Category Archives: Story behind the story

The Story Behind the Story: The Wodehouse Murder Case

As I mentioned Friday, the romance anthology Starlit Bridges is now out, with my Wodehouse Murder Case included. You can buy it in ebook or paperback. So as usual, here’s the story behind writing the story, reprinted from when it first came out almost a decade ago.I no longer remember what gave me the idea for a story built around the concept of “Bertie Wooster, Wizard.” Bertie, as many of you probably know, is the upper-class twit who bumbled through countless P.G. Wodehouse comedies, always getting out of scrapes and engagements thanks to his unflappable manservant Jeeves. Whatever gave me the thought, the idea of a slightly silly magician seemed to hold no end of promise, so earlier this year, I began work.

Several core details firmed up almost immediately, and, unusually for me, stayed consistent through the final draft. The central characters were Monty Throopville and his trusted manservant, Tench (I started with Greaves, decided that was too heavyhanded, and rejected the idea of him as a familiar). The climax would come at a country-house party with demonic forces in play, and Monty’s true love would start out attached to his less-than-ethical best friend. And the whole thing would be done in a Wodehouse style, of course.

Somewhere in the first couple of drafts, establishing both Monty and the female lead, Suzanne, as murder-mystery fans, took root—as did the idea that the party wouldn’t be merely a social gathering out of Upstairs, Downstairs but something out of the Golden Age of mystery fiction: An isolated country manor, a gathering of guests, fog cutting everyone off so they can’t leave—and then murder!!!!!!!

And from this, somewhere in the next draft or two, sprang the idea that Monty doesn’t merely read murder mysteries—he writes them (I don’t this is too big a spoiler). That immediately clicked for me, as it enabled me to add a lot of added in-jokes about the murder mysteries of the era. It also required me to rewrite Monty—all jokes about writers aside, if he’s smart enough to be a successful novelist, he couldn’t be quite as twitty as I initially portrayed him.

Subsequent drafts figured out how the murder and magical plotlines intertwined; introduced Monty’s flamboyant Aunt Lettie; and gave Suzanne a little more personality than just The Pretty Girl. And since I’d established that Monty’s series detective character is “Professor Wodehouse,” the title of the story naturally suggested itself. It’s also a play on Golden Age author SS Van Dyne, whose titles ran along the lines of The Kennel Murder Case, The Bishop Murder Case, etc.. I also had great fun coming up with titles for Monty’s own books: The Owl Died at Sunset, The Poisoned Viscount, Two Graves for the Duchess, The Hangman’s Secret and The Robin Redbreast Riddle, among others. Monty’s way more prolific than I am.

#SFWApro. All rights to cover image remain with current holder.

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Story Behind the Story: Happiest Place on Earth

My short story The Happiest Place on Earth is now available for purchase in the LOLcraft anthology of Lovecraftian humor (yes, I know that’s almost a contradiction in terms). So here’s the story of how I came to write it, reprinted from first publication back in 2014:

Many, many years back, I was joking with my friend Ross about the classic Disney TV show, the Mickey Mi-Go Club and it’s heartwarming ending song:

“Now it’s time to say goodbye and face infinity
“H-A-S-T-U-R, he’s our destiny!
“H-A-S—” “He’s our god!”
“T-U-R—” “Don’t say his name!”
“Forever we will raise our banned books high, high, high!
“Now it’s time to say goodbye to our humanity.
“H-A-S-T-U-R—he’s our destiny!”
(Sung, obviously, to the tune of the Mickey Mouse Club theme song).
So a couple of years back, I started thinking about the joke, and it struck me a a Lovecraftian Disney show would make the basis for a good story.
Unusually for me, the concept was on point pretty much from the first. Mickey Mi-Go, iconic, beloved star of TV and movies, learns Walt Alhazred is about to cancel his show. Outraged, he flies into Walt’s office to confront him … but of course it doesn’t go as planned.
After a relatively few rewrites, I presented it to one of my writing groups. They liked it a lot but suggested several changes (Ryan Jones, a dedicated Lovecraftian, suggested several details I could draw on from Lovecraft’s stories, which much improved things). I finished it soon after and sold it to New Myths — and now to Dragon’s Roost, which previously published my Signs and Hortense in Eldritch Embraces.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder. Cover by Don England.

