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Finishing Up At Gettysburg

View from the Union position at Brian Farm
Back from the reunion in Staunton VA, and I completed the research at the Gettysburg Battlefield that was interrupted eight years ago by a heart problem. It wasn't book research. It had to do with a real unit in the North Carolina Infantry that my character was in, and whose individual members I had brought to life and followed through so many battles from New Bern all the way to Appomattox.

The unit was Company E of the 18th North Carolina Infantry, Lane's Brigade, Pender's Division, 3rd Corps. Its assault goal was just north of The Angle in what is popularly called "Pickett's Charge," but which in North Carolina is known as "Generals Pettigrew and Trimble's famous charge, sometimes referred to by the name of a Virginia officer."

The company's starting position, in the photograph, is just to the left of where those cars are parked in the distance. It is a little under a mile away. The view is from the Union position at Brian Farm on Cemetary Ridge. The original plan was to follow the steps of the 18th to find out if the ground had anything to say to me, and it did. I also was certain that the ghosts of that company would talk to me, at best; or give me a chill or two at least. Neither happened.

It wasn't July 3rd 1863, a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, with thousands of soldiers behind stone walls shooting down at me. I learned valuable things about the ground, however: where the men of Company E were in range, when the ground dipped and they were no longer in line-of-sight of the Union troops, when they were in open fields, when they were among trees, where the fences were, the streams and creek beds, the buildings, and so on. The novel is a work of fantasy, but the characters and background were very real. I'm grateful that I was well enough to follow those footsteps.

I managed to get my old GoPro working and made a video of my walk, and as soon as I can figure out how to piece it all together, I'll make it available. Read More 
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More Distractions and the Lure of the Other . . .

Bullock Road, Chancellorsville
So, heading down to Virginia in a few days to attend the SMA/VWIL reunion, which will give me the opportunity to do the Gettysburg Battlefield to complete a bit of research that was interrupted by a heart problem the previous time I was there eight years ago. My character, among other lives, also was a member of the 18th North Carolina Infantry in the famous assault upon Cemetary Ridge. I know from where they started and where they were supposed to end up. I had intended walking that route eight years ago, but ran out of air.

Well, in preparing for the trip, I realized I could remember almost nothing about the book I had written whose rewrite had been postponed pending another shot at Pickett's charge. So, I began reviewing the notes, the character names, the many peculiar situations my character gets in, the locations, then I turned to the manuscript. I fiddled with the title until I had a new one: Alan Trevane: Permutations. Then I almost turned to the first page----

----Jesus! This book is like quicksand, sucking me in, dragging my focus away from The War Whisperer. It's like a put-aside mistress I hadn't thought about for years beckoning from the shadows. "C'mon, Barry. You don't have to do a thing. Just look at the first page. One little peek---"

Got to concentrate on the War Whisoperer (or however the damn thing is spelled). Concen . . . funny thing about the 18th North Carolina. They were organized as the 8th NC, but in the larger organization their number didn't fit, see, so they were made the 18th, which meant new insignia, new flags . . .

. . . What? War Whisper what? I'll be there in a minute. . . .See, that picture. Well, that's where Alan Trevane stood that night at the Battle of Chancellorsville when he fired that shot that hit General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson taking him from the fray and eventually killing him. That's why the 18th North Carolina----
----Will somebody tell that other book to shut up?

*Puff, puff, puff*
. . . Now, where was I?
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"I'm so mad I can't write," and other distractions

Squirrel! . . . .
I was angry, then depressed, despairing for the sanity and freedom of my country. That kind of stuff is a loud horn next to the whisper of the story muse. It dries up the writing. What was it all about?

The neo-brownshirts managed to violently prevent another speaker from being heard at another college campus. Anyone with a love of the First Amendment, particularly writers, would look upon such occurrences with alarm, one would think—or, at least, I thought. One would think wrong, however. If the speaker getting pepper sprayed is politically to the right of Roger Moore, then there is no cause for alarm. If the students and ticket holders to the event came to hear such a speaker, then beating them, hitting them with pepper spray, denying them the words, and setting fire to the meeting place is okay to many persons in the media, commentators, the hoards on social media, and even some folks who at one time were rash enough to call me "friend."

