Category Archives: What I’m Doin’

I just came up with the greatest Zombie story of all time.

I. Just. Came. Up. With. THE. BEST. Zombie. Story. Concept. Since Max. Brooks.

Normally I don’t brag or praise myself, but oh my gosh, bolt of lightning to the head, a huge idea, then another, then another, then another. and the core of a novel is laid out before me in the matter of maybe seven minutes. And it’s unlike anything else anyone is doing.

I have to use it, right?

Once I finish my late friend Jim’s novel (he’d written about 85% and asked me to complete it for him), all my other projects are on hold until I do this zombie thing.

I’m giddy

MY DIARY: Day 18,257 (Finishing Jim Graham’s Manuscript)

I’ve been overthinking this.
I just finished Jim Graham‘s incomplete manuscript for “Big Pharma,” which he asked me to finish for him a few weeks before he died. I cheerfully agreed to do it, and he was pretty happy, since he always said he liked my writing, and I was his first choice. That’s a huge honor, don’t you think?
It was also our last conversation.
I probably should have torn into the project the moment I got the manuscript and the notes, but I decided to hold off until the first of the year, during which time the specter of doubt had time to grow. Stupid, Randy, stupid. I generally work best when I leap before I look, getting something done before I realize how difficult (or easy) it was.
Now, “Big Pharma” takes place in the middle of a fairly intricate continuity involving three other books. I had to make sure I didn’t have a character survive who’s dead in the book that takes place after this. Likewise, I can’t add anyone of significance because they wouldn’t be in the later installments. I wouldn’t do that anyway, as it’s way too Mary Sue, but you get my point. I also can’t introduce any huge events that logically would be spoken about in subsequent stories simply because the subsequent stories are already written, and it’d be distractingly odd if, say, I blew up the galaxy in this book, and then in “Army of Souls,” the galaxy is suddenly back.
In our last conversation, I asked Jim how it all ended, and he said he didn’t want to tell me. He said that he knew how the book would have ended had he been around to finish it, but that it suited his present frame of mind to just hand it over to someone else and let them take it where they will.
Ok. No ending. Great. Still: I can do this.
So I started re-reading Jim’s books. I had to reacquaint myself with the characters, the events, the *feel* of the thing, right? And I took notes. Far too many notes. Far, far too many notes. You can get addicted to that sort of thing. As I said, I was overthinking this.
I worked my way up to the “Big Pharma” manuscript. I read it slowly. In my mind I went back to the beginning several times. I took days off. It was slow going, which just made the whole thing more intimidating, you know?
Well, just now I finished it, and I was certain that, yes, I can do this. And that I really *should* leap before I look, because I’m just better that way.
In the last few chapters of the manuscript, it changes from a 3rd person omniscient narrative to terse present-tense outline-styled notes on what happens in each chapter. There are also a few completed scenes in there which I can insert in the appropriate locations. The bulk of what happens in the unwritten portion is an action scene, and that’s cake, since I’m actually really, really good at actions sequences. I can do him proud there. And I even know how it ends! He actually did have that burred in the tail end of the manuscript!
So I’ve been overthinking this. Now I start actually *doing* stuff.
Here’s what happens:
– The writing starts very soon.
– I don’t think it’ll take me long to finish. It’s just shy of 90,000 words right now, and I can probably bring my portion in at 20,000 words or so. I work fast, so I can easily do that in a week. Maybe less if I get in a groove, which I often do when writing action sequences.
– I’ll send my portion (Approximately the last 20% of the book) to a British friend of mine who will help me convert any Americanisms into Anglicisms, and maybe suggest places where British slang would be likely to turn up.
– I will *probably* add a list of Dramatis Personae (There are a *lot* of characters in this book, some of whom are easy to confuse with others) and a glossary (There’s a lot of invented terminology in here, and it’d just be handy for the reader if he forgets the difference between a PIKL and an RAV).
– I would also like to include Jim’s map of Go Down City. He did such a wonderful job of realizing a nonexistent city that feels real. I think his fans would enjoy that.
– Then I’ll send my portion off to my editor.
– Then I’ll send the whole manuscript, including my portion, to Jim’s widow, for her to forward to his editor and do whatever else needs to be done to get it published.
And there you go. I don’t want to pin myself down to a timeline, but I think things should move very quickly from here on out.

