Website of Science Fiction Writer Ron Collins

Dear Book I Am Working On

Dear Book I Am Working On,

Has anyone ever told you that you are a pain in the ass? I mean …

Yes, intellectually I know we both want this thing to all work out fine in the end. My brain tells me we’re on the same team, that you’re a perfectly good book and will come along just fine. But at this point my heart is seriously questioning if you’re actually on board. Characters change, sure. And when characters change, plot changes. I get it. You get it. I get that you get it. Okay?

I love ya, man, and all that. But this is getting ridiculous.

If you were an astronaut and I was your booster, I’m getting to the point where I would consider hurdling you out into deep space on a trajectory toward galaxy Blaghhhhhh. If you were a secret agent and I was your handler, I’m at the point where I’m debating just running you into a dead end and leaving you there for the bad guys to turn you. If you were a …

-…but, alas, you are none of these things.

You are a book. Just pages with word.

And I am the writer. I get to shoes the words. Kind of.

This means I will eventually win, kind of. I will. And it means you will win, too.

So, seriously, let’s get this pouting party over with and get on with the fun part, m’kay?



The Wrong Way to Write

“If Kris Rusch were sitting across from us right now, she would just shake her head and say I should have just started with a clean sheet,” I said to Lisa a few days ago. We were sitting in a pizza joint just off Thornydale and Tangerine. Lisa had asked me about the work I’ve been doing on this book of mine.

It’s a book I’ve been saying “won’t take more than a week or so to close up” about for about the last two months. And in truth it really shouldn’t be this hard. It’s a book I’ve been envisioning and working on for a long time, and a book that is comprised in part by three short stories I’ve had published by Analog. How hard can it be, eh? Just string ‘em together and be done with it, by God!

And, in fact, it’s a book I “finished” about three weeks ago.

Here’s the rub, though. Here’s the deal, the final truth—here’s the skinny, as it were.

As I was finishing this thing up, I went to see Mary Doria Russell talk about her new book Epitaph. Along the way, she said that she needs to know what every character’s first fourteen years were like, because for her those 14 years serve the foundation upon which a character’s story rests. I let this filter through me as she went on, and as the chain reaction of my thoughts ran its course I knew I wasn’t done with this book. In fact, I knew exactly what was coming—essentially a full rewrite.

So, yes, I probably should have just dumped the manuscript and went back at it from a fresh blank page. But, f course, I didn’t. And right now I’m paying the price. The work it takes to rewrite a book like this is painstaking—it’s like rewiring a city’s entire power grid one block at a time. But I have to say that as each part emerges again, I find I like it more and more. Of course, when one block is done, I then have to go back in to the next block and do it all again—which is becoming mind-numbing in its own way.

The thing is gonna give me PTSD, I’m telling you…

Bottom line: A lot of writers I know (including me) will tell you there is really no one “right way” to complete a manuscript. But, I can report with the utmost sincerity that if there is a “wrong way” to complete a story, I’m 100% certain that finding the real root of your main characters after you’ve completed the story qualifies.

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Two Whole Freaking Days?

When it takes you nearly two entire days to update your publishing financial data you can probably say several things:

1. Three months is too long between updates
2. You have a ridiculously complex and detailed system
3. Amazon has changed how they do some things since the last time.
4. It’s time to simplify, stupid

On the plus side, at least that’s done and I’m that much closer to being back into the standard flow–which is really what the last two weeks have been about. The house is coming together, slowly but surely. We’ll be getting a new couch set here tomorrow, so the house may actually look almost like a house most everywhere we look at that point.

Lisa’s working full-time, I’m ramping back up to my normal writing cycle (discounting the last two days, anyway.

So, yeah. It’s coming together.

Ron’s Most Excellent Adventure

A week ago I drove my little Miata across the country from Columbus, Indiana (just south of Indianapolis) to Oro Valley, Arizona (just north of Tucson). It was an interesting four days.

Of note is that my Miata is a rag top, and that with the exception of an hour or so when it rained I made the trip with the top down and the sun beating on me. So it was hot, but with the wind and the buffeting of the road it was not so hot. Besides, I’ve always been fine with being warm.

Miata-ColumbusWhat this means, however, is that the experience was different than many might have. I’ll call it a cross between a car trip and a motorcycle quest. There is, you see, a different physical sensation to being on the road when your top is down—I mean, really ass-on-seat being on the road; where you can hear, smell, and sometimes even taste the world around you. You begin to notice the quality of the road by the pitch of the whine your tires make as they sing against the concrete. You recognize a truck you’ve passed before by the grind of its pistons.

You smell grass. You hear your engine as it builds speed or goes quiet as you coast along down a long mountain trail. You feel that engine work in tandem with the brakes to slow you down.

I stopped at a bunch of places along the way. Lisa had made it clear that I should take my time getting out here. I think she wanted me to find sites I could take a day and go exploring, but I had a different mindset. I looked for “small” places, things that wouldn’t draw a million people a year, but that represented important qualities about us as people, and maybe even about us as Americans. And I wanted them to be places that doubled as rest breaks from driving—simple 30 minutes stops that felt important, spaced out every 3-4 hours of road time. In other words, I wanted to do things no one else would have thought about, but were really cool.

Here’s my experience.

Day 1: O’Fallon, MO—I left Columbus after lunch the first day, and made it just west of St. Louis where I met up with Tom and Rachel Carpenter for a fantastic dinner at McGurks (which I think is their favorite place). In honor of Lisa I had salmon, and I learned a bunch about how Tom and Rachel are thinking about building their business as writer, publisher, and cover artist (Rachel did all the covers on Saga of the God-Touched Mage). Tom is the author of the Dashkova Memoirs, which is a great historical fantasy/steampunk mashup. You should check it out.

Day 2, Stop 1: Carthage, MO/Joplin, MO—Up bright and early, I took a long jag to Carthage (nearly six hours…sheesh…this was the only stint of my trip that Google Maps totally mangled as far as timing is concerned). I came here to see the site of the first civil war skirmish after Lincoln invoked war powers. The battle was essentially over whether Missouri would enter the war on the north or the south, a question that was under very hot debate. It was a victory for the south, though it turned out that the result was not quite so convincing. Missouri would teeter on the brink of both sides.

The site is a little hard to find today.

It’s just a quiet little field that’s been made into a kid’s park, which I guess is interesting in its own way. They built a hutch under a ridge of trees to mark the goings on that happened here. I got out of the car and walked around the little field, and I read the history. It was a quiet place. Cool in the shade. As I stood there, I kept thinking how the mere idea of a US Senator leading a fighting force against the country so that other humans could be kept as slaves seemed so … strange. Like it should be science fiction.

But, of course, it wasn’t science fiction at all.

I walked down the street to get a picture of the gateway they erected to mark the place.


Day 2, Stop 2: Then I took a quick hour or so’s drive to Joplin, MO, where I did a drive-by of the house that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Darrow used as a hideout for a couple weeks back in their prime. In 1933 the story goes that police raided the place, and that two of them wound up dead. Undeveloped photos left at the site lead to Bonnie and Clyde’s eventual demise.

Joplin-BnCHere’s a brief video with the story:

I drove to the place, which is an active residence, and just parked on the side of the road to take this picture. Though the site is a nationally registered landmark, from the outside there’s nothing beyond that little plaque that you can see if you look closely enough to suggest any daring-do ever occurred here. It’s just a house with a flat built of stone behind it. Somehow, this makes the place just that much more interesting.

This is Bonnie and Clyde we’re talking about, after all. Maybe the last of the Wild West outlaws. Dillinger was Chicago-and-Elkhart mid-western, you see. And Pretty Boy Floyd was southern east-coast. But Bonnie and Clyde have a different feel. Their story is like a modern-day western with guns blazing against the wild-west lawmen and jalopies as horses. They operated in the “west” you see—not LA west, but Texas west. And Oklahoma and Louisiana and, yes, Missouri.

They were the last of that breed, and as I sat in my car and gave the place one more glance the fact that their hideout has seeped into the calmness of everyday life seems somehow appropriate.

Day 3, Stop 1: I spent the night at Tulsa, then hopped onto 44 to drive out past Oklahoma City and into Binger, OK—the boyhood home of Johnny Bench, the greatest catcher who ever lived (apologies to the recently deceased Yogi Berra). Binger is a little bitty place. Main Street has a collection of ten or fifteen buildings. A Shell station, City Hall, and an insurance place. A Mexican restaurant sits on the farthest street corner that empties out onto SR 152. It’s an open, dusty kind of place. It, like most of the Southwest, is pretty clearly a church-going, gun-toting kinda town. I would suggest they are not big fans of Barack Obama here. That said, the folks were friendly and open in an almost clichéd fashion. And, yes, it was hot.

My goal was to attend the Johnny Bench Museum, which it turns out is easy to get close to but a bit hard to find. It sits in the building that serves as city hall and sheriff’s office, but is nestled in with what I’ll assume is the town’s only insurance broker’s place. The museum was dark when I found it, but when I poked my head into the sheriff’s office the attendant walked me around the back and let me in. She explained a little about the sources of the collection, then let me free to browse on my own.

So it was just me and my best buddy Johnny Bench.

Johnny-BenchTalk about the American dream. A young kid from nowhere plays high school ball in a bunch of dusty ballparks and rises up to be one of the most successful and innovative players of all time. Innovative, you say? Yes. Ever see a catcher catch with two hands anymore? No, you don’t. That’s a Benchism. Anyway, I spent fifteen minutes looking at jerseys and bats and pictures and whatnot. I saw the signatures of Johnny, and Pete Rose, and Joe Morgan. Tony Perez. Sparky Anderson. It was great fun. Made me think of the times when I was twelve or so, and listening to the Big Red Machine on the radio.

Bench-JerseyDay 3, Stop 2: I left Binger and Ddrove a half hour or so down to Anadarko, OK, where I stopped in at the Southern Plains Indian Museum. (Thanks for the recommendation, Meg!). One is not allowed to take photos there, so I’ll have to do it justice with just these words. Bottom line: it’s a small place, filled mostly with contemporary art and American Indian dress, though I more thoroughly enjoyed a series of dioramas created in the 1950s by renowned artist Allan Haozous, who was born of the Chiricahua Apache tribe and had family ties to Geronimo, and who later took the name of Houser. For basic reference, members of this tribe were ones who, when they refused to move from New Mexico to Arizona as the government required them to do, were boxed into railroad cars and sent to prison in Florida. I’ll leave you to draw your own connections.

These histories are not really found in the Southern Plains Museum, though. The museum has a bit of a discussion about tribal migrations, but the whole thing is fairly light fare. Perfect for a fifteen-thirty minute stop, great for getting a feel for American Indian handicraft and artwork, but not deep on educational material.

Though I should say that there was one spot in particular—just a poster, really—tacked on the wall in the children’s section. It depicted the vast array of American Indiana tribes, where they came from, and identified in the language of the tribe itself. Hundreds of tribes. Hundreds of different types of people. Most of them gone now. All of them fundamentally changed by (as a few notations euphemistically noted) the “European influence.”

As I drove away, I was really happy to have found this place, both for the craftwork and for the opportunity to see Alan Haozous’s work. But just as much for the opportunity to think about what it meant when I went to school and learned about how American expansion moved across the wild and “unsettled” west. I was thinking about this as I got back on SR 152. I was thinking about it for a very long time, because 152 is stick-straight and goes on for a gazillion miles, and because there really was no traffic on that highway. It was just me and the harsh sage and the sun beating down. I could smell rock and dust. And then I got to think about it even more when I transferred to I-40, which is long and straight and nearly as sparsely driven. I thought about it all the way to Tucumcari, New Mexico where I spent the night.

