Interview with Author Pamela S. Canepa

Meet Science Fiction Author, Pamela Schloesser Canepa

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Pamela’s sci-fi novel, Detours in time, is being released on 6/16. Join me for some background information on this author and her new novel

Detours in Time blurb: Feisty Tabatha, a struggling artist, and Milt, an awkward science professor set off on a journey to the future. What was supposed to be fun soon turns quite intense when they make discoveries about their future selves and end up on other “detours.” The two set events into action that may save one life, yet destroy another. Can these friends of completely different mindsets agree on a course of action? Can Tabatha stick to Milt’s rules of time travel? Both Milt and Tabatha struggle to witness and not participate in a place and time that is not yet their own.

Amid the backdrop of a future that reveals great wonders and horrors, Tabatha (Pinky) and Milt must resist the temptation to use discoveries from future technology to aid them when they return to the present. Detours in Time starts as a fantastic escape and grows to present many moral dilemmas and surprises that can either destroy the strongest bond or bring two people closer.

What inspired you to write Detours in Time? My long walks with my dog always spark my imagination. On a pleasant walk, I can look up at the sky and imagine flying to another planet. On a hectic walk, he is chasing some creature that’s smaller than him; this is what fueled my ideas of hybrid animals. I also believe that parts of this book reflect my anxieties about the what-ifs.

What makes you enjoy writing Science fiction? Note the aforementioned word, “anxieties.” I tend to get anxiety, as many of us do. I recall a time in life when I noticed that certain sci-fi movies caused me anxiety. Then, I realized, these movies always ended with someone emerging a warrior and a survivor. So there was an investment and a pay off in this genre, as long as an audience cares about the characters. That’s part of the pull of Science Fiction, I think. It imagines all the possibilities, no matter how horrible, and then creates characters that can withstand and overcome them. I mean, look at what mankind has already withstood. It seems that Science Fiction has the potential to make us stronger. It also has the potential to be more accepting, particularly social sci-fi, something that I touch on in the Made for Me series, my first published books.

Will you write in any other genres? Yes, I plan to write paranormal fiction. Again, it entertains those “what-if” ideas, and I have them all the time! Maybe I will also write Contemporary Fiction, but I don’t have a current project in that genre.

What type of books do you like to read? Well, of course, Science Fiction. I also like alternate History, Paranormal, Women’s Fiction, Mystery and Crime thrillers. Stephen King is one of my favorite authors; 11-22-63 is one of his books that I loved the most and could not put down!

Tell us more about this summer’s new release. Detours in Time is a sci-fi, time travel adventure. Writing it started out as a nice vacation for me, and then it grew more tense and suspenseful. In writing it, I grew close to the characters, and I am writing a sequel while I get ideas for even a third in the series. I added in a few side characters in order to further develop the character of Tabitha, and now there’s a family of people that I am concerned with, in her present and her future. I’ll stop before I give too much away!

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Detours in Time Book Excerpt: “Do you remember telling me once, Milt, that all possibilities existed within any given moment, but the possibility we get to live is the one we choose?” 

He nodded.  “Yes, I was explaining the theory of multi-verses.”

She went on, “And that all other possibilities still exist, we just won’t live with them in our reality?”  He nodded again.

“Maybe that’s the case with Brandon, and his parents.” 

Milt turned away, his mouth turned down at the corners.   If this was the closest he ever would get to losing a child, it sure was painful enough.  And to think, it was all his own doing.  Why did I even need to go there anyway?  He thought.  Why did I HAVE to know?  What the hell is wrong with me? Now I get the knowledge that I may have screwed up that very future, that dream of what might have been.   For it was all just a dream, wasn’t it?  The future did not exist yet.  All they had seen, was a future based on a trajectory of events projected from the moment they left in 1997.  Obviously Pinky was still able to be optimistic about the future to come, and how it may have been altered.

Early readers have called Detours in Time “captivating” and “unique.”

Detours in Time officially releases on 6/16, this week! Pamela has planned a Facebook launch event that promises to be interesting and fun. Join the event on her author Facebook, found with her social media links below:

Website: http://pamelascanepa.weebly.com

Social media: https://www.facebook.com/pamelacanepablog/ (Author Facebook)

 

Amazon Author site: http://amzn.to/1t3BYGU (Find Pamela’s previously published books)

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15166012.Pamela_Schloesser_Canepa

Detours in Time pre-order and buy link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0711ZW6XF
Author Pamela Schloesser Canepa is an instructor of Middle School English. She has enjoyed writing for various reasons ever since childhood, when she realized writing and making up stories would provide entertainment for long trips and keep her company. Her tendency toward fantastic stories was reflected in tales of discovering modern day dinosaurs and talking horses that would give her advice. Writing of poetry provided an outlet for private thoughts and emotions for years, until she decided to self-publish fiction in 2016. Pamela’s genres include science fiction, paranormal fiction, and poetry of all types. The “Made for Me” series was Pamela’s first published fiction series. Her first full-length novel, Detours in Time, is being released this summer. Currently, Pamela is working on a sequel to her time travel novel and developing more ideas for the character of Norrie from her Made for Me series.

 

 

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Alien Megastructure 2017: What Is It Really?

Last year, the dimming of a star roughly 1,300 light-years away known as KIC 8462852, or “Tabby’s Star,” led to theories about alien structures. Of course, there were also more mundane theories, like clouds of dust or dusty comets, or maybe the collision of a couple planets. That last one would probably be a cool thing to watch, even if it isn’t as interesting as “Aliens, man, aliens.”

