing up estimates and accident reports.

‘A man defiles himself by his actions,’ Pete once said. ‘And every mind leaves its footprints upon its works.’

“We can’t, Pete.” I sighed deeply.

“Why not?” He stared in sheer disbelief at my attitude.

“Because it’s break-time in fifteen minutes, Pete.” I pointed at the dashboard clock. “By the time we get our gloves on, and you hook up your oxygen bottle…”

“Right.” He reached for the door handle. “So it’s one of them kind of days. The curse is upon you, you’re on the rag and I now I’ll just have to try and show some sensitivity.”


They say life is pretty boring on the station. Not much to do there, but read, listen to music, or watch TV. After a day with Pete, I always found that locking myself into my cabin was pure bliss.

The really strange thing about him was that he wasn’t such a bad person. If you didn’t actually have to work with Pete, he was a sweetheart of a man. He was friendly, and thoughtful, and courteous, and got along well with everybody. I never did figure out where he learned the highly advanced skills in pure time wasting, but that might have had something to do, deep in the turgid recesses of the subconscious mind, (which was the only kind he had,) with the hourly rate.

Sitting there watching Pete make a boiling hot cup of soup in zero gravity was always fun.

Since he wasn’t looking, I flipped my visor down and shut off the radio. Let Pete scream all he wants. I can sleep on break…it’s in the contract.

It sure didn’t take long, what with the low cabin-pressure and high-powered microwave oven, more usually used to heat and soften sticks of pressure-repair putty. Technically speaking this shouldn’t be contaminated with organic materials. What happens is, the sterile putty is also an organic compound, and any uncooked little microorganisms tend to feast on it with relish.

Oddly enough, we didn’t have any disposable wipes, as Pete had ordered me to remove them from the cabin yesterday, as ‘they were just taking up space.’

As the reader may be aware, this contamination weakens the structural bond with the material to be repaired…but I digress.

Anyway, Pete never listened to one single word I ever said, which is a helpful thing to know.

I screwed his oxygen connector into place while he was fiddling with the knobs on the AM/FM radio in the dash, his own installation. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the wire to the antenna came off again because he is simply too smart to tighten it up with a wrench. He’s had the radio in and out ten or eleven times trying to figure out why it won’t go. I never said I was a saint.

I have my own tunes in my suit.


We never worked alone anywhere on the station, inside or out. This was a safety regulation, and there was also a stiffly-worded subsection in our contracts.

To watch Pete extend EXWOP, our 'extensible working platform,' (a ladder in other words,) similar to the one on top of a terrestrial fire truck, without actually puncturing the sidewall of the station was always a joy. At times like that the safest place to be was out of the repair bug and snug in the vastness of empty space anyway. As Pete was fond of pointing out, its un-lubricated ball bearings made the ladder and its work-platform sticky on the rollers…it kind of hung up, and it needed to be maneuvered with authority, according to Pete.

“Oh, God!” Pete gasped, all too close in my helmet. “Is that Sergeant Peacock?”

“Yes. I believe that’s his office right there.”

The round, red face at the window was shrieking some commentary and showing two big fists…no doubt we would be notified, which means that I will be notified, and Pete will have another proud accomplishment to write home about.


“Okay, so I’ll just go up there and start taking the fasteners out.”

“And what do I do? Float around and screw the dog?” Pete spluttered.

Pete is nothing of not a man of actions, lots and lots of actions.

I watched in disbelief. It’s not that his next trick was a new one on me, but because I had seen it fifty times before. Frankly, it really is fascinating.

Poor old Pete was spinning, around, and around, and around.

“Ahhhhh! Pull the plug, pull the plug!”

I took a moment and turned the volume down on my suit while I considered the gravity of the situation.

Poor old Pete shouted and shouted, and we were running out of cord, and I don’t know, for whatever reason I just sort of reached over and yanked the cord out of the receptacle. Slowly, Peter rotated to a stop, cursing and swearing like a trooper.

