About Writers, book reviews, Research, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

A Question For Mimi

Mimi Speake is an historian of sixteenth century Europe & therabouts. She delves into the private lives of such as Bernard Délicieux, the Friar of Carcassonne and Henry of Navarre. Nothing seems to delight Mimi more than to accurately include in her stories obscure details about the financial information of a walled town from that period, or a seminal work on algebra, or even lore about La Fée Verte, the green fairy.
And uh, Mimi is the only historian I know. So, I have a question for her.

Is Google messing with history? Not on purpose. But is that repository of human knowledge fatally flawed because of what it does not include?

I ask because I recently searched for early reviews of Arthur C. Clarke’s first book, Against the Fall of Night, published by Startling Stories magazine in 1948. Despite the story itself being vintage Clarke, the novella was initially panned for its word dumps of the author’s social theories. They added nothing to the story. I know this because I read it as a kid and I still remember my eyes glassing over the pages of preaching.
A few years ago, I re-read it. The book that I re-read said it had been published only because fans had expressed interest in reading Clarke’s first novel. It’s forward discussed Against the Fall of Night’s initial reception (dismal) and included some of those early reviews (bad.)

But Google has unwittingly rewritten history. I cannot find any of those original reviews. The Fall of Night is today presented as if it hadn’t bombed; as if it is just another good book by Clarke, even though he had to rewrite it in 1956 as The City and the Stars.

I know. I know. Google is not a complete history of anything. It is only a collection of whatever bits people put on the ‘Net. (But I wonder how many people think about things that are not on the Internet.)

So, Mimi, if I may follow-up, how do you find information that is not on Google?

And for everyone, a broader question:
To what extent are search engine results and social media the background against which we frame our questions? Do they guide the answers that we accept?
In short, does the Internet shape our collective consciousness?

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Uncategorized

This Is Personal

I’m sitting in a coffee bar on G street. I’m not a coffee bar writer, or at least not especially a coffee bar writer. Truth is, I could always write any old place, and I often did: a doctor’s waiting room, a park bench, the front seat of a my (parked) car. Even at home. It didn’t matter. I always carried a crummy spiral bound notebook and a couple of ballpoints with me. I wrote six novels and a memoir using that method.

Things have changed. In truth, I’ve had to seriously consider whether I’m even a writer anymore, whether that’s really an accurate way of identifying myself. Not to others — I’ve rarely ever called myself a writer — but to myself. Is that still a defining part of my identity?

I’m not normally one for a lot of existential soul searching, and certainly not one for doing this kind of thing in public. It doesn’t interest me very much, and I’m damned sure it wouldn’t interest anyone else. But I’ve been pretty scarce around these boards lately. I’ve been a poor member of this community for the last year or so, and I think it’s time I explained what’s been going on, about what led me to this grim precipice.

And no, I’m not going to jump. The time for desperate measures has passed.

About a year and a half ago, my son was arrested. He had just turned 18. It was a violent crime. Mercifully, no one was hurt, but they could have been. People could have died, and he would’ve been at least partly to blame.

He sat in the local jail for almost a year waiting for trial. I visited him twice a week (which was about all that he was allowed). He called several more times a week. We didn’t talk about his crime very much. Everything you say on a jail phone is recorded; everything you write is copied and kept: it can all be used against you. He didn’t see his lawyers (he had three at various times, all public defenders) often, but the one thing they were adamant about was that he shouldn’t be talking about his crime. So we didn’t. It was okay. At first, of course, my curiosity was eating me up, but I understood the need NOT to talk about it, and after a while, I almost stopped caring, hard as that may be to believe. I’m still curious about what happened that night, but I don’t need to know anymore. I have assumed the worst. I’ve stared into that particular horror, and the truth is, I still love my son. I still hope and believe that when he finally gets out, he can still have a decent life ahead of him. I don’t think he is evil. I think he made a lot of stupid decisions, at an age when most people make stupid decisions. His were worse than most…

But I’m getting off the topic. About six months ago, he took a plea deal. His lawyer, incidentally, believed his story, but his partner-in-crime, his co-perpetrator, put all the blame on my son, and the lawyer said going to trial was risky. If the jury found against him, he could’ve gotten a life sentence. So he took a deal. It was a lousy deal. In truth, I think he got rooked by the DA’s office (who seemed to be highly motivated to show how tough she was on middle class criminals in our crime ridden city) but that’s off topic as well. He’s still responsible for his actions, and he’s the first to admit it. To his credit, he’s never tried to shuffle off blame or complained about the apparent unfairness. He wants to pay for his crime. And pay he will. There are still factors that could change his eventual sentence, but the most likely scenario is that he will spend about ten years in a state penitentiary.

