One Small Step…

I have an announcement.  My job is letting me drop from full time employment to a part time position, allowing me to pursue my true passions: art and literature!  Today, I am taking my first timid steps toward a new career as a writer and illustrator.

To find out more, please check out my other blog, Planet Pailly (click here).

Indie Life: Inspiration

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Today’s post is part of Indie Life, a blog hop hosted by the Indelibles.  Click here to see a full list of participating blogs.

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Being an indie writer is hard work.  Not only do we commit ourselves to the life of a writer, but we also have to commit to being a businessperson.  Fortunately, we don’t have to do this alone.  The Internet is here to help.  We have the support of other writers thanks to bloghops like this one, and the Internet provides other little pieces of inspiration from people all over the world.  Here are some examples I recently discovered.

From Jellyvampire, “Born Like an Artist.”

From Zen Pencils, “The Brick Wall.”

From Vimeo, “The Reward.”

I hope you find a little inspiration in these, and please share anything you find inspiring in the comments below!

New Story: Children of the Swarm

2.3 Children of the SwarmIn the 30th Century, history changed.  An army of microscopic robots survived extinction; now they’re sweeping through the galaxy unchecked.  They’ve destroyed thousands of worlds, they’ve taken countless lives, and they’re evolving.  They’ve sampled the human brain, studied it, and modified their neural network, making them smarter and more imaginative.  Their military strategies have become more innovative… and more effective.  Earth’s space fleet is barely holding on as colony after colony falls to the Swarm.

But now history is changing again.  The Swarm says they’ve realized the evil of their ways, and they wish to repent for their sins.  They’re asking for humanity’s forgiveness.  Should the humans forgive the Swarm for all they’ve done, or is this another of the Swarm’s innovative tricks?

Click here to start reading “Children of the Swarm.”

Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Thank You

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Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh.  Click here to see a full list of participating blogs.

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A have a lot of writing to catch up on today, so I have to keep this brief.  2013 has been rough on me.  Since mid-January, I have been living in my own personal hell.  As a result, I have fallen way behind schedule with the Tomorrow News Network project.

But all that is about to change.  I recently got some good news.  I’m not quite ready to share it with you yet, but trust me… it’s good news.

I want to thank all my fellow writers and also all my loyal readers for helping me to keep going.  You are awesome.

Coming June 3rd

Prepare to read this in your best movie trailer voice:

In the 30th Century, history changed.  An army of microscopic robots survived extinction; now they’re sweeping through the galaxy unchecked.  They’ve destroyed thousands of worlds, they’ve taken countless lives, and they’re evolving.  They’ve sampled the human brain, studied it, and modified their neural network, making them smarter and more imaginative.  Their military strategies have become more innovative… and more effective.  Earth’s space fleet is barely holding on as colony after colony falls to the Swarm.

But now history is changing again.  The Swarm says they’ve realized the evil of their ways, and they wish to repent for their sins.  They’re asking for humanity’s forgiveness.  Should the humans forgive the Swarm for all they’ve done, or is this another of the Swarm’s innovative tricks?  Find out in the next Tomorrow News Network adventure: “Children of the Swarm.”

P.S.: Be sure to check out the Swarm’s previous invasions in “A Stranger Comes to Town” and “The Wrong Future.”

Update: I had originally planned for this story to come out on Friday, May 31st.  Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, I have to postpone it to Monday, June 3rd.

Update as of June 3rd: Okay, I thought I was back on schedule, but apparently I was wrong.  I don’t want to make excuses for this delay except to say that 2013 has not been very kind to me.  The story will be ready by the end of the week (probably Wednesday).  If you’ve subscribed to this blog, you’ll get an update when it’s posted.

Indie Life: Disciplined Bravado

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Today’s post is part of Indie Life, a blog hop hosted by the Indelibles.  Click here to see a list of participating blogs.

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Once before, I compared the life of the writer to running the space program.  Now I want to do it again.

A friend recently emailed me an article from the New Yorker about the team that designed NASA’s latest Mars rover.  The rover, named Curiosity, was too big and heavy to survive the tried-and-true methods of landing on Mars.  Instead, it used one of the strangest and most complicated landing systems in the history of space exploration: a sky crane that hovered over the surface of Mars and gently lowered the rover to the ground.  One of the engineers who worked on this sky crane is quoted as saying, “It is the result of reasoned engineering thought […] But it still looks crazy.”

