A secret seventh-grade history lesson

My junior high school had a scandalous “secret” that older students would melodramatically point out to incoming seventh-graders. The hallway floors in one of the buildings was edged with decorative glazed tiles in bright colors. On the first floor near the office, amid tiles depicting anchors, lions, birds, shields, and other motifs, there was a swastika!

Oh, no! Why?

The answer involved a history lesson. The swastika symbol was old, older than Nazis and World War II. Nazis didn’t invent it, they only used it. Our building was older than the Nazis, so when it was built, the ancient symbol had seemed innocent, just like the lions and anchors.

We learned a lot in those buildings. In my case, classes included Spanish, algebra, geometry, civics, literature, art, home economics, and gym. But in the hallways, thanks to that scandalous tile, we also learned a lesson about the world:

The meanings of things change over time, and the past holds surprises.

We also wondered why we were attending school in such old, decrepit buildings. This wasn’t just us kids whining, since teachers and parents had the same question. These buildings were genuine fire traps. At some point — I can’t find out exactly when — the buildings were torn down and replaced by a new middle school elsewhere in the city.

My old junior high school was so unloved that I cannot find a single photo of the buildings on the internet. All I could find were tiles (see photo) in the Men’s Gymnasium, built in 1917, at Indiana University. They seem to have come from the same set of patterns as the ones at my junior high school.

The tiled floor at my old school with the swastika has disappeared. It has become history, a memory with a lesson about history itself.

And the world keeps changing.

Goodreads giveaway of ‘Semiosis’ and launch day for ‘Dual Memory’

If you’re at Goodreads and you haven’t read Semiosis yet, here’s your chance to get the book for free. Five copies are up for grabs. Giveaway closes June 6. Limited to United States. Sign up here.

Semiosis is included in the article “The Best Science Fiction Books About Aliens” by Jamie Green posted this month at Five Books.

Meanwhile, my latest book, Dual Memory, goes on sale today! Available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook at all major retailers, and if you buy the hardcover book from Volumes Bookcafé, I can autograph it for you.

If you’re in Chicago, I can autograph it in person for you tonight, 6:30 p.m., at Volumes Bookstore Café, 1373 N. Milwaukee Ave., in the Wicker Park neighborhood. I’ll be chatting with Richard Chwedyk, another science fiction author and an entertaining raconteur. It will be fun.

“Dual Memory” is an Amazon Editor’s Pick for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy for May

Amazon likes my book! Dual Memory is one of the Best Books of the Month: Science Fiction & Fantasy @ Amazon.com.

If you order the dead tree book from Volumes Bookcafé, I can autograph it for you. The book is available May 16, and there will be a launch party here in Chicago at Volumes that evening.

You can also buy it from your own friendly neighborhood bookstore and all major retailers. Links are here where it says “Buy Now.”

You can read the first chapter at the publisher’s website.

SFF Addicts: A Masterclass on Revision and Rewriting

I don’t know if I’m a master at revision and rewriting, but I hate writing first drafts. I have to bribe myself to get through them. Once I have something to work with, though, I love to edit, revise, and rewrite. I think it’s where the magic happens.

Adrian M. Gibson and M.J. Kuhn, co-hosts of the SFF Addicts Podcast, and I talk about techniques I’ve learned over 50 years of professional writing (I started very young) that might help you with your writing. Every project is different, so the more techniques you know, the better.

Available today, May 9, in audio and video. Watch/stream/download it:




Any questions, ask in the comments. Thanks!