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Laird

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  • About Me
    I write about alternative realities. My micro-published novel, Fallen Lake, tells the story of a powerful attraction between two couples and how their group marriage affected their children. It won second place from the California Press Women in 2013. My poetry has appeared in Chinquapin and Catamaran. I got my start as a writer at Asian Week newspaper in San Francisco's Chinatown, then progressed to daily newspapers and national magazines. My byline has appeared in national magazines (TIME, Audubon, Discover, Men’s Fitness, Health) and newspapers (San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press), and on Web sites (Salon, Reuters, MSNBC, CNN.com). I have produced video for Web sites including Smithsonianmag.com and audio for KQED and WUNC public media stations.
    I have taught writing at San Francisco State University, UC Berkeley Extension and Mediabistro. I grew up in Berkeley, California, and studied creative writing and politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I live in Oakland, California.

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  1. Name: Laird Harrison Titles: Only the Millennia Will Cure Her Messing with the Multiverse Exotic Matter Genre: Upmarket Science Fiction Comparables : The Midnight Library by Matt Haig The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu Hook Line: Deprived of funding because of his awkwardness, physicist Pascal gets money from an unscrupulous time traveler who wants his help returning to the future. Short Pitch: On the verge of a pathbreaking discovery, brilliant physicist Pascal Rahali has neglected to publish. Socially awkward, he has lost his funding. So, he can’t ignore investor Zipporah Goldblum’s bizarre offer: She will provide all the money he needs. But he must ask no questions, accept all payments in cash, and quit his prestigious position at a national laboratory. With no alternative for continuing his life’s work, Pascal accepts the sketchy deal and sets up his own new lab. No sooner does he make the expected breakthrough than he discovers that Zipporah has traveled backwards in time from the sixth millennium. Her time machine was destroyed on the journey, and she has fallen ill with a 21st century virus. If he doesn’t help her return to the future with its superior medicine, she may die. But if he does, she may bring back colonists whose advanced technology will allow them to take over the present-day earth. He longs to take the next step in his research. But if he makes use of the powerful physics she is teaching him, he may cause the universe to split into alternative realities – and separate him from the woman he loves. Prose Sample Pascal Rahali could predict the path of a proton. He could read radiation from a vanished star. He expected very soon to find out why the universe exists. But Zipporah Goldblum confounded him. From her emails, he had pictured a coiffed and gym-fit thirty-something in a tailored jacket. Instead, she had showed up in a bellbottomed pink pastel leisure suit that stretched to cover her thin figure of at least six feet. Her pale skin showed no sign of a wrinkle, but her close-cropped hair had gone completely white. The address of her investment firm, Tiller Angel Associates, was in Israel. But that wasn’t enough to explain the disorientation he sensed as the restaurant host led her to his table at one of the poshest restaurants in Berkeley. He rose. "Ms. Goldblum? Pascal Rahali. Pleased to meet you." She blinked twice and repeated his greeting in an accent that didn't sound Israeli or really like anything else he could place. Then she studied him for a moment that lingered into awkwardness before asking him to sit. Only then did she smile, as if just remembering that she was supposed to. "I am a fanatic of your work." "Thank you. I'm just— Where did you hear about it? Are you a physicist?" "A physicist? Not exactly. An investor. I would like to make you big." "Make me big?" Someone must be writing her emails for her. When her invitation had come out of the blue, it was polished enough that Pascal’s curiosity had overcome his skepticism. But in a time of daily phishing attacks, syntax like this would have stopped him for responding. Her eyes widened. "Make big your project. To help you with the money you need. To buy equipment, assistants, travel, all you need." No one who knew anything about physics would make such a sweeping offer without asking a lot of hard questions. He should probably leave before the conversation became embarrassing. He just needed to know how she had picked him out of all the physicists in the world. She sounded more naïve than conniving. Maybe instead of conning him she had conned herself, dreaming that he could make her rich. Or was this all part of the act, like card sharks who make you think you're taking advantage of them until they suddenly go in for the kill? He picked up the menu. "Have you eaten here before?" White drapes hung in the floor-to-ceiling windows. Red armchairs and chandeliers contrasted with ionic columns and black-and-white checkered tile. A hamburger was $21. "No, I have not. But many users of help recommend it." "You mean users on Yelp?" "Yes. And many people say compliments about you, too, Dr. Rahali." "Not on Yelp, I don't think." "But in our research." “Who?" Only a handful of people in the world knew what Pascal was doing, and only one or two believed what he believed: that he was on the verge of discovering what led to the Big Bang. The work could place Pascal among the most important physicists in history. Caught up in that excitement, he had lately neglected to publish his work. The Lab had cut off his funding, putting an abrupt end to his life’s work and making him desperate enough to take his meeting. But how could she have known that?
  2. FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. Help a time traveler return to the future without altering the timeline of the universe. SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them. Zipporah Goldblum has traveled back in time from 5012 CE on a scouting mission. The people of her time, faced with calamity, want to know if they can escape to the 21st century. Her time machine self-destructs in the process, so she recruits physicist Pascal Rahali to build a new one, deceiving him into thinking she is an angel investor who wants to boost his research. Sick with a 21st century virus, she is running short of time. So, step by step, she reveals aspects of her mission to Pascal, hoping that he will not turn against her when he realizes the double risk of colonization by the people of the future and altering the timeline of the whole universe. Both cunning and vulnerable, she evolves though the story, gradually learning nuances of 21st century culture so that she can evade detection by the police and accelerate the construction of the vessel she will need to return home. THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed). Exotic Matter The Time Scout Time Crystal FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why? Exotic Matter resembles Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things in that it explores colonization in a future setting, as well as the loneliness endured by people who are consumed by their missions. It resembles Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem in portraying a physicist wrestling with real problems in physics while faced with a potential invasion from life forms with superior intelligence. FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication. Deprived of funding, scorned physicist Pascal gets support from an unscrupulous time traveler who wants his help getting back to the future. SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction. Inner conflict: Pascal longs to make a big scientific discovery, but he has neglected to publish and has lost his funding. A Moroccan immigrant to the United States, he feels scorned by established physicists. The quest for nature’s secrets inspires him; he has no desire to apply what he discovers to any sort of invention. Zipporah, an incognito time traveler, gives him money to pursue his research, but in return she – and the investors who follow her example -- demands that he invent technology that poses a danger to all of humanity. Now he must choose whether to abandon his life’s work, or risk turning it to the most dangerous possible uses. Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?. Secondary conflict: In his obsession with making a breakthrough, Pascal forges the name of his mentor, Ernesto, on a scientific paper. Ernesto breaks off the friendship. And Pascal’s girlfriend dumps him after learning about the incident. FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it. Exotic Matter takes place in Oakland and Berkeley, California, in the present and prehistoric past. One early scene shows the protagonist, Pascal, in a laboratory with cables snaking from floor to ceiling and an isolation chamber the size of a propane tank, suspended from above and split in half to reveal crystals, sensors and mirrors. In a later scene he watches turtles by a placid lake in the embrace of his girlfriend. That nature theme returns when he travels backward in time to find himself amid towering redwoods, so primeval he half-expects a diplodocus to emerge from the ferns. Taken to an indigenous village, naked, sunburned and mosquito-bitten, he dresses in a coat of mud from a freshwater creek, eats shellfish and acorn mush, and huddles at night across from his host family in a tule reed hut, owls hooting as he struggles to nestle in the fur rugs. Finally in the close atmosphere, warm and redolent of sweat and campfire smoke, he drifts to an uneasy sleep.
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