“You should have reminded me.” He ignored my advice to clip himself to the ladder, which is what all the little clips and clamps are actually for. “Argh, argh, argh.”

“It’s got a lot of torque, Pete.” I agreed, referring to the wrench. “About the same as yesterday, I reckon.”

He struggled helplessly as I tried to unwind, untie and untangle about a hundred metres of electrical cord from him.

“Yeah!” Pete was still mystified as to exactly how I made him do that to himself again. “Maybe even a little more!”

My mistake was to tell him this one time that I was pulling the Jedi mind trick on him. That was early in our career, and now I don’t fuck around with his head. It’s a full-time job just trying to survive around him. Pete needs to keep his wit about him.

Pete was fit to be tied at my sheer incompetence and lack of respect for his authority over me and his role as my teacher in the training program he had patiently worked out for me over so very many long minutes seated upon the toilet while eating an apple. Having heard such things from Pete before, I took it all with a grain of arsenic. His mercurial pout, visible only to himself in reflection from his helmet faceplate, quickly faded like a plumber’s curse in the shine and glare of his butt-cleavage. (I mean the plumber, not Pete.)


After climbing to the extended work platform, I snapped myself on good and had those nasty old bolts out of there in jig time. I didn’t lose a one either, every one was accounted for in my pouch, and with the velcro strip safely fastened.

“You know they can’t pressurize that chamber until we fix this door.”

“Ah! I was wondering why the rush, but then I thought of Christmas.”

“It will be Easter in another week or so.” He noted it as if for the record.

“No, no. I thought of Christmas,” I replied calmly. “It’s a big job, after all.”

“Yeah! Some asshole drove a fork-bug halfway through it, and now it doesn’t work at all. That’s why they called us. For some reason, when a door gets broken, they always call us.”

“We probably will need that fork-bug, once we get these panels off.”

“Want me to go get it?” Sheer joy was invisible on his homely mug, as I started to remove the bolts from another panel.

I was temporarily holding them in place with just two bolts, and about three turns of the threads.

“No, Pete. We’ll let the bug-lift guy do it, or we’ll have the union and the safety people all over us, er, again.”

Pete was real quiet for a couple of minutes, so I just let him be.

“Yeah, them workplace safety incident report forms are a bugger.” He reached this conclusion after thinking it through in a fairly linear fashion for him.

But it was not to last.


“How the fuck did that get in there?” Pete threw the saw out into space.

Pete was in one of his moods, all of a sudden. He bounced off the open tool-bin, inches above the magnetic running boards of the service-bug. These are meant to walk on, but he never bothers to charge the suit batteries.

“Ahh!” I grabbed him to prevent him from sailing off to the moon or Jupiter or whatever.

“Fuck! We’ll have to use the God-damned torch to cut the angle.” Flecks of spittle appeared on the inside of his faceplate…

“It’s lunch time, Pete!” I slapped him on the arm. “We’ll get it later. Anyhow we can’t.”

“Why not?”

“The hoses are still cut from last time.”

“Oh. Oh, right!” Then he glared at me. “That took some real thinking.”

And let’s face it, I was the only one out there.


“Some days, it just don’t seem worth it,” Pete said.

We sat in the truck, I mean, ‘space-truck,’ eating our lunch, and as usual, for some reason, his absolutely must be composed of watercress, and cucumbers, and alfalfa sprouts, and a lot of stuff it’s actually pretty hard to get around here. It has to be the most luxurious, and expensive and almost unobtainable foods, otherwise the poor guy simply can’t hold anything down. I don’t want to know how he does it, and have never inquired.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “Any day you live through is a good one.”

“That’s easy for you to say—you’ve always got some kind of a woman problem.”


