YouTube: Living in Infamy: A Carbon Run Story

Here’s the second of my YouTube “vaudios,” as I like to call my videos that are really audio stories. Living in Infamy is set in a future when fossil fuels are banned. The captain of a US Navy destroyer, plagued by guilt over a friendly-fire incident, hunts a dangerous carbon smuggler and gets help from a disgraced, dead relative. Carbon Run Stories are a series of short stories in text and audio set in a world wracked by climate change. You can also listen to the story on SoundCloud.

Let me know what you think.

I’m between projects and I need your help deciding what to work on next.


Not sure if I’m carefully weighing my options or being indecisive.

I’m religious about my work habits. I set aside two hours a day for writing only. I decide what I’ll work on and do that thing until it’s done or the two hours are up. I’ll add 15 minutes here, cut 15 minutes there, work on a lower priority item if I finish the high priority task, that sort of thing, but the core principle is like a rock. As a writer with only a few fiction credits, this helps me feel that I’m moving forward.

There’s one point where my little method fails. When I’m between major projects, I’m all sixes and sevens. I’m uncertain what to do with myself. Start a new project? Tinker with an old project? Get a real job?

Take the current moment. On Saturday, I finished a major revision for City of Ice and Dreams, the second novel in my as-yet-unpublished Carbon Run series. I’ve incorporated suggestions from my editor, John Paine, and a half-dozen beta readers. I’ve worked on it an average of five or six days a week for half a year or more. It’s consumed much of my waking life. I capped this portion of the project by writing a synopsis and a template query letter to agents and publishers. I’m working to push this project out of the nest, if anyone will have it.

Now what? Continue reading

Reading: Zillah Harmonia, a Carbon Run Story

RoseThis spring, I took a short story writing class through Hugo House, a Seattle non-profit dedicated to teaching and promoting poetry and literature. I wrote two stories during the eight-week class, and I’ve produced an audio version of one of them, “Zillah Harmonia“. In a future decade when fixing the environment is the world’s top priority, an elderly homeowner must decide whether to fight a citation that might mean the loss of her home. The story is told in the Carbon Run world, which I’ve created in three yet-to-be-published novels. Let me know what you think.

BTW, I’ll publish an audio version of the second story, titled “Living in Infamy,” later this summer.

What is the role of a writer as climate change creeps up on us?


People in suits gather in Paris to decide the fate of a climate-change world.

It’s a ripe scene for satire. Twenty-five thousand bureaucrats and another 25,000 hangers-on are gathered in Paris at COP21 to exchange climate change jargon over sustainable wine and cheese. It’s hard, however, to ignore the seriousness of their effort, especially as a pall lingers over the city three weeks after the November 13 terror attacks. The spectacle of so many people in sensible shoes working as one reminds me that most problems are solvable with elbow grease and cooperation. Best to leave them alone to do their jobs.

Maybe I’m a little jealous. It must be exciting to be part of an effort that could save the planet while exchanging tips on the best places in France for glamping. Instead, my head is buried in my laptop as I try to tell stories about survival in a future that no one can predict with any certainty. Even if COP21 is wildly successful, the planet will still warm by a couple of degrees, and millions of mostly poor people will have to cope with the changes. Continue reading

Excerpt: Extinction’s Kapitan Gore tells his story

Tiger in the Jungle

A detail from Tiger in the Jungle, by Yuri Kravchenko.

As the corsair sub Extinction cruises the open waters of the Arctic Ocean, a cooling system on its ancient nuclear reactor fails. Brother Martin Scribb, kidnapped and made one of the crew, saves the boat with some quick thinking. He is invited to the cabin of Kapitan Gore, the boat’s commander. The monstrous master of Extinction reveals his story in this excerpt from chapter 21 of Carbon Run.

Martin Scribb sat in the captain’s great cabin, sweating. Extinction’s air was kept at a low humidity to resist corrosion, but here in Gore’s living space, the humidity had to be 90 to 100 percent, Martin thought. Tropical plants lined the walls, some with huge flowers with exotic scents that matched the thickness of the air. Mixed with the moisture and perfume was a whiff of decaying leaf litter. It was the smell of slow death. The only thing missing was the cacophony of insects mating, killing, and dying in a true jungle. The metal walls and deck were clear of the rust Martin would’ve expected in a humid environment. A special paint or coating fought off the inevitable oxidation.

Gore tapped at a tablet keyboard, his fingers dexterous despite their thickness and covering of tawny hair. The curved claws that the creature showed on Martin’s arrival were retracted, much like a real cat’s. Gore’s green-yellow eyes bored into Martin. “Well, Mr. Scribb. It seems you have saved Extinction.”

“Please, sir.” Martin picked up on the military forms of address favored on the sub. “I’m a brother of the Penitents of Saint Francis.”

“I see… Brother Scribb.” Gore grimaced, which Martin took as a kind of smile, though the teeth were that of a carnivore, not an omnivore. “Allow me to say thank-you. You are the hero of the hour.”

Martin, like most people who act quickly in an emergency, did not feel himself a hero. “If I had not acted, everyone on board might’ve died, myself included.”

“Indeed. And you are responsible for enough death, aren’t you?” Continue reading

Excerpt: Extinction and Kapitan Gore find a target

Image taken through a periscope

Kapitan Gore and Extinction find a victim.

In chapter 20 of Carbon Run, Brother Martin Scribb of the Penitents of Saint Francis is rising in the ranks of the corsair submarine Extinction. The sub prowls the Arctic Ocean, searching for ships carrying a valuable, illegal cargo. In this excerpt, Kapitan Gore finds what he’s looking for.

