For everyone who can’t get enough of my dinosaur stories, I’m pleased to announce that the terrific folks at Digital Science Fiction have reprinted my stand-alone story Dino Mate. It features Marty and Julianna, the intrepid time travelers of “Not with a Bang” and “Diamond Jim and the Dinosaurs.” But the real stars are the Jurassic kentrosauruses, those fantastical creatures sporting spikes along their tails and the plates of a stegosaurus. They’re a little-known African dinosaur discovered over a hundred years ago in what was then German East Africa.
I hope you’ll give it a read.
One of my favorite protagonists, Marty Zuber, returns to the pages of Analog (April 2016) to discover that the slipperiest of creatures may not be a Cretaceous dinosaur but rather is Diamond Jim, a fellow time traveler. Worse yet, Diamond Jim has teamed up with Marty’s rival, Derek Dill. The story is set in Antarctica. Yes indeed, our southernmost continent teemed with all manner of dinosaurs, to say nothing of other exotic critters. The April issue of Analog should go on sale any day now. I hope you’ll continue to follow Marty’s Mesozoic adventures with Julianna, which began in “Not With a Bang,” (Analog, July/August 2013) and continued in “Dino Mate” (Analog, December 2014). If you missed those earlier stories, you can still obtain single issues. Also, check back later as I’ll have more news on where you can read about Marty, Julianna, and Mesozoic dinosaurs.
I’m happy to see one of my favorite time travel movies (the original, not the sequels) getting so much attention today. Not only is it a fun story, but it also happens to be the reason why I named my own time-traveling protagonist “Marty.”
I set out to write science fiction and fantasy quite a number of years after having received one of the best gifts of my life. In fact, so many years had elapsed that I no longer thought much about this marvelous gift. No, I don’t mean the ability to create stories, but rather a more fundamental gift, which turned out to be the first of several that have come to me courtesy of fantasy and science fiction. But already I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me begin again.
Soon after sitting down to capture on paper the characters, conversations, and non-existent worlds whirling through my mind, I began to get intimations that creating fiction can be a hard business built on considerable labor for little return. With effort and persistence quite beyond the point where a less stubborn person would turn to a more rewarding endeavor, there did come a point—a seemingly miraculous one at that—where I learned that one of my stories had been accepted for publication. Little did I know that this particular story wouldn’t see print until six years after I sold it, and that turned out to be several years after I’d had other stories published. At any rate, I remember the sheer excitement of holding in my hands the anthology containing my first published story, and of opening the book to find my name (spelled correctly!) together with the title listed in the table of contents. Better yet, there was my story on the page indicated, with my name in out-sized letters. My first publication was way more than enough to keep me filling pages with imaginary people and events for a good while.
And so I wrote through the solitude of the hours and days in which the majority of the conversations I heard took place between people who didn’t exist, people who lived in imaginary lands, people who struggled to overcome all manner of problems large and small that also didn’t exist. Inevitably, a moment came to me, as it does to nearly all the authors I’ve talked to about writing, when the thrill of seeing my work in print and on an electronic screen, no matter how marvelously illustrated, was no longer enough to propel me through what looked to be a discouraging ocean of indifference populated by far too many sea beasts of rejection, ever ready to bite and slash and snark.
Thankfully, I had a secret weapon to supplement raw determination. I could draw upon a huge gift that my Mom had given to me as a child. Actually, she gave me two gifts. First, my mother taught me to read. Second, she surrounded me with all manner of wondrous, fantastical tales. While growing up, I had devoured Greek, Roman and Norse myths before branching out to Dr. Seuss, Alice in Wonderland, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I visited as many exotic lands as a kid who lived in an uneventful country village could find. I spent endless hours with fascinating new people, gravitating to the ones who weren’t human. Naturally, there came a time when I moved on to the stories it seemed like everyone of my generation read: Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, The Martian Chronicles, A Wizard of Earthsea, Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, on and on. The gift of being able to sink into new books, fresh characters, and far-flung worlds never grew stale, never lost its enchantment. As time goes by, I only discover more and more marvelous tales told by remarkable writers. For it is gifted writers who continue to inspire me, who stir up my own urges to return to the keyboard once more, who drive me back to listening and watching those characters in my head as they struggle to deal with their predicaments, which are no less my own and everyone else’s too.
And yet, notwithstanding the renewed burst of energy and enthusiasm for writing, there still comes a point where my fingers falter. Sometimes the characters wander off into complacency or the plot lurches into predictability. I sit and wonder why I am doing this. That’s when it’s time to take out and unwrap another gift, one which writing fantasy and science fiction has given me. I summon up the looks on the faces of those in the audience when I do readings—their expressions as they sink into the characters, their growing worry as they apprehend mounting threats to those characters coupled with the closing off of options that the characters might take to deal with their problems. Above all, I watch my listeners’ growing need to find out how it all comes out. Their responses to the ending can be fascinating. Once, I received the gift of being berated by a distraught woman whose favorite character didn’t survived the final encounter.
Because I’ve always reveled in being swept away to fabulous worlds, I cherish the gift of being able to transport readers to distant lands, whether real or imaginary. My Mom is the reason why I treasure this gift the most. One day, a few years ago, I had been struggling to write a time travel story and eventually decided that my mother would make a terrific main character. Problem was that, though she had an adventurous streak, she was terrified of airplanes and had never flown in one. So I called her up and asked her about time travel. Hypothetically, if she were to win an all-expenses-paid trip for two to the Cretaceous—the land of the dinosaurs—would she go? “Oh yes,” she said without a bit of hesitation. “It’s some place I’ve never been.” That was the moment I knew I absolutely had to write “Mom and the Ankylosaur.” Alas, she passed away not long after the story was published. But I did have the joy of doing a reading of the story at her local library; she and her book-club friends all turned out. Of all my memories of her throughout the years—and she lived to be eighty—my most treasured one is the look on her face that evening as she listened to her own adventure in the Mesozoic.