After lunch, he stood at the top of the ladder and emptied his tool belt by throwing literally every tool in it at me as he searched in vain for his tape measure, sitting right there on the work bench back at the shop. Strangely enough, it hadn’t been there when I went to get the saw to cut out the broken framing, so Pete must have taken it off of his belt and put it there so he wouldn’t forget it while he had a shit…and then after a while it was break time again.


“So, what do you think?” Pete considers his art superior to that of Salvador Dali.

It’s distorted enough, and God knows it is idiosyncratic.

“Looks like we really did something today.”

“Well, fuck you then. I don’t care.”


Following his normal pattern, Pete bolted for the showers a half an hour early, leaving me to write up the reports, which after all is a good thing because like many astro-mechanical engineers I can actually spell.

“So what do you think?” Fuckhead came around the corner the moment I put my feet up on the desk, which is actually in the contract too.

“We need forty lengths of titanium angle, and maybe five sheets of the neo-aluminum sheathing, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to ground the bug for a bit of maintenance.”

“How was Pete today?” He asked obscurely, but I knew what he meant.


“It’s only another three months.”


After a quick shower, I grabbed a pair of easy-meals from the dispenser and locked myself in my cubicle until tomorrow. I flipped on the TV, and uttered a deep sigh of resignation, drained of all thoughts and emotions.

I cracked a beer from the mini-fridge and took a big slug.

It’s just so good to be home sometimes.


Photos: NASA, Wiki Commons, Pulblic Domain.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The voice on the other end of the line.


“Yes?” He didn’t recognize the voice.

It was one of those rare moments of propinquity. The phone hadn’t actually rung yet. That had happened once or twice with people before. He was just thinking about a girl, Cindy, but this was not Cindy. It was just that he was going to be a little late for work. He really should phone in to let them know.

“I’m here for you, Tyrell.” It was a young woman. “I just want you to know that.”

“Ha, ha, ha.” Tyrell wasn't particularly amused. “Well. That’s good to know.”

Holding his breath, he waited on the line impatiently.

“Do you hear me?” 

Maddeningly, he still had no idea who it was.

“Yeah, I’m here. Sure. And if you don’t mind my asking…”

“I’m here for you.” Then she was gone.

“Huh!” Tyrell stood staring off into space and shaking his head gently.

Who in the hell was that?


Tyrell stood at the bus stop, holding a brown cardboard coffee cup, warming his hands and hoping against hope that the bus was on time. Carefully peeling back the tab, he had a little sip, but snapped it down again. He preferred to have some of the coffee left when he got to his desk. The trip itself was a good twenty-five minutes at the best of times.

Late as he was, everyone else had pretty much all gone before, and he was alone for once.

He wished he still smoked, but perished the thought quickly. The phone in a kiosk a few metres away began to ring, cracking the morning calm with its shrill, insistent note.

He looked around in annoyance. There was no one nearby or anything.

"What’s that all about?” It was a complaint to the world in general.

It was best not to get too involved, he knew that. The phone rang for the fourth or fifth time.

Surely, it couldn’t go on for too long…still it rang.

“Shit.” He stumbled to the booth.

He would tell them there was no one there. He grabbed it with a sense of futility, certain it would be a hang-up. Someone was wasting someone’s time. Today started off well enough, in spite of waking up twenty minutes late. This was just an added irritation.


“I just want you to know it will be all right.”

“What? Who is this? I think you might have the wrong number—”

There was nothing but a buzz on the line.


So. He had a friend. A secret admirer! He grinned ruefully at the thought. No, it had to be something so much worse than that, considering the way his luck was going lately. She had to be a lunatic, in every sense of the word.

“Oh, wow.” He didn't have time to deal with it, and she couldn’t really be talking to him.

Although she had his number…it could be anyone named Tyrell. That didn’t seem too logical for some reason. Mind you, with a person like that, it didn’t have to be logical. Bizarre thoughts revolved around and around. What was up with her?

It was a troubled young man who booted up the computer and cracked open the first of the client files he was auditing this otherwise fine November morning.


He could hear it as clear as a bell inside his head.