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Being both a writer and from a family of habitural liars, I have quite the imagination. So when I first read about this, I immediately started picturing aliens, scrambling to build a Dyson sphere around their planet after they picked up one of our news broadcasts and learned that we’ve managed to invent Facebook, three different pills for impotence, and a Justin Bieber bobblehead, but no warp drive, so there’s still time to avoid us entirely if they hurry. (Last year, I originally thought they found out Donald Trump was nominated for president, but after reading more on the subject I learned the star started dimming between 2011 and 2013, so that didn’t fit the timeline.)

Recently, the star dimmed again, and that stirred up more alien theories…and my imagination. Now I’m thinking maybe this thing is a great big trap, meant to lure unsuspecting humans out to KIC 8462852 so the aliens can get started on their new cookbook, “To Serve Man.” (Yes, I spend way too much time watching reruns of “The Twilight Zone.”)

On the other hand, maybe the aliens are trying to help. Maybe they think we’ll send a representative, like a prominent politician. Or all of our planet’s politicians. THAT would do more for human society than anything else I can think of.

What do you think is causing the star to dim?

How to Edit Old Story Ideas: The Delete Key Is Not Your Friend

About six years ago, maybe more, I started writing a short story about a retail cashier dealing with the back-to-school rush at her store. Yeah, that was inspired by my own time in hell, er, retail, which was especially awful during back-to-school because the store was flooded with bratty kids trashing the store.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with kids. I have a problem with parents who refuse the discipline their kids. When I was little, if I pulled something off a shelf in a store, my parents told me to put it back, where it went, and neatly, because it wasn’t fair to leave a mess for someone else. And then they stood there and made sure I did it. Probably one of the few things they were right about, and that’s a very short list.

So, fast forward to when I’m an adult and working in a store, and I discover parents today don’t seem to teach this shit to their kids. Maybe a few do, but the majority that visited my place of employment didn’t. So I had to always put shit back so as not to inconvenience a cashier, but when I grew up and became a cashier, no one returned the fucking favor. Meanwhile, the parents did manage to find time to yell at me about things I had no control over, like the store being out of stock of something they wanted, or prices not being cheap enough, or limits on the really cheaply-priced items because they had ten kids and six erasers at the deep-discount price wouldn’t cut it, and somehow it was all my fucking fault they couldn’t use a condom.

So to make myself feel better, I started a short story in which a bratty little kid at a store gets abducted by aliens while his mom yells at a cashier about something stupid. I never finished it, because I wasn’t really inspired to figure out what happened when the aliens got him up to their spaceship. I always thought it was a great scene and I’d come back to it later and finish it, but for a long time, I didn’t.

I wrote other stuff.  I wrote my first book, Stupid Humans, and I wrote other short stories. I kept thinking I’d use that half-finished story as a scene in something, but I never had an “Ah-ha!” moment where I found the right place for it.

One day, while contemplating the Aliens Abducting Annoying Assholes series I do here on my blog, I started thinking about all the former coworkers, bosses, and annoying customers I’d dealt with at work. Could one of them inspire the next piece of flash fiction?

Then I remembered my half-finished story and decided to find it, which involved digging out my old terabyte hard drive, hooking it up, and combing through hundreds of badly organized files trying to find the damn thing. Naturally, I had no idea what I’d named the file. I found all sorts of stuff, including a couple other unfinished stories I decided to save for future use, and a couple of trunked second drafts of first and second novels I wrote years ago. Definitely didn’t feel like dealing with that.

After about three hours, I managed to find the damn thing. Now, how to finish it? It occurred to me that having the kid abducted wasn’t really fair, since his mom was really the asshole in the story. Also, I had played with the idea of the cashier getting abducted, since I often fantasized about being beamed up into an alien spaceship when forced to toil in that miserable hellhole. If the aliens couldn’t take my damn customers, maybe they could get me off this damn rock?

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But I still didn’t know what the aliens wanted, and I’d already written a story about an alien abduction from a busy store, so I wanted to do something different. I’d always wanted to write a parallel universe story, so I decided to get rid of the aliens entirely, leave the annoying asshole customer at the register, and have the cashier sucked into a parallel universe.

Suddenly, I had lots of ideas. How could things be different in this other universe? What if no one over there ever decided the customer was always right? Ultimately, my short story turned into a next-novel start. I’m currently at about 28,000 words, and enjoying my custom-designed universe. (Who doesn’t want to be in charge of their own universe?)

A couple people in my writing group like to say you should never throw away anything you write, even if you think it’s awful, because you might re-purpose it someday. Me, I never throw anything away because I’m too lazy to find the file on my computer and delete it, but you get the idea. (I’m also too lazy to delete anything in my inbox, so I can pretty much find any email I’ve ever sent or received ever. Laziness is handy.)

All this thinking about parallel universes has made me ponder if there’s another universe where I decided to stick with the alien abduction story. I wonder how it turned out?

Aliens Abducting Annoying Assholes Taking Nominations

Do you know an annoying person (coworker, boss, neighbor, relative, whatever) you’d like to see beamed up into a spaceship? I can help. I mean, I can’t actually get the aliens to come pick them up, unfortunately—if I could, I’d be long gone from this rock. Sadly, despite my best efforts, the aliens have refused to talk to me. (The people at the Very Large Array did finally drop that pesky restraining order though, so maybe I’ll try again.) Anyway, I can’t get the aliens to abduct the annoying people in your life, but I can sure write a piece of flash fiction in which they get abducted by aliens.
Here at Stellar Sarcasm, I do a series of science fiction stories about alien abductions called Aliens Abducting Annoying Assholes. Here’s the deal: Message me here or on my Facebook page and tell me about a person you’d like to get abducted by aliens. Names will be changed to protect the guilty and me from lawsuits. When I’m not working on my next science fiction book, I will write a piece of flash fiction in which this person gets hauled off to another planet in a comical and satisfying way, and post it here on my blog.