That’s where he is now. We haven’t been able to visit him yet (there is a whole process of getting permission which is time consuming and bureaucratically convoluted). He has called once, but apparently gets few opportunities to use the phone. Even letters are infrequent and unpredictable, for various reasons. But he says he is okay for now.

Ten years to go.

I’ve never been a conscientious writer. There have been times when I have dutifully managed to produce a daily word count, but that hasn’t been the norm. I’ve had fallow periods before, but nothing quite like what I’ve experienced in the last 18 months. It’s hard not to blame it on my kid the criminal, my son the jail bird, my child the prison inmate. We’ve found out things about his life before the crime that we certainly never wanted to know, and that no parent should ever have to know, but all too many of us must. It has made me question almost everything. It certainly shifted the stupid novel I was working on to the back burner. Hell! Back burner? The whole stove was off. I wasn’t even going into that mental kitchen anymore.

Really, I blame him for a lot of things, but I can’t blame him for my writerly crisis of faith. Writing is a choice and a discipline. You can’t blame anybody but yourself, and really, you shouldn’t blame anyone. Not writing is also a valid choice, just a sad one — for the writer anyway. As far as readers go, well, there are plenty of other books to read. The world will get along just fine if I never write another word.

So this is really about me. And — spoiler alert — no, I haven’t given up. I haven’t jumped into that particular abyss of self. For the last couple of months, I’ve been making this daily pilgrimage to this charming, noisy, college town coffee shop. I have my laptop. I have my notebooks, in which are scrawled the words I wrote — some almost two years ago — the very rough draft of a novel that, it turns out, is probably nearly 500 pages long. I sit, drink a dark roast, and spend an hour, maybe two, unearthing this erstwhile corpse. It isn’t bad. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it when I finish it. I suppose I’ll self-publish it (I am so past the whole find-a-publisher part of the process, though I imagine I probably could. I’ve done it before.)

But that’s another topic, and for right now, it isn’t the important part. I need to finish this book. I need to do this every day. After all, I have other books to write.

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About Writers, book promotion, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

The Quantum Soul

What do you get when you ask science fiction authors to write short stories that answer the question, “What is life?”

Victor Acquista, in Soul Mates, wonders if adding back what a dying person loses will reanimate the corpse.
In New Year, GD Deckard wants to know where are we when we’re not alive?

Claire Buss, in Patient Data, explores what might happen if medical robots know a patient is alive or dead only after the fact. CB Droege imagines what freed ‘bots do, once freed, in The Dream Miner’s Drill. In Rob Edwards, Shepherd of Memory, an Alien encounter changes a man but he can’t remember in what way he is now different. Darran Handshaw’s engineer finds a girl in an Ancient pod in The Machine in the Mountain. If you assume all intelligent life forms are animal, Brent A. Harris’ The Trees of Trappist will delight you. For that matter, “Are we alive or are we the A.I.?” is the question in Greg Krojac’s Pixels. And when we do meet an alien intelligence, linguistics just might be the most crucial skill we have, as it is in Leo McBride, Second Contact.

Learn what an autobot might think about in his dying moments in Jeanette O’Hagan, Project Chameleon. Probe other’s dreams in Lyra Shanti’s The Endymion Device. Enjoy ways strange can be wondrous in E.M. Swifthook’s Wondrous Strange.

Cindy Tomamichel has Sci-Fi fun When Words Are Not Enough. “Are created people, people?” may be answered by Ricardo Victoria in What Measure is a Homunculus? And why not create a “people” to travel the light years through space for us, as Jim Webster does in Aether Technician.

What do you get when you ask science fiction authors to write short stories that answer the question, “What is life?”
You get the SciFi Roundtable’s Anthology, The Quantum Soul.

Released today on Amazon.

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Uncategorized, writing technique

Raise Your Voice… uh, Voices!