A lot of people criticized the sky crane.  To the NASA outsider, it looked impractical and dangerous.  Apparently the design team itself didn’t know if it would work.  They couldn’t even test it.  Since conditions here on Earth are so different than those on Mars, the results of any test here would be meaningless there.  If the sky crane failed, politicians would no doubt call it a colossal waste of taxpayer money and slash NASA’s budget more than they already have.

But the sky crane worked.  In August of 2012, Curiosity landed on Mars and began its search for Martian life.  The article from the New Yorker went on to describe the unconventional thinking it took to make the sky crane a reality.  I particularly latched onto the term “disciplined bravado.”  The sky crane didn’t work because of the discipline of those NASA engineers with all their knowledge and experience designing spacecraft, nor did it work because of their bravado, their reckless courage to try a new thing.  It only worked because they combined their discipline with their bravado.

This is a lesson for writers.  We need a lot of discipline to get ourselves to write every day, to keep working on our stories even when writer’s block gets in the way.  We also need the bravado to invent a new world and tell a story that’s never been told.  In short, we need the same disciplined bravado it took to send Curiosity to Mars.

P.S.: Click here to read the article from the New Yorker, “The Martian Chroniclers: A New Era in Planetary Exploration” by Burkhard Bilger.  It’s a fascinating story and an example of great writing.

P.P.S.: Click here to read my previous post on how being a writer is like running the space program.

IWSG: Know Your Limits

Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a bloghop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh.  It’s an opportunity for writer’s to celebrate their successes, commiserate over their troubles, and share tips and ideas.  Click here to visit other participating blogs.

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I like to keep track of how many words I write per day.  It’s a good way to keep myself writing, and I have records of my daily writing totals that go back for almost a decade.  The most words I ever wrote in a single day was approximately 7,200, but a few days ago I went way beyond that.  I wrote 9,600 words.  Before you congratulate me, I want to tell you a little about how this happened and why I don’t want to ever do this again.

Here’s a rundown of the events of that magical and traumatic day of writing.

The day before: I managed to write roughly 2,000 words before I got writer’s block.  I spent the rest of the day struggling to write just one more sentence, but I couldn’t get it done.  I had a deadline fast approaching, so this was extra frustrating.  I went to bed around midnight.

6AM: I wake up after a fitful night of sleep.  I had some bad dreams, which, of course, I can’t tell you about because within five minutes I completely forgot them, but they were really bad dreams, whatever they were.  The good news is my writer’s block is gone, and I quickly set to work on the next two scenes of my story.

10AM: I’ve accomplished a lot already, and I decide to take a ninety minute nap.  The lack of sleep is starting to get to me.  Incidentally, ninety minutes is the amount of time scientists say it takes to complete a normal, REM sleep cycle.  I’ve found that sleeping in ninety minute increments (ninety minutes, three hours, four and a half hours, etc) leaves me more refreshed.  Click here for a YouTube video on the science behind this sleep cycle.

Noon: I’m awake again and ready for more writing, but I’m also starting to realize that I’m further behind schedule than I thought.  To make matters worse, I’m going to have to go back and completely rewrite an earlier scene for the sake of continuity.

5PM: I’ve written roughly 6,000 words, and I feel slightly ill.  My head feels warm, but it is a hot day out and I don’t have my air conditioning set up yet, so I don’t worry about it.

6PM: I reach approximately 6,800 words.  I feel exhilarated, but also very, very hungry.  I can’t remember if I ate lunch or not (I would later determine that yes, I did).  A friend and I go out to the nearest diner for a quick meal, after which I take another nap.

11PM: My nap took longer than I planned, and I don’t feel 100% refreshed, but I’m still exhilarated by the amount of writing I’ve already done, and I’m determined to beat my old writing record.  In fact, I give serious thought to trying to write a total of 10,000 words.  It seems like an achievable goal.

