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‘Bring out yer dead’

I’m a volunteer Ambulance officer, and my son assures me on the verge of canonization. Oh, it’s not what I do, or that I’m God’s gift to that (I’m not. I’m a very minor and inept cog.  I find the fact that I’m responsible for taking decisions (fast and effectively) that if I have screwed up, I could kill or maim the person I’m trying to save incredibly hard to handle.). No: It’s all the miraculous cures when the death’s-door patient sees who will be driving: “I’m feeling much better! I think I’ll take a little walk.”

Heh. I’ll probably have a terrible accident tomorrow, but oddly, besides reversing my ute into a stump hidden in the tall grass, I haven’t hit anything yet. I used to ride a motorbike with only a front brake. It made me quite observant. And when I’m actually conveying patients I give that task my full concentration, and try not to help them too much to suddenly find religion.

Ahem. I seem to have lost my thread again. Anyway, what I was going to write about was something that came out two of us Ambos talking about very stuff of sf and some fantasy: real disaster. Now, let’s be honest many a writer has never experienced much in the way of disasters. Trust me, this is a good thing, even if it does sometimes make their books irritate the hell out of me. I’ve never been through a major disaster (and I’d like to keep it that way. About 60 injured in bunch was my worst. That was pretty terrible. I can only admire the guys who deal with hundreds or thousands) but I’ve been through a lot more than my fair share of lesser ones – on both sides of the equation (the victim and the rescuer) and a couple of times both. I hasten to assure you that I’m not a jinx (much).

The awkward thing is how badly you remember a lot of it. Seriously, the adrenalin kicks in, and you just do stuff. Well, about 10% of people just do stuff, some of it incredible, some incredibly stupid. The other 90% do freeze and/or panic. Okay maybe I exaggerate a trifle. I’m not much good at most things, but fortunately that also includes panic. I’ve done the wrong thing a few times, but without the panic. I’ll probably master it at precisely the wrong time. That still doesn’t mean I am that good at reconstructing disaster and what happens – besides that people panic. It does mean that when I read SHTF disasters, I often find them throwing me out of the book, without precisely knowing why.

Now, it is perfectly possible that it throws me out simply because of my background. That other people, with the same lack of experience as the writer, think that in a crisis most people do something (besides freeze, panic, or run around like chickens just after having their heads cut off). There is a reason why the military and emergency services practice, practice, practice, practice – because seriously, it’s a lousy time to try and think. Some people do, but most can’t. They (or at least some people) can however go through a pre-thought, pre-practiced routine – whether that’s taking cover and returning fire, or applying pressure to a major bleed, or sounding a fire-alarm. Yeah, I know: all that planning usually goes to shit, because it never happens according to plan. But, speaking personally, that few seconds of practiced, drilled-into-you behavior calms me and helps me to think. Sometimes it’ll be wrong reaction, but generally it saves lives.

So I thought it might be worth trying a bit of this ‘crowd-sourcing’ stuff. Maybe if pool experiences and memories, we’ll get the whole picture. Adrenalin does strange things to me, I don’t even know if they’re normal. Yes, heart rate goes up, mouth dries. Those are common. I also lose all emotion (and normally I’m a big softy. Bawl my eyes out at a funeral) – but I can (and have) dealt with the horrible and tragic with a complete clinical detachment. I know hysterical strength is well reported. It’s very real – I’ve carried twice my body-weight, lifted things I can’t normally move. Pain is another odd one. Unexpected injury can be mind-numbingly sore, robbing you of the capacity for action – expected (or at least possible and known to be) when you’re full of adrenalin – hurts like hell… later.

Under that sort of stress – especially searching or waiting, the jokes are tasteless, crude, and absolutely necessary. Oh and really funny.

What you don’t do (or not me, anyway) is agonize about decisions, or experience a second’s worth of angst. (one of my co-authors –Misty — has people angsting mid crisis. Maybe she does.  It’s so unlike me, it drives me spare)

Later is always hard. The hardest part is remembering it all. I find I get scenes, like snapshots, rather than a whole movie. I replay it a lot. I can’t sleep – even a call-out will have me awake for 4-5 hours. Maybe that’s just me. Sex, if it happens is pretty desperate, urgent, and usually entirely without pre-amble.