 

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Take Me to Your Leader

“Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.” 
 Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Take Me to Your Leader

It was just an ordinary day on the White House lawn until the spaceship arrived. Secret Service agent Bob Wilson and his partner, Agent Jerry Hargrove, stood guard on the lawn outside the West Wing, a few feet in front of the Oval Office’s bulletproof windows. Out of the corner of his eye, Bob caught a glimpse of the president, waving his hands in the air as he talked to some foreign diplomat, but Bob remained focused on scanning the lawn for any sign of threats.

Fortunately, everything was peaceful. Nothing stirred on the immaculately manicured green lawn. Bob’s earpiece, which the Secret Service agents used to communicate with each other, was silent. He was just about to check his watch to see if it was almost time for his lunch break when he noticed a stirring in the grass.

It was the sort of thing that happened when a helicopter was about to land, and he instinctively looked up, moving a hand to the gun on his hip. Above and about twenty feet ahead hovered a spaceship. It was round, larger in the middle, not unlike some of those flying saucers he’d seen in bad science fiction movies. Unlike a helicopter, it was not loud, which explained why he had seen the grass stirring before he noticed it.

It did not, however, explain why he was cracking up.

That had to be it. This stress of guarding a guy who pissed people off more often than the average politician smiled for the camera had finally gotten to him, and he was having some sort of mental breakdown. Aliens aside, a spaceship couldn’t really land on the White House lawn. If any kind of aircraft got anywhere near the protected airspace over the White House, the Secret Service would have been notified and the White House evacuated as a precaution.

So, breakdown it was.

If I’m going to lose my mind and start hallucinating, why couldn’t it be something better than a spaceship? Like a deserted island and the Victoria’s Secret Angels? Now there’s something to—

“Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” Jerry also had his gun pointed at the saucer-shaped object.

Bob blinked at his partner. “What do you see?”

“I see a goddamn spaceship, that’s what I see. You?”

“Same here.” Well, that was good to know. Even if he and Jerry simultaneously lost their minds, what were the odds they’d have the same delusion?

So what could it be? Why weren’t they warned when it entered the protected airspace?

“You think it’s the Russians?” Jerry asked.

“The Russians? In a flying saucer?” The ship, or whatever it was, settled on the grass, tiny feet extending from its underside to support the craft.

“Maybe it’s some experimental new thing they have, and they landed unannounced to prove their technological superiority or something. Hell, maybe those rumors are true and this is, you know, a takeover.”

“You reading the tabloids now, Jerry?” But he had a point. Russia was rumored to have been blackmailing the American president for months. The idea of a coup had been kicked around, but seemed bizarre.

Well, until now.

Still, fancy new ship or not, the Russians had to know they wouldn’t make it very far once they got out. Jerry, Bob, and two other Secret Service agents assigned to lawn detail all had guns trained on the saucer, as did one of the four Marines that patrolled the West Wing. They weren’t really visible, but sniper units were also stationed on the roofs of the White House and surrounding buildings, and it was a safe bet at least some of the snipers had a clear shot at the ship.

Maybe it wasn’t a coup. Maybe the Russians were finally fed up with the president and had decided to reveal the top-secret blackmail tape they supposedly had in person.

So they landed on the White House lawn in a flying saucer just to release a video of the president having sex with a life-size blowup doll of a Pokemon?

A door opened on the side of the saucer, unfolding to reveal steps. Bob aimed his gun directly at the stairway.

After a few seconds, a small, gray, big-eyed creature appeared in the doorway and descended down the steps. It looked a little like one of those badly-Photoshopped tabloid pictures of aliens, except the head was less almond-shaped and more rounded. The big black eyes overshadowed the rest of its facial features, including a small opening that looked like a mouth, and slight bump in the middle of the face that might have been a nose.

“Stop right there!” Jerry yelled when the alien reached the bottom and stepped onto the grass. “Don’t come any closer!”

Bob wondered if the thing understood English, but figured it probably understood having twenty guns pointed at it.

The alien lifted its four-fingered hands in the air.

“We come in peace,” it said in a halting, robotic-sounding voice. “I am not armed. You may check me for weapons.”

“Don’t worry, we will.” Bob nodded at Jerry, then holstered his weapon and slowly approached the creature. “How many of you are there?”

“I have come alone, but my people sent me on a mission to Earth. Take me to your leader…” It paused a moment, scrunched up its face. “Please. It is of great importance that I speak with the leader of Earth.”

Bob patted down the alien, not bothering to correct his assumptions about the president. “What do you want?”

“I can only discuss that with the leader of Earth.”

He moved his hands over the alien’s skin, which didn’t really feel like skin at all. It was smooth and cool, almost like rubber. He would have guessed it was clothing, but it seemed to cover the intruder’s entire body. A suit, maybe, for visiting foreign planets?

He went over the creature’s body twice, but didn’t feel anything that felt like a weapon. “Do you have a name?”

“Yes, I am…” It launched into a twenty-second string of what sounded like absolute gibberish, then paused and turned its head so the big eyes could focus on Bob. “But you may call me by my title, if that is easier for your people to pronounce.”

“And what is your title?”

“I am…I believe the closest term in your language is ambassador. I am an ambassador to other planets.”

A voice buzzed in Bob’s ear. “If you didn’t find anything, bring him to the east entrance. We want to run him through the scanners, and more importantly, we want to get him away from that ship so we can examine it. Also, hurry up, people are starting to take pictures and this shit is probably already on YouTube.”

Every door into the building was equipped with the equivalent of an airport scanner as a way to double-check that no one brought in any unauthorized weapons.

