A Logic Named Joe

A Logic Named Joe

I love reading and writing short stories. A few years ago I came up with the idea of writing a nonfiction article on the five most influential pre-1950 computers in science fiction. In researching that list of potential computers, I read a number of books and short stories.

E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” topped off the list. It left me speechless and amazed. I wrote a review of that story. You can find it HERE. A second short story on the list was Misfit by Robert A. Heinlein. You can find my review of it HERE. The third computer I found was “The Engine.” The Engine is a fictional device described in Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift in 1726. You can find it HERE. The fourth is The World of Null-A, sometimes written The World of Ā, is a 1948 science fiction novel by A. E. van Vogt.  You can find it HERE.

“A Logic Named Joe” is a science fiction short story by Murray Leinster that was first published in the March 1946 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. The story actually appeared under Leinster’s real name, Will F. Jenkins, since that issue of Astounding also included a story under the Leinster pseudonym called “Adapter”.

The story is particularly noteworthy as a prediction of massively networked personal computers and their drawbacks, written at a time when computing was in its infancy.

The story’s narrator is a “logic” (much like a computer) repairman nicknamed Ducky. In the story, a logic that he names Joe develops some degree of sapience and ambition. Joe proceeds to switch around a few relays in “the tank” (one of a distributed set of central information repositories), and cross-correlate all information ever assembled – yielding highly unexpected results. It then proceeds to freely give all of those results to everyone on demand (and simultaneously disabling all the content-filtering protocols). Logics begin offering up unexpected help to everyone that includes designing custom chemicals that reduce inebriation, giving sex advice to small children, and plotting the perfect murder. Eventually Ducky “saves the civilization” by locating and turning off the only logic capable of doing this.

“A Logic Named Joe” has appeared in the collections Sidewise in Time (Shasta, 1950), The Best of Murray Leinster (Del Rey, 1978), First Contacts (NESFA, 1998), and A Logic Named Joe (Baen, 2005), and was also included in the Machines That Think compilation, with notes by Isaac Asimov, published 1984 Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

A Logic Named Joe was also published in The Great Science Fiction Stories, Volume 8, 1946 Edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenburg, DAW Books, November 1982 ISBN 0-87997-780-9.

Hold On Tight To Your Dreams

Hello there. Welcome to jimmiekepler.com, the blog of a writer, poet, and polymath named Jimmie Aaron Kepler. This is Jim Kepler.

On my blog, I communicate about how I write, my writing process, and how I manage to do it while maintaining a life. From time to time I’ll interview other authors on the same subjects.

I don’t have all the answers. Like you I struggle. My struggle is a thirty-five plus years journey of writing while working a day job, being a husband, father, grandfather and caregiver.

Presently I work full time as an Applications Support Engineer for a Fortune 500 privately held company. I average 45 hours a week on my day job. I spend another ten to fifteen hours a week in my car during my daily commute. I am the primary caregiver for my wife of forty-plus years who is battling Stage IV Melanoma Cancer and Neuroendocrine Cancer. I also am the primary caregiver for my ninety years old father who lives 50 miles from me with all of the city of Dallas, Texas and its traffic in-between. He still drives and lives on his own.

Today I am the blog’s guest. My name is Jim Kepler. I earned a bachelor of arts degree in history with minors in English and military science from The University of Texas at Arlington and a master of religious education and master of arts degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. I later earned a doctor of education degree as well as completed the core curriculum of a computer science degree.

Relax, I promise not to hit you over the head or between the eyes with the Bible. I confess I write science fiction with faith where I include Christianity and other belief systems. I try to avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of Religion in Science Fiction.

Since high school, I wanted to write. I was told writing was not a real job for a man who would someday need to support a wife and children. Graduating from college, I did three years active duty as a commissioned officer in the US Army. I then headed to grad school.

When I finished graduate school, I started taking writing seriously. I attend my first writer’s conference. There I was offered a nonfiction magazine article assignment. I jumped at the opportunity.

Over the next fifteen years, I wrote, sold, and had published one to three articles a year. I was paid at professional writing rates. I penned a weekly newspaper column for fifteen years. I also wrote a nonfiction book, sold it, and then had the kill fee clause in the book’s contract executed. I was paid twenty percent of the contract by the publisher to cancel the book. I was devastated. I started losing my motivation to write.

