Research Triangle Writers Coffeehouse Meets Tomorrow!

Yes, it’s the third Sunday instead of the usual second Sunday of the month, but The Writers Coffeehouse will convene tomorrow at 2 p.m. at Quail Ridge Books (4209-100 Lassiter Mill Road, Raleigh). We slipped the schedule a week so as not to interfere with Mother’s Day last Sunday. Note that the unusual day also means an unusual setting: we’ll be meeting upstairs instead of in our normal spot.

If you’re a writer and you are in the Research Triangle region of North Carolina, you’re welcome at our branch of the Writers Coffeehouse — a nationwide set of free monthly networking events, originally started in 2002 in Pennsylvania by NYT-bestselling author Jonathan Maberry. All writers — young or old, published or unpublished, struggling or accomplished — are welcome at every meeting. As Jonathan says, we’re just “a bunch of writers sitting around talking about writing … with coffee.” (Note that you have to bring your coffee [or the beverage of your choice] with you, but there are a couple of places nearby that are pretty convenient.)

The Writers Coffeehouse

You can learn more about (and join!) our local group at the Research Triangle Writers Coffeehouse Facebook page. But if you’re free on Sunday afternoon, we’d love to meet you! (I, however, will have to meet you at the June meeting — I have another commitment tomorrow, but two people were kind enough to step up to moderate the discussion in “tag team” fashion.)

And, rest assured: It doesn’t matter what you write, where you write, or how much you write, you’re welcome at The Writers Coffeehouse!

___
P.S. In case you missed it, Lost Signals of the Terran Republic, an anthology set in Charles E. Gannon’s “Caine Riordan” universe and that includes a short story by yours truly, is available now — order your copy today!
P.P.S. Also in case you missed it, my novel Walking on the Sea of Clouds is available as an Audible audiobook. Check it out!

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Maybe We Need a Freedom Gauge

I had the idea, probably months ago now, and set it down in my long list of strange, passing thoughts, for something called the Freedom Gauge, or Freedom Meter. I think that might be helpful in making political decisions and informing political opinions.

Why? Because, at root, every government restricts citizens’ freedoms in some way(s) — after all, we accept certain limitations on complete, anarchic freedom as part of the social compact — and every law that is passed curtails some freedom(s). The question is, how much?

My first thought was that of being a watchdog over legislatures so that, in the process of new laws being proposed, debated, and enacted, the bills’ effects on personal freedom might be shown on the Freedom Gauge. Different legislative proposals could be compared in terms of their “Freedom Quotient” or something. The idea was to present in graphical form how much particular legislation would curtail freedoms. (And, in a flight of the wildest rose-colored-glasses fancy, I thought legislatures themselves might make use of the gauge to show how little impact their proposals would have on the average citizen.)

Hypocrisy Meter, Pegged
Yes, something like that … (Image: “Hypocrisy Meter, Pegged,” by Kaz Vorpal, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

My second thought was an international comparison of some sort: a monitor of the freedom(s) afforded — or denied — by different countries. Basic data might come from the CIA World Factbook or other trustworthy sources, and might include socioeconomic figures, crime statistics, human rights abuse reports, and whatnot. But I think the local version, the what-law-are-they-passing-today version, may be more useful.

If I had the wherewithal — the time, money, and know-how — I think I would register a website called “freedomgauge.com” or “freedom-meter.com” (both domains were available as of noon today) and build a site that would “measure” — somehow — and report infringements on freedoms: infringements in existence now, and ones that are being proposed. Alas, that seems like a monumental task. I suppose it would have to be crowd-sourced in some way, reliant on contributors the way online encyclopedias are. And that’s far beyond my level of expertise.

So, no, I don’t see myself making a “Freedom Gauge” happen, though I think it might be a good thing.

With that said: if you think the idea has merit, feel free to run with it and see what you can do!

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Blinded by the Dark

Considering a pseudo-random question that seems relevant to our current societal climate:

Why does being vehemently against something — hating it with a passionate rage — blind us to any merits of the thing?

careful now
Beware what lurks in the darkness of hatred and fear. (Image: “careful now,” by neeel, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Consider any number of candidate topics: abortion, guns, the President, nameacontroversialsubject. Why do so many of us end up so adamantly against whatever it is that we cannot bring ourselves to consider the least amount of good in it? Why does it seem that acknowledging even the tiniest merit is some kind of betrayal, rather than an admission that we don’t have all the answers and that most (if not all) issues are not clearly black and white?