I still have a lot of writing to do on my current project and can't afford to take time off to turn my crank and bleat my protests at the daily injustices I see before me. Words-per-day, every day, is the only way to get the book written. Still, I was hopelessly depressed and not writing anything until a tiny voice in my head said, "Don't waste it; Put it in the book."

My current project is a libertarian science-fiction epic in which, among many other things, violent forces attempt to shout down and beat down those with opposing views. It fit, what my character would do about it fit, and all of it fueled by my anger and despair? The scene began writing itself in my mind (I was on a treadmill). As soon as I'm finished with this post, I'm putting that scene into the story and tying it into the entire political matrix of the story universe. And I already know that scene will smoke.

You feel strongly against the results of the election, you feel strongly for the results of the election, don't waste it on Facebook or Twitter; Put it in the story.

Anger, fear, loss, disappointment, outrage, love, lust, obsession —it is all valuable story material, the kind that puts an electric edge on what you write. Listen to those little voices. they will inject life, meaning, and purpose into your writing. Don't tell your therapist about them, however. Word to the wise.
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It doesn't have so much to do with writing. The previous post to the Webmansion Writers Blog has to do with being a writer. It also has to do with being a performer, artist, student, teacher, lecturer, or anyone else who holds social, political, or economic views different from those in control of that person's means of advancing or making a living. During the campaigns, I caught someone on camera attempting to steal my Trump sign that I had cleverly cemented into the ground. I put the pictures up on Facebook because I thought all of my "pals" would get a kick out of it.

The reactions were predictable, although I didn't see them coming. You see, most of the writers, publishers, artists, producers, college teachers, and book publishers I know consider themselves either "liberal" or "progressive," to use the more current term. Ask them about being open and affirming, advocating diversity, and freedom of thought, speech, and press, and they are all for them. Then it became known that I had a Trump sign on my property. The issue wasn't the thief who attempted to abrogate my freedom of speech, or the more amusing likelihood he dislocated his shoulder in attempting to do so as the vehicle in which he was riding took off. The overwhelming issue was, "What was a Trump sign doing on Barry's property?" That was fine, as far as it went. As I responded, "To catch the big ones you need to use great bait."

Then began a rash of comments linking Trump to racism, misogynism (I'm making that a word), Islamophobia, the Nazi party(!), disregard and destruction of the environment, an enemy of educating America's youth, and the end to life as we know it. By association, I was linked to these things, as well. Well, exercising a flaw I share with former President Obama, I attempted to state the facts and the conclusions I had drawn from them. Obviously my mistake had been an error in messaging. I posted what I thought was a reasonable take-a-breath and calm-down message.

Suddenly men and women I have known for years, and in some cases decades, are running around in the sandbox, waving their tiny plastic shovels, and screaming with their hair on fire. The sentiments were often insulting, hurtful, usually senseless, and they keep coming. Some of those comments were coming from fans of mine as well as former writing students of mine, so I patched up my Obama flaw again and posted "A Few Notes On Voting Trump" in this blog on writing.

Okay, all of the above is free speech, and freedom to react to speech with more speech. But writers, artists, actors, news writers and deliverers, screenwriters, college instructors, students all across America who hold either conservative or libertarian views have been held back and often frozen out of their occupations by those same persons who laud attitudes of openness, diversity, and freedom of expression. I won't burden you with all the examples I know of. Just a taste: How many conservative speakers have you seen on the news who have been turned away by either college faculties or thuggish student demonstrations at publically funded institutions where freedom of expression, and protecting that right, is law? If you are an actor in Hollywood and have conservative or libertarian leanings, you keep your mouth shut or parrot the party line, or you simply don't work. Conservative college instructors who got tenure? Hello. Your meeting is in the off-campus phone booth near the meat packing plant. Conservative students who insist on being vocal about it getting scholarships or accepted at certain institutions, or maintaining their positions on student publications? Lots of luck.

In my own little case, I have had manuscripts turned down for libertarian political content. I have had editors post with me or with my agent "Don't bother sending Longyear's shit here" notices, due to political differences with some of my tales. I haven't sold a novel manuscript to a recognized major publisher since 1998. If my agent didn't have other clients he'd be on food stamps.

