Category Archives: SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

Happy Thanksgiving a few days early

Between the knee (torn MCL, medial meniscus and more) and the fact the first of the Thanksgiving company arrives later this morning, writing a post was the last thing on my mind. I considered putting up an open floor but decided to do something I’m not great at — promoting my own work. Below is a snippet from Sword of Arelion, the first book in my Sword of the Gods series.

The second book of the series, Dagger of Elanna, is also available for purchase. The third book, tentatively titled Foil of the Gods, will be published Spring 2018.

The snippet below is not the opening scene but comes near the beginning of the book.

*   *   *

She stared at her hands where they rested in her lap, fingers clasped so tightly together it hurt. But that was nothing compared to the pain lancing her ribs with every breath she took or that where the tavernmaster’s belt had broken the skin of her back. Not that pain was anything new to her. It had been her almost constant companion for so long she now expected it.

What she wasn’t used to was being the center of attention. Her master had told her to never bring attention to herself. Having so many eyes watching her, so many people discussing her as if she wasn’t even there unsettled her. If she could, she would flee the room but something told her that would not be allowed.

So she sat as still as she could, praying they would soon leave her be. Her master would be so angry when they did. She hurt now but it would be nothing compared to what he would do to her once they were alone. Blessed Elanna, why hadn’t she tried to give Master Longbow her mid-day meal sooner? If she had, her master would have been none the wiser.

“What is your name, child?”

She lifted her head slightly and studied the young man kneeling in front of her. With his blond hair and blue eyes, he looked like so many who frequented the tavern. But he wasn’t one of those she had served. She would have remembered his fancy clothes. Then she remembered the others had called him duke. What did he want with her?

Unsure, afraid of what Giaros might do should she answer, she glanced to her left. Longbow sat at her side, his expression concerned and yet oddly reassuring. He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and nodded. He wanted her to answer the young man. The duke, she reminded herself. She had trusted Longbow before but could she now?

“H-he calls me Sparrow.” She spoke softly, so softly the words were barely audible. Still, they sounded almost like a shout in the silence of the common room.

“And your age?”

“H-he told me eighteen winters.” Without taking her eyes from the duke’s face, she nodded to where the troopers held Giaros in place.

“Child, don’t you know how old you are?”

She heard Longbow’s concern and tears pricked at her eyes as she shook her head. There was so much she didn’t know, but how could she tell them that?

“No.” If possible, she spoke even softer than before. Why couldn’t they leave her alone?

“Child, look at me.”

Something about the voice made her comply. She looked up from her hands as someone knelt next to the duke. The stranger, the one who had tried to protect her from her master, knelt there, his expression troubled. He reached out and she started nervously. He paused and then gently brushed a lock of hair back, revealing more of her face than she had let anyone see in so very long.

“Child, my name is Fallon Mevarel. I am a knight of the Order of Arelion. I swear you have nothing more to fear. I will make sure nothing else happens to you.” He spoke softly, almost as softly as she had, yet there was such confidence in his words and the way he looked at her that she wanted to believe him. But how could she? She had learned the hard way how foolish it was to trust anyone but herself. “Will you answer a question for me?”

She nodded almost reluctantly.

“You said the tavernmaster calls you Sparrow. Is that your name? Is it what you call yourself?”

She closed her eyes as a single tear tracked down her cheek. Why couldn’t he leave her alone? She didn’t want to think about what he asked and what she knew he would ask after that.

“N-no.” She licked her lips, struggling to find the courage to continue.

“What is it then?” The knight’s hand cupped her cheek so lightly she could barely feel it. Never could she remember anyone treating with such care.

“I don’t know.” Once again, she ducked her head and stared at her hands.

“Child, are you telling us that you don’t know your name or how old you are?” the duke asked.

She nodded, too ashamed to look at him or at anyone else. She was a nobody, not worthy of having a name. That was what her master had told her. She was property to be used and discarded at his whim. Would these people feel the same?

“How did you come to be called Sparrow?” the knight wanted to know.

“My master named me. Said I was his caged bird with no more sense or beauty than a common sparrow.”

She glanced up and, through the mask of her hair, saw Fallon’s expression harden as he glanced at Giaros. A spark of hope, faint but real, seemed to come alive at the very core of her being. Maybe she could trust him, this stranger who saw more in the span of a few hours than others had in so very long.

“What do you call yourself?”

Call herself?

A slight, bitter smile touched her lips. She could tell him, just as she could tell him how much she had hated being called Sparrow, hated all it had stood for. But that would reveal much, perhaps too much, about what she thought and felt. After so long of hiding that part of her from everyone, and most especially from her master, did she dare trust this stranger?

But what did she have to lose?