Sometimes it seems as if we are afraid to recognize anything good in that thing we despise, because we might begin to question ourselves instead of the hated thing. But in general we’re careful not to question our own conclusions or premises, let alone how we got from one to another; and just as careful not to question our motives or our leaders — and so we build fortifications around our position and prepare not only to defend it, but to attack the other. We guard ourselves against an obvious risk: if we ever accept that the thing we hate has some good aspects, we may begin to recognize that its opposite, the thing we love, is not as pure and perfect as we thought.

As an artifact of my engineering training, I wonder: is there a scale, a curve, a function that describes the point at which opposition produces recalcitrance? And is there a way to draw one another back from the precipice it represents?

I may be the only person who wonders, or cares. But, then again, I’m quite comfortable in the “grey areas” of life — between the black and the white.

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Another Snippet from My LOST SIGNALS Story

Late last week I announced that Lost Signals of the Terran Republic, an anthology set in Charles E. Gannon’s “Caine Riordan” universe, is available for preorder right now. In that post, I included the opening of my story, “Botwright.”

Today’s snippet pays homage to Isaac Asimov and his “Laws of Robotics” against robots harming human beings. In the scene, our misfit robot maintainer — a/k/a “botwright” — Lloyd Cramer and his friend Eric Moorefield have just been attacked by the asteroid mining foreman who murdered a young lady. In the melee, Cramer sent out a distress call to the “Semi-Autonomous Multifunctional Miner/Mechanic” (or, SAM) robots he takes care of — and which take care of him.

We pick up the action …

A SAM’s foremost port ventral arm grabbed the mining foreman by the head, then the robot pirouetted as a few of its other limbs grabbed on. Still using two limbs against grab bars, it pressed the foreman into the nearest bulkhead as if it were trying to mate with him. Ashworth struggled against it but found no purchase, and the machine … so effectively covered his face that Ashworth could not even cry out for mercy.

… Moorefield’s eyes narrowed, and he spoke in a low, almost menacing tone. “You teach that bot to do that?”

Cramer shrugged, forgetting for a moment that he wasn’t well-grounded. He grabbed a handhold and said, “I told it to protect me.”

“Didn’t think that was possible.”

Cramer looked down into the lower corner of the shop. “Not allowed … not the same as not possible.”

“True enough,” Moorefield said. “But what would Asimov say?”

Cramer shrugged again, but held himself in place. Now was not the time to debate the difference between artificial intelligence and artificial knowledge. “The laws of robotics are written by the programmers.”

What will happen next? We’ll have to see.


Pretty spiffy cover, eh?

If you want to read more — and in particular if you want to get all the stories by a tremendous group of authors — you can preorder the anthology either as a Kindle e-book or a trade paperback. Order today!

I hope you like all the stories!

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Preorder the LOST SIGNALS Anthology Now!

If you like far-ranging science fiction stories set in a remarkably solid universe of adventure and alien encounters, I highly recommend the “Caine Riordan” series by Charles E. Gannon — and not just because I had a part to play in its inception … and show up as a character in some of the novels! 😃

Welcome to the Terran Republic of the Twenty-Second Century. Just as humanity finally reaches out to the stars, it is challenged by several “exosapient” species whose motivations are as unusual as their physical forms. Troubleshooters like Caine Riordan — as well as commandos, crewmen, and correspondents — contend with both humans and aliens during the exploration, statecraft, and warfare that churn and change our post-contact world.

The best place to begin with the series as a whole is at the beginning, with the Nebula Award-nominated and Compton Crook Award-winning Fire With Fire, available on Amazon or directly from Baen Books in the Baen Free Library.

But if you’re looking for shorter fiction, there’s now an anthology of all-original stories set in the Caine Riordan universe, ready for preorder: Lost Signals of the Terran Republic.

And I have a story in it!

… no world is defined solely by the main characters who occupy center-stage. Lost Signals digs deep into the lives and struggles of those beyond the spotlight. Twenty new voices tell twenty gripping stories that blur the line between fact and fiction in the Consolidated Terran Republic, where high-stakes war and intrigue has played out over four national bestsellers.