Fortunately, we live in technologically enlightened times. Just as social media and cable news outlets have made it possible for modern celebrities and politicians to get around the censorship, slant, and choke points of traditional news venues, modern book publishing technology has made it possible for the individual writer to get around traditional publishing prejudices and reach the reading marketplace. The many dozens of my readers in my tasteful and highly select audience can get my more current works through Enchanteds, our own publishing imprint made possible by Amazon's Kindle and CreateSpace publishing platforms, and the Authors Guild Backinprint program. I do not reach the millions of readers available though big publishing marketing, but the economics of small publishing these days is such that my brilliant, discriminating platoon of readers are sufficient to keep coffee in my pot, pork chops on the table, and me writing and publishing more stories.

My current work, The War Whisperer, is something I have been working on, in fits and starts, since 1963. Through the eyes of an abandoned boy who was literally born into government service, we see through his trials and adventures what the world is, what's wrong, and the implementation of a way to harness human dreams and potential toward achieving those things that today have almost become meaningless as words: freedom, achievement, prosperity, fulfillment. It is a blatantly libertarian science-fiction epic. This work is currently under construction as seven books. The way I write, I need to have the last one written and all of the others subsequently rewritten before I can allow any of them out of the shop. It is a great story, an important story, and it is being written by me. Those who like my stuff will like how this is written. Those who don't like my stuff, put in an Amazon search for someone whose writing you do like. The point is, unless there are some major shifts in attitudes, personnel, or ownership of major publishing houses in the next few months, you are never going to see The War Whisperer coming from any of the big traditional publishers.

I am not the only author the publishing establishment chose to repress. I'd love to list a few names of conservatives writing with words dressed in progressive verbiage, but the guys currently doing it need to make a living. Today it is much like during the days of the House Un-American Activities Committee back in the Nineteen Fifties when actors and writers who were Communist Party members, or who just attended a meeting or lecture, were frozen out of Hollywood, publishing, and performing. You don't have to be very old to remember history and the Nazis firing university professors who were Jewish or otherwise did not follow the party line. The same thing in Soviet Russia after the revolution. If you weren't Red, you were economically dead.

And just as sure as eggs is eggs, those same anti-Trump, anti-conservative, anti-libertarian folks condemning me and the American electorate will see no parallels between the "spontaneous" demonstrations against Trump, and most recently against his pick for the Supreme Court, and the "spontaneous" Sturmabteilung (Storm Detachment, aka "brown shirt") demonstrations in the Nineteen Twenties and Thirties designed to disrupt Adolph Hitler's opponents and repress intellectuals, Jews, Gypsies, unionists, etc., etc. Well, yeah, many of the current crop of protestors are paid to burn buildings, attack people, riot to cut off free expression, slander, vandalize, and inconvenience everyone, but they don't march in step and don't wear brown shirts—most of them. And when you think about it, Trump voters deserve it, don't they? Just like back in Berlin with those dirty commies and Jews . . . Uh, who were supposed to be the Nazis again?

So, it all has to do with being writers and that pesky old First Amendment. If you write, and if what is important to you is what you write about, then the First Amendment is your protection against the brown shirts, the paisley shirts, and the paid agitators, but only if it is enforced. Whoever gets shouted down or frozen out is important, no matter who is choking off the words nor who is getting choked. It was the anti-communists choking off the lefties back in the 'Fifties, and the lefties choking off the conservatives and libertarians up until recently. Doesn't matter whether you think someone deserves to be unheard, confined, punished, and unpaid, the loss of that person's freedom to use words is everyone's loss.

Interesting dilemma coming up in New England, 6:30 PM, February 5th, on Fox, however. Except for a stretch in Northern Maine (where I live), New England is Hillary country. Boo, Trump! It is also the Red Sox nation, and you can be denied medical help if you are rooting for any team other than the Patriots in this year's Super Bowl. However, Patriot's quarterback Tom Brady voted for Donald Trump and has yet to repent. This means that Brady supports Nazi, misogynist, racist, Islamophobic, baby-seal beating, puppy-shooting Donald Trump, which makes, by association, Tom Brady a Nazi, misogynist, etc., etc., etc. What will the Pat's fans do? I'm not sure, but if you hear Patriots fans singing the "Horst Wessel" song instead of the National Anthem, don't be entirely surprised.
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Catching the Big Ones
The social media "discussions" that I have seen and participated in thus far regarding Donald Trump have, for the most part, been more heat than light. Since a portion of this heat has been aimed at me for admitting voting for Trump, a number of admirers of mine with quivering lips crying "Barry, say it isn't so!" I thought I'd jot down a few notes on what I believe Donald Trump isn't, what I believe he is, and some of what went into my decision to choose him over Hillary Clinton.

