Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

There has been lots of talk over the last few years about cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, echo chambers, and the general tendency of humans to hear what they want to hear, not what is actually being said. While this is a problem as old as humans, these last few years has seen it grow to an unprecedented volume. Largely thanks to social media, the fires of misogyny, bigotry, racism, and religious fervor have flared to global conflagrations. If it’s one thing humans really love to do, it’s hate.

The recent kerfluffle over the new female Doctor Who is but a small example of the hate parade out there. Pick just about anything on the Internet, and you’ll find scathing comments below. Pink posts a perfectly innocent family picture, and is slammed for being a terrible mom who’s endangering her children. The Afghani all female robotics team makes history for their country, and they receive death threats. Even cute little kittens aren’t exempt. Kittens!?! Come on, people!



Even that adorable fluff face…


I have to admit experiencing my own moments of “You’re stupid! Fuck you!” but I try to keep them to myself as much as possible. I was brought up with the if-you-can’t-say-anything-nice-don’t-say-anything-at-all philosophy. Though in later years I did learn how to offer constructive criticisms. You can’t be a decent artisan without that. But there’s nothing constructive about the vast majority of what goes flying over the interwebs. It’s just a vomit of anger for no apparent reason.

But there is a reason. The anger isn’t really about Dr. Who or Pink or kittens, it’s about change. The world is going through a maelstrom of change. Again, largely due to the inter-connectedness social media and the Internet offers. And most humans don’t do change all that well. We like our nice little comfortable bubbles of sameness. As long as we keep to the well-worn rut of routine, we can deal. We know what to expect and how to plan for it. Screw with that routine and we all fall apart.

Even the field of science fiction has experienced the pains of change. You’d think a group that pretty much epitomizes progressive thinking – you know, that whole new worlds, new peoples are cool thing – wouldn’t have such a problem. But there’s been a tiny group of grumpy white men (see Sad/Rabid Puppies) who have been railing against the SJW’s (social justice warriors) that have “taken over” THEIR science fiction. They view the inclusion of women, people of color, and LGBTQ issues in FICTION as a direct threat on them and their reign of control. They even went so far as to game the system for the Hugo awards a couple years ago, managing to get a goodly number of THEIR choices onto the ballots, at the expense of much more deserving writers. Thankfully, and to the credit of the majority of the voters, that year also saw the largest selection of “No Award” tallies ever seen at the Hugo’s.

Okay, guys. For one thing, it’s FICTION. ENTERTAINMENT. Don’t like anything that might threaten your delicate manhood? Don’t read/watch it. It’s not a life requirement. You want to live in a closed little bubble, while the rest of the world passes you by, you go right ahead. Since most of you can’t write worth a damn anyway, you’re not likely to get published beyond your vanity press, and you certainly won’t be missed.


Unicorn against idiots

I’m really going to be busy…


But what happens when a huge swath of the population at large has basically the same ideals? Change bad. Different wrong. And – even worse – disagreement equals attack, resistance equals persecution. The drama needle has swung off the scale and now even the tiniest difference between two people and their opinions becomes an apocalyptic battle of epic proportions.

Are we really that insecure? Are we so unsure of ourselves that we have to hate someone or something else to feel better about ourselves? We have to consider ourselves superior in ANY WAY just to make it through the day? Let’s think about that for a minute. What is hate? For me, hate is fear plus anger. Something scares us and we get angry and therefore we must hate it, because that’s better than running away. Only cowards run away and I’m certainly not a coward, right? Therefore, we must crush the object of our hate because that’s the only way to be safe.

So if the root cause of hate is fear, what are we afraid of? Or, more importantly, WHY are we afraid? Why is including more women – roughly half the entirety of the human race – both as creators and as characters in fiction so scary? Why are people of color – who actually comprise the majority in the world – too terrifying to be allowed equal representation? Why does it matter that the guy next door is having sex with another guy? Are you mad because you weren’t invited?


Fear is the enemy

Living your life in fear is no way to live.


We hate not because of a problem outside, but because of a problem inside, in our hearts and souls and minds. If you hate a young Afghani girl who wants to play with robots, then YOU are the problem, not her. But she’s a terrorist, you cry. She’s starting with robots and graduating to bombs! Congratulations. You’ve swallowed the cum of propaganda spewed by the fearful old white men who claim to run our country. Instead of thinking for yourself, you’ve followed the party line of hate, and there’s only one way that ends: in our destruction as a civilization.

And while there are those out there that just want to see the world burn, I’d bet most of us would rather that not happen. A hundred years ago, when it took days to walk to the next village, or months for a letter to wend its way to the New World from the old, it was easy to be isolated. And it made sense for local and state governments to have more autonomy over their territories, because they were right there, when the feds were weeks – even months – of travel away. But we’re not isolated anymore. Communication is virtually instantaneous. We can watch the protests in [obscure third-world country] in real-time from our couch in California. And we’re much more mobile, many of us commuting more in a day than our ancestors did in their lifetimes.

The world is not such a big place anymore. We can no longer be isolationist. We can no longer be separatists. We need more cooperation, not less; more integration, not less; more acceptance, not less.

And that means less hate, not more.

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We will all be remembered.

Each of us, in our own unique way. Most of us only by our closest family and friends, and then for maybe two or three generations. Some of us may barely touch another soul or two, for mere moments. A few of us may leave something behind that saves our names for the centuries. Or our name gets lost in time while our mark lives on, mysterious and poignant. The most rare of us become transcendent, touching millions, and leaving a legacy impossible to miss or forget.

David Bowie was one of those so very rare. A visionary well beyond the boundaries of mere music, his death this past weekend leaves a void in the creative world that can never be filled. I can’t admit to being a rabid fan, but I always wanted to hear his work, even when I didn’t really understand it. His “Let’s Dance” album was a large part of my college playlist, while “Space Oddity” is required background music for any science fiction writer worth their words. As I browsed through his catalog on YouTube, I found myself relearning just how large a part he played in music, and how much his work contributes to the soundtrack of my life. His passing takes another irreplaceable piece of me.


