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Mystery Tribune Publishes “Tour De Forest”

Mystery Tribune, a magazine of fiction, non-fiction, art and photography that celebrates mystery and suspense, just published my story “Tour De Forest” (910 words; 4 minute read).

In this story, Philippe, a rising competitive cyclist who just won a stage on the Tour for the first time, wakes to find his bike stolen. In a mountainous and agrarian region of France, Inspector Coudert helps Philippe shed his naivety while working the case.

This story went through several versions prior to finding a home. One outlet wanted a stronger “sense of place” and which led me to conduct research. Limousin is (was) an actual agrarian region/province in France (now called Nouvelle-Aquitaine). The region, with fewer people and less development, has a strong tradition of local music that includes playing old style instruments (like bagpipes). 

Several readers suggested I write other stories with characters from this one. What do you think? I welcome your thoughts in the comments.

Thinking Through Risk and Uncertainty: Contemplating the Coronavirus

“Without a structured approach to ordering the world, the world will impose its views on us. The fact is some things are more important than others, some things are easily verifiable…Simple processes help us sort the mess and prioritize.”

from “Managing Risk by Screening Out Trouble”

The coronavirus presents two specific risks to most of us. One, we transmit the virus to someone vulnerable (older, ill, or immunocompromised). Two, we or someone we love gets sick or injured in some other way and can’t access the health care system because it’s overwhelmed. These risks highlight the interconnected nature of the situation. Our individual choices affect others.

Given the risks, how do we contemplate a path forward?

We know what we don’t know.

This is a numbers game. And the numbers will get worse before they get better. In forestry, for example, trees planted years ago give us the forests we have today. Waves of trees can grow in massive booms. Foresters call this “a wall of wood” or “the pig in the python”.

With the coronavirus, the spreading that occurred silently weeks ago gives us the infections we have today. We don’t know the infection rate, which makes it difficult to know the pervasiveness, speed and, ultimately, decline of the coronavirus. What tells us we can return to normal? When we have smog alerts or forest fires or car crashes or hurricanes or food poisoning, we have metrics and indicators that signal “all clear!” Why? Because we have data.

We don’t know what’s knowable.

It does not matter if this situation is better or worse than people think, thought or said; it just is. And currently, we don’t know what “is” is. We can’t yet touch the bottom of the pool because we don’t know how deep the water is. We need data, and data requires testing. Each and every failure to deliver, offer, conduct, collect and communicate the results of a test reflects a small crime and failing in this battle.

Anything short of complete, ruthless transparency obscures our ability to know what is knowable, develop plans and support each other. From here, we can chart a path for our teams and help people make decisions for their local situations.

We know what to do.

In forestry, we have systematic approaches that apply generally to situations requiring clarity for making decisions. First, work to understand the local situation, as it varies by region and market. Second, question the data to understand its quality (e.g. seek trustworthy sources such as Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center). And third, make (phone) calls to know what’s knowable and confirm that people have what they need to follow the simple practices we know work well.

With a clear sense of where we are and how things work, it’s easier to organize our teams and get moving. This gives purpose to our work and confidence in the process with an eye towards the future.

For those interested in a further discussion of strategic thinking (and how the coronavirus affects the forest industry), click here to read a five-page white paper.

Stories 2019: How Did It Go?

In 2017, I began submitting and tracking my fiction writing and then posted a 2018 update. How did it go this past year?

  • In 2019, I submitted versions and revisions of 33 stories 111 times to 49 different outlets. This included 22 contests.
  • Between January 1 and December 31, 2019, I received 106 rejections (including some for stories submitted in 2018) and two acceptances (1.9%).
  • One losing story received an Honorable Mention.
  • Several rejection notices came with brief comments from editors. A few of my favorites:
    • “We felt the story was well written and confidently told, and we thought the relationship between [A] and [B] well established. We wondered if this piece may benefit from expanding beyond the flash form… we’d love to read more of your work.”
    • “The editors felt that it was a little cutesy…”
    • “There’s something satisfying about that punch at the end!”

