Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Promo time. My collection, TWENTY TWELVE will be FREE for Kindle download April 1st - 5th.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


This post is not purposefully devised to inflame readers, but I know it will have this effect.

I have become concerned lately about YA, and especially about the infusion of fantasy and science fiction into YA.  A recent conference in Bolgna had several agents speaking of this trend. 

See the article here

I am a proponent of YA, and I of course support fantasy and science fiction.  But the gap I speak of is regarding the feeling that quality standards for YA are not the same as for adult fiction.  This idea seems especially true in the development of YA fantasy and science fiction by Indie and self-published authors.

I have attended conference for the PNWA and been a reader for their writer's contests for five years.  I know that the gap I'm speaking of does not apply to "serious" YA authors who I've had the pleasure to speak to.  They recognize that following the rules that generally apply to great writing - tight plot, good character development, logical narrative and so on - are equally important in YA.  We are, in essence, exposing our younger readers and potential authors to literature and to proper English.  However, some YA authors I have spoken to and whose work I have critiqued have made some untrue assumptions:

  • Reader's minds are not fully developed until 21 years old.

  • Young readers don't (or shouldn't) care about structure.

  • Content is much more important than English use for juvenile readers.

My favorite statement made by one author after a critique I made (of a YA fantasy manuscript) was simply:  "This is YA.  You can't judge this by the same standards by which you judge adult literature."

This thinking, of course, couldn't be more wrong.  YA must use the same standards as adult literature.  The only difference is audience.  If we believe any differently, we are only creating a crutch for ourselves, allowing us to justify our lazy habits as writers.  Worse, we are making assumptions about our audience, in essence "dumbing down" our writing to what we assume is their intelligence level.  This sells our audience incredibly short, and limits the longevity of our work:  A proper YA novel should be able to be enjoyed twice, once for the child and again when that child reaches adulthood.  If we produce work without a secondary layer of intelligence - supported by excellent writing - we leave a tarnished childhood memory at best.

I wonder if this gap exists, which allows in work of lesser quality.  Is this as prevalent as it seems?  Or is this a bad habit that writers in the limited sample I've taken developed?  If the latter, and especially if the industry does not support this idea, writers who make allowances for inferior quality are overdue for a rude awakening.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016


This post is in response to a writing challenge issued in association with @WillowRaven, who I follow on Twitter.  To wit:

"Visual writing prompt: Write a short for this & I'll post it w link to you :D "

I got hooked on this and on Willow Raven's stunning image:

It literally seized my muse, and words flowed out of me for two hours.  The results are, I hope, a little bit out of the zone of anticipation, dealing not with the content of this masterful work, but with its status and physicality as an image, and of what it might become.
Without further ado:


Marc was distracted.  That morning was not going well.  It had been only three hours since Dr. Sorrell had left his bed, two hours since he had been summoned to breakfast, and one since he had logged into the A.I. terminal.  He sensed Martha and Sanjay waiting for his output, dreading the possibility that Sanjay would open his mouth again.  The man seemed to have no other topic to discuss but himself.

But the images just weren’t coming.  Anything he tapped and sent to Toby came back rejected.  Marc wondered if the unseen critic which reviewed his work was human or machine.

All Marc could think about was Dr. Sorrel lying next to him, making herself available, letting him know of her curiosity – a curiosity he could not satisfy.

Marc scanned the database for more pre-war images, hoping to come up with something appropriate for the project.

“What the hell?”  Something had come up on his console.  It carried some kind of framed encoding, so it crowded out Fondler and the A.I. interface completely.

“Marc!  Language.”  Sorrel warned from her station by the kitchenette.

“I’m sorry Doctor.  It’s just that my console seems to be malfunctioning again.”

“What’s it doing?”

Almost at once, Sanjay, the data tech, came over and looked at Marc’s screen.  He whistled.  “Oh, man.  This is worse that when you were looking at the cartoons of cute fuzzy animals.”

Sorrel came to look at Marc’s screen as well.  “Sanjay, what is that?”

“I don’t know.  Some kind of X-encoding packet.  They were used for advertising on networks before the war.  Can you tap it out?”

Marc tapped the screen, and the image disappeared, but instantly it came back to fill the screen.

“Let me do that.”  Marc held up his hands, and Sanjay swiped the screen, getting the control interface.  He tapped the interface, and the image disappeared, but instantly came back.  This happened six times. Then Sorrel said, “Let me try.”  Marc was aware of Sorrel’s closeness and her warmth, just under her lab coat, as she leaned over him.  With effort, Sorrel was able to get a master control interface established.  But it was locked.  There was no way to get the image off the data queue.