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The Story Behind the Story: Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates

Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates is now live on Mythaxis. Here’s my account of how I came to write the story and why the title turned out wrong — the McGuffin in the story is really a box of Stuckey’s praline candies.

This story scratches several itches for me. One is a minor idea of a female lead whose first name is Pershing, though she’s very different from the character I’d originally had in my head. The original had no story attached to her so it wasn’t much of a sacrifice.

Another is my desire to write a story about the kind of reporting job I used to have. A government reporter whose work focuses on dull stuff such as budget hearings, development approvals and the like as opposed to busting crime rings, writing searing exposes or simply as shallow media whores. As Death is Like a Box of Chocolates is set in 1983, the issues I discussed regarding Internet journalism aren’t relevant. However Pershing does share my frustration that crime news grabs more eyeballs than government and budget hearings which have more effect on people’s lives.

A third itch was Foz Meadows’ writing about how women’s looks in fiction become generic rather than individual. Pershing’s a stunningly beautiful woman but she dresses down to minimize the impact: attractive enough to be taken seriously, not so attractive harassment becomes unendurable.

The oldest itch, going back to when I used to fly a lot more, was a fear of being robbed in an airport. What if I were on the toilet in the airport restroom and someone just reached under the door, grabbed my backpack from the floor and pulled it out? What if I took my time getting to the baggage pickup area, — what would stop someone just picking up my luggage and walking out with my stuff? Then my imagination kicked in and I saw the thief opening whatever they stole and regretting it — for the little time they had left to live. Maybe with modern airport security that wouldn’t happen, which is part of the reason I set it in 1983.

In the opening Greg Haughton, a sexist prick “who believed in the importance of big brass balls the way his grandparents believed in the inerrancy of Holy writ,” gets humiliated by a couple of women he hit on. Next day, after dropping his sister at the airport, he gets a sudden urge to prove how big his balls are by walking off with something from the baggage carousel. He sees a box of Stucky’s pralines among the suitcases and swipes it. And then he opens it …

When I first read the story to the writer’s group, it was dark, and heavily focused on misogyny, with guys doing strange, irrational things in pursuit of women. One of my cohorts objected, correctly, that what I was showing didn’t go much beyond everyday misogyny in the real world. Rather than amp up the misogyny I cast a broader range. There’s Pershing’s co-worker who suddenly quit to write a bestselling novel, saddling her with a lot more work; there’s her father, almost cancer free but abruptly stopping chemotherapy. Plus the guy who tried kidnapping a woman because he knew she’d love him if she saw how much he cared. And a whole lot more.

Much other strangeness follows, including the secret of the box of pralines. The switch from just a box of chocolates was because Stuckey’s stores used to be everywhere in the South, or so it seemed. Drive off any interstate and you’d find a Stuckey’s store; we stopped at a lot of them on family trips in the 1970s. So I felt it fit the era.

The end result is a quirky little story set in what’s a lightly fictionalized version of my old home turf back in the Florida Panhandle. Plus a lot of period detail — General Hospital when it was the hottest soap on TV, Reagan’s invasion of Granada, next to no security at the airport.

Click on over and enjoy!

#SFWApro. Cover by Micah Hyatt, all rights remain with current holder.

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The Story Behind The Story: Questionable Minds

As today is the launch date of my first published novel, Questionable Minds (available as an ebook or paperback), my usual Monday political post will go up tomorrow. For now, it’s the story of how I came to write it.IIRC, the original idea for what became Questionable Minds was born sometime in the early 1980s. I’d seen Sean Connery in The Great Train Robbery my junior or senior year at Oberlin and much enjoyed his role as the roguish thief organizing the first robbery from a moving train. In his trial, after a judge demands to know what could have led him to violate every principle of law and decency, Connery simply shrugs and says “I wanted the money.”