Then life seemed to get in the way. I did a major career change where I started doing a large amount of corporate training, technical writing, and curriculum writing. I also went back to college and faced the common challenges of career, parenting three teenagers, having my wife develop a serious illness, and caring for aging parents.

Because of this, I took a ten years break from writing articles. I still wrote and worked on a few poems. I also started writing and publishing book reviews in the military history field as well as blogging. I did not write any book-length manuscripts, magazine articles, short stories, etc. during this season of life.

In 2007 I was revisited by my Muse. She encouraged me to start writing again. This time I started over as a newbie. Instead of writing nonfiction I decided to write short stories, historical fiction, and my favorite, science fiction.

That same year I started the next great American novel, joined an excellent writers group, and started writing and submitting short stories and poems. Along the way, I sold a few short stories as well as placed at some writing contests.

The writing contest affirmations of my skills helped my ego and increased my drive. Somewhere in this time, I learned the need to focus. My focus was improved by listening to podcasts on writing like Mur Lafferty’s “I Should Be Writing” and Joann Penn’s “The Creative Penn.”  Dean Koontz and Diana Gabaldon also were podcasting during this time and provided great insights and motivation.

I took me three years to complete that first novel. It was historical fiction. I went the traditional route pitching it to agents at Cons, small press acquisition editors, and publishers at more Cons, and finally self-publishing the first novel to minimal sales. It proved to be of great value as it showed me I could complete a book. I have since written the first two books of a four-book science fiction series.

Through the years I found myself wanting to be a full-time writer so bad I could taste it. I modeled the habits of the people who successfully transitioned from day job to full-time writer. I started writing an hour a day before work, giving my best time and effort to my writing before going to the day job. I would also write for two to three hours on Saturday.

So I’m chasing the dream. In the weeks ahead we’ll pursue the dream together and meet other writers pursuing their dreams.

And you’ll be reminded to hold on tight to your dreams.

Charlie’s Bells by Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Charlie’s Bells by Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Pummerin Stephansdom Vienna July 2008 P02Jackson Smith lived in the pale-yellow house with the whitewashed picket fence on Second Street. When he first arrived in town, he had already accepted a new position with the First State Bank. He brought with him a small inheritance from his favorite aunt, so he had not hesitated to purchase the three-gabled structure. Jackson prized the large porch on the house’s west side. He envisioned himself swaying gently on the wide swing. Handsomely painted a peaceful gray, Jackson had it repainted a cheerful pale yellow to please his new bride when they married two years later. Since then, he spent many an enjoyable evening on that porch. The charm of Jackson’s home was appealing. An advantage was its’ location, just one block north of the County Courthouse and the bank.

Jackson possessed a keen intellect. He enjoyed strong, good looks, a healthy shock of sable brown hair, smiling amber brown eyes and naturally straight white teeth. The only flaw found in Jackson Smith was he would not attend church. He had been enlightened at State University. One religion professor taught church attendance wasn’t necessary. That man’s teachings was validation for Jackson’s inclination towards the avoidance of church interiors.

Jackson avowed his Christian belief but insisted on sleeping on Sunday mornings. It was with a good-natured yet firm resolve that he rebuffed the invitations to attend the sermons of Dr. George Whitefield Jones. He visited a few times when he first moved to town and joined the church.

Since Jackson could answer anyone’s questions on Christianity with his thorough Bible knowledge and rhetorical prowess, even Dr. Jones left him alone. This has been particularly true since Jackson subscribed to the church budget based on his gross income. He was one of the church’s top five contributors while never attending. That was truly the only gossip the mongers could muster on the man.

Anyone familiar with small town customs knows that such a refined, young man cannot be allowed to go through life unmarried. The eagle-eyed wife of a bank trustee spotted Jackson within days of his arrival. She set to work matchmaking Jackson with her beautiful, debutante granddaughter who was of marrying age. She thought, Julia needed a husband and so she went to work.

The scheming matchmaker worked to pair the two, her activities so blatant that both parties and half the town knew what was afoot. In the end, most felt Cupid intervened, releasing the twin arrows from his bow that pierced the paired lover’s hearts.

