How to Write a Science Fiction Story

Part 1: The How To

In trying, for several weeks, to wrangle a pile of pages stuffed with globs of ideas into a sci-fi story and not having much success, I decided to try a new approach. Well, a new approach for me, anyway. I jammed the papers into a shoe box, along with an empty notebook, three #2 Dixon Ticonderoga pencils, and one of those tiny pencil sharpeners that work pretty well if you’re patient. I brewed up a little pot of coffee and filled a small thermos; I find that sipping coffee helps me think. I waited until 6:45 p.m. (timing can be an important factor) and hiked to a park about 1.7385 miles away. I sat at an unoccupied picnic table. The park was littered with walkers and traversed quickly by occasional joggers and smattered with families tossing around various sporting items and two dads practicing cricket with four little boys and a few people sitting quietly on benches and on the ground, leaning against trees.
 I spread my papers on the table, fashioning five neat stacks, keeping the papers in place with rocks I had scooped up along a paved walkway that snaked through the park.
 I turned my Tigers cap around, the bill scraping the back of my neck when I looked up to count the stars appearing in the night sky.
 I poured out half a cup of coffee and took a small drink. 
 An idea popped up.
 I wrote it down.
 A second idea appeared.
 I wrote it down.
 The second idea glanced off something I had written months ago, sitting within the third pile of papers. As I leafed through the pages to find it, something unexpected happened.
 Oh, good, I thought.

Part 2: There Are No Bad Ideas, Maybe

As I sat at a picnic table in a park, assembling stray thoughts and ideas for a sci-fi story that had stalled more times than my rattle-trap AMC Gremlin of long ago, two of America’s youth joined me at the table to sit and unravel their kite string — a tangled, knotted snarl — while the kite rested on a tuft of forlorn grass. Perhaps calling the grass ‘forlorn’ is a stretch.

The lads, somewhere in age between 4 and 15, greeted me with a puffy-breathed “Hi Mister, OK if we sit here?” as they sat there and I replied, “Hey, sure, yeah, have a seat.” (I’ve reached an age where estimating the age of humans from other generations mystifies me. Good thing I no longer teach. I’d hate to stand in front of a class and think, ‘holy smokes, some of these sophomores are 6 years old!’)

The kids fumbled with the kite string.
 I fumbled with phrases and descriptions.
 The kids seemed to be making more headway than I was.
 And then one kid, a tow-headed rapscallion with more grass stains on his t-shirt than grass itself possesses, jumped straight up and proclaimed, “I gotta take a break!” (I just now confirmed the definition of ‘tow-headed’. Good thing I didn’t describe the kid as being a tow-headed rapscallion with shocks of jet black hair sprouting from his head.)
 The rapscallion swaggered over to my side of the table.
 He inspected my work like it was a sacred calling.
 He scratched his tow head loudly, the sound doing a nice job of mimicking a garden implement being drawn through fresh potato chips.
 “Whatcha doin’ there?” the rapscallion said. (Just so we’re clear, I know exactly what a rapscallion is, and this kid was the poster boy for rapscallionistic visages.)

“Working on a story,” I said.
 “Can I read it, can I read it, can I read it?!” the rapscallion said, several more times than the three I’ve documented here. I was inclined to say, ‘I don’t know, can you?’, but the mood didn’t strike me. Instead, I said, “Sure”, and pushed a page over to him.
 “Does it have swear words?” the scamp still wrestling with the kite string said.
 Rapscallion peered at me with his most furtively quizzical look.
 “Well, yeah, of course,” I said. “But the swear words are in alien languages so you wouldn’t know.”
 “Alien?” Scamp said. “Like from other planets way far away?”
 “Yup,” I said.
 “This story is about creatures and monsters from up there?” Rapscallion said with a theatrical flourish to the skies with his spindly arms. “Like, umm, science fiction?”
 “It is,” I said.
 “Can we help you write it?” Scamp said, dropping the string which then rolled down a short slope and undid his careful untangling.
 “Sure,” I said.
 “We have a lot of ideas, mister,” Rapscallion said. “A lot.”
 “Like seventeen or twenty,” Scamp said. “And they’re really good, too.”
 “Let’s hear ‘em,” I said. “There are no bad ideas, maybe.”

Part 3: Bad Ideas and Postal Clerks

Before I heard any ideas from the rapscallion and the scamp, a mom strolled up to the picnic table. If I were to characterize the look on her face, I guess I’d be tempted to go with a bemused and resigned concern; an unmistakable I’ve-done-this-too-many-times look.