My initial idea was to take the Connery character (based on a real character in the Michael Crichton nonfiction account of the theft) and have him work for the government — go where the police can’t go, do things the police can’t, that sort of stuff. The initial adventure, prompted by some nonfiction I’d read, would have involved the Hindu Thuggee cult setting up shot in London. In hindsight I’m very glad I never sat down and wrote it as I can’t think of any way it wouldn’t have been racist as shit.

Instead the idea lay fallow in the back of my brain. When it finally resurfaced it had two key differences. First, my poacher-turned-gamekeeper protagonist had become Sir Simon Taggart, baronet, old-money and impeccable pillar of the establishment. Second, the concept that Simon lived in an England where psychic powers — mentalism — worked. My original concept had been intrusion fantasy — supernatural elements intruding into the mundane Victorian world — but my revised idea meant the world was no longer mundane.

What led to the change? I’m not sure, but most likely reading some of my reference books about the Victorian age jump-started my original idea.  The book’s villain became Jack the Ripper, then I threw in Jekyll and Hyde, Helena Blavatsky, and multiple other elements. Plus lots of borrowing from Arthur Conan Doyle, being the Holmes fan that I am.

At the time I finished the original draft — late 1990s, I believe — steampunk was still a new concept. I hoped building my book around psi powers rather than tech would make it stand out. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen hadn’t come out so me incorporating assorted fictional characters into the book would, I thought, be a plus too. Of course, as some of them were Sherlock Holmes characters (though not Holmes or Watson himself) and they were still under copyright, perhaps it’s good I didn’t sell it, though I imagine the publisher would have red-flagged that.

In any case it didn’t sell. I was particularly frustrated by one publisher who asked for like three chapters at a time, asked for more whenever I prodded them, then finally said no. That stretched the process out waaaay beyond what was reasonable.

Ditto a company who held the book for a long time, then told me, when I checked back, that they’d reserved it for the publisher’s personal review — expect an answer in four months. When six months passed I checked … and checked again … and again … and finally said that having had no answer, I chose to withdraw it from consideration. Late can happen for legit reasons; not responding when prodded is, in my experience, a huge red flag. The publisher’s curious response was that she was sorry we couldn’t reach an agreement — meaning what? They’d sent me an offer and I hadn’t heard back? Or that she and her people couldn’t reach an agreement whether to buy? I’m guessing the latter.

Finally, success! I submitted to an e-book publisher, got accepted and they told me they’d be back in touch by the following summer to discuss edits and possible changes. Summer passed, no contact. I checked back, they were going out of business. They apologized for not notifying me sooner but did return all rights.

I tried a couple more publishers after that without success, but I still believed the book was good (after all, at least one publisher liked it!). So finally, rather than chase after small publishers who probably didn’t have that much to offer me (not a slap at small publishers, honestly. But when the submission package calls for me to submit a marketing plan — well, if I could draw up marketing plans, I can’t see what I’d need them for) I opted to self-publish. I rewrote the book, rewrote again, edited the book and sent the manuscript through Draft2Digital for the ebooks (they’ll be available on Amazon eventually) and Amazon’s Kindle publishing for the paperback. Plus using One World Ink for promotional services. Plus, of course, my friend Samantha Collins who designed the awesome cover.

And now it’s done. Let’s see what happens …

#SFWApro. Copyright on cover is mine, rights remain with me.


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The Story Behind the Story: The Savage Year

My short story “The Savage Year,” which came out a few years ago at Lorelei Signal (no longer online there though), goes live today at Metastellar. As I haven’t rewritten it in the five years since the first publication, I’ll take the liberty of simply reprinting my How I Came To Write It from back then (including the illustration by Lee Ann Barlow):

The story’s opening: “Walking past a half-naked couple making out next to a picnic basket, Artemis West wished she could turn invisible. I never thought my first assignment would involve working magic in front of a park full of hippies.

