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2020 – It was the worst of times, it was the . . . worst of times. Let’s leave it at that. As to writing, I focused on short stories, and wrote a plethora of stories. Or was that a surfeit or superfluity of stories?
I read 67 books in 2020. By category, Fiction 31, Politics & History 16, Science 9, Writing 5, and Table Tennis 6.
I’m attending the Odyssey Online Workshop, “Emotional Truth: Making Character Emotions Real, Powerful, and Immediate to Readers,” with Scott Andrews. We’ll be doing a lot of reading and analyzing (eight stories or articles as part of the pre-workshop assignment), with two-hour online sessions on Jan. 6, Jan. 20, and Feb. 3. I’m already well into my reading and analysis – I’ve already picked up on some interesting things in one of the assigned readings, “Carnival Nine” by Caroline Yoachim, where she treats emotions like, well, a ping-pong ball. I found another fascinating method she uses to re-enforce emotions which I may elaborate on later, and may bring up in the online sessions.
I had 16 stories sold or published in 2020.
- “Releasing Hitler” was published by Galaxy’s Edge, Jan/Feb 2020
- “Blood Wars” was published by Galaxy’s Edge, Mar/Apr 2020
- “Tooth Theology” was published by Galaxy’s Edge, May/June 2020
- “The Untold Christmas Carol” was published by Galaxy’s Edge, Nov/Dec 2020
- “Prototype Solar System with Strings Attached” sold to Galaxy’s Edge
- “Journey to Perfection” sold to and was published by Unidentified Funny Objects #8 Anthology, Sept 2020
- “Philosopher Rex” sold to and was published by Zooscape, Sept. 2020
- “Pinning the Egg” sold to and was published by the Sci-Fi Journal, Dec 2020
- “High Plains Centaur” was published by New Myths, Mar 2020
- “The Vampire on the Tesseract Wall” sold to Amazing Stories
- “Ninety-Nine Sextillion Souls in a Ball” sold to Dark Matter Magazine
- “Nanogod” sold to Dark Matter Magazine
- “Defeating Death” sold to Parliament of Wizards
- “Space Force: First Victory” sold to Alternative Space Forces anthology
- “Space Force: The Poem” sold to Alternative Space Forces anthology
- “The Pushovers of Galactic Baseball Fame” sold to Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction
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I’ve had a good three weeks, with three “pro” sales. Earlier this week I sold “Nanogod,” 4600 words, to Dark Matter Magazine, which pays 8 cents/word. What happens when a microscopic nanobot, designed for brain surgery, is damaged and becomes an egomaniac that travels the galaxy, conquering civilizations and forcing them to build huge monuments in its honor? It forced us to build the Great Pyramids 4600 years ago . . . and now it’s back and wants more! The story (then titled “A Monument for ME”) was critiqued at the 2016 Never-Ending Odyssey by Jeanne Cavelos, Chip Houser, Lauren O’Donnell, Chris Kenworthy, Kat Kohler, Michael Main, and Terry Edge. Special thanks for their help! Side note – the editor asked if I could do a sequel! I’ll get to that soon.
In late May I had two sales. “Journey to Perfection,” 3700 words, went to Unidentified Funny Objects #8, the annual SF and fantasy humor anthology by Alex Shvartsman, at 10 cents/word. A wealthy, snooty “doctor” buys the newest car model, and with a few misunderstandings, they’re off to see and meet some rather strange places and people, including Jimmy Hoffa’s burial site, Jesus on Mars, and the “Perfect” place!!! It’s my second sale to them.
The other was “Philosopher Rex,” 900 words, which sold to Zooscape, which pays 8 cents/word for flash. It’s about a philosophizing T-Rex that meets our earliest ancestors – lemur-like creatures – during the final days of the dinosaurs, and how their attitudes toward each other change after this pivotal meeting. (No talking animals, but we get the T-Rex’s thoughts.)
Now I’m focused on getting ready for “The Never-Ending Odyssey,” the annual nine-day writing workshop set up and run by graduates of the six-week Odyssey writing workshop. (I went in 2006.) This will be my 11th! I’ve done the critiques for all three rounds. I’m debating which story to read in the “Slam Reading” – I could use “Philosopher Rex,” but I’ve got about ten other possibilities, and for this I usually go with something humorous. I’m leaning toward “Prototype Solar System with Strings Attached,” a humorous flash story I sold to Galaxy’s Edge in January – another “pro” sale at 8 cents/word. Alas, it’s a sad and sort of an historic sale – it was the last story bought by Editor Mike Resnick before he died about an hour later. (Lezli Robyn is their new editor – she, Mike, and I co-wrote the novel “When Parallel Lines Meet” three years ago.)