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I am not a sarcastic person. Sarcasm strikes me as mean — snarky condemnations passive-aggressively issued by arrogant people desperate to feel superior to those they ridicule. Those who are not the target may think it’s witty, but maybe they’re just relieved and smugly enjoying the fact it wasn’t aimed at them. After all, does anyone really deserve such ridicule? I’m inclined to give all* people the benefit of the doubt, and accept their occasionally foolish, irritating, mind-raspingly stupid behavior as an entitlement every human may claim. Even I could claim it if I were ever foolish, irritating, or stupid. None of which, of course, I ever am.

That’s the reason Romero Russo was such a revelation. More than two years ago, Romero started writing a book called Sarcasm Font. My first public view of him was on Inkshares during a marketing contest. After completing the first five chapters of his ambiguously fictional story, he started blogging. People found his writing funny and thoughtful:

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Here’s the thing. I am him.

 

That’s right. Following an unexpected series of events leading to my brain slurring two words into a word you won’t find in the OED, a fit of whimsy took over. I began writing Sarcasm Font in a voice so unfamiliar to me that I couldn’t even claim author credit. Romero Russo was born. He had a life of his own. He didn’t speak to me; he spoke through me. No doubt other authors have had the same out-of-voice experience. I suspect they would agree: it’s freeing.

Version 2

The elusive Romero Russo (Photo credit: S.T. Ranscht)

 

Like many authors, I’ve written characters who say sarcastic things. Readers have commented that each of my characters has an individual, identifiable voice. But writing and living from inside a character whose voice differs drastically from your own is more like acting. If you allow that person to tell the whole story, the writing experience is more like watching the story than creating it.

When Romero went public on Inkshares, the circle who knew about the two of us was small: two of my sisters and my son. They were kind enough not to share Romero’s secret, but they weren’t shy about letting me know they thought it was kind of creepy that I talked about him as if he were real. He and I shared a Venn diagram overlap of followers, and we followed each other. Why wouldn’t we? We were marketing separate works by separate authors.

But when we started blogging, we were sharing our “selves” with strangers. That’s when it became a hoax. No one questioned it. Why would they? He said things I would never say. It was just so darn much fun to be Romero Russo.

After the 2016 A to Z Blogging Challenge, Romero went silent on WordPress. I was still working on Sarcasm Font, and planned to promote it under his name. I began to question the practicality of that when I wrote the short story behind one of his… um, life events, and entered it in a contest. Entry required a bio and a photo. I had those, no problem. But on the chance — however remote — that it won a cash prize, or was short-listed to be published in the anthology, wouldn’t I want the cash and/or credit to be mine? Yes. Yes I would. I submitted it under my name, and while it didn’t win any cash, it was published in the contest anthology. I got all the credit.

I also gave myself up. Someone — I leave the choice to acknowledge this to him — who follows both Romero and me procured a copy of the anthology and read my story, which I, appropriately though perhaps indiscreetly, called “Sarcasm Font”. He allowed that I might merely have appropriated Romero’s premise, but he also suspected that we might be one and the same, despite the difference in voices. When he asked me directly, I couldn’t bring myself to resort to “alternative facts”. I confessed.

My hope is that others may take some inspiration from this tale. If you haven’t yet written an out-of-voice story, I highly recommend it. It will open your mind to discover voices you didn’t know you had. Ideas that have never occurred to you before will flow. You might find your very own Romero Russo.

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*(Except for one person to whom I gave a chance, but whose consistently reprehensible behavior has depleted my ability to tolerate. I might need Romero to speak for me for the next four years.)

fullsizeoutput_174 S.T. Ranscht lives in San Diego, California. She and Robert P. Beus co-authored ENHANCED, the first book in the young adult Second Earth Trilogy. She is currently submitting their baby to literary agents, determined to find the one who is their perfect match. Her short story, “Cat Artist Catharsis”, earned Honorable Mention in Curtis Bausse’s 2016 Book a Break Short Story Contest, and is available in its anthology, Cat Tales. “Sarcasm Font” appears in the 2016 To Hull and Back Short Story Anthology. Find her online: on WordPress at Space, Time, and Raspberries, Facebook, Twitter @STRanscht and Instagram @stranscht. You can follow ENHANCED on Facebook, Twitter @EnhancedYASyFy, and Instagram @secondearthtrilogy.

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blogging, book promotion

On Extending Our Reach.