“That’s the best I can do,” Sorrel said.  “This image simply refuses to come out of the data queue.”

“A fail-safe mechanism,” Sanjay offered.  “For servers of the 21st century, an encoding like this could go forwards, not backwards.  It would force the server to send the packet along in the data stream.”

“So, any system receiving the data would be infected?”

“Not necessarily.  The data must not have any malicious content, or it wouldn’t get into our database.  The A.I. would not allow any malware.  The point is, the image has to be sent to clients.  Once you ingest the image – once you look at it, the encoding is deactivated.”

“But Marc’s terminal here.  Isn’t it consuming the image?”

“No, the encoding has sniffed the downstream client – Toby.  And from there, Martha’s terminal and mine.  So it is blocking the control interface from stopping it before it is transmitted.”

“I see.  So we wouldn’t be sending a virus in the Forzan message.  I mean, if we used this image in the datastream?”

“No.  We’d only be forcing the Forzans to look at it.  My guess is that's the whole point.  Advertisers wanted to force you to view the image."

The three of them looked at the image, now filling Marc’s screen, except where the black control interface hovered.

She had come back to her stronghold, satisfied to find that the guildsmen still remained.  Flyers came and went, bringing fresh troops and supplies.  This was preparation for war, nothing less.  Skylia should have felt exposed here, less than a half kilometer away from her enemy’s outpost.  From what had been hers.  But she reveled in it.  It was not her, but Duke Diastes who was exposed.  He was the prey, she was the predator, and none of his troops or fire or machines or politics would save him from her wrath, once she was ready to strike…

What was that?, Marc thought.  He snapped out of this sudden reverie, brought on as if by some outside force.

“Uhh, guys?”  It was Martha.  “I hate to remind you, but we’ve got a deadline.”

“Oh, right.  Sanjay, can you set up a roadblock on Martha’s machine.  If this thing can detect downstream clients, then let’s not give it any.”

“Then, we send this to Toby as is?” Marc asked.

“Right.  You can’t even bring up Fondler, so you can’t manipulate the image.”

“But that means the image will have to be sent to Forzan like this as well, right?”

“No,” Sanjay said, beaming self-confidence.  “Once we get the image back from Toby – assuming it’s approved – it will be stuck with nowhere to go.  We just pilot down your terminal, and ‘poof,’ the image is gone.”

That hardly seems fair, Marc thought.  He looked at the image again.  It was an old-style painting, or perhaps some kind of illustration, like the ones his friend Fencie worked on, for government restoration.  Not many of these had survived.  Someone had signed it with their name and a date, almost two centuries ago.  “But,” Marc complained, “If Toby approves the image…”

“I see where you are going, Marc.  We should use it.  Sanjay, if we capture the image back on Marc’s console, without anywhere to go, can you neutralize the encoding, but still preserve the image?”

“Absolutely no problem.”

“Then gentlemen – and Martha, too, I want you to be on this one.  All we have to ask ourselves:  Is this the kind of image we want to send to an alien civilization in the datastream?  Because once we send this to Toby, we are bound to do that.  It’s our mandate to the government.”

Martha slid from her console, and the four of them looked at the image for thirty seconds.

Marc reminded himself, that the image before him represented something in the field of fantastical art.  It was a popular form in the years before the war.  He knew about it, and about the incredible literature which surrounded this field.  People looking to the future, to other worlds, wondering what they might be like.  He wondered, if he could take this long-dead artist, and bring him or her forwards to show them what had actually become of the world, what would they think?


Four hands came with thumbs up.  Marc noted with chagrin that Sanjay’s came up last.  He considered:  Neutralizing the encoding would possibly mean extra work.  Lazy.

“Good.  Sanjay, pilot down your console, or do whatever it will take to temporarily sever the connection back to Marc's machine.  Let's put a block on Martha’s console, but keep it active.  I'll pilot mine down as well, just in case there are any shared connections.”  Marc’s ears pricked up on this.  Were there any shared connections to Doctor Sorrel’s console?  Had it been she who had sabotaged the A.I. the other week, so it only displayed fuzzy animals?  “I want this done in the next five minutes.”

Furious activity from Sanjay and Martha.  Marc, the visual artist who manipulated the stills images, basically sat.  All the while, the image of the strange structures in the alien desert hung on his screen, the woman with the green flowing skirt hovering over the sand on an unseen, magical platform.  The more Marc looked at it, the more he was drawn in.  The brown skin, the dark hair which adorned this woman’s head.  Marc wished he could see the woman’s face.  But then, he was glad that he could not.  Her face could look like Dr. Sorrel’s.