So: anything you guys can remember?

The other thing I am very aware of is just how in disaster, people actually show a face that you don’t see in day-to-day life. Some of it… seems a great reason to preserve the human race. And some of it shows what useless assholes some people are (the guy who ran up his wife’s back to get into a tree when they were being chased by a Rhino comes to mind. Photographs of the boot-print on her back were used in the divorce case.)

Other people show sacrifice and kindness and courage so far past any expectation as to leave you wondering if anyone knew that quiet guy who drowned, going back into the water for the fourth flood victim, was really something of a demi-god in disguise. (That’s my only ghost story. I was underwater, bleeding like a stuck pig with several 8 inch cuts down my back from being swept over a rock. I was exsanguinating and drowning. I had already passed trying, and was to all intents and purposes in final stage of drowning, and going to die. Then I saw my brother (who was a 1000 miles away at the time) – with muttonchop sideburns (which he never had). He lifted me and shoved me into the wave that washed me up at my father’s feet, who hauled me up the rocks and emptied water out of me. I kept trying to tell him to get help for my brother. There was no-one else in the water. Years later I had the eerie experience of being shown an old picture of the man who had saved me: my Great Uncle. He’d been dead for seventy years or more, drowned after rescuing three Mosotho women in a flooded river. I’ve never been able to explain that one.)

It’s the one place where I have trouble with the basic building block of good character writing – people do not do what you expect, so it is hard to foreshadow. Look, I cheat. I do foreshadow it, even if by putting it in in lesser incidents – so it is not so implausible when it happens. But yes, disaster: when the veneer of human society is stripped off, and you see the raw steel, or the raw crap underneath. And size and strength… don’t seem determinants.

It does make me wonder what will happen if – or rather — when, we have the big disaster. When the power grid goes down, or Yellowstone blows, or that asteroid hits. Odds are those who do have the right background – the military, the outdoor survivalist, the paramedic will have a better chance. But of course every time is different, and just because you kept your head before, doesn’t mean it will be true this time (more likely, but not sure). I always have this lurking fear that I’ll flip out, run away, myself, if it was big and bad enough, or just do the wrong thing. It’s something you just can’t write off. And then there are opposite extreme: the people who will panic, the people who will turn feral to save themselves. The people with no experience and no skills. Most will die. But I believe some will surprise us… and that would be a story to write.

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Open Crazy Month

Work threw a monkey wrench into my plans for today’s post, plus my research into the benefits of forming an LLC as a writer is incomplete, which leads me to…

This has been a crazy month. How are you holding up?

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But where do you get your ideas?

Every writer gets this one: people wanting to know where those ideas come from. It’s led to snarky rejoinders about the idea of the month club (said to be operating from assorted odd locations around the world but never actually sighted in the wild), weary responses along the lines of “How do you keep them out?” and a whole lot of confusion.

For me, it’s not a direct line. I’ll have a thought related to something else, then I’ll read something else which will set off a different chain of thoughts which hook up to the first one, and so on over a period of months or years. Eventually something that works for a book emerges.

Of course this is the kind of subconscious-heavy process that makes people nervous. We don’t know what’s going on in there so how can we rely on it to deliver when we need it?

Which is why I trawl weird news sites and check out conspiracy theories every now and then.

You do need to be careful with these. They can suck you in and chew through what passes for sanity in record time. But for story fodder? Priceless.

Seriously.

How many conspiracy theories are there about alien abductions being hushed up? I grew up hearing them. They collided with a stray thought along the lines of “Wouldn’t it be awesome if an alien abduction accidentally got a bunch of trained knights instead of an average joe and the knights went on to form an interplanetary empire?” There may have been some interesting fan fiction mixed up in there as well. And maybe a little Humanity Fuck Yeah.

The con vampire books had a similarly mixed start. I’ve read vampire fiction for years and I know all the tropes, even the (ugh) sparkly ones. The stray thought that the SF con scene was perfect for vampires because there’s one damn near every weekend most of the year and as long as they can manage not to go killing dinner, nobody’s going to bad an eyelid at pale, avoids sunlight, and has bad teeth. That kind of mixed up with my sense of humor and led to Jim Hickey and his werewolf best buddy. Everything else in those books is a combination of “it seemed like fun”, “it wanted to be there”, “Make me a reformed succubus” and the like.