“I will escort you inside and let the president know you want an audience. You try anything funny, and all those people with guns will shoot you.” Bob took the alien by the arm and marched him toward the side door, glancing over his shoulder at the gate. Sure enough, people with cell phones gawked, and a couple posed for selfies, using a selfie stick to get themselves with the White House spaceship in the background. They could try to confiscate the cameras, but a lot of those people were posting live already. It was too late.

At the doorway, several armed guards greeted the Ambassador, who stood, still and calm, while he was poked and prodded and X-rayed so much he would probably glow in the dark for a week. Bob stood off to the side and watched, and Jerry joined him.

“We’re not seriously going to take him to see the president, are we?”

Bob shrugged. “That’s above my pay grade. But it seems like too big of a risk. We don’t know what kind of weapons these people have. What if it’s something we can’t detect?”

Just then, the president’s Chief of Staff stormed into the room, looked the alien up and down, then made a beeline for Bob and Jerry. “May I have a word, Agent Wilson?”

Bob nodded and followed him into a room full of cameras and monitors. The chief, as everyone called him, was a big man, with a red nose and sagging beer belly. His Saks suit was rumpled and he reeked of expensive whiskey.

“You told that thing it could see the president?”

“Of course not. I was instructed to bring it inside so we could examine its ship. I determined it was unarmed, and warned it that we had many weapons trained on it. I said it could wait in here while I let the president know it wanted an audience. At no point did I promise the request would be granted.”

“But now the president wants to meet him,” the chief yelled, spraying spittle on Bob’s tie. “The Secret Service had to stop him from running out onto the White House lawn to tell that thing who was boss.”

Ah, so that was it. Everyone knew the Chief of Staff was really the great puppet master, pulling the president’s strings, but Bob always suspected the guy didn’t have quite as much power of the POTUS as he wanted. Most of the time, the president would listen to his top adviser, but he was strong-willed, stubborn, and had a very short fuse. This was one of those situations where the strings just weren’t making the puppet move.

“So tell him it’s not safe,” he offered.

“I did.” The chief slammed his fist down on a large piece of equipment. “He insists he has to meet with the alien, to let him know this is our planet and illegal aliens are not welcome here.”

Bob suppressed the urge to laugh. The POTUS had said a lot about “illegal aliens” during his campaign, and he was pretty sure none of it was about this particular kind of alien.

“What if we can use their technology, sir? If this thing could travel here from another planet, probably another solar system, surely we would gain a competitive advantage if we were the only country on Earth with that capability.”

The chief’s eyes glittered. “Yes, I’ve considered that. It’s the only reason I didn’t order them to disappear this guy into Guantanamo. You know this is all over the news? If he disappears, the rest of the world will be screaming that we killed the Golden Goose.”

“So…you want the president to speak with it?”

“Maybe, but I want to speak with him first. Tell me about him. What did he say to you?”

“Well, I’m not sure if it’s a he or a she. I didn’t see any sexually distinguishing characteristics. As for what it said—basically he came here alone, as an ambassador from his planet to Earth, and anything else he will just have to speak with the president about.”

“All right, fine. Get him in a secure room, handcuff him to the table, and I’ll talk to him—but I want you there to make sure he doesn’t try any funny business, like alien mind control or some shit like that.”

Bob decided not to mention that his extensive training had not included a course on defending against “alien mind control.” Instead, he relayed the chief’s orders to the rest of the team.

A few minutes later, they were a white-walled room with alien, who was handcuffed to a stainless steel table.

“What do you people want?” the chief growled at the creature by way of greeting.

“I must speak with the president of the world about that. I can only speak with him.”

“The president of the world? What makes you…” The chief trailed off, stared off into space for a moment. “How did you know how to find the president, anyway? How do you speak English?”

“I have been intercepting your communications for some time,” the creature said. “I have a translation device in my suit that allows me to speak your language, or any of the other Earth languages we have identified. My device can translate with high accuracy, but please forgive me if I sometimes struggle for the right word. There are….nuances that I still have to grasp to master your language. I am still working on that.”

“Yeah, okay, so what do you want?”

“I told you, I can only discuss that with the president.”

“How do you know I’m not him?”

“I have seen your news broadcasts. I know what he looks like. You are the president’s….” It scrunched up its face. “Sorry, I am attempting to find the right word in your language. Supervisor? Nanny?”

Again, Bob stopped himself from laughing.

“If you don’t talk to me, you can’t talk to the president,” the chief snarled.

“I’m afraid I can only talk to the president.”

“Why?”

“Because he is the only one with the authority, knowledge, and intelligence to understand what I need to talk to him about.” The alien leaned forward slightly, and the chief recoiled, leaning his whiskey-scented bulk against Bob. “I have studied him. He says he is the greatest leader in all the world, that he is the only one who can solve all your problems, that he has the best education, the best people. If he is the only one who can solve Earth’s problems, then he is the only one who can help with the situation I wish to discuss.”

Bob stared at the alien, forcing himself to keep a neutral expression on his face. The chief made no such effort. Horror spread across his face like the broken capillaries spread across his nose. He had just realized the same thing as Bob—the alien watched the president’s grandiose stump speeches from his campaign, and after his inauguration, and believed every word at face value.

“So are you here to seek help with a problem of your own?” Bob asked, even though he knew it would piss the chief off. He was only supposed to be here to stop the “alien mind control” device.

The chief’s lip curled in disgust, but he didn’t snap at Bob to shut up.

“I can only explain my mission to the president,” the alien repeated.

The chief stood. “We’ll consider your request.”

He walked out and Bob followed.

“You understand, sir, that I cannot guarantee the president’s safety.” Bob sat next to a bank of monitors while the president’s detail captain paced the floor in front of him a few minutes later.

Special Agent John Phillips ran a hand through his graying hair. “I know that. You know that. But the president insists. Says only he can deal with this illegal immigration problem.”