Pretty spiffy cover, eh?

Because it’s one of the “earliest” stories chronologically, my entry — entitled “Botwright,” as in the person who builds and maintains robots … like a “shipwright” or a “wheelwright,” but with robots — comes right after a new story by Charles Gannon himself. My story puts you on an asteroid mining outpost with a socially awkward mechanic who witnesses a murder through the “eyes” of one of the robots he works on.

Mine is a quiet tale, and I tried hard to put you in the head of the main character and give you a realistic sense of his predicament. Here’s the opening:

“Uncle Lloyd! Are you in there?”

Lloyd Cramer grinned. Kelly wasn’t really his niece; she had started calling him “uncle” back on the Moon almost five years ago. And even though his smile felt distorted, awkward, on his face, Cramer would always smile for her, even when she interrupted him.

Kelianna “Kelly” Forester sailed into his workshop, trailed her fingers along the hatch to bleed off speed, somersaulted, and came to rest against an equipment locker. She was so graceful that Cramer felt clumsy just sitting on his perch.

“Yes, I’m in here,” he said. He slipped the wrench he had been using into its slot on his vest.

“I knew, anyway,” Kelly said. Her hair fluttered under a multicolored headband. “I checked your prox.”

Cramer chanced a look down at Folco. The bot’s limbs were paralyzed since he’d used its motive power supplies in other machines, but Cramer noted with satisfaction that its camera telltale was on. It had registered Kelly’s proximity implant signal, just as they all did. Or were
supposed to. “If you knew, then why did you ask?”

Kelly laughed, a bright melody that filled the space, and she pushed off the locker.

“Mind the clothesline,” Cramer said.

Kelly grabbed the cable-and-alligator-clip rig he had strung across his workshop, and came to rest beside him. She reached up and flicked one of the Mylar streamers that she had made him add for sake of visibility: the slender wire was almost invisible. “You know me,” she said, “I’m always careful.” She waited a moment for him to reply, but he had nothing to add. She was the mine’s safety director; of course she would be careful.

She shimmied a little closer along the clothesline. “Uncle Lloyd, I need a favor….”

I was very pleased to be invited and included in the anthology — with a ton of authors much more talented than I am! — and now that the book is in production I’m glad to let you know that you can preorder it now on Kindle or in paperback. I hope you do, and that you like all the stories!

And if you know any other science fiction fans, I’d appreciate it if you’d send them the link to the book (or just to this blog post) to let them know. Happy reading!

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Yes, I’m Giving Teachers a Free Book for Teacher Appreciation Week

UPDATE! I’ve extended this offer through Memorial Day (May 27th). Two more weeks!

This is a little late coming — my blog became inaccessible for a little while after a server upgrade, sorry — but: as I posted on social media, it’s Teacher Appreciation Week and I’m giving teachers a free e-book.

So: Are you a teacher? Do you know a teacher?

From now until the end of the week — or maybe longer, since I got a late start — I will give away a free e-book copy of my 2016 book Quality Education to any teacher who wants one. Send me your e-mail address, tell me what you teach, and say you want the teacher giveaway, and I’ll send it your way!

Teacher Appreciation Japanese Proverb
(Image: “Teacher Appreciation Japanese Proverb,” by Shalu Sharma, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

In fact, I will give away a free e-book to any teacher you know — just send me their e-mail address and tell me what they teach, and I’ll send it to them as a gift from the two of us! 😉 Or, better yet, share this blog post with them and tell them to write me.

It’s just my way of saying “thank you” to all the teachers out there.

Thanks, and have a great day!

___
P.S. If you want, you can scope out the book on Amazon: Quality Education: Why It Matters, and How to Structure the System to Sustain It.

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Why I Want (to Start?) a New Political Party

I want a new political party.

To be clear: I want a new political party almost enough to stop playing my “Anti-Candidate” game — as fun as it’s been — and start playing the political game seriously. If I thought there were enough interest, I would pursue it.

I’ve never felt completely bound by party affiliation. I can’t remember ever voting a straight party ticket. I’ve been a Republican as long as I can remember, though, so it might have happened once or twice. But lately I’ve been displeased by my own party almost as much as by any other.