“Please, child. We need to know what to call you and it would be best if it was a name you prefer.” Longbow’s hand closed over hers and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

She drew a deep breath, wincing as her ribs screamed in pain. She could do this. She had to do this if she was to ever break away from her master.

“Call me Cait.”

*   *   *

Here’s hoping everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

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Filed under AMANDA, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

Taking Responsibility – A Blast from the Past

(I am up to my eyebrows with editing but, worse, I am also up to my elbows with wet carpet and possible sprinkler repairs. So I have no brain. However, a conversation I had over the weekend got me thinking about how we, as parents or simply as adults, need to set the example for our kids when it comes to reading, especially books they are assigned in school. That, in turn, made me think about the following post. I original published it May 2016. Enjoy.)

MGC is usually a blog by writers about, well, writing. Or at least about the publishing industry, be it traditional or indie. Today, however, I’m going to step outside of the writer persona and into the reader and, more importantly, parent persona. You see, I saw an article linked on Facebook this morning that had me alternating between shaking my head and wanting to shake someone else. The article itself isn’t all that important. What is, is the mindset behind it and the pointing of fingers without taking a moment to take a bit of personal responsibility.

In this case, yet another person has raised their head to complain about Harry Potter. Believe it or not, but according to the post, Harry Potter promotes a rape culture.

Yes, you read that right. Harry Potter promotes a rape culture.

How? I know you are each asking that and the answer is simple. It does so because — gasp — love potions are used.

Now, on the surface of it, if I squint really tightly and turn my brain off, I can almost see the point. After all, love potions do take the “choice” away from the person it is being given to, much like rohypnol or any of the other date rape drugs.

However, let’s not squint and twist our brains around and actually look at the allegation in the light of day and as adults with more than two working brain cells. Are we going to condemn every story — every fairy tale — that has been told over the years and centuries that has mention of love potions in them? Think about it. Most of those stories revolve around young women, teenagers often, who use the potion to win over the man of their dreams. Will we condemn those stories as promoting rape culture or give them a pass because the one using the potion is female?

Now, before I go any further and some of those who might read this think I have no problem with using an artificial means to take someone’s free will or ability to knowingly consent away from them, I don’t. In fact, you won’t find many folks with a lower opinion of anyone — male or female — who do so. I have worked with victims of sexual assault, male and female. I have friends and family who have been such victims. No one has the right to force himself or herself on another when that person either refuses to give consent or who has been so compromised that consent cannot be freely and willingly given.

With that said, when looking at Harry Potter, you have to remember it is fiction, fantasy. Love potions don’t exist. However, as a parent, when you are reading the book with your kids — or when you see your child reading it — talk about the book with them. Use the book as a teaching moment without taking away the joy of reading. In other words, take responsibility to read the books your kids are reading and then take responsibility to spend some time talking with them about it.

Maybe I’m strange that way but ,when my son was growing up, I made a point of knowing what he was reading, what movies he wanted to see, what video games he wanted to play. I didn’t wait for him to come to me and ask about something in a book. Well, not usually. One book on his summer reading list I read half of and made an assumption about the book. That assumption came back to bite me. More on that in a minute.

I didn’t do that sort of supervision because I wanted to keep my son from reading anything that might “harm” him. I didn’t do it to keep him from reading something I didn’t agree with. I did it so we could discuss the book — or the game or the movie. If there were themes I thought he might not understand, I wanted to be prepared to discuss them with him. What I usually found was that he was already three steps ahead of me. However, on occasion, he did have questions or he wanted to talk about what he had read.

The one time not reading the entire book came back to bite me was, as I said, with a summer reading list book. My son was about to go into the fifth grade. We were on vacation out-of-state and this was the last book he had to read. I’d read about half of it and nothing set off any of my warning bells that there might be a theme or scene or anything we might need to talk about. It was a nice little gothic mystery.

Until you got to the last two chapters. Then, out of the blue, came a very graphic attempted rape scene that culminated in an almost as graphic murder of the attempted rapist by the ghost that had been haunting the house. Imagine my surprise and then frustration when my son started asking me questions about the scene. We had a long talk about the scene and how it fit in with the rest of the book, the realities of rape (age appropriate discussion) and how no one, male or female, had the right to force someone else to have sex. If I had read the entire book, I would have been prepared.

What I learned when we got back home — and when the English teacher who had assigned the book as part of the summer reading list finally agreed to meet with me — was that the list for these newly minted fifth graders had been compiled by so-called experts: librarians, business professionals and education administrators. Oh, and the list was actually for students going into the 10th grade but because my son and his classmates were in the gifted and talented program, the teacher had deemed the books appropriate. It didn’t matter that there was a five year difference in age between the students the books had been recommended for and those she had assigned them to.

Responsibility. Or, in her case, a lack thereof.