Hell, even Impaler started life with the combination of being fascinated by Vlad’s life and wondering what the world would be like if he hadn’t been murdered just as he’d reclaimed his throne. I made a few attempts at writing his story over the years, none of them going more than a few handwritten pages, then I tried writing him first person just to see if that would work better.

That’s what I mean by the subconscious process. Any kind of odd tidbit can set off a chain of thought that leads you to a working story. I usually have several bubbling around, although lately they haven’t been able to push past the damn narcolepsy that well (she says as she sleep-types – I’m still recovering from the medication interruption, alas). They’re still there, just not screaming at me to bloody write them. Although I could do without the infinitely spawning Harry Potter alternate universes. Those are just irritating.

So go and read all the weird shit, try to stay out of the black holes of conspiracy mania, and ask the magic question “What would happen if it were true?”, then you too shall never be without ideas again. Just don’t come crying to me when your mind won’t shut up and it’s too weird and scarring for words. I’ve been there. I have no sympathy.

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About Those Lost Puppies

schafer-dog-2260368

So what happened to Sad Puppies this year?

In a form or another, we’ve been getting this question for months.  I thought I had explained back when I announced I was “leading” it, though I’ll confess by now I expected to have done something more about it.

So, what happened?

Apparently what always happens when I’m supposed to lead: my health goes feral.

At least, thank heavens, this year, it’s not that I know cancer or even the fact I have a small brain tumor (it’s a meningioma, in the membrane that covers the brain, so no, it’s not really affecting me, except for my vision, by pressure, because it’s on top of the vision center.  Fortunately all it does is give me a slight double vision, and I trained for that for much of my undergrad.)  It’s “just” autoimmune.  but I’ve had two long and rather horrible autoimmune bouts, which means things slipped.

On top of which WORK has gone feral.  I need to finish at least five more novels this year (I intended to be at four by now) and that’s for traditional, not counting my indie career.  I’ve also picked up a three-times-a-week columnist gig, and there are other potential jobs in the horizon.  (Man, this ruined career sure is a lot of work.)

If we’d planned to do something different this year, I’d have passed it on to Amanda early.  But since what we’re planning has no defined deadline, as soon as we get it up (eh) in the next couple of months, we’ll be fine.  And we want to make sure we do it right.

So, originally, we’d planned to do nothing, and let Sad Puppies ride into the sunset with Kate’s campaign, which did everything the left claimed to want and yet was still subjected to the same complaints as ever.

But the problem with a decentralized, almost leaderless campaign is that it’s prone to be high jacked, and we realized late last year that if someone didn’t announce then someone who was wholly (really) in the rabid camp was going to take it, and make it sound like the campaigns were always one.

Oh, I know.  With Sad Puppies completely silent, the Puppy Kickers have been enthusiastically blaming us for the Rabid decisions.  Pfui. They’re like a back law firm: Obfuscate, Lie and Project.

But there was no point lending color to this by having a self-proclaimed Sad Puppy leader who’d always been on the periphery, who’s barely competent to carry his own hat in a high wind, and who thinks the whole point is to back the Rabid selections. Yeah.  No.  So I announced.

By the time I announced, I knew we’d be “late” for the Hugos.  Which was fine with me.  VERY fine.

Look, guys, I don’t believe in asking people to do things I won’t do.  Last year I didn’t pay the fee to vote, so I was done after the nomination.  Why?

Because the years before we told people to buy supporting memberships and vote.  We told them that our aesthetics were as valid as the neo-Marxist aesthetics the conventional side of the field sticks to.  Ludic enjoyment of fiction is, arguably, a better way to determine what will survive and be important than the markers of “class” and an excellent education used now.  (Yeah I know.  It’s supposedly all about the downtrodden.  Only it’s not really. It’s about showing off the Neo-Marxist aesthetics taught in the best colleges.  A fad, a passing one, and arguably a stupid one.   I don’t have time to explain the difference of aesthetics here, and hey, I did it last week at another site, so: How Do We Evaluate Art in the Kingdom of the Blind Marxist? And to the idiots who’ll come in and say that’s not Marxist critical theory.  Bah.  Before they climbed up their own ass and slapped the cool-hot (what makes a philosophy hotter than 100 million stinking corpses, after all) Marxist moniker on their involuted crap, they were already evaluating literature according to the Marxist parameters of “making a difference” and “fighting injustice” and “criticizing society.” Which has its roots in the left and in social markers for an excellent education.  It’s like medieval scholars showing off their Catholic Orthodoxy, or well… Or Shakespeare writing a lot of propaganda plays about the Tudors, which even Shakespeare couldn’t turn into anyhting but dross.  Which tells you the long term value of this trend.)