My Diary: Day 18,198: In which I realize I’m Overwhelming

I realized yesterday that I’m overwhelming. Not in the “Oh, he’s so wonderful,” sense, but more in the “Randy is exhausting, and I just can’t deal with him,” sense.

There’s any number of examples: I’ve been in and out of bands and writing songs and making music since 1988. Why? When I started out, obviously, I hoped I’d get a big break and be a rock star. Everyone does. By 1990 or 91 I’d realized that wasn’t going to happen, but I kept on doing it. Most of my friends had already given up on that sort of thing by then, but I kept going.

My goal? Never clear. Mostly, I think I just wanted to include a song or two on the mix tapes I sent my friends to let ’em know I was still doing this. I never did, of course, because making music and recording it are very different, and recording it in 1991 was way harder than now.

Oh, and let’s take the mix tapes, shall we? I made ’em. I made a lot of them. I was very interested in very many very different kinds of music, so I made mix tapes that I sent my friends. Two or three a year. If you were unlucky enough to be my girlfriend or on the shortlist of best friends, you got more than that. We called it “The Randy Records and Tapes Club.” Eventually I switched to CD.  I slowed down a bit, to one or two a year.

I got less and less response every time, and had to keep needling people to find out what they though of “Astronauts,” by “Desk,” featuring backing vocals by Aimee Mann, or a long-lost They Might Be Giants B-Side, or a Cold Water Army song or an unfinished Roy Orbison track or my Ska obsession or what have you. Oh, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins! I don’t think anyone on the planet likes him but me, and BOY was I vocal about it.

Finally, around 2007 I sent out a really good double-disk mix, and I didn’t hear back from anyone. Not a peep. When I pressed, I was angrily told that it was just too much, that we were all 30-ish now, and weren’t interested in hearing new crap, and please knock it off. Depressing.

So I knocked it off. I started actually recording my own music, and eventually started putting it on youtube and nobody cares. If I get 13 views, that’s exceptionally popular for me. Again, if I push people, they get mad. “Nobody wants to listen to your stupid songs about Ocelots, or your weird-ass instrumentals, Randy!” Depressing.

Oh, and I write. A lot. I always have. I was head writer for Republibot for five years, and no one cared. When I quit, it folded, and nobody cared. I have this site you’re reading, and I’d be surprised if 5 people read it a month. I also had a fanzine (“Rampant Boingophrenia”) and eventually another one for heretical religious matters called “Sacrilege, Ho!” (Obviously I put a few of these online eventually) and my endless movie reviews and chat rooms and stuff. Nobody cared about any of this. Actually, I was irritating and/or scaring them. Depressing.

Then I started writing books, and NOBODY wants to have anything to do with you if you’re self-publishing books. Seriously: your friends who’ve talked about that novel for 25 years, but never actually got around to it hate you. People who actually write ignore you because they’re busy writing. People who don’t care about such things find it pretentious. People who do care about such things generally have more interesting stuff to check out than my nonsense.

Yeah, you might get a couple people who will buy the first book out of politeness, and never read it, or skim it and give you a nice “It had a good beat, and you can dance to it” review on Amazon, but after that, you’re done. I’ve got, what, eight books, seven of which are pretty good, and one of which is terrible. (No, seriously: It’s my crappy poetry. Stay away from that one) I’ve got four more in various stages of completion that I hope to have out this year.

That’s a lot of stuff! Nobody cares. Depressing.

Added to which I am reputed to be (As one person put it) a “Vigorous conversationalist.” What that boiled down to is (As another person put it), “Requiring way too much energy to talk to.” I can see that. I probably am a lot of work. I never talk about normal stuff like sports. I’m always on about whether or not Saul of Tarsus was part of the Herodian Royal Family, or my latest project that no one cares about, or what I’d do if I was making Galactica for a third time.

So, bottom line: I’m overwhelming. I produce more stuff than people can keep up with. And people don’t want to keep up with it. They want to read Dan Brown novels and listen to whatever was popular whenever they were in High School, and not have me wildly speculating about theology, or the Apollo program, or why Venus is better than Mars for colonization.