Jackson was happy the meddling trustee’s wife had insisted her granddaughter visit that first summer. He thought it endearing how she had plotted so many events to bring them together. They were soon courting and then engaged.

As the impending nuptials approached, Dr. Jones began lobbying Julia to have Jackson pay for the repair of the church bells so they might ring out gloriously in celebration of their wedding.

Julia imagined her wedding day, a perfect June morning with a blue sky, she and Jackson exiting the church and laughing at being drowned in showers of rice. Dr. Jones had vividly planted the suggestion of wedding bells ringing. Julia, too often indulging in her favorite wedding daydream, actually began hearing the church bells ringing.

When Julia finally asked Jackson to pay for the bells repair, he said yes. It was a bit sad when it was discovered that the restoration turned out to be so much simpler than anticipated.  The armature holding the bell didn’t need replacing. The rope had merely become frayed and gotten caught up in the gears. It only needed untangled from the mechanism and replaced with a new line.

That Tuesday afternoon in May, the sudden ringing of the bells after so many years of their silence caught the community completely off-guard. People rushed out of their shops or stood at home on their porches admiring the sound. The melodic ringing elicited broad smiles, a few sentimental tears, and cheery goodwill.

When the wedding day arrived, it was as Julia imaged. Mr. and Mrs. Jackson Smith exited the church with happy smiles as cascades of rice poured down on them. They dashed to the waiting car with the Just Married sign, the tin cans and old shoes tied to the bumper. The bells rang and rang. They resonated long and gloriously filling the blue sky with their joyous sound.

#

The Smiths were still unpacking from their honeymoon when the Richards family moved to town. Mr. Charles Richards was hired to replace the saw mill’s elderly superintendent, who after losing two of his fingers had grudgingly agreed to retire.

The Richards were an unassuming couple. Their family was small with one son, Charles Junior. Everyone called him Charlie. He had Down syndrome. It influenced his personality strongly.

Charlie was fifteen years old, always smiling and happy. He quickly gravitated towards the church. You’d find him there whenever the church doors were open. Some of the dear sisters thought maybe his mother shooed him off in the church’s direction to have some time away from the simple-minded boy, but he was not a bother. He was competent and industrious when directed towards a task that was within his abilities. He was able and willing to dust and polish pews and rake leaves. Charlie had a special talent for plugging away at the most boring and repetitive tasks. He always completed them with industry and cheerfulness than no one else would, or even could.

Charlie’s efforts saved the church money. It was with appreciation that Dr. Jones would pay Charlie a small salary. The money swelled Charlie’s heart with pride. He would take the few dollars down to the shops on the square, buy himself a comic book and a double-dip ice cream waffle cone with a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of butter praline.

The first-time Charlie heard the church bells he wanted to ring them. A young man named Tom held the bell-ringer position. When Charlie found out that Tom would be leaving for college, he began lobbying to take over Tom’s duties.

Dr. Jones liked the idea of Charlie having the bell-ringing responsibilities, but he was also concerned with Charlie’s physical and mental challenges from Down syndrome that he might injure himself. The bells were as big as Charlie and weighed hundreds of pounds. The timing and rope pulling needed to be coordinated in just the right way to be safe for the bell-ringer and pleasing to the ear. It just so happened that Tom was both an athletic young man and gifted with a musician’s sense of timing.

It also turned out Tom was kind and patient. When he learned Charlie wanted to be the bell-ringer, he taught Charlie how it was done. To begin the lessons, Tom rigged up a phony line next to his. He’d have Charlie practice pulling along with him.

This thrilled Charlie, as he didn’t understand that his rope had no effect on the bells, because when he pulled his line along with Tom, the bells rang. After several sessions of perfecting the timing with the dummy rope, Tom had Charlie assist him at pulling on the real rope so that Charlie could get used to the weight and feel of the swinging bells.

It turned out that Charlie was a natural bell-ringer. He wasn’t just competent; he was good at it! Charlie performed his duties safely. He had a natural rhythmic gift. Often when pulling the rope, he’d let the rebound lift him several feet off the ground, thrilling to it over and over. Charlie would tell his parents that he felt like an angel flying in the church, and Charlie’s mother would tell him that he was an angel.

Charlie’s bell ringing pleased just about everyone except Jackson. In his enthusiasm to please his wife and have the bells repaired, Jackson had not thought through the consequences of having fully functioning church bells so close to his home.