The Southwest is a great big place, it seems, even now. There just aren’t a lot of people here.

Perhaps I’m guilty of simpleton thinking done of the modern age, but it seems like there ought to have been a way to leave the indigenous folks here without any problem.


Anyway, as a final thought on the day’s drive, I thought it was mega-cool to be wandering through northern Texas and see zero oil wells but probably eight huge wind farms. The times are changing, friends. Slowly, but hopefully surely. I know there are those who think these things are unattractive, but I am the opposite. I felt very science fictiony as I drove parts of this path.

Also, while photos are not allowed at the museum, Google is a great thing. When I got here I did a little looking. Here’s the map in question.

Here’s an article about the creation of this map.

Day 4, Stop 1: So I came to the last day, a ten hour day of driving over dusty roads in New Mexico, taking the proverbial left at Albuquerque, and eventually enjoying the gorgeous views of the twisting parts of I-60 that wind through what I’ll call the mini-grand canyon in the northeaster reaches of Arizona. That last portion was stunning in its beauty, stressful with its mountainous roads, and much fun to drive in my little Miata with its top pulled down.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My first stop was just west of Socorro, NM (or more appropriately, just west of Magdalena, NM—a tiny place whose name reminded me of the woman who once wrote Water, which was a ground-breaking blog before there were blogs, but I am now so totally digressing). Socorro/Magdalena is the site of the Very Large Array, which is the huge multi-dish radio telescope that covers a couple hundred square miles, and spends every minute of the day listening to space. You might have seen parts of it in Contact or in Carl Sagan’s work. It is very, very cool. Probably the highlight of the trip (though I should warn you, if you go be prepared—it’s way, way off the beaten path so you need to bring your own food and make sure you get gassed up before hand).

The last leg of the drive takes you three or four miles off of SR 60, along a tiny, crunching road that is technically concrete but might as well be gravel. I didn’t care, tough, because all I could see were the big, beautiful dishes.

I spent a good hour here. There’s a nice walking tour, with a bunch of stops. You can see a dish close-up, and you get a good overview of what radio waves are, how they travel through space, and how the system collects its data. In the visitor’s center, they show a 20 minute movie that’s pretty interesting if you’re into space and such radio projects. It’s amazing to think about how small we really are, and how little what we do really matters in the overall scope of the universe. Matching this experience with the drive through the Snake River Canyon was a good way to bring this whole thing to its end point.


My Big-Ol’ Summary: It rained as I was crossing into Arizona, so I had maybe 45 minutes of driving with the top up. It wasn’t nearly as fun. I couldn’t hear the wind in my ears, and the trucks didn’t sound as real as they should have. If felt distant. Like I was compartmentalized.

When Lisa and I get to a new city we like to walk around in it for a day. Just wander its streets. You get a feel for a place when you immerse yourself into it, and so we walked Chicago in the old days, and we walked Toronto earlier this summer. When I went to Australia, I spent several nights walking that city. During my drive through the rain, I realized that this is what I was doing while I was driving. Top down. Immersed. Or at least more immersed, or more in-tune with the ground around me than the usual car ride might let me be.

I saw a writer friend. I saw a place where the country fought over the right to own slaves (or, if you’re a States Rights kind of arguer, the right to do whatever we want, which most specifically includes own slaves). I saw an outlaws’ hideout from the last of the true wild lawless days. I visited the place where a great of the national pastime became who he was. I got a taste of the world from the viewpoint of the American Indian in the southwest. And, then, I saw what I hope to define the distant future.

Along the way, I drove highways and side-streets. I did twisting little things, and I ran along historic Route 66. It was a beautiful little drive. I’m glad I did it.

As I was driving, I found myself humming a song, of course. If you’ve made it this far, I’ll leave it here for you, in two forms:

While Ron’s driving, you get a deal

Go West, young man
(and you, too, Ron)

Whew. It’s been nearly three months, but the day has dawned. Tomorrow I should be heading west. Finally. It’ll take me four or five days to drive the distance. In celebration, I thought I would go ahead and put the omnibus edition of Saga on a steep 50% discount while I’m on the road! So, there.

Yes, from now until September 20th you can get a half-priced ebook version at the following places:

Amazon: US | UK | DE | CA | AU
Kobo | Barnes and Noble
CreateSpace (Print only … NOT ON DISCOUNT)

The time for departure draws near

The time for departure draws near.

The moving guys are scheduled to show up Monday to pack up. Tuesday we’ll load the truck. I’ll clean up a few loose ends, and then expect to be on the road heading toward Arizona sometime Wednesday. I am ready to go.

I was thirty-two years old when we bought this house, though since the builder was still putting it together when we signed away pretty much all of our savings it was only about half a house. This meant I had to keep making the 45-minute commute from Indy for a couple months before we moved in. I remember I would stop by the land pretty much every evening just to watch the place go up. I was here before the drywall went in. Before the stairs were installed. I saw it before it became a home. You can say, I suppose, that I saw this house’s bones. Pre-soul, as it were. It was November and December. I remember walking through the floor plan in the cold, picking my way through the open studs like I was edging through a tight forest of bare board. My footsteps echoed on hollow flooring, my breath billowed about me. When I see it in my memories it feels edgy somehow.

Those days don’t seem like very long ago.


I’ve been alone in the house for the past two weeks. This is because Lisa is already in Arizona, managing some work on the new place while I deal with the final process of disconnecting our lives from this one.

We’re downsizing. At that stage where we just don’t need so much stuff.

So over the past two months I’ve made a gazillion trips to Sans Souci (enough that the workers there got to calling me “the little red car guy” and would wave when I left, and call out “see you tomorrow!”). I’ve sold off a healthy collection of our furniture. Food has gone to the food bank. Some stuff has been trashed, a bunch more recycled. A big TV went to the local shelter for victims of domestic violence, as have several old cell phones. I’ve decommissioned an embarrassing number of computers. (11 machines for two people? Seriously?) The couch and a coffee table went to a used furniture store. Several pieces of furniture have gone to folks who paid pennies on the dollar for them (which I’m 100% fine with…we don’t need them, and we would rather someone get a great deal rather than have it go to waste). Painting is finished, as are the repairs (except that there’s always something left to do, right?)

It’s a remarkable thing to see all your stuff slowly leave the house. It’s like losing weight. You work your butt off, but at first you don’t really notice any difference. Then it suddenly gets to the point where every day something else is gone, and pretty soon you start to look around and the place is looking thinner and more open. The family room gapes, and the dining room seems three times bigger. Your basement office echoes.

So tonight I’m sitting here, essentially ready to go.

The back door is open. The night is getting chilly, and I can smell the after-effects of this afternoon’s rain. The sky is darkening. I’ve got a baseball game playing on the television. The Reds and the Cardinals are together but heading different directions.


I’ve found that for the past day or two my mind has been going back to the time when I was visiting this place every day. Just me. In the afternoon or evening gloaming, often similar to the sky outside now. I remember this sense of wonder the ground had back then, a sense of excitement. Maybe confidence? Our time in Columbus was just starting.

It’s been a beautiful city for us, really. Columbus has. It’s stuck in the mid-west and so it’s full of mid-western values—which are pragmatic and frustrating and amazing and staunch and sometimes given with begrudging tolerance and sometimes not so much. Columbus is small, but big. It’s comfortable. It’s diverse except for when it’s not. It’s full of smart people. It’s been a great place for us to be a family.

We lived in this house, which was built between farmland and a children’s park (the farmland was later developed, the park remains), and that now is so empty. How empty, you ask? Well, I have only a few places to sit. A couple stools, and a computer chair downstairs. That’s it. Oh, and our patio furniture. I can go out there and sit down, too.

So I expect I’ll go through much of the weekend standing. [grin]

I could reel off specific moments that happened here, but I won’t. They wouldn’t mean anything to you, so I’ll not bore you any more than I have. All I’ll say is that Brigid grew up in this place. I became a writer here. Lisa ran her business out of the basement of this house. We had cats.

When we came here, we had no idea this city and this house would become the place we will probably always think of when someone asks us where we’re from.

Then again, what does “from” really mean?

I was actually born in Arizona, after all. But until now I considered myself “from” Louisville. Yet, Columbus—and this house—has been our home. So I wonder what I’ll say when people ask where I’m from. I don’t know what I’ll say, really. I’m fifty-four years old now. Not thirty-two. So I all I can say is that I know a lot less than I once thought I did.

All I say with great certainty is that I’ll miss the place.

I’m writing this while standing here in my nearly empty living room. I have turned off the TV sound and I can hear crickets singing outside. From the road in front of the house, the solitary sound of a single set of tires grind on pavement. The refrigerator hums along. Air flows in the vents.

If I close my eyes and let my senses go I can hear the house moving. Its framework emits a thread of silence that feels like an electric field hovering just close enough to my consciousness to raise the hair on my arms and on the back of my neck. It’s whispering, I think. The house is talking to me. Saying goodbye, maybe. If I open my mind I can feel the wood of the house’s structure standing upright and firm. If I close my eyes I can picture myself walking through its walls back in the time when those struts were nothing but two-by-fours open to the world. I remember them. I remember the sensations that lay in those beams, the feeling of grain rough against the skin of my palm.

It was a feeling of anticipation, a feeling of the future.

It’s the same sense I get when I think of putting my behind into my car and pointing the front wheels to the west, out to Arizona where I’ll get to meet up once again with my parents, and with the love of my life—who I miss right now more than I can ever, ever, ever possibly convey. It’s the same sense I get when I hang up from a conversation with Brigid (like I did earlier in the day).

What will I say the next time someone asks me where I’m from?

That’s a real question that I’m sitting here grappling with.

People mean something specific when they ask it. Maybe I’ll say Louisville, and maybe I’ll say Columbus. Both of them work. I’ve loved being from both places.

But if I have grown to understand anything from being alone in this house for the last two weeks, it is this:

If I’m thinking right, when someone asks where I’m from I’ll tell them that I’m from my mom and my dad, who I’m so terribly excited about seeing again. And maybe I’ll say that I’m from my brother, who formed my early years—and from some friends. But if I’m thinking with an even more true read, and if I’m willing to sound perhaps a bit smooshy, I’ll say that I’m from Brigid (who, by merely existing and being who she is, probably changed me more than anyone else ever could). Then I’ll point to Lisa, and I’ll tell them I’m from her—that she is the one person who has made me who I am, and who, for me, is the person who changes a house into a home, wherever the heck that happens to be.

I loved this house, you see. But a house is just a house. And this house isn’t empty because it’s running short of furniture.

Yes. The time for departure draws near.

I’m looking forward to going home.


Of avalanches and voices inside the head

Before I quit my day job to do this writing thing full time, I was talking to a co-worker who asked if it is lonely to write. Yes, I thought, it is kinda lonely in a way, but it’s not so lonely in another way. That’s a complex thing to discuss, though, so instead I answered like this:

“Well, in reality,” I said. “I’ve always got a lot of characters running around in my head. So there’s always someone to talk to.”

As I recall, the co-worker suggested I might not want to admit this to a lot of other folks if I wanted them to think I was sane. [grin]

Anyway, against that backdrop: there I was, writing along today when one of my characters forcefully spoke up and made me tweak her political viewpoint from “the government should not impede a person’s freedom,” to become “the government should not impede a person’s freedom unless that person was impeding another person’s freedom.”

