Clay Shirky really has something here. Because I have to say, I just plain love this book. I am a fan! In addition, this book ended up tying with Groundswell for being my favorite of the six books that we were assigned to read in my first Quinnipiac University social media class, Social Media Platforms (ICM 522).
At the time, I started classes thinking I would only get a certification and nothing more. However, I ended up staying long enough to get my Master’s of Science in Communications in Interactive Media (social media). And a part of that decision can be traced directly back to reading this particular work.
Philosophy To Go
Furthermore, I really liked the philosophical and sociological aspects of his work. Essentially, what he ended up saying was – society is changing. It’s not just the Internet; it is happening to humans ourselves. We are in the process of becoming new, and different. Hence there is a seismic shift going on, in our society.
Of course, that is likely to just be the wealthiest slice of society. Because heartbreakingly poor people in Third World countries simply aren’t going to be adding to online or offline content any time soon. Or, if they are, it is far more likely to consist of content that is survival-based. Hence this would be items for sale, rather than the products of truly creative pursuits.
Amateurs vs. Professionals
In addition, I really love what he had to say about amateur participation. Because in Chapter 5, on page 154, Shirky persuasively writes:
“As more people come to expect that amateur participation is always an option, those expectations can change the culture.”
So here’s to amateur participation. Because it is here to stay and I suspect it will never, truly go away.
The Real Hope of the Universe picks where The Real Heart of the Universe left off. As the book to wrap up the trilogy, it had to resolve a number of subplots. So many subplots. Hence the first draft clocked in at over 185,000 words. Oh. My. God.
I didn’t need an editor. I needed a weed whacker.
To wrap up the series, the aliens needed to leave our world. But how?
In addition, there were numerous subplots to resolve. For me, it can be hard to get all of that fixed and sewn up, tied neatly with a bow. This made for any number of issues with length. For after I wrote the first draft, my mission was to cut it by 50,000 words. The second draft (what I call a second draft is often what people call a fifth or a sixth draft) was about 48,500 words less. Much, much better, but still a bear.
Plot for The Real Hope of the Universe
When we first see Ceilidh, Devon, Shannon, and Jake, they are riding in a carriage in Scotland. It’s the 1880s, and there are strange things happening throughout the planet. Some of these odd occurrences happen due to alien intervention. But some of them happen because of what human beings do.
Unlike the other two books, I had to devote this one to far more science fiction. And so it is! Yet at the same time, I had to resolve the subplots. Hence I wrote meanderings to here and there. But as I ruthlessly slashed away at the first draft, I tied a lot more of the subplots’ resolutions to science fiction.
The characters are the main character, Ceilidh O’Malley. Also, her boyfriend (later husband) Jake Radford and her employer, Dr. Devon Grace. In addition, there is the colony known as Shannon Duffy and the members of a secret society. These include men from both North America and Europe.
Memorable Quotes from The Real Hope of the Universe
They stopped on the steps for a second. “If you wish to leave now, say so.”
“If you’ll have any family you can talk to at all in the future, it shall likely be Luke.”
“So it would seem we should stay and wait it all out. So at least there’s a fighting chance of pulling out the whole truth, and he gets my side of things.”
“Not your side, Jake. Our side.”
“Ours, then. You are my truest companion.” He smiled a little, but it wasn’t in his eyes, which darted to the left for a second. His hand on hers was damp with sweat.
“Coming, you coward?” John sneered. “Or will you stand on the stairs forever, like a mental defective?”
“John,” Ceilidh said, “Kindly don’t speak to us this way. You may have arguments with my husband. He and I are willing to hear them. But a schoolyard bully’s insults are beneath you.”
John was nonplussed, and seemed to be deciding if she’d insulted or praised him. “Just get in the library already.” The library was a dark room, paneled in oak, with more decorations than books in the shelves.
The story has a K+ rating. As this one has more Gothic elements to it, there are some occasional squicky moments. For anyone who enjoys reading Gothic tales, some of the scenes should be familiar.
Because it was the end of the series, I struggled to let go. This is a normal pattern for me. It is quite literally nothing new. Hence the ending is dragged out far more than it ever needed to be.