The parties today spend vast amounts of time, effort, and money trying to distance themselves from the others. “We’re not them” seems to be the rallying cry, even when their criticisms of the other side sound rather similar.

Consider, for instance, that both Democrats and Republicans like to claim that the other side is what I’d call the “party of taking.” Democrats warn that Republicans are the party of the rich, of banks and big business, who by the very fact of their wealth must be hoarders who take and take from the economy, enriching themselves and their friends at the expense of the poor and downtrodden. Republicans warn that Democrats stand ready to take what they can, from whoever they can, in order to redistribute it according to their socialistic visions.

Instead of saying what they are, they focus on what the other party is, or what they think it is, or what they want to make it seem to be.

I’m weary in my soul from all of that.

The parties rarely hold themselves up to scrutiny, rarely articulate clear visions, and rarely offer compelling arguments for their positions. What are they all about? What do they represent? With the number of issues in play, and the vast array of opinions on even the simplest subjects, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the totality of their platforms; but, in the interest of time and attention, let’s keep the focus on economic matters.

Democrats appear to want to be the “party of providing,” or the “party of giving” — emphasizing the “have-nots” of society and determined to transform them directly into “haves.” They seem to downplay the source of the largesse they would distribute, except to say that much of it would come from the hated rich. Republicans like to present themselves as the “party of protecting” when it comes to securing the blessings of liberty, and are very much the “party of earning” — especially in the way they deemphasize society’s economic safety nets. And Libertarians — while in some respects I appreciate their positions on many issues, though I shudder at how far some of them tend away from Heinleinian “rational anarchy” all the way to full anarchy — appear to be the “party of keeping,” from the standpoint of everyone keeping what they have and doing with it what they please.

I want a new party: one that is not about “giving” or “earning” or “keeping” but is about “producing.”

North Carolina Potter
Where is the political party for the creative class, and the people who produce? (Image: “North Carolina Potter,” by Robert Nunnally, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I want a party for the makers, for the creators, for the ordinary as well as the remarkable people who design, who build, who produce and maintain everything that makes modern life possible, comfortable, and enjoyable. And I mean everything, from houses to housewares, from food to furniture, from semiconductors to symphonies. Not a party of “labor” by itself, but a party of industry — remembering that those who drive trucks are just as industrious as those who direct movies, and those who make repairs are just as industrious as those who make … well, anything.

I want a party that not only recognizes but celebrates the creative productivity — or, if you prefer, the productive creativity — that leads to inspiration, innovation, and invention. Productivity that is uncreative winds down into obsolescence, and creativity that is unproductive remains underappreciated if it is not lost forever, but creative productivity leads to great gains in every field of endeavor. I believe creative productivity is essential to establishing, growing, and sustaining any civilization, and those who are creative and productive have earned the right to be represented by a party (and a government) that values their contributions to society.

That’s the new party I want.

Is that too much to ask? Maybe. And I wonder whether anyone else might think it worthwhile.

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Winners, We Have (Audiobook) Winners!

Announcing the results of our final drawing to give away copies of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook!

Yesterday I pulled names out of the hat myself (having had family members to do it the first two days). Being the third drawing, I picked three winners:

  • Jill Berticus, who teaches English in Japan;
  • Rachel Brune, author, Army Reservist, and Jersey girl currently living in California; and
  • Scott Huggins, “Very Nearly Award-Winning” author of Racine, Wisconsin.

And to cap off the entire giveaway effort, I decided to award one additional prize to the person who had shared the news the most: that award went to Navy veteran J.J. Dunaway, accountant by day and reader, writer, and geek by night!


Look, they’re audiobooks! 😂

I’m very pleased with how the giveaway went, and if you didn’t win this time, be on the lookout for future contests and giveaways! Meanwhile, I hope you’ll check out the audiobook at Audible or on Amazon . (You can also read a review of it at The Audiobook Blog.)

Congratulations, one and all!

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In Search of a New Political Slogan

President Trump has had so much success with “Make America Great Again” — which I never fully understood, since I was convinced that the USA was pretty great already, but which I have to admit is continually effective in how it drives some people beyond crazy — that I started thinking I might need a new slogan for my ongoing “Anti-Campaign.”

