The Inverse of Robert Burns

Originally posted on Dr. Doyle's Editorial and Critique Services:

The Scots poet Robert Burns wrote, famously, of being able to look at oneself as an outside observer:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae
mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion…

For writers seeking to create believable and well-rounded characters, however, another important question to ask is, how does a character see him-or-herself? 

This question has more than one side to it.  The more obvious side, perhaps, deals with a character’s secret self-doubts and hidden shames:  the heroic leader who is inwardly convinced that he’s making a bombastic fool of himself every time he has to make an inspirational speech; the charitable volunteer who secretly hates the good works they do out of a sense of duty.

On beyond that, however, is another question:  what is the character’s heroic self-image?  That is, when they’re…

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Peeve of the Day

jamesdmacdonald:

Worse still are the azure orbs that fly across the room to land on the beloved….

Originally posted on Dr. Doyle's Editorial and Critique Services:

Today’s peeve, for those of you who are collecting the whole set (also for those of you who aren’t; I’m not particular) is orbs.

Not the literal ones that are carrying out material functions, such as being part of some monarch’s regalia, and not the non-material ones that are nevertheless actual visual artifacts that can occur in flash photography.

No, I’m rendered peevish by the sort of romantic over-writing in which characters never have blue or green or hazel eyes – instead, they’re graced with sapphire or emerald or topaz orbs.    Pity the poor character with brown eyes, who has to deal with chocolate orbs instead.

(It is probably fortunate, both for the characters and for the reader, that this particular school of over-writing tends to bestow evocatively-colored orbs only upon the sympathetic characters.)

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If You’re Going to be in Bradford, Vermont, This Evening…

Originally posted on Dr. Doyle's Editorial and Critique Services:

… then you might consider also being here, between 6  and 8 PM.

Star Cat Books is hosting a reading and signing by authors Miranda Neville and Skylar Dorset, accompanied by an English cream tea (scones! clotted cream! jam!)

It’s where I’m going to be, at any rate.  (Scones!  Clotted cream! Jam!  And of course, books.)

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Summer Daze

Originally posted on Dr. Doyle's Editorial and Critique Services:

‘Tis the season for muggy, oppressive weather, the kind that saps the energy and destroys the initiative . . . not the best kind of weather in which to be doing revisions, but still, revisions must be done.

A few of the things that get taken care of in revision, at least by me:

Turning a suitable number of semicolons into either periods or commas, as appropriate.  I am, as I’ve admitted here before, one of those writers with a tendency to love semicolons not wisely, but too well, and getting rid of at least one in three isn’t going to hurt the story and will probably improve it.

Double-checking the continuity, in order to make sure that characters don’t refer to things other characters have told them before they’ve actually been told, and similar stuff.  When you’re the bead-stringing, rather than the linear, sort of writer, this is a…

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Down in the Coal Mine

Coal mines tend to be a long way from where the folks who use their products live, and the miners tend to be ethnic minorities or the underclass.

Famous coal miners include Nikita Khrushchev: compared to going down the mine what was the Czar going to do to him?

One of the things about The Hunger Games: Catching Fire movie that broke my suspension of disbelief (Hey, mag-lev trains? I’m good with that! Kids forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of the masses? Sure, why not? The upper class’s hair styles? Seen worse….) was when the Evil Government sends armored vehicles along one-lane dirt roads, in mountainous forested terrain, without infantry support, against miners. Miners. These are guys who (a) know all about, and have access to, explosives, and (b) have nothing to lose. If I were telling that story….

More people die in coal mines every year than have died in nuclear power plants–ever.

Anyway. Jolly miners.

(The group is Bawn in the Mash, from Tennessee.)

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Say What?

So, there I am over looking at MSN (yeah, that’s how sunken in sin I am) when some of their click-bait, “15 Classic Cocktail Recipes Everyone Should Know” fell under my eye.

Since I was engaged in Writing Avoidance Behavior (AKA “Waxing the Cat”), I clicked. And I spotted, at #7 on the list, the Moscow Mule.

I quote:


Moscow Mule

2 ounces vodka

½ ounce lime juice

6 ounces ginger beer

Lime wedge for garnish


Fill a lowball glass with ice. Add vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer; stir. Garnish with a lime wedge.

“Fill a lowball glass….” Fill a lowball glass???!!! What the frick! Everyone knows that you serve Moscow Mules in copper mugs. If you search on Moscow Mule Google auto-completes with copper mug. Search Amazon for “Moscow Mule” and you get twenty pages of copper mugs (and a few CDs by a group called the “Moscow Mules”). The copper mug adds a certain distinctive flavor to the concoction that some describe as, let me see, oh yes, “coppery.”

It caused me to instantly lose faith in MSN.

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Shameless Self-promotion

“The Devil in the Details,” the latest installment in the Peter Crossman series about a modern-day Knight Templar, is up at Tor.com. Free!

Completists will want to get our previous Crossman short stories in the form of a chapbook, The Confessions of Peter Crossman in various electronic and paper versions, and the Crossman novel, The Apocalypse Door, ditto.

Watch for the next Crossman novel, The Gates of Time, coming soon from Tor.