It’s weird sometimes how people touch your lives and you don’t really understand the depth of that touch until they are gone. I’ve been very melancholy since I learned the news. I didn’t expect that. Yes, I’m always a little sad when someone passes, especially when it’s from something like cancer. I’ve watched several friends die because of cancer. It’s an insidious, hateful disease that wastes its victims to nothingness in so many ways besides just the physical. Fuck cancer. And the horse it rode in on.

But this is more than just being mad at losing yet another bright spot in our universe to that perversion of cell growth. It’s also another mark of time passing by. It’s another reminder that we are all mortal, doomed to take a final step eventually. Bowie’s steps will one day be the metaphorical equivalent of dinosaur prints – forever embedded for countless generations to experience. The rest of us – well, we’ll just have to make due with the few minutes we get before the waves wash our tracks off the beach.

Some – like Bowie – leave an indelible body of work. We still remember Plato and Mozart and Shakespeare, not because of the individual, but because of the tracks they left. For most of humanity, children are the tracks we leave. Our children are our legacy. It is with them that we pass on our wisdom, our experiences, our stories, our existence. For good or ill, it is the children that will remember. And maybe that’s why I’m feeling a little out of sorts about being reminded – yet again – that I’m not getting any younger. Not having had children, who will remember me? What is my legacy? I want to be more than just the eccentric aunt who collected cats and hid in her house, but time is no longer on my side.

When I was a kid, I fantasized about my awesome future. Once I (literally) grew out of wanting to be a jockey, my world became all about music and writing and movies. I was going to be an Academy Award winning writer/composer/director/producer/actress who played in a rock band on the side. Then it was just the writer/composer/producer part, because I wasn’t thin enough to be an actress and didn’t have the patience to deal with people on a daily basis to be a director, and simply didn’t have the chops to be in a decent band. As I became aware of the problems associated with fame, I decided I’d be okay working as a music teacher during the school year and writing award-winning novels over the summers. At least, until the novels brought me enough money that I didn’t have to teach anymore. Then I become an adult, and had to deal with bills and housing and car payments, and it became about doing anything just to get things paid. Somewhere the dreams derailed and were trampled beneath the minutia of real life, and my creative drive was smothered by my fears and insecurities.

It’s been nearly four years since my husband agreed to let me try my writing fantasy full time. Four years I feel I’ve squandered. I don’t write everyday. In fact, most of the last eighteen months – besieged by the blasted eye problems – all I’ve written is this blog. My submission/query list over that four years is woefully short. And I have nothing but rejections to show for them. I’ve hidden in the dark, watching videos and playing computer games, and letting the depression eat me alive.

Yet, despite that, I HAVE finished a novel and several short stories. And while my query/submission list is less than desirable, I at least have the rejections to show for the trying. I’ve also started a second novel and have half a dozen stories in various states of non-completion. In the grand scheme of things, I’ve actually accomplished more than most. Does it meet my standards? Of course not – and therein lies the problem. I am my own worst critic, crippling myself with bars set too high and goals set too large, and then damning myself when I fail.

And here’s where listening to some of Bowie’s works reminded me of what I need to do:

“I, I will be king

And you, you will be queen

Though nothing, will drive them away

We can beat them, just for one day

We can be heroes, just for one day”


 Thanks for the reminder, David. Rest in peace.


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There’s an evil genius lurking over at terribleminds. Some day he may use his powers for good, but until then the cornpunk puppet master known as Chuck Wendig likes to torture us less worthy creatures with writing prompts. Thanks to him, I’ve come up with ideas for several stories that I hope to eventually put together into an anthology and release into the wild. And I’ve experienced how much fun it is watching other people tormented by toddlers while enjoying my bourbon and chocolate undisturbed.

Also thanks to him I’ve learned just how much I’m not a writer.

His latest prompt wasn’t to inspire fiction, though, but to inspire thought. Hence the title above. My first response was “fuck if I know.” I just write. Sometimes it’s simply out of habit because I’ve been doing it since dinosaurs roamed the earth. Sometimes it’s therapy as I try and work through emotional issues. Most of the time I just need to escape to a place I haven’t been able to find otherwise.

And that’s where I started to really think about why I write.

I was unable to be very active as a child due to a congenital defect in my knees known as bilateral discoid meniscus. Back in the dark ages of my childhood the medical field didn’t have the imaging capabilities or the orthoscopic surgical procedures it does now. Which means most orthopedic surgeons probably didn’t know as much about the defect as the Wikipedia page I linked to above. It’s not that I couldn’t walk or run or jump: I could, but I would pay for it days afterward, with swelling and intense joint pain. Such results kind of discourage a kid from trying to do any of that stuff, so I spent most of my time indoors. When I wasn’t doing schoolwork or practicing my music, I was reading.

I devoured books by the truckload, and read far above my age/grade level. As a child growing up in the Air Force in the middle of the Space Race, science fiction made more sense to me than anything else. So while most other little girls were giggling over Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, I was digging through Herbert and Heinlein and Asimov and Bradbury, and fighting my sister over who got to change the TV channel to Star Trek (the original series, in it’s original run. Yes, I’m that old…*sigh*…).

Reading and science fiction opened my eyes to worlds only a select few seemed to see. It introduced me to physics, genetics, psychology and all those other scientific fields. It showed me equal amounts hope and despair for the human race. And it wasn’t just the gadgets (though, where do you think flip phones and iPads came from?), but the exploration of ethics and morality that stuck with me. Science fiction could delve into touchy issues with less flack than regular fiction. Race relations, discrimination, sexuality, and dozens of other taboo subjects were the meat and potatoes of science fiction. I was given an education in humanity unparalleled anywhere else.

