worldbuilding header 2 Rough Passages

Yes, But What Do They Eat?

Life in a super-powered world gets complicated. Speculation is an entertaining playground. Yes, there are big questions to answer, but I prefer to ponder issues that would affect people’s daily lives.  What kind of house paint would work for people who exhale acid gasses? How would the fashion industry cater to scales and tails?

Then there are the scientific conundrums. Elena is five feet tall.  Jack tops eight feet. Amy stands twelve foot-plus. They’re all humanoid, and that’s a problem. If they’re all built on the same framework of bone & sinew, supplied by the same nerve impulses and fueled by the same basic digestive system, the math doesn’t work. Physics and biology both shake their heads and say NOPE. Human bodies don’t scale up well.

And yet, no one would need proof that it works. They see it. They live it. So there’s no reason to explain in detail how joints have to be designed to support that much weight, how musculature would attach, etc, etc, zzzzzzz.* It isn’t story fodder. Oh, sure. Someone in Rough Passages America studies it. Someone is doing a thesis. But wouldn’t be a daily challenge to life, and I’m not writing about puzzled, frustrated scientists right now.

Other mundane details make fabulous story elements. Here’s one: how does someone as big as Jack or Amy survive in a modern world? What do they eat? That’s a point I addressed because it would be an unavoidable problem and a potentially funny one.

Research proved it wouldn’t be easy. Vegetarian animals have to spend up to 80% of their time fueling their bodies off nutrient-poor, high fiber food. And think of the elimination. Not a fun way for a civilized sentient to live.  Going with the carnivore model, we can look at tigers (which are roughly Jack’s size) and we find they burn through 8,000+ calories a day of nutrient-dense meat. And that’s on a lifestyle that sees them lounging around doing nothing 14-16 hours a day to conserve energy. Again, not a sustainable way of life in the modern human world.

My big T-series powerhouses have to be able to act and work with normal human soldier. So what do they  eat? Short answer: nothing and everything.

Under average circumstances their bodies are fueled by the same power that made them roll over in the first place.**  They channel and store that energy at a cellular level on instinct. Ah, but when they need more than they can tap from the environment or pull from their body’s reserves? Then their digestive tracts can break down pretty much anything at the molecular level as effectively as a blast furnace. They convert the resulting energy directly to cellular energy or mass as needed.

How?  Well, they don’t know, so I’m not telling. Ha.***  But think of the entertaining aspects. They don’t have to eat a lot normally. But when they do eat, they’ll eat whatever’s handy. A side of raw beef.  Rocks. Driftwood. Newspaper.

Why do I come up with ideas like this? Blame my analytic background. And the opportunities for humor.

That’s the best part of worldbuilding for me. I hope you enjoy the results as well.

Want to see T-series powers in action? I recommend you try my Rough Passsages Tale   Nightmares. Only 99 cents, and available for iBooks, Kobo, Nook and of course Kindle.

There. Mandatory book plug done. Happy reading.


*  I can provide examples if challenged. I do the research. Animals as big as Amy have existed throughout history–even bipedal ones.  Cave bears, anyone? So it could work.

**there’s a whole ‘nother post full of authorial hand-waving on that topic.

*** I do have an explanation. It ties into the whole basis for what made the world change back on First Night,  but it gets into the snore-bore explication zone fast. And I steer clear of that quagmire.

hedgehog smile

Hedgehog Love

I am not a comfortable caregiver. Fierce in my concern, yes. Willing, practical, knowledgeable, and undauntable, yes, but adversity does not bring out my better angels. Sweetness and forbearance are not my defining traits. Kindness eludes me.

So does patience. I struggle to be patient–with myself, with friends, with situations–at the best of times. And so of course I am impatient with patients.  I can empathize about pain, oh, you betcha. I grok respecting safe limits. I have great affection for resting.  But I instinctively see limits as things to be challenged and tested as often and as quickly as possible. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be functional. So…that mindset inevitably transfers to my dealings with others.

I’m pushy. I’m brusque, and my sympathy is limited to understanding, not indulging. I’m the kind of nurse people get well to get away from. I know this, I’ve made my peace with it, and I’m totally up-front with people about it.

This knowledge is why I always snort or giggle (or snort-giggle) when people remark about my patience with others. How empathetic I am. How kind, even.

People do say such things. Regularly. Truly, it bewilders me, because I know exactly what I’m feeling and how I express it, and I don’t think any of those things apply.

I instinctively suspect it’s a reinforcement thing. You know, those situations where people will praise even the tiniest success from someone who’s historically incapable of achievement. Rationally I know that’s not the real reason for the compliments. Intellectually I do know the difference between inner life and outer, and the praise is for what gets done, not for the prickly, annoyed, irritable feelings that accompany the actions.