“Are these boys bothering you, sir?” the Mom said, hands planted stereotypically on her hips.

“Nope,” I said. “We were talking about stories.”

“He’s writing a story about monsters from other planets, aren’t you mister?” Scamp said.

“Yeah, Mom,” Rapscallion added. “And we’re helping.” He held up the page I had given him. “And he sure needs the help! It’s kind of a boring story so far. Sorry, mister.”

The Mom looked down at the ground and shook her head.

Rapscallion handed me the page, which wasn’t the most electrifying passage I could have given to a kid. Mostly dialogue, no alien invasions, no explosions, no space ships.

“Let’s go, guys,” The Mom said. “Leave the man to his work. I’m sorry, sir.”

“No problem at all,” I said. “They’re good kids.”

“Mom!” Rapscallion said, elongating the word into nine syllables. “We haven’t told him our ideas yet!”

“Yeah!” Scamp said. “We have, like, nineteen or thirty ideas! Good ones, too!”

“You know what?” I said, bundling up my papers and jamming them into the shoe box . “I forgot about a meeting I have to get to. How about this?” I held out two sheets of clean paper. “Both of your write down your story ideas and, if your mother approves, you can give them to me in two days. I’ll be right here, at this table, at 6 o’clock.”

All were in agreement. Rapscallion and Scamp tore off across the park while The Mom scooped up the sheets of paper and waved them in my direction. I waved back as I headed for the light rail.

About nineteen or thirty minutes later, I sat back down in the friendly confines of a local coffee shop, papers reassembled in their five neat stacks. My sci-fi story took a bit of shape and then I called it a night.

The next morning, I had an actual meeting to go to. At a downtown branch of the U.S. Postal Service, to apply for my very first ever passport. I figured that, if the opportunity to travel abroad ever presented itself, it was probably better to not try to sneak in. So, here I was, at the Post Office, applying for a passport. While I waited for the clerk to thoroughly examine my application and birth record and driver’s license, I hauled out a folder with my most recent story ideas and leaned on the counter to jot down a few notes describing the clerk who had almost perfect features to use as a creature from another planet.

At one point, she looked over her glasses (perched precariously at the tip of her otherworldly nose) and said, “What are you writing?”

“Notes,” I said, innocence dripping off the word like maple syrup drizzling off a pancake held at a certain angle.

“Notes?” Marloofgruld from the Planet X579R said.

“Notes,” I said, even more innocently than before. I didn’t want to rile her up, she may be packing some sort of ray gun.

“Notes about me and how I’m doing my job?” she said, in what I imagined to be an alien tongue.

“Umm, well, not exactly,” I said. “I’m writing a story and an idea came to me. I didn’t want to forget it.”

Her mood instantly changed, perhaps a common trait among her kind of humanoid being. How interesting it would be to visit her world and see all the wonders it possessed.

“A story? You’re writing a story? What about? May I see it? You kind of look like one of those writers. I have a lot of ideas! Maybe you could use some in this story of yours. I’m thinking of writing a novel myself.”

“You know what?” I said, slipping my notes into my backpack . “I forgot about a meeting I have to get to. How about this?” I held out two sheets of clean paper. “We finish up on my passport application, and later on you write your ideas on these sheets of paper. I’ll come back in two days and we’ll trade — your ideas for a few pages of my story.”

An agreement was reached.

My passport application was completed.

I scrambled off to hop into the next light rail headed out of downtown.

I sat down among a small crowd of strangers and tried to disappear.

No such luck.

I saw something that needed to be written down, and as I wrote there was a tap on my shoulder.

Part 4: Advice from the Light Rail Literati

I should have known.

I should have known what would happen.

I should have known what would happen if I sat in a crowded car of the light rail, pulled a notebook and pencil from my backpack, looked around at the sampling of humanity, and wrote in a deliberately furious hand.

I should have known that someone would tap me on the shoulder.

I finished a sentence before responding with a humorless, “Yes?”

The shoulder tapper was a middle-aged whippersnapper clad in hipster garments tailored for someone with a different, slighter body style and some degree of color blindness.

“Whatcha writin’ there, fella?” Shoulder Tapper said.

