pulp magazine cover

A Bit of Mental Exercise

pulp magazine
Jet Powers #4
Published 1951 by Magazine Enterprises.
Cover by Bob Powell.
pulp magazine cover
Lost Worlds #5
Published October 1952 by Standard Comics.
Cover by John Giunta (pencils) and Nick Cardy (inks)


Good Well, ok, it’s a morning. 

Between kids, chaos, and still not recovering from whatever crud has it’s tendrils into my lungs, I’m sorry, I didn’t get a coherent and witty post written up for today, you’re getting a recycled  re-purposed post. I did find the pulp magazine covers, which amused me. How much has changed in our art aesthetics! It’s a couple of years old, but compare those to this collection of ‘modern art’ 

Art by Simon Stålenhag
Art by Simon Stålenhag

So here’s a blast from the past post I wrote back in 2013. Combined with the art, where does it take your brain? Kinetic Stories

Kinetic Stories

“I get great ideas all the time. And promptly forget ’em. Ideas are like raindrops in the Pacific Northwest. Grains of sand in the Sahara. Plenty out there. It’s the Butt in Chair time that distinguishes writers from wannabes.” – David Pascoe

“This is why I don’t mind giving away ideas. They are free, because they don’t have stories and real characters attached. I can always get another idea. It’s the story and the characters that are truly valuable. (Though I can’t let them RULE… or there is chaos. Believe me). Besides, “nothing new under the sun”, but things that exist are more important than things that are in potential.”  – Margot St. Aubin

I got into one of those terrific conversations you can have online with like-minded people, and had a realization. Ideas are potential, but when you turn them into a story, you release that, and it becomes kinetic. The momentum of developing a world, peopling it, and adding conflict, resolution, and working at the writing, that is what makes a writer.

Writing, and reading, seem to be one of the most passive sports there is, until you consider the mystery that is our brain, and mirror neurons. While still poorly understood, the thing that is certain is: they allow us to feel what others are feeling. While we are reading, then, we are vicariously living through the characters. This doesn’t seem like a new thought, we’ve all used books to escape our humdrum lives and go ‘elsewhere’ for a while. Have you ever felt wrung out and exhausted after reading a really good book? Mirror neurons explain that ‘book hangover’ very well.

So reading is then a kinetic exercise, not just sitting in a chair scanning words. Writing is the way we turn the potential energy of ideas into that kinetic energy for the reader. Is it any wonder a good writer can lay down words and walk away feeling worn out? Not to mention, unlike the physical realm, the energy an idea sparks seems endless. It’s not limited to one or two treatments. Hand a single idea to ten writers, and you will get back ten very different stories.

If you have trouble coming up with ideas for stories, consider that you may be trying too hard. Ask for ideas. Anyone unwilling to share an idea doesn’t realize the potential energy held within it, far more than they can fully grasp. An idea doesn’t have to be lengthy, I wrote a story based off two words once. Find a group of writers and share story challenges. I participated in a group like that for about a year, and it was a terrific writing exercise, to fit these short idea challenges into the confines of a story, essay, or poem.

When you have an idea, even if you don’t have time to write it, or aren’t sure where it’s going, jot it down. You may come back to it later and be able to develop its potential. Or you can hand it off to someone else, as the leader of our writing group did recently, with a paragraph that has spawned close to 20 stories from a single seed. Every one of them different and exciting.

What’s your latest idea?


  1. My latest idea was to review Barbara Caffrey’s “To Survive the Maelstrom” and Sarah Hoyt’s “With Unconfined Wings” on Amazon. Later, I’ll review Gina Marie Wylie’s “S&W .45,” and I may blog on that as well. Finished the book sometime early this AM.
    BUT my literary idea is that time travel can actually be accomplished by activating your memories under specific circumstances, re-introducing you back into a time stream, and allowing you to make changes.

    1. RAH did that one… “Elsewhen” (collected in “Assignment in Eternity.” (Pen named as Caleb Saunders – which pretty much says that he didn’t think it was among the best of his work, in agreement with the critics.)

      But that doesn’t mean another person wouldn’t do something entirely different with it. H. Beam Piper – “Time and Time Again,” collected in “Worlds of H. Beam Piper” is very different. (FYI, for you Pat – it seems that all of HBP is now in Project Gutenberg, with the original magazine illustrations, if you are interested…)

      On covers – I have to admit that today’s art is not up to what it was in the ’60s (IMHO – YMMV). But it is far, far better than the “psychedelic” art that I have on my paperbacks of RAH from the 70s.

