Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How far is too far?

In the early days of human history, sanitation didn't exist. Some cultures changed that faster than others, but during the middle ages Europeans thought bathing made them sick (as opposed to the other way around) so used perfumes to hide the stench of their odoriferous bodies. (Just thinking about it makes me a bit nauseous.)

We, of course, thanks to various biologic sciences, know better. Clean is good. Cleaner is better. Sanitized is the best. Kill all those nasty little germs. Right?

Or have we gone too far?

Now, standing in my kitchen eating probiotic (i.e. bacteria laden) yogurt to jumpstart a system that too often stalls, seeing the anti-bacterial soap and dishwashing liquid on the sink, knowing my bottle of bleach and my disinfecting spray are close at hand, I have to wonder.

When I was a child (not quite the neolithic era, thank you), we spend most of each day outside. The tv, for those of us who had one, had a small, black & white picture and only three channels so, after Happy the Clown, Captain Kangaroo, and Gene London, out the door we went. We ate mud pies, swallowed earthworms, splashed in puddles, and got REALLY dirty (as in Mom turned the hose on us before letting us indoors.) And, for the most part, we were healthy.

Growing up, I only remember being ill three times: measles, mumps, and chickenpox. Flu, colds, a sick belly now and again, yeah, but my siblings and I didn't stay down long with any of them.

We always laughed that "God made dirt, and dirt don't hurt." I'm starting to think those words contain more than a grain of truth--along with the sand and gravel.

Today we hear more and more of a variety of illnesses preying on children. Asthma is rife. Some children live with daily doses of steroids. Allergies? Getting worse every day. Chronic diseases seem to shout from headlines followed closely by myriad genetic disorders.

Okay, the proliferation of media may, indeed, have something to do with our awareness, but the numbers don't lie; our children are getting sicker.

There are "good" bacteria and "bad" bacteria, but the broad-spectrum antibiotics prescribed don't differentiate. In fact, they have gone a long way, in conjunction with people who don't follow directions, into the creation of our current crop of super-bugs.

Now you may ask, why this discourse on a science-fiction writing blog?

It's the whole "What if" thing.

What if a society, in the name of sanitation, succeeded in killing all bacteria?

In my head, there is a story taking shape around the premise, but I'll not contaminate your thought processes with mine.

If this "What if" intrigues you, grabs a corner of your mind, and you'd like to share your thoughts, I'd love to see them. Do you think we've gone too far?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I am so blessed. Serendipity, the grace of God, fate, call it what you will, threw my CP at me when I least expected it. In fact, I'd stopped writing--fiction, that is (let's face it, writers don't stop writing. They always find some outlet to get a "fix")--because something happened (another story) that destroyed my faith in my ability to make sound business choices.

Two more unlikely partners there never were and probably never will be.

Laurie is a four time Golden Heart finalist and two time winner. All my manuscripts moldered on a closet shelf and only one had ever seen a contest or two (and while it didn't win, the scores were good, I'm happy to say.) Laurie put her writing before everything but her family. I agree, family first, but that's where we diverged; everything came before my writing.

When Laurie started writing she had no grasp of mechanics--ignorance of punctuation, grammar, formatting, point of view, etc., had no bearing on her ambition---she just knew she wanted to write and set about making it happen. I, on the other hand, started writing as soon as I discovered words, submitting short bits to our local newspaper (and getting them published) while still in elementary school, winning local and county competitions in high school, working for an ad agency, putting out newsletters for various organizations, even composing form letters for an international firm. Whoopty-do.

Laurie's drive humbled me. There are no excuses for not writing in her world and only one or, possibly, two good reasons. Death is one. If number two exists, I haven't discovered it yet.

And there's one more l i t t l e tiny difference; Laurie writes sexy, humorous home-and-family themed contempory romance. She is such a pragmatist, I tease her that her feet are so firmly rooted in solid ground that when it comes time to plant her they're going to have to dig her up first. It makes working on Science Fiction interesting. She can be such a hard sell, but she keeps me honest.

And the worst part? I wish you all a Laurie.

Why? Because she can be brutal in her honesty. When she writes TSTL (too stupid to live) next to a paragraph, I cringe, but that keeps the contrivances away.

Oh, and lest you think I take all the flak, never fear; we are both of the opinion that false flattery is the worst kind of lie. Friends tell friends the truth, and we quickly became friends, appreciating each other's strengths and weaknesses.