Actually, she made the change almost without me noticing it, but then I stopped and thought about what had actually just happened. If you think about it, this is a very big change of philosophy. I asked her if she was certain about this, and she just stood there with her arms crossed and said she wasn’t going forward without the change.

Suddenly, I realized this altered a whole lot about how I viewed the story. In fact made a lot of the issues I was having with mental constipation go away.

So, yeah. The change stays.

And I’ll file it away as one more piece of evidence (among the avalanche) that my characters often know the root of their own story better than I do.

Kobo cuts you deals for all my stuff!

Turning on the self-promotional voice …

It’s a happy Friday when Kobo decides to give 50% off for all my stuff! (Assuming, that is, you’re a reader in Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, or South Africa, anyway). I hear you, my friends. I really do. You’re asking me, “Ron, how does one go about getting this fantastic discount?” And my answer is this: you fill up your sales cart by clicking on the links below, and then as you’re checking out you enter:

Promo Code: SALE50

You can use this code multiple times from now through August 31st, so if you’ve been waiting for just such an event, this seems like a great time to pick up a copy of work like:

Saga of the God-Touched Mage (Vol 1-8) The entire series!
Five Days in May (with John C. Bodin) if racy SF is your bag
Picasso’s Cat & Other Stories my early short SF
Five Magics short fantasy

And if you’re interested in deeper browsing you could check out pretty much everything I’ve got on Kobo. The discount offer applies to everything.

Something better to think about today

The Hugos that could have been

SF writer Tobias Buckell has posted an exercise wherein he uses data from the Hugo process to develop a view of what the Hugo ballot would have looked like had the Rabid Puppy slate not been pushed.

It’s an interesting list on the whole, and one I recommend pursuing. I was particularly pleased to see Kai Ashante Wilson’s “The Devil in America” included, as I thought that was a totally kick-ass story and was slated to be my next Rongo Award winner had I taken time away from my move activities to continue the process. It is a bit of a challenging story, though. Hard to read, but not due to any lack of skill from the author—no. Just the opposite. It’s a very “dark fantasy” rather than work of science fiction, set, among other places and times, in and around post-Civil War America. It focuses on non-white characters, and it has zero ray guns. Clearly not the kind of story the Rabids would enjoy.

But if you want a story that moves, a story with a sense of dark magic to it, a story that is (yes) entertaining, and a story that will make you think about a lot of things, my guess is that you’ll find “The Devil in America” to be a very worthy read.

The other story I was pleased to see here was Eugie Foster’s “When it Ends, He Catches Her” (Podcast Version, which if you like podcasts, I highly recommend). I admit I hadn’t read this until now, but it is both quite moving and represents the community’s last opportunity to award her work. This is a touching story, one that could not exist without its science fictional conceit, but a story that owes its power, its purpose, and its value to the power of what love means.

These are both remarkable pieces of work.

We can always just kind of shake our heads at what the Puppies have done, and we can say it will all work out in the end. It will, of course. But among the real costs of their shenanigans and tomfoolery is that stories like these two (and others) lost the opportunity to be recognized. For that, it would be nice if we were all saddened.

A room full of silence

Waiting on a train, top-down selfie


My beloved wife is a fan of music. I am too. But I think just as much, she’s a fan of noise. By this I mean she does not really like to be in a room full of silence. When she goes into a room, music comes on. When she is going to go into a room, she makes sure the room has music on before she gets there if possible (oh, the modern wonders of wireless devices!). Since the time that we have been together, we have always slept with music on and the volume set low.

And I’m always fine with that. I like music, too.

But I also like my silence, or I like having regular sounds around me at times, and that includes something that I’ll call silence. For example, I drive without the radio on often because I like to hear the traffic around me. This is even better with the top down in my little Miata. I like hearing brakes, and squeaking cars and squealing fan belts. I like hearing the thump of music coming from the enclosed compartments of cars filled with kids or whatever. And, don’t tell Lisa this, but sometimes I even turn off the music when I’m home alone. The sound of silence is a unique sound, meaning it’s different everywhere. There’s a strong cycle to it in the basement, focused on the ventilation system or the furnace (depending on the time of year). The sound of the kitchen is a low hum augmented by any breeze scrubbing against the window.

I’m thinking about this right now because I recently heard a simple, but really fascinating podcast from Here Be Monsters on the subject. It’s titled “Fear of Silence”, and it’s some 14 minutes long. The conceit of the piece is built around what happens when an interviewer has to spend two minutes in silence with another person (the interviewee) in order to get a background sound check.

I loved this podcast because it made me think of what silence is.

Not, of course, that I have any answers.

But I thought you might find it interesting, and I thought you might be in a place of your life where spending a few minutes thinking about silence would be helpful.

The Hugos

If you’re focused at all on the Hugo Awards, by now you know that the Sad and Rabid Puppy slate was soundly defeated by an avalanche of “No Award” votes, and that the fallout is beginning to spin in multiple directions. This is, alas, almost certainly not over.

For those interested in the two spins, here is the Wired article, that paints one story, and the Brietbart article that paints the opposite.

Looking back on it all, my own take is pretty much this:

  1. The Rabids pulled of a feat worthy of a high school Sophomore by legally, but idiotically, stealing the nomination vote. Most people, in moments of clarity, would call this “pulling a dick move.” To them, this was equivalent to stealing your rival’s mascot the night before the big game.
  2. The Sads have been horrifically tone deaf to every element of the situation (though I believe them a little when they say their primary goal is to return the field to its laser-gun roots).
  3. The Sads’ tone deafness allowed the Rabids to use them as their mouthpiece.
  4. The Rabids are anarchists at heart, and consider anything that increases entropy around a case to be a “win” (as such they are, of course, declaring victory today).
  5. Being human beings, the Sads have now defended their stupendously flawed logic by doubling down on their position so many times that it’s impossible for them to acknowledge they were wrong—even if they ever figure out they were.
  6. The magnitude of the numbers pretty much show how out of touch they are.

I have no idea what will happen going forward. I suspect this is not one that will blow over, though. Larry C., Brad T., and their gang have pretty much burned whatever bridges there are to burn, so if there are long term ramifications to them, we’ll clearly be able to find out. My guess is that their fan base will grow due to the Trump effect if nothing else.

In the meantime, I see the voting results as a firm response from the SF world as a whole, a world that despite commentary to the opposite, is a broad thing. Yes, the historical core is getting older, but Fandom is not “old.” And the historical core leans heavily toward white and male, but Fandom is not “white and male.” Fandom is changing. It’s hard to quantify, but it’s getting to be a bigger and different thing than it ever was. I was smugly proud of the folks in Spokane this week. I liked that they stood as a whole and made a statement that was a firm rebuke to the Rabids (and by association, the Sads). It was the community standing up and saying: “Go away, Dudes. This is not how we play the game in my house.”

Take 35% off on Collins fiction at Kobo!

Interested in my short work? You can now get 35% off a copy of my short story collection Picasso’s Cat & Other Stories at Kobo this weekend. And, if you want a double-dose of Collins, you can get the same 35% discount on Singer, the first book in Brigid’s Songbird River Chronicles–for which, a little bird tells me book 3 will be out in the next few months!

That should keep you in reading material for a bit.

Just enter code AUGUST35 at check-out (use it as often as you like).

Here are the relevant links:

Picasso’s Cat
Other Kobo titles

“Fun” moments in moving

Moving after being in one place for more than twenty years is a lot of work, but it’s not like there isn’t some fun stuff in there, too.

Stuff like how today I got to go all “Hulk Smash” over four ancient Palm devices we could no longer power up.

Stuff like …

Uh …

Okay, that’s the only fun thing about moving after being in one place for more than twenty years. But, admittedly that was pretty fun.

A morning full of crappy writing

A view front our front porch

A view front our front porch

Today, for the first time in over three weeks, I sat down to write for real. Three hours. That’s what I scheduled, and that’s what I pretty much did (with only a small interruption in the middle). I sat in my nearly empty basement and pulled up my Work in Process, and I started in on it.

Let me tell you how much I sucked. I mean. Really. Really sucked.

I felt clumsy. I felt lost. I felt as out of touch as Donald Trump a room full of intellectuals. The words, they just kinda stuck together, you know? All I could bring to the page were simple thoughts and a few cool sounding phrases that almost meant something reasonable, but, sadly in the end, merely just sat there waving at me like a five year-old calling out “Look at me, look at me! I’m writing here! Look at me!”

Despite that, I’ve got to say it was a great morning.

So great that after this writing session I was happily picking up stuff to drive to Sans Souci, and jauntily tossing stuff in the trash, and humming along with Radio Paradise as I ate lunch and loaded up the car. Then—after dropping stuff off and recycling a printer cartridge—I carried that little wave of joy with me right on through to give myself a reward: Ice cream at Ritters (Reese’s Cup glacier with chocolate ice cream, if you must know).

Yes, this moving thing is a monster. Yes, it’s a high stress thing for everyone around. But at the end of the day life is pretty danged good in the Collins household right now, and a morning of crappy writing can be fixed, you see. In fact, it’s moments like this that remind me of two important things—first, that most mornings are full of crappy writing that must be fixed; and second, that a morning filled with crappy writing beats a morning doing just about anything else.

2113 Anthology Cover

I’m taking a break to catch up on some stuff this afternoon, and I’m quite pleased to show you the cover to 2113, an anthology of stories based on songs by Rush. You may remember that this volume will include a short story of mine titled “A Patch of Blue” (which is based on the ultra-cool song “Natural Science”).

I’m totally stoked about this one.

How stoked? Well … so stoked that if I had a time machine right now, I would hop in it and go back to a night in, say, 1980 when I would invariably be down in Charlie Stonefield’s basement with my brother, playing pool and using the cues to play air guitar along with Rush (among others). And when I got there, I would open my laptop and show me this cover and just watch myself go into fits when I learned that I would have a story in this thing. I’m grinning just imagining that now. I can see the guys high-fiving and cranking up the record player.

So, yeah. That stoked.

Here’s the cover, naked guy and all:

Wanted, Dead or Alive: Info on the SF Community in Tucson …

A month ago I posted about my planning process. In it, I wrote this:

A plan is just a plan. It is, by its very nature, the one way you can pretty much guarantee your project will not actually happen. I mean, seriously here … something is guaranteed to go wrong. Something will happen in a way you did not plan. This is the way of life.

In my case, the something has turned out to be this: we’re up and moving.

That’s right, after essentially fifty years living in the great mid-west, Lisa and I are now deeply into the process of moving our home out to the mountainous drylands of Arizona–just north of Tucson, Oro Valley to be precise. We have several reasons for this, but the greatest by far is that the house we’ve picked out is a grand total of one mile away from my parents. It will be more than great to spend some time with them again. It’s been nearly a decade since we lived close enough to them.

You can guess the drill that’s been going on here in Columbus since we made that decision: close on one house, get another ready for the market. Since Lisa has the main day-job, she spends her weekends identifying things we’re keeping and things we’re not. Then most of the intense implementation process clearly falls on my shoulders. I break the stuff down. I move the stuff. You get the idea. And since we’ve been in this house for 22ish years, we’ve got a lot of stuff. What this means is that for three weeks, 100% of my effort has been focused on the house. Trashing stuff, donating stuff, selling stuff, organizing, planning, re-planning, reviewing and signing documents, making a gazillion decisions. All day. Every day. For three weeks.

It’s all quite daunting. Half priced books has seen me four times. The entire gang at Sans Souci welcomes me back every day.