First Donald Trump is the President of the United States and president of the American people, fair and square. Reject him as you might, by law he is the president. Email scandals and FBI plots notwithstanding, the election came down to winning the Electoral College, which came down to majorities of voters in a sufficient number of states voting for a particular candidate's electors. Rail against it as you will, those are the current rules. To change the system you need to change the Constitution to eliminate the voices of smaller and more lightly populated states. Incidentally, this would also eliminate the justification for those states to remain within the union of states, which would probably cause more problems than it would cure.

Donald Trump is the president, and rejecting him, calling him names, looting stores, setting fires, holding cry-ins, waving signs, breaking windows, having hissy fits, and otherwise making noise is probably not going to get him to resign.

Politically and economically Donald Trump is not an ideologue. He is not conservative, he is not liberal (under whatever label), he is not libertarian (which I am). By the same token, he is not a fascist (or Nazi), socialist, monarchist, plutocrat, survivalist, or religious communist. For most of his adult life Trump was a registered Democrat (does anyone remember Hillary Clinton used to be a Republican? I digress.) Trump is now a registered Republican. In neither case were ultimate political forms and ideological goals a consideration. In each case his party registration was a means to an end.

To do big business in New York City, you register Democrat, kiss Democrat ass, support Democrat candidates, and schmooze Democrat politicians in order to make deals, get your permits and tax breaks, none of which makes one ideologically liberal or "progressive." To make his deal with an abused and neglected voting public and be elected president in 2016, he needed to register as a Republican, which didn't infuse him with conservatism, laissez-faire capitalism, or "family values." It got him the pulpit he needed, and then the presidency—that's all.

Donald Trump is a man of business who is good at working with and through a needlessly complex and corrupt interventionist economy toward achieving his business goals. He has spent most of his adult life dealing with crooked politicians, mobsters, petty bureaucrats, unions, contractors, and persons in business of every possible moral stripe—and succeeding.

He doesn't know everything, but he knows that he doesn't know and does know how and where to get those who do know what's needed to get the things he wants done and how to get them to work for him. Now he has placed those skills, he says, in service to all the American people toward meeting what he perceives to be their most pressing economic needs: Good paying jobs, profitable businesses, restoring the nation's manufacturing base, bringing down costs of things such as health care, energy, food, and taxes all toward a goal of increasing everyone's prosperity.

In addition, to be able to enjoy the benefits of this prosperity, as I believe he sees it, the American people need to be safe from crime, violence, and attack from local and foreign sources. Toward those ends he's going to try a few things: The wall, limiting immigration to legal immigration, returning criminal illegals from whence they came, encouraging foreign students educated here to remain legally, supporting police organizations in bringing safety back to the nation's city streets, restoring the US's military, putting the US's military alliances on a more realistic and effective basis, forming new alliances, and a bunch of things that we just don't know about yet because I think he understands that if the bad guys know what they know, and they also know what we know, the bad guys have the advantage.

I do not believe Donald Trump is a racist. The friends, associates, and even enemies who know Trump the best say he isn't. His hiring practices would also seem to indicate he isn't. The Wall is not racist. First, neither Mexicans nor South Americans constitute a "race." The issue with the wall is legal entry versus illegal entry, not race. "Extreme vetting" is not racist, nor is it anti-Muslim. First, Islam is not a race, it is a belief system divided into several sub-beliefs. For those who believe in races among the human race, all of those so-called "races" have Muslim members and non-Muslim members. The vetting of travelers from countries involved with a significant degree of terrorist activity includes both Muslims and non-Muslims. The issue is safe versus possibly dangerous, not race or religion.