Her response was to try to pass the responsibility buck back to me, telling me that I could have requested another reading list, or at least an alternate to the book I found objectionable. The problem with that was we weren’t given the list until after school was out for the summer and teachers unavailable. Then there was the little fact that nowhere in any of the information we were given with the list was there made mention of being able to substitute books.

I dropped the ball by not reading all the book but the teacher and the administration dropped it first and farther by not taking into account the age of the students being told to read a book recommended for kids much older than they were.

So how does this relate back to the Harry Potter books? Simple. From the time the first book in the series came out, parents and educators and critics have condemned the books for a number of different reasons. There were the calls to ban the books in schools and libraries because they promoted devil worship and witchcraft. Of course, many of those making the claims had never read the books. They weren’t about to risk being contaminated by Satan’s work.

Responsibility.

To read and think before condemning.

There were complaints because the books didn’t follow the hallowed “Zero Tolerance” edict that has been put into play in our schools. Harry and friends never, ever should have done anything to protect themselves from the bullying and attacks from those who weren’t good and pure.

Responsibility.

To read and think and discuss bullying and standing up for yourself and others.

Responsibility.

To make sure your kids understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

Now, about those love potions. What a great opportunity to talk about what I just mentioned, the difference between fantasy and reality. Or how about how it is never acceptable to take away someone’s free will? There are so many things you could discuss, all without taking away your child’s joy in reading the book. Discuss, not lecture.

It’s simple really. By talking about the book — or the movie or TV show or video game — you are spending time with your kids. You are bonding. You are showing them you care about things they think are important or that they care about. That is what’s important and will set the example for how they can be good parents when the time comes.

With regard to the allegation that the use of love potions in Harry Potter promote rape culture, gimme a break. It’s a fantasy, first and foremost. For another, as far as I remember from the books (and it has been some years since I read them) it was generally made clear that there were negative consequences eventually from using them. But none of that fits the social construct right now. That means it is up to each of us as parents or aunts and uncles or extended family or big brothers and sisters to make sure we know what our kids are reading and to take the time to discuss it with them.

In other words, we have to adult and take responsibility.

Who knows, in doing so, we might just find a few new authors and books we like in the process.

***

Now for a bit of promo. Nocturnal Rebellion, the fifth book in the Nocturnal Lives series, is available for pre-order.

All she wanted was a simple murder case, one uncomplicated by shapeshifters or interfering IAB investigators. What she got instead was much, much more.

Now three cops are dead and Mac’s world will never be the same again. It is up to her to find the culprits and bring them to justice. But what justice? That of cops and attorneys and criminal courts or that of the shapeshifters where there would be no record and a quick execution of punishment, whatever that might be?

As she walks that fine line, Mac walks another tightrope as well. Shapeshifter politics are new to her and, as she has learned, more complicated than anything she ever encountered as a cop. One misstep can lead to not only her death but the deaths of those she cares for. Like it or not, she has no choice because she has learned there are other things just as inevitable as death and taxes. Sooner or later, the world will learn that shapeshifters aren’t just things of legend and bad Hollywood movies. If that happens before they are ready, Mac and those like her will learn the hard way what happens when humanity learns monsters are real and living next door.

You can find a snippet from Nocturnal Rebellion here.

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Filed under AMANDA, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

Take two aspirin…

It’s been an eventful week, and I found myself lying here this morning thinking. I’m far from home, out of schedule (this post was supposed to be written yesterday) and have a headache. It’s all worth it, though. My eldest graduated from highschool last night. She’s a fiercely independent soul, and will go far in her studies at college.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about. Toni Weisskopf shared a photo on Facebook of a computer module absolutely infested with an ant nest, seething with eggs, and her comment was that she’d like to see more stories like that in science fiction. It’s an excellent point. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read ( and written) where the tech performs flawlessly. Which does happen. There are also stories where it doesn’t, but how many can you think of where the characters have to deal with an infestation? How would we prevent that, control it, and what kind of adaptations will we see?

I’d run across an article recently about bacteria which will break down plastics that were formerly thought invulnerable. Then there was another one speculating about why less plastic (by an order of magnitude) is found in the ocean than projected, and the discovery of novel bacteria on that plastic. The concern was focused on reducing pollution, but what happens when bacteria evolve to eat stuff we want to stay intact and functional? The stories about nanotech making gray goo aren’t that far off from what bacteria are already capable of – only fortunately they are not so fast to act.

We can’t escape our invisible (to the naked eye) friends. Microbes cover every inch of us, and our surroundings. We can only culture a tiny fraction of them in the lab, we’re still working on understanding the ecology of our own “inner gardens,” but we are already harnessing the power of their replicative properties for good… With the advances in molecular genetics we can use bacteria to copy/paste stuff we want, like drug ingredients and human proteins. With enough time and development to move beyond ‘we can do that’ to ‘and cheaply!’ the future looks very interesting indeed.