This means I’m not doing much email (if I owe you a response, I apologize…I’ll get to it, I promise!). It means I’m barely skimming things like Twitter and Facebook. It means I’m not posting. It means I’m not marketing work. And mostly, it means I’m not writing. My plan has been shattered into about a katrillion pieces.

Yes, it’s been a long, long three weeks.

Our actual move date isn’t final, yet, but it’s earlier than later—maybe mid-September? Dunno. I’ll write more when I know more. The light is at the end of the tunnel, though. The path is now fairly clear, and I’m optimistic of being able to actually get back to a manuscript at least part-time by Friday.

We’ll see if there still exist words in my head. I hope the keyboard still feels right.

Once I’m going in the right direction again, we’ll go back and see about that plan. [grin] In the meantime, can anyone tell me something fun about the SF community in Tucson?

The Walking Dead

Perhaps the biggest change in my life since I started writing full-time has been the fact that I generally sleep 7-8 hours a night. It turns out that this is a huge deal. I mean, it’s a major, big-assed deal. Yes, back when I worked the corporate desk I read all the scientific studies that described exactly how much damage I was doing to myself when I didn’t sleep enough, but I did what pretty much everyone else I knew who read those studies did.

I ignored them.

If you’ve followed me for the 20+ years this blog has been in existence, you’ll know that back then I was one of those guys who got up at 4:30 AM to do my writing. The job I had was one of those full-time+ kinds of things—you know, the basic gig where 40 hours a week is just the starting point of the negotiation. And, let’s face it, I generally loved my job(s). The work was fun and I could see its value. It was mostly interesting. I was dedicated to the company and the people I worked with. I did not half-ass my work, so sometimes that meant 70 hour work weeks. Other times it meant 50. Others maybe only 42. You get the idea.

And I have a wife and daughter, who I have always known I could not deal with losing. Ever. Which meant my evenings were generally spoken for.

So, yeah. Four-freaking-thirty. The alternative was to not write at all, and the bottom line for me was that if I chose a path that didn’t include writing I would then be, for the most part, considerably unhappy. So in my days as a corporate guy, I probably averaged four-to-five hours of sleep a night, with the occasional six or seven-hour night.

Add it all up and it meant that for much of my life I’ve walked around in a state of sleep deprivation. I was, as the New Yorker article I’ll link to at the end of this piece would say, a member of the Walking Dead.

I’m thinking about that right now because all day long today my attention span has been terrible. All day long I’ve been physically incapable of concentrating for long periods of time. My brain fought my attempts to stay on task. It slithered away from the pressure of thinking about hard decisions on complex word choice or other elements of twisting words onto the manuscript page. Every now and again I would catch what I thought was going to be a solid word-wave (you writers know what I mean), but I would inevitably be disappointed when that wave faded away all too quickly. I just couldn’t stay on the board, you know?

Looking at the past few days shows where the root of the problem is.

Today is Tuesday. Sunday night, with the soldiers of nearby Camp Atterbury machine-gunning away throughout much of the night, I couldn’t sleep (though I did manage about two hours of a nap in the early part or Monday morning). Then, of course, last night in Indiana was full of dramatic thunder, gale-force winds, lightning, and hail—which meant we got to bed quite late (past 1:00 AM), and received uneven sleep. Getting up this morning was like trying to pull Excalibur from the stone.

This means that for the past two days I’ve probably averaged about three hours of sleep. This is a major dip from my now-normal seven or eight hours.

I felt it in my work today. I felt it in the way my brain slithered out of the pressure of thinking about hard decisions as I tried to twist words onto the manuscript page. A time or two I caught what I thought was going to be a great word wave, only to find that I couldn’t stay on the board for very long. What work I manged to get done was (I think … I hope) good, but I can attest to the fact that I did not get nearly my normal production accomplished.

Bottom line here: Overall, today felt a lot like I was listening to an old cassette tape that was on its way to getting stretched out. You guys of the 8-track age know what I mean. I could make out the music and all that stuff, but it felt like it should be backing something by David Lynch.

It made me think about my friends where I once worked. It made me think about Lisa, my gorgeous better half who still works there. It made me think about the articles that recently ran in the New Yorker (which I highly recommend, and which I’ll link to below—thanks to Srikanth for the links). It made me realize that I am no longer walking around in a daze like I once was, and it made me wonder about how much more effective I would have been at work if I had not worked so many hours. The almost certain truth is that I would have been much more valuable if I had cut my work time an hour a day (and given that time to sleep).

This issue I’m feeling today will go away because I’m sleeping well overall. But I’m happy to experience a day like today because it serves as proof that those stories are right—I was clearly less productive today, and it was clearly because of my sleep patterns.

So, my friends who are still sacrificing sleep to work major hours on a routine basis, you can take my word for it that these articles are as spot-on as they are interesting to read:

Why Can’t We Fall Asleep?
Why We Sleep
The Walking Dead

A walk in the rain

Yes, I took a walk in the rain yesterday.

Yes, in the rain. A walk. Totally. By this I mean that it was raining when I left the house and rained for pretty much the entire two hours I was walking around in it. I got soaked. Water ran down my face and into my eyes. Water seeped through the jacket I wore. I walked along a road where cars drove by, splashing, tires hissing against the wet pavement.

When she heard I had done that, Lisa asked “Why would you do that?”

But I have to admit I had a good time.

It was a nice summer rain, after all. No thunder. No lightning. Just water against a gray skyline. It was warm enough to walk in shorts, warm enough that the dampness built a thermal barrier between my shirt and jacket that kept me comfortable. I took a path away from the roads, and strolled along the “quiet” of a woodsy area and some farmland.

Things smell different when it’s raining. Heavier, and thicker. The taste of the rain is colored by the taint of your sweat in a different way. The sound of your footsteps are softer, the calls of birds are sharper, and the color of the grass is a deeper green.

Sometimes people driving by in cars would give me a bit of a skewed glance. There I was, after all, a thoroughly soaked oldish guy in soaked jacket and black athletic shorts. Probably looked a bit ragamuffinish, A bit strange. But what did I care? It was fun, it wasn’t hurting anyone, and it gave me a chance to look at things in a different way than I normally look at them.

With everything else going on in the world right now, I’m left thinking that maybe more people should take a break and go walk in the rain.

My somewhat insane work planning process

Brandon Crilley recently linked me into a post he did about planning his writing activity during the summer period (he supports his writing habit by being a teacher in the real world, so he has to use his “down time” as efficiently as possible). I responded that I would write a post about my somewhat insane planning methods. This is that post.

At one point, I used to plan like Brandon does—relatively short term, and focused on creating new words. Before I started doing this full time, and before I broke my “business” into traditional and indie publishing activity, that process completely worked for me. But once I started doing this full time, I felt like I should look at the problem differently. Then, once I started the indie route for some of my work, I quickly came to the realization that I needed to get serious about planning.

Part of the issue here is that I work in a squishy world where the product is an element of creativity, and sometimes that process is hard to truly predict (unless one has a very firm deadline). Another issue is that, while I know people who work serially (one thing at a time) I tend to have multiple projects going at any one time, and they tend to be in very different stages. I also write short stories and novels (and have a small degree of a life). But the real truth here is that life as a writer and an indie publisher can get pretty complicated at times. Everything is simple, but there are a billion moving parts and only one me, so the complexity of this process can get overwhelming if I’m not thinking clearly about where I am and where I’m going at any one moment.

I’m also a project manager at heart, which means I can handle almost any level of ambiguity as long as I can put it on a spreadsheet or a Gantt chart.

Anyway, here’s what I do.

Bottom line, I break my work into three separate plans:

1) Year-out Plan: a rolling behemoth that includes all projects I intend to get to in the next twelve months. This is updated every month, of course, with a new month added at the end.
2) Month-out Plan: Basically a focused look at the current (or next) month as defined by the Year-out plan.
3) A WIN (What’s Important Now) plan: A day-by-day plan for what I’m working on this week. I structure this based on things I need to focus on in order to meet the Month-out plan.

Let me touch on each of these in order.


I have evolved this approach over the past year. My goal was to find something fairly concise (fits on 1-2 pages) that can let me see all the work I want to accomplish, as well as the timing of when it needs to occur.

What I’ve come up with looks like this: (click to expand)

As you can see, to fit my goal for planning, I’ve abstracted the high-level tasks a writer does while writing short work and novels, and abstracted the high-level publishing tasks an indie publisher does to create, manage, and launch their products, then laid them all together as items on the vertical axis of a spreadsheet. I then used the horizontal axis as my time flow. This feels very much like a Gantt chart—which makes me happy.

In order to see my specific projects flow better, I color code each work I’m doing. My latest, for example, was completing a novel titled “The Knight Deception.” This book was color-coded in green. My next work is reconfiguring two SF novels (Stealing the Sun 1/2), this work is color-coded in orange and red. By using this scheme, I can see at a glance how projects should flow both through time, and the creation/production process as time moves along.

Month-out Plan:

My month-out plan is really just a focused look at the current month. For example, when I look at the July column of my Year-out plan, I see I really need to accomplish five things:

1) Review the plot and structure of my Stealing-the Sun project.
2) Get a serious kick-start on completing the first Stealing the Sun book (to finish in August)
3) Finish up work on my short story “Running Tribe” (itself another rewrite)
4) Develop the full concept (TOC, etc.) of the short story collection I intend to put out in November.
5) Make a final pass at the print design of the new print design I intend to use while releasing the print version of “Picasso’s Cat” from Skyfox.

WIN (What’s Important Now)

This is where the rubber meets the road. I call it a WIN plan in honor of my last boss’s boss (yes, Srikanth, I’m looking at you), who used this concept to focus the organization on things he thought were important to keep touch with. He used them for bigger, over-arching initiatives. I use the label to identify things that I truly must do now to achieve my longer term goals.

At the beginning of each week I break my tasks into what I intend to get done each day. Of course, I have a form for this. Sometimes, I break form, and just go with a blank sheet of paper, but I like the form because it reminds me of the various categories of my work, and (since I put “Word Creation” at the top) it makes it abundantly clear when I’m kidding myself about my writing. It’s very important that writers create new words on a routine basis, but I’m like most writers I know—quite capable of pretending that all sorts of stuff that doesn’t result in new words are actually “writing.”

Anyway, here’s my form: (click to expand)

On the whole, when I do this well, I find that I generally achieve my weekly expectations (plus more). In the cases where I miss my targets, I move them into the following week, which brings me too …

Managing the Process

Throughout my life as a project manager, some folks I worked with would give me grief about the basic idea of a plan. “It’s never right,” people would say. “You can’t plan for development. You can’t predict invention. You can’t constrain creation!” Or, for another example, I was once at a writer’s workshop, listening to another writer describe his planning methods (some of which I’ve cribbed for myself), when a pair of writers pointed out (with some gently hidden, but good-natured snark) that his plan didn’t include possible acts of nature in it.

Of course, they were all correct. But that’s not the point of a long-running plan at all.

A plan is just a plan. It is, by its very nature, the one way you can pretty much guarantee your project will not actually happen. I mean, seriously here … something is guaranteed to go wrong. Something will happen in a way you did not plan. This is the way of life. So you have to realize that by planning things, you’re not attempting to actually predict anything. Nobody, including me, cares if something happens exactly as I planned it or not. What I’m attempting to do is to think about things the surround my work, and manage them in whatever way is optimal for me at the moment. I’m creating a guiding framework that will let me control the way I adjust my course when change (positive and negative) occurs.

