"Plague Station" now available for sale

Plague Station:

Doctor Susan O’Bannon on Space Colony 42 attempts to find a cure for a new disease that’s putting people into comas. But when people wake from the comas driven by rage and hunger, can she survive the onslaught, let alone find a cure?

A brief excerpt:
   O’Bannon woke to the sound of the comm buzzer.  She started to roll towards the bedside comm unit, then stopped.  She disengaged Steele’s arm from around her waist, then completed the roll.
   “O’Bannon,” she said, after punching the button.
   “Doctor, we need you to come into the infirmary,” the voice at the other end of the comm said.
   “We’ve lost the John Doe.”
   “That’s too bad,” O’Bannon said, “but not unexpected
given…“
   “No, doctor,” the voice said, “I mean, we can’t find him.  Nurse Tanaka is missing too.”
   “What?” The sound of a portable comm behind her intruded on O’Bannon’s awareness but she ignored it.
   “Tanaka called in that he was taking the Doe for an EHG but they never arrived.”
   “Have you called security?”
   “First thing.  We’re also making a search here.  The director would like you to come in in case we find them.  If isolation has been broken…”
   “Understood.  Okay, I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
   She closed the connection and turned to see Steele already gathering up his clothes. “You heard?”
   “Yeah, and I’m afraid I’m about to repeat good new bad news joke,” Steele’s voice was absolutely serious.
   “Uh…“
   “I got a call too while you were on your phone.  Tanaka has been found.”
   “That’s the good news, I take it?”
   Steele sighed. “Yeah.  The bad news is that he was severely beaten and unconscious.  And there’s no sign of your missing John Doe.”
   O’Bannon’s head sagged forward and came to rest on her palms, “How truly good.”
   “Oh, it gets even better,” Steele’s voice was even grimmer. “There was considerable blood at the scene.  If Tanaka had your John Doe with him, then I’d say isolation has been well and truly breached.  My people are trying to keep the scene locked down but it may already be too late.”
   “Right.” O’Bannon pulled a shirt over her head. “Then I’d better get to the infirmary.  We’ll need everyone we’ve got.”
   “And I’ll have to get with traffic control.  Until we get this under control, we’ll have to lock down the colony.”
   O’Bannon nodded. “Quarantine.”

The Glory Days of Comics

Well, at least the Glory Days to me.

I used to be a big fan of comic books.  And while I was fond enough of Marvel, my true love was for DC comics.

Along about ’87, I mostly dropped away though.  Comics had changed from the stories I loved into something else.  In the interest of being more “adult” and “relevant” they’d lost the magic that drew me to them, that still draw me to stories today.  Oh, there were exceptions.  I recently got reminded of the scene from a Superman graphic novel, the scene is titled “Superman and the Jumper”.

When Superman is written well, he’s very very good. (And, yes, I’ve seen the complaints “how many people could he have saved while he was spending all that time with that one person.” Well, that’s an issue you have to gloss over with Superman.  Because given his powers that question would apply to anything he does besides running at super speed from crisis to crisis to crisis.)

Truthfully, most of the stories from when I was reading comics kind of blend together and fade away.  I don’t really remember a lot of specific story lines.

But some I do.  Some are as vivid in my head today as when I first read them.

There’s the Dick Grayson story arc in New Teen Titans which began with him giving up the Robin identity (having passed it to Jason Todd–not being fired by Batman as per the post Crisis retcon dammit) and ending with him taking the identity of Nightwing and setting out with Jericho to rescue the other Titans in the climax of The Judas Contract.

There was “The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne,” IMO simply the best Batman story ever written.

There was “Night of the Stalker”, another Batman tale and #2 in my list of all time favorites.

And rounding out my top three ever Batman favorites, there is “To Kill a Legend.”

But there’s a Superman story that also remains fresh in my mind.  I don’t know the title, but Superman ran into a villain called, IIRC, The Protector, because he “protects” polluting industries on the grounds that his powers come from pollution.  Superman goes a bit off the rails, and then Supergirl* drops a bombshell on him.  The whole “kryptonian” thing was a  massive delusion on his part.  He and she are actually mutants whose fathers were co-workers in an atomic facility.  All the statues and mementos in his Fortress of Solitude?  Things he’d made to flesh out his delusion.  The phantom zone projector?  A glorified flashlight.  Kandor?  A model with the citizens nothing more than tiny dolls.  Accepting this revelation, Superman decides to “connect” more with the Earth, accepting more human contact, dating Lois (as Clark–she was in one of her “attracted to Clark Kent” periods), playing football with the Galaxy broadcasting staff (and woolgathering so badly that he runs the wrong way when he gets the ball–yes, Clark Kent really is a klutz).