Bob rolled his eyes. “Last week only he could fix global warming. The week before it was a hoax created by an air conditioner company. Just stall him until he comes up with a new lie that doesn’t require him to meet this thing.”

Phillips shook his head. “Oh no, he’s determined to meet it today. Even canceled his tee time and everything. You’ve got to figure out a way to make this meeting as safe as possible.”

Bob blinked. “Are you serious right now? We know nothing about their technology. Did anyone notice their ship on radar and warn us? No. They can somehow fake out our best systems. They’re literally light-years ahead of us. I can handcuff the thing and we can all point guns at it, but I don’t know what it has up its sleeve, and neither do you.”

“Son of a bitch.” Phillips fixed on one of the monitors, which showed the ship, still sitting on the White House lawn. A team of Secret Service agents, plus dozens more people from the NSA, CIA, FBI, and acronyms Bob didn’t even know the meaning of swarmed around it.

“Be straight with me.” He turned back to Bob. “You’ve interacted with this thing more than any of us. You were the first human it talked to. What’s your take? Do you think they’re trustworthy?”

Bob shrugged. “No way to know. I don’t believe my knowledge of body language would apply to a species from another planet. All I can tell you is if their technology is good enough to fool all our sensors and surprise us with a visit—“ He waved at the monitor. “Then if they wanted to kill the president they could probably do it without demanding an in-person meeting. If they were planning an invasion, I think they’d have just done it by now. They have the means. But I still don’t recommend letting the president near it.”

Phillips shook his head. “Secure that damn alien the best you can. I’ll go try to talk some sense into the president.”

Three hours later, the president was still devoid of sense, and the Secret Service was no more or less certain of the Ambassador’s threat level.

“We’ve put him in every kind of scanner we have,” Phillips said. “I can’t find anything that looks like a weapon, but if that ship could fool all our sensors, I’m not sure that tells us anything.”

“No one reported anything? NORAD, SETI, the Air Force….”

“Nothing. That ship didn’t show up on anyone’s system. We don’t know how they did it. Our best people are working on the problem, but they’re not going to figure it out in—“

“What the hell are you doing in here?” The chief stomped into the room, his face redder than usual. “I told you to prepare the alien to meet the president.”

“He’s downstairs in a secure room,” Phillips said. “There’s a bulletproof glass panel, like in a jail cell. The president can talk to him using an intercom system. They can talk face-to-face, but that bulletproof panel is a must. And I still don’t like this idea.”

“Fine.” The chief pointed a stubby finger at Bob. “As the first person to speak with this alien, you will accompany the president and his detail.”

Bob had a bad feeling he had just been selected as a scapegoat in case anything went wrong.

The prospect of things going right didn’t seem all that likely.

Half an hour later, he stood next to the president in one of the most secure rooms in the White House. The Ambassador sat across from them, handcuffed to the table. Their cuffs couldn’t hold its small wrists, so the agents had added about a dozen industrial-strength zip ties. The alien sat, calm and cool, the whole time.

“How do I speak to this thing?” The president flapped his hand at the alien, his lip curled in disgust.

Sweat beaded on Bob’s forehead. Had they been concentrating on the wrong threat? This could go sideways fast if the president had one of his famous temper tantrums. This was, after all, a guy who had once Tweeted he was declaring war on the country of Moroilia, a completely fictional country mentioned in a Saturday Night Live sketch making fun of the president. After one of his aides finally pointed out there was no such place, he then declared the war over and the United States the winner, also via Twitter.

What would happen if he declared war on a vastly superior and very real nation of aliens?

The chief tapped a button on the intercom system. “Go ahead. Both mics are open.”

The president moved close to the glass and glared down at the alien. “Listen here, I don’t know what you people want, but you’re not going to get it out of me. We have very strict policies about illegal immigration. You can’t just come here and take all our jobs and ship them back to—where the hell did you say you were from?”

“Blabberdywiberoldish.” At least that’s what it sounded liked to Bob.

The president turned to one of his aides. “Do I own any golf courses there?’

She tapped a tablet, ran her finger down the screen. “Uh…no. No sir, it’s not on the list.”

The commander-in-chief turned back to the alien and shook his finger at it. “This thing is a security threat! How do we know it’s not a terrorist?”

“That’s why we warned you against this meeting, sir,” Bob said through gritted teeth.

“That’s not what I mean.” The president glared at Bob then turned back to the bulletproof panel. “You are not stealing our jobs and taking them back there!”

“We have no desire to do that,” the Ambassador said.

“Well, you’re not immigrating here.”

“We certainly don’t want to do that.”

“Then what do you people want from us? What’s the meaning of this attack on our capital?”

Bob winced. He didn’t trust the aliens either, but he couldn’t categorize their unexpected visit as an attack, especially when they likely had the capability to do a lot of damage.

“I am sorry if my visit was misunderstood. This it not an attack. We merely wish to ask your advice, Mr. President.”

“My advice?” The president roared. “You came all this way to ask my advice? About what?”

The alien shifted in its chair and looked down at its zip-tied hands. “Our planet is a mess, Mr. President. We have too many people and too few resources. We produce much of our food in an inefficient way, we’ve polluted many of our sources of water, and our planet’s average temperature is rising rapidly. Our leaders are too busy going to war with each other to solve any of these problems—”

“So you do want to move here!”

The Ambassador blinked, or at least that’s what it looked like. A transparent layer flashed across its eyes in a second. “No. Your planet has these same problems. I was just going to keep going, to keep looking for a planet that had overcome these difficulties, when I intercepted a communication of you speaking. You said that only you could solve these problems for your people. I searched your channels and found all your speeches, but I never found the one where you explained how you were going to do it. I’m begging you, please tell me how you plan to do this, so I can take y our solutions back to my own planet.”

