In Response to Brokenmindthoughts

Since the TheIdeaBird's Tumblr mirror was mentioned on io9.com (http://io9.com/the-idea-bird/) that site has gained a lot of followers. More so, I think, than my home site, http://TheIdeaBird.net. Consequently some of the founding ideas aren't on the Tumblr front page. I was originally inspired to come up with a story idea blog from the book The Mystery of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg: A wonderful kids book consisting of a single piece of artwork and a couple of lines of text on each page. Teachers have been using this lovely book for ages to get kids thinking and writing.

My goal for this site, part exercise, part exorcise, is to pass out free story ideas. Just enough for you to lift your nose to the sky and sniff possibility in the wind. I try very hard not to come up with a conclusion or definite characters. I'm not always successful, and often have my own ending in there. On days when that happens, I consider that a fault on my part. I want you to take it out for a flight and see where you end up.

I'm honored that you tried that with one of my pieces.

Taking apart the idea you worked with:

Explorers come across savages living in the remains of an automated civilization. They determine that the people were all enslaved by their leaders using nanobots. Over time, due to cosmic rays, etc., the nanobots instructions, mutated and they couldn’t reproduce properly. The explorers find the original nanobot programming, and there is great temptation to rebuild a slave society.

I'd read a couple of stories about nanobots gone wrong. One in particular was a nice little slice of mystery story where humans are all acting strangely and in the end we find out nanobots accidently enslaved everyone. Fun. Of more interest to me was the scientific idea of any self-replicating unit becoming subject to error and mutation, whether the unit was biological or technological. But a self-replicating tech unit might not have the guide rails of natural competition that biology provides in spades, red in tooth and claw as they say.

That's an idea—how do I make it a possible story? Human nature. You come across a savage society, you find the keys to ruling them. Are you a savage who enslaves them, or a liberator who nurtures them? A great many explorers found guns gave them great power over lower-tech societies, and things didn't go well. Who are you, given that power? That's the conflict. As god of your story, with ulitmate power over your slave-characters how do you have it come out.

So, a variant on a scientific idea, a possible conflict. The only thing missing is the elegant presentation of the idea. I can claim that I am trying to use the barest economy of well-chosen words, painting a picture in the least brush strokes. I can speak of Basho and the parallels of haiku to create something timeless in a miniature space. But hey, I'm trying to find something new every three days. Some days are better than others. The Ideabirds with word choices that delight me fall with a thud, and the clunkiest (to me) birds lift up a chorus of delight. >shrug< I dunno.

I love doing this, I really do. It gives me an excuse to dive into fascinating technical stories and follow the paths of wonder. I'm a happier man. But what would really make me happy is if there was a way I could monetize this. Like Mark Twain & William Shakespeare and all the rest of us chicken-scratchers I gots kids to raise and bills to pay. And sadly, there seems to be an inverse proportion to how much fun something is and how well it's compensated. Don't mean to sound whiny, just pragmatic.

I will try to post one of my shorts soon. I want to read it, though. Make it available as an MP3 to enjoy when you want.

Thanks for your interest, and thanks everyone for reading!

Tony Jonick, Oakland CA


Socknitster (Twitter) responded on 8/13/2012:

I just wanted to make a quick comment. I completely understand your desire to somehow monetize this. You have a unique ability, honestly, that I, for one, find amazing and inspiring. Your brain makes all these many amazing connections between disparate things. I'm creative too, a writer, and I am pretty good at many aspects of the craft but this is one area where I stunningly fall short. I struggle with this stuff.

I first discovered you on Io9 and have been watching off and on for some time, your tumblr account. Amazed at your prolific nature. I have another friend like you that I bounce ideas off of--she is so revved with ideas much of the time that she struggles to finish any one project. Me, once I've decided on an idea I can plod along for months, completely, blissfully monogamous. But sadly, my first book, while praised as a great piece of writing just doesn't have the most exciting plot, which effectively drowns it. It was, however a great place to hone my craft, so I can't really have regrets. I'm now working on the second, which, I dearly hope is better.

So, I read and study and try to understand plot. I think I intuitively get how it's supposed to work--there is a sort of backbone to all books--an architecture perhaps born of mythos. But finding the right twists and turns! Ugh. I love writing scenes, dialogue. That's exciting. Working out the plot for an entire book fills me with dread!

Oh well, enough rambling. I just wanted to let you know your shout out into the void was heard, registered, and understood.

© Tony Jonick 2013