Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ethics for Writers

Every once in a while, one of my Facebook friends complains about offensive 'political' posts. I figure they don't mean posts like, 'Be sure to tell your Congressman how the new farm bill will affect your family,' so I asked a few of them what they meant by 'political.'

One cousin turned out to be referring to below-the-belt personal attacks on public figures. My reaction: Go, Jennifer! I don't have much toleration for petty personal attacks, either.

But other friends objected to links or discussions about serious matters. "I go to Facebook to escape reality," some of them said. "I don't want to have it thrown in my face here." That one makes me worry.

I certainly can understand the need to take time out from a stressful life to recharge; I think we all need that. What bothers me is that with few exceptions, the people who complain the loudest don't choose to face reality outside of Facebook, either. If workers are kept in slavery, unemployed people are being jailed indefinitely without access to lawyers, or prison inmates are being tortured, many of my friends simply don't want to know about it.

I think there's a strong perception in our culture that if we don't know something, then it doesn't exist.  Judging from how much effort they devote to shutting out reality, it would seem that many Westerners have never grown up past the peek-a-boo stage. When faced with messages like, 'People are suffering; let's figure out how we can help them,' they call the messengers rude and ask them to change the subject.

So where does that leave us as writers? Should we write only about 'safe' topics and leave the slavery and torture alone? Sure, we'd be accomplices to the atrocities, but at least we wouldn't be making our readers uncomfortable. Making people uncomfortable is not nice.

Okay, let's say we choose to be part of the solution. We decide to spread the word about suffering people, and encourage brainstorming sessions on how to help. Then how do we get people to listen? How do we get past the game of peek-a-boo?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Guest Post: Gunny

I'm happy to have Bronwyn Cair back as a guest blogger:
Maude's Journal:

Friday, Night Time.  I don’t like the way they look at me. All… mucky. Their faces, mucky. They don’t like me, I see it, I know, but they don’t care, and the other ones, they don’t see them. Probably plotting against me, like those things they call spoons. Not utensils, not at all, not when they’re so sinister. Sinister in disguise. I have proof, too. I saw him go, disappear, poof! Right before my eyes. I saw it. They don’t believe me. They laugh, the mocking things. I don’t need them to believe me, I have Gunny. She believes me. Every time I walk past a reflecty, I can tell Gunny what I saw. She waves when I wave, smiles at me like I smile, ‘cause she likes me. And Hans, he’s good. He gets it, he listens, he smiles. Not like the mocking things, they don’t smile or wave.

They're just mucky.

Saturday, Morning Time. Somebody else went. In the night. I saw it. The mocking things still hate me, don’t believe me. Gunny says be careful.
Saturday, Night Time. I hear them whispering. All the time, just sneaking, whispering. They say I’m next. The spoons, they’re plotting things. Like the mocking things. Too many things. Gunny looks scared, too. I packed up camp. Not gonna let them poof! Not th--


The old man bent to pick up the stray notebook, closed it up, put it on Maude’s crate. She had a disease, one that required medication, but she couldn’t afford it. She suffered from delusions, hallucinations; she ranted about them to anyone who would listen, about abductions, disappearances, and most people just laughed at her. She was just a crazy person. Few cared to get to know Maude better, to find out whether or not her ravings held some truth. The old man had just recently discovered that when she talked about “spoons”, she didn’t actually mean the flatware. She meant people dressed in odd suits, with rounded helmets. Probably just another of her hallucinations. He wondered where she had gone.
Last night she had told him part of one of her abduction stories, one that she’d told some of the other villagers, but they mocked her for it. They didn’t believe her, because it was so implausible. He never got to hear the ending. He’d hoped to hear it tonight. He looked at the horizon; it was getting late. His wife was holding dinner for them, him and Maude. It was Maude’s favorite. She’d turn up eventually. She wandered often, getting lost in thought or running from the “spoons”. He pulled his jacket tighter around him, and began the walk home, odd whispers filling the night air at his back.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Speaking of Inspiration

Yesterday, Luke Bellmason told us about the inspiration for his Canterbury Tales, and of course it made me think about how I get inspiration.