It’s 1968, Robert Kennedy has just been assassinated, and the country is mourning. And as Artemis soon discovers, her job as a Secret Service sorcerer is about to get much more complicated, thanks to a British black magician and a bronze-skinned, golden-eyed drifter, Diana Savage. Whose father is some kind of brilliant scientist and philanthropist, and everyone expects her to follow in his wake. So she’s run away for a summer of love before she heads to college. Only there are innocent people in danger, and in her heart she’s her father’s child …

Why yes, this is the story about Doc Savage’s daughter that I wrote about starting several years ago. As noted at the link, I’d wanted to write about her (or more precisely my version of her) since the early 1980s, but never came up with a story. Then I hit on teaming her up with Art West, great grandson of James West, the hero of Wild Wild West now following family tradition by working for the Secret Service, though as a mage.

When I reread the post at the link, it floored me: my protagonist has been Artemis West and female so long I didn’t remember ever considering a male lead (Jim West’s partner was Artemus Gordon. Descendants are stuck with the name). It’s not surprising though, as I write a lot of male/female teams. As to why I switched to make Artemis a woman … I have no idea.

The story idea beyond that shaped up early. Mages in the Secret Service actually have a dull gig. All they do is go around and touch up the bindings Native American shamans used to lock various Lovecraftian outsiders away. As long as the mages do their job, the outsiders can’t get out.Except that when Artemis goes to check the local bindings (originally San Francisco, but it eventually shifted to the Midwest) she discovers someone is letting outsiders loose. Which is, of course, bad. Even alongside a bronze teenage tornado who fights like ten men (she’s Doc Savage’s daughter. She’s been well-trained) Artemis has her work cut out for her.

Refining the concept proved a lot tougher. I had no idea what the bad guy wanted, what exactly he’d unleashed and how the creature would help him achieve his goals. Nor did I know how to stop him. Eventually I figured it out, with the help of Lester Dent’s plotting formula — appropriate as he created Doc.

I also trimmed back a lot of the in-jokes, such as a reference to Artemis’ aunt Honey. I wanted to write the story so that someone who’d never heard of Jim West or Doc Savage could enjoy it, which meant avoiding any Easter eggs that would be more distracting than amusing.

When I was done, I presented it to the beta readers in my local science-fiction writing group. They suggested I needed to introduce the villain earlier to give him more of a presence, and that I needed to make the story weirder in a few spots. It was good advice. I followed it.

I’ve also blogged about the story over at Atomic Junkshop. Feel free to check it out, but I recommend checking out “The Savage Year” first.

#SFWApro. Illustrations by Barlow and James Bama, all rights to images remain with current holder.

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Undead Sexist Cliches: why I wrote it

When my family arrived in the U.S. in 1969, second-wave feminism was just revving up. It was in the news a lot and to my tween mind it made perfect sense.

Not that I had any deep understanding of the issues, or of misogyny — see this old post, for instance — but treating men and women equally? Same rights for all? Who could object to that? The 1960s had gotten a start on solving all that racism stuff, now the 1970s would fix the sexism!

Yes, I was young.

IIRC, I knew one classmate in high school besides myself who supported the Equal Rights Amendment (that’s not to say there were some who didn’t want to come out and say it). No surprise; Fort Walton Beach Fla. was a very conservative community. Frustratingly, when discussing politics I couldn’t quite put into words why the ERA was important: my gut said yes, but I couldn’t explain why.

When I returned to FWB after college, it was still right-wing as shit. The letters to the editor routinely blasted working women (destroying their children’s lives!), women who get abortion (promiscuous sluts!) and women who didn’t want to accept Men Are The Boss. There were also lots of rants about how this is a Christian nation and we should pass laws based on what (the letter writer imagines) God wants. A number of right-wing syndicate columnists (Suzanne Fields, Walter Williams, Charley Reese) echoed the same points. In hindsight it’s interesting that these were within the Overton window of acceptable discourse; anti-Semitism and racism weren’t as acceptable as misogyny (though we got occasional bits of both).