For once, the president appeared to be speechless. He stood, his mouth moving, no sound coming out, for a few seconds.

Finally he got back into politician mode. “How do I know you’re not lying? How do I know this isn’t all a trick?”

The Ambassador tilted its head to the side. “Why would I be lying? What would I gain from that?”

“I don’t know, but you aliens can’t be trusted. I’m not telling you a damn thing.” The commander-in-chief spun around and started for the door, his aides following him.

“Where’s my phone?” he snarled at one of them. “I need to Tweet that we’re going to war with wherever the hell he’s from. I hope you know how to spell it.”

Bob heaved a sigh. Well, we humans had a good run, but I think it’s about time we let the cockroaches take over anyway.

“Mr. President, I’m willing to pay you,” the Ambassador called after him.

The president whipped his head around and stomped back to the panel. “What did you say?”

The alien shrugged in a jerky, unnatural way that suggested it was a recently-learned human gesture. “My planet doesn’t have much in the way of food and fuel, at the moment, but maybe there is something I can offer you.”

“Like what?”

The Ambassador drummed the four long fingers of one hand on the table. “I have studied the things your planet needs, and at first I did not think there was any opportunity for trade. Then I realized how alike we are.”

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?’

“I was looking for things you needed. But then I remembered how the people on my planet often care more about what they want than what they need. For example, much of our drinking water is now contaminated because some powerful people wanted money more than we needed clean drinking water.”

The president rolled his eyes. “This sounds like liberal snowflake propaganda. What’s your point?”

“It occurred to me you might want something we have in abundance but don’t really need.”

“Like what?”

“After doing further research, I discovered that what many of you want, or at least consider valuable, is gold. Our planet has a lot of gold. We occasionally use it in some technological applications, but we have far more than the small amounts we need for that. And that’s just on our planet—when we started our failed attempts to colonize the rest of our solar system, we found a large amount of asteroids that were full of what you consider precious metals. I have some samples on my ship, which your people will probably find soon.”

The president’s face relaxed into a grin. “Is that right?”

“Oh yes, we could supply you with large amounts, if you’ll just tell us how to fix our problems.”

“Uh, sir, we should go talk about this,” the Chief hissed at the president. In a louder voice, he said to the alien, “If you’ll excuse us, we’ll discuss your proposal and get back to—“

“No need.” The president cut him off. “If they can provide proof of the gold they wish to supply us, then we have a deal.”

The Chief’s face went white. “But sir, you don’t—I mean, you can’t just give all your secret plans away to these people. We don’t know what they really want.”

“Nonsense. I’m the president, and I know what I’m doing.” The commander-in-chief brushed past his top adviser and pressed close to the bulletproof glass. “Didn’t you all hear what he said? His planet is just like this one. His people vote for leaders who care more for money than their people. I can talk to them, make them understand what a great leader I am. They’ll be so happy, they’ll wish they could vote for me. Maybe we can even form a union of some sort, you know, like we have with Alaska, so they can vote for me too. Don’t worry, Chief, everything is going to be just fine. I’m going to take of it. In fact, I’d like go visit this planet so I can address your people in person, if that’s all right with you?”

“Sir!” Spittle flew from the chief’s mouth. “You can’t! Security concerns, we have to—“

“Of course.” The alien turned up the corners of its nose/mouth/whatever it was in an approximation of a smile. “Just as soon as you tell us the first step in solving our problems, I’m sure our governing council will allow you to come and explain the rest.”

The president blinked.

Bob suppressed a sigh of relief. That was almost a disaster. Fortunately, the president couldn’t possibly have an answer for—

“Certainly.” The president straightened his tie, ran a hand through his toupee, and flashed his unnaturally white teeth at the alien. “The first step is to elect a leader who truly cares for his people, who truly understands their problems and concerns, who will get rid of all the rich people and special interests in your government. Once you do that, the rest is easy.”

“But people like that never manage to get elected.”

The commander-in-chief smiled. “They do on my planet. I’ll give you my entire playbook of campaign strategies just as soon as I see that gold.”

The alien nodded. “We have a deal.”

Bob followed the president out of the room, wondering if he’d just witnessed the beginning of the first interstellar conflict in history.

Back in the Oval Office, the president traced a finger along the top of his desk. “This was a nice planet, but I’m ready to move on to bigger and better things.”

Bullies Don’t Grow Up, But Adults Sure Can

In a previous post, I talked about my experience with a bully boss, and the many people who have to deal with workplace bullying every day. Bullies don’t grow up, they just become bosses, and when we put them in positions of authority, we’re telling kids it’s okay to be a bully.

So what do we do? How do we stop bullying in schools? What if we all led by example and showed kids that bullying isn’t an effective way to get what you want? Unfortunately, we’d have to start by not letting bullies be supervisors, even if they’re good for the bottom line. Okay, that probably isn’t going to happen, but it’s a nice pipe dream, isn’t it? In the long run though, bullies aren’t good for the bottom line. If you have to keep hiring new people because the bully’s employees keep quitting, is that good for your business? Or are you just spending a fortune on employee acquisition and training? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to fire the guy who bullies every employee in his department and replace him than to keep replacing multiple underlings? Not to mention that employees do better work when they’re treated fairly.

We also have to remember that a person doesn’t have to be in a position of authority to be a bully. Remember what I said in my last post about customers being bullies? We have, unfortunately, gone overboard with this whole idea of “The customer is always right.” I know, I’ve studied marketing, and I get it—it is so much cheaper to keep a customer than to acquire a new one. I get that, and I agree to an extent. But we have let this “customer is always right” attitude spiral out of control. We’ve gone from addressing and apologizing for legitimate complaints, to giving away half the store for free just because a customer throws a tantrum.