      1. I have this memory of a story where a man is somewhere close to ground zero of an atomic explosion (probably) and that sends his mind back in time to his body when he was a child. Fortunately he has a smart father who believes him and the story ends when they are planning how to prevent the war where his adult body perished. Maybe by getting him into politics when he is a suitable age again (or his body).


          1. That has to be the H. Beam Piper story I referenced. (On Project Gutenberg, so you can get it free.)

            I don’t recall off hand the story – I’m not even positive it’s in the same collection – but there is a later story where the MC of “Time and Time Again” is grown up (but a minor character), and yes, has succeeded in his goal. Of course, there are always OTHER problems…

    2. If it weren’t for the fact that I throw in a big honken endorsement of Leslie Fish, I wouldn’t intrude again to mention that I followed through on reviewing and blogging Gina Marie Wylie’s S&W .45. BUT, I DID throw in a big honken appeal to send Leslie money so she could finish up her endangered species project, so I am.
      And I also appeal for authors to get rich.

  2. The latest idea that I don’t think I’ll develop myself, mostly because it would involve more research than I want to do, is that the US Interstate Highway System was actually designed as an enormous magical construct. By travelling the proper highways in the proper order one is able to travel to other worlds.

    The story, I think, would involve a middle-aged woman who works as a clerk in shipping firm who takes a long vacation and decides to rent a car and visit all of the oddball tourist destinations, like the Vacuum Cleaner Museum and Santa Claus, Indiana (both real places I have seen) and accidentally retraces one of the paths that lead elsewhere.

    She finds herself travelling through alternate worlds and has to figure out how the highway system was designed, and by whom, and how to get back to her own world.

    My working title was “246 Miles To Empty” before I decided that the project is bigger than I want to tackle.

    1. That is a really cool idea. Actually, it could be done best as a series of interconnected short stories. The first one being her setting out on the journey, then others as she has adventures, each one ending with a new transition.

    2. Hmmm. Stolen and filed. I have a fair basis for something like that (with photos), as that was one of my family’s pastimes whenever we traveled.

      Would need research to figure out which delightfully odd places are still there, of course – but that I think I could accomplish on line.

      Sigh. First have to beat the novels into shape; I’m about to switch from the baseball bat to rebar…

  3. An ancient, secret society in Europe that has infiltrated archaeology and history departments, steering the interpretation of Church and cultural history. The twist? They are Arian Christians descended from the Goths.

    What if the Austrians and not the Prussians had come to dominate the German-speaking lands?

    What if the Chinese, after the Manchu invasion (Qing Dynasty), had stopped all imports and exports, concentrating on preserving the Han homeland and control over the territories then under their control? And someone snuck silkworms into India?

    What if we start extra-solar exploration, make First Contact, and discover that we’ve been put under interdict because we are considered too pacifistic to be useful or truly civilized? And someone says, “Oh yeah? Watch this!”

      1. I went and bought a new “ideas notebook” today because the old one is past half full. I hate to think what’s going to start bubbling up once I’m trying to focus on class reading and lesson planning.

          1. Especially when I’m trying to get a totally different project finished. “Look. Muse, I don’t have time to research a historical fiction about the end of the Roman Empire in Noricum and the Slavic migration and why Christianity retreated and oh no . . .” *scribble, scribble, scribble*

  4. My current project is a family who has retained the old Indian magic in the zombie apocalypse. There, I said it. I’ve been keeping it mum.
    Tentative series title, “Zombies and Indians”

    1. Thanks. That’s not my cup of tea, but the Idea Department returned revenant. Some Indian tribes has ideas very similar to this, including shaman who rose from the dead and preyed on the living.

  5. Ideas are our lifeblood… How we choose to use it or give it away makes our community stronger. The free interchange of ideas and ideals let us go down paths we’d never have thought of on our own.

      1. There are anthologies that have proven this, if you give a bunch of writers the exact same idea, you’ll get completely different stories from all of them.

  6. The Idea Department is supposed Blog Mode at the moment, at least until I have several in the buffer. Just paying attention to the news helps here – and everyone knows the New Horizons Pluto fly-by is Tuesday, right?

    For stories, eh, not so good. I went from more ideas than I could possibly use to practically nothing. Old ideas, yes; new ideas, thin on the ground.