Jackson liked sleeping late on Sunday. He didn’t mind Julia getting up and going to Sunday services at the church. His request was she be quiet and not awaken him while she was getting dressed. Julia complied as she dressed and ate her light breakfast, but it was pointless. Julia might as well have shot off artillery in the front yard because the bells woke Jackson up just as predictably as cannons would have. Every Sunday, the bells Jackson had paid to repair caused him aggravation, even more so because he was responsible for their now flawless functioning.

Julia suggested since he was going to be woken up anyway, why not accompany her to church? Jackson almost softened but said no. He didn’t offer an explanation. It was then that she realized Jackson’s real aversion was to attending church. She pointed this out to him and gently queried him further, but this questioning was met with an uncomfortable silence. Julia decided she respected her husband enough that he could keep this secret.

Jackson decided to do something about the Sunday morning bell ringing. Dr. Jones chuckled at Jackson’s request to silence the ringing, pointing out that Sunday’s bells called the congregants to church. Dr. Jones even suggested there was a sort of positive Pavlovian response for churchgoing people to hear the ringing bells. He again thanked Jackson for having the bells restored, shared how much Charlie enjoyed ringing the bells, and the community’s appreciation. Well, that shook Jackson’s resolve. He resigned himself to wearing earplugs which didn’t always work.

One reason Jackson no longer pursued ceasing the Sunday bell ringing was Charlie. He and Julia were very fond of Charlie. The boy often stopped and drank a glass of iced tea if he walked by their home when they were sitting out on their west facing porch waiting to watch the sunset. The three of them would sit companionably enjoying the evening and chat about subjects that suited Charlie. Julia would also praise him on his bell ringing. She liked watching her husband grimace disapprovingly, but there would be that smile in his amber brown eyes.

I’ll have to resign myself to hearing the bells ring all the days of my life, he’d grumble to Julia. She countered the sounds should fill him with joy, reminding him of their wedding day. She reminded him, their marriage was the reason the bells had been repaired. Jackson knew not to argue that point.

And so, it was, every Sunday the bells announced church. This went on year after year. Charlie with his bell ringing was a faithful servant unto the Lord.

Jackson and Julia had always assumed that they would have children, but the years passed, and it just never happened. Julia sought advice from a doctor and tried some different things, but in truth, they were content just with each other.  They also enjoyed spending time with Charlie, who though he grew older was still a perpetual kid. They often took Charlie places with them, sometimes to a movie, or on an overnight trip to the lake. They would have dinner with the Richards family almost once a week, alternating homes and cooking duties.  Mr. and Mrs. Richards eventually designated the Smiths to be Charlie’s guardian should anything happen to them.

One Sunday Jackson didn’t wake up until nearly noon. No church bells were ringing to serve as his alarm.

Jackson knew immediately when Julia returned from church that something was terribly wrong; her nose was red, and her face was wet with tears that continuously streamed down her cheeks. He lightly took her shoulders and pulled her to his chest, enfolded her in his arms and asked what was wrong.  Julia could barely choke out her grief-stricken words, Charlie was about to leave for church this morning when he had a heart attack right in front of his Mama. They called Dr. Wilbur. He came right away, but they knew Charlie was dead. Dr. Wilbur said Charlie had flown to Heaven before he even reached the floor. His Mama said he was an angel now.

Now the years had been good to Jackson. His work ethic complimented his banking skills. Before he turned fifty, the board appointed him president of the First State Bank. When Julia’s grandfather passed away, he assumed his seat on the board of trustees. Jackson had remained faithful in both makings and paying his subscription to the church’s budget. He was now their largest contributor.

One morning Jackson called and made an appointment to meet with Dr. Jones. The aging minister had recently announced that he would be retiring on his seventieth birthday. Jackson wanted to meet with him while Dr. Jones was still able to help.

When he arrived at the pastor’s study, Jackson asked one question. He wanted to know who would be ringing the bells at ten o’clock A.M. every Sunday. Dr. Jones agreed there was still value in the bell ringing, but said no one was willing to commit to taking the responsibility.

A couple of more Sundays passed with Jackson sleeping away his Sunday mornings because no one rang the bells to wake him. People started arriving late at the church service because they had no church bells to remind them to hurry to church.