Oh, God! Now he was doing it to himself.


The voice on the phone was oddly familiar. Maybe he was just over-analyzing. The strange girl’s voice had some haunting quality. That was the weird part. He could almost accept that some woman might get hold of his number, but now that he thought about it, she seemed too young to be predatory, at least in that sense. Money? Was she after money? How did she hope to get it? Didn’t they usually just break in? Or pick your pocket? She really ought to try picking me up in a bar, he thought.

For the rest of the day, he would be distracted. With the pressure of work, he really didn’t need it right now.


“Ah-ah-ah!” Tyrell lurched up out of his seat as if stung.

“It’s for you.” Mister Evans was there, holding the phone and standing in the door of his cubicle.


“Hello?” he asked, standing there beside Mister Evans, impatient to get his desk phone back.

“Tyrell, I just want you to know—”

“I don’t want to know!” he blurted and hung up abruptly.

His heart rate went shooting up and the boss-man was looking shocked.

“I’m sorry, sir.”

“What’s going on?” Who was that? Not one of our clients, I hope.”

“I have no idea!” Tyrell told him. “She’s been calling me, and calling me, and I have no idea what it’s about!”

“She keeps calling you? Why would she keep calling you? What does she say?”

“She’s insane,” snorted Tyrell.

“Is she threatening you? Maybe we should call the police.” Nigel Evans was a pretty good guy to work for.

“No, she’s not threatening me,” said Tyrell. “Let’s forget it. They would never catch her anyway.”

“But what is she saying?” Evans was all insatiable curiousity.

For all Tyrell knew, this was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to him.

“She says it’s going to be all right,” groaned Tyrell.

He would be a laughing-stock for sure, and maybe that was what it was about, as Nigel’s face cracked wide open in the biggest grin Tyrell had ever seen on him.


“Something wonderful is going to happen,” came Sid Rushton’s voice, overly loud, and half the cafeteria cracked up.

The story, predictably enough, was all over the building by lunchtime. Tyrell, shy enough at the best of times, blushed beet red and focused with all his might on the coleslaw and a few cold, sodden french fries, all covered in congealing ketchup.

“They’ll get over it,” nodded Raphael, his only major acquaintance in the building.

“Anyway, she’ll probably figure it out sooner or later and maybe her hubby or whatever deserves it!”

“What do you mean?’ asked Tyrell, looking up momentarily into his friend’s sardonic blue eyes.

“Well, she’s obviously doing it for a reason,” suggested Raphael. “She’s just missed a digit on the phone number.”

“But why keep calling?” asked Tyrell.

“She’s got it on the top of the list, and she keeps hitting speed-dial,” said Raphael. “Next time she calls, just tell her. It’s too simple, really.”

“I suppose you’re right,” sighed Tyrell. “I don’t know, but that call at the bus stop. That one creeps me out.”

Raphael didn’t have too much to say about that.

“Maybe she’s hot. I wouldn’t rule it out. She must want you pretty bad.”


The phone was ringing, and everyone was looking at him.

“I’m not answering it!” he said, and they all laughed.

Still, the unit bolted to the cafeteria wall was ringing, and ringing, and ringing…

“Aw, no,” grumbled Tyrell as that damned Sid Rushton got up and sauntered over with a big grin on his face.

He picked up the handset and appeared to be listening intently. His eyes stabbed Tyrell.

“It’s for you!” he shouted the length of the room, almost collapsing in hysterical giggles on the floor.

But this one was clearly a prank as his perpetual side-kick, Sam Kennich, held up a sleek black cellular phone unit and laughed as hard as his co-conspirator.

“Oh, man,” said Tyrell, holding his head in his hands.


A woman screamed and some kid fell onto the tracks and the trolley was coming and Tyrell didn’t even think about it.

“I'm here for you...” The words rang in his head and all was a roaring as he dove the few yards and grabbed him.

