Please help me decide…

I’ve been raving about The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne for a while.

As a Big Five editor for 25 years, Shawn’s grid method was so sought after that successful authors would leave their publishers to work with him. But the stress was making him miserable, so he left the pressure cooker, finally creating a balanced life where he does what he loves: developmental editing, which is, in Shawn’s words…

“…working with somebody who is very dedicated to what they want to do, and taking the time and working methodically through a process so that they become a better and better writer.”

He’s doing that now with Tim Grahl on a podcast that’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard.

Of the 85 books about writing fiction that I have on my shelves and in my Kindle, The Story Grid is a significant outlier. In terms of reducing bestseller magic to concrete, reproducible, often indispensable parts, Shawn’s book is in a league of its own.

His grid process is ingenious, detailed and requires sustained effort to learn and follow – about like everything else on Earth that works any sort of wonders. (Speaking of wonders, please check out The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.)

So I applied for one of 25 slots to learn The Story Grid’s developmental editing techniques from Shawn Coyne in Nashville this September, and to my surprise, I was accepted. I’ll be listed on his site as an editor offering his methods.

Now I need your help in deciding something that’s really important to me. I have 6,733 followers here.

Tell me if I should…

1. Use this site (storiform.com) for my future developmental editing service as well as my blog, probably with a lighter-colored theme, or…

2. Should I make another site for the editing service?

What do you think?

I just need a 1 or a 2 as a comment below. (If you have time, more advice would be appreciated, of course.) Or email me.

Thanks so much,

M. Talmage Moorehead


My Gray Alien

“Disgusting!” it said. “I don’t care much for cultured cheese. Have you got any white trash?”

“That’s racist,” I said, cringing. “You claim you’re mechanical? Prove it.”

It nodded sincerely. “Brains and all.” A narrow tongue came out to test a pea, encircled it and drew it into its mouth. “Gross!” Two spindly hands came up and pushed the plate of peas aside. One pea came out of its mouth under pressure and flew across the room, striking Halo, my black Labrador Retriever, in the left eye.

Her eyebrows drew in, then up, questioning our motives.

“Sorry, sweetheart,” I said, hoping her eye wouldn’t swell shut. I knelt beside her to inspect things, but all was right once she realized the bullet was edible. Her beaverish tail toppled the milk cartons on the kitchen trashcan as her backend sidestepped to the refrigerator and beat a runic canter – whap, whap, whap.

I loved that happy sound, but my thin guest had won Halo’s heart in under a minute with a single pea. It was unsettling.

“Everything you’ve given me tastes like weed killer,” it said and tossed an arc of peas at Halo’s nose, one after another, spaced an inch apart.

“Proof enough,” I said coveting its dexterity and quickness.

If Halo had held position, the peas would have landed on her nasal septum, but she lurched after the first few and the others beat a cadence on the milk cartons and floor.

Glyphosate,” I said to explain the peas’ flavor, hoping not to prompt a round of whining about herbicides, carbon dioxide and the rainforests. One grows weary, and if this gray non-alien joined the chorus, I was prepared to shoot myself. “I like the way a tablespoon of Roundup subtlizes the bouquet,” I said, winking at my gourd-headed guest. “Millions would starve without this fine chemical and the GMOs that suck it up.”

“I’ll join the starving,” it said, exposing the empty plate to Halo’s tongue. “What’s the year?”

“2017.” I glanced at my watch to avoid error.

This morning when I met my guest, I was minding my own business, stepping out of the shower.

There it stood beside my slippers without a stitch of clothing and no detectable genitals. Just great, an alien finally shows up and it’s a clichéd Gray! But the little thing claimed to be from the future. Earth’s future.

“Why don’t you have any genitals?” I asked, going straight to the philosophical.

“Gender wars. Both sides wanted truce, but neither could stand the sight of the other.”

“I see,” I said, though I didn’t. “The whole cache of humanity opted for test-tube progeny?”

“Quite.” The creature looked at my shower curtain with thinly veiled disdain, its non-nostrils sniffing and flaring.

“None of the concupiscence of lessor times, then,” I said, as a song came to mind…

No balls at all, no balls at all.

Married a man with no balls at all.

I hoped the little thing wasn’t telepathic.

“None.” It cocked its head thoughtfully. “The horizontal deed became loathsome and abhorrent.”

“So you say.”

Just this morning I had believed its every word, but now I was seasoned and more inclined to press for truth. Can you imagine humans abolishing copulation? Ridiculous claims demand preposterous proofs, as the astronomers say.

“So humans will rid themselves of gender. Interesting. But if so, would I be far afield in assuming that these brilliant and technical humans of Tomorrowland seldom poop?”

“The seldomest.”

“As in, absolutely never?” I was relentless, leaving no wiggle room for unwarranted bathroom confrontations should the creature’s visit become protracted.

“‘Never’ would imply the seldomest,” it said. “Unless I’m mistaken.”

“Would you care for a wing of bird?” I asked, pawing at the refrigerator with my back to the slightly gray non-alien. “It’s chicken, loosely speaking.”