    Unfortunately, it seems like the $%^& Idea Department is goofing off by coming up with project ideas, and I don’t mean writing. Home-made shaving soap based on 19th Century recipes; building a foxhole radio and wondering if I could make a decoupled tuning coil and if this introduces a transformer effect, but would a GI have thought of that, and playing with gum wrappers to see if that would make a capacitor for the tuning coil, Then thinking about the shaving soap and the bright sunny day had me thinking about a stationary solar cooker with tinfoil on cardboard reflectors directing the light onto horizontal flat-black plate, which would serve as a cooking surface, and if tile would be a sufficient insulator for the plate-to-wood-frame mount or if I’d need to use firebrick.

    But story ideas? Nada.

    1. My brother helped with the propulsion systems for New Horizons. Because my brother is a rocket scientist. (Something I never get tired of saying.)

    2. Sounds like you could do something like the MacGyver series? (1985 – 2015, 30 years, about right for a new popularity cycle to start…)

      1. Uh. The only thing that fits there would be juveniles that teach something “neato” about science, maybe with this geeky kid with a name like “Hieronymus Rex” who does things like solve campfire issues with tinfoil, or makes a microscope out of a drop of water. Except he’s really a geeky kid, and has a tendency to go “Ooh . . . ,shiny,” so if someone doesn’t keep him focused, he might build a solar cooker when all they need is a way to start a fire. Then someone says “We just need a fire,” and he goes “Oh, that.” and disassembles a flashlight, points the reflector at the sun, and shoves a twig into the focus point and says “There you go.”

        Huh. Might be something to try. It would be an excuse to experiment.
        “Honey, I swear this is for a story. I’ll clean out the crock pot when I’m done.”

        1. Two birds, one stone…

          I’m far from juvenile – but I’ll read ’em. (Above just reminded me of “Have Space Suit, Will Travel” – so I pulled it out to reread.)

  7. You do occasionally have to be careful of soliciting ideas, though. I talked to Evil Rob about a place where I was stuck and now I have to research Henry Tudor and Lady Jane Grey. And I’m *not* working on historical fiction, not even with a thin gloss…

      1. Not published yet. I’ll let you know when I have a date. (And if they decide I should have a pseudonym—my first name is pretty lengthy and may present a graphic design challenge.)

  8. Did someone need ideas? You can have some of the ideas I’m playing with, mostly ’cause you won’t do with them what I do with them unless you’re inside my head.
    Pilgrims in space.
    Aliens looking for Messiah.
    Genetic engineering of humans renders engineered humans incapable of natural reproduction.

    I probably have a hundred more down in notes–the file folder says 312 files but I know ‘Pilgrims in space’ accounts for at least two dozen all by itself, and ‘Aliens looking for Messiah’ maybe a dozen: some fantasy and some science fiction.

    Now I just need to get my act together to finish things.

    1. OK, caffeine levels have not yet hit optimum… I was about to give you a hard time that pigs in space had already been done…

    2. Pilgrims like Thanksgiving Day, or pilgrims like peregrinos going to Holy Site? (Though how you might come up with the technological step-down that many modern pilgrims do by walking trails when jet airplanes are available, in space, is beyond me!)

      1. Pilgrims as in on the Mayflower. Take hazards of living in space, mix in religious fervor, add a side of repression by the authorities . . . can’t you see certain sects volunteering after this last Supreme Court ruling already?

        1. What about Pilgrims of a UFO cult who are convinced that they are going to meet spiritually advanced aliens at the edge of the solar system–a moon of Neptune, say. Then once they get there and find nothing waiting for them, they have to find ways to survive using only what they brought with them.

  9. My current one:

    A man discovers that his wife is in fact from another timeline, where key events of history went differently, and all the memories of her childhood and youth that she’d taken for granted to be true are in fact fakes, planted to enable her to live happily in his. Except the hormonal upheavals of pregnancy and childbirth have shaken things up so the real ones are shoving their way in…

    (BTW, this takes place in the same world as my Liberty Island contest honorable mentions Lunar Christmas, The Day the War Struck Home and Rockin’ the USA).

  10. Of course, if the truth were told, when we read, we actually slip a little bit into that alternate reality, and experience a bit of life there. Be careful! While getting tired or emotionally involved is normal, there are those who slip too far, and sometimes end up on the other side… Don’t lose yourself too far in that second-hand experience!