When the first draft was done, it was the longest piece I had ever written. It took me about four and a half months to finish the first draft. And this was writing every day!
The Real Heart of the Universe continues the main story. This sequel to The Real Hub of the Universe brings back Ceilidh O’Malley, Devon Grace, Shannon Duffy, and Jacob Radford, along with the Boston Brahmins in the 1880s. In this, the second novel in the trilogy, Ceilidh deals head on with the problems she left behind in Ireland.
The biggest of these is Johnny Barnes.
The second book of a trilogy can sometimes feel like filler. The last time I wrote a trilogy, for The Obolonk Murders, the middle book ended up as a means of advancing the Peri-Dave romance. Hence I opted for a similar idea. Here, the Ceilidh-Jake romance would advance.
The Plot of the Real Heart of the Universe
But there are always complications. For Ceilidh, who is still married to Johnny at the start of the book, her dalliance with Jake is a sin. Will she lose her mortal soul? For someone brought up with faith, the idea of what is more or less adultery is quite the problem.
So, what is she to do?
The main character in the piece is (again) Ceilidh O’Malley Barnes. Her main mission in this novel is to find a way to be with her love, Jacob Radford. The scenes shift from the Lowell House in Boston to Providence, Rhode Island, and then to an Atlantic ocean voyage, and then to Ireland.
Memorable Quotes from the Real Heart of the Universe
He had chosen an impeccable charcoal gray suit, for his attire from the morning apparently would no longer do. He had all of his ties strewn around on his bed when she returned after getting the luncheon dishes back to the kitchen and cleaning them. “Have you a soirée?” she asked.
“Not so much a soirée,” he paused for a moment, rolling the R with his Scottish brogue, “as an invitation to tea. Sorry for the change in plans; I had meant to tell you, but your initiation into SPHERE got in the way. Hand me that one, if you please.”
“This one?” she asked, holding up his navy blue tie.
“No, no, the tartan.”
“Oh? So you’re going to regale your companion with tales of the Grace family?”
“The Argylls, actually. We go further back than William the Conqueror and all that rot.” He positioned himself in front of the room’s full-length looking glass and tied the tie, which was bright blue and green, with hints of purple and black. “There.”
She approached and straightened his tie a little and then smoothed his light gray hair back a little with two of her fingers. “Handsome and very approachable, sir.”
He smiled slightly. “Hopefully such will be the effect. The approachable part, that is. Handsome? In all honesty, Ceilidh, you should be fitted for spectacles at this rate.”
The book has a K+ rating. For the most part, it is pleasant. But there is some violence. Language is mild.
Upshot for the Real Heart of the Universe
So I think this one works rather well as a bridge story between introducing the storyline and then ending it.
One of the biggest issues with this series is the need for more science fiction in it. As it is, often the series can feel like a historical novel with some science fiction thrown into it. Yet one thing I need to do is describe Ceilidh’s life and world, as they just aren’t as well-known as readers may think. The Victorian era may be interesting to people, but it doesn’t mean they know too much about it. So some of my writing has been to deal head on with any misconceptions!
The Real Hub of the Universe tells the story of Ceilidh O’Malley Barnes, who leaves her abusive husband and runs off to America. So it’s 1876, and she works as a scullery maid, disguising her heritage with a put-on English accent and a fake name, Kay Lee Charles.
One of my favorite time periods is the Victorian era. But there are still so few films which deal with it. More likely, you get something about England or the like. Yet there are not so many about America.
I also love science fiction. And so one day I got the idea – aha! – I would combine the two.
So far as I am aware, this is a more or less unique idea (yes, I know about Star Trek: The Next Generation characters going to see Mark Twain).
Plot of the Real Hub of the Universe
When Ceilidh leaves Ireland, she knows absolutely no one. She ends up as a charity case on a freighter, where there is a mysterious first mate who wears only black and never smiles. When the ship lands in Boston, it’s July 4 – the Centennial. But nothing is open and there is no place for her to go.
But through pluck and luck, and by shedding her Irish name and putting on a fake British accent, she lands a job with the wealthy Edwards family. She endures a lot of the standard indignities of the women of her time, including being paid less and being what we would now call sexually harassed.