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The Great War

One hundred years ago today, 28 June,  Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo.   To one way of thinking, the war that started that afternoon still isn’t over.

The way it went down, the assassination happened more-or-less by accident. Six or seven different individuals were trying to assassinate the arch-duke that day. One of them threw a grenade, which missed. (The way that happened: grenades at that time were activated by striking them firmly on a solid object, which fired a cap, which lit a fuse, which detonated the explosive a few seconds later. When the would-be assassin struck the grenade and fired the cap, the report made the driver of the archduke’s car think he’d blown a tire, and braked suddenly. As a result, the archduke escaped injury.)

Gavrilo Princip, the eventual assassin, never did get a shot at the archduke. So, instead, he went to a bar for a sandwich and a beer. But remember that earlier grenade attack? A member of the archduke’s party had been injured and taken to a hospital. The archduke and duchess went to visit their friend in the hospital, but their driver got lost. So he decided to turn around, and was making a three-point turn in the street outside of the bar where Princip was having lunch. Princip, noticing the opportunity, went outside and shot them both.

In modern terms, neither the archduke nor duchess needed to have died. Fast and efficient EMS and a Level One trauma center would have saved them. But as it happened, fast and efficient EMS would be a result, sixty years later, of the events that took place that day.

Within months, thanks to a set of secret treaties, all Europe (and Europe’s various colonies) was at war. World War One turned into World War Two, which became the Cold War. Bosnia was still a mess during Clinton’s administration, and right now Iraq is falling apart along fault lines set up when the country was created (Lawrence of Arabia and all that) in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, for the convenience of British Petroleum.

How is this related to me personally? My great-uncle Joe Simmit fought in the Great War as a soldier in the Austro-Hungarian Army. After the War, he moved to America where his sister was already living (central Europe as a wounded veteran of the losing side was a not-great place to be in the ‘Twenties). But when it came time to look for a wife, since in his opinion all Americans were spendthrifts, he went back to the old country to find one. He found Mitzi, a Croat, who became my great-aunt.

I never met Joe Simmit, but I did meet Mitzi when I was young.

Later, I fought in the Cold War. But that’s another story.

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Free Story

Way back when (in 1999, if you must know) we wrote a short story, “Remailer,” for Constance Ash’s anthology Not Of Woman Born, a book whose cover blurb read, “Tales of high-tech reproduction from the most inventive names in science fiction.” The book came out, and was reviewed. For example: “When it comes to strange, ‘Remailer’ by Debra Doyle and James Macdonald takes the bun, biscuit, and bakeshop.” (Tangent SF Reviews)

It’s a murder mystery, to start with. It’s a sex story (with three sexes, all necessary to reproduction). It’s a hard-SF story. And it plays games with language. (Doyle’s a linguist. We know this stuff.)

Here’s how it starts….

Scanner over the club door stirs in the cool breeze, swiveling a conical search back and up and forth and down—enzyme sniffing, searching the pheromones, checking to see who’s clean and who’s not. Crude first approximation, not a true sample, but good enough to keep out the riff. Inside the club is air hot enough to bring out the sweat with the good pheros. All the pretties, male and female and not-reporting, dance and drink and search for the perfect other.


Pulse-beat rhythms make the floor quake underfoot—noise, above all, to fool and foil the eavesdroppers, meat and metal both. In a booth near the back, two drinkers lean heads together, speaking low.


“I know he’s out there,” Enid says. She’s blonde and girly, with money to throw away. What she doesn’t have is a butch named Fremont, gone missing from her life with no warning. She’s supporting him still, hoping he’ll return. Sending non-traceable money every month. “Found him once, find him again.”


“Got an address?” asks Dol. Dol’s not-reporting, dark-haired and pretty enough to pass as a she if neh tries, which neh usually doesn’t. No point to it, in nis line of work


“Only remailer.”


“Give it to me.” Dol takes the address, written on a napkin. “What’s mine when the job’s over?”


“Fifteen thousand, non-t.” Enid pauses, looks at Dol. “Maybe more, if you want. We were planning, make offspring—had started looking for a third. Could be you.”

Which brings us to today (and the next month).

‘Til July 24th, “Remailer” is yours, for free, in electronic form. Go to Smashwords and use coupon code FB22D (not case sensitive).

If you don’t like it, you can tell me. If you do like it, tell all your friends.

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Yog’s Law

I see that my good friend (and sometime fellow Viable Paradise instructor) John Scalzi has posted a bit about Yog’s Law.

Self-publishing is its own thing (and I’ve been self-publishing since 1978 or so). Yog’s Law (“Money Flows Toward the Author”) is entirely valid there, too, despite the continual attempts by scammers and flim-flammers to obfuscate the obvious. Self-publication is a subset of commercial publishing. If you, as publisher, can’t afford to pay yourself, as author, 10-15% of the cover price of each copy sold, you can’t afford to self-publish.

Note that true self-publication is different from throwing money at one of the vanity presses which, without changing their business models (or fee schedules) in the slightest, have re-branded themselves as “self-publishing services.” They’re still vanity presses and fall in the vast grey area between A Very Bad Idea and An Out-and-out Scam.

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