“Working on a story,” I said and instantly realized that I should have lied bald-facedly and said something like, ‘shopping list, to-do list, penmanship practice’, as about two-thirds of the people crowded into the car reacted with melancholy enthusiasm. I had somehow accidentally sat in a light rail car populated by writers. Brooding, moody, gloomy, opinionated, self-absorbed, malodorous (well, one guy was, from what my nose picked up), serious writers, clad in mostly black outfits.

“Story!” said a gangly man in a rumpled suit. “Are you writing a story?”

“Hey, he’s writing a story!” a lady wrestling with an overstuffed backpack yowled.

“Where’s the story writer?” came from somewhere in the crowd.

“Who’s writing a story?”

And then I was swarmed by people wanting to read my story, workshop my story, help write my story, tell me about their story. Until Shoulder Tapper asked this question:

“What kind of story are you writing?”

“It’s a science fiction story,” I said.

There was no longer a swarm around me.

The Writers retreated as if I had announced I had a touch of bubonic plague.

Even Shoulder Tapper slid over a bit.

The light rail car fell silent, or as silent as a compartment this size rambling along a track can be. I continued to scratch out notes, as this particular scene might be of use in my story. I looked at the people wedged together and made note of facial contortions, hairdos, fashion choices, hair colors, and the difficulty of using a smart phone while being squeezed from all directions.

The gangly man then decided to reach out to me in a gesture of artistic brotherhood. That, or his ribs were smashed by the briefcase-wielding writer to his right and he needed to move.

“Maybe we can help you somewhat,” Gangly Man said. “But, you see, science fiction isn’t really literature.” He pronounced that last word very slowly so it came out as, ‘lit….rah…chure’.

“Hmm,” I said. “I see. Well, I’ll keep plugging along.”

There was a collective sigh from The Writers. They felt the pain I wasn’t feeling. They knew the suffering I hadn’t suffered. They endured the burden that wasn’t burdening me.

“Perhaps we could offer advice,” Gangly Man said, his words supported with ‘ohs’ more sorrowful than those wafting ‘cross the moors just east of downtown Wuthering Heights.

“Yes, share your story with us,” Shoulder Tapper said.

“I shall,” I said while looking as mournful and sullen as all get out. I shared my story with The Writers. More ‘ohs’, a few ‘ums’, and the stray ‘huh’ tossed in for dramatic affect drifted across the wee expanse separating me from those who practiced actual gosh-darned literature.

“You know,” a lady wearing a spinsterish squint on her face said, “I have a couple of ideas.”

“Some things come to mind, they surely do,” a man sporting a pork pie hat said.

“We can help! We’ll transform your story! We truly will!” came the wistful shouts.

Oh boy, I thought.

“You know what?” I said, slipping my notebook into my backpack and scooching toward the door . “I forgot about a meeting I have to get to. How about this?” I gave Shoulder Tapper several sheets of clean paper. “Whoever would like, write your ideas on these sheets of paper. In two days, take them to the post office at 1st and Madison downtown and give them to a clerk named Inez. Tell her they’re for the writer guy. I’ll pick them up and, by golly, we’ll have a story to tell, won’t we?”

I jumped off the light rail and waved to The Writers as they cast cheerless looks out the windows.

I hopped into the 67 bus headed north on 158th Street and as I jotted down a few final descriptions of the goings on in the light rail, two large and dusty men hovered over me.

“We have a question for you,” the larger of the two men growled.

Part 5: The Bus to Nowhere

I’m here to tell you that when you climb into any form of public transportation in any community anywhere and you’re loomed over by two huge guys wearing shabby clothing, the predicted outcome is generally not positive.

When I heard that growling question from the huger of the two shabby guys, “We have a question for you”, several thoughts burst into mental view.

First, I imagined a gentlemanly conversation, it was my turn to speak, and I would say something like, “Please share, good sir, I’m here to help.” Or, “You got questions, I got answers!” Or, “Look behind you, it’s your grandma!” — as I sprint out the back door of Bus 67.

Second, I imagined part two of the huge shabby guy’s question to be, “Why are you sitting in our seat?”, followed by my being hoisted skyward and deposited into another seat where I would sit quietly and begin recovering from any damage done to my person.

Third, I imagined being embroiled in some bizarre debate with these two ruffians, who suffered from clinically-diagnosed behavioral disorders, with no semblance of logic about it and no way to extract myself from it.

Fourth, I imagined this pair of proto-humans mistaking me for someone who owed them money, called them disparaging names once too often, or pulled the worst sort of prank on them and it was now pay back time.

And then there was this fifth thing.