    1. Of course. Have you ever put something down, looked for it a moment later… and never found it again? Just a minor timeline glitch.

      “Nothing to see here, move along.”

      Back in the mid-1980s I had a business meeting in Memphis. I had some time to kill since I was early. Driving around downtown I saw the Martin Luther King Museum. It was a small place, your typical narrow storefront that could have been a barber shop or diner.

      They had lots of King paraphernalia, tapes, souvenirs, the usual stuff. The museum part was small but quite well done. It wasn’t a busy place, but it looked like it had been there a while.

      I was too young for the King murder to make any impression on me, so it was all new to me. I browsed the displays, read the information cards, looked at the maps and sketches, and killed a some time until my meeting.

      So, for the next 30 years what I knew about the subject came from that museum visit. King had been shot by a former Memphis policeman with Klan affiliations; the perp had been tracked down by honest cops and police work, tried, and sent to prison. Simple story. It never occurred to me to question it.

      The museum had pictures of the ex-cop, a mannequin dressed in what was supposed to be one of his uniforms, etc.

      A few months ago I had cause to look up the rifle used to murder King. (a pump-action Remington in .30-06; a fairly bizarre rifle) While skimming through the links I noticed that the story of the murder was *much* different than the one I had. The kind of thing even a Hollywood producer would question, complete with magic bullets, secret information from Britain’s MI-5, King’s son and lawyer claiming the guy who was convicted wasn’t the real killer, and… the internet concensus is absurdly complex and senseless.

      So, I Google up pictures of the King Museum. It’s an entirely different building than the one I went to, but that’s not all that surprising after three decades. And I found *zero* links to anything resembling the story-as-I-knew-it.

      It’s possible the museum I visited had an… uh… nonstandard version of the events. But their story, while sad, at least made sense. The internet story is straight out of a Roger Corman adaptation of one of Robert Ludlum’s more paranoid thrillers.

      I know some people who were adults in 1968; questioning them, I found none of them had heard either story, just that King had been shot in Memphis. If they’d ever known any further details they’d been forgotten long ago.

      Wildcat museum? Worldwide Internet Conspiracy? Aliens? [shrug] It’s pretty strange when you find out the rest of the world agrees on an entirely different story that sounds like it came out of a bad movie…

      Oddly, other than that it was Martin Luther King and that he’d been killed in Memphis, the ONLY part of the story I knew and the “real” story was the rifle; I had remembered it because it was such a weirdball. The only reason I was googling it was to get the specific model number. If it hadn’t been for that I might never have known that the rest of the world is out of step…

  11. This was brilliant Cedar. Before I actually started writing, I had a few ideas. I thought they were so unique that I had to guard them lest others poach my ideas. I should have known better, I remember reading an anthology as a kid “Under the fang” that all had the same basic premise, yet none of the stories were similar. But I thought my ideas were so special, so groundbreaking, that someone would “steal my work”
    Then I actually started sitting down and writing. Im no Dean Wesley Smith, much less a Heinlein, not yet, anyways. But Ive already seen how little the original idea is worth, compared to the story. Now I see my ideas as grit. That’s all, just a speck of dirt or sand that agitates my mind, and allows the pearl of a story to grow around it. And grit? Grit is made to be shared, because the pearl that grows around it will be determined by the nature of the oyster.

    Recently in the comments here I mentioned my “Ceasear and the zombie/gallic wars” idea. Before I would have thought the idea unique, now I know better. Even if someone else decides to write a book about the idea, it wont be the same. The plot will be different, the characters will be different. And that’s if I ever even write it. Because the more I think, the more I write, the more I realize that ideas are everywhere. And we can only write so many words.

    1. Oh and in the spirit of the site let me throw out a few.

      “keepers of the flame” (inspired by an old commercial) 50,000 years ago or so a caveman saw a tree struck by lighting. He took a burning branch home. A cult grew up around the idea of keeping that fire burning, which eventually led to offshoot cults, who have been keeping a record of history for 50 millennium. They dont get involved in politics or economics unless they have to. They just tend the eternal flames and and write down what has happened. Untill………..

      What if you rewrote the Bible from the devils perspective, and he was the good guy (not hard to do considering what an A-hole the OT god was) and just had really bad PR?

      Our species was created by aliens who wanted too create the perfect warrior race.They succeeded. Now they are back to draft us, and we say “No”

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