She also notices the master of the house conducts meetings with some sort of society. Then he taps her to serve the society’s meetings, which are attended by the luminaries of the day – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Amos Bronson Alcott, Henry Brooks Adams, Judge John Lowell, and George Walker Weld.
After being mistreated by the mistress of the house one too many times, Ceilidh lands a job with Lowell. And then a mysterious visitor arrives, who says nearly nothing and hides his face. More worryingly, he immediately figures out she is not English. What’s she to do?
So the main character in the piece is Ceilidh O’Malley Barnes. Her twin impulses are to escape her abusive husband and to find work, and a lot of the story centers around that. The scenes shift from Ireland to England to the open Atlantic Ocean and then Boston, first at the Winthrop Edwards house, and then at the Judge John Lowell house.
Memorable Quotes from The Real Hub of the Universe
There was a cackling sound not too far away. Someone was, maybe, having a glorious time, but it sounded unnatural, and a little forced. “What’s that?”
“That might be one of those things you shouldn’t be seein’.” Ned finished tying Phoebe’s reins to a post and picked up both parcels. “Over there, I think.” He inclined his head in the direction of where the smell of fish was stronger.
The two of them walked over and there was nearly no light beyond what the moon and stars could afford. A few small gas lamps were too far apart to be useful unless a person got really close to one of them. The tide lapped against the wooden docks and Ceilidh feared that either or both of them might fall in. She about jumped out of her skin when someone pulled the hem of her dress. “Who’s there?”
“What?” asked Ned. He had apparently not seen or felt anything.
Ceilidh bent down. It was a little girl, maybe three years old. Four? “Are you lost?” Ceilidh asked, although she had no idea how she could help a child in such an unfamiliar place.
“Have you a ha’-penny?” the little girl asked, her brogue thicker than Ceilidh’s or Ned’s.
“Where’s your Mam?” Ceilidh asked.
“Why not?” Ceilidh straightened up for a moment.
“Because they will rob you.”
“I,” Ceilidh sighed. “Maybe if I’m not a stranger.” She bent down again. “I’m Ceilidh. What’s your name?”
“Well, that’s a rather pretty name. Where’s your Mam, Siobhan?” The little girl just turned and pointed in the direction from where the cackling had come. In the dim light, something insect-like scurried in Siobhan’s hair. Instinctively, Ceilidh sprang back. “Oh, my!”
The book has a K+ rating. While the language is extremely proper to a fault, there are some swear words. There are also a few disturbing scenes.
So I truly loved writing this series. It was great fun! Ceilidh’s character journey was a revelation to me. I always wanted her to make it somehow, but I was unsure of what that was going to be when I started. Stay tuned to find out just what that was.
So Complications is one of those stories where it takes me a moment to remember – oh, yeah, it’s that one. And that never bodes well for readers.
So this was originally a het fan fiction story. But with a few changes, it could go in another direction. And both of the characters were wholly original. But in the published version, it’s two different characters anyway. Essentially, the only thing I used was the scenario and some of the dialogue.
So it shows. This was, unfortunately, not exactly a big effort on my part. If I was to do it again, I would have worked harder on this. At the time, I was pressed for time.
The Plot of Complications
The truth is, this story has very nearly no plot. Basically, it is a vignette with little plot, only sketches of characters, and no crisis or conflicts at all. Hell, it is barely even a scene.
The characters are the narrator, Suzanne, and her lesbian lover, Tellina. Tellina is not a human.
Memorable Quotes from Complications
“And you’ve never done this with a human before?”
“I’ve never done this with anyone before, Suzanne.” They kissed.
“And,” Suzanne asked, “When does it all, er, end?”
“I’m uncertain. I don’t know how much precedence there is for such things. What do you generally do after, uh, afterwards?”
“Get a snack, watch the viewer, go to sleep, hell, I’ve left on occasion.”
“Most of those are out of the question right now. Could you sleep, perhaps?”
The story has a K+ rating. While the action occurs “off screen”, there are certainly some allusions to it.
So while it was great for Queer Sci Fi to publish it, Complications really did not deserve to be published anywhere. Because it is just not that good a story. I have written far, far better, both before and since. So be it. They can’t all be gems.