A thing that hadn’t come to mind.

An unexpected thing.

A thing that made one shake one’s head.

The fifth thing, the thing that actually occurred was this: the less huge shabby guy held out several sheets of paper and said, “Are these yours? They mighta fell outta your backpack.”

I took the sheets of paper. They were the notes I’d written at the picnic table before Rapscallion and Scamp dropped by for a visit.

“Thanks,” I said.

“We couldn’t help but read ‘em,” Huge Shabby Guy said as the two monsters sat across from me while Bus 67 eased out into the street. “Sci-fi?”

“Yup,” I said. “A little story I’m putting together.”

“Sci-fi is OK,” Less Huge Shabby Guy said. “I prefer murder mysteries myself.”

“I like those, too,” I said.

There was one of those wordless moments on the bus that you are certain will not last as long as you’d like it to, so you treasure each second that passes in silence knowing that you’ll look back on that brief packet of time fondly. And there it went.

“You know, buddy,” Huge Shabby Guy said, “I’ve got some pretty dad-gummed good story ideas myself. Got ’em right here in this little notebook I found in the dumpster out back of the Target on TV Highway.” He pulled a small notebook from his pocket with pages having more dog ears than the real ears of all dogs everywhere. He waved it toward me. “Yes, sir, wrote ’em down right in here.”

“I’ve got story ideas, too, you know,” Less Huge Shabby Guy said. “And good ones, too.”

“How far are you going?” Huge Shabby Guy said. “We could really get your story rolling.”

Holy smokes, I thought.

“You know what?” I said, slipping the papers into my backpack and angling toward the door. “I forgot about a meeting I have to get to. How about this?” I gave each guy two sheets of clean paper. “You write your ideas on these sheets of paper. I’ll come back in two days and meet you back at the light rail stop. Let’s say, 8 o’clock. We’ll see if we can work your ideas into my story.”

The bus pulled up at a stop about a half mile from where I wanted to be, but I clambered out anyway. The shabby guys gave me thumbs up, three thumbs total as the lesser huge guy was light one thumb.

I stood on the sidewalk and rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands, thinking. There were the two kids — Rapscallion and Scamp, Inez the Postal Clerk, who knows how many of The Writers on the Light Rail, and the Two Shabby Guys, all contributing their spectacular ideas to my, at the moment, pitiful little sci-fi story.

My posture and attitude struck a chord with a passerby.

“You all right, sir?” he said, tipping his head in that I’m-here-for-you position.

“Yeah, I’m fine, thanks.”

“You look troubled is all.”

“Not really, but thanks. I’m working on a story and it’s –“

And, of course, there was an interruption.

Part 6: The Neverending Sci-Fi Story

How auspicious it was to bump into an adjunct professor of creative writing from a nearby community college. In the midst of my ill-considered explanation of the trance he found me in on the sidewalk along a quiet street, “I’m working on a story and it’s –“, he interrupted to say, “How auspicious! I just happen to be an adjunct professor of creative writing from a nearby community college!”

“Uh huh,” I said, jamming my reply with a massive lack of enthusiasm.

“We could do some impromptu workshopping of your story right here,” The Adjunct said. “Right in this place, on this sidewalk, so real, so full of life! Stories of its own to tell! Writing at its most trenchant! Literally taking it to the streets! Breathe in that air! It’s rich with prose!”

I wanted to say, “Holy smokes! What an ocean-going bargeload of bilge that was. Do you subject your students to great, heaping portions of that kind of malarkey and expect them not to run to the registrar and demand a full tuition refund? Do you yourself write stories that sound like that and, if so, do you anticipate anyone ever in the remaining history of humankind reading them without going stark raving bonkers? How about you swat yourself in the chops and tell yourself not to talk like that anymore.” But, all I could manage was ‘holy’ and ‘smokes’.

“How about I take a quick peek at your story?” The Adjunct said. “Can’t hurt, can it?”

“How about not?” I said, which sounded a little inconsiderate as soon as it fell out of my mouth. “Umm, well, the thing is, my story is in quite a few pieces right now, going in a lot of directions. I need to bring all the pieces together, see how things fit the best.”

“That’s my specialty!” The Adjunct said.

Of course it is.

He reached out, with a flourish, welcoming me to place my disjointed story in his care.

He received no pages of story notes.

“You know what?” I said, preparing to cross the street at a gallop. “I forgot about a meeting I have to get to. How about this?”