First, I have to admit that I'm extremely lucky: I never seem to have trouble coming up with story ideas; I just have a problem containing the flood of them. A lot of them are lost, unfortunately, because I don't get them written down before so many more come that I can't recall them. Of the rest, a few rise to the category of 'Must-Write.'

The idea for An Analysis of the Cardassian Language began when I was watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and kept imagining what would happen if I were there. The show is set on a space station originally built by hostile aliens, and my imagination wandered to the time when the aliens had been in charge. How would they react to my presence? Of course it was an entirely unworkable idea because I couldn't come up with any excuse for a 21st-Century human to be on a Cardassian space station in the 24 Century. But the idea kept pestering me, so I made some other stories from it, including "The Mammal Cage," figuring I'd get it out of my system. I didn't.

Finally, more than a year later, I thought of the rest of the plot elements that would make the story work. I don't remember what triggered them, but the more I thought about it, the more everything fit together.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Guest Post: Inspiration 101

Today's guest blogger is Luke Bellmason:
Inspiration 101
Where it all began…
Sometimes people ask writers, "where do you get your ideas from?" Joyce Grenfell always used to reply with "If I knew, I'd go there more often." If you're a writer chances are you've had inspiration hit you from one of many millions of possible directions, but I'd be willing to bet that none of you has ever had an idea for a three volume collection of short stories from quite the same unlikely source as I did.
I remember very clearly where the first idea for what became 'Canterbury Tales' came from, and back then it wasn't even an idea for a book at all.
I was sitting in the canteen at work, which is a place drivers get sent to when there's no work, or no trucks, or when a load isn't ready, or when they just don't have anything for you to do. This is when you're supposed to wait, and by wait I'm talking about two, three, four or maybe even five hours. This was back in the day before I carried an iPad everywhere, or had a portable computer of any kind. I just had a bunch of blank forms and a pen. So I decided to make a board game.
I don't know why I picked a space trading and exploration game as an idea for a board game, but I think I wanted to make it something simple. Some of my favourite board games involvled 'resource management', like Settlers of Catan, and I had played a lot of video games which used this theme, all of them in the shadow of the greatest of them all: ELITE. So I knew all about the mechanics of the game right from the start; players would fly around discovering planets, fighting pirates and police (if they became criminals), buying commodities, shipping them somewhere and then selling them. Then they would spend the money they'd made upgrading their ship.
It sounded so simple, but Elite: The Board Game, as I started to call it, was incredibly complex and involved. Every tiny detail, such as how pirates got spawned, how they moved, how they attacked the player, took months of working out. Then there was the economic structure which meant that riskier commodities such as Narcotics and Firearms could make more money for the player than Food or Textiles. Just like the video game, players could end up with a criminal rating which would then mean the authorities could come after them if they entered Corporate or Democracy systems, but Feudal and Anarchy systems had no police. Then again, criminal players had a bounty placed on them so other players could track them down and kill them for their reward. Then there were the many, many combat systems I tried to make, each more complicated than the last.
It seemed like each new layer of functionality I added to the game made everything a lot more complicated. I had some pretty cool ideas in there, but the problem was that playing the game to completion, ie a player earning enough victory points to be declared 'ELITE', didn't just take hours it took days. Most games were never completed. I started to look around for a solution that would speed things up a bit.
Then I was at a board gaming convention and met some guys from Games Workshop. They had been updating the old classic 'Talisman', which was a game I used to play when I was a teenager. I sat down at their table and spent a couple of hours playing this new version. One of the mechanics I liked was the character cards. These gave each player different skills, starting stats and strengths. I started to think about how different characters in my Elite game could start out with different ships, equipment and objectives.
Instead of everyone chasing victory points, I thought about objectives for each character. The Bounty Hunter would get points for killing pirates and hunting down players with bounties on them. The Pirate would earn points for killing players and stealing their cargo. The Miner would earn points for finding asteroid fields and mining minerals. From there it was a simple step to coming up with six character 'classes' and having a 'good' and 'evil' version of each.
Another game which served as inspiration at this point was 'Chrononauts', which had a little story card handed out to the players at the start. What if the characters in my game had a 100 words of set-up related to what they did and then a mission card which they picked up during the game which told the next part of their story? I took a new notebook and wrote down some ideas. This notebook became the basis for what would eventually, years and years later, become Canterbury Tales.
I'm not quite sure when my project crossed over from being a board game into a book, but I think I became far more interested in the characters than in the game. The board game was so huge and unplayable that I pretty much abandoned it, with occassional prompts from my gaming group to dust it off to play test again, but the 'game' of playing it became 'let's make dozens of suggestions about how to fix this' rather than the game itself. It wasn't fun to play something so broken, which I understood, but which everyone else thought could be improved.
The notebook of those twelve characters on the other hand, became a well of inspiration which really had a lot of potential, and I was more adept at fixing the problems of plot and story than I was at fixing the mechanics of an interactive game.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On Paid Services for Indie Authors