I’ve brought this up previously and gotten no response, neither pro nor con, from anyone but Curtis. I’m willing to work on our look, but so far I have to assume that you all think it just fine.

The Writer Coop Annex page I’ve created as an experiment on my own site, is it too slick for you? Curtis says too much work. Yes, it is more work than what we have at present, and I am not eager to dive in, but what we show here does not say, to me anyway, we’re in this game to win.

We have had a few folks put up a post and disappear. Do they see us as a waste of time? They obviously do not want to chat, they want a site with activity, that they can market to and through. That means numbers, which we ain’t got. I put Tom Wolosz in this category, and the guy with the riddles.

We have great, wide-ranging content, we need a better presentation, a front page slate of offerings, where people will see plenty going on, plenty to be excited about, that makes them eager to jump in.

I get emails, so-and-so liked your comment, names I don’t know. Why do few of you speak up? I’m damn curious.

Let’s take a survey: Why are you here? What do you like about this site? What don’t you like?

Are you a wanna-be (published) like me, or are you already in (trad/ebook) print? What tactics have you used to get out the word?

I consider Writer Coop to be grand entertainment. Do you? (It’s fun to read, even more fun to write for.)

Facebook has a number of groups where you can cry your wares. Writers do, in droves, hit-and-run appeals, and that gets tedious real fast. This site is more of a soft-sell marketing magazine with feature-length articles. And, literary-leaning, I love that. Do you?

Those who apparently have no time to prepare a piece for us, who are, presumably, busy with the blog tours and such, good luck to them. How’s that going?

Those who proudly proclaim, my book is #425 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Paranormal & Urban, give me a break. That’s a load of crap and you know it.

Hey, break it down even further: Yada > Yada > Paranormal & Urban > Alien Comedians. (There you go, GD.) You select a category narrow enough, of course you’re going to sound good. I would guess that not many of us, at this point, fall for that. How many books have you sold/given out, in the hands of readers, the start (theoretically) of a fan base?

Marketing is exposure, that’s a given. It’s also seduction. The best way to seduce me is to demonstrate your facility with language. And where better to do it than on here? We have no rules here, except perhaps, no bullshit (except in fun), and don’t bore us. Are you up to that?

Lurkers! How’s about, everybody into the pool. Start at the shallow end, the comments section. Get your fanny wet there.

I’m all-in on this, in case you haven’t noticed. But I’ve got my own site (in progress). When it’s ready, I’ll be pushing it gangbusters. So this effort isn’t make-or-break for me. But it’s a tool in my toolbox, and I want to see it succeed.

I bow to the majority will. If you’re happy with our as-is, I won’t bring it up again. Isn’t it worth an on the record yea or nay to shut me up? Everyone admits the need for a professional-level cover on a book. How is a website any different?

What does our DIY-feel format say about our marketing sophistication? Are we an enjoyable writer hangout, a place to recharge our batteries, marketing one of many topics we tackle, or the reverse, a small start on a marketing think-tank, stylish, smart schmooze our (tasty, if I do say so myself) bait?

Am I over-focused on cosmetics? Networking, that’s a vital strategy. Mentions scattered around the web may pay off. I announced our presence yesterday on Book Country. The result so far: 57 views, no replies.

Do we have a way to track visits? One site I followed had a visible daily tally. The owner turned that off fast. It was embarrassing how few dropped by. She’d set up shop as a web designer, but her effort on behalf of her most important client, for herself, fell way short. (That’s what I worry about here.) She targeted small business owners because small business owners, in my experience, don’t know good work from crap. When her domain name came up for renewal, she let it lapse, a wise decision. In the fifteen years I knew her, she never produced a piece I admired.

I could insert our link in the comments section of the YouTube publishing/marketing videos that I comb relentlessly for ideas. Do any of the big-name sites, Jane Friedman for instance, have the equivalent of letters to the editor? I am ready to try all of this, but first I think we need to reconsider our personal-blog style presentation.

I’ve dropped the term Glabelhammies into my remark on a Mark Knopfler video, and advised viewers to google it up. The hit on the search result brought me straight here. Guerrilla Marketing! Channel Hunter S. Thompson and get to work. That’s why we need a really exciting front page, so our accidental tourists are persuaded to peruse, and perhaps bookmark for a return visit.