“Ready!” Sanjay finally announced.

“Marc, send the image to Toby.”

Marc hit send, and the image instantly disappeared.  They waited, breathlessly.  Ordinarily, it took under two minutes to get approval for an image.  This time, they waited over ten.

“Oh, crap!” Sanjay finally said.  “The encoding.”

“What about it?” Marc asked.  But Sorrel got the message. 

She suddenly cried, “Marc, pilot down your terminal, right now!”

It was too late.  Before Marc could fumble with the power setting, the image was back.  This time, it no longer filled the screen, but came back in the transmit window as normal.  Toby had marked the image “Approved.”

“Should I turn it off?”

“No, don’t bother,” Sanjay chuckling.  Sorrel and Martha were groaning.  “We’re stuck with it now.”

“What happened, I don’t understand.”  Sanjay was too overcome with giggles to answer, so Sorrel offered the explanation.

“We put the block on Martha’s machine.  We should have put it on yours.  Since your machine was still on the network, the encoding on the data packet sniffed the connection back to your machine.  So Toby couldn’t get rid of it.  The only thing they could do is transmit it back to you.”

“What?  We forced them to approve the image?”

Sanjay finally got his giggles under control.  “No,” he said.  “They probably could have sent it back disapproved.  Unless the encoding was able to grab their control interface, like it did yours.”  He then got a very thoughtful look on his face.  “I don’t know.  I suppose it could be that sophisticated.  Shall we contact Toby, and double-check?”

“Right.”  Sorrel moved to her console, the one right over by the coffee-maker.  She sent a message, and at once got a response.  “Um, apparently, you are due to be amazed, Mister Sanjay.  They had some pretty robust computer algorithms before the war.”

“Then,” Marc asked, “The image is actually rejected?  They only sent it back approved because they were forced to?”

“No,” Sorrel said.  “Toby reports that they detected the encoding, exactly as we had, and tried to kill the image, but could not because of the encoding and the connection detected back to Marc’s computer.  But, since they had the image already in queue, they assessed it’s artistic and cultural merits, and approved it on the provision that it could be de-encoded and rendered inactive before it was inserted into the message to be transmitted to Forzan.”

“Then it is really approved?”

“Right.”  Marc could not say why, but this answer gave him deep satisfaction.

Sanjay worked at Marc’s console for three quarters of an hour.  Sorrel rapidly grew impatient.  “Mister Sanjay, I remind you, we are on a tight schedule.  We have over three thousand more images to encode.”

“Just one more minute!” the annoying little young man kept saying.  Marc could see what he was doing:  Setting up mock networks on the console, seeing if the encoding was still active, if the data packet would detect the connection and force jump from one to another.  Each attempt failed, one after another, as Sanjay stripped out more code.  Finally, Sanjay said, “There you are, you little bugger.”  He re-initialized the mock network, and the data packet stayed put.  “Found the kernel piece of code.  Sanjay the magnificent has come through once again!”

“Not so fast,” Sorrel said.  “Let’s try on a live connection.  Marc, go ahead and tap the image over to Martha, once we have that console up.  We’ll see if it sniffs the connection to Sanjay.  And Sanjay, sever your connection to the data hub, but maintain connection to Martha’s machine.  We’ll encode and compress the file for transmission, as usual, but let’s not give it a path to the data hub.  No need to let it infect everything.”

“Right,” Marc said, as he waited for Sanjay to finish on his console.  Then a thought struck him.  “We couldn’t do this just by sending the file back to Toby?  Wouldn’t that be safer?”

But Sorrel shook her head.  “That would only confuse things.  They tally each image you send.  We would end up double on this one image.”


More waiting as Sanjay’s fingers caressed his touch screen – the way Sorrel’s fingers would have caressed him, if he had given her a chance.  Then, finally Sanjay announced “Ready.  Send Martha the image.”


“Well?” Sorrel asked impatiently.

“Hmm, now that I see it on my own screen, this is quite a nice image.”

“The encoding, Martha.  Do you have access to the control interface?”

“Oh, right.  Yeah, it looks fine.”

“Then process the image to the matrix.  Sanjay, restore your connection to the data hub.  But carefully.  I don’t want to give any ancient technology a chance to jeopardize this project, no matter how beautiful it is.”