My experience is that I miss many of my specific daily plans, but just taking time to think about my goals and jot them down makes the process an exercise in swapping out work between days due to random issues rather than because I just didn’t do something. I also find that I have to adjust my annual plan about every two months to account for new projects or slippages that occur due to life changes (or due to my optimistic planning model—yes, I admit that I often think I can get more done in the big picture than I actually do, so I sometimes need to slip my “schedule” out).

This is just fine. No one ever really beats me for missing a deadline (and in fact, even in my corporate days, the fact that I could talk with my boss weeks and months ahead of a potential schedule slip made it all work out better). Of course, I want to hit my plan or exceed it. But to me the important part of having a plan is that it helps me make wise and proper decisions that lead me to my goals—not that it act as some kind of whipping device if I don’t.

A Final Word

So, there you have one writer’s semi-insane planning process. I need to admit that I don’t really stop here. I, like many other writers, I suspect, keep fairly detailed records on how I work. On another spreadsheet (naturally), I log the hours I work every day, and the words I write or rewrite. This is how I know, for example, that I’m working easily 50+ hours a week (even though it doesn’t feel like work a lot of the time). It’s how I know I’ve done about 680,000 words of work this year so far (130K new, 550K in some form of rewrite…there’s a whole ‘nother blog post waiting to happen there).

It’s important to me to track this level of work, too. It makes me feel better to know if I’m spending my time well–and, in fact, I find that when I’m feeling uncomfortable about life in general, I can often point to my charts and graphs and see that these moments correlate strongly to times when I’m not creating many new words…which is interesting enough, eh?

Perhaps, though, that discussion can also wait on its own long and boring blog post.

Five Things I’ve Learned, +1

A couple days ago, I found myself reading Martin Shoemaker’s blog, wherein he discussed what he’s learned over the past few years. I got to thinking about that question. I’ve been doing this for … well … a long while, now. My bibliography says I was first published in October of 1994. You can do the math.

So, what have I learned in this time?

Of course, there are the things Martin talks about: persistence, how to stop giving up, writing often. If you’ve read my blog here, you’ve seen that stuff come up a bit. But, yeah, those are kind of givens. I mean, if you’re going to make it out of the early years as a writer, that stuff is your garden variety ticket out. And I definitely like Martin’s second item, too: “don’t stop learning.” In the past, I’ve also blogged a lot about things as I learned them—a lot of specific stuff like how to think about and use story structure, the value of grammar, how to deal with information flow at both the micro and macro levels, etc., etc.

So, yeah, there’s always something to learn. But, you know what? You can say that about almost everything that has any meaning. For example, I was always learning something when I was in my string of jobs in Corporate America ™. I actually enjoyed that aspect of things quite a bit. Dealing with people means you’re never really sure of anything, and there’s always something to learn.

But still something seemed amiss.

While I liked Martin’s discussion, I got to thinking about it more deeply than those kinds of things. What, I asked myself, beyond these “basics” (ha!) have I really learned about being a writer? Seriously. It really got to me. I’ve been thinking about it since I read Martin’s post, and I think I’ve come up with the right answers. There are five of them. Five things I have learned. I will write about them here in my inimitable free-form style, and then see if I can summarize in the end (assuming I remember to, anyway).

Perhaps the most important thing I have learned is this: When I sit down to write, I need to remember that I’m making art.

Yes. That’s it. The act of writing is making art.

Perhaps you think this is a stupid statement. Maybe you don’t think writing is an art (I know people, writers even, who don’t actually think this), or maybe you take it as such a given that writing is making art that I shouldn’t have to state it. Maybe you look at my statement and just kind of scratch your head and shrug. But for me this was an important realization, so important that I have to remind myself often.

It’s this realization, for example, that led me to completely understand my next learning, which is this: Words are not important.

That’s right. Words are not important.

All right, I hear you saying. Now I know for certain that I’ve had enough of this idiot. Words are not important? To a writer? Seriously? It’s time to put this Collins dude onto “ignore mode.”

And, you’re right. But, like Martin said, I’m a writer and writers lie for a living. So, this is a lie (except for the fact that it’s also the truth). What I mean here is that I’ve learned that the words I use as a writer are only important in that they are essential to the form. They are tools like colors or the selection of oils vs. watercolor are to a painter. Or, if I can go out on a limb, a writer’s relationship to words is like that of form and stance to a dancer.

You cannot be a writer without using words, but creating words are not the point.

The point is that you’re making art—or at least trying to. You’re working your ass off to create a series of impressions and thoughts and questions and emotions inside the people who are your audience. The words are just the things you’re using to create that series of things I just laid out. In this light, I don’t want to pick the right word just for the word’s sake. I want to pick the right word because I want to control the sense or image (or whatever) that I’m planting in a reader’s mind.

It’s a fine line of a difference, but it’s a difference—and, for me, understanding that difference has been a very important thing.

The third thing I’ve spent time fretting over is the piece of transitive logic wherein I say if writing well is the hardest thing I’ve ever done (which is something I’ve often said), and if writing is making art, then making art well is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I am here today, of course, to say this isn’t correct.

Actually, what I’ve learned is that doing art is incredibly easy, as long as you can actually let yourself do it. Making art is a strange thing. It requires only that you be brave enough to actually touch the things that are inside you, then get out of the way and make them happen.

This is the point behind Amanda Palmer’s quotable quote of her song “Ukulele” (Quit the bitching on your blog, and stop pretending art is hard…), which I totally love for everything strange and wonderful about it (and which I’ll embed below).

For me, “writing” becomes “making art” when I am able to let my characters say and do what they want to, regardless of whether I would ever actually say or do these things. It’s cutting into that vein of thought and existence that lets me write characters and events that might actually scare me if other people heard them coming from my mouth. It’s not letting concern for what people might say get in the way of making my points and my views filter through the work I do—letting ugliness in characters stand as they need to stand, or allowing pain to exist, or … well … whatever.

And, sure, it’s about words. Picking the right ones to create the right images, etc. But, screw it, you know? The words only matter if they create images, ideas, and other stuff that make a difference. The words are yours, of course. But, in a very real way, so are the images. In fact, in the end, you are your art’s own first audience. If your art doesn’t speak to you, then what’s the point?

The problem, of course, is your relationship to the rest of the world.

The surest way for me to get cranky and blocked up and unhappy with my work is to reach a point where I pull back merely because I’m worried someone might not like what I’ve done, or if I reach out and touch something important to me, but then decide not to include it because it’s too personal or too sensitive, or that I might somehow be embarrassed of it. This is death to me.

This learning then gets tied up with my fourth lesson, which is this: Stories that matter are about things that are important to me, and things that are important to me—even highly positive, bright and shiny things—can feel scary at their cores.

I have to constantly remind myself to be brave here. When I write about things that are important to me, I can let my fears about how the world will judge me keep me from making art that matters.

For example, these feelings of anxiety can show up all over the place when I write “the other” or write about cultural issues. As a white male I suppose it’s only natural that I can get tied up in knots when I attempt to write from the point of view of (let’s say) an African-American female (what if I get it wrong?). These feelings of fear and doubt can come out when I write characters who are not me in a billion other ways, too, of course. I have learned that I need to face these situations straight-up, and that I have to dive into them even if they don’t feel totally like me, and even if it scares me to put them out there (or especially if it scares me to put them out there).

Which leads me to my last learning, which is this: try as you might, you cannot control what reactions you’ll create in the people who consume the art you’re making.

Everyone is different. There will be, for example, those who will listen to Amanda Palmer’s “Ukulele” (which I referenced above) and absolutely hate it. But I love it. In that same light, I’ve had had stories what received both glowing reviews, and reviews where it was clear that the reader wasn’t certain if I understood what I was doing. Lois Tilton, for example, recently reviewed my story “Tumbling Dice” in Locus in a way that I really loved, even though she was clearly antsy about the work itself. “Tumbling Dice” is essentially a re-telling of the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street, so it’s gritty and unflattering to its characters. They are not particularly nice people, even though they are working their way through their lives as best they know how. While other places reviewed the story quite positively, Lois wasn’t so convinced—but even as she was rubbed the wrong way, she pegged the characters well, and apparently walked away at least feeling something off-kilter about them, which was great, in an odd way. [I am, BTW, a fan of Lois’s reviews—I’m not here to say she was wrong or inappropriate in anything she said about this, or any other story of mine.]

So, yeah. That’s what I’ve learned about writing. Five lessons. Here they are again:

1. The words aren’t really what matters
2. Writing is really about making art
3. Making art is easy, as long as you let yourself do it
4. Stories that matter are about things that are important to you
5. You cannot control how anyone reacts to the impressions you create within them

Oh, and one more thing I’ve learned—which may even be the most important thing of all. When I sum it all up, I have to admit that even now (after all these years) I can rarely ever say if anything I’ve made is “good” or not (see #5 above), but I’ve finally come to the point where I always know whether I’m proud of it.

And in the end, I think that’s the whole point.

“The Colossal Death Ray” hits Galaxy’s Edge.

Very happy to note that my story “The Colossal Death Ray” is the lead story in this issue of Galaxy’s Edge.

This story is actually a bit of a favorite of mine because it came to me in what was essentially a single sitting (with another pass or two rub out some raw edges here and there). This kind of thing doesn’t happen too often with me, so I need to enjoy them when they arrive.

That said, this issue is also a favorite of mine, merely because of all the other really cool writers you’ll find inside its pages. It’s also pretty cool because you can read it for free and all that. So, uh, yeah … go forth and get to it!

Leadership, and the need to “prove yourself”

As we often do while we walk together, Lisa and I were recently talking about the framework that work happens in under in the corporate environment. At some point we talked about the fact that there is this need to prove oneself upon entry into a new environment before a person is accepted, and along the way I said something about what a terrible shame that is—that managers who set this kind of environment are making a mistake. She argued my point, though, saying it’s completely understandable that a new person needs to prove themselves before being fully included in a group.

I’ve been thinking about this a bit since then, and she’s right … except that I’m also right.

A team will never fully accept someone who doesn’t do the job, that’s true. This is the root of things like “probation periods,” or initiation rites, or other such things (dare I suggest this idea is the root of hazings?). That is the way it is, and most of us humans “get” it because it’s quite logical. “Sink or swim, buddy,” this concept says. “I don’t care what you did anywhere else, you gotta prove it here!”

But, seriously, a good leader does NOT think this way. A good leader sets expectation, of course, and a good leader delivers results. But a good leader assumes their selection process has found a valuable person, and then does everything they can to make sure the team member is safe and in an emotional place where they can do their best work. That’s it. It’s 100% of the real job description of leadership. When I was managing people, I cannot think of a time when I ever expected a person to prove themselves, unless we were already having performance problems (which is, of course, a different case).

The need to prove yourself is a stressful thing, you see? Stressful in a negative fashion. And a manager/leader’s role is to reduce negative stress (and increase positive stress).

In this light, this afternoon I watched a couple TED talks. One I thought was quite good, and the other I wish I had actually written, because it is almost word-for-word the way I think about things. (At one point, a boss of mine asked me to write a paper on what it would take to create a “job for life” kind of company. I don’t remember what I wrote about, but this is it). This has become one f my favorite TED talks…if you are a leader, I strongly recommend you watch it. As you watch it, think about how this concept pretty much refutes the whole “prove yourself” concept.

The first talk (which I felt was good, and also touched on the whole “prove yourself” concept) is here:

A day in the Northern Guard

Advance Notice
This is a very long post about my day with the Northern Guard—a supporter group associated with the Detroit City Football Club. Given the general tone of my blog and the readers I generally attract, I feel the need to tell you that, while it is certainly possible to write a post about the Northern Guard without the use of profanity, it strikes me (for reasons that may become more obvious as I go) as wholly inappropriate to do so. You may take this as a warning if you so desire.

