Friday, December 18, 2015

Edit Lesson: What's wrong with "here"

The word "here" is one of those unspecific words that can appear in fiction. I say unspecific because it tells the reader nothing about the location other than it is not someplace else.

The word "here" is also unnecessary word that can appear in fiction. I say unnecessary because it can be eliminated with no change in meaning. The default location in fiction is the present location (here) unless otherwise specified.

To illustrate, consider this paragraph from an actual published book.
And here I was, performing that same trick today.
What the author actually means is,
And I was present, performing that same trick today.
But of course that sounds worse. So lets remove the word "here" from the original sentence:
And I was, performing that same trick today.
We drop the "And" and the comma and get a declarative sentence:
I performed that same trick today.
The lesson is that "here" can, and should, be stricken from all fiction, unless used in dialog as part of a necessary jargon or accent.

When editing something you have written, make a pass through it looking for all occurrences of the word, "here." Remove each occurrence and rewrite so that its absence works better.

Perhaps another example will help. Consider:
He pushed open the door and shoved me into his office. What was I doing here again?
Eliminate "here" and rewrite to perhaps get:
He pushed open the door and shoved me through. What was I doing in his office again?
Search your manuscript for the word "here" and eliminate. Repeat until there are no "here" words left. Your manuscript will be better for the effort.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

An Interesting Rejection

I got the following rejection from Mike Allen at Clockwork Phoenix magazine:

"Dear Bryan, thank you for sending this. Your story was reserved for me to read by one of my assistant editors, but though it's well written I'm afraid the story didn't hold me. Sorry about that! I do wish you luck placing this one elsewhere."

This got me wondering what failed to hold his interest. The story is fairly linear for being a time travel story.  A young married couple visited an old woman selling a condo. But the old woman appeared to be the younger woman only much older. An odd device causes the two women to fall as if the floor vanished. They land on dirt in 1946.  The old woman is killed and the young woman has broken a leg. The bulk of the story's middle is how the woman came to grips with the past and decided not to follow the steps of her prior self.

I would be interested in hearing from you it you have ideas how I might tighten and fix this story. I would be willing to email you a PDF of the story if you can convince me that you are a good critic. Please contact me if you have interest in helping.

Meanwhile I will reread it with an eye for how it slows.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Second Guessing A Penny

Take a moment to wander around your home. Look at all the clocks you have. You may already have looked in response to the recent change from Daylight Saving Time (called Summer Time in Europe). Notice first that clocks are everywhere --on the microwave, on the oven, on the telephone, on your cellphone, even on some refrigerators and toasters.  Notice also that all the modern digital clocks lack seconds.

While wandering did you also notice a penny jar on your dresser? Or at least a change jar somewhere in the house?

Almost all small stores in the States have adopted a penny tray by the register (Europe lags behind in this regard). You place into the tray any pennies you received in change. The next customer may need a penny or two to round out a purchase, and can take them from the tray.  (In some neighborhoods, I have noticed nickels and dimes in the penny tray too, but that is off topic.)

Pennies are becoming more and more worthless. A gum ball from a machine now costs a quarter ($US 0.25). Things that used to cost a penny each, no longer exist.

Pennies are beginning to seem like trash. Who wants to carry around pennies in a purse or pocket? Better to saddle the next person with your worthless trash.

Seconds are beginning to follow the example of the penny. When was the last time a second mattered to you?  Sure seconds matter in races and competitions, but that is why we have stop watches. Sure seconds matter when counting down to a launch, but how often do you launch rockets?

Have you noticed that children "dial" phones, but have never seen a phone with a dial? Have you noticed that children call CDs "records"?

Slowly and stealthily, digital clocks are eliminating seconds from our daily consciousness. What's going to happen when children never experience time passing in seconds. What's going to happen when the only clocks they ever see show only hours and minutes?  How long is a minute, you might ask.  Well, its... one, of course.

"How many pennies can you count in sixty seconds?" you ask your daughter.

"What's a penny?" she frowns. "What's a second?"


This essay was originally published on

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Puppet, a Dog, and a Historian

A trio of Pumpkins

My upcoming Science Fiction novel, "Puppet," is (on one layer) about the travels and adventures of an unusual trio: A patchwork man named Puppet; a large, talking, intelligent dog named Gypsy; and a tall, historian named Horace.

Puppet is a man killed in an airplane crash in the mid 1980's and who was resurrected 300 years later. He awoke to find himself composed of pieces of other bodies connected together into one. Much like Frankenstein's monster, but instead of a foot sewn to an ankle, his pieces were smoothly connected without thread, with skin just smooth surface from one body part to the next. Because his look was benign rather than monstrous, I refer to him as a patchwork man. But, he was a patchwork man with a purpose, where each part had a special significance or a use.

