Friday, May 17, 2019

Shelly gets upstaged by a mammal: SpaceBoots to be published by Immortal Works

Mr. Dalton has kept me out of the creativity loop for a while now. The most obvious sign being Lone Wilderlands doesn't have a Shelly-inspired, green-shelled, hero-devouring monster lurking in a coin-glittered lair. I suggest you all inundate him with excessively-hyphenated ideas to correct such a travesty.

What's more, he cut me out of the sci-fi editing process. Some publishing company flashes a contract and he ditches me like he does kids on date night. After slaving away for naught but worms on two novels and a short story collection, too.

Warm-blooded ingrate.

This is the depth of my abandonment: My editing genius will molder unused for the next twelve months. Twelve, because he passed it off to a human to muddle up with an overly thoughtful, caring, kind, make the world a better place mentality. Where's the drama in that? And the book cover? Grr. I mean, Hiss. I wasn't invited to that brainstorming session either, so I don't even have any art spoilers to dish out.

If any readers are not incensed at this partnership of reptilian neglect, watch for SpaceBoots in May 2020 from the probably awesome but right now infuriating humans at

P.S.   Hi all. DWD here. Shelly didn't hibernate this winter, and she's a little cranky. I'd edit her post to reduce the caustic effect, but that would only make it worse next time. But what am I supposed to do? Immortal Works doesn't hire reptiles.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Lone Wilderlands expands - and gets fashionable

I had a request for some story starters to accompany Lone Wilderlands. "Cheat codes" was the actual term used. So I made some. It's a book of lore by a character in the game with hints and clues to wisdom and treasure. It's available here.

The cover for Orion's Hoard was so fun to design and photograph, I wanted to see it bigger. And wear it. So here it is!

UPDATE: having some technical issues with Zazzle. Here is the shirt, but it's not yet available for purchase. Working on it...

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Lone Wilderlands - where Shelly can finally be a fire-breathing Ankylosaurus

From sci-fi novels to a fantasy RPG? Why not?

I really liked role-playing games as a kid, but finding a group and a place and a time that worked happened only twice. Scratch that, it was only once, because my friend running the game forgot to get his books and maps out of his room before his mom shampooed the carpet. "What if I walk across the carpet? Your mom won't get mad at me," I said. I was right, but my friend knew it still wouldn't save him from the beholding gaze of his Great Mother. "Unless you have Drow elf powers, we have no game." No treasure type D&D that day.

I stumbled across Mertwig's Maze a few years later, loved it like crazy, and modified it into a solo game I played for hours. Ouch. Did I just admit to that level of introversion? Well, the concept percolated for a long time, and then started to leak out. Rather than plug said leak, I organized and edited and play tested and here you go, an open-ended fantasy adventure game. A little like choosing a hero from Catan with a bigger island. Or adding a storyline and dice to Munchkin.

I figured some less-loner-than-me types might enjoy it too, so I made sure it would work for a group. I also had a professional gamemaster take a look. Really! That's her job title. She pointed out how useful to her it would be for world-building, simplifying her job significantly. Hey, bonus!

Thanks to the print-on-demand board and card game gurus at, it's available right here:

Here is my ever-growing Play Tester List of Gratitude. May you all have a seat in the Halls of Mandos!

Mr. Whitato
El Corona
Fyrecon 2018 students
JW Dalton and Irish younglings

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Roger that, Houston

Have I mentioned the Life, The Universe, and Everything Symposium in Provo, Utah is awesome? I've met pros and NYT bestsellers and artists and editors. 
And friends. BK Hewett is one, a NASA program analyst who wrote the fantasy series Darts, Rings, and SwordsHe interviewed me and put it on his blog. Nice guy,eh?


“It is unfortunate you can’t separate your useful observations from your insults.”
— Judge from Houses of Common

Back in April of 2015, one of my author friends offered to put me in touch with her agent. She’d read the first two chapters of Plaguerunners and said it reminded her a little bit of Houses of Common.

Hmm. This Derick William Dalton guy sounds pretty cool. Maybe I ought to look him up.

Cut to February 2017. I’m in Utah for Life, The Universe, and Everything and I keep running into this guy on panels and in the halls. Funny, NASA-smart, and on the “multi-career” track, just like me.  When we finally sat down to talk, I realized it was Derick. After our talk, he caught me in the hall and handed me a copy of Houses of Common, which I probably would have bought anyway. “Hope you like it!”

