In Which I am Almost Eaten by Velociraptors

A few nights ago, my wife woke me up at about three in the morning. Through the open windows, she’d heard what sounded vaguely like a velociraptor from Jurassic Park making that chirping/rattling/growling sound they make right before they eat your face. For a countermelody, something else — or maybe it was the same thing — kept screeching.

She’d already checked to make sure all of our animals were inside, so we knew it wasn’t our cats/dogs/guinea pig getting eaten by a genetically modified dinosaur.

I’ve lived in Michigan for about four decades, and I had no clue what was out there. So I grabbed a flashlight to check it out. Then I put the flashlight back and grabbed one that worked.

This wasn’t a terribly powerful flashlight, just a little LED light. But it was enough for me to avoid any dog “gifts” as I walked through the back yard. By now, I knew the sound was coming from a large tree on the other side of the fence.

I shine the light around, and quickly spot three sets of shining eyes watching me from the branches. The flashlight wasn’t strong enough for me to make out anything except the bright, glowing eyes. My brain was now alert enough to run through a quick checklist.

  • Dinosaurs are extinct, and Seanan McGuire lives on the other side of the country, so these probably weren’t real velociraptors.
  • The eyes were on the front of the head, not to the sides. Ergo, probably predators of some non-velociraptor variety.
  • They were about twenty feet up, suggesting either birds or maybe large cats?
  • Oh, cool — we have owls!

I hung out for another minute or two, hoping I’d be able to see more, but the darkness mocked me with its…darkness.

And then, right before I turned around to come inside, some long-dormant instinct made me raise the flashlight and look up. The beam illuminated a fourth pair of eyes in the branches directly above me. Just…watching.

Jurassic Park Gif: Clever Girl

I was tempted to grab my camera and try to climb up onto the roof to get some long-exposure shots with the zoom lens. Then I remembered it was three in the freaking morning, so I went back to bed.

The next day, I spent a little time online listening to different owl calls. It might have been a group of barred owls, probably feeding their young.

They haven’t come back, which makes me a little sad, but helps everyone in the house to sleep better.

But the real lesson here is that if we ever are attacked by mutant dinosaurs or whatever, I’ll be one of the first to be ambushed and eaten.

Project Updates

TERMINAL UPRISING is sitting with my editor. My agent called yesterday to share a few comments on the manuscript. Overall, he thought it was a good book, and a strong follow-up to TERMINAL ALLIANCE.


After spending a year on that book, I needed a break. So for the past week, I’ve been planning out a completely different project, something unrelated to any of my current series. The next Janitors book will be my priority, since that’s under contract and I don’t want to leave people with 2/3 of a trilogy, but I’m really excited about this new thing.

I normally start with a rough outline, then leap into the first draft. This inevitably leads to the discovery that my outline is broken. It’s not until after the first or second draft that I start to pull everything together and figure out how the book is going to work.

This time, I tried something different. I wrote the rough outline, but then tried writing what I called Draft Zero. It’s somewhere between an outline and a proper draft. It’s broken into chapters and scenes, but each scene is very sparse, between 50 and 500 words.

As always, I discovered problems with the outline. But I’ve been able to find and fix a lot of them in Draft Zero. It’s possible (probable) (inevitable) that I’ll hit additional potholes as I start writing Draft One, but I’m hoping there will be fewer, and I’ll be able to finish this project more quickly.


For now, though, I need to turn my attention back to Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse III. I planted plot seeds in the last chapter of TERMINAL UPRISING, and it’s time to start thinking about how the heck I’m going to turn those seeds into a story.

I’m also expecting to hear back from my editor soon, at which point I’ll need to dive in on final revisions to TERMINAL UPRISING. I’m actually looking forward to that. This feels like part of the payoff for the past year’s work — I have a book that, hey, I think is pretty good! And now I get to go through with advice from very smart professionals to make it even better!

(Also, I get to see cover art. Will share as soon as I can, but Dan Dos Santos has once again done a lovely job.)


So that’s one book to revise and two more to write. Along with three pitches my agent sent out for Potentially Fun Thing that may or may not happen.

That should be enough to keep me busy and out of trouble…mostly…for at least the next year.


Infinity War (Spoilers)

We don’t make it to opening weekend for most movies, but I figured with as much time as I spend online, this would be my only chance of seeing Infinity Wars before stumbling over spoilers.

Speaking of which…spoilers after the cut!