So those two aspirin I want might someday be extracted from bacterial sludge. Trust me on this, if you think that’s gross you don’t want to contemplate where some modern drugs originate. Not all of them are turned out from sterile molecular synthesis. Heparin (an anticoagulant) involves tons and tons of pig guts every batch made. Think about this in terms of going to space. If we don’t come up with highly efficient methods of synthesis, there are going to be problems.

It’s fascinating to extrapolate from current science, to bleeding edge, and beyond. As a science fiction author, it’s an exercise in developing my stories into something approaching hard science. As a baby scientist, it gives me food for thought about my career (and my daughter, who plans to study molecular genetics) path in the coming years.

Will we ever harness the power of Leeuwenhoek’s animalacules? We already have, now we just need to make that more efficient. Will they slip their leashes and turn on us? Well, yes. They already have, many times. The history of pathogens and disease goes back before the dawn of history. We can read it on the bones left behind, long before men scribbled on pages or chipped runes into stone and pressed them into clay. Speaking of which, I found a neat book on KU, for the readers like me who appreciate an in-depth look at science and history – Old Bones: a brief introduction to bioarchaeology. 

 

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

Homework for SF authors: NASA’s glory years

It still surprises me just how many would-be science fiction authors know so little about the period between 1945 and 1985. Oh, they know about the moon landings, sure. The names of Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin come readily to mind. But can they tell you which pilot was the first to Mach 2? Or which plane he did it in? Which test aircraft could beat Mach 5, and needed a reaction control system to help it fly beyond the atmosphere? Can they state with surety what Operation Paperclip was? Without rushing to Google the details on their cell phones? Can they recognize the voices of astronauts like John Young or Bob Crippen, just from hearing a few seconds of CAPCOM tape recorded the morning of April 12, 1981?

These might seem like superfluous details. In the era of the International Space Station, astronaut derring-do has become entirely too ho-hum. Many people take the space program for granted.

But I happen to think that every science fiction writer worth her salt owes it to herself — and her readers — to take a wayback machine voyage to those crucial four decades, during which humanity did something it had literally never done before.

NOVA: “To The Moon” — Produced in 1999, this excellent two-hour NOVA special does a brilliant job portraying the drama of the Mercury, Apollo, and Gemini programs, during which the United States kicked the race (with the USSR, for the Moon) into high gear. Not only does this special cover the vast technical challenge faced by the engineers and scientists tasked with building the rockets and spacecraft which would go the distance, it also contains priceless interview outtakes from various astronauts who offer their candid opinions about their missions, the political capital invested in those missions, and the danger they each faced every time they climbed through the hatch for yet another launch. Attention is also given to the Russian side of the race, with fresh details (then) on the ambitious Russian N-1 super-booster — a Saturn 5 equivalent which sadly (for the Russians) never overcame its technical faults.

SPACEFLIGHT (narrated by Martin Sheen) — A four-part 1980s series that not only covers Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, but also the years leading up to manned spaceflight, as well as the post-moon phases of Skylab, and the Shuttle Transportation System. Like the NOVA documentary above, this series includes a great deal of interview footage, some of it quite rare.
Episode 1: “Thunder in the Skies” covers the genesis of organized rocketry, how these civilian efforts got rolled into the military, and the post-WW2 years when the pursuit of ballistic missile technology dovetailed with the famous Right Stuff years of Edwards AFB, where the various x-planes made and broke an endless number of records.
Episode 2: “The Wings of Mercury” covers the President Kennedy era, during which manned spaceflight became a central pivot of the Cold War between the United States, and Soviet Russia. Including the frustrations and problems experienced by the politicians and administrators charged with getting a young NASA rolling. Interviews with both Mercury and Gemini astronauts are numerous.
Episode 3: “One Giant Leap” covers Apollo’s roots in President Kennedy’s famous challenge to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, and how that pressure ultimately resulted in the deaths of Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffee. Rising from its ashes, Apollo would ultimately put 12 human beings on the Moon. Also included are details on the fascinating Skylab flights, as well as many more astronaut interview clips.
Episode 4: “The Territory Ahead” covers the shuttle program, with special emphasis on the (then, at the time of production) recent Challenger disaster. The second half of the hour spends its time discussing the (then) plans for military use of space, against the backdrop of nuclear war. There is also speculation regarding the projects which would eventually become the Hubble Telescope, and the International Space Station.

I should also point you to these many official NASA films, detailing the Apollo series. If you can get past the mildly dated production values (narration, as well as music) they’re marvelous windows into the Apollo program. Featuring spectacular footage of flights, flight prep, launches, animations regarding experiments and mission profiles, and so forth. Hard to believe this was all half a century ago!