Yesterday, we had Steven Ramirez here talking about the importance of quality for indie authors. I think  he makes a very important point, and I'm very glad he agreed to send me the post. Thank you, Steven.

One of the nicest things about guest posts, in my opinion, is that they let me bring in a variety ways of looking at things. Sometimes it's just a new way to say something I agree with, but sometimes the guest writer will have a different opinion than I do on a given topic. In the case of Steven Ramirez, I agree wholeheartedly that quality is essential in a self-published book, but I disagree with his recommendation for how to achieve that quality. 

I don't think it makes sense to pay money for editing, cover design or any other publishing component. If you can afford it, that's fine, but most of us can't. If we say that the way to produce quality books is to spend money, then we're cutting the regular people out of the indie scene and leaving serious indie publishing only to the lucky few with money. And that, of course, would go against the whole point of being indie in the first place. It's supposed to be about quality, not money.

So what should we do? Beat our chests and announce that we don't need no stinkin' editors? Proofread our own work and hope for the best? No, really, there is a better way. It's called barter. Yes, we should proofread own work: that's just a mark of a professional and courteous writer. But a book always needs editing by a fresh pair of eyes. Even if you're an expert in spelling and grammar, you can never catch all your own mistakes. Our brains tend to see what they expect, so if you already 'know' what you wrote, you won't necessarily be able to see what it really says on the page. 

Fortunately, there are lots of other authors out there who are very serious about their work and are also experts in various aspects of self-publishing. For example, there are professional-quality editors who need a service you can provide and are willing to barter. I might even be one of them.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Guest Post: The Importance of Quality in Indie Publishing

Please help me welcome today's guest blogger, Steven Ramirez:
Okay, so you’ve got this killer idea for a book. You’ve always known that deep down you are a writer, and that you want to make your living putting words on paper that other people will pay to read. You fire up Word and bang away. In a few months you have ninety thousand words that you can’t wait to share with the world, so you decide to put it out there.

But wait! You still need a cover. Hey, you’ve got a buddy that’s pretty good with PowerPoint. You ask him to “throw something together” for you. After a day or two he sends you the file. Looks pretty good, you think. Now you’re set. Your little heart is racing as you create an Amazon KDP Account and click on the “Add new title” button. You’re nearly there.

You fill out all the fields, set your price at $9.99, upload the cover and book, and PUBLISH! In a day or two you receive an email saying that the book is live. Whoo-hoo! You are now a self-published author!

Actually, you’re not. You’re just some person who threw something up on Amazon that no one—besides your mother and maybe your cousin—will buy. Why? Because you didn’t’ take the time, effort and money to produce a work of quality—a book that customers cannot wait to get their hands on.

Writing Isn’t Enough
I’m not saying you didn’t write a great book. You may be a talented individual with lots to say in a way that is fresh and imaginative. But without a good editor, you risk having people think you are lazy. I say this from experience. I’ve been writing for many years, but I still need an editor—every writer does. So you should budget for that.

A Good First Impression
Don’t forget that your title is out there along with around a million others. Customers have lots of choices, and they’ve been trained to know what’s good. If they see your cover and it sucks, you’ve pretty much made the decision for them not to buy your book.