Midnight: I’ve written another 800 words, and my head feels unnaturally warm.  Who knew your brain could literally overheat from too much writing?  I quickly drink several glasses of cold water.  I then take my shirt off and position a fan to blow cool air on my back (blowing air directly on my head or neck would give me a headache).  This seems to work.  The water and the cool air lower my body temperature, and my head no longer feels so warm.  I continue writing.  The story is coming together really well, and I don’t want to stop.  I still feel like I can make it to 10,000 words.

3AM: I am once again really hungry, and my head feels unnaturally warm.  Although I haven’t been doing any strenuous physical activity, I feel like I have.  In fact, I feel weak and a little sick.  I doggedly keep going and manage to write another paragraph or two, but I soon realize that all this writing might put my health at risk.  I stop at 9,600 words.

Conclusions: Within a 24 hour period (21 hours, to be precise) I wrote 9,600 words (9,615, again to be precise).  I’m not sure what emotion best describes how I feel.  I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I also feel physically and emotionally drained.

I believe that napping is what made this possible.  It helped break the day into smaller chunks.  It tricked my brain into thinking I wasn’t doing so much in just one day.  It also gave my brain an opportunity to relax and recuperate before the next onslaught of writing.

As for the unnatural warmth in my head that I experienced, I have a theory.  The brain is a kind of machine, and the more a machine works, the more heat it produces.  This could also explain the intense hunger and weariness I felt.  Even though I spent the whole day sitting in my office doing nothing more strenuous than type, my brain was consuming enormous amounts of energy.

I do not recommend pushing yourself this hard, and I do not intend to ever do this to myself again.  The brain may be like a machine, but it’s also living tissue, and causing living tissue–especially brain tissue–to overheat sounds like a bad idea.  As writers, we have to know our limits.  After this experience, I certainly know mine.  I now believe that anything beyond 6,000 to 7,000 words per day is hazardous to my health.

So, my fellow insecure writers, what are your writing goals and do you know your writing limits?

New Story: “Mother Mars”

“Mother Mars,” the latest Tomorrow News Network story, is finally complete.  It takes place on ancient Mars, a planet with purple oceans, phosphorescent jungles, and a rich and prosperous civilization.  Click here to find out what happened to them.

I want to send a special thank you to Stephanie Sykora, my scientific adviser for this story.  She’s a geologist and adventurer and all around awesome person.  Click here to check out her blog, “Exploring the Earth.”

Preview of “Mother Mars”

I’m sorry to say no story in the Tomorrow News Network series has suffered so many delays as the one I’m currently writing, and unfortunately I am forced to delay it one final time.  It requires just one more weekend’s worth of editing before it will be ready for you, my loyal readers.

So mark your calendars: “Mother Mars” will come out on Monday, April 29th.  And it’s going to be awesome.  In the meantime, please enjoy this brief preview.

2.2 Mother MarsAn android appeared on the viewlink, its silver face glinting under perfect studio lighting.  An orange planet with angry, red bruises appeared over the android’s shoulder accompanied by the words “Tomorrow’s Mars” in bold text.

“That’s not Mars,” Snu said, frowning at the image, but the other academics shushed him.

“We now turn our attention to Mars, the fourth planet orbiting a star named Sol,” the android said.  “Less than a year ago, Martian scientists discovered chronomagnetic energy and began receiving our broadcasts.  We welcome the Martians to our family of viewers.”

Some of the academics burst into cheers.  Others called for silence so they could hear what else the android anchorman had to say.  Snu continued to study the small, dusty planet that could not be Mars, could not be the lush, verdant world where he lived.

“Today is the 500th anniversary of the Martian Scientific Revolution,” the anchorman said.  “It is a time to celebrate the past and look forward to the future, so in that spirit we now bring you this special report.  Tomorrow News Network journalist Talie Tappler joins us live from the future.  Talie, what will Mars be like in another 500 years?”

On the viewlink, a creature apparently called Talie stood in the midst of a rust colored wasteland.  She looked like an Earthling, though she seemed more evolved than the current species native to Earth.  She was significantly less furry, with only a crown of curly, golden hair atop her head.  She wore a midnight blue jacket and matching skirt.  Snu could not identify the fabric, but it was obviously manufactured–not animal skin–its quality perhaps superior to even the finest Martian textiles.