Nor do I. Maybe 1 or 2 percent of people are really interested in the giddy thrill of thinking or experiencing or seeing or hearing new things after their 20s. We’re all pretty set in our ways by the time we hit 50. We’re actually neurologically wired to enjoy learning less by that point: We’re supposed to have learned everything we need to by then. I never felt like I’ve learned anything.

This is not arrogance or elitism on my part. I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else. I’m just a flibbertigibbet. I chase after any new shiny object or idea that catches my eye, and I talk about it. A *LOT* Way too much. It’s my failing, not theirs. I don’t have a lot of impulse control in that regard.

OH, and I forgot to mention my mood swings. My mania and depression, and frequent unpredictable behavior. That’s tiresome as well.

So the bottom line here is that I’m just exhausting.

I get that now. I really do. I’m not depressed about it or anything, I’ve just finally identified the problem, and I’m a little excited about that.

The question, then, is what I do about it.

I got no clue. Please sound off if you’ve got any ideas.


IF YOU WOULD LIKE A *FREE* COPY OF SOME OF MY BOOKS, they’re available at Smashwords.

I was gonna space this out over several days, but what the heck, these coupons have an expiration date on them, so let’s get it all out of the way at once

Just go here to find a copy of my book, “It’s Not Rocket Science.” All ya gotta do is go here and then use the coupon code VF97F when you’re purchasing it. “It’s just that easy!”

“The Care and Feeding of Nightmares” is my most recent collection, and I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. Go here and use the code NT98B

“Ice Cream and Venom” is my first collection of short stories. Go here and use this code VZ84U

“The Bones of an Angel” is another collection of short stories. Available here and the code is PM79U

“The Undead at War (And Other Stories)” is my most popular book. Just go here and here’s your code MJ37R Larry Niven even blurbed one of the stories in that book.

“After Conquest” is a novel I co-wrote. Go here and the coupon code is UW73B

There’s also a book of my poems and lyrics on there called “Everything is Something’s Food,” but I’d reccomend you all avoid that one. It’s pretty bad. No coupon for that one, it’s always free. I couldn’t actually take money from people for that one in good conscience 🙂

If you have friends who you think might be interested in this stuff, please feel free to spread this information around.

Thank you for your consideration!

If you’ve been curious about my books, but didn’t want to shell out the cash, now’s your chance to check it out! If you didn’t know that I wrote, well, hey, what the heck, it’s free, right? Might as well check ’em out.

The only thing I ask is that if you do grab a copy of a book, and if you actually decide to read it/them, please post a review on Smashwords and/or Amazon (You don’t have to have purchased a book on Amazon to review it). I don’t even mind if it’s not a particularly glowing review, just please post something no matter how short.

I’m Giving Away Free Copies Of All My Books!

If you’ve been curious about my books, but didn’t want to shell out the cash, now’s your chance to check it out! If you didn’t know that I wrote, well, hey, what the heck, it’s free, right? Might as well check ’em out.

The only thing I ask is that if you do grab a copy of a book, and if you actually decide to read it/them, please post a review on Smashwords and/or Amazon (You don’t have to have purchased a book on Amazon to review it). I don’t even mind if it’s not a particularly glowing review, just please post something no matter how short.

What I’m Writing In 2017 (God Willing)

