Category Archives: writers


So, on this lovely (okay, rainy) first day of April, I’m sitting at the computer (as I am wont to do, even when I don’t really want to do it) and taking a little wiki walk.  Come with me now…

This particular wiki walk was inspired by the new Google Nose.  I explored the delights of wet dog, fresh-mown grass, beer and

Lemonlemon.  I got interested in the botany of lemon, which led me to citron, which led me to wonder what succade was, which led me to succade made from angelica, which lead me to the Apiaceae family that is so widespread in global cuisine and folk medicine, including “Conium maculatum… used as a sedative and in treatments for arthritis and asthma in addition to its most famous use: as a “humane” method of killing criminals and philosophers.”

But then I got curious about coriander, and why so many people like its fresh leaves as cilantro (I tolerate it, but I’m not a huge fan, on account of the soapy taste… apparently I’m just a recovering one of those). I wondered whether there was any substance behind Dan Ackroyd’s line from Gross Pointe Blank about cilantro being good for the liver.  Among its health effects and medicinal uses, I did find that it appears to increase bile production, so sometimes you do learn things in by watching silly John Cusack movies.  Coriander is also described as a carminative.  So what the heck is a carminative?  It sounds nice enough, doesn’t it.

It turns out that the great Aldous Huxley (of Brave New World fame) had an extended rant about  this very word (Chapter 20 in a book called Chrome Yellow).  Huxley explores the phenomenon of our attraction to the sound of certain words, and the magic that beautiful words possess.  Even inaptly beautiful words like carminative.  Makes all those magic systems in various fantasy novels that focus on names and words make even more sense (I’m looking at you, Patrick Rothfuss).  It’s a great read for us word-fools on such a lovely (or not) April Fools.  Enjoy!

Joss vs. Zomney

Michelle Y. Merrill, Ph.D.:

The most likely scenario for the zombie apocalypse?

Originally posted on Ponderings of a Perplexed Primate:

Ah, Joss… so brilliant.


Paid for by the committee to learn parkour like,
really soon, like maybe take a class or something.

View original

Us and Them and Allopatric Enculturation

From The Shared Dream at the Top of the Stairs:

Many science-fiction writers have said that the next logical step [to providing a "them" for "us"] is to have another “world” or “civilization” with which to compete.  They don’t need to be enemies, per se, just competitors.  Simple-minded creatures as we writers often are, this usually comes down to a fight, providing “entertaining” fiction for us to consume.  This is an option, admittedly with a low (though non-zero) probability of happening in the next century.

Option two, humans diversify by colonizing distant worlds.  This is another favored theme, be it in classics like Frank Herbert’s Dune or the latest Kim Stanley Robinson book, 2312.  My first-started-but-now-on-hold novel project works in this realm also.  Effective separation of different human populations over time and space leads to cultural diversification, somewhat like the way separation of different populations of one species can lead to their diversification into new species (this is called allopatric speciation in evolutionary biology).  Such projects are not impossible, though the likelihood in the next century is for very little of this (as much as I’m inspired by the call to Occupy Mars and support the 100 Year Starship program).

Option three, we re-entrench in smaller communities or tribes.  This is often the fertile ground in which post-apocalyptic fiction takes place, and my current novel project is rooted here.  Again, the most common scenario is that these tribes will fight when they interact, unless they’re forming alliances to fight off mutual threats.  I believe this option has much higher probability than the previous two, though I’m not ready to commit to a probability above 50% (take some time for Peak Prosperity’s “Crash Course”, and decide for yourself where you think we stand… and he didn’t even account for climate change).

Maybe there is a third way.  In the comments for the bold and radical article “Self-Evident Truths” by Derrick Jensen (comment 11 by mike k.), it is suggested

We can begin by coming together in small groups to deeply consider these things, and make truth, love, and beauty effective realities in ourselves and in our world.

…Can we rethink what that competition is? Could it be a competition between groups for the best solutions, the most vibrant, ecologically-integrated, just and regenerative communities?  Could local pride and tribalism work in way that didn’t invite violence, but instead amplified positive deviance?  Maybe these are the questions to explore via World Café. Such questions invite us to dissolve the self in the greater “we,” perhaps even at the global level, in a collective effort by humans to improve the well-being of all.

I wrote The Shared Dream at the Top of the Stairs for my science and sustainability blog, but it felt like this section belonged here, too.  I’m too far along in my current project to attempt to write it without the big crash that separates populations into distinctive tribes, but it is an intriguing project for the future.  The folx at io9 suggest that we need more optimistic speculative fiction, and they may be right.  It’s really the big challenge, but as I’m just starting out, I’ll stick to the better-blazed trails for my current adventure.  Next time?

Great Ape Haiku

I just discovered


and I thought I should give it a whirl, so I whipped together a handful of haiku on the  (now seven recognized) living species of great apes.