With a monumental heave, Tyrell tossed the kid into his mother’s arms and with a clang the thing was upon him. There was one half second of shock and awe and pain and then merciful blackness.


“Unbelievable,” observed Doctor Sheridan Daniel Delorme. “The man stepped in front of a trolley to save a child, and look what we have here.”

“You’ll be fine,” the woman at his side assured him.

“Some kind of miracle,” he added. “It is a privilege to see this.”

The joke didn’t get too far. There were a couple of dutiful chuckles, but that was okay, the effort had been made.

“The man shouldn’t have made it this far, but apparently he took a lucky bounce, according to eye-witnesses.”

Machines clicked and hissed and sucked and pumped while they waited.

“Wow. I don’t know.” He ran through the facts in his head.

His hands were all ready to go.

Doctor Delorme took a deep breath. In a quickly acquired habit they had come to know, he engaged all the operating room staff with a long look. A ring of shining eyes looked back at him in a kind of worship. They, at least, had no doubts.

“Looks like we’re committed now.” They all laughed.

It was like he was still learning his trade some days, but confidence had gotten him this far; and a kind of cheerful acceptance. If he couldn’t do it then no one else could either. In which case it didn’t matter anyway. Thank God for those hands and those eyes.

“All righty then! Let’s see if we can put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

Doctor Delorme went to work, as his mentor Doctor Amy Cardiff looked on.

“I’m here for you. I just want you to know that.”

(Photo: Morguefile.)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Story as Movement.

Never would I presume to tell another writer how to write a story.

I can only try and explain how I write my own, which may be entirely useless to another writer who may not think in the same exact terms. As for why, I think it just works for me.

When I started off, I must have known something about storytelling. Yet I knew absolutely little about writing, the style, the punctuation, the layout, the format, and virtually nothing about the writing industry or even the craft of writing.

I did know something. I learned it in a strange and surprising way. Back in the ‘80s, my mom had a certain make of VCR, and on the remote was this button. It was fast forward, but the pictures stayed onscreen while it scrolled through at a high rate of speed. There was no sound, just the swishing of tape going onto the plastic reel.

What I saw was movement. There were people coming out of buildings and going down streets. There were people getting in and out of cars, driving places, standing in rooms while other people came and went. People would yell and wave their arms around. They shot at each other, and ran back and forth. In some strange way, you could even follow the basic plot. Just like an old silent film, but without the chalkboard with cues to the audience and short bits of what passed for dialogue back then. There wasn’t even a honky-tonk piano player to give it emphasis, or to tell me what emotions to feel.

I learned a lot about storytelling by watching television. As a kid I watched uncritically, as an adult my needs changed but TV and film really didn’t. What bothered me most was things that simply weren’t possible, or not logical, or even just unlikely. Fiction, whether on the printed page or on a screen, static or moving, requires a willing suspension of disbelief. Unlike real life, in some way it has to make sense—it has to hang together long enough for the reader to buy into the illusion.

Once past that point, anything is possible. When I began to supply the next line of dialogue before the actors even spoke, and when I started nailing it a good percentage of the time, that is when I became critical of TV. It was when I read a book, and found something wrong with it, that’s when I started to get the idea that maybe I could write a book, or that maybe I should become a writer.

My storytelling is cinematic. It involves a whole lot of different perspectives on a common scene. It results in one character being featured, and in the next paragraph some other character advances the story. In a weird way, head-hopping, both in separate chapters and in the same scene involving multiple characters, is a kind of movement—we move the reader from one point of view to the next. It often happens quite quickly. I know there are ‘rules’ in writing. Our craft involves breaking every rule that we are competent to break…if we can pull it off successfully.

If we were to take one of my books and make it into a movie, it would be easy to create the scenes from the point of view of film, or motion. As for TV, much of that is kind of static—it’s a lot of people standing or sitting around in a room setting up jokes and gags. That’s why the camera cuts back and forth for people’s reactions. It is a kind of artificial movement. That’s true of almost any situation comedy we might care to name. An action-situation comedy simply doesn’t exist. You have to go to adventure-drama to find anything where figures move against bigger landscapes and backdrops.