The weather turned to match the cold, gray attitude that settled over the town on Sundays since the church bells stopped ringing. The joy of the little Down syndrome boy who grew into a happy man that had permeated the congregation and town for a quarter of a century disappeared when the bells stopped ringing.

#

Julia came home from the Wednesday night church business meeting with all the color drained from her face. She told Jackson the church had voted to remove and sell the church bells. The value of the brass and the money obtained would be given to help those with special needs unless someone stepped forward, called by God to ring the bells.

Jackson shook his head in disbelief. He said nothing.

The next Sunday morning at ten o’clock, Julia and her Sunday school class heard the bells ringing. They closed their Bibles, picked up their purse and hurried to the bell tower curious to see who was ringing the bells. Dr. Jones left his prayers and last minute review of his sermon as soon as he heard the bells ringing. He also headed for the bell tower. This was repeated by class after class from the oldest men’s class to the older preschool class.

They all arrived at the bell tower at the same time. Someone opened the red door. Inside was the president of the First State Bank, Jackson Smith. He was pulling the rope up and down, ringing the bells. A great smile was on his face.

“What are you doing?” questioned Dr. Jones.

“I’m ringing Charlie’s bells,” said Jackson Smith.


Picture source: By Gryffindor stitched by Marku 1988. This image was created with Hugin [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

One Great Way to Write a Short Story

ETBU CertificateI am a “second-rate” short story writer.

Why would I say that? “Exhibit A” shows the answer. It is a certificate documenting my second-place finish in the short story writing contest of the East Texas Christian Writer’s Conference. I have never won a short story competition but have finished in second place.

I have written and even sold short stories. Over the years, I have entered short story contests. I am still seeking that elusive “first place” in a short story contest.

In my quest to win a contest, I have become a student of the short story form. Here is what I call “One Great Way to Write a Short Story.” It begins with planning.

PLANNING IS ESSENTIAL

I would never start writing a short story without at least a rough outline to tell me where I am going.  I recommend jotting down the answers to a few questions. The answers provide the framework for where the story is going.

The first step in writing a short story is a planning exercise. Plan your short story in advance by answering questions in three areas:

The subject – Who is the main character? What is the problem?

The story –What is the character’s motivation to solve the problem? What actions occur to address the problem?

The resolution – What are results of the character’s acts to resolve the problem? What change does the character undertake because of that action?

HOW I DO IT – STEP BY STEP

1. The Character

I decide about whom I am going to write. You have one central character in the story. It might a soldier returning home. It could be an astronaut. It might be about a businessperson. The reader will identify with that person.

2. The Problem

What is it that the main character struggles with that he or she may not have an instant need to resolve? It is a problem the character has had for a while but has not had an immediate need to solve. An example would be if I were writing about a businesswoman who obtained an executive position using a falsified resume. She may not have an immediate need to deal with the issue.

3. The Motivation

Why does the main character decide to solve the problem? I’ll use the businesswoman with the falsified resume as an example.

It could be that she has accepted a position on the board of directors for a prominent community organization like the United Way. The local media decides to do a feature story on her background. In this case, I need to put in the appropriate backstory – her claiming to have a prestigious Ivy League graduate degree when she had dropped out of college before obtaining her undergraduate degree. Now she is in a position that requires an accredited four-year college degree as well as MBA. She realizes she is about to be found out with embarrassment to herself, her employer, and maybe she could even have to resign.

4. The Action

What does the main character do to solve the problem? What does she do to correct the situation? Maybe she confesses to her company’s president, or she may try to resign quietly from the board of directors for a prominent community organization for personal reasons trying to avoid being exposed and hoping it will just go away.

5. The Result

What happens because of the character’s attempt to solve the problem? Maybe she tells the president and he dismisses her. The employer takes legal action against her demanding restitution from her for fraudulently obtained wages. He takes her to court and wins. She is required to make restitution of tens of thousands of dollars and has her reputation destroyed.