The decision to accept Kapitan Gore’s offer of “freedom and wealth” came easily to Martin. He had known plenty of the alternative since his disidentification, and although he still held hope of finding Molly Bain and the possibility of redemption in the eyes of the larger society, Martin saw Extinction as a way to hedge his bets. Gore would extract some sort of price for his generosity, though Martin had no idea what that price was.

One day, the captain invited Martin to the control room, where every officer, male and female, greeted him with contempt. Martin recognized Nelson, whom Gore introduced as his executive officer. Lurking near a holo-console was Reason, Gore’s tactical officer and well as chief thug. Continue reading

Carbon Run II: Does Antarctica rise?

Antarctica without ice

Antarctica without ice as envisioned by the British Antarctic Survey

I’m planning a second novel with a climate change theme under the Carbon Run title. The new project doesn’t have a working title yet, although it’s definitely a Carbon Run II. Let’s call it CRII for short. It’s not a sequel, in that I’m not interested in following most of the character’s lives after Carbon Run ends. I’d rather start with a fresh set of characters. I’m not averse, however, to having a Carbon Run character show up in CRII.

Here’s the basic premise of CRII: Around the year 2100, global warming has gotten so far out of control that only the lands above 60° north latitude and below 60° south latitude are friendly to humans. In the north, that leaves the Arctic Ocean surrounded by the extreme northern lands of North America and the Eurasian continent. In the south, the only land below 60° south is Antarctica. All the earth in between, where almost all the human population lives today, no longer supports humanity. It’s either too hot or the weather is too extreme for agriculture on a large scale, although the vagaries of the climate allow small pockets of people to survive. Continue reading

Cli-Fi Novelists Writing Process Blog Tour

Climate fiction bookshelf

A climate fiction bookshelf

I’m participating in the “Cli-Fi Novelists Writing Process Blog Tour,” which so far includes the writers Risa Bear, Lisa Devaney, Karen Faris, and Clara Hume. Look for more contributions on the Clifi Books website and Dan Bloom‘s blog.

What are you working on now, or just finished? I’ve recently finished Carbon Run, which is a science fiction / climate fiction adventure set in the mid-2050s. The story begins when Bill Penn and his daughter Anne run afoul of the feared Bureau of Environmental Security. An accidental fire at their ranch destroys an endangered species, a capital crime in the mid-21st century. Bill, now a fugitive, is pursued by BES Deputy Inspector Janine Kilel, who takes Anne halfway across the world as bait to draw out her father from hiding. I’m now shopping Carbon Run to agents and publishers. I’ve also started a second book in the Carbon Run series, about an impending war between the people who live on the last inhabitable places on earth: The north and south polar regions. My other unpublished novel, The Vault of Perfection, whose main theme is genetic engineering, is now in the hands of beta readers.

How does your work fit into the cli-fi genre? Climate change is a fact. Until recently, most science fiction writers have either ignored the subject or avoided it. Or publishers have said No to manuscripts for reasons known only to themselves. No matter how you feel about the politics or the science, the changes we’ll see in the coming decades are ripe ground for storytelling, and I’ve been surprised at how little fiction is published with climate change as a central theme. Margaret Atwood, Nathaniel Rich, and others are showing the way, and I’m hoping to make a small contribution to the growing cli-fi genre.

Why do you write what you do? It’s great fun, and I’ve made good friends over my career. Writers are the coolest people ever.

How does your writing process work? For my novels, I work up a basic outline of plot and characters, and then get right into the text. I like George R.R. Martin’s continuum with architects on one end (they plan everything down to the last detail) and gardeners on the other (they plant a seed, cultivate it, and hope for the best). I’m somewhere in the middle. Spending excessive time on planning leaves me frustrated, because I want to get into the story. And I need a destination and a basic road map to reach the end. None of that is important, however, if you don’t practice. Like anything, you can’t get good at something if you don’t work every day. Name one well-regarded writer or artist who hit pay dirt with his/her first work. Not many, I bet. That’s because most practice for years before they are published or get recognized.

Check out my Six Rules for Writing Climate Fiction.

Carbon Run Goes to Beta Readers

tulip photo

The tulip is the symbol of the Bureau of Environmental Security in Carbon Run.

I’ve finished up a second draft of my manuscript for Carbon Run (Woohoo!!) and I’ve sent it out the first beta readers. I’m definitely relieved that I’ve finally completed a phase of the project that I started in 2008. If you don’t count a long hiatus between about one-third of the first draft and completing a second draft, the project has taken me about a year to get to this point. Sending out a draft to friends is a little bit like sending your child to his first day of kindergarten; He may survive the day or melt down in front of you. While I’m waiting for feedback, I’ll be updating my blog, querying agents and publishers, and taking a fresh look at the last draft of my other sci-fi novel-in-progress, The Vault of Perfection. Meanwhile, here’s the current blurb for Carbon Run (subject to updating):

In the 22nd century, a father and daughter run afoul of the feared Bureau of Environmental Security when an accidental fire at their ranch destroys an endangered species. The father, now a fugitive, is pursued by a BES inspector determined to bring him to justice. Carbon Run is a disturbing and absorbing dystopian science fiction adventure set in a post-global warming world in which all oil-based fuels are illegal, environmental criminals are “disidentified,” murderous pirates roam an Arctic Ocean devoid of ice year-round, and smugglers risk their lives to bring life-giving heat to refugees of the Warming. Carbon Run is scheduled for release in late 2014.

I’ve been posting excerpts of Carbon Run as a work-in-progress on these pages.

I’ve also been playing with some ideas on cover art. The symbol of the fictional Bureau of Environmental Security is the tulip. I’m imagining a golden tulip enclosed in a circle of gold, reminiscent of the mockingjay medallion of the Hunger Games, or the cover art of the Divergent series. What do you think?