I began writing in junior high (middle school to some of ya’ll). First as an assignment in English class for a scary story at Halloween. Then as extra credit when the teacher told me how good she thought I was and read my stories in class. And finally because I just couldn’t stop, despite the teasing from the other kids about how I was obviously an alien. I had worlds to explore and people to meet and great adventures to live. It was somewhere to go where I was cool and heroic, instead of dorky and invisible.

It still is. As the real world progresses and descends deeper into madness, the need to go somewhere else increases. I read what’s out there today, and I can’t connect with most of it. The shallow characters don’t resonate with me, and the stories are often so far out there, I have no idea what they’re trying to say. It’s almost like we’ve lost touch with what it means to tell a real story, depending on gimmicks and gadgetry instead. Maybe I’m too old and set in my ways to understand this new way of things, or maybe – just maybe – the Emperor has no clothes.

Whatever the truth, I will continue to translate the voices in my head into words on the page, and hope that one day someone else will stumble upon my ramblings and discover a place they can hide for awhile, too. It’ll be nice to have the company.

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One of my favorite writer stories is about Billy Wilder, the multi-Oscar winning writer/director known for such little movies as “Some Like It Hot,” and “Sunset Boulevard.” An Austrian Jew who escaped Nazi Germany, he developed an acerbic wit and boundless energy that kept him going well into his 90’s. The story comes from his days as a contract writer with Warner Brothers. Jack Warner was a relentless taskmaster and infamous miser. He walked past Wilder’s office one day to see the writer stretched on his couch gazing at the ceiling. Warner burst in, chastising Wilder about wasting his time and money and demanding he get back to writing. Wilder’s cool response: “I AM writing. Later I’ll be typing.”

So, in that vein, I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately. Just not much typing. And it’s not like I’ve been actively thinking about my latest novel or the short stories, or even what I should say in the next query letter. It all just kind of rumbles through my mind like a Mobius loop of conga dancers, in between bursts of music (Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” mixed with Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” Yeah, my mind is a weird place.), lists of chores I need to do, and ways I can get out of cooking dinner.

Yesterday, as I’m fussing with the last of a batch of sewing for our next big historical event, I had an epiphany about my novel. It’s taken up most of the RAM in this Commodore 64 of a brain I have, so sometimes it takes awhile for the issues to finally surface. Now, mind you, I’m already 60K-plus words into this monstrosity, with what can only be termed “infinity” to go. Because I’m a “pantser” (supposedly so is Stephen King, so there), I only have a vague idea of where it’s all going. And though I’ve not actually outlined anything officially, I do have a sense of the general story arc, character development and ending. I even have a few scenes I’ve already written that aren’t until much later in the story because they HAD TO BE WRITTEN NOW. Hopefully I can figure out how we all get there and fill in the details as I go. That’s if the characters let me.

Anyway, my epiphany was this: I’m too nice. Or rather, my writing’s too nice. There’s good grammar and spelling, proper organization and witty dialogue. Everything is running along smoothly and pretty words fill the page. You might be asking yourself why this is a bad thing. I’ll tell you: this isn’t a pretty story. It’s a story about genocide and bigotry and a seemingly hopeless search for redemption. It has characters forced to work together that, by design, should be at each other’s throats, in a situation that is tenuous and bleak and dark. And what do I see on the page? Star Trek.

Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Star Trek. I grew up on that show and it’s various iterations and it’s definitely the benchmark I set my sights to. But it has a positive look to the future and humanity’s place in it, set in clean, well-designed environments. Logic and reason and diplomacy dominate – things which I dearly hope will indeed dominate our future. But that’s not what I’m writing. Or that I’m supposed to be writing.

I have two characters that keep telling me they’re supposed to be gay, but I’m insisting they’re just good friends. Another character reminds me that he’s still much closer to the hedonistic murderer he once was than the redeemed priest he seeks to be, and I’m sitting here with my fingers in my ears going “LA LA LA.” There’s a pair of hotheaded mercenary brothers hiding from the authorities, and I have them taking orders like good little soldiers.

There’s a lot more, but you get the gist. This thing isn’t supposed to be diplomatic or positive or logical. It’s supposed to be a dark mess of all humanity’s failings that, somehow, someway, eventually allow the anti-heroes to sneak out the other side to find a level of sanity in an insane universe. It’s supposed to be dark and gritty and I’m painting it Rainbow Brite.

Once I realized what the problem was, I went looking for the reason behind it. What I found didn’t make me any happier. The problem isn’t that I’m not any good at writing bleak and ugly. The real problem is that I’m afraid to. My natural tendency is to gloss over the ugly because I’m trying to escape all the BS that’s going on in the world. But there’s something I want to say with this novel – a number of things, actually – and to do that right I have to let it all hang out.

I forget who I first heard this from, but I’ve been told writers should write more than just what they know or what they want to read, they should write what they’re most afraid of. Write that which will give you the greatest challenge. Stretch yourself to the breaking point, scare yourself, make you wonder at your own sanity.

I have to do that with this latest novel. It’s going to mean a major re-write of those first 60K words, but I’m not going to do that now. I’m going to make some notes in my character pages and on a running problem sheet I keep, and then I’m going to dig into the rest of it with this newfound purpose. It’ll be a jagged change but I need to do it that way so as not to lose momentum. The basic arc of that first part stays the same, regardless of the details, so I’m reminding myself this is just the first draft. First drafts can be ugly and jagged and inconsistent – just get the shit down on the page. Pretty is what rewrites are for.

Whatever you do in your life, whatever creative endeavor or professional passion or gentile recreation, don’t hold back. Don’t pussy foot through things. You’ll challenge yourself, and learn things and produce the best you can produce. And, mostly, you’ll have no regrets.