The Adjunct’s face fell like those slabs of ice you see dropping off glaciers in nature videos.

“Give me two days to pull my notes together,” I said. “I’ll be at this coffee shop at 8:30 in the evening.” I handed him a business card the coffee shop owner had given me when I last visited his place. “If you’re there, we’ll dive into the story. I’d appreciate the help.”

“You can count on me!” The Adjunct said as I barreled across the street.

At which point a police car’s lights flicked on and a significant mitt of a hand motioned me to stop right there.

Oh good.

Next, Part 7: The Bum Rap

So, I careen across four lanes of road, against the light and not at a cross walk, where the only car anywhere near me is an unmarked police car. And here we are. I don’t know how much a jaywalking citation will cost me, but as I watch the officer slap what is most likely a ticket book while approaching me it seems likely that I’ll be finding out pretty soon.

“In a hurry, sir?” the officer said.

Now, what am I supposed to say? I could go with the ‘I’m late for a meeting’, which has served me well recently, but what happens if the policeman offers to drive me to the meeting that doesn’t exist? Fresh out of ideas, I resort to the straight up truth.

“I was getting away from that guy across the street,” I said, and I shrugged for effect.

The officer pointed to the adjunct professor of creative writing from a nearby community college.

“Him?” Mr. Officer said. “The spindly little guy?”

“Yeah,” I said weakly. “Him.”

Mr. Officer looked again. “Hey, he looks familiar. Dr. Jensen?” Mr. Officer shouted. The adjunct professor of creative writing from a nearby community college waved.

“That’s my new friend!” The Adjunct Dr. Jensen hollered. “He’s going to a meeting!” The adjunct professor of creative writing from a nearby community college ambled down the street.

“That’s Dr. Jensen,” Mr. Officer said. “He’s an adjunct professor of creative writing from a nearby community college. I took a class from him a year or so ago. I’m writing detective fiction. He’s taught me a lot. Talks kind of kooky. So, you’re late for a meeting, huh? Sprinting into traffic could get you late for all meetings forever.”

“He offered to help me with my story,” I said, hoping the officer would decide against writing a fellow writer a ticket.

“You’re a writer?” the officer said.

“Well, sort of, in a way,” I said.

“Don’t move,” the officer said, and seeing as he was who he was, I didn’t move. Well, I moved a tiny bit. It’s not easy to stand perfectly still. The officer pulled into the 7–11 parking lot half a block down the street and came jogging back, carrying a thick file folder.

It appears that every single person in this community is a writer.

All people, all writers.

All of them, just writing away.

Pen and paper, typewriters, laptops, tablets, smart phones, if it can be written on or written with, everyone everywhere was writing on it and with it.

Stories and poetry and essays and plays, all getting written by all these people.

“Well,” I said, holding out my hand. “Let’s have a look.”

I flipped back the folder and scanned the first page, read the second page more closely, and paid careful attention to the third page.

It was good stuff.

“Holy cow,” I muttered. “A science fiction detective story. This is good.”

The cop grinned in a way I’ll describe as sardonic, only because a simpler word hasn’t come to mind and I refuse to look up ‘sardonic’ for the sole purpose of finding a simple synonym. I don’t know, maybe ‘acerbic’ or ‘mocking’ are better words, ‘mordant’ and ‘derisive’ don’t quite fit.

“You can say what you want, pal,” the officer said. “I’m not gonna write you up.”

“No,” I said. “It’s good stuff. Really. But, you know, thanks for letting me off. The story I’m working on is science fiction, too.”

The cop laughed.

I reached into my backpack and handed him my folder and notebook. He leafed through a few pages and mumbled a few ‘hmmms’ and ‘ohs’ and ‘huhs’.

“Here,” the officer said, reaching for his folder. He took it and removed a dozen or so pages, giving them to me. “Take these. I started on a sci-fi detective story and hit a wall right off the bat. It’s not working for me. Sci-fi is too…..out there. Maybe you can make something of it.”

“Umm, uh, okay, umm, thanks,” I said. “I’ll be at a coffee shop near here in two days, trying to make a cohesive story out of all this. Stop in if you have the time. It’s the place near Murray and Cornell.”

“Yup. Around 8 p.m.”

“Roger that,” the officer said and then trotted toward his car. “Gotta run. Cop business.”

The final piece to the puzzle, I thought.