Link for Apollo 4 is here.
Link for Apollo 5 is here.
Link for Apollo 7 is here.
Link for Apollo 8 is here.
Link for Apollo 9 is here.
Link for Apollo 10 is here.
Link for Apollo 11 is here.
Link for Apollo 12 is here.
Link for Apollo 13 is here.
Link for Apollo 14 is here.
Link for Apollo 15 is here.
Link for Apollo 16 is here.
Link for Apollo 17 is here.
Link for Apollo-Skylab 2 is here.
Link for Apollo-Skylab 3 is here.
Link for Apollo-Soyuz is here.

Beyond history lessons, there’s also a lot to be learned from play-by-play of the missions themselves.

An enterprising soul, using the alias lunarmodule5, has been uploading some brilliantly-edited videos to YouTube. Using both authentic audio and video, as well as still imagery — interlaced with skillful CGI — these videos are about as close as most of us can get to actually sitting in the cockpit of a space shuttle, or riding atop a Saturn 5 rocket. These are not documentaries, as much as they are highlight reels. Of particular note is the reel for the Apollo 12 flight, including full command module commentary prior to, during, and directly following the lightning strikes which almost caused a mission abort. Also of note is the segmented full-mission upload covering STS-1, the original launch of the shuttle Columbia. We hear a tremendous amount of pre-launch chatter between the crew and mission control, as well as get a front-row seat for STS-1’s two days in orbit.

Now, you might think CAPCOM tapes are an extremely pedestrian way to learn about spaceflight. But I happen to think that the CAPCOM tapes are the most revelatory, because they provide a candid picture of how a modern space mission is conducted. From the moment the crew sit down to breakfast before the launch, right through touchdown at the end of the trip. Including all the minutae that must be monitored by the staff on the ground — checks and guidance without which no modern space mission could ever succeed. It takes thousands of people to put a spacecraft into low earth orbit. Imagine the staffing needed for a truly ambitious voyage to Mars, or beyond.

Essential facts, data, and — best of all — food for thought, for any science fiction author.

Even if you’re not particularly “hard” in your approach to your stories. It never hurts to have these kinds of details rumbling around in the back of your brain, while you conjure up stupendous stories of interplanetary, interstellar, or intergalactic adventure.

Because the truth is that space is very possibly the most challenging environment humanity will ever face. Of all the planets we know about, the only one guaranteed to be friendly — with relatively safe temperatures, water to drink, and air to breath — is the Earth.

When we go anywhere else, we’re going to be taking it all with us. Our food. Our oxygen. What we drink. The clothes on our backs. The tools we use, including space suits — which are essentially self-contained miniature spacecraft. And if we’re not taking it with us, we’re hoping to find the raw resources (on the other side) capable of sustaining us in artificial habitats, once we’re there. To include ores and other things we will need to manufacture new artificial habitats.

After almost 60 years of putting people into space, we’ve gotten pretty good at it. Enough so that fatalities are extremely rare, and your average astronaut being sent to the International Space Station can pretty much guarantee (s)he’s coming back down without incident. Again, thanks to the effort of thousands upon thousands of engineers, scientists, and support and administrative staff.

But just because we’ve gotten good at a thing, does not mean it’s not hazardous. Or expensive. Two huge factors when you (as author) create space-worthy civilizations of the future. It takes a hell of a lot of “oomph” to put people into space. In terms of logistics. In terms of intestinal fortitude. And in terms of the technological and human-specific hurdles which must be overcome.

Such as: how well do you think you would adapt to spending 14 days trapped in the front seat of a compact car? You have to wear the same clothes the entire time. There is no privacy. Nowhere to use the toilet. You get your food and drink from tubes and small packages. You cannot take a shower or a bath. Sleeping is hard. And you must be constantly prepared to do technical, challenging tasks involving equipment which may or may not be working the way you expect it to work. While trying to tamp down potential worry that your compact car might not get you back through the atmosphere in one piece, when the mission is over. And you’re doing this all right next to your side-seat co-driver, who is in the exact same predicament.

That was the job of Gemini 7. One of the most unglamorous — yet vital — pre-Apollo flights. Which proved human beings could function in space long enough for a full-fledged moon mission.

What will a Mars mission entail? A mission to Jupiter? Neptune? The Oort Cloud? The nearest stars? Or stars much father away?

Understanding the nitty gritty of the NASA glory years, can give a science fiction author proper grounding in all the problems that will be faced by such (as yet) imaginary ventures.

It really is not as simple as Star Trek or Star Wars make it seem.