(For those unfamiliar with the Anti-Candidate’s Anti-Campaign, we offer two musical introductions: “I Think I’ll Run for Congress” and “The Anti-Candidate Song”.)

My first thought was to copy the “MAGA” formula exactly, and one early contender in that vein was “Make America Gray’s Again” — but that seemed too “arrogant and megalomaniacal” even for me 😃. (If you’re not sure about the “arrogant and megalomaniacal” references, you definitely need to listen to the musical introductions above.) Plus, it would need to be somewhat different so as not to confuse people too much.

Anyway, following the “Make America [Something]” structure, we could have things like:

  • MABA — Make America Barbaric Again (for fans of Walt Whitman’s “barbaric yawp” and the rough-and-tumble days of the frontier), though in some respects we’ve crossed that bridge and burned it behind us; alternately, Make America Brave Again might be more appropriate
  • MACA — Make America Confederate Again (since some progressives seem ready to ditch the current Constitution, maybe we should revert to the Articles of Confederation — or did you think I meant a different confederacy?), though it would probably be better to Make America Constitutional Again
  • MADA — Make America Disciples Again (for those of a missionary or Dominionist bent)
  • MAHA — Make America Harmonious Again (for the “I’d like to teach the world to sing” crowd)
  • MAMA — Make America Magnificent Again (maybe too close, thematically, to MAGA … wouldn’t want any copyright infringement issues), but could also be Make America Megalomaniacal & Arrogant 😁
  • MANA — Make America Neutral Again (admit it: you thought it might say “nice” or “native” again, didn’t you?)
  • MAPA — Make America Proud Again (since, as we learned a few years ago, some people don’t have a lot of pride in the USA)
  • MARA — Make America Righteous Again (another one for the evangelicals, and particularly the fundamentalists)
  • MASA — Make America Serious Again (on second thought … naaah)
  • MATA — Make America Trustworthy Again (i.e., a country with integrity: the best friend and worst enemy another country could ever have)

None of those really fit the bill, though, do they? Maybe this is one reason why I wouldn’t be very well-suited to politics.

I’m sure if I were at all serious about running for office, I would bring some smart people into a room and come up with something. But at the moment, if I were serious, I might just turn things around and have my campaign be about GAMA: Giving America Meaning Again.

What do I mean by that? Reminding us that the USA was “brought forth on this continent” for freedom, and that the steps we’ve been taking toward statist control are anathema to freedom. Reminding us what “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” mean — and what they don’t mean. Reminding us what government is supposed to do — and what it’s not supposed to do. If, that is, anyone would ever want to listen to another voice crying in the wilderness.

So, if you were an adviser to the Anti-Candidate, or on the Anti-Campaign team, what would you suggest as a good slogan?

___

Don’t forget: As noted here, I’ve been running a series of giveaways for Audible downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook, and the last drawings will be held this Monday, the 15th of April. Sign up at this link!

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The Next Research Triangle Writers Coffeehouse is This Sunday

Yes, we know it’s Palm Sunday — but it also happens to be the second Sunday of the month, and we decided to keep to our usual schedule. Which means that all writers in or near the Research Triangle are invited to come to The Writers Coffeehouse this Sunday at 2 p.m. at at Quail Ridge Books (4209-100 Lassiter Mill Road, Raleigh).

Briefly, the Writers Coffeehouse is a nationwide set of free monthly networking events, originally started in 2002 in Pennsylvania by NYT-bestselling author Jonathan Maberry. All writers — young or old, published or unpublished, struggling or accomplished — are welcome at every meeting. As Jonathan says, we’re just “a bunch of writers sitting around talking about writing … with coffee.” (Note that you have to bring your coffee [or the beverage of your choice] with you, but there are a couple of places nearby that are pretty convenient.)

The Writers Coffeehouse

You can learn more about (and join!) our local group at the Research Triangle Writers Coffeehouse Facebook page. But if you’re free on Sunday afternoon, we’d love to meet you!

And, rest assured: It doesn’t matter what you write, where you write, or how much you write, you’re welcome at The Writers Coffeehouse!

___

Reminder for anyone who missed the announcement, but I’m running a series of giveaways for Audible downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook. The last giveaway drawing will be Monday the 15th, but you can still sign up at this link!

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