I offered to take a look at her stuff and see if I could help--that's what I'd been doing for several friends online, two of whom got published shortly thereafter, and I'd like to think my suggestions played a small part in their success. She hemmed and hawed a bit, but agreed to a trial run.

After a couple of weeks, she demanded I show her my stuff. The trial had, apparently, been a success, but she declared she didn't do one way street deals. Either I handed over some of my work, or the deal was off. Reluctantly, I dusted off a box and gave her a few chapters. The rest is, as they say, history. She pushed me to rejoin RWA (after a nine year hiatus), and enter the manuscipt in a national contest.

I placed third.

Next came the GH. I entered under duress--and made the finals, much to my amazement. So did Laurie, so we hied off to Dallas. Neither of us won, but what a fabulous time we had. (I'm smiling as I type this. We had a blast.)

Oh, there is one small item that needs clarification: Most of you are probably under the impression CP stands for Critique Partner. In your world, I'm sure it does. Finding the perfect fit in a CP is a goal worthy of any aspiring writer. Some writers have three or four CPs to give them guidance and balance, which is all well and good for those of you with a Critique Partner.

For me, CP stands for Cattle Prod, and trust me, one is plenty. (Love ya, Laur! )

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The competition is killing me.

My historical persona was a 2007 Golden Heart Finalist. For 2009, my Sci-Fi persona insists on trying.

My historical persona started a blog today for purely business purposes. My Sci-Fi persona insists she'll need a web presence sooner or later. Why not now?

Yes, I write in two genres---two genres that some think diametrically opposed. Not so. It is often the little known fact or odd mannerism I find in my historic research that sets off the "what if" questions that send me into the future.

What if:
. . . Napoleon was more than a short despot with a bantam rooster complex and a strange penchant for rubbing his own chest?
. . . a more advanced alien race had inserted him into history for their own purpose?
. . . he stuck his hand in his coat to activate a communications or recording device?

However, after an uncomfortable bout with tendinitis in my shoulder that tune changed.

What if:
. . . Napoleon had tendinitis and elevating his arm eased the constant ache?
. . . being a vain man, he didn't want to ruin the line of his coat with a sling?

Yeah, blew that story right out of the water without bothering the British fleet. However, there are always more "what ifs" to pursue.

What if:
. . . a society existed where people were genetically engineered to fulfill certain jobs?
. . . a product of that society found herself stranded among a people living in the equivalent of Earth's Dark Ages?
. . . the superstitious hero learned the truth about her?
. . . he wondered if she had a soul?

And, thus, Warrior's Woman was born--and spawned a the idea for an entire Earth Colony series. Two of the stories are well on their way to done. Several more are simple jottings, but are starting to coalesce.

Being young when James Tiberius Kirk started his mission to "boldly go where no man had gone before", the possibilities of Star Trek seemed as vast and endless as the universe. I found myself caught between my love of history and my fascination with the futuristic.

I'm still caught.

The framework of history often feels like a cage, confining my imagination, but that framework can't exist where history has yet to be written. No framework, no limitations.

Sounds like a plan, but there is--as always--a caveat.

Werewolves, vampires, witchcraft, trolls, and the like held no allure. Science fiction, however, always compelled a quest for answers to the "what if" question. Yet, unlike fantasy, science fiction imposed a limitation--plausibility. Scotty had "beamed" people hither and yon with impunity despite our knowing molecular decomposition and recomposition of anything, let alone living tissue, isn't possible--yet--but it is plausible. Gene Roddenberry made us believe it could happen, so why couldn't I?

Plausibility is one limitation I can handle.

So, I am writing science fiction romances. The history buff. The English geek. The literature nut. The library whiz and math catastrophe--who happened to love advanced biology.

Facets. Lots of facets. Humanity is a heck of a ride.

The biological sciences are intriguing. Chemistry--not so much. Physics--only the basics and those in small doses, thanks. BUT when they are integrated into a story, that's different.

Well, isn't it?

I mean, I'm not talking quantum physics here--yet--but what if your binary star system is in flux? Something happened to throw the largest planet in the solar system out of orbit? The moons of that rogue planet are now changing the tides, the weather, everything about an inhabited world? How are you going to fix it? What force will restore order? How can that force be created? How will it be administered? What happens if you miss?

Oops. Sorry. The "what ifs" can be difficult to control until they find life on the page. Giving them that page keeps me (barely) sane.