Don’t take this as advice on how to get free stuff, please, but I’ll tell you an unwritten, unspoken, unofficial secret of retail or any customer-service oriented business (which would be most businesses): Nine times out of ten, you can get free stuff if you complain, yell, scream, or write an angry letter to corporate. Even if you curse out the staff, then write an angry letter to the main office about how you were so badly mistreated, you will likely get an apology letter and a free gift card for your trouble. There are people who get tens of thousands of dollars in free merchandise every year just by writing complaint letters. The “customer relations” department doesn’t care what the facts are. They don’t care if their return policy is thirty days and the store’s employees politely declined to refund a customer for a purchase made ten years ago with no receipt. They’re going to yell at the store manager, then send the customer an apology letter and a gift card. To this day, I am still so pissed about this problem that I made it the subject of the science fiction book I’m currently writing, about a parallel universe where the customer is always…wrong.

Again, I get that addressing legitimate complaints is good for business, and I also get that the suits in corporate offices probably have no way of knowing which complaints are legitimate and which aren’t, but unfortunately, we’ve become a nation of people that rewards bullying. What if we just didn’t do that? I’m not saying people in customer service shouldn’t do their best to help their customers, but at some point, we need to stop bending over for the customers who throw the biggest tantrums over their wildly unreasonable requests being turned down.

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I once had a customer who actually called 911 because we refused to give her a cash refund on a computer she’d purchased six months ago and apparently spilled wine on. It was a cheap model, and we’d advised every customer who came in to look at it to buy a better one, but she’d insisted she wanted the $200 desktop advertised in the flyer. No, she didn’t want an extended warranty. We explained the return policy to her when handing her the receipt.

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Six months later, she yelled and screamed at the top of her lungs while her young son watched because we politely explained we could not return it at this time. We offered to call the manufacturer and help her file a claim on their warranty, although they likely would not have covered it due to the wine stains. The manager finally caved and offered her an even exchange for another desktop just to shut her up. (Keep in mind, the vendor would likely have refused to credit us due to the wine stains, so he was essentially offering to eat the $200 just to get rid of the bully customer.) That wasn’t good enough, she wanted CASH. The manager knew the suits in corporate might care about “customer service” but would also shit a brick if they saw a $200+ cash return on a six-month-old computer—a huge red flag for employee theft, one of the few things they care about as much as customer service—so he very, very politely told her a cash refund would not be possible.

At that point, she started screaming that we were “cheating” and “ripping her off” at the top of her lungs. All attempts at apologizing and trying to calm her down or finding an alternative solution did no good. Finally she whipped out her cell phone, and announced she was going to call 911 and report us for “stealing from her,” if we didn’t give her an immediate cash refund. The manager told her she would have to do that, because he could not give her that much cash against the store’s return policy. So she proceeded to call the cops on us.

Naturally, the cops did not arrest anyone as she’d hoped. They did come out, took statements from everyone, and suggested she take the matter to small claims court. She reluctantly agreed to an exchange for a different computer, and the manager called the district manager and got permission to mark a better model down to the $200 price and throw in some free software just to get rid of her.

What did that lady teach her young son? She taught him that you can get your way by yelling and threatening. She taught him that being a bully to people who need their lousy minimum wage jobs will get you freebies and better prices in a store. Honestly, I don’t think she even cared about the cash refund—she got so much more than $200 worth of stuff for a computer she purchased for $200, used for six months, and spilled wine on. Bullying for the win.

This lady was not an exception, either. I saw so many people do things like this in front of their kids so many times. I often wondered if the kids would become playground bullies, or if they would manage to do better than the crappy example their parents set.

So how do we stop bullying in schools? How do we stop cyber bullying? Here are some suggestions I have: What if parents set a good example for their kids, by not screaming at a retail worker because the store runs out of an item, can’t give a cash refund eight months later, or enforces a reasonable policy?  What if we didn’t let bullies be bosses and look the other way when they intimidate and humiliate their employees? What if we didn’t elect a president who got rich by bullying and cheating people? What if we just didn’t reward bullying in the adult world? Could we set a better example?

What do you think? What are your ideas to stop bullying?

Bullies Don’t Grow Up, They Just Become Bosses

Last week I read an article about a bullied teen who committed suicide. Sadly, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. The story was unusual though, in that the teen’s boss at his fast food job was charged with involuntary manslaughter as the result of his death. According to the Washington Post article linked above, a Dairy Queen manager named Harley Branham tormented her teenage employee, Kenneth Suttner, forcing him to clean the floor tiles by hand and even throwing a cheeseburger at him. He was also bullied by classmates at school, and an inquest found the school negligent in failing to prevent bullying—however, none of his classmates have been charged with a crime. (I’m assuming this has something to do with the classmates being minors, while Suttner’s boss was supposed to be a responsible adult.)

This story bothered me, not just because it’s sad when a life ends in suicide, and not just because bullying in school is a serious problem that’s led to other teen deaths. It also bothers me because I know what it’s like to have a bully for a boss. I know bullies don’t instantly grow up and become upstanding citizens the second they graduate from high school, they don’t learn their lesson and stop treating other people like shit—they just get a job, and often, they go on to become someone’s boss.

I spent years working in retail, or as I like to call it, hell. For most of that time it was hell because of the customers. Many of those people were also bullies, but that’s another post. Right now I want to talk about the bully boss I had to deal with. We’ll call him Bob—name has been changed to protect the guilty.

Bob was a bad boss in a number of ways. First of all, he never let anyone around him finish a sentence, ever. So basically you had someone who was supposed to be in charge with no clue what was going on. (Who does that remind me of? But that’s also a post for another day.)