The experience of a DCFC match has been described in other places as “electric.” And it truly is. If you live in Detroit, you should go see one.

As you may have been able to tell from my twitter feed, Lisa and I were in Detroit this past weekend for a football match. Or, more specifically, we were there to live a day as … uh … honorary members (if there is such a thing) of the Northern Guard Supporters, a collection of semi-hooligans (more on that word hooligans later) who cheer for their beloved Detroit City Football Club. The opposition on this day was provided by the Madison 56ers, who may as well have been wearing Washington Generals uniforms for all the chance they had.

We came across the Northern Guard because my son-in-law, Nick (who you might say is a football enthusiast in the same way that the cast of the Big Bang Theory are into comics), is deeply involved with the Northern Guard in pretty much all ways possible. He and Brigid have a great time at all the games … er … matches. [Please note: To be a proper fan is to use the proper language. The event that happens on the pitch (not field) is a match (not a game). We shall be clear on this, got it? And, yeah, for the record, it is truly “football,” and the Northern Guard are not “fans.” They are “supporters.” It’s important. Trust me on this, my American friends.]

What’s important for this post, however, is that you understand that the Northern Guard is a supporter base unlike pretty much anything else that exists in the US.

Oh, I’m sure there are parallels in other places—local groups that feel such ownership of their team that they attempt to bend the club to its own will a bit, groups who set and enforce expectation as if they are actual coaches or owners, folks who do the background work, collectives that serve to metaphorically ground the team itself into a specific place on the Earth, and make sure that folks realize that this is not just a team or a sport we’re talking about, it’s a goddamned, motherfucking way of life and unless you want a horn blared right in the old kisser you won’t pretend any different. Got that? The general family friendly section for casual supporters is fantastic and everybody loves it, but don’t come over to the Northern Guard’s side unless you’re willing to deal with 90 minutes of singing, cheering, chanting, drumming, smoke bombing, jeering, taunting, swearing, dancing, celebrating, and the general making of much noise. And that’s just during the match.

The experience of a DCFC match has been described in other places as “electric.” And it truly is. If you live in Detroit, you should go see one. The event, the actions in the stands as it is tied to the action on the pitch, is this weird, frenzied, spectral dance between players and fans. The Northern Guard is a lifestyle, however, that extends beyond the stands. It doesn’t start when the first pass is made and does not end when the final whistle blows. After hearing Brigid and Nick discuss the group for the past couple years, I was looking forward to finally experiencing the whole thing.

What I discovered was such an interesting, amazing, at times intimidating, and dedicated collection of people that I’ve felt the need to write a bit about them. So today I’m trying to capture something more than what it’s like to attend a game. Today I’m trying to capture the essence of what this community is about. What makes the Northern Guard work, how its tie to the city itself (above and beyond the team) makes it so, so unique. If you’re already aware of this group, this may be old hat, but the intended audience of this post are those folks on the fringe who might be interested, might be wondering just what all the fuss is about, or might be willing to put a toe in the water if they can get a handle on it. We’ll see whether I can do this justice, but I’m going to try my best.

So, what follows is a long and wandering discussion of what it’s like to be an “outsider” who enters into this world for a day. It’s going to go everywhere because I’m just going to let it sprawl, which seems like the only way to really do this right. For some it’ll be TLDR (or already has been). But for others—folks who want to get a feel for what it’s really like to step into something weird and wonderful and big and bold and maybe even a little obnoxious and threatening—this will give you an idea of how I saw the pageantry of what goes on both behind the scenes and out in the open over the course of the day. The NGS, you see, is a very complex beast, and what you see is not always exactly what you get—unless, that is, you truly see.

Since I suspect this post will be seen by a few folks who are not usual Typosphere readers, and since I’m not 100% sure exactly where this day-long diary will take me, let me start by noting that I am a 54 year-old Skiffy writer who spent a lot of time in corporate America, but also has lived most of my life with one foot squarely in the geek culture of software coding, comic books, science fiction, and other such silliness. I am an extroverted introvert by nature (take that MBTI). This means I’m a little stodgy, but also love things that are often seen as being off-kilter by friends and other folks who hail from the more mainstream lanes of life. It’s fair to say some of my acquaintances don’t totally get me, but that’s okay. I am an engineer, an IT guy, and a HR wonk, but one who understands the real purpose of old-school DnD. I get paid to write sword & sorcery. I get paid to write hard SF. I attend SF conventions and love watching my geeky fan-mates do their LARPing and their masquerades, and all their cosplay-like things. I like “the other,” even though sometimes I don’t totally get it. The fact that “the other” exists will generally make me happy.

Anyway…enough about me: Let’s get to the real stuff.

After driving up to Detroit the night before, the day started by donning my first official DCFC t-shirt, provided kindly for me by Nick.

It is important to note a few key things about this shirt. First, the colors. It is vital to understand that this shirt is NOT maroon and gold, nor is it burgundy and yellow. These colors are ROUGE and GOLD. The team is sometimes known as Le Rouge, not Le Red nor Le Maroon. Rouge and Gold.

It should also be noted that I still need work on the scurvy scowl. Brigid said I fit in fine, but clearly I’m a rookie in this department. Regardless, here were some of my poor efforts at pre-game prep:

Yeah, I know. Weak-asssed. Shrug.

So, the kiddoes pick us up in the morning and we head to the event. While the match won’t start until 7:30, the festivities begin much, much earlier. Nick, being a NGS big-wig, wants to be there to help set-up, and we’re worried about traffic due to road closings, so we go pre-lunch early. Along the way we talk about football in Detroit, and the various front office shenanigans that are working in the background. DCFC plays in the NPSL (National Premier Soccer League), but the US football terrain is changing rapidly as the sport takes real hold here. As is usual, the inner core of the Northern Guard has some pretty staunch views on how the team should pursue expansion. There are warring factions in these waters, and the Guard’s leadership intends to work their tail off to make sure the squad retains its flavor. It appears, however, to be a tenuous period with money (naturally) being a key question everywhere.

It’s clear, though, that the Guard’s presence makes a real difference in the business dealings of the team and the city. DCFC and the Guard have a well-correlated track record of consistent growth over three season—and, in fact, today’s attendance, which will register in at over 3,500 people and consist of the chock-full NGS section and a considerably full family section, is a new record. I note that the attendance number was barely buoyed at all by the scant few Madison players’ parents that they brought… hehehehe … inside joke there, which I can tell, since I AM an insider for a day.

Anyway, as Nick drives us to their place I get in my first dig at the opposition, a sly “Madison Sucks” slipped into an otherwise innocuous tweet. I almost feel like one of the crew.

After only a bit of a drive, we arrive:

Harry’s is hot territory because it’s close to where the Tigers play, and near the convention center (I guess). Regardless, one of the reasons we get there early is to reduce competition for parking. It works! It’s a great place, complete with a big ground-level room, pretty good food, and a cool open-air upstairs.

We get lunch while other, less-rabid supporters dawdle. I have to admit I wonder about the dedication. I mean, not a single over-night camper? Tsk, tsk, tsk. On the other hand, when I think back on the gathering of folks and the raw Detroitness of the supporter base, I actually wonder if perhaps many of these people don’t actually exist in real life., but instead slip out of the multi-dimensional quantum muck of time and space at the appointed time. Could the average NGS supporter be like a soldier in one of those old WWII comics I used to steal from my uncle, like ghost brigades that appear out of the mist of Detroit’s streets to slide fully formed into their personal bar seats at Harry’s with a pint of Le Rouge already poured before them. This would explain why no one actually seems to arrive at Harry’s so much as that the gathering just begins, then over the next couple hours ramps up to a solid buzz. All I can say for sure is that it’s not too long before the place is crammed full of people clad in Rouge and Gold, beer is flowing, food is rolling out of the kitchens, and the poor wait staff is hustling like mad. (Well, I can also say that the idea of the skull-clad NGS as lingering remnants who appear out of the bowels of the city in time for a few beers before the match could make for an interesting series of comics, but that’s not the point today).

So, to sum it up: First lunch

Then beer:

Along the way, one of my twitter posts get a pitch-perfect welcome from the gang:

A moment here to talk about that twitter tag (#DCTID). It stands for Detroit City Till I Die, and is the Guard’s motto. Truthfully, this motto says everything you need to know about this group. I mean, to give an honest opinion here, after spending time with them I would say the Guard is not really a football supporter group.

Yeah, I know how asinine that might sound. Sure, the NGS’s culture is completely built around a football team. But when I watch what’s happening here, I see the Guard is about Detroit first, this specific organization second, and football as a whole third. Perhaps I’m speaking out of school, but I also think it’s fair to say that the “football as a whole” part of this includes pretty much all of international football except other teams in Detroit. To the Guard, Le Rouge is Detroit football, but the NGS is Detroit. And I may be wrong here also, but I get the idea that some percentage of the Northern Guard shows up primarily because they love being with the Northern Guard, meaning that for this sliver of the crew, the existence of a football club who happens to play in the area is secondary to the feeling of being City Till I Die.

If you want to understand the Guard, this is important.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, perhaps because I see such similarities between the overall culture of the NGS and that of my science fiction fans. In order to truly “get” an SF convention, for example, one has to understand that Fandom embraces those who embrace Fandom, and can be quite pointed to those who do not. A writer is not always so embraced, for example, but a writer who can embrace fandom will always be included. Not to open another can of worms, but today’s whole Puppy/Hugo fiasco is deeply influenced by this behavior and the fact that assholery is a trait that is spread evenly across all denominations.

Anyway, as I was saying, though the Northern Guard is its own community with its own flavor that is different from my beloved Science Fiction Fandom, they are similar in that the Guard embraces those who embrace the Guard and will be quite content to ignore, ridicule, or completely shit on anything that rejects it. As they say, “You don’t like us. We don’t care.” Science Fiction fandom would generally not be as outwardly direct as that, but the basic concept probably matches.

So, I figure that in reality, while the NGS is crazy-passionate for their team, the Guard cares for its own before it cares about this football organization. I’m guessing that if push came to shove, and lines absolutely had to be drawn, the rank order would be (1) Detroit, (2) The Northern Guard, (3) DCFC (4) All of football (except, of course, other teams in Detroit).

Wow. I just did 450 words on a simple run-off from the #DCTID tag. You guys must be bored to tears. Sorry about that.

But the whole “#DCTID thing is, perhaps, the key to understanding this culture. For those who don’t actually pay attention or don’t completely absorb the essence of this motto, my guess is that the Northern Guard is a deeply confusing thing. The Guard (as you’ll see) is very loud. Its a rambunctious group. It is, by design, intimidating. There are big folks in this group. They are young and energetic. Like my Skiffy brotherhood, it’s tattooed and it has people with piercings and creative hair colors. People dress extravagantly. They flash colors. They bang on drums and get loud. They wear skulls.

As I was walking along in the march to the pitch (which I’ll get to later), I asked one of the founders if he got requests to help build a culture like theirs in other football communities around the league. He said, yes, but they never really worked well. This makes sense to me. The Northern Guard, you see, did not come about because of anything the DCFC organization did. It came about in the same fashion as SF Fandom did—it was built by this core of people who run it, and so it has their loves and their personality. That may change as it grows beyond their ability to “control,” but today, the Northern Guard is a strong, tight-knit group of folks who have a deeply personal flare.