Think in terms of film. The director has to set up the conflict. He almost has to show the shadowy murderer stalking the unwary victim. That has to be shown from several different points of view. The camera keeps moving, rather than just sit on top of a building, watching the whole chase in one big, panoramic long-shot that never cuts to a different scene, time or place.

Because the readers have seen more films, TV shows, plays or videos than I ever will, I think it’s safe to trust their perceptions.

Remember the big scene in the opening of ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ directed by David Lean, where Omar Sharif comes riding across the desert, and the bloody thing takes like eight minutes or something God-awful like that?

We really can’t get away with writing like that. It only takes one line, doesn’t it?

“Omar Sharif rides towards the camera for eight minutes from far way across the desert.”

No one wants to take eight minutes to read such a scene or time it on a stopwatch before going on to the next bit. Film has sound, movement, colour, and music, and all we have as writers is the written word, fixed on the page.

Story is movement, among other things.

  (Photo: Morguefile.)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Quality Control in Independent Publishing: Standard Operating Procedure.

(Author photo.)

I just published ‘Horse Catcher,’ a science fiction adventure set 12,000 years in the future. Standard operating procedure is to wait, let it go through for Premium Distribution on Smashwords, and when it’s in the pipeline for iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Diesel Books, etc., modify the file slightly and convert it to HTML on my desktop. The changes are to front matter only. The variance is in minor details like taking out ‘published by Smashwords.’ I wait to publish it on Amazon. By publishing it on a Friday morning, with a little luck it pops up in the new titles during prime time Friday night.

We also wait because then we know from Smashwords’ own auto and human vetters that the formatting is okay. It’s quality control for the formatting.

Comprene vous?

When I looked at the Smashwords dashboard recently, ‘The Game,’ a science fiction short story had in fact been approved for Premium Distribution. At that point, I tweeted a link and felt comfortable about doing it. That story can now be uploaded to Amazon. I have three or four accounts, SW, Amazon, Createspace, and Lulu, where I do exclusively POD paperbacks. This takes advantage of any traffic generated by the Lulu store.

I also make paperbacks through Createspace, which automatically distribute through Amazon, in several different countries. I only use free distribution channels. I have the option of paying a fee for each title; and then the books would be available to brick and mortar bookstores through Ingram’s (as I recall.) The challenges are several. I have fifteen titles, each would require a fee, and so far the covers aren’t really up to the standards of modern professional publishing. It’s a matter of conjecture as to whether such products would generate orders. However, even a small order might cover the fee. Assuming the fee is thirty bucks, and assuming I did ten titles, the reader can understand my reluctance.

C’est la vie.

In terms of covers, the free Createspace templates are limited in terms of layout and design. The spine and back cover are equally important in selling to customers when they hold the book in their hand—which they are not going to do when buying from Amazon. However, if disappointed by the product when they actually receive it, there are forums where they can disparage it. It just takes longer, and you do get a few sales.

More default fonts would be welcome, and the ability to right-justify text on back cover copy would be nice. Createspace wants customers to avail themselves of paid services, including cover design, as I can certainly understand.


Right now, I have the interior file of ‘The Paranoid Cat and other tales,’ all ready to go. I still need to reduce the size of the text on the present marketing image, as what I have now will impinge upon the cropping or trim area of the physical product. The proof of ‘Time-storm’ got hung up because it was sent via DHL, and unlike the post office, they can’t get into the mailboxes in the lobby. But we’ll try and track that down. I like to look the physical product over before clicking on ‘approve proof.’ It’s a matter of confidence when promoting the paperback. We’ve done some quality control. Also, before approving the proof, I plan on updating the cover image, as now the e-book image has been upgraded.