Give us more neat words, GD. I’ll disperse them, here, there, in ways that (seem to) make (some kind of) sense. Write us a blog-post full of wonderful invented words and I’ll skip, tra-la, tra-la, from Facebook to YouTube to Twitter, Gretel-like, judiciously dropping my bread crumbs. I love new words. I’m always looking them up. I can’t be the only word-nut around.

Craigslist! Is there a category on Craigslist for us? If not, can we make one up? I’ve said it before. I say it again: NO STONE UNTURNED.

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Here’s a screen shot of my latest try. This is built in Wix. I would look for something of this nature in the WordPress templates.

The blue and dotted lines are there because I took the screen shot in the Editor. A header and footer would display on all pages. And, of course, a menu.

A template, where you would have your features set up and only have to plug in new copy, I don’t think that would be too much work.

What you see below is real easy to do in Wix. The time consuming part is, you have to tweak everything. Every item impacts what sits beneath it. Any increase in depth on nearly anything, what lies below bumps and jumps around. Annoying as hell! A locked in place template is definitely in order.

FYI: From dotted line to dotted line is the recommended width for a standard screen. To accommodate a decorative edge right and left, I would have to skinny up the guts.

If I were working in Wix, I would create a spare, random repeat/motif of the symbols as a background, to liven up the empty side space on a big screen. I don’t know if you can do that with WordPress.

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book promotion, reading

What’s Your Plan?

I am riled by (the info in) Atthys’ latest post: readership is down (we knew that), and self publishing is way up. A lot of folks who would formerly have been reading are too busy, having been inspired by Hugh Howey and Amanda Hocking to try their hand at it.

He’s right about writers, to a certain extent. I have many books I want to dig into. I nibble, here, there. It takes something really special to lock me in. It doesn’t mean I don’t admire a piece, but I have things I feel I need (as opposed to want) to read. Much of this is research. I confess, I am one of the recalcitrant readers.

But there are still plenty of not-booked-up book lovers around. How do we reach them? How do we convince them that our book, in the vast array of choices, is the one they want to read? How do we get ourselves noticed in the first place?

We need a marketing plan. A robust marketing plan. Putting your thing up on Amazon, doing an interview on someone’s blog, planting an announcement here or there, buying an ad on Google, we see from testimony given here, this doesn’t begin to suffice.

Number one, you need a website. I’m working on one, as most of you know. Curtis wonders why it has to be so elaborate. Why can’t I just post my novella, hand out my bumper stickers, and get back writing?

I consider graphic style to be a hook as important as a dynamite first paragraph. (Well, natch. I’m a designer.) Everyone I manage to herd to my site who doesn’t have his/her socks knocked off one way or another, I’ve had my shot with them and blown it. I aim to tantalize with fun graphics and patter, holding their interest long enough to get them to read a bit of story, hoping they decide that my squirrely thing is for them.

Only days ago I inserted Mr. Peabody into the mix. The Mr. Peabody. He performs a specific mechanical function for me, but I’m sure I’ll find other use for him. He is, you’ll recall, a history buff, possessed of a rare breadth and depth of information. (How can I pass up this astonishing opportunity?) He’s spent the past forty years earning his Ph.D. Like my ex-sister-in-law did, changing schools and/or fields multiple times, because she could. She ran through a large inheritance in the process. She’s now forced to sell land that’s been in her family for generations. Dr. P has depleted his own money (from his hit show) and, broke, the poor guy lacking a considerable remnant of once massive farmland to surrender, he’s coming to work for me. I believe I’ll give him an advice column on my site, poor baby.

I may call it Ask Dr. P. Will people think I’ve got Dr. Phil on board? Phil-style babble, references to a TV show, they may. Should I exploit that somehow? Something to think about. I’m beginning to wonder if Peabody wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Dr. Phil show, and they accepted it to get him out the damn door.

When I’m all tuned up, ready to roll, I’ll promote my web presence aggressively:

This is a bit out-there, but I may try it: In a bookstore, poke your business card into books in your genre, way in the middle. Readers will most likely not find the Rogue plug for some time. If they’ve bought used, they’ll think it was left behind by the previous owner.

We have several small second hand bookstores in our area, and one rather renowned independent, the Hickory Stick in Washington Depot, CT. Might they let a local author put up a poster? The area is full of weekenders up from Manhattan. Who knows what eye I might catch.