So, Marc cleared his cache, and re-initialized the A.I., making sure the sensors on his wrist and forehead were in place, letting it feel the rush of his emotions.  And in spite of himself, he found his thoughts still drawn to the image, thinking how it had been lurking in their database, probably in a whole collection of databases, without being detected until their network and his tapping had activated it.  One more piece of the puzzle?

Perhaps, he thought, the long-dead artist or computer technician who had produced the file, for god-knows-whatever reason, had anticipated precisely this day, when someone would find it, like an unexploded mine, and it would activate to whatever malevolence its maker intended.  They anticipated this moment, Marc thought, exactly like they anticipated and overpowered our primitive computer systems.  Modern networks were nowhere near as complex as they were before the war, Marc knew.  Once, networks covered the entire world.  They had called it the spider web.

And now, they were preparing to transmit this to Forzan.  The first alien civilization to contact Earth, from two hundred light years away, thanks to the accident of ancient cell phone technology.  They responded to our signals with something we couldn’t decipher, but something definitely structured:  The word “Forzan,” followed by highly-complex code, miles of it.  The techs had been working on it for years.  Meanwhile, the Forzan project, dozens and dozens of teams all over the globe, were putting together thousands of images, millions of files, a wealth of data that defined our civilization, beaming it back on that same frequency, hoping to establish communication, Earth's way of saying hello back.  Making a 400-year round trip cell phone call.

Only, this encoded file, what if it’s not really dead? Marc thought.  What if it’s only playing dead? And it all came together in a flash, in his mind:  It had to have been alive, long enough that we would be forced to send it to Toby, his government-sponsored critic who determined whether or the images selected were “acceptable” for alien consumption.  Then, it stayed alive long enough that Toby was forced to send it back to me “approved.”  It fought with Sanjay, tried to find a way out of the block, more networks and terminals to infect.  Or, it was only stalling for time.

Marc further considered:  We never actually talked to Toby.  We only got a message.  If the data packet was on Toby’s network for ten minutes, it could have composed a fake message, saying the image was actually approve, and sent it over the network to Sorrel’s consoled.

So now, we’ve sent it to the central hub.  And it sleeps there, biding its time, until it is sent the 200 light years on a radio beam to Forzan.  The millions of pieces of art and culture we are sending, months of work by thousands of people.  And one worm, finding the way out at last.

Marc thought of every piece of data on the distant alien world, consumed.  Every single network, if they had networks, infected.  So every viewing device on the planet shows nothing – can show nothing – but this one image.

And it can find a way out of there, too, from the advanced Forzan civilization, who could receive our 200-year-old signal and send one back to us, something even pre-war Earth couldn’t easily do.  Such advanced technology could reach out to many other worlds…

“Mister Marc Phage!”  It was Sorrel’s voice, scolding him.  “I do not see your fingertips tapping that screen.  We need a lot more pre-war stills if we want to finish on target.”

“Right,” Marc said.

Now I must devise a new strategy....  To take over the word!!!! 

Point the First, I need more reviews on Amazon.  The few that I have are good (all five stars!), but I need more.  I think that I must promote reviewers.

To any and all:  I will arrange a PDF version of TWENTY TWELVE be sent to any wishing to review.  (Wishing to review?  Sheesh, that's like wishing for death.)

Point the Second, I've announced (to my loyal fans on Facebook & Twitter) that SAMMY LEMKIN will be making a cameo appearance in my soon-to-be-written short story with the working title SIRIUS SLIM CONVERGENCE.  I realize, though, this will be met with blank stares from most:  Who the heck is Sammy Lemkin?

In 2005, I passed around a manuscript titled HERO OF DREAMS:  THE MAKING OF SAMMY LEMKIN to my friends in our local readers' group.  Sammy Lemkin, is, of course, the protagonist of that story.

So, I have come to a conclusion on this:  Before the end of this year, I must publish my science fiction novel, HERO OF DREAMS, in all its pubescent glory!

Point the Third, I've also announced the publication in about two months, of my first nonfiction book, A CLASSIFICATION OF THE DISTRICT OVERPRINTS ON THE REVENUE STAMPS OF MEXICO (2016 Edition).  Stamp collecting is my other love besides writing.  I am the Secretary for the China Stamp Society:, and I've been collecting and studying Mexican revenue stamps for over a year.  A book like this is needed.

Writing nonfiction is very, very different from writing novels and short stories.  I am putting in lots of photos and graphs and charts.  I am wondering what, say, a good splatter horror-suspense story would be like if written in exactly the same style:  A precise description of the knife.  A chart showing damaged body parts and organs.  Counting & categorizing the number of wounds.

Arthur Conan Doyle would love such a book.