So Cynthia is a fun although ultimately sad story.
You see, Cynthia is a Great Dane.
And to her sorrow, her master is succumbing to Alzheimer’s. This short story was written for the second volume of The Longest Night Watch. All of the proceeds go to the Alzheimer’s Association.
I love the canine point of view. There is just something about writing about a species that is so incredibly close to us yet their ‘language’, such as it is, is vastly different.
Furthermore, dogs experience so much more than we do when it comes to scent that their perceptions have to be rendered in that manner.
I have always been a dog lover, and I have some fan fiction where the POV comes from a canine perspective. As a result, I had the itch to write something similar yet wholly original.
The plot is small and compact, and it reflects how Daniel’s life is shrinking in on itself. The dog even says that there is more food when Keisha arrives, and the walks are longer. You don’t need to be human to know that Daniel is faltering. Because this status quo will change, and the center will not hold.
The characters are the narrator, Cynthia the dog, Daniel Robinson, her owner, and Daniel’s daughter, Keisha. However, we only see Keisha at the end, although there is a mentioning of her before.
I love him.
He smells good.
The story is Rated K.
Canine POV, as I noted above, is great fun to write. But the story is truly a sad one. For Keisha in particular, her father is slipping away. And even though she’s a nurse, she can do nothing to slow down or stop his decline.
I first heard of this idea when I read Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. However, I suspect this methodology may not have been his invention. However, either way, it is a fantastic concept and it can help you in two very separate ways when you write.
This makes it truly a win-win.
Oh and by the way, it doesn’t have to be a jar. Although a jar is more of a tangible representation, there’s no reason you can’t just use the notes app on your phone or simply email yourself a list. As always, do whatever works the best for you.
Adding to It
So when you are feeling inspired and giddy and happy, make some observations, write them down, and throw them into the jar. Or maybe you have an idea but no good place to put it. You guessed it; put it in the jar. And another time to fill the jar is when you have a ton of ideas and you can’t decide on which one to start. Select your weakest idea(s) and put it/them in. And if you are seeing plot bunnies everywhere but need to concentrate on one story and one universe, park your other ideas in the jar. The jar never goes away and so you can dip into it later if you like. And it can help to quiet your brain down, to find a home for all of your stray thoughts.
Subtracting from It
There are two times to take things out of the jar. The first is to help you out when you have writer’s block (yes, it really exists!). And the ideas don’t even have to make any sense with reference to whatever you want to write. Because what you need to do when you have writer’s block is to start writing something – anything! It does not matter that you’re trying to write a fantasy story about dragons and the idea has to do with making tea. If you have to, mash the ideas together and boom! You’ve got a dragon making tea.
And the second reason is when you are going along all right but are having trouble with either a transition (or maybe more than one transition) or the ending. While this method can also be used for the beginning, usually if you have this much story together already, that generally means you’ve already got a beginning. However, if you don’t, I don’t see any reason why you can’t use something from your ideas jar.
So maybe your story starts when a dragon interrupts a knight making tea, or the tea contains something which will kill or mollify the dragon. Or maybe the moment of tea making convinces the knight to make peace with the dragon, thereby ending the story.
An ideas jar is, in a lot of ways, your own personal prompt dispenser. So help yourself and fill it – and take ideas out if you need them. After all, that’s what it’s there for.
It’s the kind of story I tossed off rather quickly and then it kind of took on a life of its own.
This story started because I had stayed at my childhood home and noticed something odd in the front yard. And the truth is, it was nearly nothing. However, I sometimes have an overactive imagination, and so I took this idea and I ran with it.
What did I notice? It was only a few ruts near a flower bed. They were nothing, really, and were most likely made by a hoe or a rake. However, in my mind, I decided they would be tire tracks. And then the fun started.
The Plot of Revved Up
A holier than thou narrator tells the story to an unnamed police officer. The plot circles around the narrator’s elderly parents’ next-door neighbors. And the narrator refers to them as the POJ Family. That is, the “Pair of Jerks”.
As the story progresses, our narrator gets more and more self-righteous as the POJ Family continues to perform more and more outrageous acts in her parents’ sleepy, leafy Northern New Jersey suburban street (Note: my folks live on Long Island and they don’t even live in the inspiration house any more).