“Oh, no, no, no, no, no.” It gagged as if ready to hurl on Halo’s floor. Nothing came up, though. “Two thousand seventeen? Are we sure?”

I am.” I re-checked my watch. “Yes. 2017.”

“I should have studied history,” it said. “I never imagined cannibalism in this era.”

“It’s not human chicken, for heaven’s sake. It’s scarcely avian.” I searched the box for ingredients but found none.

The self-proclaimed human closed its eyes and bowed its head. “This is why we became mechanical.”

“What is?”

“What is ‘what is’?”

“I’m asking why the human race became mechanical.”

“Oh.” It had no eyebrows, but seemed to raise one at me nonetheless. “The more our technology compared animals to humans, the more blurred the distinction became. Self-awareness, free will, zero-field soul, continuity of identity, participation in the One, etcetera, etcetera.”

“Thanks for that last couplet. If you’d included ‘enlightenment’ I might have stuffed my head down the garbage mill and flipped the switch.” I glanced at the sink.

It ignored me. “The deeper we explored, the more identical our signatures appeared, until we realized we were basically indistinguishable from the rest. Hence the need for a vegan diet.”

“Indistinguishable, really?”

It nodded. “Qualitatively, but objectively.”

“You might have a go at an avocado, then,” I suggested.

“It all started with vitamin B12,” it said as if confiding a deep regret. “A touch of genetic tinkering to sidestep megaloblastic anemia on a vegan diet. Our motives were pure as the solar silk.”

“I didn’t know the sun had…”

“Then the lac operon. A perfectly simple patch to bring humanity into line. No more cow’s milk for adults.”

“I see. Couldn’t they have more easily declared cow’s milk sacred?” I suspected India’s ancient “aliens” of similar mischief.

It shook its head dismissively. “Altering the lactate genes opened Pandora and the pursuit of a moral utopia smothered genetic diversity.”

Verbose little thing. “Moral utopia?” Again, I thought of Disneyland.

With refrigerator doors open and my hunting instincts engaged, I found an avocado and thrust it behind me in the direction of my guest, then bent at the hips for a glimpse of the bottom shelf. Halo appeared beside me, her head millimeters from mine, her tongue lapping the bottom shelf. The cooling motor came on and startled her. She flinched and bumped her nose on the shelf above but kept licking.

“I can’t promise this is non-GMO,” I confessed without looking, “but a dash of soy sauce hides the three woes.” I waved the expensive fruit blindly behind me and felt the smooth skin of its fingers touch mine as it accepted the offering.

“I’ve read about these,” it said. “Never dreamed I’d see one.”

“I’d rather see than be one,” I said, mainly for Halo’s edification.

Our guest laughed.

I stood and turned.

“That’s a reference to the purple cow!” it said, and laughed loud and long.

Though nothing was funny, I laughed along with it, unable to abstain.

It gained composure before I did and took a bite of the avocado, peels and all. Then swallowed without chewing.

Suddenly I knew it was human. Just as human as Halo and me. Well, not Halo, I suppose. But our unlikely guest was not a machine at heart, and now I’d found a way of knowing such things with certainty. A breakthrough!

“OK, then,” I said, feeling ready. “What’s the message?”

“Come again?”

“Clearly I’m the chosen one. Selected to deliver an urgent message to humanity. Let’s have it with haste, I don’t care how trite it sounds.”

The genderless gray picked up a pea that Halo had missed, hardly bending its knees in the process, its hands so close to the floor. “No offence, but I didn’t come to see you, Sir. I’ve come to witness a dog. Since extinction, they’ve become legend. Entire planets devoted to their memory – cults arising in youth sectors.”

“Oh.” My ego felt like a balloon propelled by escaping gas in a brief arc to the floor.

The creature gave the pea to Halo and tried to make kissing sounds the way I do, but with no lips it was futile. “If you want to deliver a message, though, I suppose…”

“Yes, yes?” Perhaps some glory for me after all.

“Tell humanity they’re depleting the most precious and rare resource in the Universe: the sacred ones and zeros.”

“Fabulous! I’ll spread the message far and…” But wait. “Ones and zeros can’t be depleted. How could they be sacred?”

The tiny human looked into Halo’s eyes as if I weren’t part of the real conversation. “You’ll figure it out,” it said. “Just make sure it’s something that can compete with digital devices. Something fun. Shame won’t free the digitally captured soul.”

Digitally what? I caught my reflection in the window above the sink. “Should I grow my hair out?” Maybe a ponytail. No. “What about a pompadour – like five inches tall with hairspray?”

…End of transmission…

M. Talmage Moorehead

On a more serious note, the spellbinding painting above is an oil by Spira of Greece. It’s entitled, “From Stardust” and comes to us on wood. Below is a closeup detail of the same piece. Thank you, Spira for allowing me to show this on my blog.

Please click over and meditate on this mesmerizing work, and maybe do some slow breathing to wake up the prefrontal cortex: SPIRA Soul Creations.