Over the next month I should be able to get caught up on one or two things, including making some more new paperbacks, and hopefully figure out what to write next.

I just tried the Apple iStore widgetmaker on my blogspot blog and it doesn’t appear to work, so I took it off again. It looked okay, but the links didn’t work, and this may require some troubleshooting.


I got the ‘Time-Storm’ proof copy today. It looks like this is the second shipment. One of the neighbours told me there was something stuck on the front door, but I never come in that way. Createspace says in their e-mail, ‘if you get a second one keep it,’ and that’s fine.

N’est pas?

Proofing involves a pencil and a piece of paper beside the bed. I get a glass of milk, some cookies and I just start reading. Things to look for include the drop-down to chapter titles, correct number of blank pages, and broken lines in the text as well as typos and stylistic concerns.

I’m just finishing up reading Edward Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,’ (the actual title is longer, but you get the idea,) and then I have four pulp thrillers to read, including Tony Hillerman, Len Deighton, and one or two others.

My next project is still so secret, even I don’t know what it is. Hopefully someone will enlighten me.

I haven’t written much in the last couple of weeks except blog posts. I’m done editing ‘Horse Catcher,’ and I have this feeling like I’m not really doing my job. It’s okay at first, but at some point it’s all talk and no action. It’s sort of irresponsible, isn’t it?

“Talk the talk and walk the walk,’ to counterfeit a phrase.

C’est dommage.

Sooner later I have to stop faking it. But I have another novel, ‘The Art of Murder,’ coming out on November 1, so at least it looks like I’m doing something. The book has been re-written five or six times. It’s been sitting for a month. As soon as I cracked it open, I began making little changes again.

I suppose that’s inevitable, really, but I still have a month until deadline. There’s nothing here I can’t handle. What’s really interesting is the contrast between editing ‘Horse Catcher,’ written back in 2008, and editing ‘The Art of Murder,’ which I wrote over the summer.

You can learn a hell of a lot about writing fiction in three or four years of effort and application. ‘Art of Murder’ is my ninth novel. ‘Horse Catcher’ was my sixth, and I have no more unpublished novels. From here on in, I’m writing fresh material.


I’ve been getting out of the house a bit lately and I think that’s good.

It’s a nice time of year, and a little appreciation for the outside world is okay as far as that goes.

But if this is a vacation, then I’m wasting that too.

Au revoir!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tips for laundering money.


The best way to launder money is very, very slowly. It can be likened to the old ‘hot water/cold water debate.’

You don’t want to find yourself in hot water, right?

Buying a bunch of shitty little things every day is better than buying one nice big thing and blowing your cover. It’s a question of quality of life, right? That’s all that really matters here.

What you need to do is to get it all into small bills. Using a hundred at a roadside lemonade stand will just draw attention to yourself and you don’t want to do that. Hundreds are what you pay the rent with, right? No one knows if you can actually afford the place, right?

So, once you got her all in fives, tens and twenties, you need to buy a lot of little stuff. No one thing is a big-ticket item. It’s not like you drove up in a brand-new Winnebago, right? Someone will ask how you got it, right? Like a neighbour or something. Or even your crazy brother-in-law. Whatever.

Sign up for a lot of magazines. Sign up for every news rag in town. In a similar vein, you can buy a lot of used books. Your town probably has a used bookstore or two. They might have thrift stores, like the Salvation Army, or the International Daughters of the Revolution Thrift Shoppe, or whatever. Right?

Buy everything at Ikea, I really can't stress that enough. You want to be a loner. It's a kind of high-security lifestyle, and not everyone is cut out for it. Bear that in mind.

Go in once a month and put some major cash on your credit card, that’s always good. Slide a couple of hundred-dollar bills in there. The bank don’t care where you got it.