But emotionally, I have to laugh because otherwise I would cry. I am not patient or kind, those traits require doing things with grace–I am not now and have never been graceful. s When a flaw is praised as a prize, it creates a painful cognitive dissonance.

So I snicker, which often sounds mocking, but it isn’t.  It’s armor. Humor makes everything better, at least for me.

Was there a point to this post? Not sure. It’s just a thing I felt deserved sharing. And so I have.



Dystopian? I’m not sure.

I write about a broken future. I am of the generation after the one promised flying cars. We saw miracle technology in our cartoons, but we watched death live on the news, and many of our heroes stumbled and fell before their time. So when I envisioned a world for my first heroes to stride through, it was a shattered thing of tangled public and private loyalties, a place of poisoned resources and rotting infrastructure, with much of the population scattered into small, isolated communities and its new gritty, dirty new urban centers built on crumbled patchwork ruins.

But, you know, being a dreamer I also made it a world of boundless optimism and ferocious idealism. A place and a time when cynicism gives way to creativity and energy, where people refuse to bow under the weight of the past. They step up to the nigh-insurmountable challenges of making bad better, and they succeed by making the most of what is left.

That doesn’t fit the traditional dystopian mold. ( Dystopia: an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one) In proper dystopian fiction everything is awful and either the System swallows up the protagonists  (1984, Brazil, 12 Monkeys….)  or the system must be destroyed, and rebellion is the main  (Hunger Games, also 12 Monkeys and about a gazillion others)

So does  the world of The Restoration Stories count as dystopian? Some readers seem to think so, others disagree. Me, I don’t care as long as readers keep liking it.

Not familiar with my stories? You can read a description of the first one here : Controlled Descent: A Story of the Restoration


A Grumble on Suspenders & Belts

Subtitle: a mini-rant on redundancy. 

 Lately I’ve seen a lot of writing-related posts consigning repetitive description to the Bad Writing Dung Heap. Here’s my contrarian take on the topic: redundancy isn’t A Bad Thing.

Picture someone wearing tights, a peasant skirt, a kicky overskirt plus a belt and scarves. (Assume underwear.) This might look awful or spectacular depending on the viewer’s personal tastes, but no one would call it “redundant dressing.” Any one or two items on the list would cover all necessary parts,  but the selections together make a larger fashion statement.

The same principle applies to writing. No, really. It does. If someone’s story seems sluggish and cluttered, the writer might be doing a lousy job of saying what they mean. It might also be a bad match between my taste and the creator’s aims. Descriptive repetition and exuberant adjective use are not always villains.

Critiquing, workshopping, and developmental editing can all buff the rough spots off writing. The processes are all based on the same premise: making a story better equals increasing its appeal to more readers by applying proven presentation standards. That’s the justification for polishing out everything that does not “serve the story.”

Here’s the challenge: smooth isn’t always better, and better isn’t always right. Some writing is downright grotesque. Some stories are so full of wordy bumps that I can’t see a glint of the precious core within. Bad writing is ugly. Polishing off extraneous bits can reveal inner beauty.

Problem is, great writing can be ugly too, or seem so on first read. Think of all the brilliant writers (and musicians, artists, etc.)  who have the same backstory. They fought tooth and nail for the integrity of their work. Endured rejection after rejection. Pushed back against criticism after criticism delivered with all the best intentions. All the True Originals had to hold firm against a world that insisted their things needed changing, smoothing, and polishing until the originality was gone.

Here’s my reading litmus test for “is it me, or is it bad?”  If find myself thinking, “That was a rough read, but it improved as I went along,” I must conclude there was nothing wrong with the writing in the first place.  NOTHING.  The way it was written was a new experience. My brain had to work to learn a different story process. Once I got used to it, I stopped noticing.

I’m a critical reviewer who often reads clumsy, awkward, painfully hard-to-read writing.  I express my opinions.  If I’m critiquing a work before publication, I feel I have an obligation to point out lumps that don’t appeal to me. But the emphasis must always be on that qualifier. To me. I do not have the right to say, “The author needs to change the way they do this too much or that not enough.”  

(disclaimer: “this & that” refer to matters of structure, phrasing, dialogue, and so forth. Flaws like multiple spelling errors per chapter, basic grammar and punctuation mistakes,  factual inaccuracies…that’s a whole different ball of worms.)

The never-ending declarations of “This is bad, and I know what I’m talking about” get under my skin because we writers should know better. We know the creator alone decides if their work is broken or the product of a broken mold because we are creators.  No one had to express their ideas the way someone else likes to read them. It’s a simple principle.  In practice, as some people gain experience they become invested in their way being the best way. And so I read remarks like, “Well, sure, you can do it that way, I suppose, if you want,” All of them carry the powerful implication that only a fool would want to do the thing.