6. The Change

Perhaps at this point, the character struggles financially, loses her large home and country club lifestyle. Maybe her friends desert her. She is unable to get a job because of her lying on the resume. She could go back to school and complete the education she had claimed.  Maybe she becomes an advocate for ethical business practices.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Remember the main character needs a good reason for what they are doing. They need to act consistently to who they are. You need to set up every incident in the story. If the character obtained a high position using a falsified resume, make sure you set this up by doing a flashback or remembrance where she is sitting typing the resume and then clicks submit thinking no one ever checks a resume. If you bring it up, you must conclude it. This refers to the conflict in the story. If you have any conflict, you need to resolve it before ending the story.

Once you have planned your short story, you will be able to write it. My guess is by following these simple principles you too can write a short story. Moreover, just maybe it will be “second-rate” or even better.


This article original appeared in “Author Culture,” September 17, 2014


Jimmie Aaron KeplerJimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffee house, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support engineer. He is a former Captain in the US Army. He holds BA, MA, MRE and EdD degrees. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. He is the author of seven books and collections available on Amazon. You can visit him at http://www.jimmiekepler.com.

A Day Job, Family, and the Writing Life

27Twenty-seven hours

Do you need twenty-seven hours in your day to do everything? Sorry, I can’t give your day extra hours. What I can give are some of the lessons I’ve learned and techniques I use to make the best use of my time.

Maybe like a current television commercial’s characters you are stupid rich. That is where you can pay for someone to handle your pitches, blurbs, contract negotiations, research, reporting, editing, billing, collections, Twitter, Facebook, and personal website.

Stupid rich allows you to just write. If that’s the case, this article isn’t for you. However, if you don’t have a housekeeper that does the cleaning, a nanny taking care of the kids, and a virtual assistant, read on.

You’re more like me.

My guess is you are more like me. You have to do it all. You would add to the above list driving the car pool, church and community goings-on, your children and grandkids school activities. You might also be caring for aging parents as well as having a time-jealous spouse that cannot figure out why you are driven to write. Or like me you may have a terminally ill spouse. They view your writing as just a hobby.

Like me, you have to figure out how to manage your writing time while working the day job to support your writing habit, and of course keep the spouse, children, parents, and world happy.

You may find your life so connected with others that you can’t turn off email, Facebook, and Twitter. You rationalize, it’s okay, after all, you use them to promote your writing. And the iPhone or Android smartphones have to be on all the time for instant access to voice and text communication.

Okay, go ahead, take a deep breath. I find all live similar lives. I won’t kid you; it is hard to write, stay organized and productive while balancing a day job, writing and family. We all know there is no silver bullet or magic formula to handle these conflicting demands.

Time management tips

Here are some time management tips I’ve learned over the last thirty-five years of freelance writing. During that interval, I’ve been writing while working and changing careers three times. I’ve been a United States Army officer. I admit I learned lots of discipline and time management skills from Uncle Sam. Next, I was a full-time Christian educator holding such job titles as Minster of Education, Associate Pastor, and Day School Headmaster.

For the last twenty years, I have worked in information technology field as a technical documentationalist, support engineer and systems engineer with all the never-ending on-call, long hours and weekends that go with an IT job. Along the way, I raised a family, worked a day job, was active in my church, managed staying married to the same woman for forty-two years, and carried for aging parents and parents-in-law. It’s not easy, but you can do it.

Writing requires five things

How have I done it? I learned finding time for writing requires five things. It requires balance, focus, understanding expectations, flexibility, and the ability to multitask.

  1. I learned a writer needs balance. This is meeting writing deadlines while marketing to existing and new clients to keep work coming in. An editor at Lifeway Christian Resources told me thirty-five years ago others wrote better than me, but I wrote to specification, met deadlines, and was easy to work with so I was offered assignment after assignment over the better writers. Professional writers balance the writing life with the rest of their life. It isn’t either or, but both and.
  2. I learned to maintain my focus is critical. What I mean by focus is being able to switch from task to task or project to project without getting distracted. I learned to do this by viewing writing as a professional job. Just like showing up at the day job and beginning working when my shift start, I do the same with writing. I have an appointed time and then just write.
  3. I learned to manage my expectations. Creating realistic expectations for how much can be accomplished in an hour, day, week month or year took time. It helped where I didn’t take on too much work. I learned the balance needed to meet deadlines and not be overwhelmed. It helps you end up with the right amount of a workload. This allows you to have time for your family and friends.
  4. I learned to be flexible. In freelancing for trade journals and magazines, I have been called at three PM on a Friday and asked if I could have them an article by the beginning of business on Monday. Why such a short deadline? The person with the original assignment missed their due date. I say yes only when I can deliver. Flexibility is staying loose enough to deal with the unforeseen circumstances that unavoidably crop up while keeping enough structure to finish projects on time.
  5. I learned to multitask. I hate the word and concept. I actually can only work on one thing at a time, but can work on several projects. I just think about multitasking like when I had six of seven classes in high school or college. I would have homework in more than one class. I learned how to handle it. Working on multiple projects simultaneously is a regular part of a freelancer’s life. For example, you may blog, Tweet, be working on your novel, and coordinating the church social all the same week. Somehow we do it.