Sharp-eyed readers should be able to follow along, at least in part. The narrator keeps a lot of information close to the vest, so it pays, actually, to read the book again. And no, I’m not trying to inflate read counts.
No one is actually named in the story. The main character is the narrator, who is telling the story to an officer of the law. The other characters are her elderly parents, her son and daughter, various neighbors, and her next-door nemeses, the so-called POJ family.
The narrator is a divorced middle-aged woman and that’s all a reader learns about her. Her children are teenagers; her parents, elderly and coming to the time in their lives when they’re just about ready to move into assisted living.
As for the POJ family, they have a decidedly more earthy philosophy than our heroine. And so she takes matters into her own hands.
I returned to my parents’ home and the three of us began washing the many plates – eighteen in all. My mother declared that perchance these city people did not understand our ways and so she carefully hand-lettered a number of delicately-worded thank you notes to everyone in the neighborhood. We knew who had provided the apple pie, the cherry cobbler and even the New York-style cheesecake.
The story’s sole posting is on Wattpad, where became a Featured Story a few years ago.
This story has had better traction than nearly anything I have ever written. With (as of the time of the writing of this blog post) over 58,000 reads and over 500 comments (many of which referenced the surprise ending), Revved Up remains an unqualified success. Of course having had Featured Story status helped a great deal.
Could I sell it? I have toyed with that idea, but the story is so odd and it’s really too short for a novel. Plus it does not really lend itself to a sequel. While sequels are far from necessary, it can help if that’s an option. But I am totally fine without one.
The Badge of Humanity is the upshot conclusion story in the Obolonks trilogy. It moves the action into more of the Peri-Dave romance. But it also follows to showing how she, Dave, and Tommy finally solve the murders.
Just like that universe’s society is tripartite, so are the three novels. So the first one, The Obolonk Murders, is devoted to the aliens, and the second work, The Polymer Beat, is dedicated to the semi-sentient and more than semi-sentient robots. Hence the third is all about humanity.
The second and third novels also have somewhat punny titles. They both play off the police props of badges and walking a beat.
Background for The Badge of Humanity
When I first started to write The Obolonk Murders, I had no plan and no idea it would turn into three books. At this point, I knew I really needed to finish up already. One thing Untrustworthy has proven, over and over again, is the value of an outline.
I knew the end had to happen, so the two biggest parts were solving the murders and, in some way, dealing with the Peri-Dave romance.
Peri has to solve the last of the puzzle as more Obolonks are threatened. She senses they are the key to humanity’s future as the human population has swollen so much that it will soon overrun every inhabitable orb in the solar system. As Tommy continues to seek what is essentially humanness – the badge of humanity – Peri and Dave’s relationship heats up. There are too many distractions and the president of the solar system also seems to have something to hide.
The main character (as before) is Detective Sergeant Peri Martin. Secondary characters of note are Tommy 2000 (with a Tommy McFarland alias so as to cover up his robot identity), Dave Shepherd, Greg Shapiro, Akanksha Kondapalli, and the president of the solar system, Ms. Fankald Williams. The scenes shift from the Boston Megalopolis on Earth, to Venus, Callisto, and Eris.
“What’s that?” Peri asked a woman sitting nearby, who was an octogenarian like her parents were. The woman had on a knit suit in mint green. Mrs. Franklin? Fredericks? Francis?
“I asked you where you live.”
“Oh, I’m in the Boston Meg, right downtown in a high rise.”
“Back on Earth? That seems so old-fashioned. Don’t you want to grow eggplants with your parents?”
“Uh, no, that’s okay,” Peri tried to be polite about things, but she could scarcely conceive of anything more boring than supervising a far less sophisticated robot than Tommy – the kind known as a Jack or Lumberjackbot – as it tended to the care and feeding of umpteen eggplants for sale to markets as far away as Venus or the Neptunian System. “Someone’s got to haul in the undesirables, Mrs. – er, Ma’am.” Nice save, she congratulated herself wryly.
“Oh, yes, Earth has so much more crime than we have out here,” the woman observed.