In my early twenties I felt an obligation to use my skills for good; the letters page was an outlet even an unemployed writer could use to contribute to the commonweal. I started writing letters explaining why God Wants It and Women Are Inferior, however phrased, were never logically constructed arguments.

I wrote a lot of letters. Eventually the paper imposed a one-letter-a-month rule; I think I was one of the prime reasons. I’ve had a number of people tell me how much they appreciated my writing. I also know I drove a lot of right-wingers to distraction, in which I take a small, petty satisfaction. Providing a dose of left-wing reality to a right-wing community is a good thing to do. I don’t know I ever changed any minds but at least I could provide facts to anyone like me who can’t rationalize their gut instinct.

That went on for the next 30 years. Then I went to work for the Destin Log and became a regular columnist. Slightly different venue, same themes. Plus a lot of criticism of the Bush II presidency’s militarism, national security state policies and the way local Republicans treated W as God’s anointed king (a dry run for treating Trump as the messiah).

About 11 years back I was living in Durham, writing full-time and doing political writing at various outlets. Those dried up so I’d begun posting political content on this blog (regrettably a much smaller audience). In 2011 I was struck by arguments I’d encountered that men will never accomplish anything unless women stand aside and let men be the boss. What struck me was that I’d read similar claims all the way back to the early 1970s. And so my first post on Undead Sexist Cliches — stuff that lives on, no matter how many times it’s disproven — was born.

I followed it up with a post on how women should never give away the milk and how feminists ruined television. The latter is a good example of how these cliches shamble on: the stuff I cover is a precursor to the online freakouts and troll campaigns about how SJWs are ruining comics, TV, Marvel movies, Star Wars etc. by creating protagonists who aren’t white men (since writing the article I’ve also seen complaints going as far back as the bullshit).

I thought that would be it, but more undead sexist cliches kept cropping up, so I kept writing. Several years ago, the idea of compiling them all into a short, snarky (but logical) book hit me and I began work. Trouble was, I had to provide examples of the right-wing bullshit  I was writing against and there are so many … and several of the arguments required some research (evolutionary psychology stuff for instance) to refute. So it became much more detailed and footnotes, much longer. And took correspondingly long to write. It’s telling that I didn’t originally have a harassment chapter but added one after #metoo blew up big a few years ago.

And now it’s done. It hasn’t exorcised my frustration at the misogyny flowing through society (I will have many more posts on the topic I’m sure), but if it gives someone like my teenage self an understanding of why gender equality is right, then I’ve done something worth doing.

Undead Sexist Clichesis live in paperback on Amazon, with the Kindle version listed separately. It’s also available from multiple other ebook retailers.


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The story behind the story: Rabbits Indignateonem

So my flash fiction story, Rabbits Indignateonem — “Rabbit Wrath” more or less — is out at Flash in a Flash. I can’t provide a link because the stories go out by email and I didn’t realize that in time to alert y’all. However, Flash will republish it in an anthology so I’ll alert everyone when that’s available. And in the meantime, here’s the usual story of how it came to be written.

Just as my Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears the Clown (available in Atlas Shagged) was inspired by Jorge Luis Borges,  so this story began with a throwaway line from another of my favorite authors, Diana Wynne Jones. The father of the protagonist in her novel Archer’s Goon is a writer whose daily writing exercise — one thousand words on any topic — becomes vitally important to a clan of wizards. As they harass the family repeatedly, he starts turning out ridiculous stories to meet the quota, one of which was titled “The Day the Rabbits Started Eating People.” Jones doesn’t offer any details about the story, but the title intrigued me. Hmm, I said, what if rabbits did turn carnivore  …

My early drafts, as much as I can remember them, involved a family holing up as the rabbits attacked. The almost-final draft was much different. It focuses on Steve, a corporate drone, who’s desperate to close a big sale. As Steve’s refining his pitch, one of his coworkers insists on showing him a YouTube video where a rabbit bites off a human’s fingers; he dismisses it as a fake (yes, there’s a Monty Python reference) and heads off to the meeting. He ignores all the evidence that it’s not a fake until it’s too late …

It had a lot of amusing elements, I think, but it lacked a satisfactory finish. After trying without success to come up with something, I showed it to my friend Cindy Holbrook, who suggested it needed a little more heart. Based on her suggestions, I eventually revised it to its current form. Now Steve’s torn: he’s falling behind at work, not making quota, he hates missing his little girl’s birthday party but dammit, he’s got a job to do! And over the course of a thousand words — well, click on the link and you’ll see.


