All posts by Mike

Adventures and mishaps in science fiction, fantasy, and mystery

Slush Pile Update

I’ve been fairly productive lately. I have four manuscripts looking for love in various slush piles on the internet, and two have found a home. Yay!

I’ve signed a contract with Murderous Ink Press, a new mystery publisher in the UK (and who knows more about murder mystery fiction that the Brits?). They’re going to publish my short story “The Tell-Tale Armadillo” in an anthology entitled The I’s Have It. My story is the latest exploit of chief medical examiner Treka Dunn, whose first adventure appeared in Mystery Weekly Magazine last month. A house has blown up, victims want answers, and Treka discovers it wasn’t an accident.

Also, my dark sci-fi story “Days to Remember” will appear in the next issue of Idle Ink, a spunky online magazine specializing in “genre fiction that’s too weird to be published anywhere else.” Sounds like a perfect home for my story.

Looking forward!

Earth Day, 2021

First Collection

“The most central and irrational faith among people is the faith in technology and economical growth. Its priests believe until their death that material prosperity bring enjoyment and happiness – even though all the proofs in history have shown that material prosperity doesn’t bring anything else than despair. These priests believe in technology still when they choke in their gas masks.”

Pentti Linkola, Can Life Prevail?

I view technology the way George Washington viewed government — like fire, a dangerous servant and fearful master.  Used with wisdom, it can produce good things. Misused, it — or should I say we — can botch up a perfectly good planet.  Hunting Ground, one of my published stories I’m most proud of, took a humorous but serious look at what happens when we imagine we can endlessly exploit nature without consequences.

A little food for thought before Earth Day.

Neurodivergence and Mystery

Absence of Evidence
Photo by https://unsplash.com/@nathananderson

I’ve taken Charles French up on his generous offer to publish a guest post promoting my latest story on his popular blog. Mystery Weekly Magazine has published my novelette “Absence of Evidence,” a story that’s more than just a murder mystery.

Be sure to check out the background on my latest work. And don’t forget to follow Charles French, whose blog offers a wealth of resources for both writers and fans of speculative fiction. French teaches literature, and is an accomplished writer himself.

Mystery Weekly Magazine is a Mystery Writers of America approved publisher, and is available in digital and print formats on Amazon.

Absence of Evidence

Mystery Weekly Magazine has published my novelette “Absence of Evidence.”

Treka Dunn, the senior investigator for the county Medical Examiner’s office, is positive the deceased in her latest case, Davis Washburn, died of natural causes. However, Davis’s autistic son Ron believes his father was poisoned. When a toxicology exam reveals no evidence of foul play, Treka tries to explain the findings to Ron.

But when Ron tells her about his last conversation with his father, Treka realizes she’s made a serious mistake.

This is my second appearance in Mystery Weekly Magazine. My first story with them, “The Calculus of Karma,” was a sci-fi/mystery mash-up. “Absence of Evidence” is a procedural crime story, with a gold mine of technical detail. For me, the background research for a story is a huge part of the joy of writing, and “Absence” was a challenge that occupied me nearly two months. The plot also owes a great deal to my years as a workflow analyst.

Which proves that with enough effort and just the right amount of devilish imagination, you can write a story about anything.

I want to give special thanks to two technical advisers who provided invaluable information about the inner workings of hospitals. One is my daughter, Lt. Jessica Fields, an experienced RN who’s now an Air Force nurse. The other is Betty Vuncannon Crowley, an RN who went on to hospital administration. I am eternally grateful to both.

Mystery Weekly Magazine is a Mystery Writers of America approved publisher, and is available in digital and print formats on Amazon.

HEMINGWAY – KEN BURNS

Looking forward to the Ken Burns documentary on Ernest Hemingway airing on PBS April 5-7. If it’s half as good as Burns’ Civil War series, it should be a classic.

Featuring original manuscripts and rare archival photos and films, the series promises new insights into Hemingway’s creative process behind such masterpieces as A Farewell to Arms and the short stories “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and (my favorite!) “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” With voice-overs by Jeff Daniels, Meryl Streep, Keri Russell, Patricia Clarkson, and Mary-Louise Parker, viewers can look forward to a series comparable to Burns’ other masterpieces.