But when a distant star system pleads for help from invaders and Supergirl asks him to accompany them to help her, he rebuffs her; it’s not his problem.  So Supergirl and Krypto fly off to deal with the invasion while Superman stays behind for a date with Lois.

On the date, he keeps watching with “telescopic vision” Supergirl’s fight with the aliens.  Supergirl and Krypto are overcome.  Eventually, he makes a decision, hustles Lois out of his apartment, flies off, rescues Supergirl and Krypto, defeats the aliens, and flies back to Earth with SG and K.  Oh, and by the way, he’s on to the whole “Krypton never existed” thing being a hoax.  You see, Supergirl kept referring to him as “cousin” when, per the hoax, their fathers were simply co-workers, not brothers.  It seems that Kandorian shrinks were concerned about his earlier outbursts and in Kandorian medicine they don’t “resolve” problems but “remove” them.  And since his belief in destroyed Krypton, they though, fueled his overreactions, they responded by removing his belief in Krypton. (Okay, that was kind of stupid. Kind of?  That was a lot stupid.)

He explains that his overreaction earlier was not the result of Krypton having been destroyed, but Earth itself and his love for it, particularly since Earth “adopted” him and gave him a home.  He wished that everyone could feel what he felt but that Kara should feel it most of all because she was adopted too.

And, as Superman flies off, Supergirl looks up after him with a wistful expression and the narration is that “she does feel it most of all.”

And, you know, I’d really like to find those issues someday.  That is the one Superman storyline that stands out after all these years.

*Out of the Superman Family, I was always more of a fan of Supergirl than Superman in much the same way I was more of a fan of Dick Grayson as Robin/Nightwing.  Superman and Batman were these big, iconic characters while Kara and Dick just struck me as more, I don’t know, approachable, if that makes any sense.

Suicide Prevention

The death of Robin Williams has led to a lot of discussion among my friends on FaceBook.  One of the things that has got a lot of discussion is the topic of suicide and suicide prevention.

First, let me say that I am not a trained counselor or suicide prevention specialist.  We had some instruction on that back when I was in the Air Force and my own experiences may give me some insight but that’s all I have to offer.  Perhaps for someone it will be enough.

A number of people have expressed some anger from the aspect of “think of how you’re hurting the people left behind.”  Well, from my experience, from “suicide prevention” materials I studied in the AF, and from people I’ve talked to, a person who’s suicidal can generally go one of two ways. In one, they just don’t believe that anyone cares, or that people would be better off, that their death would be a relief to the folk they leave behind. The other direction is that, yes, they know they’ll hurt people. But they’re still suicidal so now they feel guilty about the pain their death would cause, which makes them feel worse, which makes them more suicidal, which makes them feel more guilty, which….

In neither case does “think about the people you leave behind” serve as a useful approach to take.

Suicidal people do think about the people they’re leaving behind, and the thought makes their feelings of depression worse. They are mistaken. On an objective level what they’re thinking is wrong. But their thought processes are messed up by the same issues that cause the depression in the first place.

Now sometimes, “think about the people who care about you” can help but you do need to remember that both of the above are very common reactions. Does that mean that there’s no way out? Of course not. A lot of it depends on how far one has gone down the path before intervention. I’m just pointing out one of the elements of depression is ones perceptions and emotional reactions are all screwed up. “Think about the people you’d be leaving behind” is generally not a good approach for a person who is deeply depressed and suicidal and is quite likely to make the matter worse.

One of the problems, and one of the defining points of going from “depression” to “suicidal” is the belief that it won’t pass, that you will never be happy, or anything other than miserable, ever again. You might “know” on an intellectual level that it’s bogus, that it will pass, but you feel, down inside, that it’s forever, that you don’t even have one happy day ahead of you. You might know better, but you don’t believe it.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t approaches that do help. Probably the simplest, and surprisingly quite effective is to just be there, be stubborn about leaving (frequently a depressed person will try to drive you away, thinking in their depression that they’re doing you a favor by doing so, that they’re not “worthy” of having friends or family around). and let them talk about whatever.