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Story Behind the Story: Heads Up

Woot! Altered Reality just reprinted my short story Heads Up. It first came out in 2013, now it lives again! And it’s my first sale in more than a year so it’s very welcome.

So as usual here’s the backstory on its genesis, taken from the post I made when it debuted on Every Day Fiction: The last time I stayed out at my brother’s house for Thanksgiving (2009, I believe), I had a dream about finding a head in his washing machine. That thought stayed with me, so I decided to write a story about it. Except, of course, the head would be alive and talking (I don’t remember now if that was part of the dream, though I think it was)

My first version was just a long gag. The narrator can’t believe what’s happening, but at the same time he has no trouble believing all kinds of absurdity (the Earth is flat, Obama is the Antichrist, NASA faked the moon landing). It was kind of an ironic observation on how we’re not as rational as we think.

It also wasn’t very good. As one editor pointed out (and while I forget which magazine it was, I thank you for the feedback), there was no real plot, no conflict, so I set out to fix that. Instead of irony, I went with the classics: Along with man vs. god, man vs. man, man vs. nature, we would now have man with a load of laundry vs. a head in the washing machine that doesn’t want to be disturbed.

This partly draws on my own early twenties experience of being dead broke (my struggling, starving writer days. Don’t miss’em). Getting access to a friend or family member’s washing machine was a blessing. So my protagonist has a big date, he’s worn the same briefs for two days, he has no other clean ones and he can’t afford to buy dinner if he has to use the laundromat. And then he discovers the uncooperative head. (Before you ask, no, the situation of washing two-day-old briefs before a big date was not based on personal experience).

After several further turndowns, I sent it to Every Day Fiction. The reviewers said they liked it, but the emphasis on just how grungy and gross his underwear was needed to get toned waaaaay down. I was fine with that, and with the other changes requested.

They liked the rewrite.”

And so did Altered Reality. So go read it!


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Story Behind the Story: Cover Stories

Writing the final story in Atoms for Peace posed the same problem as Who Watches the Watchmen. I was still planning to start Brain From Outer SpaceInstruments of Science with the events in so I didn’t want to advance the timeline any further. I was figuring how to do that, and then I thought of Kurt Busiek’s and Alex Ross’s Marvels.

Marvels tells the story of the Marvel Universe through the eyes of Phil, a photojournalist. He witnesses the debut of the Human Torch in the Golden Age. Years later, he’s in New York, working for the Bugle, when the Silver Age is in full swing. He sees the Avengers battle the Masters of Evil, the Sentinels hunting mutants, the arrival of Galactus and Spider-Man’s failed attempt to save Gwen Stacey from death. But he’s seeing it as an outsider, a regular guy. He has no idea what’s going on in the heroes’ minds, what mutants are really like, or exactly how the Fantastic Four defeated Galactus.

Yeah, I said to myself, that would work. Show life as a Science Investigator from an outside viewpoint, rather than the people who sleep, breathe and eat the fight against rogue science. The protagonist of Cover Stories became Cassie Sato (sister to FBI agent Harry Sato), freelance journalist. Atlanta is doing some big celebration of Gwen Montgomery’s father so Cassie pitched the Atlanta Journal a profile on “Mile High” Montgomery’s daughter, the science investigator. We open with Cassie along with Steve and Gwen on an investigation that turns nasty. Then she gets to talk to Claire, Dani, visit the local nightclub the Tower of Mordor, get Gwen’s thoughts on why she does what she does and watch the other agents at work (“A couple of desks down, a fat guy nicknamed Slim flipped through a file about a lab in Ojai that had dissolved overnight. His partner, an Italian woman named DiNaldi, was trying to calm a hysterical leather-jacketed teenager claiming his “chick” had only broken up with him because she’d been mind-controlled.”)