Pongo abelii

Orangutan asks
Why only use my two hands?
Feet are just as good

Pongo pygmaeus

Orangutan climbs
A good distance away from
African great apes

Gorilla gorilla

Gorilla ponders
When brute force fails to resolve
Perhaps more force works

Gorilla beringei

Mountain gorilla
Calmly chews wild celery
Peaceful times are rare

Pan paniscus

Bonobo grins big
The sweeter the fruit should be
The more sex required

Pan troglodytes

Chimpanzee hoots loud
In the driving rainstorm’s wrath
Why no umbrella?

Homo sapiens

Human walks away
From forest and savannah
Just sits in traffic

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My Plot Planner

For New Year’s Day, I started my Plot Planner for the (probably) Young-Adult book.  I am working my way through The Plot Whisperer by local writing consultant Martha Alderson.

My Plot Planner, 1 January 2012

Other than being six feet long and taking over the wall at the top of the stairs, there’s not much to it yet, but I’ll publish more photos as it gets developed.

The other big change coming out of reading this book is that I’ve rethought one of my major characters.  I’m deciding to focus on Yasmina, who is actually NOT from Sequoia; I’ve realized I need a protagonist who comes from the Enclave, to provide that newcomer’s perspective and curiosity about Sequoian society, along with insights into the Enclave culture.  Also, coming from the Enclave explains Yasmina’s personality and motivations better.  I think it will be a major improvement (even if it does mean some serious reworking of the first few chapters that I had written – oh well).

Even though NaNoWriMo was in November, I’m going to attempt a mini-NoWriMo of my own for January – my goal is only 30,000 words, since I’ve got loads of other stuff I’ve got to do this month… still, I guess I’d better get to it!

A One-Liner a Week

I love those little bits of wordplay that stick in your head.  There are those bright gems from the Whedonverse like “Well, my days of not taking you seriously are certainly coming to a middle,” or, “That probably would have sounded more commanding if I wasn’t wearing my yummy sushi pajamas.”  Then there’s writer Christopher Moore, with barbs like (NSFW – highlight to read) “That’s a fluttery bit of butterfly wank,” or “a firey flagon of dragon toss,”  and the late, great Douglas Adams’ “The Vogon Constructor Ship hung in the sky exactly like a rock doesn’t.”   My sometimes-office-mate, poet and anthropologist Jim Funaro, will reply to my offhand “How’s it goin’?”  with the effulgent phrase “Finer than frog’s hair.”  In fact, I’m surrounded by brilliance at Cabrillo, since another sometimes-office-mate, Matt Escover, often responds “not bad for a Monday morning,” when I see him before his Thursday evening class.

I, on the other hand, have a long way to go to get to Tom Stoppard-like “toenails, on the other foot” brilliance.  At this point, I’ve decided I will endeavor to create something at least a little shiny each week.

So, for the next year, I will come up with one per week.  How about you?  Share your favorites (whether self-generated or overheard) and perhaps we can inspire each other.

Now, I have a week to come up with one…

The Bechdel Test vs Patrick Rothfuss

The Bechdel Test is a simple way to evaluate whether a story excludes women:

1. It has to have at least two women in it

2. Who talk to each other

3. About something besides a man

I  first learned about the Bechdel Test at It’s based on Mo’s Movie Rule (from Alison Bechdel’s comic Dykes to Watch Out For - I used to read this a lot as an undergrad, so I’m surprised I hadn’t heard it earlier, but this particular strip was a little before my time, I s’pose).  It’s meant for movies, but it’s just as useful for other storytelling forms.

Traditional fantasy has a hard time with this… off the top of my head, I’m fairly certain that Lord of the Rings fails in both book and movie forms, and I don’t even think Ursula LeGuin managed to get past the second criterion for the first book of Earthsea.

Try for a moment to think of a story in sci fi/fantasy that would fail the inverse of the Bechdel Test.  Oh sure, there may be a few one-man shows, but they probably don’t have more than one woman, either.  In LOTR we got nine in the main party, and though we don’t hear much about it, we can be fairly sure they all had penises.

Which brings me to one of my newest favorite writers, Patrick Rothfuss.  I love the wordcraft, the attitude, the rich universe and perfect pacing of the The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear.  I expect I will be re-reading these a couple times before the conclusion to The Kingkiller Chronicle debuts.   But…

[mild spoilers]

But many of the female characters (Denna, Devi, Auri) seem to be variations on a theme.  And they almost never talk to one another.  When they do, it’s about Kvothe.  Admittedly, the majority of the book is from his first-person point-of-view, so why would Kvothe be aware of situations where there are two women talking about something other than him? Plus, a lot of it is set in a school with a skewed sex ratio. Once he gets to Ademre, things improve gender-balance-wise, though I think most of the conversations the women of Ademre have are about Kvothe.  But still, we’re at least 1,400 pages in by then.