Anyway, we told people if we didn’t participate in the process, we had no reason to protest.  So people did.  We did too.

And the establishment called us names, made unfounded claims of cheating, took our money, threw themselves a really big party and insulted our nominees to boot.

After the Assterisk performance, I planted my feet like a Spanish mule and stuck fast to “I’m not giving you one red cent.  You’ll get no more from me.”

Being there, I couldn’t ask people to throw good money after bad.

Our intention was always to just create a page, in which those who register can post reading recommendations, not just of recent years, but of anything that struck their fancy.  There will be a place where you can say when the book was published and if it’s eligible for an award — and not just a science fiction award — and a link to the award page for people to follow, if so minded.  Yeah, we’ll include the Hugo, but probably with a note saying the award is in the process of self-destructing.

Thing is, I meant to have this up before nominations for the Dragon Award opened.  But on top of the comedy of errors above, our website provider either crashed or was hacked, so while trying to survive auto-immune and meeting more deliveries than UPS, I’ve been trying to get it up and running again.  (My author site is down also.)

So, that’s where we are.  We’ll put it up sometime in the next couple of months, and then Amanda and I will run it, and then Amanda will take over  Or Amanda, Kate and I will continue shepherding it.

When we said this before and pointed out that PARTICULARLY indie books need some place to mention them, we were linked to/lectured by someone one the rabid side, because apparently they already have a site, so we don’t need one of our own.

Tips hat to the right.  Thank you kindly.  But you guys are aware your aesthetics and goals aren’t ours, right?

You just turned Marxist aesthetics on their head, and are judging books by being anti-Marxist and how much they don’t support the neo Marxist idea of justice.  That’s cool and all.  To each his own.  And since, so far, your crazy isn’t being taught in schools, it’s slightly less annoying than the Marxist crazy.

It is still annoying, though, because you’re still judging literary value by whether it fits your (at least as crazy-cakes’ as the Marxists) narrative and your precepts.

Look, the Tudors won, okay?  And yet the Shakespeare plays supporting them, all but Richard III which is good for other reasons, are the worst dogs in his repertoire.

The Sad Puppies stand for literature people ENJOY reading, even if their beliefs are not those of the author.  Also, writing that is not pushing any belief, beyond the natural leaking that happens when an author writes something and puts part of him in the story.

We fully support your right to have the recommendation sites for those who read your catechism and who will enthusiastically love and adore Piers Plowman.  It’s who you are, it’s what you do, and why shouldn’t you have a site for those who think like you?

It’s not however who we are and what we do, nor does it fit our aesthetics.  (Yes, this has all been an aesthetic dispute, even if some sides think it’s politics.)

Your recommendations no more invalidate the need for a site of our own than do the recommendation sites from the left, going into exquisite detail about how “other” the author of some unreadable tome is, and how they have just the right amount of vaginitude and melanin.

So, yeah, there will be a Sad Puppies recommendation site — glowers in the vague direction of servers — soon, and then we’ll refine it and improve it through the years to become a place to find enjoyable reads.  And if people want to use it to find recommendations for awards?  I’ve seen worse hobbies.  One of my ancestors used to put “things” in bottles of alcohol.  Weird plants, snakes, that sort of thing. Voting on awards, at least, does not ruin good alcohol.

And that’s where the Sad Puppies are.  They didn’t run away.  They’re just sleeping in the mud room.  Sooner or later they’ll wake and play.  Until then, you can sit and watch the circus and the monkeys, neither of which belong to us.

Which is a lovely thing, as we all on this site have “ruined” careers to work at, which seem to involve a lot of work and, thank heavens, regular pay checks.

I’ll announce the site here, when it’s up.

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We haven’t forgotten

There will be a post later. Check back later this morning. Sorry for the delay.