Cassie turned out nowhere near as tough as Dani or Gwen. Which is cool; not everyone’s suited for the front lines of a war. She’s a competent writer, dogged in getting the story, more than a little claustrophobic. Talking to Gwen and Steve in Science Investigations underground base makes her more than a little nervous.

And there my saga ends until I try to replot Brain From Outer Space and get it right.

#SFWApro. Cover by Alex Ross, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Story Behind the Story: Who Watches the Watchmen?

So along with the 10 Atoms for Peace stories published on Big Pulp, I sold them two stories that never went up (they paid, I’m not complaining). Who Watches the Watchmen? and Cover Stories see daylight for the first time in Atoms for Peace.

The central character of Watchmen, Kate Meara, wasn’t even in my early drafts of Brain From Outer Space. Instead, I had the head of TSC security, Falconi, taking an interest in the suspicious nature of what was going on, and whether it implied Steve was corrupt or a ceecee (carbon copy, an alien duplicate of the real Steve). A couple of drafts later, it occurred to me that having the head of a national organization watching this one case — they had no way to know how important it was — didn’t make sense. I turned it over to his assistant, a heavyset (Camryn Mannheim is the physique I have in mind) Irish-American woman. Then I wondered why I even needed Falconi. Eventually I dropped him and made Meara the head of just the one base’s security, which made it more plausible she’d have time to focus on Steve.

When I started writing the Atoms for Peace stories, my unconscious asserted itself. Instead of the hefty, motherly-looking woman, I suddenly saw her as small, bony, younger, and plain (“horse-faced” is the adjective some people use). And in a wheelchair. Which was a good idea of my unconscious, I think; while I show several people with scars or prosthetics walking through the story, I didn’t have any in lead roles. Though I decided rather than a victim of some invasion or mecha, Meara had lost the use of her legs due to polio.

As the previous 10 stories took us up to the start of Brain From Outer Space, I didn’t want to go past the time of Instruments of Science. So I told Meara’s story from 1955 up to the “present.” At the start, she’s at low ebb. Boston-born daughter of union leader “Big Mike” Meara, she’s bright, capable, does a lot of office work for dad, plays chess with Senator John F. Kennedy when he visits (Big Mike delivers a lot of labor votes). However she’s married to a faithless cheat, separated but can’t get an annulment, as hubby is in tight with the diocese. JFK, who was instrumental in setting up the Technology and Science Commission, suggests a fresh start: work as the assistant to Donovan, security head of the TSC’s southwestern branch. Kate accepts; if only because it gets her out of Boston winters. And the new Veterans Access Act guarantees the base will have ramps and elevators — after all the craziness of the Invasion and the kaiju, the need for an ADA-style law became obvious.

In California she meets the stiff-necked Donovan who warns her security must be totally detached. No friends. Nothing to compromise your objectivity. She meets Johnny, a handsome young man Donovan hired to push her wheelchair around (she quickly explains she’d rather steer herself), and Nate Strawn, the chief of Science Investigations. And over the next four years, deals not only with conventional security risks but the growing threat of ceecees and alien mind-controllers. When the threats get personal, it turns out Kate has more friends than she realizes …

I think Kate turned out well as a character. She’s an enthusiastic, skilled chess player who interprets life in chess terms, hates smoking (too bad she’s living in a time when tobacco is everywhere), and while it’s only alluded to briefly, is part of a small disabled community. Unlike most of my cast, as she’s a good Catholic and still married, she’s chaste. I know “disabled people are sexless” is a stereotype, but it felt right (I do establish she’s able to “perform the act,” as they used to say). If not, my bad.

#SFWApro. Cover by Zakaria Nada, copyright is mine.

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