Never go to the same liquor store twice. Think about it. You show up the same place every day, get a twenty-sixer or whatever size of the liquor of your choice. Sooner or later, they think they’re getting to know you. You’re an old and trusted friend, right? And then, they ask what you do for a living, and you ain’t got no job, right? So never go to the same liquor store twice in a row. It only makes sense. (Don’t tell them you’re a writer either, it’s the most suspicious claim you can make. Writers can’t afford to buy anything at all.)

Another thing you can do is to buy a shitty old car. A big old gas-guzzler will take care of a few of them hundreds every month. You can take it to every garage in town. There’s always something wrong with it, right? Them guys are such crooks, they’ll never suspect. They will laugh at you behind your back, but you know something they don’t, right? Just let it slide, my brother. They’re just jealous anyway, ‘cause you go out to bingo every night. Anyhow, it’s like the Purloined Letter, it’s hiding in plain sight. You don’t want to disturb the pattern of living in your immediate vicinity, right? (All them fuckin’ drones.)

What I like is them Royal Dalton figurines, and them Norman Rockwell plates, but there’s a hundred other things you can collect. Anything with Elvis, pigs, or frogs painted on it is good for that. Anything with Princess Di is good, even now. Trade or sell on Ebay. It’s a visible means of support. You can talk a lot about your ‘online business.’ Try to sign them up for water-filtration affiliate schemes. Trust me on that one. Bore the fuckers to death, it’s legal and everything. I wouldn’t steer you wrong. The real problem arises if you are actually any good at it, and begin to make money on your own. This happened to a friend of mine, quite by accident I assure you. He has the right to privacy, right?

I like having a lot of cold and sinus medicine in the cupboard. That’s always good. You could do comic books or baseball cards, whatever you can turn into cash real quick. Say it’s an investment, people will understand that.

Oh, another good one, buy all of your clothes at Wal-Mart. Have a lot of shoes, and I don’t know, maybe a chair that you can ride around in. You can be like Seinfeld, and have every brand and flavour of cereal in your cupboard.

Just remember, everything you bought was on sale. That’s your story. All you have to do is stick to it.

Then plastic cards are good. Same as cash, right? Leave a couple of bucks on them and then just throw them away on the sidewalk in front of the candy store. Little kids live for found money. They’ll pick it up, try and see if there’s any money left on it, and then your ass is covered. Right? ‘Chain of custody,’ bro. Look it up online somewhere. It works two ways, brother. It works two ways.

Vending machines are another good one. If you follow my advice, you’ll end up with a lot of loose change anyways, and that’s good because there are no serial numbers. How are they going to prove it? Just tell ‘em you looked under the cushions of your couch, and you should be okay on that one as long as you’re not going overboard with the egg salad sandwiches and the candy bars and stuff. You can never have enough cans of Coke in the fridge, right? Follow my advice, and you’ll never have to cook again.

If anyone gives you a rough time, break down and tell them you’ve had a problem with hoarding for years, hug them a lot and then ask if they wouldn’t mind coming over and helping you with a garage sale some weekend.

If that don’t put them off, I don’t know what will.

Take lots of empties back to the beer store. That accounts for a major part of your income, what can you say? You were hurtin’. Right?

The only other thing I can think of is e-books. You can have hundreds of them, some of them are quite expensive, and you can always say you pirated them off the internet.

Think about it: you can always plead guilty to the lesser charge, right, but your main concern right now is the IRS, right? And them guys are inexorable. They never quit. They’ll fuckin’ follow you to your grave, bro. You have to admit I’m a fuckin’ genius. Go ahead: say it.

“Louis is a fuckin’ genius.”

That wasn’t so hard now, was it? Right.

Whereas if it’s just some criminal thing, the judge gives you a slap on the wrist, you get your name in the paper, and off you go, no one the wiser. Lawyers accept cash, trust me on that one.

“Hey everybody, look at me! I’m an online shoplifter. Now fuck off.”

It don’t mean nothing. Anyways, that’s just a few ideas, I thought I’d throw them out there 'cause I just like helping people.

You know how it is. We got the love, bro.