Kent is a movers-and-shakers summer haven. I will set up on the main street on a big summer weekend. (In summer, all weekends are big, but some are extra big.) I’ll grab a prime parking spot early in the day and publicize Sly out of my car.

That’s for someday. Back to now: I pick up valuable information in the several writer/web design groups on Facebook. Here’s a tip I found just today: Google has a new search algorithm that gives priority to mobile-ready sites. I have debated making my .com site a pared down mobile-friendly portal to a full site. (As opposed to a supplemental thing.) After reading this, I am convinced a simplified feeder to the big bass drum (Booth led boldly with his big bass drum, that line sticks with me from tenth grade, fifty-five years ago) seems to be the better way.

More street level shenanigans: Can you get yourself profiled in your local paper? My cousin Jim Meirose has had several pieces done on him. He’s made himself a name, at least in Central Jersey. Have you thought about posting a flyer in laundromats? I’ve perused many a bulletin board, waiting for my duds to dry.

I’m wondering, seeing all the political frou-frou on my way to work, how about yard signs? I’m considering knocking on doors, offering twenty-five bucks a month for permission to spear a placard into someone’s turf. Near a stop sign, where drivers sit in line.

That thin flexible vinyl bumper stickers are made of? I wonder if I could get an over-the-shoulders front/back billboard, turn myself into a walking advertisement. My husband might want to pretend he’s not with me but I can deal with that.

For all of this, you need an on-line home, where you: Talk up your book(s). Collect email addresses. Offer premiums. Post dates and locales of personal appearances. (Craft shows, etc., especially if you have hard copies to sell. I’m thinking here of my eventual paperdoll.) On Facebook you can place a link in any number of groups. Some percentage of viewers will take you up on it. I investigate sites all the time, to see how others handle them.

A website is your best tool. Create a hybrid, op-ed content in addition to the show-and-tell for your story so that, having coaxed folks on, you might keep them coming back.

Tell me your plan. Could be you have great ideas I’ve overlooked. I would love to hear them.

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blogging, book promotion, Stories

Writing DaysZ 6

The TV news team is telling me that one presidential candidate sold state department favors and the other plans internment camps for immigrants. Neither assertion is true, of course. They’re just straw man arguments. But a vigorous debate follows in which both candidates are trashed as though the assertions were true. Straw Men. They’re everywhere, like alien bug-eyed-monsters, grabbing our attention. Which is what straw men do, grab attention. “Straw man n. 2. An argument or opponent set up so as to be easily refuted or defeated. – American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition.” It’s the first step of spin.

Bob vs the Aliens
To read Writing DaysZ 1-5, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf

Debatable Arguments

+++They found the railroad handcar under an overhang behind the waystation. Bob and Piper grunted frantically, trying to inch it to the tracks before helicopter gunships could roar overhead. Old Spice rummaged through a wooden chest, tossing out items apparently deemed useless.
+++Piper dodged a wrench. “Spice!”
+++“Give us a hand,” Bob said urgently, quietly, “They’re coming!”
+++“No they’re not. The helicopter noise has stopped. Oh-” He held up an oil can. “Look!”
+++“So they landed in the town. In a few minutes, they’ll be airborne again and headed here.”
+++Spice began squirting oil on everything about the handcar that looked like it might move. “It’s Never Too Late to Prepare for an Emergency!” He smiled at them. “That’s my family motto.”
+++Bob repeated the phrase and squinted at Spice, “That’s the dumbest motto-.” The handcar lurched, screeched and began rolling. The three of them manhandled it onto the tracks and Bob and Piper pumped the seesaw handles while Spice squirted oil on every part that moved. Ahead, Bob saw a heavier stand of trees that promised shelter. Behind, he heard a helicopter lift off in the distance. The car gained speed to about twenty-five or thirty miles an hour and became easy to pump. But it was hardly escape velocity. He felt trapped in a slow-motion video. Trees blocked their view just as the helicopter approached the station behind them. “Keep going! They’ll overfly the track after they don’t find us at the station.” To ease the tension, he told Piper, “Spice was a doofus back home. Weren’t you, Spice?”
+++Spice looked up from something he was fiddling with. “Doofus?”
+++“An incompetent person,” Bob winked at Piper, “Foolish or stupid.”
+++She winked back. “Ignore him, Spice. You don’t have to talk about your family.”
+++Spice sputtered and stood. “That was not my fault! Really,” he implored. “It was the genetic alteration that I underwent for the Earth Mission. I was just trying to let her down easy.”
+++“Who, Spice?” Piper soothed. “Who were you trying to let down easy?”
+++“My fiancé,” he told her in a somber voice. “She deserved to know that my new body found her repulsive. So, I sent her a message. I followed all of the appropriate protocols for use of the family communicator, too. It is expected that the recipients of a personal message from my family will know who wrote it without a signature.”
+++Bob chuckled. “You sent her a message?”
+++“I chose my words carefully.”
+++“Oh, Spice! Is that’s how she found out you were breaking up with her?” Piper shook her head in dismay. “You texted her?”
+++“I wish.” The Alien slumped. “I accidently sent the message to the wrong person. But my fiancé, at least, knew who wrote it when she read it in the news.”
+++“Oh, Spice! Who did you send it to?”
+++“My father’s mistress. She was, how do you say it? Pissed at him.”
+++In the silence that followed, Bob rolled his eyes heavenward to see a helicopter flying in whisper mode arcing over the trees at the railcar. He grabbed the ray gun from his pocket and held it pointed skyward against his mouth and licked it frantically as ropes dropped around them and they were rushed by armed men dressed in black bulky outfits making loud, guttural, sounds. Abruptly, the helicopter veered away, trailing behind it one man still clinging to a rope.
+++“Where are you going?” asked one of the three men who had made it onto the railcar.
+++The answer came over his harness speaker. “Going for a beer. That was a roadhouse we passed back there. Coming?”
+++“Hell yeah man. We’re in.” The men jumped and rolled smartly to a standing stop behind the railcar. As the helicopter landed to pick them up, they turned and waved goodbye with their guns.
+++Bob looked at the ray gun but it was already fading away in his hand. “Wow,” he breathed.
+++“See.” Spice beamed at him, “I told you it would make attackers stop bothering us.”
+++“I just wished it had a trigger. Firing a ray gun by licking the red spot is stupid, Spice. I was too stressed to remember where the spot was. I had to lick the gun all over!” He made a face and spit.
+++“Don’t be trigger-happy, Bob.” Piper smiled at him like she was proud of him. “You saved us.” That made him happy. They spent the day taking turns, one keeping lookout while two pumped the handcar. No more helicopters came at them and although easy enough, the pumping was eventually exhausting as none of them were used to prolonged physical exertion. At dusk they were happy to see the lights of a small town.
+++“That’s New Haven,” Spice said. It’s not on any of your maps yet. But it popped up last week on our planet survey as a fast growing town. We can find accommodations there for the night.”
+++The lights in the town resolved into campfires, cars and people; adults, children and dogs, even some livestock. Where the rails crossed over a small stream, they were waved to a stop by men with fishing poles. “Hold on there,” one called in a pleasant but firm voice. He helped them to stop the handcar before it rolled onto the trestle.
+++“Thanks, friends.” The man held out his hand. “That contraption would make such a racket going over the bridge, the fish might stop biting. I’m Andy.”
+++Piper hopped down and shook his hand. “Glad you were able to help us stop in time, Andy. I’m Piper. We would like to spend the night here.” She turned and introduced Spice, who landed beside her, and Bob, who stayed on the cart. “Spice here is an Alien and Bob back there,” she pointed with her thumb, “Is Bob.”