I did. And I had questions. Let’s start with that “multi-career” track.

Derick:   By “multi-career” track, what you mean is “doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up.”

Ben: Well, yes.

Derick: I’ve ruled out biophysics researcher. Twelve hour days analyzing sheep urine in a basement lab through a dark Canadian winter converted my smooth, Baroque circadian rhythm to a syncopated cacophony.

I really miss high school sophomores. Teaching them biology meant spending more time with them than some of their parents. Helping fight scientific illiteracy in America and mentoring teens was the most important job I’ve ever done.

My current day job is an urgent care physician assistant. Mostly I treat sinus infections, but I get to fix a laceration or two every day. If I’m really lucky, I get to remove an ingrown toenail. Those days, the only difference between me and a mob goon doing some enforcing is that I inject a syringe full of lidocaine first. Gross equals awesome.

Ben: Your book assumes the reader knows something about a great many things. It assumes the reader can string together prior knowledge and bits of narrative data. The jokes and culture references come fast and quick. I love it. Are you worried that readers won’t be able to follow the breadcrumbs? I know I missed a few.

Derick: A little bit. But if you’ve ever read a book and felt like the author dumbed it down, you understand why I was fine with overcompensating. Not catching everything the first time? It’s fun. I’ve had to rewatch every episode of BBC’s Sherlock for the same reason, and it made me love them all the more.

Ben: That’s one of the reasons I loved Houses of Common. I felt like a kid again, swimming in the deep end with Clarke and Heinlein.

So. . .there was an a IKEA joke.  What possessed you to put an IKEA joke in Houses of Common? Or did you just take guilty pleasure in having a bombed out IKEA in your story. How many husbands do you think have had that same fantasy?

Derick: No clue, as I really don’t hang around many husbands. Not to imply I’m hanging around their wives, mind you…

If I had my way, my house would be a smorgasbord of Swedish design and quality. IKEA’s up there with the bikeshop and bookstore in my world. When I found there is in reality an IKEA right next to the Belfast airport, I knew my Irish terraformer/refugee group had found a home.

Ben: Not judging, but your experiences at IKEA . . . and with husbands and wives in general. . . may be a little different than mine.

But this is my case-in-point: there was something funny and slightly offensive on every page of your book. Is the sarcasm intuitive, or did Ranyk’s character develop over several drafts?

Derick: Meds ran out.

Ben: Aren’t you a Physician Assistant? You know what, nevermind. The sarcasm worked. I particularly liked how Ranyk puts himself at risk in the courtroom by pointing out the flaws in his own attorney’s arguments. The bit about ratios was especially funny.

Derick: I’m not a fan of court drama. Less a fan of learning enough to write one. So I thought to myself, WWRD? What would Ranyk do? I feel like I plagiarized that scene from my own brain.

Ben: I think we talked about this in February, but I’ve forgotten by now. Which end of the spectrum do you lean towards, discovery or outliner?

Derick: I make a solid outline, lots of diagrams and flowcharts. Some pencil or ink sketches of spaceships and faces, too. But if I get ideas while I write, I see where they go. Captain Gill, for example, had a half-chapter cameo in the original outline. Now he’s some readers’ favorite character with his patched vacsuit, self-maintained spaceship, and oblivion to social cues.

Ben: I loved Gill. Creepy and competent.

What about the focus on parental figures? I haven’t read many stories in the sci-fi or fantasy genre with parents as viewpoint characters. I especially liked the lacrosse practice scene and watching Inig process his son’s performance.  Why did you include that in your novel?

Derick: Purely a marketing ploy. Gotta squeeze in every demographic, yeah? I’m also creating a new genre. There’s young adult and new adult fiction, so what about new parent fiction? It’s about children who sleep through the night and don’t tease their siblings and empty the dishwasher without being asked.

Less flippantly, Orson Scott Card’s Homecoming Saga had a scene that stuck in my psyche. In a sequel, previously heroic protagonists were completely shackled from making attempts to right wrongs, because they couldn’t put their children at risk. It was a clever plot device in that story, but I wondered about results if they had tried.

I haven’t seen many great dads in sci-fi either. I enjoyed adding one.