Think about how you buy books. Isn’t the cover the first thing that attracts you? Sure, you want to “click to look inside.” But you won’t even get that far if the cover is no good. So hire a professional cover designer.

Formatting Counts
Another thing to consider is the actual formatting. Now, there are many ways to accomplish this. Many writers I know start out with a Word document, which is what I do. And we’re all pretty much aware of the fact that you can’t just upload it and expect to get a nicely formatted eBook. There is a fair amount of work involved.

More and more people are turning to Scrivener. I haven’t tried this program yet, but according to Joanna Penn, it rocks. Be sure to check it out.

Yet another way to go is to purchase a book template from Book Design Templates. They have templates for both eBooks and print. Or you could just hire someone to create the eBook for you. People like JW Manus and Guido Henkel.

Anything Else?
You should make sure that your eBook contains a table of contents. That’s just common courtesy. You should also ensure that the description is not only accurate, but compelling. If you can, include a few quotes from any early reviews you might have received.

Be realistic about the pricing. $9.99 for an eBook by an unknown author is most likely not going to fly. And $.99 makes you look like a hack. Take a look at other titles in your category and price accordingly. After a while, you will have a pretty good feeling about what is reasonable.

If you are doing a paperback version, make sure to go with services that other authors use and recommend. Two I can think of right away are CreateSpace and Lightning Source. And if you’re going the print route, make sure that the formatting is flawless. Remember, the goal is to put your book alongside other paperbacks from major publishers, and have them be indistinguishable in terms of quality. Since you’ve never done this before, you might also consider hiring a book shepherd like Joel Friedman to help you through the process.

Finally, don’t forget to put up a professional-looking author profile on Amazon. And make sure that your headshot looks good.

I’ll leave you with this last thought, something to remember each time you get ready to hit the “Publish” button: Indie Publishing isn’t hard. Indie Publishing something good is hard. Remember this, and you will have a much better chance of making your writing dreams come true.

About the Author
Steven Ramirez is the author of a number of short stories including his latest, Walker. He is planning to publish his new zombie novel, Tell Me When I’m Dead, this summer. You can find out more about Steven at his website, “Glass Highway.”

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Guest Post: Vulcan Project

Please help me welcome today's guest blogger, A B Potts:

Personal Log
Ensign Jenny Terran
USS Earhart

It was supposed to be a simple assignment. Take one Vulcan delegate back to his homeworld, T'Khasi. No one mentioned the reason why. Pon farr.
As soon as he stepped into the shuttle though, I knew something wasn't quite right. Vulcans don't sweat as such, but his pallor suggested that he should be perspiring, and as he passed me by, he exuded extraordinary warmth. Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr Gates, followed the gentleman in and cast me a knowing glance. A simple nod confirmed to him that I had received the message and understood the situation fully.
Ambassador Sival seated himself with strained Vulcan dignity and closed his eyes in an attempt to shut the world out. Discretely, I lowered the temperature in the cabin a couple of degrees before turning to him.
"Welcome aboard, Ambassador. Can I get you anything before we depart?"
He looked up and I saw he had deep, dark brown eyes. They were unlike any Vulcan's I had ever seen. They were not cool and unyielding, but kindly, yet pained. They spoke of great intelligence and wisdom, so much so that I felt that they had the power to look right inside of me, deep into the very heart of my soul.
"Thank you. No."
Unlike his eyes, his voice was cold, but it wavered somewhat, and I reflected once more upon Vulcan emotions.
People say that Vulcans are without them, but they most certainly are not. Even when they are most in control, they are subject to their feelings, or whatever you wish to call them. They have merely learnt how to contain them, how to harness them. It is their voice that usually gives them away with slight rises and falls in their tones. They are subtle, but they are there. And as they become more passionate about a subject, those intonations become more discernable ... if you know what you are listening for. And I don't use the term 'passionate' lightly. Vulcans are a very passionate people with strong beliefs and morals. They merely express their passion differently to most other species.
I completed my pre-flight checks and we departed for T'Khasi. The journey would only take a few hours at Warp 4, which pleased me probably as much as it pleased him. His discomfort was obvious. He took in long, deep breaths to help concentrate his mind and retain control. I wondered what it was that had made him wait so long before returning to his homeworld and his mate.
The journey passed in silence for the first hour and all was going according to plan. Sival had settled himself into a meditation that seemed to soothe him. His breathing was measured and steady, and the coolness of the cabin helped, too, perhaps.
A sudden jolt to the shuttle soon put paid to that. It shook us both violently for a moment, and then the cabin lights flickered and dimmed as we dropped out of warp.
"What is the problem, Ensign?" asked Sival. As an engineer, his interest was piqued despite his
condition (or perhaps he was just impatient to be home).
I studied the readings and shook my head. I'm not an engineer and warp theory was never my strong point.
"I'm not sure. Indications are that we have sustained no damage to the engines, but they have ... stalled." It was the best term I could think of. "Computer, report please."
I know one doesn't usually say please to a computer, but I was always brought up to say please and thank you. It's a habit I can't break. I don't doubt that the Vulcan found it most illogical.
"The warp field was disrupted by an inverse graviton burst."
Suddenly, I was wishing I had taken that Engineering Extension Course after all.
"Is it ... still there?" I asked hesitantly.
"Negative. The phenomenon has passed."
Well, that was good news.
"So why can't I reinitiate warp drive?"
"Warp drive can not be initiated due to a misalignment in the dilithium reaction chamber."
I glanced at Sival. He was visibly becoming tense.
"How do I realign ... it?" I asked tentatively, not sure what the correct terminology was. The
computer threw me a huge spiel of instructions that I can't even begin to repeat. I stared at the console in front of me for what seemed like endless minutes while I assessed the situation.
"Computer," I asked. "Can you talk me through this procedure?"
It then gave me enough techno-babble to fill a four-year Academy course in Engineering.
"Okay, bearing in mind I am not an Engineer, can you explain that to me in simple terms please?"
More technobabble ensued. I had to simplify things even further.
"Computer, bearing in mind my level of expertise, am I likely to be able to correct this problem."
"It is unlikely that you will be able to achieve the correct alignment required," came the cool reply.
"What does unlikely mean? What are my estimated chances of success?"
"Fifteen percent."
"And how long will it take me?"
"There is insufficient data to make that estimation."
"Fine. Computer, please send out a distress call to Starfleet detailing our situation."
"Unable to comply. Communication relays have been damaged and are inoperable."
I sighed. This was not good. Sival needed to return to Vulcan as soon as possible. If I couldn't get the shuttle moving again and I couldn't call for help ... It didn't bode well.
"Please provide me with a full damage report to all systems."
The computer obliged and I sighed heavily. Everything seemed to be out of kilter and the
communications had suffered an overload, burning out and fusing circuits. It would take well over an hour to fix them. So, should I try to fix the communications or the warp drive?
"Computer. I need to make the corrections necessary to reinitiate warp drive. Where do I start?"
Behind me, Sival laughed hopelessly.
"My apologies, Ambassador." I felt I had to say it, but knew it would do no good whatsoever. In fact, it seemed to make matters worse. Sival dropped his head into his hands and began to--and I hate to say it, but he began to sob.
I felt awful. I had to do something to help this poor man, but what? And then it dawned on me.
"Ambassador?" I asked gently. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't you a specialist in some
engineering field or another?"
He wrapped his arms around his shoulders, hugging himself.
"Yesss," he hissed. "What of it?"
The pon farr was taking hold.
"Computer, could Ambassador Sival correct the problem?"
"And how long would it take an engineer like Sival?"
"Approximately twelve minutes."
My heart leapt. That was good news, but there was a problem.
"And in his current condition, how long?"
"Insufficient data."
I hated that response.
"Take a guess," I insisted, cursing it at the same time. Even a Vulcan will take a guess when pressed, but not a computer.
"Insufficient data."
I audibly growled.
"Less than an hour or more than an hour?" I pressed, turning and looking at Sival. In his current condition, he didn't look to be much good to anybody, but I asked anyway.
"It is likely to take more than an hour."