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Success, real and imaginary

“You shift sixteen tons of number one words,

And what do you get?”

Yeah well.

Mostly just older. I’ve largely managed to stay out of debt, possibly because most banks throw up their hands in horror and run away screaming when confronted with the realities of a writer’s income. No really… I’ve seen whole banks galumphing down the streets on fat little legs to escape an importuning writer.

Tch. You don’t believe me? I’m shocked. Go and try it sometime.

In reality this is a pretty good thing, because logically banks didn’t get rich by giving away money, and, while there have been times when a loan might have been very tempting, at least part of my personal success comes down to not giving them the lion’s share of my income, over time. This of course is why authors going Indy benefit – although they lose whatever push and brick-and-mortar exposure a traditional publisher could give. That varies from a great deal, to trivial, and one size does not fit all. Generally only headliners get much support these days, although occasionally a publisher may push a new dahling hard – with mixed success. Once push was all it took. Those days are largely past.

Still, the honest truth is most authors have an erratic and unreliable income, and according to various surveys… it’s pretty rotten. Those who don’t do too badly are either exceptionally lucky, well-connected, or are talented AND work hard. I can’t buy into the idea that we should go back to the time when authors either had money of their own or support (a patron). That excludes so many writers: as readers we’d lose so much. Even in an environment where some authors can make a living (and a few can get rich) the dilettantes and products of patrons (and patreons) will exist. The reality is they put some downward pressure on the earnings of the working-for-a-living writer. We can live with that – but I don’t think we can live with writing becoming only their preserve.

It therefore makes sense to celebrate those successes – otherwise why would battlers even try? (Yes, I know. Because we’re battlers. We can no more not try than we can give up flatulence. Still, encouragement is good.) It also – to me anyway, makes sense that writers should support writers. After all, reading feeds reading, which feeds writing – at least if the readers are enjoying the books and eager to find more. The more variety, surely the more likely it is that any reader will find their form of pleasure. It was the fundamental reason we started MGC. There were many things we wished we’d known and had support with – and we had a common ‘enemy’ – getting published, getting paid, reaching readers. I’ve put thousands of hours in MGC, which has a relatively small audience, as is natural as it is really a writers’ site. I’d do it for one person, so the size of that audience is not that relevant to me. It’s been personally rewarding for me to see some of our followers making a great success out there. It’s kind of cool to think we had a small part in that, even if most of it comes down their talent and work.

Now, of course there are quite a lot of people who barely manage to think from A to B let alone A to C (and beyond). Somewhat to my shock some of these are writers – which must make plotting and characters… difficult. To no one’s surprise Traditional Publishing and most of its associates and hangers-on often seem to have trouble getting as A to B, let alone further. This results in their trying hard to reduce the competition, instead trying harder to compete.

Think of it as a club for the express purpose of meeting potential marriageable partners back in yesteryear, when this sort of thing was common, with drinks to make the place money. Time passes and the well-meaning club founders pass on. The new club owner – who did almost none of the real building up, and has no interest in the purpose of the club — has a penchant for pale willowy blondes with boyish crops and a taste for jazz and martinis. Ergo, he gradually becomes more restrictive about who is allowed into his club. And if you didn’t fit, you’d better diet, dye and cut your hair, and pretend to like gin and jazz. He’ll tell you it’s club tradition although it is provably not.

Those who like buxom curvaceous brunettes who like country music and beer… are in for a disappointment. But the owner discourages that sort of man, and expressing that opinion will get you ignored or tossed out. Maybe this works to a degree if this is the only place in town – the price of the drinks certainly went up, but as a result… the town is slowly shrinking and dying.

However, if a cheerful beerhall down the street opens up, and a pleasant wine bar on the next block — both of which are happy with clientele of any sort… well, that’s going to make for more and happier marriages, more babies, and a bigger town. The only people pissed are the club owner and pale willowy blondes and the waiters and bouncers at the club – even though the whole town was dying, it was their town.

That’s, increasingly, been the story sf-fantasy’s establishment. The club, which regards competition as anathema and to be destroyed, is furious, from the owner to the bouncers, and the real blondes. They’re doing their level best to get the wine bar and beer hall closed down. It’d kill the town, but it was their town.