And sometimes, it means medication either temporarily to get out of the current cycle or possibly permanently. When I had my bad episode the first doctor to prescribe antidepressants for me said that because of the severity of my depression I’d probably be on medication as a prophylactic measure for the rest of my life. As it happened I found something better, far better, than medication (since the medications that worked for me had certain side effects that negatively impacted “quality of life” and also put some extra stress on my marriage–you can make your own guesses; I’m not going to say more here). I found that for me (not saying it would work for everyone, or even anyone, else) that getting involved in “outdoorsy” activities like hunting and fishing (hiking, less so), cleared things up in a way that none of the medications ever did.

But the combination of medication and counseling got me out of that very bad period. And the thing that my friends and family did that helped the most was get me into that counseling and to a doctor for the medication.

And, yes, I know that the two paths I described before are not “either/or”. It’s also “and” because I managed to feel both of them at once, mutually contradictory or not. (I did mention that depression screws up your thinking, right?)

Another thing that isn’t very helpful is to ask a person why they’re depressed.

When you try to answer that question, your “reasons” sound silly to yourself. And so you feel bad for being depressed over such “trivia”. This results in feeling even worse.

That’s one of the problems. Everything is so backwards from what a non-clinically-depressed person thinks.

However, the ones who really deserve a bitch-slap are the ones who sneer at “suicide attempts” and “depression” as a “ploy” for attention. While that might happen sometimes, the “cry for help” is generally not a “ploy”. If they’re crying for help via the means of doing something potentially lethal to themselves (unlike, say that scene near the beginning of Earthquake where Liz Taylor’s character dumped a bunch of sleeping pills in the toilet and pretended to have taken an overdose).

If they’re going that far, then that “cry for help” is because they really need help.

Even a half-ass suicide attempt which is highly unlikely to work means a person really needs help. Really.

For that matter, even a faked suicide attempt is a pretty serious cry for help, and may well be a first step toward something more serious.

Feeding the Active Writer

A bit late today, but here we go.

Italian Parmesan Chicken

This is another of those ridiculously easy recipes, or at least ridiculously easy if you have the Italian salad dressing ready to hand.  If you want a no-sugar/extremely low carb version, I have a recipe for it (included) but that’s a bit more work. Of course, you could make, and keep, the dressing itself at any time and use it for this recipe.

The chicken:

Ingredients:
4 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken. (I use the bagged chicken from my local supermarket.  It’s cheap.)
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese. (You can use the powdered “grated” cheese as well, but the “shredded” cheese produces what I think is a more pleasing texture to the result.)
2 cups Italian salad dressing.

Place the chicken in 1 4-5 quart slow cooker.
Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top.
Pour the salad dressing over all.
Cook on low 8-10 hours.
Stir slightly when done to distribute the cheese and drippings through the chicken.

And that’s it.

Really.  That’s it.  Except to enjoy.

Low Carb Italian Dressing:

Ingredients
1 cup vegetable oil.
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp finely minced garlic (I believe I’ve mentioned before that I like garlic?)
1 Tbsp onion powder or minced dried onion.
1 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp basil
2 Tbsp dried mustard.

Combine the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Close it.  Shake.

Refrigerate for storage.

Options:  You can use olive oil instead of vegetable oil but in that case you’ll want to bring it to room temperature for use.

Again, enjoy.

Shakespeare in Hell, a review

First let me apologize about missing “Feeding the Active Writer” this past Monday.  I had nose surgery in mid July and starting this past Thursday I was suddenly having bad nosebleeds, culminating in a trip to the ER and follow up with my ENT.  I appear to have recovered, but still want to take it easy so as to not spring any more leaks. (Red just is not my color.)

I’ll get back to Feeding the Active Writer next week.

Today, it’s “Shakespeare in Hell” by Amy Sterling Casil.

At it’s heart, it’s a basic concept.  Dead people.  In Hell.  However the simplicity ends there.

We start with Bob Haldeman of Watergate infamy near the time of his death receiving a visit from a mysterious woman who shows him a toy from his childhood and speaks to him of magic.  Later, we jump back in time to the same woman–the Dark Lady from Shakespeare’s sonnets–appearing to William near the end of his life and asking him to write one final play.

The story proceeds to Hell itself.  Beelzebub, Satan’s lieutenant, is bored.  Dancers such as Isadora Duncan choreographed by Busby Berkley bore him.  He seeks instead a play and so goes to the “Cave of Writers.”

It is here we meet Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allen Poe, and the Dark Lady (who is a writer herself) and are offered a chance to escape from Hell if they can write a play that pleases Lord Beelzebub.  Is this true or is it another lie from the Lord of Lies?