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I have two new short story collections, both coming out today! This coronavirus thing left me nothing to do but get these two done! Both are on sale at Amazon in both print ($10) and kindle ($6) format. They are:
- Still More Pings and Pongs
The third volume in my “Pings and Pongs” short stories series. This includes the 25 best short stories I’ve sold from 2016-2020.
- Trump Tales: A Taunting
A collection of eleven Trump satires I’ve written. Seven were previously published, four are new. Also includes two cartoons! Why a taunting, you might ask? Well, isn’t that what Trump’s whole political career is based on, [falsely] taunting others? If you are a Trump fan, say away from this!!!
- …An alien census taker has been going door-to-door for 83,000 years – but now must battle with hostile aliens and an even more hostile doberman.
- …How did three Confederate Cavalryman find themselves charging down the aisle of a jumbo jet?
- …A billionaire declares war on a 4D civilization.
- …What if Satan sells his soul to a higher-dimensional being so that he’ll win at Armaggeddon?
- …A hypocritical American Christian meets up with Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates.
- …A young, dead Charles Darwin lives in a graveyard and wants to learn the origin . . . of the “Ded.”
- …A human becomes the plaything of a 4-D child.
- …A bat that thinks it’s a superhero.
- …How did penguins make it to Noah’s Ark?
- …What happens when a mathematician dies and becomes a zombie, but loses his moral compass?
- …If Death hates cancer, what would she do?
- …What if, one million years from
- now, Hitler is paroled from Hell?
- …And many more!
- …Sing the ballad of Cadet Bone Spurs (to the tune of “The Beverly Hillbillies”)
- …A superhero confronts Trump
- …Learn about the
- …Five Horses of the Trump Apocalypse
- …Read three stories about the new Space Force
- …Meet the Plucky Billionaires Squad – Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg, and Alice Walton take on President Trump!
- …A dream turns out to be too real
- …Meet the alien that’s been waiting for the president
- …Can Trump’s cabinet Bell the President?
- …See the humorous future of Trump’s Great Wall
- …Plus two cartoons!
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Lancer Kind did a four-part podcast interview of me at Sci-Fi Thoughts. In the interviews I talk about the importance of IDEAs in science fiction, and argue that, while many say “Character is king,” I think they should be at least equal.They range from about 6-10 minutes long.
On a side note, I’ve had some recent sales and publications.
- In August I sold “Blood Wars” to Galaxy’s Edge. (I have another story coming out in their Sept/Oct issue, “Death for the Cure: A Comedy about Cancer.”)
- In July I sold “High Plains Centaur” to New Myths.
- In June I sold “Back to Reality” to Alternative Apocalypses. That anthology comes out at the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland, Aug. 15-19 – I’ll be there! (B Cubed Press also created the anthology “Alternative Truths: Endgame,” which came out in late May with two stories by me, “The Ballad of Cadet Bone Spurs” and “The Great White Wall” – yeah, Trump satires!)
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Wow! Not only did I get a story in the current issue of Analog, but they also interviewed me! I got to talk about how the story came about, my writing process, and pretty much everything else about my science fiction writing.
I’ve been watching all the news on TV with growing disgust. I might have to write a sequel to “Captain Exasperation Woman Meets President Trump“!
It’s been a wild month. I had three new stories published:
- Analog: “The Plaything on the Tesseract Wall.” What happens when a 4-D child bullies a 3-D child?
- Galaxy’s Edge: “Death, the Devil, and the President’s Ghost.” The president has died, and he’s on the elevator with Death and the Devil. Which way will they go?
- Alternative Theologies: “An American Christian at the Pearly Gates.” What happens when a hypocritical Christian meets St. Peter? Not what you’d think!!!
Better still, I sold five stories! (I also have two stories that are “finalists,” at Apex and at Abyss & Apex. If both sell, it could be the Apex of my career!)
- “Releasing Hitler” to Galaxy’s Edge. What happens if Hitler is paroled from Hell one million years from now?
- “Ded Society” (9900 words) to Tales From the Old Black Ambulance. What happens if Charles Darwin died at age 12 (he almost did), and lived in a graveyard with the other “Ded,” who have no memory of their past – and he decided to learn about their origins?
- Three stories to DrabbleDark 2: “Nobody Would Believe You,” It’s Too Damn Hot and Cold,” and “The Stork, the Baby, and the Witch.” These are 100-word drabbles.
Better still, I wrote three new stories:
- “The Bullied Werewolf Boy.” An nerdy adolescent werewolf is constantly bullied, but settles all business with those bullies once a year on Halloween – but faces a big problem this time out.