We saw this a few years ago with… call it the club’s annual beauty pageant – AKA the Hugo Awards when some Brunettes and redheads dared enter. One of the waiters –who had grown very plump on tips and powerful in influence about who got to meet who, and didn’t want to lose his regular tips… set himself up to stop it – in his own words. ‘by facilitating the growth of a new community of people who wanted to talk about these issues — most of them opposing the vandalism of an institution they had spent years building up.’

In other words chumming up a hate mob of something bizarre, rather like a gay supporter of Sharia law, a left-wing mob of ‘conservatives’ resisting change. The ‘new’ and ‘most’ is a lie. They were all old blondes and waiters. Any new people who didn’t fit with his ‘most’ were censored. He also pretended to be neutral, another lie which he lost track of and exposed in this quote. Anyway, he and his little friends succeeded in keeping the nasty riff-raff out of their little club by closing the doors, trashing the pageant and putting new rules in place to maintain the status quo in their club. They attacked the non-blondes and people who weren’t club staff, and did their level best to destroy the reputations and livelihoods of authors who were daring to say it ain’t all Blondes.

The beerhall and wine-bar weren’t much affected, despite their efforts. But the club was all theirs.

Fast forward a few years, and the club is still there with Mike Glyer puttering around its decaying and increasingly seedy interior, declining membership, with the handful of long-in-tooth blondes, badmouthing those not in the club and trying to chum up interest in a pogrom to get rid of the beerhall and the wine-bar and their noxious non-blondes. He gets into an altercation with… shall we say one of the brunette authors (which is funnier than the rest of this as a description.) Anyway, Larry, who knows him well by now, cuts to the chase and tells him to F… off, a commendable and understandable sentiment. Mike, henceforth known as ChinaMike ™ announces with fury and quivering lip, that he is much more important and influential than Larry as his blog has many more followers.

He produces the following Alexa ranking to prove it. Oh my. The club is really booming…

alexa2

He’s in 15 315 position and that wicked Larry is at 509  265. That’ll teach him his place.

Alexa1

Only ChinaMike ™ didn’t expect everyone to notice this

alexa3

92.1% of his Alexa traffic comes from China. It’s either bought traffic or spam-bots. Oddly other sf sites don’t have much a Chinese component. I gather bought traffic is cheap, and ignorant people don’t realize how obvious it is… It’s that or the ‘club 770’ is a great place to get spam and malware. Choose to believe whichever you please. Both are unattractive

In actual followers, real ones, ChinaMike ™ doesn’t rank much above this trivial authors help site, and well below some of the contributors personal sites. He’s so far below Larry – at a US ranking of 108 972 compared to his US ranking of 337 508 as to be near irrelevant.

Having been roundly mocked ChinaMike™ is now saying Alexa isn’t a good indicator of popularity. Still no mention of his 92.1% Chinese army. I gather he edited to hide the Chinese part of the original Alexa shot – how typical of ChinaMike ™ integrity and honesty. Yes, you know you can get sf news you can ‘trust’ there!

The club will continue to limp along for a few years, perhaps even posting in Mandarin.  It’ll probably tighten its rules and continue to tell us how important it is, doing its level best to exclude those it doesn’t like and damage those that don’t fit its mold.

But it isn’t the only place in town. It’s increasingly unimportant. The wine-bar also has gin even if the beer hall doesn’t. Both occasionally have a jazz trio. They welcome everyone, even willowy blondes. But there’s no job for ChinaMike ™.

The MGC crew will still be trying to help writers, not excluding the new, or demanding they dye their hair and go on a starvation diet. We believe authors should have as good a chance as readers will allow, to make a good living, regardless. That’s my personal vandalism of the institution ChinaMike ™ spent so long building up.

Let’s celebrate the success and happiness of some of the authors outside that mess, despite it, the people who are making a go out of writing through their hard work and talent.

It is possible.

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Places of Interest

Places with Personalities
Pam Uphoff

I was upset when Harry Dresden’s basement apartment burned down. Really.
221B Baker Street. An indelible part of the Sherlock Holmes mystique.
Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin without their NYC Brownstone? Inconceivable!
And vehicles too. Would Star Trek be the same without the Enterprise? Star Wars without the Millennium Falcon?