© 2015   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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A thing about books has been going around social media the last few weeks. It has varied from “The Ten Books That Stuck With You,” to “Your Ten Favorite Books,” to “Just Name Ten Books You’ve Actually Seen, You Illiterate Vente Cappuccino Drinking X Box Snob.”

Okay, maybe that last one was a little fictionalized, but we all know people who would fit under that heading. Sadly.

I wasn’t going to play along with this one at first. I’ve read so many books in my life, I didn’t think I could come up with just ten. Plus, everybody else was already doing it and I have a bit of oppositional defiance disorder so I couldn’t possibly include myself in that crowd. Plus, who the hell am I? Just some middle-aged crazy cat lady who is staggering along in that one last gasp to make something of herself in the world of fiction. Like about a bazillion others out there.

But I didn’t have anything else to write about, so here you go (in no particular order):

  • Dune, Frank Herbert: The first in Herbert’s seminal series, and one of the first sci-fi books I ever read. A major point that is constantly talked about in sci-fi/fantasy fiction is “world building.” There’s more to the story than just the characters and their immediate setting. There’s all the stuff in the background, all the stuff that we who live in 21st century USA take for granted because it’s all just there. Traffic laws, social expectations, sports teams, whatever, which makes our world a rich, multi-dimensional palate on which to play. Genre fiction has to come up with ALL OF THAT from scratch. Even if it never actually hits the printed page, the author needs to have that background just to keep the characters on track in their respective paths. Herbert gave us a rich, dense and evocative construct so deep and wide it went way beyond simply “world” building.
  • The Stand, Stephen King: I’m not a die-hard rabid fan, but the man can write and has given us some real classics in the horror genre. I have the “Complete and Uncut” edition of this one. Yes, it’s really, really long. And I couldn’t put it down. King’s writing is straightforward and his characters are richly drawn with the simplest of lines, but it’s also amazingly dense. Here’s where I really learned about voice and tone and how to tell a story through conversations. And being a fan of post-apocalyptic stories since forever, wading through this one with the ordinary people it affects instead of the scientists or the government taught me that you don’t have to answer every question for the reader, ‘cause sometimes there just aren’t any answers.
  • Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany: This one struck me with the force of its language and the weight of its themes, and yet I still don’t understand it. I don’t think it’s really meant to be fully understood. It was the first truly “adult” book I ever read, with overt sex and violence and haunting visuals. Don’t read this one looking for any answers because it will tease you mercilessly, yet never offer you release. Disturbing, beautiful, confusing, and challenging all the concepts of normal linear narrative and plot development. The writing is so stunning you can’t NOT read it.
  • Chasm City, Alastair Reynolds: I tend to avoid hard sci-fi. It’s difficult for me to get into it because the characters often seem to have been added in second thought after all the nifty science stuff is plotted out. Plus I’m only an armchair scientist, so some of the concepts just fly above my head. Not so on either account with Reynolds’ works. This one in particular reads more like gritty film noir than high-falutin’ scientist snob writing. Dark, lush and a little H.R. Giger-ish, it’s easy to disappear into this one. It’s why I now have to read everything Reynolds puts out.
  • Wizard’s First Rule, Terry Goodkind: The first fantasy book I read that I liked. It turns all the usual trite fantasy concepts on their collective heads. No cutesy dragon tamers, no bumbling wizard apprentices, no innocent girls discovering they’re “The One.” Adult characters in adult situations and magic unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Characters are complex and even the good guys sometimes do really terrible things because people are like that.
  • Dead Witch Walking, Kim Harrison: I came late to this series, only starting it about four years ago. I was initially reluctant to read it for two reasons: 1) urban paranormal was being overshadowed by Twilight, which I just can’t …, Just, no… 2) it’s written in first person. That’s right, I don’t like first person point of view in novels. I don’t like being in someone else’s head like that. It’s too limiting and too often just fucking annoying. And while I do have a problem with the main character in this series being too “girly” sometimes, Harrison has developed a rich world and interesting characters that I just need to keep following around, despite the POV.
  • Altered Carbon, Richard K. Morgan: The hard-boiled detective novel written in cyberpunk. The only faster than light travel possible is through subspace transmissions. Human consciousness becomes a data-stream, to be downloaded into different bodies. This is the first time I saw that concept actually used as more than a background note. It has consequences if not done correctly or if the download-ee is not properly trained. The characters become much more layered because of it, and the story hinges on the concept. Blew. My. Mind.
  • The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury: It’s a collection of stories and a novel, at the same time. From a sci-fi icon and Grand Master. It showed me that you don’t have to follow specific character(s) along definitive timeline(s), to have a rich and haunting book. And I have an autographed copy, so there.
  • Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life, HM Queen Noor of Jordan: I read this shortly after it was released. We were busting our way through Iraq at the time, hearing about all the atrocities Saddam Hussein and his cronies had committed. I wanted to see why an American would surrender her citizenship and abandon her religion to become part of that culture. It is touching and eye-opening, and offers a perspective that we in the USA don’t get. Turn off the talking heads and read this.
  • The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway: One of the very few “classics” I like. Simple, poignant, and heartbreaking. I read it way back in junior high and I still think about it. That’s the kind of affect every writer aspires to.

There you go, some light reading for a rainy afternoon. And probably far too close a look into my head. It’s dark and scary in there. Better bring a cup of tea and some dark chocolate to calm the beasts…


© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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I’ve been reading a lot lately about why and how authors should develop their brand. Like many of you, my first thought about branding had something to do with red-hot iron and pissed off cattle. After some of my research, I’m not entirely sure it still doesn’t mean that, at least in the metaphorical sense. No, this newest version has to do with authors developing a presence or package of what they represent, of what the reader can expect when picking up one of their works. It entails marketing strategies and social media and business plans and a huge amount of savvy and energy that I don’t have.