A lot of immensely popular, critically acclaimed writing leaves me cold. It sounds choppy and harsh in my head, and the predictable variations on the same old archetypes bore me. I like my prose to stand center stage with frills on, where it belts out an aria or two and does little dances. I like to build stories like Neuschwanstein Castle, all kitschy and mashed up. So that’s what I do.

Reading my books is like visiting The House On The Rock on a rainy Saturday in August. They’re crowded with weird distractions and full of unpleasant strangers who interact without introduction, and the signs never take you where you expect. The stories can be exhilarating or baffling, but they are never easy reads nor conventional ones. NO, I don’t think I’m brilliant. I don’t have the ego to believe myself A True Original. But I reserve the right to say, This weird prose? It is beautiful to me.

And that is why I am  careful about assigning value judgments to the creative choices of others. And why I rant about the phenomenon every so often. Like this.

Thanks for reading.

otter things header

New month, new doings.

Books first

You Are Not So Smart David McRaney. It’s a phenomenal primer on a ton of psychological concepts and logical fallacies that trip up everyone. (I especially like the one that makes people immediately think, “well, not everyone–I bet I’m immune,” when reading the previous sentence.)

It was a tough read, not because it was technical — far from it. It’s adapted from a blog, so the tone is easygoing, congenial, and friendly. No, it was tough because it is written in second person present. You do this. You think that.

Gawdingus, I LOATHE second person present unless it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. Exception, that. Otherwise, it’s a total pain to slog through.  <shudder> If it hadn’t been so damned interesting and if I wasn’t such a stubborn cuss, I would have dropped it like a hot rock after five grating chapters out of forty-eight.

I finished it, and I’m glad. The brain programming tripwires are easier to avoid after getting reminders of their existence. I would recommend it to everyone struggling with family members and friends who insist on unbelievable things.

It won’t make dealing with them any easier, but it will make their positions less bewildering. (and it does suggest coping strategies. Strategy is good.)

Craving: Why We Can’t Seem To Get Enough Omar Manejwala. I hoped this would make a good partner book to You Are Not So Smart, but alas, no. It failed to live up to my hopes in all possible ways.

This is probably an excellent book–the author is clearly knowledgeable, the topic is complex, and every chapter is packed with points worth deep examination (among them the blurry zone between desire and addiction and  which coping mechanisms work)  but it was too busy being dignified to ever be enjoyable.

Worse, like YANSS it was written in 2nd person present, and its tone flirted with condescension when it wasn’t aloof and snotty.  <flops and twitches>  Only sheer annoyance and talking back to the pages got me through it. And I didn’t come away with a single epiphany or even a gee-whiz moment. So disappoint.

Archangel’s Heart Nalini Singh. Fiction recovery book! Latest in a growing series in a contemporary alternate-reality. Angels are real, and archangels, and vampires, and they’ve all co-existed together throughout history. It’s (occasionally steamy) romance, although this one is less explicit than most others. I love the world, the characters and the unfolding history are lovely.

Yeah, that’s it on books. I was busy with other Other Things.


NCIS marathon continues. The rest of the television lineup: Victoria, Madame Secretary, Expanse (woo, it’s BACK!) Gotham, Supergirl, Supernatural, and current NCIS, which I probably won’t keep past the ed of this season unless there are big writing changes.  And Spouseman & I will be giving Riverdale a try as a together-watch as soon as we finish working through Mozart In The Jungle.

Otter Things

Coloring!  Spouseman got me The Sweary Coloring Book for Christmas, my friend Deb donated colored pencils to the cause, and I finally tackled it this weekend. I colored the cover first, and completed two interior pages. The drawings are pretty simple, so it isn’t a technically challenging exercise. It is soothing, though, and it keeps me off Facebook.

I would have colored more, but I learned the cramp way my hand muscles are out-of-shape.  WAY out of shape. Given practice I should be able to work my way up to a page per sitting.

Concert! (Do you like the exclamation points? I’m feeling emphatic for some reason.)  Instead of seeing Resident Evil The Final Chapter or whatever it’s being called–as was tentatively planned — Spouseman & I  went to watch Northwest Symphony  Orchestra play Tchaikovsky, Borodin, and Strauss. It’s our local music organization, and we started picking up season tickets a few years ago when they moved into our area.

Live classical music got much more fun once I stopped stressing about dressing for concerts and made my peace with the reality that I will nod off. It’s a problem with large shifts in psychological arousal. Make me sit still in a darkened room, and I will have to “sleep.”  Fighting the drowsiness until I lose consciousness is uncomfortable and stressful, plus when I lose (and I will lose)  I will drop into true sleep. But if I let myself just drowse off, I will come back alert and energized in less than five minutes.

Stealth snoozing. It worked. Spouseman and I had a wonderful time.

That’s all the all there is until next time.