Ben: Ok. My biggest question. Why the cliffhanger? Honestly. I mean, I know Ranyk’s future is looking up, but we still don’t know nearly enough about his political enemies or why the pirates sabatoged his project. I’d hoped for a little more closure!

Derick: Yeah. . . Um, sorry?

You don’t want to hear excuses, neither do all the Amazon reviewers who told me the same thing. But here’s a reason, then you all can forgive me, or not, at your whimsy: A friend put me in touch with an agent, whose first comment was, “Cut it in half.” So I shuffled scenes and reworked plot and finally put together the best ending I could without rewriting the second half of the book. After all that, the agent took a look and made a polite pass.

When I decided to self-publish, I debated whether to stitch the story back together, and left it separated. About a year after I published the second half as the sequel Meaner Sort, I read a fantastic article by David Farland on that very topic:

“Never split a story,” he said.


Ben: So you weren’t just being a jerk author?

Derick: Lesson learned a little late. Maybe I’ll recombine the two when books three and four of the series are done. But right now I’m distracted by my YA sci-fi, which is being considered by an editor. SpaceBoots is in the same universe as Houses of Common and Meaner Sort, but occurs seventy years earlier.

Ben: No harm done. I’m looking forward to reading Meaner Sort. And let us know when SpaceBoots comes out.

Derick: I disagree slightly with that first sentence, I’m glad to hear the second one, and swear I’m not checking my email multiple times a day to see if a certain editor has news about the third.

But yes, yes I will.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Nutmeg Apprentice, Yeah!

Those are the mis-heard words my kids sing to a Christmas song. It sounds like a jingle about a barista learning to spice the Polar Express hot chocolate. While dancing on the backs of the seats. I really should pen the rest of it.
But first, I have other projects.

Lone Wilderlands. I’ve always wanted a card game/tabletop RPG that can be played solo and is more portable than a book, but I’ve looked and looked and never found one. The mechanics of most RPGs don’t model physiology and psychology the way I’d like, either. So, I made my own. In the spring of 2018, I hope to have Lone Wilderlands: The Solo Sandbox RPG in a Cardbox available for purchase at TheGameCrafter.

SpaceBoots. My first young adult sci-fi is novel is complete. It’s currently on an editor’s desk at a publisher. Where exactly on that desk and under how big a pile, I don’t know. But how fun for Leo Jones and Hophnia Zimmerman! Maybe someday dozens millions hundreds of people will experience the heroes’ dual timeline misadventures in American middle schools and US Navy starships.

Fyrecon. I was recently invited to present at a three-day conference on writing and art in science fiction and fantasy. In June 2018, I’ll be teaching a workshop on Aerospace Medicine and perhaps a few other disease and pestilence things. It’s fun to dust off Mr. Dalton the high school biology teacher, and even more fun to spend time with writers.

Untitled Work in Progress. This one gets me really excited! I’m doing background reading for what I call frontier punk historical science-fiction. Did you know all the great scientists in history had bodyguards? No? They didn’t either…
So, that’s my Holiday Card to everyone: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Peaceful Solstice, Fab Festivus, Jolly Kwanzaa, and brilliant Boxing Day.
Did I forget anyone?

Oh. The nutmeg. Here it is in recipe context. Original lyrics by Isaiah, music by George Frederick Handel, and modifications by my offspring:

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
For the Lord’s Nutmeg Apprentice, yeah!

But the Nutmeg Apprentice isn’t the best musical malapropism to come out of my house. According to my age 8 son, Boris Karloff describes the Grinch a little more harshly than Dr. Seuss intended:

You’re a three-decker sour crotch and toadstool sandwich.

Put that on a Holiday Card.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Indie Authors. Local Libraries. Life Imitating Video Game Art.

October 8th was Indie Author Day. I don’t know who decided that, but I’m glad they did. I and other eastern Washington and northern Idaho authors (Pamela Aidan, A.R. Shaw, J.L. Parsons, David Mogen) helped my local library set up a day of presentations, workshops, and a panel. I guided a 16.67 Ideas Per Minute brainstorming session. (We didn’t have a full hour for an Orson Scott Card Thousand Ideas in an Hour session, and I didn’t want to falsely advertise.) We came up with a historical fiction book idea about a Civil War doctor for the Confederacy who’s having second thoughts about his allegiance while treating Union soldiers at a prison camp. I’m not a historical fiction fan, but it came together so fast I was hooked and wish someone would write it so I can devour the whole story.