He was resurrected and awoke to find himself seated next to a large dog named Gypsy. Actually a normal looking short haired Vizsla, but with pointed ears. She was the size of a Great Dane, her back coming up to his waist.  This dog was intelligent and could speak.  Because she was a dog, she could function despite rules rules created by and applied to humans.  She alone could talk to ghosts and lower creatures, like the giant snufflers.

Horace was a tall man who liked to wear a long duster. He had a tattoo on his forehead that was reminiscent of the Cheshire Cat's smile. He began the story as a ghost. A man who was imperceptible to other humans. All historians became ghosts when one of them discovered something none of them should have discovered. As a ghost, the soul in his head could no longer contact other humans.

Fortunately Gypsy could see him because she was a dog. And Puppet could see him because he lacked a Soul in his brain and so was exempt from rules governing other humans.

This trio appeared in Chapter 1 and remained together through the last chapter and powerful ending.  Other characters appear at the start and come back a few times like the immortal woman named Windy3. Others come in later, like the large snake George and his five female snake companions who remained with him until the end.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Should Parking Always Be Free?

Imagine you are one of those people who will drive to Safeway (or Albertsons or Cosco or Wallmart) to pick up just a quart of milk for the next morning's breakfast or coffee, or just a dozen eggs, or that bottle of whatever you forgot to get earlier in the week. There are probably at least three good reason to drive:
  1. The store is too far or unsafe to walk or bicycle.
  2. The drive is easy and the parking is plenty.
  3. The bus doesn't exist or doesn't run frequently enough to take.
Now imagine you are about to drive to buy eggs. But before you drive you look at the store's website and notice that the lot is full and parking is at its most expensive. Would you still make the trip?
Now imagine you don't mind parking at a parking meter. That is if there is sufficient time available and the cost is nominal. I know you would look for a meter with time already on it. I know you hate meters because the cost of a ticket is too high. But we both recognize that there are other common ways you already pay for parking. In large parking structures, you sometime take a token when you drive in and pay based on the time parked when you drive out. And at some special events, you pay a flat fee when you first park and nothing when you exit.
Next imagine you are about to drive to pick up those eggs. But this time you know ahead of time that the parking at the grocery store is not free. If the charge were 10 cents to park, you might become incensed that you have to pay anything at all to park. But, if the cost is low would you mind paying it to pick up eggs? So the question for this exercise is how much is fair to charge for parking to discourage frivolous driving? If you needed just eggs, you might do without rather than pay 50 cents, or 1 dollar, or 5 dollars to park. What is the correct number?
Before we go on with this exercise, recall that new parking meters are "smart". That means:
  • They can change the rate they charge based on parking demand.
  • They can be paid with charge cards and special discount cards for the disabled or poor.
  • They can automatically increase the cost the longer you stay parked.
  • They can be paid on your behalf as by a supermarket or other business.
  • They can be looked up on a website to see if any parking is available. 
But what if the store's website said the lot was half-full and parking was $1.00 per hour. Would you drive there figuring you'd only need to park for 15 minutes. What if the cost is $2.00 per hour? $5.00 per hour? What if the website allowed you to reserve a parking space at a given time for a given number of minutes? Would you pay more for that ability?

Why Are We Doing This Exercise?

Before you ask that, consider once again the three reasons to drive:
  1. The store is too far or unsafe to walk, or too far or unsafe to bicycle. This will be the case in low density areas. Suburbs rather than cities. In cities, stores are more often than not within easy access to many who don't need to drive. In Suburbs, it is not that unusual for a grocery store to be four or five miles away. Much too far to walk, and almost too far to ride a bike.
  2. The drive is easy and the parking is plenty. Now we need to add that the parking must also be free. That cost is critical to understanding why people drive so much to shop. Yet we have all driven to a store just before a holiday or before some event or after some disaster and not been able to park because the parking lot was full with other cars prowling it to find a space. So sufficient parking is also necessary.
  3. The bus doesn't exist or doesn't run frequently enough to take.The lack of a bus, or low frequency buses is caused by lack of funds. If parking fees were not used to improve parks and not used to build new schools, and were instead used to improve public transit, well then parking fees could help to solve this last problem.
The lack of a bus, or low frequency buses is caused by lack of funds. If parking fees were not used to improve parks and not used to build new schools, and were instead used to improve public transit, well then parking fees could help to solve this last problem.