In that same march, a few talked about their view of themselves. One of the guys addressed the issue of hooliganism and (I’ll paraphrase, here) basically said the Guard drew the line at physical confrontation. “We’re not hooligans like people think of when they imagine unruly supporters. No one here is going to hurt anyone.”

This completely fits them, but to stop there would be a disservice.

The Guard, in addition to being an imposing force that wills their team to victory (and helps destroy the opposition), is deeply about the community. They raise money for charities, sponsor inclusion, support the military, support schools, and champion LGBT issues. Before the match they will lead the crowd in a bellowed a Capella rendition of the National Anthem. This is a group of people who are committed to helping people—as long as you don’t wear an opponent’s kit (or, presumably, as long as you don’t get in the way of them doing whatever they want to legally do). So, yeah, I’m sure the ambiguity is hard for some to understand. But me, I’m a skiffy guy. I get nerdy, extroverted introvert, inclusionary groups of good-hearted, loud people who also defend their turf to the death.

Holy crap … I just did another 450 words on #DCTID. Seriously, Ron, it’s time to move on.

Deep breath …

So, somewhere in the afternoon, another cool thing happened. Some of the DCFC players stopped by the bar to be with the Northern Guard. This does not happen everywhere, you know?

“We’re expecting a goal from you today,” one of the Northern Guard told one of the players. The player gave a light-hearted response, and the supporter made sure he knew there was no joke there. “We expect six before the day’s out. Madison’s terrible.” Nick (I think) said the team should get ten goals today. “Yeah,” the other Northern Guard member said. “Ten or we riot.”

The supporter then talked about the individual chants they had for each player, and one of the players looked over his shoulder and said “I don’t know where you get all these chants, but I fucking love mine.”

Yes, my friends. The Northern Guard loves the team, and the team, in return, loves the Northern Guard. This kind of interaction is pretty damned cool. It’s the kind of thing a sports organization would die to create, but is always at a loss as to how it happens—mostly because they don’t understand that they can’t actually do anything to create it beyond just supporting the fan base and letting them do essentially whatever they want (which is, admittedly a bit dangerous in today’s modern, litigious society … still, that’s the magic IMHO, FWIW).

As I said earlier, though, Nick and the NGS leadership work hard to truly support the team. Key word there: work. This goes way, way, way beyond showing up at the match with a couple pints in them and screaming loud obscenities. It begins … well … it begins before it begins. About three hours before match time, I went to Cass Tech (the team’s home pitch) with the crew, where we proceeded to string up various banners and whatnot.

These are invisible things, you know? When the casual fan enters the stadium and sees the banners and signs across the fences and other barriers, they don’t think about how they got there. People don’t see the thought it takes to design the experience, or the work it takes to put it in place. Rituals like this don’t just happen because someone wakes up in the morning and drops a tweet to everyone saying “let’s do something cool today.” Through the walk to the stadium and throughout the set-up, the gang talks about the event, and other activity around the league. It’s like they are in the early stages of ramping up, too. For them, this part of the process is as important as any other. Setting up the stands engages a new gear for the day.

I should note here that the field itself belongs to a high school program. Its stands, it turns out are barely big enough to hold the entire crew that will show up today. One of the items on the agenda for both the owner and the Northern Guard is working on an upgrade. Regardless of all the other business gunk going on around football, the league, and the teams in Detroit, it’s clear that DCFC will soon outgrow its confines.

Bottom line on set-up: it was a great day and I managed to help get stuff put up without embarrassing Nick too much (that’s my side of the story, anyway). Much fun.

We then made our way back to Harry’s and …

Holy crap was it crowded.

Let me point out the dude with the scarf in the picture above.

Scarves are a big deal here. Never mind that it’s June and semi-warm, everybody wears them. If you look closely, you’ll see a few more. In addition to being quite fashion-forward and spiffy, the scarf is used as this weird combination of flag, uniform, and pom pom. They come in lots of Rouge and Gold configurations, with several phrases stitched into them (including, natch, things like “City Till I Die”).

They are also, it turns out, the primary defense against smoke bombs. I happen to be borrowing a gas-mask from Nick for this event, but as the day progresses, I will come to realize that the phrase “scarfs up!” really means “light the goddamned smoke bombs!”

The March

Okay, I’m nine pages into this thing, and I’m just now getting to the actual lead-up to the actual match. At this point, it’s clear to me that what we have here in the Northern Guard are your garden variety kind of crazy people. I mean, who in the heck does this kind of stuff for what is essentially an amateur football team? Seriously? What are these folks whacked-out on?

Of course, I’m the one who drove five hours to get here, so you should probably take my opinion for what it’s worth.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the match starts at 7:30, so the entire pre-show is leading up to the pinnacle of the process—the march to the pitch—which starts thirty minutes ahead of time. It begins in the street outside Harry’s, and comes together when the ringleader stands up on a car, and begins to wail into a bullhorn.

The bullhorn guy is named Sarge, BTW. He asks the downtrodden supporters to think back moments this work week when their bosses got on their cases unfairly, or when they got screwed over by a friend, or whatever, and he suggests that all that anger and fury get built up and unleashed on poor Madison. It’s all done tongue in cheek, btw, and there is much laughter and many smiles. But the crowd is wound up, and quite honestly, at this point Madison players are already metaphorically facing a two goal deficit.

Here is a Marcher, with smoke:

The march then proceeds.

Let me explain what the March feels like.

Take a drum, pounding, and place it inside your head. Take a couple hundred voices screaming in unison and put them in a ten-wide column. Put them all in a false valley made of concrete buildings on either side of the column, and then walk it through your neighborhood. When this kind of thing happens in a full stadium, people think it’s pretty cool. When it happens in the streets, it’s like nothing else. The only comparison I can make would be how I would imagine a jazz funeral march in New Orleans, but different.

As you might figure, the whole march is loud as Fuck.

For a small clue of what this sounds like, here are a couple crappy recordings I made (along with direct links for those whose browsers don’t support the shortcode player):

Here’s one we sang while we marched:
And another when we arrived: (content/language warning)
(On Arrival)

And there’s smoke. OF COURSE there’s smoke. The Northern Guard apparently will not take a squat unless smoke is involved.

You can tell this is a spectacle in itself because there are people lined up just to watch it unfold, and when the column makes it to the stadium, people line the top of the bleachers to look down and take it all in. This is apparently not unusual. The Northern Guard is a draw unto itself. By that I mean that there exist people who come to the match in order to watch the supporters as much as they do to watch the match. Interesting how that works out, eh?

Thinking about it a little, I suppose one could call this thing a funeral march, though, because after the ten minute march and a bit more dancing and stomping, the Northern Guard makes its entrance, drums drumming and voices screaming, and all there is to be making noise making noise. Madison’s team is on the pitch, warming up as this occurs. And as I look out over them, it seems to me they are wilting on the spot. This is, after all, Madison’s first time at CassTech. These players are young, college aged at best. It’s clear they are a bit shaken as the mass of Rouge and Gold settles in.

This is when the full truth dawns on them (and me, for that matter) as to what this event is going to be like.

It starts with number 2. At the beginning, he actually thinks he can just kind of joke around with the folks here. By the program, one can find that #2’s first name is Callum. This is the only name that he will NOT be known by for the rest of the night. Someone calls him Calcium. Then (I think) Crissy or Clarisse. And it spirals down (or up, depending on your view) from there. There are funny moments, but it’s clear to me that, were she here, poor Callum’s mother would be pretty peeved the rest of the night. It also becomes clear to poor Callum that when you wear an opponent’s kit, there really is no way to joke around with the Northern Guard.

Seriously, just don’t go there.

Just suck it up, take it on the chin, and get out of earshot. That is the only way to “win” against the Northern Guard. Of course, there is no place on the pitch out of earshot of either the guards’ voices or the piercing horns they will blow into opponents’ ears all night long. I suspect broken eardrums are the norm in the Madison clubhouse. But I am getting ahead of myself. The game has yet to start, and at this point the Northern Guard is kind of just warming up.

A very brief moment later, the players are announced. Keeping with the theme, when Madison’s players are being introduced, the Guard turns their back, and provides them with a special double-fisted salute of, uh, welcome. This is about as kind as they will be to the opposition, who probably don’t realize they should consider this a respite from the storm.

We are, of course, quite vocal when our own lads are brought forward, resplendent in their new black kits.

At this point the Northern Guard sings the national anthem (with complete and appropriate reverence). This is actually a pretty moving moment if you step back and really look at it. Here are the young people of Detroit, scarfed up and ready to pounce on Madison, without accompaniment, all signing loud and proud, and on-key and off-key in whatever way they can. They don’t miss a beat. It’s a beautiful thing, really. Hopeful in its own way. For me, the mere fact of the existence of this moment is somehow artistic in itself. It means something.

Give me this over some American Idol winner any day.

Then the match begins, and from this point forward there is noise.

The noise comes in the form of drums, and horns, and screams, and chants. The Northern Guard has an established playbook of chants that they title “Hell’s Hymnal.” Everyone on my side of the pitch knows them (except me, of course … I’m not that quick of a study).

For the record (and if it’s not already obvious), let me be clear that sitting with the Northern Guard is not going to be for everyone. It’s not for the delicate, nor for the faint of heart. It is not for the kinds of folks who are expecting to experience any kind of gentlemanly sportsmanship. If you’re looking for calm, rational rah-rah that exhorts your upstanding players to their well-deserved victory over a hardy and capable foe, this is not your place. Please feel free to go enjoy the family friendly side. If, however, you’re ready for a party that consists of glorifying your side over the other in every fashion, and that takes great glee in two hours of heckling, drubbing, and otherwise mocking the dastardly scum-buckets who dared to even show up at your home pitch, then this is the place to be. When the match begins, civility ends.

There are chants about the incestuous habits of the opposition (sung to the tune of the Addams Family), and there are chants about burning the opponents up in a bonfire. Chants about the city (which when placed in proper context are truly love ballads in their own right, eh?). Chants for the boys on the pitch. There are call and respond chants, chants that include the family-friendly side (but that take a few rounds to get going).

The man on the bullhorn (or woman on the bullhorn, as the device is passed around during the match) is the conductor, and in the micro-seconds between chants he’s exhorting his compatriots on the air horns and sirens to keep the fever pitch up. When Madison boys get too close, they get an earful of horn, and if they can still hear at that point all they’ll be able to make out are screams about his parentage, comparisons between himself and certain female sexual organs, and a hundred other such things you might imagine.

It is of interest, however, to note that while invectives thrown are quite personal and quite graphic, there is a wall around certain areas. I can remember no racial commentary, for example. No homophobic slurs, no group based ism generalizations that I can recall (unless you count Madisonism as such, in which case, all guns were blasting at all times).

Despite this mayhem, on the pitch itself today the first ten minutes pass fairly “gently.” No scores. The DFCF players are a bit tentative, and Madison actually controls the play a bit. But this breaks down quickly. The fans are singing:

Come on City score a goal, it’s really very simple
Put the ball into the net
And we’ll go fucking mental!

Indeed, the score comes. Indeed the crowd goes mental. There is smoke. There is celebration on the field. The players run to the NGS side, and receive their admiration.

Aside: I have an understanding that at one point a couple years back, a DCFC player scored a goal and did not come to the NGS to celebrate. After the game, the NGS leaders went to the team and told them this would not do, that when the team scores a goal, the players will come to the NGS to celebrate. I note that with each goal the team will score (and there will be many), the players come immediately to the stands. Since I am on the fence at the edge of the pitch, I will get personal high-fives from three goal scorers on this day, and high fives from several other players at the end of the game. Do not mistake my earlier comment on priorities as exclusionary. While the NGS is about Detroit first, the gap between its love for Detroit and its love of the DCFC football team is razor thin.