- “Just One of the Gods.” Every galaxy has a God, so there are about 100 billion of them in our universe, all of them working out of cubicles in a huge office. But one intelligent lifeform has grown too technologically advanced and challenges the Gods.
- “The Fat Old Tortoise and the Hard-Working Hare.” What really happened during that tortoise and hare race!
Last weekend, Sept. 28-30, I was at the Capclave SF Convention. I had two author signings, and was on three panels, moderating two of them:
- “Science Fiction of Resistance” – Using politics in your writing.
- “Political Dynamite” (moderator) – “Writers and editors talk about how they address current events in their work and in social media.”
- “Flash Fiction: Writing for the Short Attention Span Generation” (moderator)
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This has been an exciting time for me as I gradually work my way up the science fiction writing ladder. This month I have three stories out in three major publications – including my first story in Analog! (Here’s the Table of Contents for the Sept/Oct 2018 issue, now out in newsstands – I’m the “Probability Zero” story, “The Plaything on the Tesseract Wall.” The story is about a 4-D being, a little girl, who plays with a 3-D being (a little boy), and in inadvertently becomes a bully – with a surprise result.
I also have stories in both the current and upcoming issues of Galaxy’s Edge. In the current (July/August) issue I have Satan’s Soul; in the upcoming (Sept/Oct) issue I have “Death, the Devil, and the President’s Ghost.” In the first, Satan is depressed as it’s the night before Armageddon and he knows he’s going to lose – but then a higher-dimensional being shows up, and after some negotiating, Satan sells his soul to it in return for winning the next day! In the second, the president has just died and his ghost is taking the elevator down, accompanied by Satan and Death – with a surprising turn.
Perhaps my favorite recent story just came out in “Alternate Theologies: Parables for a Modern World,” which is an anthology of stories that satirize bad religion. In my story, “An American Christian at the Pearly Gates,” a hypocritical Christian meets a surprising Saint Peter, who does a surprising thing!
Last month I was at “The Never-Ending Odyssey,” a nine-day annual writing workshop for graduates of the Odyssey writing workshop. I had three stories work-shopped there. All three are now rewritten, along with about seven other stories I’ve been working on periodically this year – and all are now making the rounds. I’ve sold 92 short stories, but sales are “tougher” these days as I’m pickier about where I send them – I rarely submit to the non-pro markets anymore. (I’ve sold 26 to SFWA “pro” markets.)
And now I’m deep into research for my new novel, now tentatively called “Election 2050: The Return of George Washington.” I’ve read several bios of Washington and lots of other stuff on his personality and psychology since he’s going to be the main character. I’ve got several great characters planned out to go along with him. I’d initially written 7000 words of the novel, but after a compete rethinking of it, I plan to start from scratch, once I’m done with the research and planning stage. (Originally I had the first ten U.S. presidents in the novel.) Assuming it eventually sells, it would be my fifth novel.
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- Analog: “The Plaything on the Tesseract Wall” (sold on Feb. 23, will be in the Sept/Oct issue))
- Galaxy’s Edge: “Plop Plop” (sold on Feb. 23)
- Terror Politico Anthology: “I’ve Been Waiting For You” (sold on Jan. 28)
- Third Flatiron: “Five Billion Pounds of Soul” (sold on Jan. 14) – available at Amazon
I recently bought the rights to www.larryhodges.com, so my science fiction & fantasy web page is either that or www.larryhodges.org – they are identical.
This July I’ll be attending “The Never-Ending Odyssey,” an annual 9-day writing workshop by graduates of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. (I’m a 2006 graduate of the six-week program.) As part of this we’ll each get to send in three stories or chapters for critique. I just sent in my first one, and now have six that I have to read and critique. I’ve already done two. In addition to critiquing, we also have a number of “Master Level” writing course we teach ourselves. This year’s focus is “Learning from Top Pros.”
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My fourth science fiction novel comes out on Halloween, Oct. 31 – “When Parallel Lines Meet,” which I co-wrote with Mike Resnick (ever heard of him? Five Hugo awards and 37 nominations) and Lezli Robyn. You can advance order now in all three formats – print, kindle, and audiobook.
Make sure to order your copy! Here’s the book description:
When Keelarah, Lead Interrogator in the Neuropsych subdivision of the Cartheeli Military Caste, first meets the alien, she is prepared to do her duty. He is a trespasser on her planet, has caused the death of someone dear to her, and it is imperative she find out where he’s come from and whether his kind poses a threat to her and her people.