Wait, let me dust off my cane here. See, in the old days, authors wrote books, attended book signings and writer’s conventions, and answered the occasional fan letter. Mostly though, they wrote books. And stories. And articles. And poetry. And limericks. And… and… and… The brand was developed by having stuff out there for the masses to read. It took a lot of time and effort and a little bit of luck to get that “name recognition.” But thousands of them did it without any of these modern day contrivances. Just about anybody who reads knows exactly what they’re going to get when they pick up something by Shakespeare, Poe, Tolkien, Asimov, Herbert, Bradbury, or King. And those greats all had that recognition long before today’s FaceTwitGrams were even thought of. Or their respective developers, for that matter. All that marketing stuff was for the publisher to deal with.

But with the advent of indie publishing, a new breed of author has evolved. With the youngest among us practically born with a smart phone in their hands, it’s nothing for them to jump into this whole branding idea with both thumbs. They live on social media anyway, so it’s totally natural to just continue that existence with their writing. Where they find the time to write in between all the updates, tweets, selfies, shares, cute cat videos, and drunk fails, I’m not sure. Those young’uns are moving a whole lot faster than I did at their age, in a world that puts me into sensory overload and makes me want to hide under my bed, but seems to energize them to new levels of thought. I wish them well, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s good for them. Or the rest of us.

Maybe that’s just the old fogy in me talking. Maybe I’m just jealous because I know I can’t keep up with them when it comes to 21st Century media. Maybe I’m afraid the world has passed me by and my window of opportunity to be an actual paid writer has long since closed. Or maybe, just maybe, I know something they don’t know.

You see, there are certain advantages to being in the age and treachery division of life. One of them being that there are LOADS of us out there. Why do you think Mick Jagger is still rocking across the stage as a great-grandfather (besides that deal with the Devil, but that’s a story for another time)? Being middle-aged (or better) has an entirely new meaning with this new century. For one thing, we’re healthier as a group than the same age dynamic of previous generations enjoyed. And we’re not content to simply go to work, take the kids to ballet class and watch football. We want to play and explore and learn, too. We’re young enough to take on bungee jumping, zip-lining, white-water rafting or any number of other adventures, but old enough to know we need medical and life insurance first.

We straddle the line between the analog and digital ages. We look forward to the fascinating things to come, while sitting comfortably on the tried and true of the past. And we have certain expectations. We still want a well-written book to curl up with by the fire, even if we’re reading it on a tablet.

And that’s when I realized I already had my brand. I’m a middle-aged chronic depressive science fiction writer who plays with string and pretends to be somebody else on the weekends. I can text just fine, but use proper grammar and spelling because I just can’t do it any other way. I’m on Facebook, but I use it to actually keep in touch with family and friends instead of playing games or trading political memes. I know about Reddit and Tumblr and Instagram and Pinterest, but I’m not interested in spending more time in the digital world than I already am. And there are 76 million more like me in the US right now.

Let me be your favorite brand. I speak your language. I can be irreverent, judgmental, thoughtful, hopeful, angry, determined, educational, passionate and pointed. I know what it’s like to deal with the daily office grind, and then face the fear of starting a second career because you couldn’t retire from your first. I get Star Trek as well as Steampunk, love classic muscle cars while delighted by Tesla, and was doing cosplay way before it was a thing. I can give you well-crafted characters in a strong story line that simmers along with a quiet rage that leaves you satisfied and yet wanting more at the end. Let me be the one that helps you understand and enjoy the future while giving you the security of your past.

And if any of you young’uns want to come along for the ride, hop on board. There’s plenty we can teach each other.


© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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I’ve been catching up on some of the shows I’ve missed over the last few weeks. We don’t have cable, so I miss the really cool stuff that’s on the pay channels (Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, etc. – that’s where DVD sets come in), but we get all the major broadcast networks on the antenna. Yeah, you read that right – ANTENNA – big wiry thing on top of the house. Gives you FREE TV. Works great in metropolitan areas like Southern California, but not so much when you’re in the podunks of Dumbfuckistan. Sorry.

Anyway, what I miss on the regular broadcast nights I can get on the Internet. Usually Hulu, where I have literally hundreds of shows queued up from all my different interests, or the actual network website. Most of them have their recent episodes available for streaming. With video-on-demand becoming more common, and sites like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon doing their own original programming, regular broadcast television will likely go the way of the dodo at some point in the future. Especially when one can sit at their computer and cram all their favorite shows in on one rainy weekend while sitting in their pajamas with popcorn and hot chocolate. Great for those depressive fits when talking to a live human just won’t do.

So, there I was watching the last couple episodes of this season’s The Mentalist on CBS.com (CBS doesn’t have an agreement with Hulu). The Mentalist was one of those shows that took me a while to get into. I couldn’t quite connect with the characters initially, and the premise was just another knock off of the quirky-genius-solves-crimes that started with Sherlock Holmes and progressed through Hercule Poirot, Columbo, and into Castle. But it grew on me. I became invested in the characters. It took far too long for the whole Red John thing to play out, which cost them viewers, but I held on. Then I was disappointed when they broke the original team up and transitioned the leads into the FBI. I have my doubts that the real FBI would tolerate someone like Patrick Jane for longer than it takes to say his name, genius case closer or not. But I still stuck with it. Then this season’s finale came and I suddenly realized the cliché monster had attacked me yet again.

You might remember a bit I did last year on clichés (Attack of the Killer Clichés), mainly those found in science fiction. Well, this time it’s about those banal tropes we see everywhere, over and over again, in TV, movies and books. We as writers can do better than this. Don’t make me get the flying monkeys…

1)                     Public Declaration of Love: usually done at the last possible second when the object of said declaration has already boarded a train, bus, plane, boat, whatever to move onto the next point in their life and leaving the declarant behind. In the case of The Mentalist, it’s a plane. Good performances aside (and the not-so-little-fact that those two particular characters just shouldn’t be together romantically), it’s a tired scene that’s been overused far too many times. There’s plenty of other ways to get this information out and not have it be a schmaltzy retread. For some brilliant relationship writing (hell, brilliant writing in general) watch Farscape. There’s a reason that show still has such a strong following over a decade after it’s cancellation.

