After 30 years…”The Quality of Mercy”

Written By: catherinewells | Categorized In: Short Stories, Speculative Fiction, Writing and Publishing | Comments: 0

A long time ago, after the sale of my first novel, I tried to write a short story called “The Quality of Mercy,” about a researcher studying a proto-human species on a distant planet.  Her foil was a character who later became Soln Shipner in “Beyond the Gates.”  I don’t think I even sent it to my agent.  I may not have had an agent at the time.

Then during the years I was pitching to “Star Trek: TNG,” I wrote a spec script using the same story but integrating TNG characters.  Like my pitches, it went nowhere.

Last summer as I was cleaning out my files, I came across the script and thought, “I should do something with this.”  So I did.  Same basic plot, same theme, but with a new perspective (mine) and a new foil.  In the original version, it was the foil who learned something; in this one, it’s the protagonist.  Apparently I, too, have learned something in the intervening years, because Analog just offered to buy “The Quality of Mercy.”

I’ll pass along pub information when I have it.


It’s time for TusCon again!

Written By: catherinewells | Categorized In: Speculative Fiction, TusCon, Writing and Publishing | Comments: 0

If you enjoy science fiction and fantasy conventions, please stop by TusCon 2017, Nov. 10-12.  I understand the block of hotel rooms is sold out, so there should be a good crowd.  You can find more programming information here:  And of course, I’ll be there doing some panels.  My schedule is posted here:

Hope to see you there!


A Perfect Rant

Written By: catherinewells | Categorized In: Writing and Publishing | Comments: 0

If you hang around writer-types for any length of time, you will eventually be treated to a rant on the decline of the English language.  We rant about everything from poor grammar to worse punctuation to loss and/or cheapening of vocabulary.  This is my contribution to the latter category.

Why is everything these days “perfect”?  I know what perfect means, and somehow, I don’t think it applies to my order in a restaurant.  Why is my order “perfect”?  What would make it imperfect?  Omitting the fries?  Ordering the wrong beverage?  And who is the server to tell me if my order is perfect or not?  Do they know who I am, or what I want or need?  Why are an evening’s plans “perfect”?  Could there be no better plans?  Does that make every evening that goes according to the plan a perfect evening?

“Perfect” has come to mean something other than “without flaw or defect.”  It has come to mean “appropriate” or “I approve” or even “that makes sense to me.”  Really?  So what do we say when we mean something is without flaw or defect?  Flawless?  (I swear, if a restaurant server tells me my order is flawless, I’m likely to get up and leave.)  What, now, is a perfect copy?  One that is an exact copy of the original?  Or simply one that’s appropriate to the situation?

We did the same thing to “awesome” back in the…80s?  It no longer means something that fills you with awe, it just means something you like.  We’ve taken the depth and the richness right out of it.  Diminished it.  Let’s go back to an adjective that is appropriate to the depth of feeling we have for things like plans to see a movie or an order for a cheeseburger.  Those things are not perfect.

They’re groovy.


Sperm cells from skin cells

Written By: catherinewells | Categorized In: Short Stories, Writing and Publishing | Comments: 0

I was listening to NPR the other day–I forget which program–and they interviewed a researcher who has successfully taken skin cells, treated them to make them blank like T-cells, then injected them into sperm-bearing places in mice.  The result:  they became primitive sperm cells.  The idea, of course, is to help infertile couples conceive, but the ramifications are…interesting.  The article pointed out that some enterprising person might collect skin cells from famous people, or even dead people (provided the cells were still viable), and create offspring for that individual.  Even without the individual’s knowledge or consent.

Wow.  Now, there’s a–if you’ll pardon the pun–fertile idea for science fiction if I ever heard one.  Stories about cloning generally start with an egg and involve the participation of the donor, but this…  You could snatch a hair, and if it had a couple of skin cells attached, you’d have your material.  The NPR piece talked about possible legislation to forbid making someone a parent without his consent, but that would just force the practice into the black market.

Hm.  What kind of a sleazebag would steal skin cells, turn them into sperm, and sell them?  And what kind of desperate or obsessive people would buy them?  Definitely a story in there somewhere, if I can just find it…


The Play’s the Thing

Written By: catherinewells | Categorized In: Theater and plays, Tucson, Writing and Publishing | Comments: 0

I was a theatre major way back in the day, and my first writing success was as a playwright.  I drifted away from it when I found out novels pay better, but now and then I get the urge to go back.  It’s usually sparked by attending a live performance.  So last week I saw Winding Road Theatre’s dynamic production of “Cabaret.”  Forget the film version–the stage show will send chills up your spine when done right, and believe me, this was done right.

No, I don’t have any plans to sit down and write another play.  I’ve just started a new novel, and I have two musicals sitting on the shelf because they are so blasted hard to market.  The only way to sell a play is to get it produced, and I refuse to produce my own stuff.  As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m a lousy producer, and my plays deserve someone better.  But seeing that kind of energy, that kind of artistry, up on the stage…it did bring back memories.  One of these days…


First breath of autumn

Written By: catherinewells | Categorized In: Tucson, Writing and Publishing | Comments: 0

It was 60 degrees when I woke up this morning, the first time the temperatures in Tucson have dropped that low since last May.  Ahhh!  I don’t care if it gets up to 90 today, autumn is coming.  We’re on the cusp.