I do not believe Donald Trump is a misogynist ("woman hater" for those who are dictionary adverse). Women hating bosses do not promote women into high-paying executive positions at equal pay with men. And you can't fake family. I love listening to interviews with his family members, particularly with the female members. Either they do not feel hated or the Oscars are going to the wrong people.

So, what about the Billy Bush open mike thing? Trump is seventy. That means, like me, he is a sexually repressed child of the 'Fifties and 'Sixties. He is also a military school graduate. That means, like me, he spent a good portion of his school years as a boiling cauldron of testosterone in an all-boys institution. It is fertile ground for a certain kind of crude humor. You should have heard what the cadets at my school did with copulative verbs in English III. Answer this question honestly: Has there ever been a joke or comment you have made in the past that would make you uncomfortable should it become viral now? Any joke or comment at all? Honestly, now.

Naw, he's not a Nazi and he's not anti-Semitic. Ask Benjamin Netanyahu or Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner.

And it's his own hair, probably colored.

The Donald tweets. He can be crude. He makes jokes. He doesn't have much toleration for whiners. Sometimes he operates his mouth before fully engaging his brain. When attacked he fights back, which is not altogether bad for a US president in these times. He says what's on his mind at the moment, which can be scary, but it is also the thing that endeared him to millions of voters fed up with political correctness, public versus private personas, and political word parsing.

I have big concerns about the future of the Trump presidency: Deficit spending, no plans yet to slow down the printing presses in the Treasury Department, weighting the economy down with spending programs before lifting the taxes and regulations holding down the prosperity that could generate the revenues to pay for the spending, what appears to be a very old and failed approach to dealing with addiction, and Arnold Schwarzenegger taking over The Apprentice.
Concerns, but the alternative for me was Hillary Clinton whose main accomplishments since the 'Nineties was to make herself wealthy by being a liberal and labeling all those who disagreed with her as "deplorables." Her main campaign promise to America was to continue the life, pride, prosperity, and energy sapping policies and performance of the previous administration. I certainly knew what I would be getting if Clinton became president and I didn't want it. I still don't know what we've got now with Donald Trump, but I'm eager to find out. To find out, those who are currently shouting need to dial down the noise and listen, if for no other reason than to gather facts and construct a coherent argument.

For the first time in decades I'm not convinced the dream that was America is lost. Neither am I convinced that it is found. At bare minimums, though, it's going to get rebuilt, remodeled, refinanced, and new bathroom fixtures.
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Chicken Feathers

I let the story and its very real characters find and travel the paths upon which they insist. It completely defeats the "writer as God" attitude exhibited by many writers and beginners, but that's the way it works for me. Usually.

Okay, the current work is titled The War Whisperer, told from the point of view of an orphan who, at the age of twelve, is drafted into a secret quasi-governmental school for agent/assassins. Jerome Track did horrific things to be considered for this school for killers. At the school more horrific things happened, which changed everything, and those pages were very difficult to write. Then Jerome and his adopted sister graduate and become agents in this shadow organization that "resolves democracy and negotiation resistant problems" in favor of the U.S. So they and their handler go down to South America to await the arrival of an important terrorist leader: Object, termination. Read More 
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For My Next Trick . . . .

So, there I was about to continue writing on my opus, The War Whisperer. I was sitting in an easy chair writing on my Mini because I was just nearing the end of a really horrible cold and just completed a two month exercise with an infected tooth that concluded with getting a crown after a two hour plus session with my dentist the day before. I called up my current book within WW, titled "Black Satin," and almost got a word written when I heard a just barely audible alarm go off: "wa-wa, wa-wa," etc.

I checked my phone, my mini, my maxi, my battery backups for my computers, until the only thing I hadn't checked was my Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD), the gadget that does pace making, reorders my heartbeat so that it beats more efficiently, makes a try at gently moving me from V-tach into sinus rhythm during an episode, and hits me with the paddles at full blast if the V-tach episode goes on longer than twelve seconds. The wonders of modern science.

Yet one more wonder, my ICD has a telemetry unit through which I can download all current performance data to my cardiologist. Every so often, in the middle of the night while I'm sleeping, this device can sneak in and talk to my ICD getting it to blab all. That was how I found out that my heart had been in A-fib for three days, which is a tale for another time.