In addition to DWD and J.L. Parsons, pictured are the alien Sckiik from the circa 2109 Virgina State Police (#housesofcommon), and Penelope Skye, resident dragon of the Kingly College Knight Classes and Dainty Damsel University of Distress (#aroyalmessbook). 

Those in attendance also watched a nationwide podcast from self-published authors and librarians. That was the new thing I learned I’ll be putting into place soon. Self-e.

Self-e is a free platform connecting self-published authors to libraries within their states. Here’s a link so you can check it out. Submissions are also sent for a national review, and if accepted are available nationwide. No cost to enroll, no royalties are paid out, but what an exposure platform! There’s also a category for books published outside the US. That's for my European and Canadian friends.  Happy Thanksgiving, by the way.

And the other Link, because he’s a trail running superstar, my video game hero, and I haven’t ever honored him in prose. He's taking donations for a shield upgrade. Anyone have 90 rupies to spare?

Which reminds me, the Hyrule triathlon jersey rides again next week. Well, runs again. Shelly missed me while I was gone on those long bikes rides, so no Ironman this year. Just a marathon.




Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Shelly Interviews Two Humans At Once

Male humans, what’s worse more. But one of them keeps the delicious earthworms coming, so let’s begin.

My name’s Shelly. I’m a box turtle and the writing partner of a science fiction author. But today isn’t about me. With me are authors Kevin Nielsen and Derick William Dalton. Mr. Nielsen is the author of Sands, a fantasy novel recently released by Future House Publishing. I devoured the plot summary about giant desert reptiles ruling an entire planet, causing mammals to live in abject terror. Had someone at last made an attempt to pander to the female terrapin demographic!? My breath caught in my throat. I started to cheer. Until I came to the part about reptiles being the bad guys. Mr. Nielsen, you’d better tell me right now there’s at least one smoking crater scene of a lizard-pillaged village or this interview is over.

KN – Well Shelly, you’re in luck, and may I say, you’re looking lovely today.  There are several scenes where the reptilian hordes reign supreme.  Now, I’m not going to give anything away, but the more you learn about these reptilian bad-guys, the more you’ll like.  They fly, they have metal bones, some of them even have poisonous spines, what’s not to love?

STBT – For one, flattery works on me. I am looking lovely. And metal bones? Poisonous spines? How come the males I find most interesting are either extinct or fictional? I wonder if human women have the same frustrations. Consider my interest renewed, Mr. Nielsen, and welcome to my this blog.
So. The other guest. Frankly, I’m a little peeved at Mr. Dalton just now. Last contract negotiation left me feeling manipulated. You’ll pardon me if can’t refrain from references to a higher quality of nightcrawler. Nonetheless, for those unacquainted, he’s the author of the science fiction novel Houses of Common, the sequel to which, Meaner Sort, will be available October 31st.

DWD – Yep. That’s book bomb day. But you forgot the short story collec-

STBT – Yes. A pleasure.
Mr. Nielsen, as I’m inundated with science fiction, your genre is refreshing. I’d really like to hear why that’s your mug of mead.

KN – Well, fantasy is my mug of mead for, most likely, the same reason that Mr. Dalton enjoys science fiction so much.  In essence, I like the way an author can tell a story that teaches a lesson in a way that keeps the reader entertained.  It’s not some boring, lecture hall, but an interactive, fun, and dynamic system which allows for everyone to come away both entertained and a little thoughtful.  It’s like how Houses of Common teaches you that you can do what’s right regardless of who you are, it is a choice rather than a destiny, and yet still gets you interested in terraforming and the cool new technologies in the world at the time the novel takes place.  But, Shelly, I’m curious, maybe Mr. Dalton can help us understand what the difference between fantasy and science fiction is and why science fiction is his personal beverage of choice.

DWD – In large part, it stems from my inability to restrain a desire to teach bio-

STBT – He was talking to me, Derick. In large part, it stems from his inability to restrain his inner geek. He devours Lord of the Rings annually, but when he writes, he can’t help showing off. You should see the piles of technojargon his editors and I make him cut. Leaving the mechanics of magic to the imagination is a fine art Mr. Tolkien mastered. Brevity, it seems, is also the soul of speculative fiction.