That was not what I wanted to hear. If I could just get Sival to think straight for a tad over ten minutes, we'd be okay, but how could I do that? I wandered over to the replicators.
"What are you doing?" Sival suddenly snapped.
"Under normal circumstances, this realignment would be a piece of cake for you, but while you are struggling with the pon farr-" he veritably growled at me. I merely held my hand up to silence him and continued, "-it will not be easy, so I need to help you focus, at least for a short while. I can't stop pon farr by any of the known methods," which was true. I didn't fancy combat or shock and the other option was definitely off the cards! "But I know that meditation can help so I'm replicating the necessary accoutrements to try and help initiate that."
I brought my replicated meditation kit over and began arranging it in the middle of the floor. I lit the meditation lamp and beckoned Sival to approach. Obediently, desperate for some respite from his symptoms, he came and sat on the floor opposite me.
"And if this does not work?" he asked.
"We'll cross that bridge if we come to it. Now ... to the matter at hand ..."
The air began to fill with the scent of burning incense and silence fell around us, draping us in a veil of peace and tranquillity. I found it very soothing as I sat with my eyes closed, my mind drifting to other places, and I assumed that Sival did too, but I was wrong.
"This isn't working!" he suddenly hissed, anger high in his voice.
"You must focus!"
"I can't!"
"Yes, you can. You are a Vulcan. I am a human. Your mind is more disciplined than mine so if I can do it, so can you! Now focus!" and I closed my eyes again. I thought he did the same, but suddenly, I felt his hands fold around my face!
I gasped and opened my eyes to find myself peering into his deep brown eyes.
His hands were hot and held me firmly. For a moment, worry gripped me. I thought he was going to kiss me or something stupid like that. That would be so awful--for him and for me! It would offend both our moral codes, but he didn't.
"I ... need ... your strength," he whispered.
"Then take it," I said softly.
Trepidation filled me because I knew what he was proposing, and how dangerous it was in his
condition, but I had to do something otherwise we would be stuck here and for goodness knows how long.
I folded my hands over his and our heads grew closer. One of his hands dropped into his lap and the other moved over my face to take up the customary position for a meld.
"My mind to your mind ..."
The dangers of this action gnawed at me, but we had to get the warp drive sorted if we were to get to T'Khasi in time for Sival.
"My thoughts to your thoughts ..."
So I let him in.
Suddenly, he was in my head ... and yet ... not in my head. It is hard to describe what I felt but it was like I could see--no, feel--both sides of the Vulcan. I could sense the immense mental strength and composure that this man had. It felt soothing and comforting to me. It gave me great confidence in his ability. It reassured me and I felt safe in his hands. But there was also the other side of the man, the side that was suffering. I could feel him screaming in anguish, writhing as if in immense pain, wailing and sobbing hysterically.
There were no visions or images to this, but I cannot explain what happened without using images.
Imagine, please, two Vulcans: a quiet, composed one and one in pain. The quiet Vulcan is standing silently by, unable to move, paralysed almost, while the wailing Vulcan is crying out. The quiet Vulcan cannot calm the wailing Vulcan. He cannot reach him, but I can. As I stretch out my hand and place it upon his shoulder, he snatches at it and draws me closer. He is wailing in my arms like a small child, crying hysterically on my shoulder. His hands are clawed with his torment as they grip me, but slowly, as I cradle him, he quietens. I cannot see the calm Vulcan now. He is out of my line of sight, but I know he is there. I just can't see him anymore and my attention is focused upon the wailing Vulcan, gently rocking him, stroking his hair as he clings to me.
I do not know how long this lasted but it was some time later that I awoke on the floor, curled up in the foetal position. My face was wet with tears and my eyes red and swollen. I think that Sival had emptied all of his anguish into me and that I must have been the one sobbing and crying in pain.
I clambered unsteadily to my feet and looked for Sival. He was sat in a corner, his arms wrapped about his knees, looking very pale and tired. He looked as though he was asleep.
Exhausted, I climbed back into the pilot's seat. Looking out of the forward fenestration, the stars were streaking by. Whatever had happened, it had enabled Sival to make the necessary repairs. He had done it.
I don't know how I managed to land the shuttle, but I did. I felt strange and disorientated, as though I had just woken up from a long, deep sleep but not refreshed. Lethargy clawed at me and kept dragging me back into slumber.
Over the next few days, my memories are muddled and fogged. I drifted aimlessly in a dreamlike state unable to regain full consciousness. My mind was filled with images and dreams that I will not share with you because I don't think they were my dreams. I think they were Sival's.
The first coherent memory I have was a number of days later. It was like finally waking up from the long, deep slumber, the memories of vivid dreams fading fast inside my head. Sival was there and a Vulcan Master. As I opened my eyes, I swear Sival smiled at me. This is nonsense, of course, but it felt like it.
I came to learn that what Sival had done was very, very dangerous indeed. He had created a link to draw from my strength, but with the pon farr clawing at his sanity, he had been unable to close it properly. Vulcan Masters were consulted, and it was they who intervened by effecting another joining of minds and an orderly separation. It is to them that I owe my sanity, but it did not end there.
I remained on T'Khasi for three weeks in total and spent many hours with a Vulcan priest. It was necessary that I undergo some mental training, not unlike that an unruly Vulcan youth would undergo, because the mere memory of the link meant that a little piece of it would always remain.
On the day that I left T'Khasi, a Starfleet shuttle arrived for me with Dr Gates on board. Sival and his wife came to say farewell. I had never met T'Bryn before but I knew her face well. They both thanked me and gave me a gift of a traditional Vulcan meditation lamp and crystal. I found the farewell very moving, but strangely found it easy to keep my composure as I said my goodbyes.
I cannot begin to describe how much I have learnt from this experience (beside the dangers of mind melds) and, dare I have the audacity to say it? I now consider myself to be just a little bit Vulcan.
* * *
For more Jenny Terran, follow the logs at . The logs are updated weekly on Saturday mornings.