2)                     Last Possible Second Rescue: apparently it’s impossible to diffuse a bomb before the timer reaches :01. I have yet to see one actually blow up because they just couldn’t get it done in time, but I’ve also never seen one with more time on the clock than one second. I’ve seen this one so many times, I actually get mad at the writers for being lazy. Or someone’s falling and they get the benefit of a one-handed grab by somebody, leaving them dangling over the abyss but not dead. Or being pushed from in front of a runaway (insert conveyance here). Or the bad guy gets shot just as he is about to shoot one of the good guys. Or, … well, you get the idea. Drama and tension and suspense can be built without falling into the old tried-and-true. Challenge yourself and avoid the traps.

3)                     Good Guy is Bad Guy: you know the one – loyal friend, boss, partner, spouse who’s been with you through thick and thin, who NO ONE would ever suspect, is actually the brilliant mastermind behind all the hurt our hero experiences. Talk about betrayal. And boring. This goes for those occasions when an institution, such as the police, the CIA, or the local church elders, is actually the corrupt bastards behind the problems, too. Does this crap actually exist in the real world? Sure it does. But it’s no fun when I know who the disguised bad guy is in the first few minutes of a new show or movie. Kind of makes the rest of the show moot.

4)                     Bad Guy is REALLY Bad: he twirls his moustache, kicks puppies, tortures people just for fun, etc. He is more of a caricature than a character (I’m looking at you, Slade Wilson). But bad guys are far more convoluted than that. Good and bad are merely two sides of the same coin. It’s a perspective thing. In the latest Superman telling, Man of Steel, General Zod is supposedly the bad guy. He is hell-bent on destroying Earth and that’s all we see. The truth is, though, he is doing exactly as he was bred and trained to do – protect and save Krypton. He is the hero in his mind, and he can’t understand why Kal-El doesn’t agree with him. Bad guys have reasons for doing what they’re doing. They have lives, families, hobbies, just like the rest of us. The most interesting baddies are the ones we can identify with, or even feel sorry for. Make them real and you’ll find your stories suddenly opening up with possibilities.

5)                     Dead but not Dead: this one is probably the one that annoys me the most. One of the lead characters has been killed! Oh no! Whatever shall we do? Cue crying co-characters, sad music, funeral scene, and pulled heartstrings. But wait! He’s not really dead! It was a 1) ruse to fool the bad guy, 2) mistaken identity, or 3) alternative time line. Just don’t. If you’re going to kill a character, make it for good. See Walking Dead if you have any doubts how to do it.

So there’s my latest batch of cliché pet peeves. I’m sure there’s plenty more out there, but let’s try to kill these off first. We’ll all be better writers, and I’ll be less annoyed. At least, for awhile…


© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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I’ve decided I need to do more short fiction, namely short stories in particular (anything less than 7,500 words). I came to this conclusion because sometimes I just need a break from novel writing, but mainly I need representation of my work out there in the real world. There are a crap-ton of publications and contests waiting for word fools like myself to feed them. I looked around at the writers I like to read and to a person they all had bunches of stuff besides their full-length novels. Besides the additional (hopefully positive) exposure that comes with short story publication and/or contest wins, there’s also that little bit of cash that usually accompanies such things. A definite bonus in a cash-strapped environment. Plus, I’ve always been intimidated by short stories and one should tackle head on that which makes one most afraid.

One writing day a week will now be dedicated to short fiction writing. I have a couple ideas to get started with, and will be trawling the world for more. Since I’m a science fiction geek, most of my stories will head in that direction, and some will even occasionally show their faces here. You’ve been warned.

And, in that vein, below is one I did for a contest a couple years ago. I never heard anything back from the contest so I’m assuming it was a bust, but I still like it and thought it would be fun to share. It was one of those “write a story to match this photograph” kind of things. The photograph was of a modern era middle-aged man sipping tea on a train. The story that follows is what my little brain did with it.


From Afar

 He had seen her on the platform, a leggy brunette with luminous green eyes. Fresh-faced with that type of glowing soft skin you only get from Mother Nature, she walked down the aisle with a dancer’s grace.

She was so much prettier in person.

Watching her melt into a padded seat and then shuffling her bag underneath, he wondered if she was off to another film set, or vacation. Not that it really mattered either way. He was content to enjoy the long ride up the mountains before their next stop. It would be plenty of time.

She was recognized by several people and graciously signed their proffered memorabilia as the train eased away from the station. Not a big celebrity, not like some of the others, but she was a favorite of housewives and college kids and was often seen on the cover of one fashion magazine or another. Within a few minutes she had fulfilled the demand for her attention and sat back to gaze out the window at the passing landscape.

She looked tired, he thought. The sharp tang of lemon rose from the tea setting the steward placed before him, and he pondered on the reasons why she had that look while making sure the steward had indeed brought Earl Grey, and not green tea or chamomile.

No, the look was something else. Glancing back up, he saw that it was a pale shadow of remorse on her lovely cheekbones. A weary ache of loss sat on her shoulders. Maybe that’s why she had taken public transport instead of a private car or plane. Being lost in the crowds could chase off that sort of feeling, for short periods. Just long enough to make it from Point A to Point B. Sometimes that’s all one needed to survive.

Though he didn’t count himself a fan, he had seen a number of her appearances on that comedy serial, and a couple of those low-budget horror movies, too. Neither was much of a stretch for most actors and she had done her job as well as any. There was potential there, despite only being allowed the ubiquitous beautiful bimbo roles. So sad when potential was wasted.