Good morning! Happy New Year.
After taking last year off from writing, I am officially working again as up about half an hour ago.
Some of you may recall my friend Jim Graham, who was the author of the “Scat” series surrounding the increasingly bizarre adventures of a 23rd century US Marine. If you don’t, the first couple books are currently free, so check ’em out. 
Anyway, he was about 80% of the way through the fourth book in the series, “Big Pharma.” Several months ago he told me he was dying of cancer, and asked me if I’d please finish the novel for him. I said, sure, obviously, and that was the last time we spoke before the end came.
Anyway, my friend’s book is the priority above any off my projects. I sat down this morning with a copy of the first book, (“Scat”) and started reading it. By the end of chapter 1 I had two full pages of notes.
Basically I think I’m going to re-read the entire series before I set pen to paper (“Finger to Keyboard?”) because I want to make sure I don’t introduce any continuity errors. I want it to follow his story, his style, his vision. I want it to be his book, not mine (Though I’ll gladly accept the “With Randall Schanze” co-credit on the cover that he promised me). Also, it’s British. I don’t want the novel to suddenly turn American. I want it to maintain the cadence and feel of something written by a Brit (Even if that does mean the American protagonist regularly says things like “Bugger” and “Sod off.”)
It’s a little daunting. Generally I write and that’s it. It pops out of my head. I write involving stuff I know, or stuff I just make up on the spot. Having to do a ton of research isn’t my normal style. I can do it, I will do it, but the length of time between me deciding to write one of my own stories, and actually starting on one of my stories is seldom more than a few hours. Here it’ll likely be a week or two, assuming real life doesn’t get in the way.
And I’ve still got no idea what the plot of “Big Pharma” is. I have the manuscript. I started to read it, but decided it needed to re-read everything from the beginning so I could be in proper context and mindset when I started.
Let me give you an idea what a great guy Jim was, though: As he was dying, he said that he had a pretty loyal core of fans who read all his books – moreso than me – and that he hoped my name on his project would increase *my* readership. No, really.
It’s an honor to be working on this.
In the larger scheme of things, I have several projects I’d also like to have finished this year, to make up for taking last year off. After Jim’s novel, I intend to finish my own longsuffering, way-too-ambitious novel, “The Fall of St. Grissom,” which I haven’t touched in more than two years. I’m going to be co-writing a sequel to “After Conquest,” I’ve got my obligatory annual book of short stories, and possibly a novel about my time in the very weird Accelerated Christian Education system in the 1970s.
Time permitting, I’d also like to revise my book of lyrics and poetry, “Everything is something’s food,” to be a little less sucky and a good deal longer, and re-issue that as a kind of second edition. I’m toying with the idea of a short book *about* the deservedly-forgotten series, “Man from Atlantis,” and I’ve toyed with the idea of putting out a book of grade-zed movie reviews, a’la “The Golden Turkey Awards,” which I thought might be fun.
We shall see.
Anyway, “Scat” and Jim come first. Check back here for progress reports. I’d like to thank my readers (I’m hesitant to claim I have fans) for their continued interest and their patience in 2016.

How I wrote a story about the tides and got labeled a Racist

Assuming there are any planets out there that are capable of supporting human life – which there probably aren’t – it’s unlikely they’re going to be like the endless array of Star Trek and Stargate planets, which all look like the west coast of the US and Canada. Or all those Dr. Who planets that look like a strip mine in Wessex.

I mean think of all the variations you can have in planets: heavier gravity, lighter gravity, bigger oceans, smaller oceans, no moons, one moon, two moons, five moons, a different colored sun, the amounts of inert gasses in the air, different lengths of day and night, and a jillion other things that could be different. Ever since I started reading Larry Niven’s “Known Space” stories as a kid, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of worlds that are only marginally habitable, or otherwise bizarre.

One of the questions that’s always interested me about this is what kind of psychological effect it would have on people, both the colonists and their kids. This is a subject that seems largely overlooked in the genre. Given that we evolved for a very specific set of environments, it didn’t seem to me like you could just turn that off and accept a planet that looked like a Yes album cover, no matter how cool it might look.

I invented the planet “Gagarin.” It’s pretty similar to earth, but it’s got two moons. One is about the size of Mars, the other is about the size of our own moon. As a result the tides on Gagarin are insane – a minimum of six hundred feet – twice a day. Think about that: Mountain ranges become island chains, then go back to being mountain ranges twice a day. There’s even a tide in the air, with the pressure gradually going up and down several PSI in time with the tides. And off course there’s the local exotic stuff: plants that have hair instead of leaves, weird animals, that kind of stuff, not to mention a thing in the sky that is way huger than humans are used to expecting in the sky.

Stick with me here…

For colonists on Gagarin, I dropped rural American Southerners. There were also a good number of Russians and Chinese – also rural – but the overwhelming majority were Southerners. Why? Because Southerners were low-caste enough that no one on earth would really miss them or care if they died. Such is the way of colonists through much of history: “Let’s ship off the undesirables.” This was a one-way trip for the 750,000 people I dumped there.