Get This Man a Shield Meme


Writers of the Future and Scientology, Redux

I sent the manuscript for Terminal Alliance to my editor and agent on Sunday, which means I am now allowed to stop and breathe and catch up on a little of what’s been happening in the world recently. I wanted to start with the discussion about the Writers of the Future contest that’s been making the rounds.

I was a first prize winner in the contest back in 1998, and attended the 1999 workshop. My story was published in Volume 15. At the time, I knew L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the contest, was also the founder of Scientology. We were told the contest and its finances were completely separate from the church.

In 2012, I talked about some of the reasons I no longer believed the “firewall” between the church and the contest was as strong as we’d been told.

That was six years ago. Since then, I’ve learned more about people’s experiences, how the contest operates, and the alleged firewall between the church and the contest.

The Writers of the Future trademark is registered to the Church of Spiritual Technology. As of 1994, Scientology owned the WotF trademark. Ownership was transferred in 1997 to the L. Ron Hubbard Library…which has the exact same address and correspondent as the Church of Spiritual Technology.

The workshop is taught using materials from Dianetics. J. W. Alden posted a thread with one of the first handouts the writers receive at the WotF workshop. I remember that particular worksheet from my own workshop week. What I didn’t know until Alden pointed it out was that the text of that worksheet comes directly from page one of Dianetics.

Transphobic edits. Keffy R. M. Kehrli was a WotF winner in 2011. His story “Bonehouse” was, to the best of his knowledge, the only story to receive any edits that year. The edits in question? Removing references about a trans character who was transitioning.

The anthology sells poorly…except to Scientologists. Jason Sanford investigated the Bookscan numbers for previous WotF anthologies. He found sales to be relatively low, but with an unusual anomaly:

“Across this three week period sales match up extremely well with related Scientology locations, which would suggest more than 90% of total sales are bought in locations with a large Scientology presence.”

This would not be the first time the church encouraged or forced members to buy books with Hubbard’s name on them.

The publicity machine has gotten much more intense since 1999. Winner Anaea Lay wrote about her mixed feelings after the workshop. One quote that jumped out at me was, “The winners are not real people to ASI. It’s not malicious. From ASI’s perspective, there are no real people, just pawns in their great publicity machine designed to sell books with L. Ron Hubbard’s name on them.”

WotF Staffers are all Scientologists. This point was made by ex-Scientologist Dierdre Saoirse Moen, and affirmed by contest director Joni Labaqui in a letter to Frank Wu (see Edit 4 in the linked blog post).

  • Why does this matter? I see two things here. One is that it undermines the idea of any real barrier between the church and the contest. The other is various reports of unfair labor practices within Scientology, and whether the people working at WotF are a part of that.

Winner speeches are allegedly used at Scientology ceremonies. Former Scientologist Mike Rinder writes that the winners’ speeches and photos are used at weekly Scientology “graduation” ceremonies, as a way of bestowing legitimacy on both L. Ron Hubbard and the church.

WotF Presence at the 1987 Worldcon. Conspiracy Theories, edited by Chris Evans, is a chapbook discussing the presence of Author Services Inc and related manifestations of L. Ron Hubbard at Conspiracy, the 1987 World SF Convention in Brighton, England. I’m not sure how much weight to give events from more than 30 years ago, but it’s part of the history, so I thought it worth including the link.


None of this makes me any less proud of my winning story from 20 years ago. The judges are not Scientologists, and they chose my sword and sorcery piece as one of the best stories they saw that year. I enjoyed the workshop, made some friends, and had a wonderful experience.

Did it kickstart or provide an irreplaceable boost to my career? Nope. I can’t see into alternate timelines, but I’m 99% sure I’d be in the exact same place if I’d never won. (Everyone’s experience is different, of course. I know the contest was much more of a springboard for at least one now-big-name author. But as a rule, a single story sale/publication will not make or break your career.)

I’m not interested in shaming winners or people who choose to participate, or the judges, some of whom are people I have tremendous respect for. But I want to make the information available so people can make more informed choices about whether to participate.

If I’d known then what I know now? I would have removed Writers of the Future from my submission list and sent that story to another market, somewhere without the transphobia, with a bigger audience, and without the close connection to a religious organization with a long list of alleged abuses.

April 1 Roundup

Feel free to add your favorites in the comments. (Let’s avoid the cruel/hurtful jokes, thank you.)

Jim C. Hines