Case in point: the space shuttle was never a souped-up airliner. Because a Boeing 737 doesn’t have to be able to fly in an environment where the wings and tail don’t work. Nor does a 737 have engines powerful enough to boost it to orbit, using super-cooled fuel in such large quantities that the fuel outweighs the plane itself many times over. Nor does a 737 have to be able to survive three-thousand-degree (F) heat while deceleration from a speed of 18,000 miles per hour.

The shuttle — even though it did not take us anywhere we had not been before — was the world’s first reusable spacecraft. In this regard, it was several orders of magnitude more complex and expensive than a 737. Both in terms of designing the thing, and in terms of operating it. How much more expensive and difficult to operate would the shuttle have been, if it had been armored and armed for warfare in space? Like the spacecraft in a science fiction movie? How much bigger would it have to be, to voyage to the Moon? Or beyond? What kind of engines would it need? What sort of fuel would those engines burn?

These are the kinds of mundane (but necessary) questions that a science fiction author begins to ask herself, once she retraces the steps taken from 1945 to 1985. They are the kinds of questions which will enrich your stories immeasurably, and give your SF tales the sort of gripping authenticity that will make the challenge of space flight — space exploration, space warfare, and so much else — become real for your readers.

Lastly, familiarity with space history also humbles us. Because space history is a reminder of what real death-defying heroism looks like.

How such heroism walks, talks, and gets the job done.

I suspect we desperately need these reminders. As writers, and as a culture too.

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Filed under BRAD R. TORGERSEN, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY, WRITING: CRAFT

I Quit!

I. Quit.

No, no, not MGC.

But I’m taking a hiatus from my big series and trying some new things this summer.

Now, why would I do a silly thing like that? Well, it’s pretty simple. I’m a (nearly) complete unknown and as such my sales numbers are low. And since I’m in this for the money–yeah, I’ve got an husband bringing home the bacon, but he’s teetering on the brink of retirement, and I’d really like to bump up the projected (post retirement) household income. That means I need to do a number of things. Marketing . . . I’m also working on. But another (and much more fun!) thing I can do is broaden my fan base by publishing in other genres.

But how is a writer of a huge series to break the bad news to her fans?

Well it depends. If the series is at a natural stopping point, it’s easy. This is one of the advantages of an overarching Mega Problem. Once it’s solved, you can give your readers a brief glimpse into the Happily Ever After and then quit.

Hahahahaha! As if!

And the more popular, the more fans will want you notice that there’s a problem behind the problem and keep going.

In my case most of the stories are stand alones . . . but it’s one big saga with a fair amount of background that builds up. But there’s no clear cut end point. It’s just a Cross-dimensional Multiverse full of potential. It has been mentioned that it would make a great SF soap opera.

So again, why quit?

There’s a dozen reasons.

I need to broaden my reader base, so getting out of this specific sub- genre and into Time Travel, Space Opera, and Urban Fantasy sounds like a good idea. I mean, Regency Romance may sell better, but I seriously doubt I could tempt any of those readers to try my older work . . . where SO and UF have plenty of overlapping interests with my old series.

And then there’s the challenge. Something that will stretch my knowledge base and send my research in a new direction. Time Travel hurts my head, BTW. And I have zero knowledge of how Law Enforcement actually works. Which is really necessary when you’ve got a thin blue line standing up against demonically engendered werewolves. Space Opera will be the easiest, what with me being a space fanatic. All I have to do is check that what I know really is so. Ouch! Our knowledge of reality changes so fast it’s easy to fall behind.

I recommend this to all writers. It’s too easy to get into a rut, to coast. “Oh, I know everything about this Universe, after all, I created it. I don’t need to research anything!” Too easy to depend on the character building you did in the previous books and leave your character flat and uninteresting. Or viciously attack and maul him, to give some space for Mr. Perfect to (re)grow. Kill her, because you’ve come to hate her.

It’ll be a good separation, a refreshing vacation. I’ll come back to the Wine of the Gods with a new perspective, new enthusiasm.

I’m breaking the news to my fans gently. Umm, because, being an addict of my own series, I seem to have, umm, let me count. Oh bloody . . . eight stories in the pipeline. Not counting the novella that’s out with the Beta Readers. That will be published next month. So while I’m going to write other stuff this summer, I’ll also get out at least one more big Wine of the Gods book sometime this fall, and the rest at reasonable intervals. So it’s just a slow down, not really quitting.

I can get over this addiction. I can stop any time.

Can you? Tell me how that works, eh?

And, being unfortunately well acquainted with my subconscious, as soon as I post this, it will pop a story into the frontal lobes, crack the whip and make me write it . . . What’s that? Xen teams up with Ebsa, Ra’d . . . and Eldon! To defeat the Cyborg Empire!