How Would Parking Meters Help?

If a suburban area had 100 stores and those stores averaged 50 parking spaces each and if each space charged an average of 10 cents per hour and each space were only occupied 4 hours per day on average, then that would create $60,000 a month for public transit. Now consider that a small town may have only 100 stores, whereas a medium sized town might have 500 stores. That would create $600,000 per month for public transit. And if the rate were $1.00 instead of 10 cents, that would create $6,000,000 per month for public transit.
Now to be fair, it would not help to meter private parking lots if there was no charge to park on its neighboring streets. If parking lots were not free and surrounding street parking was free, the average driver would look for street parking whenever shopping, searching residential streets for free parking along with other cars and frustrated drivers, all creating risk to children, bicyclists, and the elderly.
So you would have to put smart meters on streets bordering stores. Perhaps for a few blocks out from each store.

But why stop there? Why should parking anywhere be free?

When you park in your own garage or driveway that seems free, but it is not. Your driveway and garage are not free because its cost is computed into your mortgage and property taxes.
So what are the considerations surrounding parking meters to regulate all on-street and business parking?
  1. Should it be cheaper to park the nearer a parking meter is to a transit stop?
  2. Should parking be more expensive the closer it is to an on-demand location like a store, or tavern, or theater?
  3. Should the disabled be given free parking always, or just discounted parking?
  4. Should the poor be given discounted parking or perhaps free parking for special circumstances?
  5. Should fire, police and ambulances park for free anywhere they need to when in service?
  6. Should city officials (the mayor perhaps) park for free?
  7. Should street fairs have to reserve and pay for all the parking revenue that would be lost to close a street?
  8. Should public off-street parking also have parking meters, such as parks and beach parking and city owned parking lots?
  9. Should church parking lots be free? Should all not-for-profit business parking lots be free?
  10. Should state and county owned roads be exempt?
  11. Should it be a crime to over park? Or should over parking be just a civil matter? Perhaps a mixture of the two? A civil matter until it becomes habitual?
  12. Should the city issue parking cards? Smart cards for use in smart meters, that you can refill on-line? Should those smart cards also be good on public transit?
  13. Should coin meters be used because they are 1/4th the cost of smart meters? But, on the down side, their hourly rate must be manually reset, making them less attractive for intelligently designed parking.
  14. Transit buses at bus stops should stop for free, but should other third-party buses pay for using those same stops?
  15. Should there be free taxi-zones, or free Uber-zones? Or should taxi's get discounted parking?
As you can see, installing universal parking meters is not something to be taken lightly, but contains within it the promise of lots of money to add or improve frequent, convenient public transit, thereby removing more drivers from the roads.

This post was originally published on

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Public Transit Rider's Bill Of Rights

Mother And Child On A Bus
  1. The public transit rider shall be defined as anyone who requires or desires access to public transportation for mobility. The public transit rider is not limited to the poor and elderly. It shall be defined as all people, whether or not they currently need public transportation for mobility.
  2. The public transit rider must never have to wait more than 15 minutes (one quarter hour) for the next public transit vehicle for the selected route to arrive. This is similar to the maximum amount of time a driver will circle waiting for a parking place to become available.  Fifteen minutes is pretty universally the maximum time any reasonable person should be expected to wait for anything.
  3. The public transit rider must have access to public transit 24 hours per day and 7 days per week. A town would never close all streets, bridges or sidewalks at night. So why should a transportation district shut down at night?
  4. A town would never reduce the number of lanes on a major road on Sunday, nor should public transit service be reduced on Sunday.
  5. The public transit rider must never need to walk a distance greater than 1/8th mile (201 meters or roughly two football fields lengthwise) to access a transit stop. Imagine that garages were forbidden. How far would a driver be willing to walk to to access an automobile? As a corollary, if an 1/8th mile circle were drawn around every transit stop in a system, there should be no area without access.
  6. The public transit rider must not be required to pay extra to transfer from one route to another for any of a given transit agency's routes. It is impossible for one route to uniformly cover and entire city. When there are multiple routes, some riders must transfer. Barriers to transfer shall be prohibited.
  7. The public transit rider must never be prohibited from boarding a public transit vehicle because of race, age, religion, nationality, gender, health, physical ability, or sexual orientation.  Bicycles must be accommodated except when they adversely effect passenger access, boarding, or safety.
  8. The public transit rider must never have health or safety threatened, and at all times must be protected from harm. This includes safety when approaching a transit stop. Such as: never having to cross a busy street to reach transport; never needing to run to catch infrequent transport; never being warned about a sudden stop.
  9. The public transit rider must be provided with clean, comfortable transport. No public transit vehicle shall become soiled, littered, or defaced in such a way as to cause transit rider discomfort or fear.
  10. There shall be no different rights between public transit and privately run public transit.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Former Readewave Blog

A Dark And Stormy Night
 This essay first appeared as a blog entry on, the link to which no longer exists. So I am posting it here with a few minor edits.
Most beginning writers believe that the point of description is to create a mechanical scene, inside of which the story can take place.  A room decorated so that a character can have a door through which to enter and exit, and a chair to sit on, and objects to throw when annoyed.