I’ve been semi-retired–not from writing, of course–since last November, and although it wasn’t my idea, I have to say I like these 5-day weekends. And now that the weather is moderating, I’m looking forward to spending more time outside.  There’s not much yard space in my 10-per-acre lot, but I’ve acquired a new outdoor hobby:  walking the neighborhood picking up trash.  Really.  I take a grocery bag, wear a rubber glove, and get a bit of bending and stretching to go with my heel-strikes.  (Woman over 30, pay attention–you need load-bearing exercise and heel-strikes to preserve your bones.)  I read somewhere that neighborhoods that are well-kept and show pride of place have less trouble with litter, so I think of it as creating a milieu that breeds a better milieu, but that’s not why I do it.  Truth be known, I’m something of a compulsive personality.  A place for everything and everything in its place.  (My mother would laugh–she remembers my bedroom when I was growing up.  I was *not* a neat freak.)

So with this extra time on my hands, am I writing more books?  Tons of short stories?  Not really.  I have a stockpile I’m trying to sell, so I spend a lot of time editing existing works and sending out queries.  And waiting.  I hate waiting.  Waiting is not my strong suit.

But I have a new book idea germinating, an SF/Fantasy novel that has reminded me of the second most important question in writing fiction.  The first, of course, is:  What if…?  The second is:  Why?  Why do the characters do what they do?  Why does the action take place here and not there?  And why should the reader care?

Much to ponder.


May 21st

Written By: catherinewells | Categorized In: Tucson, Writing and Publishing | Comments: 0

I made it till almost 8:30 this morning with all the windows open.  Then I could feel the house getting warmer, so I closed everything and turned on the AC.  Welcome to Tucson.

I’ve been editing a novel I wrote in 1997.  It’s amazing how things have changed in the past 15 years.  The Internet was new, and the characters use a dial-up connection.  People think one of the characters looks like Antonio Banderas because he has a ponytail.  Another character makes a joke about Loni Anderson.  Do readers today even know who Loni Anderson is?  I think they’ll remember the A Team, but I’m not sure.

Back to work.


Life mirrors art …

Written By: catherinewells | Categorized In: Writing and Publishing | Comments: 0

I wrote a short story last week, for the first time in a very long time. I’ve been editing old material, polishing novels, and even started a new novel, but this was a brand new idea with brand new characters, and the process was … exhilarating. I had forgotten what an addiction this can be.

When I write a novel, I usually know the general direction I’m going before I start. True, I usually wind up changing everything about five chapters in, and I often don’t find the theme of the work till I’m two-thirds of the way though, but at least I know the general course of the action and who the main characters are.

With this one, I sat down with only a concept of the place and the time shifts that go on there, and even that was fuzzy. I picked a character with whom I could identify, and then I picked another one to tell the story, and I employed my favorite technique: I let them talk to each other. (If you have never seen the play, “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” you really should.)

Then, like places in the story, things began to shift. I thought thia was going to be about her, and it turned out to be about him. He collects data on a phenomenon, but he’s become intrigued with things that shouldn’t affect the outcome, and at the end of the story it all clicks into place for him. Which is exactly what happened to me as I was writing the story. I felt like the guy in Close Encounters: “This means something.” But I honestly did not know what it was until I got there and the words came out on the page. And, click: there it was, the point of the whole story.

The subconscious mind is an amazing thing…


Getting a book published

Written By: catherinewells | Categorized In: Writing and Publishing | Comments: 0

My cousin Peggy contacted me recently to ask how a friend of hers would go about getting a book published.  You know, that’s a darned good question, and one I get asked from time to time.  So I thought I’d post a few words.

First, you have to write a really good book.  If you think your book has promise and a professional editor will help you get it in shape, it’s not ready to send to a publisher.  Hire that professional editor if you have the money–there are plenty of them around.  If you don’t, then look for free advice from 1) writers groups–online or in person; 2) friends who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth; 3) avid readers who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth.  Oh, yes, you can ask other writers, but bear in mind that most of us are busy writing and editing our own stuff and we don’t really have time to look at other material, especially from someone we don’t know.  But if you have the good fortune to know another writer, and that writer is willing to look at your material, please–listen to what they tell you.  You may not like it, but it’s probably true.  Don’t get your back up and think the other writer is jealous; I don’t know anyone in this profession who wouldn’t go out of their way to help another writer get started.  It’s like an addiction–you want everyone else to be addicted, too.  And please:  grammar, punctuation, spelling.  Yes, they really are important.  If you want to be taken seriously, take your tools seriously.

Second, do your market research.  Find out who publishes the kind of book you’ve written.  Check the Writer’s Market or Literary Marketplace or any of the dozens of online sources available.  (But be sure you check when the information was written/posted–old information won’t do you any good.)  Many publishers will not take unsolicited manuscripts; and many will not take manuscripts from unagented writers.  (Getting an agent–that’s a topic for another day.) Once you have a publisher in mind, check their submission guidelines and FOLLOW THEM!  Seriously.  If you ignore their guidelines, they will ignore your manuscript.

Third, sell your book.  To the publisher, I mean.  Tell them why they should buy this book:  give them your credentials (are you a subject expert ? have you been published elsewhere, maybe some nonfiction?) and any marketing plans you may have (have you got 10,000 fans who follow your blog, just waiting for your book to come out?).  Then give them an exciting synopsis of your work.  Paint the characters.  Outline the major plot points.  Show how the characters change during the action.  And yes, you must tell them the ending.  Don’t give them a teaser and hope they’ll read the whole book to find out how it ends.  That’s won’t be intrigued, or amused.

If you search the ‘Net, you’ll find lots of information posted about how to write a query letter and synopsis, much of it written by editors and agents.  I can’t overstress doing your research.

But first, remember, you have to write a really good book.