There was no denying it: Talie was a primate humanoid, as alien and ugly as any other Earthling, but when she smiled at the camera, her grin conveyed a sense of arrogance that transcended the barriers between species.  Snu guessed she would fit in among the academic class.  In fact, the academic class, the highest, most esteemed segment of Martian society, might be too base and lowly for someone like her.

“Thank you, Anchorbot 5000,” Talie said.  “We here at the Tomorrow News Network usually report on the major news of tomorrow, but sometimes tomorrow is just another day, and sometimes the day after is no different.  Tomorrows and tomorrows pile up on top of each other with little to distinguish them, but as time goes by, subtle changes accumulate, causing enormous effects.

“Just a few hundred years worth of ordinary days transformed the Martian landscape into what you see behind me, but don’t worry!  One day, twelve thousand years from now, Mars will have a second chance at supporting life.”

The video cut to a shot of the vastness of space, and the camera panned to that same little, orange and red planet.

“That is not Mars!” Snu said.  “Where are the oceans?  Where are the phosphorescent jungles?  Where are the cities and orbital space stations?”

The camera zoomed in, revealing the planet’s blemished surface.  Snu’s eyes fixated on a wide, jagged scar near the equator.  “That cannot be Mars,” he began to say, but his voice faltered.  He shrank back in his chair, carefully setting down his drink.  Snu recognized that scar.  Even without the rivers that ran through it or the patches of green surrounding it, he knew that place well.

A fleet of spaceships approached the planet.  As advanced as Martian science was, it had never produced ships like these.  Snu could not imagine the costs required to launch something so big and bulky into space, much less the nine big, bulky ships the viewlink now showed.

The video cut to a shot inside one of the ships.  Snu cringed, hearing the chatter of alien voices.  Dozens of Earthlings–not the primitive brutes of today but the refined species of tomorrow–crowded around a viewport.  One of the Earthlings made a comment, and the others laughed.  A few held each other.  Others playfully pushed each other around.  A pair of embarrassed parents chased after their children, but the children were having too much fun in zero gravity.  And outside, Snu caught glimpses of that lifeless planet with its distinctive, jagged scar.  As the Earthlings gazed upon the Mars of their present with eagerness and anticipation, Snu stared at the Mars of his future with increasing dread.

Talie appeared, her legs crossed daintily as she drifted about the room.  She began to interview the colonists.  One Earthling called Mars a lifelong dream.  Another wanted to tell her relatives back on Earth that she loved them and missed them.  A third said he was an exobiologist assigned to study Martian life.  Snu gasped with hope, but the man knew of nothing more complex than bacterial life on Mars.

“Bacteria!” Dr. Kikron yelled.  “Is that all that’s left of our civilization?”

The other academics echoed Kikron’s indignation.  They shouted at the viewlink.  Their brains, visible beneath their transparent cranial domes, swelled with rage.  A few stormed off, unwilling to hear any more.

Meanwhile, Talie’s report continued, her smug smile growing wider and wider as the Earthlings landed on Mars, constructed a biodome, and began cultivating Martian soil for their own vile-looking fruits and vegetables.

“The humans of this era have a saying about their new home,” Talie said.  “They say that on Mars, you can jump three times higher and the horizon is three times closer.  This is literally true, of course, since Mars is approximately three times smaller than Earth with one third of the gravity, but it’s also a statement of the unbridled opportunities this once dead world offers.

“Reporting for the Tomorrow News Network, I’m Talie Tappler.”

A scholarly attendant rushed in, his robe and headbands disheveled, his eyes wide with fear.  “My lords!” he said.  “We’ve received word of riots in the capital city!  The people believe the world is coming to an end!”

The academics hurried off to attend to their duties.  Only Snu and Kikron lingered.  The two rival scientists glanced at each other in a moment of shared apprehension.

The viewlink once again showed the sphere of Mars, a monochrome world devoid of life.  Snu turned away.  That jagged scar in the planet’s crust–it was a canyon, the largest canyon on Mars or anywhere in the Solar System.  Decades ago, Snu had made it the subject of his first scientific research, and he’d memorized geological charts of the entire region.  According to the Tomorrow News Network, the Earthlings would call it Valles Marineris, but the ancient Martians had another name for it, a name they still used despite its superstitious overtones.  They called it the Lips of Mother Mars.