Bob loved to taunt the cashiers, something no one warned me about when I took the job. However, our logistics supervisor told me months later that I was the first cashier who didn’t quit in tears after a few days of Bob’s bullshit. Apparently there had been many complaints to HR, but no one there gave a shit because they could always find someone else willing to work a crappy job for minimum wage.

 

Where do I start? There was the time he told me I should try to get good at being a cashier because I was too fat to be a stripper. (Did I mention he was so overweight he looked like his blood type was chocolate milkshake? Hello pot, meet kettle.) Then there was the Apron of Shame incident, when he got pissed because I didn’t take the trash out the night before. So he found this ugly-ass apron with our store logo on it—no one even knew why we had it, because we sure didn’t cook anything in that office supply store, but it had been lying around forever. So he told me I had to wear the “apron of shame” all day. I really wanted to strangle him with the fucking thing, but what can I say? I needed the money.

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Apparently wearing the apron wasn’t punishment enough, so Bob walked around yelling “Apron of Shame” every time he passed in the vicinity of the register, even when there were customers around. Some of them gave him strange looks. I was embarrassed at first, but as it went on I realized it made Bob look a lot worse than me. So then I proudly told ever single customer that I was wearing the Apron of Shame because I was a bad cashier. Some of them probably thought I was joking until Bob yelled, “Apron of Shame!” I hoped he’d eventually get embarrassed and shut the fuck up.

Instead, our logistics manager walked in on him yelling “Apron of Shame” from the other side of the store and demanded I take off the apron before someone complained to corporate and she got another call from HR.

I’m thinking that’s probably the point where the other cashiers quit in tears. But me, I’m not much of a crier—there’s nothing wrong with it per se, but it’s a level one manipulation move that we all learn the day we’re born, and by the time you reach adulthood you should have leveled up to more sophisticated methods. I come from a family of liars, thieves, and manipulators, so I leveled up early and haven’t had to rely on opening up the waterworks since. As for quitting, well, my bank account wouldn’t allow me to do that.

So, I plotted revenge, and eventually, I got it. Like I said, HR didn’t give a rat’s ass if a bunch of cashiers quit. I don’t care what bullshit any HR department spews about “We’re all one big happy family,” or “We put our people first,” or whatever. The truth is, those departments exist to prevent lawsuits, and the people in them care only about the bottom line.

I knew a guy like Bob wasn’t following all the rules and would eventually do something that constituted a fire-able offense, and sure enough, he did. HR doesn’t care if you treat your employees like shit, but they sure care if you steal from the company! Bob apparently thought no one would rat him out because most of the people he hadn’t run off were too cowed to do anything about it. I remember telling the cashier supervisor—we’ll call her Sheri—about the unauthorized discounts he gave out to his friends. (That may sound innocent but it’s a huge money-suck in retail, and most stores consider it a form or employee theft. Remember, the one thing the suits in corporate care about is that precious bottom line.) Sheri tsk-tsked, shook her head, and said, “He shouldn’t be doing that, but I don’t want to get him in trouble. Just forget it.”

Well, the hell with her. I went over her head to our new store manager, who had just given everyone this bullshit speech about how he wanted to fix all the store’s problems and wanted us all to feel free to share our thoughts on how to do that. Not that I trusted him as far as I could throw him, but I figured if he blew me off I could call him on his bullshit. If I got fired, I’d get unemployment and not have to put up with Bob anymore.

As it turned out, the new store manager was dying to get rid of Bob, who he correctly saw as a massive liability. He never stopped thanking me for ratting the guy out, and he even got me a $300 bonus. (The store was big on rewarding people who told on their thieving coworkers. It was actually better for the bottom line to pay people to be stool pigeons than to let their coworkers continue to steal.)

Also, because I’m a writer, I knew that Bob would one day be a character in something, and last year, I wrote a story in which I quite literally turned him into a troll. I didn’t realize how much I still hated the guy until I wrote that story. But then I realized it wasn’t “Bob” I was really mad at. After all, I got even with him. But what about all the other Bobs who still have job, who still get to abuse their employees? This isn’t an uncommon story, and sadly, no one cares unless and until it ends in tragedy. I’m mad at all the people who employ Bobs and don’t care if they bully their employees.

What are you supposed do you do if your boss isn’t stupid enough to get caught doing something the company actually disapproves of? What should you do if you’re stuck dealing with a bully for a boss? How can we stop cyber bullying? How do we stop bullying in schools if we can’t stop it in workplaces as adults?

I have a few suggestions. First, we have to remember that bullies are not happy people, and they are trying to make everyone else as miserable as they are. How do bullies feel when they bully? I’m not a mind reader, but one day when Bob wasn’t around, I went snooping through his desk drawer, and I found a collection of pill bottles. I didn’t recognize the drug names so I Googled them. Every one was either an anti-depressant or an anti-anxiety medication. This guy was on so many happy pills, he should have been singing and dancing and farting rainbows, but he wasn’t. No amount of pharmaceuticals could stop him from being a miserable person who sought to make everyone else as miserable as he was. The thing is, if we let them make us miserable, we’re letting them win (and we’re not really making them any happier, either). The worst thing you can do to a bully is act like he/she doesn’t bother you, because it kills their buzz.

The problem is, we have become a society that rewards bullying in adults—we reward bullies with the corner office or a managerial position at Dairy Queen or a free meal for throwing fries at the restaurant staff. At the very least, we look the other way. We don’t think about punishing bullies until something awful happens. What if we set a good example and stopped rewarding workplace bullies?

In my next post, I’ll talk some more about how we reward bully bosses—and customers—and how we can stop bullying in schools by not doing that. For now, I’ll say that we should punish all the bully bosses in our world, not just the ones who come into the spotlight because of a tragedy. In the meantime, what do you think is an effective way to deal with bullying?