Part 8: Bringing It All Together

The scene: a coffee shop, 8 p.m. Three men are sitting at a scuffed-and-dented wooden table, nursing cups of coffee. They flip through pieces of paper: reading, commenting, pointing. One man writes in a notebook, sometimes slowly and sometimes furiously. The tallest of the three, a city police officer, holds up two sheets of paper covered with a random sampling of crayon and pencil.

“Where did these come from?” the cop asks. Dr. Jensen, adjunct professor of creative writing from a nearby community college, peers over the cop’s shoulder.

“Aren’t those the cute little scratchings from the frolicking imps you told us about, Jack?” The Adjunct says. “What did you call them? Rascal and Chump?”

“Right,” I say. “Those are them.”

“You called a kid Chump?” the cop says.

“No,” I say. “I referred to them as the rapscallion and the scamp. Their names are Glen and Sammy.”

“That’s it! Of course!” The Adjunct blurts. “The Rapscallion and his loyal associate, The Scamp! Noble youth seeking adventure, with riotous tales of derring-do and bravado to tell!”

“See what I mean?” the cop says to me in a whisper. “Kooky talk.”

“Roger that,” I respond.

More papers are read and separated into piles and rearranged and repiled and arranged again. I make an outline, the Adjunct makes an outline, the cop makes an outline. We compare outlines and find a few common threads and start over. The cop holds up two sheets of grubby paper.

“Where did this mess come from?” he says. “The pages are filthy.”

“Filth is in the eye of the beholder!” the Adjunct says. “One man’s pornography is another man’s art! What I call smut, another may call provocative! You rate it X, I rate it–“

“Doctor Jensen,” the cop interrupts. “By filthy, I mean the papers are soiled. As in, dirty. Dirt dirty. Soil soiled. As for the words, I can’t find anything that makes sense.”

“Oh,” I say, “those would be the papers from the two homeless guys, Gary and Moose. Gary has a penmanship problem, Moose has a lucidity problem, and they both have a, umm–“

“Yeah,” the cop says, holding one paper by its only clean corner. “Right, I get it.”

Dr. Jensen is leafing through a thick stack of paper, some pages typed and others hand written. His nose crinkles and he shakes his head while quickly thumbing through the remaining pages.

“From whence cometh this strange device?” the Adjunct says. “It is odd and discordant and prolix and confused! And yet, I cannot turn away from it! It draws me in with its curious magnetism!”

“That’s the stuff Inez the Postal Clerk gave me,” I explain. “I kind of like it, what I’ve read.”

“Along with an unstamped envelope?” the cop says.

“Yup,” I say. “That would be from the light rail car full of writers.” The cop opens the envelope.

“There’s only one sheet of paper in here,” the cop says. “A few lines is all.”

“From a car full of writers?” the Adjunct snorts. “Cretins! Pompous fools! Dolts! A pox on the lot of them! Why, those two lads, Whippersnapper and the Champ, contributed more!”

The cop grabs up our cups and orders refills. Dr. Jensen, the adjunct professor of creative writing from a nearby community college, walks over to a picture window and stares into the night. I have a bit of an idea, and I grab up papers to form a single stack.

“Whaddaya got goin’ there, Jaywalker?” the cop asks as he sets down the mugs.

“Give me a minute,” I say.

“The Muse has awakened!” Dr. Jensen says. “I gaze off across the suburban hauntscape….” And his words drift off to a place neither the cop nor I wish to go. I pat the corners of the pages, straightening the stack. I tap the top sheet.

“That’s it,” I proclaim.

“What?” the cop says. “It’s done? Your story’s done? Just like that?”

“Yup,” I say. “All I have to do is type it up.”

Dr. Jensen walks over and stares at the stack of paper. “Creativity, literature, art! Our souls, kind sirs! Our souls lie before us, nestled softly amidst these modest papers, caressed by–“

“For crying out loud, Doc, give it a rest,” the cop says. “Sit down and drink your stinking drink with the twenty-word name that cost me a day’s pay. Let’s see the story.”

I slide the pile to the cop.

He sees the first page.

Dr. Jensen looks over his shoulder, sees the opening sentence, and smiles.

Without turning his head, the cop glances my way, eyes dark, mouth set.

“This is the start to the story I gave you,” the cop says flatly.

“Indeed it is,” I said. “I’ve got words from kids and hobos and postal clerks and light rail rider writers — good words, but scattered and unfocused. All it took was the stuff from a cop on patrol to bring it all together.” I raised my mug. “A toast, gentlemen. To science fiction.”