Final note: This blog post is cross-posted at the SFWA blog, which has been featuring posts by various writers as part of its count down to its 50th anniversary festivities in June. If you know nothing about that, you are in for a treat, or rather, a number of treats. So get on over to their site and read what Robert Silverberg and others have to say. https://www.sfwa.org/blogs/sfwa-blog/
Raise your hand if you can name two dinosaurs from the once-reknown Tendaguru fossil beds of Tanzania. . . . Didn’t think so. After lending their considerable support to the theory of continental drift, these truly remarkable Jurassic beasts seem to have gone out of fashion. Maybe that’s because the excavations in what was once German East Africa took place over a hundred years ago. Or perhaps it’s because the fossils ended up on display in Germany, not in the U.S. More’s the pity.
Here’s a brief sample of what was uncovered:
- The largest complete Brachiosaurus skeleton in the world.
- Bad-ass bi-pedal theropods like Elaphrosaurus, Allosaurus, and the horned-nose Ceratosaurus. Carnivores like T. rex and Velociraptor have got nothing on these top-of-the-food-chain predators.
- Kentrosaurus, which is a stegosaur that sports foot-long spikes down its spine and tail, in addition to the familiar bony plates between its shoulder blades.
I liked that Kentrosaurus so much that I made it the star of my latest Analog story, Dino Mate. Check out the December 2014 issue of the magazine, which just came out.
Wooing that special creature who makes one’s heart beat faster can’t be easy, considering that row of two-foot long spikes running down one’s back and tail. Or if your plan to go time-jumping with the woman of your dreams ends up as a threesome. My latest story—Dino Mate—is a lighthearted look at love in the Jurassic Era. Check out the December 2014 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact for a sequel to my previous story, Not With a Bang.
Today, I’ve just about completed the casting for the dinosaurs starring in a new story set in the Jurassic. The competition for a role in my story was tough, as I’ve said “sorry, no” to Allosaurus, and Stegosaurus, and the entire herd of Apatosaurs. I mean, impressive as they are, haven’t we all seen these guys enough already?
Besides, some fresh-faced discoveries are coming from China, and are they ever strutting their feathers. For example, Anchiornis huxleyi showed up for the audition sporting long black and white feathers on all four limbs, rather like a mutant chicken. Next, little Epidexipterxy hui, dropped out of the trees and wowed me with a set of upper and lower fangs that any vampire would envy. Even the modest little ornithopods are more than they seem. Naturally, one can never discount Juramaia sinensis, the mammal that just might steal the show.
In other words, I’ve been doing research. But don’t suppose that means the next step will be plotting, to be followed by writing. No indeed. I had already sketched out six scenes and written 5000 words before most of the non-human cast arrived. You see, when I’m enthusiastic about a project, I start writing as soon as any characters or critters start doing interesting stuff. Put another way, just as character and plot are intrinsically intertwined, I find that so are researching, plotting, and writing.
“The dinosaur lowered its head and charged straight at Marty.”
Er … um … so what happens next in the story? I’m fond of my protagonist, so he better raise a big gun and act fast, but what exactly should he do? How long does it take to slip off the safety? Does he aim for the eyeball? How about that mouth filled with razor-sharp fangs? Are either of those actions feasible? How much is the beast’s head bobbing around? For that matter, if the dinosaur’s brain is the size of a walnut, might it be better to try for the heart? Or perhaps the kneecap? How much ground would the dinosaur cover after a bullet pierced its heart? What caliber projectile would be needed to pierce that tough hide, or bony outer layer?
So much is conjecture. Yet, all too often, I read or hear about authors making rookie mistakes when they write about firing weapons. That’s one reason why I took the opportunity, today, to visit a local shooting range with one of the world’s leading firearms experts, who is also a wilderness survival trainer. For the first time in my life, I fired several weapons, including a 22 revolver and a light hunting rifle. I found out just how loud the discharge is (while wearing ear-protection), as well as what the recoil feels like. Equally important was the chance to get a sense of the distances to various targets, as well as learning how to hold the weapon, aim, and pull the trigger.
What’s more, we discussed hypothetical encounters with dinosaurs in the Mesozoic, how my characters might arm themselves, how they might stay out of trouble, and survival strategies when trouble comes head on. One possibility is bear spray (strong pepper spray), although its effectiveness against a dinosaur of any size is also unknown.
As much as I dislike the grim idea of firing at any beasts of the Cretacean wilderness, I’m not going to drop my characters in a prehistoric jungle without giving them the means to return alive.
I’m happy to announce that the December issue of Analog will include a story of mine, which features some characters you may have seen before (in Not with a Bang) as they contend with some of my favorite Jurassic dinosaurs, including the Kentrosaurus.
One of my favorite dinosaurs is the Kentrosaurus. What’s that you say, you’ve never heard of it? Well, think of a Stegasaurus whose designers couldn’t agree as to whether it should have plates or spikes poking out along its spine from stem to stern. So, in best consensus-building tradition, the committee members ordered up some of both. Here ’tis:
Though it may look fierce, this creature was a plant-eater living in East Africa during the Late Jurassic, 156-150 million years ago. I like it so well that it’s going to star in my next short story to see print. More about that later. As they say, watch this space.