Making a tiny part of your make-believe world a familiar place, describing a minute part of a whole world in detail can both pull a reader into a story, and establish a starting point for a world that you just can’t describe in the same detail. Using it as home base for a series starts the readers off knowing where they are: at home with their old friends. Or in danger, and a good thing they’ve got this ship/car/tank/whatever.

I find myself doing that in my stories. The village, the inn, the hotsprings.
And now I’ve got this silly vehicle . . . I didn’t mean for my characters to attach themselves to this battered old wreck. It just keeps coming in handy.

 

“That’s a bit of a wreck.”
Ebsa eyed Acty, then looked back at the dents in the crawler. They look . . . familiar.
The mechanic bristled. “Do you have any idea how short on equipment we are? If the Powers That Be will stop panicking over their precious Special Super Secret Project—which everyone knows has to be those weird Helios people—or wait six months instead of trying to instantly field every team in existence and some that aren’t,” he glanced meaningfully at them, “we could properly supply those teams. We can supply you with everything you need. What is available right now is the crawler we decided to use for spare parts, rather than try to repair.”

From _Fort Dinosaur_ by Pam Uphoff

 

Now it really doesn’t matter _which_ vehicle they check out of the motor pool, but this one has a history that the reader may suddenly recall. Even without having read the previous book, it’s battered and distinctive. It makes this vehicle special, it hints at history and give the world depth. Ahem. It also let me toss in a small data dump and first foreshadowing.

A single place, an office or home with “personality” can be an excellent start to world building. A place for characters to have roots. It’s location in a city, a village, a hundred miles from anywhere. A hut in the forest. A mansion in the ritzy part of town. Or the only house on the street in decent repair, the lawn, such as it was, mown. All these things tell the readers a lot about the world and they’re already making assumptions about the inhabitants.

Looking around at the rest of the Mad Geniuses . . . Dave is having a love affair with Australia. Kate . . . is all over the map, but her Vampire has become the protector of SF cons. Cedar’s got some interesting homes for Pixies and Gods. Sarah’s got a Diner in Goldport. A home on a spaceship called the Cat House.

 

And then, out of nowhere I hit something. Not hard. And whatever I hit was not as deadly solid as the diamond-hard trunks and certainly no powerpod. For one, it didn’t blow up.
Even after hitting it, I couldn’t see what it was. It was . . . dark. Straining, I could make out a rounded outline but barely distinguishable from the surrounding gloom.
My throat closed. It was a darkship.

From _Darkship Thieves_ by Sarah Hoyt.

 

And pets. A character’s reactions to animals can speak volumes about his character. Is he a puppy kicker, or a puppy saver? Does she get upset when her evil cat gets sick? Keep pet triceratops? Tarantulas? A character’s choice of pets tells a lot about the character and about the world.

The black-and-white sheepdog was more experienced at love than the dragon, and he was a young pup still, maybe eight months old. Barely more than a pup. But Dileas—whose name was “faithful” in an old tongue, long forgotten by most men—would go to the ends of the world for her, and beyond, as they were now. His mistress was his all and he would search for her until he died, or he found her.
Fionn knew that he would do the same.

From _Dog and Dragon_ by Dave Freer.

 

Dave tells you all about the dog, and the reader nods, personal experience kicks in. The reader _understands_ the devotion. And with a few more words, Fionn becomes a hero. As loyal and determined as a dog.

### Totally off topic! The above are examples of “Fair Use” of copyrighted materials. But after some outstandingly obtuse argumentation and attempted justification on facebook recently, I thought I’d head off any overreactions (and set a good example of “if in doubt, ask”) by asking Sarah and Dave. Who, of course, gave permission. I didn’t ask that Uphoff woman, she’s crazy and there’s no telling what she might say. ###

So here’s a writing assignment for you.

Make a home, a home away from home, or a vehicle. Some thing or some place your character loves or will come to love. Good Guy or Bad Guy. A Fortress of Solitude or an Evil Lair. A new character or an old one, doesn’t matter. They need a home.
What kind of pet does your character have? None? Well, that won’t do! Get him a pet, find out how much world building you can do while acquiring some odd critter.

 

And the self-Promo

For those who insist on paper and ink, all six of the Directorate stories in one huge volume.

And grab it quick, this is the last free day. Ra’d’s first appearance. Speaking of mayhem . . .

 

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