“No, thank you, Mrs. Martin,” Tommy remained polite but was getting a little bit insistent, adding just a touch of emphasis to his surprisingly lifelike tenor voice.
“Well, there’s crime everywhere, Mrs., er, Ma’am,” Peri countered, adding, “Ma, he’s not interested in the food, okay? Don’t push.”
“Perdy, honestly! Now, Thomas,” Peri’s mother addressed Tommy, “I can’t understand why you’d be fasting on a day like today. Is it for a religious reason? Do you need to keep kosher, or halal, or vegan? Because I don’t think you need to lose any weight.”
“I need to,” the sophisticated robot’s bluish-greenish-grayish eyes moved rapidly, horizontally, a few times. Peri knew that he was checking his long-term memory for a suitable response, “watch.”
The book has a T rating. It’s not quite enough for MA, but there are sex scenes and they can be a touch explicit at times.
The Badge of Humanity: Upshot
The quoted portion comes from the first scene in the first chapter. I think the series ends pretty well. But it really needs beta readers! Because the last thing that I want is for the story to end on a less than perfect note. Any volunteers for the beta reader badge?
The Polymer Beat moves the Obolonk action toward not just the robots which have an overall story line – it also explores main character Peri Martin’s romance with spy Dave Shepherd.
Just like that universe’s society is tripartite, so are the three novels. So the first one, The Obolonk Murders, is all about the aliens. And this, the second work, The Polymer Beat, is dedicated to the semi-sentient and more than semi-sentient robots. Hence the third is all about humans and is called The Badge of Humanity.
The second and third novels also have somewhat punny titles, with both playing off the police props of badges and walking a beat. The reference to polymer is because of robots. These books all have themes; this one is robots although I will admit it’s subtle.
After I picked The Obolonk Murders back up again in 2014, I realized I had the makings of a trilogy on my hands. Hence The Polymer Beat became my 2014 NaNoWriMo project.
As Peri and Tommy work on the Obolonk cases, Peri and Dave Shepherd get closer. Peri knows this is a bad idea, but she goes along with it anyway. And, as she and Tommy continue to try to find the killers, she notices Tommy’s simplistic robotic feelings are taking a turn. Could Tommy become jealous?
The main character (as before) is Detective Sergeant Peri Martin. The scenes shift from the Boston Megalopolis to various places in the Solar System, including Ganymede. Other characters include Tommy, Dave, They Say This is the One, Sally Bowles AKA They Say This One Tiles Bathrooms Adequately, and lawyer Akanksha Kondapalli.
“Were you programmed to be an optimist?”
He considered the question briefly. “I cannot tell.”
“That’s okay. You know I’m gonna have dinner with Shepherd tonight, right?”
“Yes,” he mumbled as she hoisted her bag onto the room’s sole bed.
Peri stopped what she was doing and came close to the robot. “What is it?”
“It is nothing.”
She looked at him closely. “If I didn’t know any better, Tom, I’d swear you were upset.” He stood there stoically, although she did see him scan once, briefly.
Peri returned to her bag and began unpacking it, stuffing most of her clothing into the top drawer of the room’s sole bureau. “I’m not even so sure why I’m going out with him, truth be told.”
“I do not understand.”
“Heh, I would explain it if I could. It’s not like my mini-phone’s been chiming all day with offers since Charlie died.”
“Is this,” the robot paused, maybe to select the proper words, “your first such offer since that event?”
“Event,” she echoed, taking a shimmering silver dress out of her bag, “that makes it sound as if there were engraved invitations, or something.”
“I did not intend that definition.”
“I know you didn’t. But you gotta understand, Tom, or at least just, just try to. I saw Charlie mortally wounded by a scrubbed hot gun. It happened right in front of me.”
“That is what your psychiatric evaluation said.”
Trembling, she looked daggers at him. “What else do you know about me that’s private?”
The book has a T rating. There are no really violent scenes but there is an explicit sex scene. Occasional bad language, but not much.
The Polymer Beat: Upshot
Middle books in trilogies tend to drag, and this one is no exception. I need to improve it! In addition, beta readers would be helpful – hello!
It would be great to get some developmental editing help with the dragging parts in the middle to last third.