Much of the feedback on my stories in 2019, and in previous years, included versions of “this should be longer,” so I have kept that in mind when revising and writing. 

Stories Published in 2019

Three stories were published in 2019, including one accepted in 2018.

On January 22nd and August 27thDaily Science Fiction published independent stories with the same cast of characters. Both capture what my friend Danny Hamsley calls the “curse of the big brain”, which challenges us as parents raising children, and as adolescents dealing with clueless moms and dads.

On November 4thMicrofiction Monday Magazine published “Cedar Balls” (99 words; 1 minute read). My brother and Reverend Jim Ignatowski inspired the seventh, critical rewrite.

Enjoy the stories and thank you for reading!

Managing Risk by Screening Out Trouble

My work as a researcher in forestry sometimes highlights ideas relevant to developing plans or managing risk in other industries. For example, it helps to have a simple screening and ranking process. Without a structured approach to ordering the world, the world will impose its views on us. 

The fact is some things are more important than others, some things are easily verifiable, and some things depend on others. We have “nice to have” and “need to have.” There are “necessary” conditions and “sufficient” conditions. Simple processes help us sort the mess and prioritize.

At Forisk, my research team applies simple screens each quarter to the wood bioenergy sector to sift out speculative projects. Typically, our analysis suggests one-third of these projects will fail. We’ve fielded disgruntled calls over the years on this, but back-testing has found that our screening, applied consistently and systematically for over a decade now, has been helpful. 

Our screen poses two answerable and generalizable questions. First, does the project rely on a proven technology? In other words, does this thing work? Second, has this project secured at least two of the necessary resources or agreements such as financing; air quality permits; engineering contracts; or supply agreements? In other words, is this thing moving forward and on schedule?

While we can always ask other questions, this approach has proved useful in systematically distinguishing probable from speculative projects, investments, and technologies. Simple screens don’t tell us everything, but they do tell us something that focuses the mind and reorders follow-up questions.

We all apply screens in our lives. Does he tell the truth? Does this house have three bathrooms? Does this car have a big enough trunk for my flux capacitor? The key is to apply these screens consistently, systematically and then revise based on back-testing performance over time. That’s how we learn and improve.

For those interested in a further discussion of screening risk or the wood bioenergy sector, click here to read a seven-page white paper.

Stories 2018: How Did It Go?

In 2017, I began submitting and tracking my fiction writing in earnest. So, how did it go this past year?

  • In 2018, I submitted versions of 33 stories 76 times to 33 different outlets. This included 12 contests.
  • By December 31, 2018, I received 64 rejections and three acceptances (4.5%).
  • Two of the rejected stories did receive “Honorable Mentions” in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine flash fiction contests.
  • Several rejections came with brief notes from editors. A few of my favorites:
    • “…almost there with this piece…”
    • “…the exposition at the beginning stalled the story before it got started…narrator was over the top simple [and] stupid…”
    • “…the narrator has a rich voice, and the story is well told but constricted…this should be a longer story…”
    • “It wasn’t a bad story…I could see it in an episode of Tales from the Crypt.”

The three acceptances included my first professional (sold) stories, both to Jonathan and Michele at Daily Science Fiction. Thank you!

2018 Stories

Two of the accepted stories were published in 2018. 

On October 24thDaily Science Fiction published “Water Carrier” (591 words; 3 minute read). The idea for this story arrived during an NPR Driveway Moment. I remembered seeing The Gods Must Be Crazy, an indie film about a remote tribe disrupted by the arrival of a single Coke bottle, which proves useful and incites conflict. Then I imagined visiting a peaceful village lacking the ability to carry water.

On October 28th, 365tomorrows published “Day at the Office, Night on the Job” (353 words; 2 minute read). I remember hearing Bubbee, my wonderful grandmother, use the line “but the money was clean” once in a story involving (literally) dirty work. That line stuck with me and led to this story.

Enjoy the stories and thank you for reading!