Approaches for managing time

Well, I hear you thinking about now, “Where are those time management suggestions?” You guessed it, here they are. I call them approaches for managing time. Ultimately, better time management should equal higher productivity.

  1. I have a regular place and time to write. It doesn’t matter if it is first thing in the morning, after lunch or in the evening. I have found when I do that The Muse will eventually show up because The Muse knows where and when to find me. I write most morning at Starbucks for an hour before going to the day job, longer on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I write there because I have fewer interruptions. I also write for the last thirty minutes of my lunch hour four days a week. Never forget, writer’s write. You have to make time for writing.
  2. I avoid interruptions. Here is where you disconnect or turn off the phone. It’s where you don’t check email, Facebook or Twitter. You write. If working from home, don’t answer the doorbell. It is the time to write, not the time to research. If you are writing and need to research, make a note, but keep writing. You can research later. I actually write many times with the Internet turned off or using software that limits the time I can be on the Internet. Avoiding interruptions helps you make writing a priority where you can write.
  3. I write to the clock, not for a word count, though I try to write at least a page a day (about 250 to 300 words). Because of working about 50 hours a week at my day job, I don’t have the luxury of writing until I reach a certain number of words each day. I have to stop and go to work. It is amazing how many words I write just by having a regular schedule. You can use the timer on your phone or one from your kitchen to track the time you write. While writing, I always get up every hour to stretch and clear my mind, etc. Monday through Friday, I write from 6:00 AM to 7:05 AM. On Saturday, I write from 6:00 AM until 10 or 11:00 AM. Sundays I write from 6:30 AM to 8:00 AM before attending church. Again, I take a short break each hour and then keep on keeping on.
  4. I set goals. When working on a novel or an article I use what was called the backward planning process when I was in the US Army. Backward planning means first identifying your goal. Next you select the actions that are most likely to help you to arrive efficiently at your goal. For example, if I plan on writing an 80,000-word book on speculation, I know I can write a first draft in 320 days if I write on average just one page a day. I write the date I want to have the deadline and then plan the steps to get there. I outline, so this helps. You build in catch up time. Remember flexibility?
  5. I reward myself. I get excited when I write one page or more in the morning. When making my goal, I may treat myself to a second cup of coffee or a walk in the park. Sometimes reaching a goal gets me the reward of a new book to read. I know several writers who set daily or weekly goals. They reward themselves for concluding tasks or meeting goals. Remember, the rewards don’t have to be big. I do something bigger when a project is completed like celebrate with friends and family.
  6. I schedule time for my spouse. We spend time together. Sunday we attend church and Bible fellowship class together. We go out to eat lunch on Sunday. It is our “standing date.” Any major family or household management issues are handled Sunday afternoons. We often walk together in the park or mall as well as attending a movie or watching a favorite DVD or DVRed movie on Sunday.
  7. I use a to-do list to keep me on track. I know many writers hate them, but I us them help keep me on track.
  8. Last, I keep track of what I write and submit. I have used an Excel Spreadsheet and a paid service to help me in this area. The paid service I used is Duotrope. What I like about Duotrope is it is my personal submissions control panel. Like Writer’s Market, it has marketplace information and how to submit. It has an online submissions tracker that allows me to record and track submissions. Duotrope has the average number of days it takes to get a reply and the acceptance to rejection ratio on over 5,000 markets. It allows me to search publications and publishers by how they pay, acceptance ratio, and average days to get a reply. It tracks my submissions by category: fiction, non-fiction, poetry and an overall summary. It lets me keep track of my pending submissions, how many I have sent in the last 12 months, how many I have sent this month and my acceptance ratio. It allows me to also manage my list of pieces, my saved searches, my tracked deadlines, my favorite markets, shows me ignored markets. The two photos are screen captures of my two monitoring systems. One is a simple Excel Spreadsheet. The other is the Duotrope Dashboard. I found when I track my writing I submit more, sell more and resubmit. It keeps me from sending the same piece twice to the same market. As you can glean I have been rejected by some of the best: The New Yorker, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and Poetry Magazine. I also get my share of acceptances.