Jenny Terran is the creation of science-fiction author, A B Potts. No profits are made from the blogs, but the right of A B Potts to be identified as the author of these logs has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.    
Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space 9, and Star Trek: Voyager are registered trademarks of Paramount Pictures and their respective owners; no copyright violation is intended.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


I wasn't planning on taking a break from this blog. I hadn't missed a day this year, and wasn't planning to, either. But, as they say in Hitchhiker, "the best-laid plans of mice, you know..." My family needed me. I may or may not be back yet: we'll have to wait and see. My apologies for the interruption.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The New England Town Meeting

Today is Town Meeting Day. Some towns have changed the date, but traditionally it's the first Tuesday in March, or the second if the month happens to begin on a Tuesday.

The New England Town Meeting is the foundation of American democracy. Don't be confused by the 'town meetings' or 'town hall meetings' that politicians and political candidates sometimes hold. They are a different animal altogether.

Town Meeting is the annual meeting in which a town makes the majority of its government decisions. What's making this hard to explain is that many people confuse the terms 'democracy' and 'republic.' Most governments that are called democracies are actually republics. In a republic, the citizens elect the government, while in a democracy, the citizens are the government. The elected officials in a traditional New England town don't set policy; they are executives who carry out the decisions made by the people during Town Meeting.

I'm very grateful for having grown up in a New Hampshire town with a traditional Town Meeting, and I'm grateful to my parents for bringing me every year, even when I was small. It helped me understand concepts like democracy, self-government and how to be a responsible member of a group.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Thank You

Today I just want to take a break from the survival posts, the observations about writing, the grammar tips and the short stories, to say thank you. Every day I'm touched by Twitter retweets, comments here and on Facebook, and recommendations that just pop up for no apparent reason. It's humbling that so many strangers enjoy my writing, and frustrating that I can't respond to each one with the time and attention you deserve. I do want you to know that I notice and I'm grateful. You make writing even more enjoyable, you make me feel connected, and you inspire me to give my best.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

How to Burn Out as a Writer

The experts tell us that a writer should write every day, and my own experience would seem to confirm this.



when I write every...single day for weeks on end, something very bad happens. My work goes dry and stiff and life gets to be a chore instead of a challenge. It's called emotional exhaustion, or burnout.