DWD – True, but I can’t be the only one who finds the biochemistry of genetic engineering interesting. Like Kevin’s entertaining lessons, I think fiction sparks interest in reality. And vice versa. Textbooks are where I’ve found many of my favorite ideas. Back me up here, Mr. Nielsen. Don’t you wish one of Tolkien’s appendices was a peek into Gandalf’s training? Or a pupil of his discovering how exactly one severs stone with a stick and casts an evil wizard’s influence out of an equestrian king?

KN – Of course I do – I will totally back you up on that one.  I would love to see the mechanics behind some of that magic.  That’s why I like “hard magic” systems where the magic is a function of the physical realm and is explained well.  Brandon Sanderson does this very well in many of his books, most notably the Mistborn books. 
As Derick will no doubt tell you, technology and magic are only distinguishable by how we designate them.  If we can quantify, manipulate, and understand it to some extent, enough to lump it into an already known category, it is called science.  If it defies the known laws or understandings of the universe, we call it magic.

STBT – So Mr. Nielsen, you suggest the real difference between magic and science is only an explanation of how it works, and Mr. Dalton is comparing himself to J.R.R. Tolkien?

DWD – What? No! To the second part, anyway. As to the first, Kevin’s in good company. In 1961 Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I love the mystery of magic when I read, but I can’t bring myself to leave out an explanation when I write. My iPhone is better than Captain Kirk’s tricorder. 1905 magic became 1966 science fiction became 2015 science fact.

STBT – Restrain the nerd! You can’t even use half the functions on your iPhone, and now you’re comparing Mr. Nielsen to Arthur C. Clarke? You’re mixing up the genres, pal. You’ve also got a thing for 20th century Brits, which makes this entire conversation a little too machismo for my taste. So let’s talk about Mr. Nielsen’s protagonist. Unleash some girl power. What lessons or ideas were you trying to convey that only a female character could wield?

KN – Well, for one thing, that girls are just as strong as boys (or women as strong as men) though they have different strengths.  It is hard to see in the first book, but as the series progresses, you’ll see more of how both gender roles are separate and distinct, yet both strong, both fulfilling, and – in many cases – overlap quite well with one another.  Strength comes in many forms and there are several female characters in the book which typify various aspects of it.
In all honesty, I started writing this book with a female protagonist simply because I had never had a female protagonist in one of my books before and it evolved from there.
Oh, and Shelly – if Mr. Dalton were to give you some tasty worms, would you cut him any slack?  He’s a good guy, you know.

STBT – See Mr. Dalton? Your friend gets it after a five minute conversation. Tell us about Sckiik.

DWD – Shelly’s favorite, the alien security officer in Houses of Common.  A former cop, she takes out assassins and flies starships and puts up with obnoxious male family members. In discussing women in literature with my wife, she pointed out a common mistake writers make in creating strong female leads: They just put lipstick and a skirt on a tough guy. She hates that, and after pointing out examples, I saw how poorly it works. Aggression, brutality, not a fit without context. Have you noticed that Kevin? How do you avoid it?

KN – Well, there are many sides of every individual.  The best advice I ever heard about a character who is the opposite gender from the writer was at an LTUE Symposium.  I can’t remember the speaker, but the gist of it was “write them as a person first, and the gender will work itself out.”  There is no “one-size fits all” definition of what a “strong woman” entails.  Some of them are aggressive and brutal, though they will often demonstrate it in different ways than a man would.  I think the way to avoid taking a man and simply “putting them in lipstick and skirt” (or taking a woman and putting them in men’s clothing) is to make sure you have a real character – if they seem like a real person, the way they express their strengths (and weaknesses) will come naturally and fit both the story and the character arc.  Shelly, you’re a girl, though of a different species – do you have any thoughts?

STBT – Part of me thinks you two are just reading marketing reports and pandering.

DWD – Yeah, Insurgent and Hunger Games fans are bored of that strong female stuff. Our books will never fly, Kevin. Maybe I should write an alternate history where Governor George Wallace was an alien in disguise. He tries to protect his species from the deadly human pheromones he thinks are most potently exuded by Alabama women of African descent.

STBT – What’s that burning smell, Mr. Dalton? Oh. Your writing career.

Mr. Nielsen and Mr. Dalton can be followed on their author pages (Kevin, DWD).