Often ruthless in her techniques, the interrogator uses her telepathic and empathic abilities to assault his mind, to draw out any whisper of information that can give them a better idea of what – who – they are dealing with. But she isn’t prepared for the prisoner to defend himself with comparable talents, to disarm her with equally astute observations. Chief Surveyor Forrest Brown might not be the best example of humanity, but he doesn’t have to be to show Keelarah what it is to be humane.
As they get to know each other, the line between captor and prisoner blur, which begs the question: is having different origins a more important factor, or the ability to find common ground? What if mutual alienation leads to the most profound bond of all?
I also have two short stories coming out. On Oct. 27, my dark fantasy Running with the Dead was published by Astounding Outpost. It’s the story of a dead high school kid – yeah, a zombie – who just wants to go to school and try out for the track team as a miler, and the rejection he faces from everyone, especially the “Mile Mafia,” the high school kids who rule the track team. (It’s basically a civil rights allegory.) Strangely they put my name at the end of the story instead of the start, as is the norm.
I have another short story coming out on Nov. 1 at Galaxy’s Edge, “The Nature of Swords” (in addition to my current story there, “Theater of Death,” which comes down on Nov. 1). “The Nature of Swords” imagines a distant future where all that’s left of mankind are the magical swords he created, which spend their days playfully fencing (they can fly) and reminiscing about the days of man. One of them decides to travel the world in search of man – with tragic results that say more about the nature of man than sword.
I recently self-published another story, “Captain Exasperation Woman Meets President Trump.” This is a satire that mocks Trump as it systematically goes over his countless lies and broken promises. Here’s the story description:
Can Captain Exasperation Woman Save the Planet from Complete Exasperation?
Captain Exasperation Woman, the world’s greatest superhero, has the power to exasperate anyone and anything into utter perplexity by simply telling the truth. Fences, helicopters, secret service agents, and many others will face her wrath. When she goes up against the mighty T-Rump known as President Trump, she will confront him with his countless lies, scams, business and moral failings, and the utter ineptitude of his presidency. But she will find her powers are useless against one who is not fettered by truth or conscience. She must bring out her full bag of tricks, from the Spirits of Presidents Past, Present, and Future, to the Devil himself, and even the Exasperation of the Galaxy itself.
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This year’s session was July 21-29. Wanting to avoid rush hour, I drove up from Maryland the night before (Thursday), leaving at 9PM and arriving in Manchester about 5AM. (I drove non-stop except for a 20-min break in the middle.) Once there, I planned to sleep in my car in the parking lot until they opened, but couldn’t sleep, and so read until 11AM, when I was able to get into my room at Saint Anselm College.
This year there were 17 of us – here’s the official group picture. (Here is the TNEO “Vacation” pictures – 12 pictures where we visited Darth Vader, Hogwarts, the Enterprise, the Moon, Game of Thrones – see above, the Cracks of Doom, and the Titanic, and visit Satan, a T-Rex, a dragon, and Godzilla. Here are more TNEO photos.) Hosting TNEO was Jeanne Cavelos, the director of Odyssey, who also joined the groups as one of the critiquers, with chapters of her novel in progress getting critiqued. Barbara Barnett-Stewart and Samantha Weiss were the Resident Supervisor and Moderator, and they, along with Jeanne, did a super-human job of organizing and running everything. (Actually, their work was beyond super-human, but the English language is just too limited to adequate describe it.)
Before going to TNEO I (like others) we each submitted for critique three stories or chapters. (You could do either short stories or novel chapters, up to 15,000 words in three segments. There is also an Extended Novel Group which submits and critiques more material.) I did 13 critiques of fellow student’s stories or novel chapters. They ranged from about 1000 to 2000 words (2-4 pages single spaced), and covered all aspects of fiction writing.
I tend to do my critiques systematically, using the following sixteen categories: Immediate Reaction, Title, Writing, Beginning, Main Characters, Dialogue, Point of View, Setting, Exposition and Pacing, Theme, Genre and Originality, Plot, Ending, Page Notes, Strongest Aspect of the Story, and Weakest Aspect of the Story and How It Can Improve. For the critique sessions, we’d go around the circle, with each person generally having up to ten minutes to give their critique, and then the one being critiqued had 18 minutes to discuss the story, respond to the critiques, and ask questions.