With each score comes smoke.

Something Special Comes

By the halftime break, DCFC is up 2-nil. The whistle blows, and the stands take a step back. The noise level recedes. People go to get refreshments or use the facilities or whatever. The stands are probably only 50-60% full as kids from the local Detroit football kids’ league take to the pitch to play an exhibition. The kids are maybe 9 or 10. One team wears yellow, the other red.

The NGS folks who remain actually watch the kids.

They cheer for them. I mean, seriously cheer. They root for goals, and they applaud good passes. Nick tells me that the Northern Guard is considering trying to sponsor a youth team in the near future (assuming they can manage it). This is all pretty cool.

Then a kid scores a goal. It’s a beautiful little play he pulls off to do it, too, and the NGS goes … uh .. mental. The cheering is robust, and includes smoke and everything else that such an event would include. Again, pretty danged cool.

Second verse, same as the first

Then halftime is over, and the utter mayhem starts again. It is as if the Norther Guard merely picks up directly where they left off. Madison keeps a stiff upper lip early, and actually gets a couple good runs on the DCFC goal, but they come up short.

The primary target for the second half NGS vitriol is a bleach-blond striker who is immediately tagged as Miley Cyrus (among, naturally, other things). The play gets a little ragged, and it turns out that the referees are not immune from the Guard’s calm and gentle methods of questioning. The drum beats, the chants rain down. The team will pick up three more goals, and then in the last five minutes of the match the Northern Guard will dump a cloud of rouge and gold smoke that will probably make outside observers wonder if the terrorists have struck CassTech.

The match ends with a 5-nil victory, and with the DCFC players parading by the stands to get their proper admiration from the Guard.

The end

The stands begin to empty as the Man of the Match is announced. Various pictures are taken. I help Nick and the rest of the Guard clean-up. “We always leave the place cleaner than it was when we got here,” Nick said earlier, and now he’s sweeping debris, and others are taking down banners. I wander around and pick up larger bits of trash. The night grows colder now that the sun’s been down for a while and I’m not surrounded by the body heat generated by the Northern Guard. Lisa and Brigid come over, and we hear how the match looked to them—Brigid in particular had an interesting perspective, seeing as she’s usually where I was. It was the first time she watched the Guard from the outside.

I look around and realize the reverse process of arrival has happened for departure—that, while I haven’t really seen anyone leave, the place is now growing empty. Again, like they are those ghost soldiers of my uncle’s old comics, the denizens of Detroit have slipped away back into the multi-dimensional rifts of darkness they came from. The whole thing gets a Twilight Zone sheen. It’s like the match is not really ended so much as if it has been a wave that passed up the beach and receded, and now the Northern Guard is already beginning to design the next wave. There are kits to be bought, situations to be discussed, adjustments to be made.

We walk to the car, and drive home. I can feel my throat tightening as it always does when I go to Louisville basketball or football games and scream too much and too loud. I didn’t sing the songs today because I really didn’t know them, but I cheered my DCFC guys on the pitch as well as the next NGS guy, and I screamed for the goals and I directed the play as I saw fit. That’s my right, you know? As an honorary member of the NGS, I get to tell the DCFC guys what they ought to be doing (though they listened to me about as well as the Louisville guys do when I direct them … shrug).

And that was it. The kids drove us home, and my day in the Northern Guard was done.

The next day, as I was talking to Lisa, I said that there is every chance that the Northern Guard is actually at their golden moment, their apex. By this I meant that they are still small enough to be really tight knit, and really able to define their brand of controlled chaos, which is the lightning in the bottle that makes this experience so “electric.”

As the world around them gets bigger, this will be harder to manage. And who can tell if the team will even exist in a few years? The football world is churning big-time right now as business models rise and fall. But regardless of all that, today is today. And today, the Northern Guard’s leadership does this remarkable job of setting expectation and defining a line of behavior that is so extremely hard to define. The flavor of the Guard is bold, aggressive, and firm. To some it’s probably too aggressive or abrasive in places. But at its root the NGS are about Detroit and about belonging. They are about fun, inclusion, and letting people be who they are (unless you wear an opponent’s colors and it’s match time, in which case it’s beyond fine to be loud, taunting, and obnoxious—in fact, that’s kinda the point of the match when it gets down to it). There are lines that should not be crossed, however—lines that are about respect of people type that are not always obvious in the heat of the moment. At the end of the day, the NGS gets this right.

As I sit here now, reflecting, I wonder about my comments to Lisa. I’m probably wrong. I suspect that the Golden Age for the Northern Guard is in the future, perhaps a few years away. But, then again, you never know. So I want to leave this piece with a little commentary and maybe even a bit of advice to the entirety of the Northern Guard Supporters—its leadership and its followers and its fringe.

I want you to realize you’ve got something unique. Something you love.

Work hard, of course. Keep charging ahead. You already know that nothing good happens if you don’t do it yourself, so you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you that. But while you’re working, look at what you’re doing. Pay real attention. Revel in it. As often as you can, take a step back from the day-to-day stuff, and feel the pulse of what you’re creating. Because, while there’s every likelihood you’re growing toward something bigger, it’s important to remember at these times that life is short. There is a very real chance that what you are part of may never again happen in your life.

Golden moment or not, you’re making something remarkable. So this is your time.

Enjoy every minute.

Photo by @TheDukeNGS

5 Days, finally a NookBook

Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but now … only a month after its release date, 5 Days in May, the Indy 500 anthology of stories by me and John Bodin is available from Barnes and Noble.

Why so long?

Well … your guess is as good as mine.

Clarke’s Data, Part II

A few days ago, Neil Clarke released demographic information from a survey he took (which I then used to create this little discussion, along with a few comments). He’s now released the first wave of results. It’s interesting to see what he’s doing–I’m especially intrigued by the break-out of authors’ influences. You should look at it.

But I want to pull out one piece of information that shows up in his charts, but that he hasn’t addressed yet. It’s about gender and age, and I think it speaks to some of the conversations that are inherent in the cultural conversations rolling through the SF community today. It doesn’t cover everything, of course. But I think it’s interesting, and if real, relevant.

Here’s the chart in question. In particular, focus on the Published Writer “Gender by Age” break-out

While the overall split of male/female population (as we learned last week) is 54/44, this chart says this skew is very different in the world of published writers depending on what side of Age 40 you look at. If you look at writers over 40 years old, it’s man’s world. But if you look at the “next gen” you see females are the predominant gender. Again, this is published writers we’re talking about. (though the data is self-reported).

What does this mean?

I dunno.

One could say several things about it—including the idea that this is just one piece of data, and may not mean squat (though, again, 944 responders is pretty solid). But two things go through my mind:

First, the overall male skew in this data set happens because of the overpowering numbers of 40+ year-old writers. Did the 40+ skew roll through the ages, or did 40+ males just start their writing careers late? Like most of this, all I’ve got as an answer here is one big shrug. It would be interesting to see how this changes over time, though.

And second, I think it’s a truism that often (certainly not always) ground-breaking work (danger, danger, Will Robinson!) happens in the earlier years of life. If true (even more danger here, Will Robinson!), one could then take another tenuous step and suggest that Award Quality Work (and even more danger here, Will Robinson!) might skew a little younger. And if that’s the case, then it would be expected that award rosters should skew female.

As a rule, though, they don’t. Especially in the Hugo numbers this year.

Of course, you get to pick your own reason as to why that happens. The main thing I get through thinking about this is that I would love to see more break-downs like this. Data rules, doncha you know?

Epic Fantasy Bundle – Power to the Readers

So, the Epic Fantasy Bundle that Glamour of the God-Touched has been included in has been active for a couple days. It’s the first time that I’ve been involved in this kind of bundle, and I think the process is interesting as all get-out and a total blast to be a part of. Since I know I have blog readers who aren’t that close to the concept, I thought I would take a moment to talk about three things in particular, and in each of these cases I’m intrigued by the overall value and control this thing brings to readers.

1) The company

First, I have to reiterate what a total blast to be a part of a project that has such a powerful collection of names. There are a lot of award winners in this group, and the material shows it. The folks here have sold a LOT of books. Just clicking through the link and looking at the books you get in this bundle is enough to figure that out for just about anyone.


Being in this kind of company is always fun, but from a reader’s point of view it’s a great way to get material from a wide array of folks (personally, the first thing I read was the Anderson/Peart short story “Clockwork Lives,” mostly because I was fan-boying over reading SF by Rush’s drummer [grin]). My guess is that there’s someone you haven’t read in this package, so this bundle concept is a great way to pick up ne writers on the cheap.

2) The price

In reality, the most interesting thing of all about these bundles is how much of the cash flow is in the control of the reader. Yes, the baseline price is $15 (you have to pay this much to get the entire package), but a reader can scale down to as low as $5 for the primary collection of six novels. That’s pretty cool.
If you’re a fantasy fan on a budget, $5 gets you six great reads. If you’re a reader who is, let’s say, a bit better healed and who appreciates the bundle as a whole, you can pay more—like a Kickstarter funder who pays more for a great kick. It’s an interesting concept across the board, especially when you realize that the reader can influence the split between authors and publishers, and even because …

3) The social consciousness

The reader can decide to give 10% of the price two one of three charities (in this case, Mighty Writers, Girl’s Write Now, or Challenger Center). Of course, in the case of this bundle, you’re already contributing to a charity because the proceeds of One Horn to Rule Them, which is a part of the bundle, is going to help financially strapped writers attend the Superstars Writing seminar.

It’s a great idea to give readers a sense of value that’s outside the basic capitalistic thing all us writers are tip-toeing around when we ask you to “Buy my book.” It feels good to know readers people can read great stuff at the same time as they help save the world (or at least help make a little portion of it better, anyway).

4) And now something for you …

Since this is a post focused on readers, I’m interested in your thoughts. To entice you, I’ll make these two special reader-based offers.

A: The first to respond to this post will get a code for a free download of the Epic Fantasy Bundle.

B: Everyone who responds and also signs up for my newsletter will get a free book of my own work.

For the locals…

I should note that “5 Days in May” is available in print at Viewpoint, so you can save the shipping costs and support your independent book seller at the same time!

Epic Fantasy bundle!

I’m pleased to note that Glamour of the God-Touched, the first novella of the Saga of the God-Touched series is now available in an Epic Story Bundle with twelve other works. This is a really cool approach, and is available for only a limited time (22 days at this writing!).

Check it out.

The bundle lets you pay whatever you think the work should be worth, and even allows you to adjust how much the authors and publisher’s take should be (as well as donate to a few very worthy charities).

Thirteen books for essentially whatever you want to pay. What could be better as we move into summer reading season?

Me and a Wall Fish

Current Series

Saga of the God-Touched Mage
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
(Volumes 1-4)

Glamour of the God-Touched
Trail of the Torean
Target of the Orders
Gathering of the God-Touched
Barnes & Noble
(Volumes 5-8)

Pawn of the Planewalker
Changing of the Guard
Lord of the Freeborn
Lords of Existence
Barnes & Noble
More details and links to print versions and individual stories at the Series Page


Bookstore Profiles


Free Stories!

The Colossal Death Ray @ Galaxy's Edge
Good Luck Charm @ Abyss & Apex
Midnight at River's Edge @ Daily SF
Out of the Fire @ Interstellar Fiction

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Ron’s Wayback Machine for the Textually Inclined

Bits From The Stone Age

Every Entry From 1996-2005