Beginning April 5, I’ll be glued in front of the TV with mojitos at hand.

T. E. Hulme and the Heart of Mystery

T. E. Hulmd

A murder victim demands many things.

Their very presence requires answers to tough questions: Who did this? How? And above all, why?

Mystery stories promise a twisting and often treacherous search complicated with deceit and dark emotions. And that search offers rich opportunities to explore the boundaries of human rationality and depravity. The murderer, in taking a life, has struck a blow against normalcy itself, so solving the crime is not just for the immediate victim, but all of society.

Is the culprit a blatant sociopath, a serial killer who continually preys on others? Or – perhaps even more terrifying – is it a latent sociopath we thought was normal?

Mystery author Joanna Schaffhausen writes that we can recognize sociopaths by their “narcissism, lying (even when it was easier to tell the truth), indifference to societal rules, [and] lack of empathy or conscience.”

Mystery tales explore the dark tendencies unleashed by social disconnection. And this is where Imagist poet T. E. Hulme can step in to clarify things. In his essay Romanticism and Classicism, Hulme discusses the distinction between these two movements, and in doing so, lays out the difference between the world views of the protagonist and antagonist in a mystery story:

Here is the root of all romanticism: that man, the individual, is an infinite reservoir of possibilities; and if you can so rearrange society by the destruction of oppressive order then these possibilities will have a chance and you will get Progress.

One can define the classical quite clearly as the exact opposite to this. Man is an extraordinarily fixed and limited animal whose nature is absolutely constant. It is only by tradition and organisation that anything decent can be got out of him.

I suspect that those of us attracted to mystery stories want to enter a world where social norms are defended and restored. After all, the act of reading is itself an affirmation of man’s social nature. As Hulme states in the same essay, literature is a social endeavor:

The great aim is accurate, precise and definite description. The first thing is to recognise how extraordinarily difficult this is. It is no mere matter of carefulness; you have to use language, and language is by its very nature a communal thing.

Studies have shown that reading helps us better understand and connect with others. No wonder mystery stories hold such an attraction for us — they show us the problem and deliver the cure in one fascinating package.

The Underground Library society

Beowulf

English professor and writer Charles French founded The Underground Library Society, inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In Bradbury’s dystopian novel, books have been banned and the subject population submits to a crushing conformity. A handful of rebels “become” books by memorizing them in the hope that one day, books and free thought will again thrive.

Members of The Underground Library Society will have the opportunity to publish a guest post on French’s blog and reveal what book they’d “become” and why. In my post, I make a case for memorizing and preserving Beowulf. Why that particular work? Check it out!

Quote of the day

Stories

“Stories are among the most intimate and personal things we have. Stories touch the imagination and are deeply implanted in one’s psyche and consciousness. Without stories there can be no culture. Without stories there can be no imagination. Without an imagination there is no vitality to human existence. Without that vitality humans are mere robots to be programmed, pacified, and subjugated into parasitic consumers.”

Paul Krause

Breaking rules

Early in his acting career, Arnold Schwarzenegger established a reputation for being both ambitious and easy to get along with. But he once famously clashed with James Cameron on the set of The Terminator about what would become the most famous line in a groundbreaking movie.

Arnold suggested his killer android character would say “I will be back,” arguing that a machine would not use a contraction. Cameron, who was renowned for his meticulousness, held his ground, finally demanding that Arnold stick to the script. As Arnold recalled, Cameron told him, “I don’t correct your acting, so don’t correct my writing.” Arnold did as he was told, and in the above video, he confesses that Cameron made the right call.

Kudos to Arnold for admitting his mistake.

But the real point is how you can be technically right but artistically wrong. Submissions editors see manuscripts all the time that click on all the technical points, such as tension, characterization, and a good premise, but fail to engage the reader.

The showdown between Arnold and Cameron illustrates that sometimes the logical way isn’t always best. A story develops its own internal logic and dynamic, and it takes years of practice to recognize that fact. James Cameron knew what he was doing.

Another way to put it is that you have to master the rules before you’re good enough to break them. Then you can wield them flexibly and effectively.