Dribbling honey into the tea, he envisioned her as Lady Macbeth, wringing her hands and babbling about spots. He could see that she had that kind of darkness in her, that kind of depth. It was something he knew well, since he saw it every day in the mirror. Though not in the acting profession, his job often gave him opportunities to play various roles: the tough protector, the gentle rescuer. And that one time in Istanbul, with the clown hat, but that was so long in the past it was just a shadow of memory anymore.

This time there was no need for such theatrics.

He sipped his tea and watched as she stared out the window, and occasionally looked out his own. The train chugged up the grade into the mountains and within minutes snow could be seen scattered on the ground. Then more snow, and then lots of snow, and then great mounds of snow on either side of the tracks. The evergreens were laden with white and he could almost feel the heavy silence of the mountain forest. It was hours still until dark, but a grey haze crept over the landscape as clear skies were supplanted by threatening clouds.

How appropriate, he mused. A dark day for a dark soul.

He hadn’t always been such. His youth had been much like anyone else’s. Normal parents who worked much too hard for what they had. Average school grades with average friends who had built jump ramps for their bikes on the back lot of the local pub. Good with his hands and a football, he had made a minor local name for himself in the rugby league. He even still played, when time allowed.

But something had changed somewhere. He wasn’t even sure where or when anymore, just that it had. He could empathize with others, from a distance, but there came a point when he could just turn it off and feel nothing. That’s what made him so good at what he did.

He watched the sway of her hips with admiration when she walked down the aisle to the restroom. She was truly a beautiful woman, and in another time he might have been interested more than professionally. But this was not the time.

Using his tablet, he pulled up the maps for the next station and examined them closely. It had a small platform, with really only one way out. He knew from his earlier research that many of the train’s passengers would be getting off there, ski season being in full swing. It would make for a crowded exodus, people bumping and brushing each other in their zeal to make an afternoon run or two before the clouds covered the mountain for the night. The perfect cover.

He slid the tablet back into his bag, covering the pistol with attached silencer therein.

No one would ever notice, and she wouldn’t feel a thing.


© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved

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Last week saw receipt of another rejection. It’s getting really old. Usually I try to get another query off within a couple days after that “Thanks, but no thanks,” missive, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it this time. I’ve gone back and re-evaluated my tagline, my short and long summaries, my synopsis and all the other creative aspects of presenting my novel I can think of. I like all of them. It’s taken me a couple years of tweaking, but I finally have a group of PR blurbs about my novel that I’m happy with. And I’m pretty confident that the novel itself is decent. I’ve had several beta readers – ranging from an English teacher to a sci-fi fandom legend – pour through it and give me comments. All of them gave it a thumb’s up. And, in general, I’ve never been told I’m a bad writer. So I was at a loss as to why I just can’t crack the door into actual publishing. It took me a while, because evaluating yourself is such a hard task even under the simplest of conditions, but I finally found what the problem is:

My query letter stinks.

Some of you might be arguing that the query letter is probably the most important part of the presentation of your work, and you would be right. But twenty-five years of professional office administration makes it really difficult for me to put a “creative” spin in what is technically a cover letter. All those years as an office schmuck saw me working with accountants, insurance brokers and attorneys, and letters were meant to be voice neutral, matter-of-fact, information delivery systems. My query letter is exactly that, which means it’s doomed from the start.

You can go on the Internet and do a search for “how to write a query letter,” and come up with about seven million hits. Most of them repeat the same basic ideas: learn about who you’re querying; tell them why you want to work with them specifically; give them a quickie paragraph about your novel; tell them a little about yourself and your experience; keep it short and professional. I can follow that layout in my sleep (and probably have, literally, on some of my jobs), as it’s a very common format for just about any professional cover letter. The challenge lies in keeping it professional while also making it a real grab-their-eyeballs-hoo-gods-I-have-to-read-this presentation.

That’s where the office schmuck and the creative genius become Clash of the Titans. So far the office schmuck has retained control over the query letter, and until that fortress can be breached, I fear my novel is doomed to languish on a computer drive in Purgatory for untold ages.

But the office schmuck doesn’t have dominion here….

So, here’s the query letter I’d love to send if I could ever actually break those bonds of formality:

Dear ÜberAgent/Publisher:

Pick me. Yeah, you read that right – just pick me. You won’t regret it. Why? Because I’m awesome, that’s why. Because I actually know how to write. You may look at that screenwriting thing on my resume and not want to take me seriously, because for some reason so many in publishing look down upon the lowly screenwriter as second class. But I had one of the best writing teachers on the planet while at film school, and he taught me a whole lot more than just formatting; he taught me about characters, and pacing, and plot points, and points of view, and voice. He taught me how to ad tension to a scene with the simplest, most subtle of devices, and that good drama isn’t about the obvious choices. He taught me how to take what is essentially a short story and turn it into an epic experience. He took a raw recruit and turned her into a special ops soldier who can handle anything thrown at her.

And, yeah, I’m a middle-aged fat broad, too. What of it? I’m a writer, not a beauty contestant. Like my words or don’t like them, but leave my face out of it. And, besides, we Baby Boomers make up the largest generation in America. We’re more likely to be financially stable, be college graduates, and spend more of our time and money at home. Most importantly, we read. A LOT. We like books. Any shape, any size, any topic. We devour them like sharks in chum. But they had better be well-written because we grew up with the likes of Frank Herbert’s Dune and Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. [1] On TV we had Star Trek and The Twilight Zone[2], while at the movies we sat glued in our seats watching Psycho, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Easy Rider and In the Heat of the Night.[3]

We don’t want sparkly vampires or brooding werewolves or lots of angst-ridden teens fighting the Evil Empire. We want rich, adult characters in realistic worlds where the accepted norms of today’s society are challenged and commented upon. Give us spooky and creepy, not gory and senseless; haunting and powerful, instead of predictive and forgettable; emotional and colorful, rather than angry and grey. Give us Space Opera and Fantasy and Thrillers and Mysteries. Give us something good to read and we’ll fill your coffers with gold.