I'm not saying that 'write every day' is bad advice. In fact, I think it's good advice. I am saying it works best for me as a guideline and not a law. I write almost every day (Just try to keep me away!), but I've also learned how essential it is to take a day off once in a while to refresh my muse.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Survival #6: Appeasing the Fridge Gods

Having grown up largely without electricity, I'm constantly amazed at how many intelligent people I meet who seem to think that the only way to keep food from spoiling is to put it in a refrigerator. Their faith in refrigerators (and expiration dates, too) is so strong and unquestioning it's almost religious. They have no idea how our family could have gone without one for all those years, without either shopping three times a day or dying of food poisoning. (We shopped every two to four weeks, and none of us died of food poisoning.)

So how did we do it? The key is to remember what causes food to spoil. It's not heat and it's not time; it's bacteria. 

The reason the refrigerator works is that it slows down the rate at which bacteria reproduce. But refrigeration is not the only way to combat bacteria. In fact, it's not even the most effective method. But if you're going for cold, there other ways to get it:
  • Gas refrigerator. Yup, it actually burns gas, like a stove. Use fire to make ice.
  • Mudroom. This is one of those green and frugal things traditional New Hampshire people do whether they have electricity or not. At certain times of the year, mudrooms (those unheated rooms between the two doors of a heat-preserving airlock system) are the same temperature as a refrigerator. Put your food in a tightly-sealed plastic bin and save on the electric bill (or the gas bill, maybe.)
  • Icebox. It's an insulated box, similar to a refrigerator except that it doesn't chill the food. You put ice in there, and that's what keeps it cold. The fascinating thing, to me, is how New Englanders managed to have any ice to put there, even in the middle of summer. They cut it off the ponds in the winter and stored it in slabs in an ice house between layers of sawdust. The presence of all that ice together and the insulating power of sawdust actually preserved the ice for all those months.
  • Springhouse. This is a tiny food-storage building built over a spring. The cold springwater keeps the interior cold. Our family employed the same principle by lowering sealed buckets of food, inside a frame, into our hand-dug well.
Next week: "Pease Porridge in the Pot"

Friday, March 1, 2013

Science Fiction Story: Literacy

From Chapter Ten of An Analysis of the Cardassian Language:
Thanks to Paramount.
Dolim Shal opened a small compartment near the bed and took out an off-brand iPad.

"Thanks," I said. "How do you turn it on?"

His fingers flew over the geometric decorations. "I've turned it on to record," he answered. "You may begin when ready."

"Wait a minute, " I said. "How do I..." I trailed off and stared at the screen. A lot of odd little shapes had appeared where there had been nothing before. "Well, that's odd," I remarked, and more shapes appeared as I spoke.

"What's wrong?" Dolim asked, moving to see the screen.

"What are those things?" I asked. "Every time I talk, there are more of them." It must have been some kind of game. The tiny shapes were lined up in rows, and the rows spread out in various directions like a street map.

"That's..." he began, then stopped and looked at my face. "You don't read Cardassian, do you?"

"You have your own language?" I asked, fascinated.

He smiled. "Yes, of course. I'll change the language for you."

"Thanks," I said, handing him the iPad. "What I really want to do is send an email. I understand I'll have to get it approved first. I just don't want my kids to worry. I've been gone three days and they must be scared to death by now."

"Children are often more resilient than we think," Dolim said, touching the decorations on the iPad faster than my eyes could follow. "What is an email?"

I couldn't believe he didn't know what an email was. But then, until very recently I hadn't known what a replicator was. "I just meant, I want to send a message to my children, to reassure them," I replied.

"I'll pass along your request," he shrugged, "but I doubt it will be granted." He handed me back the device.

"Thanks," I said. "Could I just write a letter to my kids now and save it, in case at some point I get permission to send it?" I noticed the little street map full of shapes was gone now, replaced by text in a language I couldn't immediately identify.

"Certainly," said Dolim Shal. "And if, as I predict, your request is denied, you may continue recording letters to them. Perhaps one day, this war will end and your letters can be sent."

I wasn't sure what he meant by "this war," but I had more important questions. "Does this thing have Word on it, or Pages?" I asked.

"Its a recording device," he answered. "It will have all the words you record on it. But it's not a codex; it has no pages."