Pipsqueak Articles

Posts written by Olga Werby or Christopher Werby

Accidental Horror Story

In the name of the People

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a short story. The idea came to me upon seeing some blog post on how “I Love Lucy” and “Honeymooners” and “M.A.S.H.” are just some of the first shows aliens on a distant planet will watch as part of first contact with Earth. What would those people think of us? Will the humor, dark or slapstick, be lost on them? Would they see us as “good people”? First impressions matter… So I envisioned a world full of pacifists who devise a scheme to protect their planet from hostile aliens by creating content designed especially to scare off visitors from other worlds. It turned out to be a fun short story and I submitted it to one of my favorite publishers: Mariah Axiz of 600 Second Saga. Mariah is a connoisseur of the strange and wonderful; she had published several of my stories in the past; I love her work… I hit submit and waited…and waited. A few days later I got an email back: “This is NOT my kind of story. I don’t do horror…” Horror? What? I don’t write horror stories…well, I did write “The FATOFF Conspiracy”…and “Pigeon” has aspects…

Memory and Storytelling

nerve cell

Our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. — Oliver Sacks, The River of Consciousness, page 121 Our memories are not static. Each time we reach for one, we refresh and form new neuron connections, in fact changing the memory itself via our contemplation of it. Like Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle — we can observe a particle’s momentum or its position but not both simultaneously — each time we recall a particular event, we change it due to that recollection. After the mental touch, the memory is no longer the same. And this is true not just in some metaphorical sense, but in a real, tangible, physical way — the act of recall alters the neuron structures forever! And yet we eagerly recollect our favorite memories, and we just as eagerly try to forget the painful ones (and the very act of thinking of those painful memories makes them that much stronger, that much more connected and integrated into our neural memory networks). Social groups have always been aware of this property of memory. Cultures are molded out of stories, songs, epics, ballads, and now memes that bind us…

Another Wave of Refugees

Refugees

“Another wave of refugees is arriving,” the TV news announcer said in a grave voice. George Tiggleson, the news anchor for XWTZ Christian Voice of Americas, has been practicing this voice — deep, resonant, with a slight lamenting quality — for almost twenty years. This voice got him this job. “Are we as a nation ready to take responsibility for thousands of new souls? Can we feed them? House them? Educate them in our ways?” He paused for dramatic effect. His viewers were 90 percent against accepting more refugees. He’s been hammering home the message of astronomical costs of dealing with them. And it’s been working. “But we can’t just turn them away, George,” said George’s News Hour guest, Dr. Varsaad Volhard. “Where will they go? It’s a death sentence–” “Hold on there, Dr. Volhard.” George didn’t let her finish. His viewers hated her “hollering”. The more he put Dr. Volhard down, the higher his ratings got. “We’ve accepted into our bosom almost twenty-five thousands souls so far. That’s more than any other country in the world. Haven’t we done our share? Why do American people have lay out their hard-earned money over and over again? Where would this end?”…

Us and Them

Warm versus Competent graph

Of Doctors, Babies, Kings, and Zombies Before starting my journey as science fiction writer, I got a few degrees under my belt — astrophysics, mathematics, cognitive science, education, etc. It took a few decades (I’ve gotten married and had a family in there somewhere), but I got my doctorate and have used and still use it to help people think through complicated problems, mostly in product design. How is this relevant to writing, you might ask? Well, in addition to witnessing and surviving some amazing situations — always a good experience for a writer — I’ve acquired a few tools on how to think about situations and people. I would like to share one such tool with you: Us versus Them, a cognitive perspective. What people (and other animals) are very good at is dividing themselves into Us’es and Them’s. It’s a useful tool when we live in a divided world — how else do we keep clear of our allegiances to countries, sports teams, and political parties? But these divisions have neurological and psychological underpinnings. Consider a four square graph that charts competency versus likability (emotional warmth and approachability): We perceive (our) doctors as warm, personable, and able. We…

There’s a word for that?

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Tower of Babel

A Dictionary of Cool Words That Hide True Feelings & Meanings from Parents Many of the strange vocabulary words, that Jude and her friends, from my new novel The Far Side, use, arise from their need to create a sense of linguistic privacy from the grownups. These are real and come from hard-to-translate words from other languages, professions, or sub-cultures. Age-otori — a feeling that you look worse after the haircut. (Based on a Japanese word.) Ataraxia — a sense of stoic calm. (Based on an ancient Greek word.) Backpfeifengesicht — a face in need of a fist. (Based on a German word.) Chingada — a hellish place where all that annoy you go. (Based on a Spanish word.) Desenrascanço — to find a creative way out of a bad situation. (Based on a Portuguese word.) Dépaysement — the sense of displacement one feels when visiting a foreign country and being far from home. (Based on a French word.) Doppelgänger — a duplicate of a person. (Based on a German word.) Dustsceawung — the contemplation of the idea that everything turns to dust eventually. (Based on an Old English word.) Eudaimonia — deep fulfillment and the resulting happiness, even as…

600 Second Saga: Toy Maker

warrior queen toy

I am very happy to share a performance by Mariah Avix of one my short stories, Toy Maker. Mariah is an author and reader — her voice adds an amazing dimension to the telling of a tale. I feel like she brought my characters to life. I hope you enjoy her performance as much as I did. And please listen to her other readings of science fiction and fantasy — 10 minutes per week to listen, yet enough joy to last much much longer. *** This story is dedicated to little Ian — may you grow up strong, smart, and perceptive.