No, I don’t know all that much about “Social Media” because my phone and computer are tools, not a lifestyle choice. But I do have teenage nieces, which gives me genius level access by default. I understand what a deadline is, that editors aren’t making changes because they hate me personally, and that I won’t be an instant New York Times Bestseller (if ever). I’m a professional adult who accepts personal responsibility, insists on fairness and honesty, and holds my word as my bond. Any certificate of achievement I ever received was because I damn well earned it by beating the (metaphorical) pants off everyone else, so I know how to win with humility and lose gracefully. My school papers were graded in red ink, peanut butter was on the lunch menu, I rode my bike without a helmet and played with click-clacks.

And all that gives me a unique and rich perspective that will give you a product you’ll be proud to promote.

So, yeah, pick me. It’ll be the best decision you’ll make all year.


© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.


[1] http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/18.Best_Books_of_the_Decade_1960_s

[2] http://classic-tv.com/60s-shows/

[3] http://www.digitaldreamdoor.com/pages/movie-pages/movie_60s.html


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Humans are arrogant sons-of-bitches – as individuals, in our teams, our tribes, our cultures, our countries, as an entire planet. We think we know everything and we are the end all and be all of the whole universe. We, of course, couldn’t be more wrong. But that doesn’t stop some of us from shouting our arrogance from the mountaintops. And usually it’s the stupidest among us shouting the loudest.

I recently read an article shared on Facebook by two friends I consider polar opposites in most of their political views. That fact alone was enough for me to hit the link and see for myself what had spurred these two into such action. The article is entitled “The Death of Expertise,” written by Tom Nichols for the Federalist. You can check it out for yourself here. It really struck me. It hit on a point that I have witnessed and worried about for some time. Mr. Nichols expresses the concept much more eloquently than I, but the gist is that our society has rejected giving weight to the educated opinions of experts (read: scientists and the like) and declared all opinions equal, regardless of actual facts. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, all opinions are not created equal. And freedom to have your opinion doesn’t equate to freedom from consequences as a result of your opinion.

I have directly experienced this problem. I have a degree in music education from one of the best music universities in the nation. I was trained to be an instrumental music teacher, and, as such, can play any standard band or orchestra instrument at least at the basic level. I also know music history, theory, composition and conducting. I started noodling on the piano at two, playing tunes by ear, and later spent a good many years actually making money as a performer. So, it could be considered that I am an “expert” in music.

A friend of mine, who has exactly none of my experience or education, declared one day during a conversation on music that the violin and the fiddle were two different instruments. When I informed him that they were indeed the same instrument, just played differently, he proceeded to argue the point with me for the next hour. He insisted that I was wrong in my opinion. He would not accept my expertise in the field of music as being valid because he had heard the differences, and there just wasn’t any way possible they could be the same instrument. He had made up his mind and that trumped all my years of experience (three of which were actually solely on violin)[1].

This is, sadly, a common problem with humans. As Mr. Nichols states in his article:

“…it’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect, which says, in sum, that the dumber you are, the more confident you are that you’re not actually dumb. And when you get invested in being aggressively dumb…well, the last thing you want to encounter are experts who disagree with you, and so you dismiss them in order to maintain your unreasonably high opinion of yourself.”

Sound familiar? Political pundits seem to fall into this more than most, but any one of us can probably point to several people within our circles of relationships that fit the definition to a tee. If they take Stephen Colbert seriously, instead of recognizing his entire act is sarcasm, then they might have a problem. Opinion and fact are two entirely different animals, but our polarized political environment here in the US has blurred the lines beyond recognition.

As a writer, – and, more specifically, a science fiction writer – I do my best to support my wacky future ideas on actual science. That means I do a lot of research. That research depends not on opinion but on fact. Let’s look at that word – fact – for a minute. Dictionary.com defines fact thusly:

1.  something that actually exists; reality; truth

2.  something known to exist or to have happened

3.  a truth known by actual experience or observation; something known to be true

4.  something said to be true or supposed to have happened

Facts are determined by observation, experience, empirical testing and supported by evidence. It is a fact that my hair is now mostly silver instead of brunette. It is opinion that the silver is prettier than the brunette. You can support the former statement by direct observation of my hair, while the latter can vary from person to person.

But facts long accepted by the majority are now suddenly under attack by right wing extremists. Science has been declared so much hokum developed only to attack the truth as determined by a book of allegories written thousands of years ago. And yes, there are those in the scientific fields that are as equally convinced science is the only true path. The mentality is “there can be only one,” a declaration I find interesting because I don’t believe the two have to be mutually exclusive. Science answers questions of the real world, while theology serves to answer the questions of spirituality and faith. They are two sides of the same coin. Science hasn’t answered everything yet, so we must depend on faith for the rest.

This is where that human arrogance comes in. Each of us is convinced, in our own little worlds, that we are absolutely right, we know everything, and everyone else is an idiot. Sorry, folks, but that’s not the case. We are barely motes in the grand scheme of the universe. Yes, we’ve mapped the human genome, but we still have no idea what most of it does or how which part relates/affects/negates others. We’ve traveled to the moon and by remote to Mars, and yet we still haven’t figured out how to get off oil and not pollute the only place we have to live.

For us to progress as individuals and as a species we must be open to possibilities. Steadfastly holding on to opinions that have no support in facts stifles growth. Declaring an opinion and then refusing to accept the consequences such opinion might bring, is an ignorant close-minded approach to the world.  Real democracy requires real dialogue, and real dialogue requires open minds. We can’t be afraid to have our ideas challenged. We must encourage debate, and we must have that debate supported by facts, not ideological fantasies.

Most importantly, we need to get over ourselves and accept the fact we might be wrong.

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

[1] For the record, violin and fiddle are physically one and the same, and Diffen.com has a nice explanation for you.

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