+++“I see,” the man glanced at Bob before warmly shaking Spice’s hand. “Welcome! It is a pleasure to have you with us.”
+++“I thought all you Aliens left,” one of the fishermen said.
+++“That’s Skeeter.” Andy waved the man over. “Skeeter’s our Sheriff and resident greeter. Say,” he grinned at them, “You’re just in time for the debate. Let Skeeter get you a bite to eat and settled in.”
+++After some eating, greeting and refreshing, they watched older kids pile wood on one of the campfires to turn it into a communal bonfire. Early fall chilled the air. Overhead, star swarms lit a clear night sky. People gathered, some climbing up onto a vehicle. “Declared debaters,” Andy informed them, helping them climb up with him onto a flatbed truck. He raised his hands for attention. “The subject of tonight’s debate is, ‘What Happened?’”
+++“Is that an Alien?” a woman asked.
+++“Yes, and by the rules of New Haven, he is accepted like everyone else.”
+++The woman sounded agreeable, “Well, OKAY I guess.” To the chuckling of others, she added, “We accepted my ex-husband.”
+++“Back to the point,” Andy acted as the debate moderator, “What happened?”
+++“Well,” a thick looking man began, “I know we accept him and all and I do, but.” He paused and looked around. “You all know the collapse began when the Aliens arrived.” Bob loosely estimated maybe a couple hundred people watched the man point out Spice. “I’d like to hear what he has to say about that.”
+++With tense eyes turning on him, Spice seemed to shrink. He whispered into Bob’s ear, “Correlation is not cause and effect.”
+++“Excuse me,” Piper stepped forward. “We are Piper and Bob, Alien Companions. Due to the subtleties of the English language, and given the importance of clear communication in tonight’s debate, the Alien has asked us to translate for him. Allow me to introduce Old Spice, Earth Mission Commander of the Aliens.”
+++Spice genuflected as best a spherical being could, holding the pose longer than expected. Only when the crowd went silent did he rise to his full three-foot height, somehow making it all seem majestic. The thick man gave him back a short bow.
+++“What did he say, Bob?” Piper prompted.
+++“The Alien says their timing was unfortunate and unrelated to the circumstances on Earth when they landed.”
+++“Use his name, Bob!” To the amusement of the crowd, Piper kicked him. “Damn, man! Try to make him sound human.” They laughed at her. “Well, people, we need answers, not scapegoats. What do you really think happened?”
+++“You can’t fool me!” a man screamed.
+++“Ignore the screamer,” Andy told Bob, “He’s crazy. He’s not screaming at us. Herb screams only at himself.”
+++“Take your hands off that!” the screamer demanded.
+++Bob winked at Piper, “He’s talking to himself.”
+++“We already know what happened.” A young man spoke from the roof of his SUV. “My family lives in this car because the rich stole everything away from us. Away from all of us! The top one percent sucked up all of the oil with their planes and their helicopters and their yachts and moved their companies overseas and we’re left with no jobs and no homes and cars with no gas to live in.”
+++“Counter?” asked Andy. “Who wants to argue differently?”
+++“Scapegoating,” said Spice.
+++“What’s that mean?” the young man retorted.
+++“The word is from a Yom Kippur ritual,” Bob explained. “The high priest would symbolically lay the sins of the people on a goat’s head.”
+++“So?” the man huffed. “I know what I’m talking about. I listen to public radio.”
+++Stepping in smoothly, Piper said, “Spice is saying that blaming a group is no answer.”
+++“Scapegoating a group is just a way of setting up a straw man argument,” Bob elaborated. “Meaning, anyone in the group can be attacked for supposedly sharing the groups’ alleged sins. It’s a way of saying, ‘Politicians are greedy liars and can’t be trusted. That lets you attack anyone who is a politician.”
+++“Exactly!” The thick man nodded and smiled. “It was the Koch brothers!” He rotated slowly, nodding to the crowd, arms extended with palms up to bring them to his understanding. “They’re greedy billionaires. You can’t trust ’em! And we all know they are lying Republicans.”
+++“That’s plain crazy talk!” shouted a woman. “What about that billionaire George Soros? FOX News already exposed him as a Democrat. You gotta be crazy to trust a man who’s both, in the top one percent and a Democrat.”
+++“Stop that!” Herb screamed. “You can’t pee here.” That caused a slight commotion as people next to Herb drew back.
+++Spice seemed confused. “Scarcity drove up the price of oil,” he told Piper and Bob, “And you people kept buying it anyway. Now, not enough is left to power your needs. It was all very human and predictable. Why the blame?”
+++Bob shook his head, “Bad arguments, they’re everywhere. Let’s get out of here.” On the way out, they passed a sign someone had posted next to the fire, “Debate Tonight, Beware of Trolls.” In the distance, Herb screamed, “Time’s up!”

Yesterday was “National No Texting Day.” In what bubble in whose mind did that make sense? Makes me wonder how many people texted the info to their friends yesterday. That’s the thing about mind bubbles. They hold ideas that make sense when you think about them but burst when exposed to the real world.

Mind Bubbles
 … to be continued
(Follow Writing DaysZ to read Bob Vs The Aliens as it is being written. To read Writing DaysZ 1-5, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf)

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