But description is more. Much, much more.
Description creates the emotional tone that cannot otherwise be stated without telling.
All writers know that one should always show never tell.  So how do you show that a character is afraid, or unloved, or embarrassed?  The temptation, by the beginning writer, is to show those emotions by describing the responses of the character. The beginning writer shows fear by causing the character to back away, moaning, sweating, or physically unable to escape. They show that the character is unloved by having that character mope around, or read ads on an on-line dating site, or watching others kissing in a park.  They show embarrassment by having the character blush, or look away, or stand suddenly up, or fumble an apology.

1. The Beginner

Here is how a beginning writer might have described a living room:
He smelled soup cooking but didn't see his wife. The living room was had a big leather sofa in the center facing their wide-screen TV. Along the back wall were shelves holding all his bowing trophies. He shouted, "Honey! I'm home." When there was no answer, he began to sweat and became afraid.
When this character, "became afraid," did you feel that fear? Probably not because there was nothing in the description that helped you feel it.

2. Consider fear:

How do you describe a living room to evoke the feeling of fear?
The wind outside howled through leafless trees casting wild shadows across the living room walls. He hesitated at the light switch.  Something smelled off.  Was food beginning to rot in the kitchen? He touched the light switch. If felt sticky. "This is wrong," he muttered.  "Just plain wrong."
Here the plan was to have the reader hear, "Just plain wrong," and feel the character's fear. Ask yourself, was there enough of the right kind of description to make you feel fear when the character spoke. If not, how would you improve the description to achieve the desired effect?  Remember the objective here is to make the reader feel the character's fear without using the word fear.

3. Consider unloved:

How do you describe a living room to evoke the feeling a character is unloved?
The living room was quiet and was exactly as he had left it.  Nobody had broken in, nobody had visited. He hung his coat on the hook to the right by the door.  His wife had always used the left hook. Last night's pile of print-outs from lay on the table next to the sofa, stained under the glass of whiskey he had spilled there. He stared at the glass on its side, now empty. He didn't want to move. He sighed.
Here the plan was to have the reader feel sorry for this unloved man when he sighed and to feel his loneliness.  Did the description guide your emotions into that desired direction. If not, how would you fix the description to achieve that effect? Note that the goal here is to have the reader feel that he is unloved and alone, but to do so without ever using those words.

4. Consider embarrassed:

How do you describe a living room to evoke a character's embarrassment?
He stood there, his back to the front door, now slammed hard closed and shivered.  He listened for his wife and kids but the house was empty.  "Thank god," he said.  His living room was normal. He had a wife and two kids. Normal too. Gold carpeting, slip-cover over the sofa, a big TV, yes all normal. Outside he heard the three teenage girls talking loudly to each other.  Making up names for him. He shivered again, naked against the door. "Oops," he said.
The plan here was to guide the reading into feeling the character's embarrassment when he said, "Oops." Is that what happened when you read the paragraph? If not, how would you revise the description to achieve the desired effect? Note that the goal here is to make the reader feel his embarrassment without using the word embarrassed.

5. Summary

Whenever you describe anything (be it setting, character appearance, relationship, or action) always ask yourself: What emotion your description is intended to evoke? How do you want the reader to feel?  When your reach the end of your description, what does the next paragraph or bit of dialog to mean? Did your description add impact to that meaning?