This year’s topic for the Master Classes was “Creating Powerful Emotion in Your Fiction.” There were eight lectures, most of them with interactive exercises, most ranging from one to one and a half hours long:
- “My Knees Could Have Been Stirred With A Spoon: Showing Character Emotion,” by Katie Yelinek;
- “Outer, Inner, Other/Recognition, Fascination, Mystery: Two Approaches to Writing Emotion,” by Gigi Vernon;
- “Emotion Underlies the Character Arc,” by Gerald Warfield;
- “You Shall Not Pass,” by Jeanne Cavelos:
- “Create an Emotional Storyboard,” by Jessica Thomas;
- “Ogling the Shapely Story: The Science of Shape in Fiction,” by James Hall;
- “Have Yourself a Hilarious, Terrified Sob Fest: Evoking Emotion in the Reader,” by Travis Heermann;
- “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love & Writing Humor?” by Barbara Barnett-Stewart.
Other segments included:
- Brainstorming Session, hosted by Samantha Weiss;
- Novel Synopsis and Plot Breakout Sessions;
- Problem-Solving Session;
- Salon Fantastique: “Breaking the Rules,” hosted by Gerald Warfield;
- Salon Fantastique: “The Fantasy in Fantasy and the Science in Science Fiction,” hosted by Travis Heermann and Samantha Weiss;
- Two Read Aloud Sessions, hosted by Geoffrey Jacoby;
- Slam Reading at Barnes and Noble (where we each do a five-minute reading);
- Trip to Old Number Six Book Depot;
- Daily Writing Hours;
- Lunch with Jeanne;
- Several group dinners.
I had three stories critiqued. From the critiques, the main problem is I need to challenge my characters more – they solved their problems too easily, so I’ll be giving them more problems in my rewrites. I also need to follow the three-act structure more closely. My stories were:
- “Mad Molly and the Nuclear Bomb.” This was a humorous hard SF story featuring Mad Molly, an 80-year-old black autistic retired math professor who solves problems with math – but often for her own reasons. In this story terrorists had sent a nuclear bomb through a tunnel from Paris to DC, while Molly was trying to send an ice cream cake to her sister in Paris, as she did every Tuesday at 5PM – and while her main motivation was get that ice cream cake sent out on time, she has to solve the little problem of the nuclear bomb as well.
- “Confederate Cavalry on a Plane.” This was a humorous romp through parallel universes, featuring a professor and a student on a plane, where the professor believes in the multiverse theory that there is a universe for every possibility. This leads to a bet where the student has to come up some unlikely situation to see if it might occur, and so he bets that Confederate Cavalry will not appear on the plane – which leads, of course, to three very confused Confederates on horses charging down the aisle, including a valid scientific explanation. Also featured is a 12-year-old brat who steals them blind and causes havoc, a really fat chicken, the three Confederate Cavalry and their horses (including Hammer, who solved the Grand Unified Theory of Physics, and sort of steals the show), and a host of other oddball characters, from J.E.B. Stuart to the self-aware alien stasis field Quastika.
- “As a Matter of Fact the Universe Does Revolve Around Me.” This was about a teenage girl who discovers she literally is the center of the universe – and a whole lot more! It’s a fantasy disguised as science fiction as the universe rotates around her every ten minutes, which scientists can’t explain, and which leads to problems in school as she has to hold herself down or she starts to rotate around in the air (or rather, she holds still while the universe rotates around her). It’s also sort of a madcap adventure as she leaves our universe for the multiverse and beyond, as well as a superhero story.
My main volunteer activity was as a pack mule, helping move heavy boxes and other items around. Alas, I hurt my knee doing this on the first day, and limped the rest of TNEO, wearing a knee brace, which ended my pack mule activities.
The ride back was mostly uneventful except for a few times where my GPS on my phone went crazy. A couple of times it froze up, and so I’d miss exits, which led to an ill-fated 30-minute excursion into New York City. A few times the GPS would say something like, “In a quarter mile…” and then it would cut off for 30 seconds or so. Then, after I’d missed the turn, it would finish the sentence. Worse, for an hour in the middle of the trip it was consistently off by about 20-30 seconds. Sometimes I’d make a turn, and then listen to the GPS spend the next 20 seconds telling me to make the turn I’d already made.
Then came the weirdest GPS thing. I stopped at a rest break while on the New Jersey Turnpike. Nobody had physical access to my phone, which was strapped to my belt. But when I got back on the Turnpike, it told me to take the first exit off, which I knew was wrong – I had another hundred or so miles to go before exiting. So I pulled over and checked the phone – and somehow it was trying to get me to some local address! I have no idea how that happened. So I had to reprogram it to take me home. The drive back took about ten hours.
I’m already looking forward to next year, with three more stories. I’m already planning new ones – half the reason for going to TNEO and other workshops might be the inspiration! So if you are an Odyssey grad, perhaps you should join us next year? And if you are not an Odyssey grad, then why not consider taking a six-week “vacation” next year that will change your life AND dramatically improve your writing and chances of getting published?
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