Oh, just kill me now!
But first, buy a 99¢ short story. I promise I won’t leave [spoiler] in [spoiler] for too long.

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Filed under BY THE MAD GENII, PAM UPHOFF, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

What do you want to read?

First off, I have to give a hat tip to Jason Cordova for this topic. On his FB page today, he commented that he was tired of all the stories where “the US is a fractured dystopia. You know what I want to see? A fractured dystopian world in which the last guardians of the gate is the US.” This started a discussion where another poster commented that his daughter had complained not long ago about YA novels where the protagonist is a teen girl whose parents are either dead or abusive. According to the commenter, his daughter wanted to read stories where the parents were normal and supportive. All that got me to thinking about what I want to read — not to mention write — and what I heard from my son when he was in school about the books he’d been required to read.

Which brings it all around to the issue of whether our kids read more or less than we do and why.

Let me start by saying I agree completely with Jason about wanting to see something than the US in ruins. All you have to do is look at who the gatekeepers are in traditional publishing (mainly the Big 5) right now to understand why they love this sort of book. Hell, all you have to do is look at their social media accounts to see that they believe the US is already on an irreversible course to total destruction. They scream and yell and cry at the mere mention of Trump’s name. You can wander over to the Tor site and find a post about how they simply don’t know what to imagine now because, you guessed it, Trump.

These are the same gatekeepers who have made it almost impossible to be published by the Big 5 and the smaller publishers following their lead if you don’t have the appropriate checklist of character traits in your novel. These are the ones, especially in science fiction and fantasy, who have taken the fun out of reading. And, no, this is not a screed against message fiction. You can have a message and still make it entertaining. You can have literary fiction and have it be engaging and entertaining. It doesn’t have to preach to the point of becoming boring and abrasive.

There is a reason if you look at the best seller lists on Amazon for e-books, you see as many, if not more, indie books there as you do trad published.

So, what do I want to read? I want t read a story that engages my imagination. I want to be entertained. Sure, I read more than my fair share of non-fiction and I enjoy it. But, for fiction, I’m not reading to be depressed or lectured to. I’m reading to be entertained, to escape the pressures of every day life. I want to see characters who are challenged and who do everything they can to overcome that challenge. No, they don’t have to always prevail. Life isn’t like that. Very little will turn me off of an author quicker than every protagonist turning into a Mary Sue.

Every character doesn’t have to agree with my personal religious or political beliefs. Life doesn’t work that way and neither should fiction. I want to see boundaries pushed, but not in a way that it breaks the world or throws me out of the book.  If I’m reading alternate history, I expect the author to have a working knowledge of the historical era and location he is writing about. Alternate doesn’t mean throwing everything out and starting over. It means taking something that happened and changing it. The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick, is a prime example. The Axis won World War II and he goes from there. As you read the story, however, you know he had a feel for the real historical events behind his new world.

Getting back to the original comment that prompted this post, I believe we see so many books coming from traditional publishers where the US has fallen because that is what they want. That is especially true right now. Don’t believe me? Go check out the social media accounts of some of those sitting in the ivory towers of publishing and see what they are posting. I don’t know about your feed, but mine shows more political posts coming from them than news about books or the authors they work with. It’s sad really and, were I one of the authors they worked with, it would piss me off . Why? Because they are turning away readers, not necessarily because of their politics (although that is open for debate) but because they aren’t promoting my work.

As for the daughter’s comment that she would like to see a YA book with a female protagonist with normal, supportive parents, I remember my son saying much the same when he was in junior high and high school. Teachers wondered why students in his class didn’t finish their summer reading list when the books on it were about drug and sex abuse, mental illness, homelessness, poverty and the like. I can’t remember a single summer reading list where there was a book on it that could even remotely be termed entertaining. Instead, the books were chosen by committee to make sure the students learned about all the bad things in society.

Oh, and the books had to meet a vocabulary requirement as well. On the surface, that might look good but it wasn’t. This wasn’t so much an attempt to challenge students by giving them vocabulary that would expand their linguistic skills. Instead, they wanted to make sure the books weren’t too “challenging”. After all, they mustn’t have little Susie or Johnny running to Mom or Dad to ask what a word meant or, worse, looking it up for themselves.

Worse, the subject matter wasn’t always appropriate to the age group. Yes, rape exists and victims come in all ages. However, to assign a book to a kid going into the fifth grade that includes a graphic attempted rape scene is not acceptable. Yet they did and the teacher couldn’t understand why I had an issue with it. After all, no other parent complained. Which wasn’t exactly the truth. I just happened to have been the first because I was at the school waiting to complain the moment the teachers reported before school started for the new year.

And they wondered why kids weren’t reading.