Once you have an emotion identified, you can compose description that is in support of that emotion.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Low Speed Rail

Engineer At Front Of Steam Engine

        Amtrak provides what I call "Low Speed Rail" (LSR) service between Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California. I call it low speed because it takes 16 hours for a trip that takes only 9 hours by automobile.
        People will only leave their cars if the trip is more comfortable or significantly faster or both. The low speed Amtrak train does take people out of their cars because 9 hours of driving is too much for most folks who would rather take a break with a motel lay-over half way through the trip. Amtrak allows you to sleep on the train, so eight hours of that trip are used for what you would normally be doing anyway, sleeping.
        Also Amtrak has 110 volt power outlets by each seat so you can keep your laptop or tablet charged and watch movies or videos during your waking hours. Or you can do like I did, and catch up on those novels I have been reading --these days on my kindle.
        Finally Amtrak has two doors in each car so that boarding and off-boarding ware often very quick. You never have to wait behind anyone pulling down luggage. In fact you can make you way to the exit door while the train is still pulling into the station. Try doing that on an airplane.
        Of course, if you're in a hurry you would fly. But flying is more of a bother than you might realize. Not only do you have to drive to the airport and park there, but you also are required to arrive at least 45 minutes ahead of the flight time to check in and get through security. Once on the flight you are not allowed to use electronics until you are in the air and must shut them down before landing. Finally, you often have to wait to off-board while those ahead of your pull luggage off the overhead bins. Then you have to get from your arrival airport to downtown or your destination, usually by taxi or van, but sometimes by public transit.
        Just for a complete look a the alternatives, also consider "High Speed Rail," like that being constructed in California.  Just like Amtrak, boarding and off-boarding are easy and fast with no security check. You board already downtown, and off-board already downtown. You can read, use the Internet, and watch movies while on board, even while stopped at a station. Plus HSR is very, very fast.
        For example, consider a trip from Downtown Portland, Oregon to Downtown Sacramento, California. A trip of about 581 total miles. Low Speed Amtrak takes 16 hours. An automobile trip (driving straight through) takes 9 hours. A plane trip (including early arrival and transit to and from the airport) takes 3 hours. High Speed Rail would take 2 hours.
        In general, I would take LSR rather than drive, and only fly in an emergency. If HSR were available, I would never fly and would travel to Seattle or Portland or San Francisco or Los Angeles far more often.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Eugene Oregon Private vs Public Transit

 Car Oriented Neighborhoods

        Here in Eugene, Oregon, people refer to all trips in terms of time. One waitress said, "You can get anywhere in Eugene in less then 15 minutes." A sales clerk said, "Gas is cheap and you can park anywhere." What they fail to tell you is that the only way to get anywhere in a reasonable time is to drive a car there.
        Here in Eugene, Oregon, the average public transit trip can range from 15 minutes to over 1 hour. This in a town were it is possible to drive anywhere in less than 15 minutes.
        Even worse, several bus lines run only once per hour.
        Millions of dollars (if not billions in today's money) have been spent of roads in Eugene: Widening them, adding double left turn signals, reducing cross walks, and building a limited access belt line (two lanes each direction).
        The only real money now being spent on public transit is construction of the EMX bus rapid transit system. Here the numbers are better. These buses run once each 8 minutes mid day each weekday, and a trip downtown from the end of the line is only 16 minutes in-bound, but 55 minutes out-bound.
        To compete successfully with cars, the Lane Transit District should run all bus lines with a 10 minute or better frequency, and no trip, including transfers should take longer than 15 minutes from pickup to drop off. Anything less than these times and LTD will fail to compete with cars and fail to draw drivers from cars and onto buses.
        The only way to achieve such times would be to use limited access light rail with no grade crossings. Could such a system ever be built?  I doubt it, because Oregonians will never spend as mush money on public transit as they do on roads.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Ello Fails Email Change

Can't change his email address!

Ello is an alternative to Facebook. For authors who need to spread word about their publications. The more social sites the better, of course. But what happens when an author moves and needs to change his or her address, phone number and email address?

I will tell you. With Ello you cannot change your email address ever! Ello uses your email address and password together as your login credentials. Despite showing a green check mark when you type in a new email address, that change never takes. The only alternative that I see is to close the old account (lose all your followers) and create a new account with a new email address.

The programmers that created Ello focus too much on the interface and too little on understanding the changing needs of users. It is too bad there is no way to directly contact them :-(

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Lane Through Time

Two shadows moving through time

After moving to Eugene, Oregon, I signed up for my first writing group. Called the Lane Literary Guild, I was surprised that I had to send a check by surface mail to join. The experience was just like going back in time. My new office is a room at the side of a house in a residential neighborhood of Eugene. I began life in just such a house. Back then there were only dial phones and all payments had to be cash or a check. I carried the mail out to the mailbox and put the letter in it for the mail carrier to pick up. How quaint!

I asked why I could not sign up on-line, and was told that they were too small and didn't have the programming expertise to add on-line payments to their site. Very sad.

This week I will contact the Wordos of Eugene and see if they will accept me as a member.