Enter William Shakespeare as the story delves into each of the main characters as they seek their paths to either redemption or an even more terrible Hell than the one they already endure.

It’s a story about hope and despair, about damnation and redemption, and how the difference between lies within each individual.

Five stars.

Feeding the Active Writer

This week:  Italian Meat Loaf

There are several variations of the meat loaf recipe that one can use.  I did a Mexican Meat Loaf before.  This week I’m doing an Italian theme.  Unlike traditional meat loaf, this is done without bread, cereal, or other grains.  The secrets to doing a really good meat loaf this way are first, to use the leanest ground beef you can (generally sold, progressively leaner, as ground chuck, ground round, and ground sirloin; locally we also get “extra lean ground beef” which is the leanest yet).  The less fat in the ground beef, the less shrinkage and the less the loaf will end up swimming in liquid (normally absorbed by the bread or equivalent) during cooking.  The second secret is lots of egg, which helps bind everything together.

Ingredients:
3 lbs lean ground beef (chuck or leaner)
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 12 oz. can tomato paste
1 cup diced bell peppers (I use them from frozen bags so how many bell peppers that might be, I don’t know).
1 cup diced onion (ditto)
4 Oz chopped fresh mushrooms
5 eggs
1 Tbsp finely minced garlic (for folk who know me, this is actually a remarkably small amount)
1 Tbsp Oregano.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ingredients.  The best way really is to get in there with your hands (I don’t need to remind you to wash them first, right?  Oh, I just did. 😉 ) and squish it all together until it’s thoroughly mixed.

Place the mix in a 4-5 quart slow cooker.

Cook 8-10 hours.

Let cool.

Portion.  I like to cut it into eights like a pie and remove the pieces to zipper bags to freeze to take to lunch.

Enjoy.

Pantsing vs. Plotting

One of the great questions of the writing world:  Pantser or Plotter.

Um, yes?

When I first got started writing, I’d have an “idea”.  Since I write mostly SF and Fantasy the idea was usually in the form of some story gimmick:  what would it be like to play tennis on the moon?  How would an EMT service on the moon work?  Suppose psychic powers existed but were really, really limited?  Suppose “her world exploded” wasn’t a metaphor but literal truth?

And then I’d sit down and start writing, making things up as I went along.

Most of the time the story would fall apart and I’d have nothing.  I’d have an opening and either be going in circles or just get stuck and have no idea what to write next.

So I started plotting in advance, outlining the things that happen in the story.  I’d still have the stories fall apart in my hands but at least I wouldn’t have written a bunch of finished text before reaching that point.  And I learned that I can work from an outline.  If I ever do collaborative work, that can be important.

So, for a long time then I was a “plotter”.  But I often didn’t adhere closely to the outline.  Instead, I’d find the story going in different directions.  That was okay.  I could just pause, redo the outline to reflect the new direction, and proceed from there.  Sometimes it might take several iterations through that before I was done.

But here’s the thing.  The final stories weren’t any more likely to sell when I plotted than when I’d pantsed.

Enter Dwight Swain and his book “Techniques of the Selling Writer”.

One of the things Mr. Swain had in his book, on preparing for writing a story, was having a “starting line up.” This meant defining five elements of the story:  situation, character, goal, opposition, and “disaster”.  Your character exists in an initial situation.  He has a goal he’d like to achieve (which could simply be avoiding some bad thing happening).  There’s opposition to the character’s goal (usually a “villain” of the piece, but not necessarily).  And some bad outcome from failure to accomplish the goal, the “disaster”.

The stories of mine that failed to get off the ground in the past were usually over the lack of some element in this starting line up.  So, lately, I started to spell them out explicitly before starting writing a story.  Oh, if I have an idea for a story opening or something I might write that to get a feel for things and then pause to create the starting line up.  But I do it, every time.

And the result is that I’ve found myself going back to pantsing.  I can just write the story because the elements I need are there.  I can wonder a bit in subplots, explore character a bit, take some time letting minor characters strut their stuff, but with the starting line up to give direction I can keep the story moving in the way it needs to move.

So now my outlines, if used at all, tend to be smaller bits meant to work out particular story problems, a kind of guided free association to figure out how to resolve challenges. (Character is here.  I need him there.  How do I get him there?)

But that’s how I work today.  Tomorrow?  Who knows.  I’ve changed my working method before and there’s no reason to suppose I won’t do it again.