Don’t get me wrong.  You should read these books.  Do it now.  They’re wonderful.  You won’t regret it.  But remember you’ll be in Y-chromosome territory for a long part of the journey.

I Write Like… WHO?

Here’s a neat gizmo for comparing your writing to famous writers in the English language.  A few paragraphs from the first chapter (“Strangers on the Beach”) of my young-adult story got me Sir Arthur C. Clarke (honorable company, to be sure).

I write like
Arthur Clarke

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Less honorably, but probably more lucratively, a segment from my farther-future novel got me Dan Brown.

I write like
Dan Brown

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Another sample from that (one that focuses on aliens) got me Issac Asimov:

I write like
Isaac Asimov

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

And a third, sexier segment got me Anne Rice:

I write like
Anne Rice

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

So, I mostly write like men… unless I’m writing about a sexual encounter.  Hmmm…

How about you?

The Prayer of Gratitude for Recovered Species

One of many things I appreciated about  The Year of the Flood was the technique of using the sermons and hymns of the God’s Gardeners to both provide insight into their beliefs and to give the readers a little education in ecology and survival skills.   Margaret Atwood’s deft hand provided just a touch of irony, the lightest caress of tongue within cheek, but beneath that was a compelling honesty about the biological realities of the world.

In my five teens story, there will similarly be some rituals, songs and sermons representing their ecologically-aware customs and beliefs.  I’m basing the culture of the community on what I had written about back in 2002, my “Missionaria Protectiva.” I’m setting this story about one century from now (give or take a 50-some years), a couple of generations after a major collapse of industrialized civilization, so the situation is a little different than the roughly present-time notions of my Missionaria Protectiva writings (and of course I’m not going to call them that and continue to borrow from Herbert in my book).

So here’s a little sample of a prayer from this culture, spoken while preparing to eat some animals that are rare (or endangered) in our time, but have since recovered their populations to sufficient numbers to be used as an occasional food source (in the first example I’ve written, it’s spoken by a very spiritual character who is preparing red abalone):

The Prayer of Gratitude for Recovered Species

We honor the spirit of Life that renewed these beings

whose light was once fading from our world.

We ask forgiveness for our mistakes.

We ask forgiveness for any suffering we caused.

We ask forgiveness for our ancestor’s greed.

We pledge to take more care.

We pledge to harm as little as we can.

We pledge to take only what we need,

and to work as partners to keep your kin well.

We are deeply grateful for the return of your light.

We thank you now for your sacrifice.

As you nourish us, let all Life be nourished.


Last Thursday at Bookshop Santa Cruz (the best bookstore in the known universe), I witnessed (and nearly participated in) something extraordinary.  Pitchapalooza is an event lead by the Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, in support of their so-far excellent book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It and Market It… Successfully!  The idea is, they give local readers/writers a chance to give a one-minute pitch for their book, and then they  critique it (politely, artfully, and with assistance from the local booksellers, in our case).  The audience learns how to get interest in any book, from the best and the worst of the couple-dozen pitches you get to hear in about two hours.  It was a terrifically informative evening, even if I didn’t get to give my pitch.

And since I didn’t get to give it there, I’m going to give it a shot here.  Deep breath, stopwatch ready… GO!

[Insert clever title here] is  something like The Year of the Flood meets The Lord of the Rings, if it were the cast of Glee going on the adventure, written for the fans who just ran out of Harry Potter stories.

Five teens, who grew up in an isolated, permaculture-based community, travel with their mentors to a distant, high-tech enclave in a post-collapse future.

Solstice is brilliant and cheerful, if a little hyperkinetic.  She’s often obsessed with figuring out how things work.

Cliff is big, brave, moody but generally affable, though not especially bright. He’s always hungry for approval, and for a good meal.

Yasmina is imperious, graceful, cunning and artistic.  She’s creative in her quest for social advantage, and uniquely skilled in making things prettier, more delicious or otherwise more appealing.

Reynard is small and shy, a nerd who falls back on the classics.  He’s quietly insightful, and often has the best solution for getting around any problem.

Laurel is athletic, serious and efficient.  She’s better with tools than with people, but she’s fiercely loyal and protective.

Together, they must endure a shipwreck, evade a vicious warlord, and confront other misadventures as they make their way north along the coast, seeking an alliance with a place they were told is a technological wonderland.

Okay, so how’d I do?  Still a few seconds over :-(

Oh yeah, the title… here are a few ideas (I don’t think any are exactly scintillating yet):

  • Leaving Sequoia
  • From Sequoia to a Stranger City
  • The Journey North
  • To the City of Strangers
  • The Lost Expedition
  • Find a Way There
  • Strangers on the Beach (that’s the title of my first chapter, anyway)
Comments? Questions? Suggestions?… Bueller?

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