One of the things I can do with my telemetry unit is initiate and send down a reading if I think something might be awry. Since I thought the alarm might be coming from the ICD, I sent a strip down to my cardiologist and returned to the Mini to continue with the story. I had almost gotten a word written when I got a call from the cardiologist's saying, in essence, "How quickly can you make it down to the Maine Medical Center emergency room?"
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A Place Where Writers Talk Writing

Next month (July 10-13) is Readercon, the SF and fantasy con for writers, artists, and fans whose lips don't move when they read (but do move when they write dialog). If you write, or hope to write, and live in the Northeast, Readercon is not necessarily a "must," but it is definitely a "probably should be." The main attraction for me is other writers and my annual opportunity to talk writing with my fellow wizards, grand masters and apprentices both.

This year, the panel and workshop proposal train missed me, so for the first time in a decade or more, I will not be conducting one of my writing workshop/lecture thingies. There are some writing panels of interest, and for those who want to talk storytelling, I will be doing one of the kaffeeklatsch things. Recently Readercon has been teaming me up with another writer at kaffeeklatsches, and last year it worked out really well. As a general rule, writers like talking about writing. The point being, if you want to get together and compare semicolons, attend Readercon and sign up for my kaffeeklatsch. I will also be doing a reading from my new novel as well as wandering the halls. As soon as the final schedule for program participants is made available, I'll post the dates and times.

POSSIBLE COMPLICATION. Late this month I'm getting a rather substantial surgical operation on my back. Recovery, rate of, is something of a question at this stage, which could either have me staggering around the halls on pain killers (which could be amusing) or canceling out altogether. I will make every effort to warn you all in advance.

Whether I'm there or not, Readercon is a great place for you to talk writing and storytelling, and to listen to some old established and brand new pro writers discuss in panels various aspects of the art such that one cannot return home from this con without at least three new ideas for you to try. Actually, it is possible to return home empty handed if you spend the con drunk or high. If this is your approach, you may as well stay home. For the rest of you, I hope to see you there.

Click the Readercon icon for the con's website. Read More 
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Growing Up With Thomas

The story doesn't "feel right"? Not going anywhere? You're wallowing in doubts and can't even seem to get that first page going? Characters seem wooden? Storytelling not fun? Rethinking that job at Burger King? Try this:

Do this for all of your major characters (defined as anyone who helps move the story forward): On a separate document, slip your feet inside your character's baby shoes, and using first person POV have that baby, child, young person, young adult tell the story of his or her life up until they enter your story. It will cure all of the problems listed above in the first paragraph. In addition it will add reality (depth, texture, feelings, events, pimples) to your characters, and provide you with a wealth of background material for whenever your characters get introspective.

No need to include each and every diaper load. For a cue regarding what to include, use your own memory of your own past as a guide: earliest memory, the people you remember, your interactions with them, how you felt about them, first love, first hate, fights, celebrations, whatever was important and revealing.

Why the title, "Growing Up With Thomas?" The first time I did this full bore was with my novel Sea of Glass, whose POV character was Thomas Windom. He is still more real to me than most of the persons I have known for decades. I've also done this with my entire Joe Torio Mystery Series, beginning with The Hangman's Son.

If you haven't grown up with your characters, you don't know them very well. Not knowing your characters is a terrible platform from which to try telling their stories.

Try it out and see the difference it makes both in your story and in your writing day. Yeah, it involves extra writing. But, if you don't like writing you'd best nail down that Burger King gig. Read More 
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In The Zone - The War Whisperer

5/22/2014 It has been a long time coming, but the writing of The War Whisperer has gotten under way. When I write a novel, there is a period of groping around, doubt, a generally foggy conception of where I might like to see the story go and accomplish. This is especially true with this work because it jumps into a pool in which I have avoided swimming up until now: The background is politics, "libertarian" theories, and changing a world that has been fairly resistant to altering its downward spiral into unworkable economics and necessarily broken promises. Stories are about people, and the storyteller's job (at least, this story teller's) is to write down what the people in the story do without sticking the storyteller's own politics in the reader's face. Something new for me requires growth, growth requires change, and the acid-stomach doubts generated by the beginnings of such an enterprise is what I least like about the writing process.  Read More 
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