Well, once they got to Gagarin there was an epidemic of suicides. It wasn’t that the place was uninhabitable. As long as you stayed well away from the waterline, it was actually more hospitable than earth. It was just that it was strange. There’s a limit to how much people can adapt to, and how quickly. Food that doesn’t taste right, air that doesn’t smell right, not bad mind you, just different. The sun is a little too small in the sky. The stars are different at night. There’s that bigass moon in the sky, feeling like it’s going to fall on you at any moment. Add to this that they had to leave family and friends and most of their stuff behind, and were living in tents, and, well, it’s a recipe for mass psychosis, right?

Which brings me to the point of the story:

My “Gagariners” were so homesick, so starved for anything from their old lives, that they eventually chose the rebel flag as the symbol for their planetary government.

Well, duh, what else would you really expect a bunch of homesick rednecks to do, right?

This was not an uncontentious choice. Several people expressed extreme displeasure over it, but most people didn’t. In fact, even most of the Black people – who made up like a third of the colony – were on board with it, too.

“Why the hell would you do that?” you ask. Well, it wasn’t to be offensive. The very clear point of the story is to show how people can be sooooooooo far from home, both physically and emotionally, that they’ll cleave to anything familiar. There are hundreds of examples of this: the terrified kid on the first day of preschool who won’t let go of the little scrap of paper his mom gave him, the terrified Jew in a death camp desperately holding on to a star of David, Buzz Aldrin holding a communion service on the moon (really!), you name it. It’s human nature to grab on to what’s familiar and hold on for all it’s worth, until you get used to your new surroundings.

Those embers from the fire are important. They help us hold our heads together. They keep the monsters away. Of course they’re almost always arbitrary, and their intrinsic meaning isn’t the important thing. The important thing is familiarity. The more unfamiliar your situation, the more anything familiar becomes desperately important, be that thing good or ill, well, if it’s a good symbol you chose, so much the better. If it’s a bad one, well, any port in a storm, right?

So that’s why I did it: Not to be offensive, but to show how people react under stress, or at least one way they can.  I was pretty proud of the story. I thought it was well written, and it went in an interesting direction, and dealt with stuff seldom seen in Science Fiction. Not the best thing I ever wrote, but pretty good.

I’ve written a lot of stories, and I’ve deliberately pushed some boundaries with some of them. There are places I will not go, but to me SF is all about asking questions and dealing with the answers whether you like ’em or not. I didn’t consider this story to be controversial all. It’s very clear what’s going on, and why it happens. It’s also made very clear that this is not an objectively desirable choice, but it worked.

Of all the stories I’ve ever written, this is the only one to ever get me hate mail. I mean really vicious stuff. All of it, curiously, from white guys. I’m not saying “Hey, Black people are cool with the rebel flag.” I doubt they would be. I don’t really know or care what the color of my very few readers are. I did find it interesting that only white guys complained, though.

I don’t have a solid hypothesis as to why. I suspect that it’s because an issue can be so contentious that some people can’t look at it objectively. Even if the story clearly, objectively says one thing, they see the forbidden bit, and immediately take it to mean exactly the opposite.

I was pretty shocked by this. I’m not even remotely racist, and the thought of being labeled one really upset me. I thought about changing the story, but anything else I substituted for that damn flag lacked the punch to make it work. I thought about just pulling the story, but it’s a neat idea. Then I thought of what Harlan Ellison said (Paraphrasing) ‘when the story is published, it isn’t yours anymore. It belongs to the audience, and you can’t say ‘oh, I didn’t mean that’ or ‘just let me change this one bit’.’ I agree with that. I did it, it’s out there, and I’ll just take the consequences.  Is that wise? Hell, I don’t know. Obviously I don’t know anything. I was just trying to tell an interesting story. Fortunately, I suppose, no one ever reads my books.

It is odd, however, that a person’s reactions can become so rigidly programmed that they can’t accept contradictory information. I’m not saying I’m better than these people. I’m sure I’ve got some symbol or thought that triggers me the same way. I just find it odd, is all, that out of all the offensive and weird crap I’ve written, this comparatively trivial thing was what set people off.

But anyway, that’s the story of how I tried to write a story about really funky tides and ended up getting labeled a racist.

If you’d like to read the story and decide for yourself, and maybe discuss it with me, the story is called “The Cetian Sky”, and it’s included in this book here (Which, just to bring things full circle, contains a story that Larry Niven liked. Not this particular one, though)