We may not have twenty-seven hours a day, but we can write on a regular schedule. We can also plan and keep track of our work. Writer’s write. Writer’s also submit, rewrite and resubmit.


Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffeehouse, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support analyst. He is a former Captain in the US Army. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. Kepler has a Bachelor of Arts in history with English and military science minors. He also earned Master of Religious Education, Master of Arts and Doctor of Education degrees. You can also visit him at Kepler’s Book Reviews.

Characters in Fiction Writing (An Outline)

Background

  1. A character is the representation of a person. My guess is you knew that.
  2. The reader should be able to identify with and care about the characters in the sense  that  the characters seem real to the reader.
  3. The characters must do something, and what they do must seem reasonable for them to have done it.

 

Introduction of Characters

  1. Characters should be introduced early in the story.
  2. The more often a character is mentioned or appears, the more significance the reader will attach to the character.
  3. The main character should be introduced before setting so that the setting can be introduced from the point of view of the character.

 

Nature of Characters

  1. The nature of characters can be brought out through minimal description and the actions, thoughts, and dialogue of the characters.
  2. The writer should allow the reader to make judgments about the characters; the writer should avoid making the judgments for the reader.
  3. The feelings of the character should be demonstrated rather than told by the narrator.

 

Closing thoughts and Rules

  1. The nature of characters can be brought out through minimal description and the actions, thoughts, and dialogue of the characters
  2. The one rule about writing is that there are no rules. If it works, it works.

 


Sidebar – Cardboard characters: What they are and how to avoid them.

  • Cardboard characters.
    • A cardboard character is one who’s a stereotype.
    • They are a character whose every action or reaction is exactly what the reader would have guessed for the situation.
  • How to Avoid Cardboard Characters
    • Avoid them by inventing lives, backgrounds, attitudes, quirks, moods, etc. for all characters.
    • The bigger the character is, the more depth he or she gets.
    • Even the barista whose only scene is taking other characters’ order and bringing the coffee has a unique personality which needs to come out, however briefly.

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Characters in Fiction Writing by Jimmie A. Kepler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Martian Mondays: The Martian Chronicles – Chapter Twelve: The Fire Balloons

Chapter Twelve – The Fire Balloons – This story first appeared as “…In This Sign” in Imagination, April 1951.

A missionary expedition of Episcopal priests from the United States anticipates sins unknown to them on Mars. Instead, they meet ethereal creatures glowing with blue flames in crystal spheres, who have left the material world, and thus have escaped sin.

This story appeared in six editions of The Martian Chronicles. It was in The Silver Locusts, the British edition of The Martian Chronicles. The 1974 edition from The Heritage Press has it. The September 1979 illustrated trade edition from Bantam Books, the “40th Anniversary Edition” from Doubleday Dell Publishing Group and in the 2001 Book-of-the-Month Club edition has it. It otherwise appeared in The Illustrated Man.

A 1997 edition of the book advances all the dates by 31 years. This story advances from November 2002 to 2033.


Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a writer of speculative fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and reviews books. He’s written for Poetry & Prose Magazine, vox poetica, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Bewildering Stories, Beyond Imagination Literary Magazine, Thinking About Suicide.com, Author Culture, FrontRowLit.com, The Baseball History Podcast, Writing After Fifty, Sunday School Leadership, Church Leadership, Motivators For Sunday School Workers, The Deacon, Preschool Leadership, Sunday School Leader, and The Baptist Program. For sixteen years, he wrote a weekly newspaper column. He has written five fiction and poetry books. All are available on Amazon.com. His blog “Kepler’s Military History Book Reviews” was named a 100 Best Blogs for History Buffs and has had over 750,000 visitors.