They weren’t reading because the books didn’t speak to them. They didn’t grab their attention and entertain. It is all too easy to put a book down and walk away from it if you aren’t pulled in by the story. If the story bores you or turns you off, it is more than tempting to simply never return to the book. THAT is why our kids don’t read what so many public schools want them to. When school administrations — and, more importantly, the politicians who think they know more about education than the professionals (and yes, I know that’s an oxymoron) — realize a kid can learn more from reading Pratchett than he can from being forced to read a book that is torture to get through, they will see an increase in the number of books read, in reading levels and in vocabulary.

There is nothing wrong with reading for information or to learn. Non-fiction is necessary, at least for my reading needs. But not everyone loves, or even likes, literary fiction. Not everyone wants to read to be depressed. There are other ways of getting those lessons across. It is time we as parents, as adults, as educators and writers, understood one simple truth: if we don’t keep our readers’ attention, if we don’t make them want to continue reading, they will put the book down and walk away. So instead of asking what “lesson” we want to teach with a book and then figuring out a bare minimum plot to go around the sermon, we need to figure out how to build a rich and engaging plot where the “lesson” can be woven in subtly and in such a way we get the point across without resorting to the literary equivalent of a 2X4.

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Filed under AMANDA, POLIT(ICK!)S, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Small Press Co-Authoring Madness

Since we’re here, let me regale you with tales of old…

As many of the established readers of this site know, I’m still fairly new to the business. This coming November I’ll be celebrating 7 years since my first novel was published. Part of my highly exaggerated “charm” is that I have no clue as to the little nods and winks in science fiction that bigger names understand. I don’t get the geek humor a lot (I’m not of you, but adopted) and I don’t even understand why there are cliques in fandom now (outside of the obvious psychological need to exclude people when oneself was excluded from social functions many years ago, but that’s a different essay).

So believe me when I am surprised when people mock me when I say I’ve published the majority of my work with small press publishers. I don’t quite grasp their looks of horror when I share how many co-authors I’ve worked with over the years. I am, as they say, naive to the horror stories of small press and co-authors.

Don’t misunderstand, neither is all roses and cash all the time (God, I wish it were!). No, it takes a dedicated focus to succeed at either. To succeed at both takes a certain level of crazy that… uh… gets you invited to… er… write for the Mad Genius Club.

Son of a…

I first approached a big publisher back in 2005 with my completed novel “Corruptor”. It was a decent first novel that needed an editor’s touch (still does) but fit into the (at the time) needs of the growing YA/Teen subgenre. However, nobody would touch it and the book ended up being contracted with Twilight Times, a small press I had heard about through a friend. It was a lengthy book that didn’t fit into the “mold” at the time. You see, this was when urban fantasy was really taking off and people were saying that it would be the death of science fiction, so nobody was taking anything like what I had written except small houses. Unless I had werewolves falling in love with humans while battling vampires and vice versa, I did not have what they wanted.

While I have had troubles with one or two of the small houses I’ve worked with, all in all it has been a collection of very pleasant experiences. I don’t have the issue of being the sole person responsible for editing and publishing my books, as I could have had if I had gone indie. I’m still responsible for marketing myself, but the publisher usually has ideas that can help. They also design the cover art, something that I suck at, and often get truly commissioned art for the cover and nothing recycled (“Corruptor” and “Wraithkin” come to mind). The other added benefit of working with a small press publisher is that, unlike some of the bigger houses, you get paid far more often at rates that are comparable to that of going indie. It’s part of the reason I haven’t truly gone indie yet: I like writing, but I hate everything else that publishers can take care of for the writer.

As for working with co-authors… well, I can only say that I have had great success with finding them and working together with them. Everyone knows the insanity in a novel when Chris and I work together, and I have had great financial success with Eric. I worked with another co-author, though, who almost soured me on the prospect of writing with others back before I had “Corruptor” contracted. That was partly my fault, since I bought into the “hype” and ignored a lot of the lack of substance he brought to the partnership. Plus, he was a bigger name than I was, so it probably worked out for the best.

Why, you ask? Well, because working with a co-author is harder to make work than a typical marriage.

It is hard to write a book with someone. It takes more than setting your ego aside. It takes a full commitment to the relationship to make it work (oh wow, total marriage comparison). Both authors have to know the limitations of their collaborator, and be receptive to ideas that you might not initially think would work. You have to listen, and not simply wait for them to quit speaking so you can say a rebuttal piece. Active listening is key here, people.  For example…

When Chris and I wrote “Kraken Mare”, we pretty much rewrote the entire book (I’d completed about 35,0000 words before I called in for some help). Even though there was a lot of insanity (and by a lot, I mean immeasurable amounts here… crazy giggling while talking and plotting/writing) we realized that we worked well together. We would easily feed off one another, hound each other when needed, and come up with ideas that the other would never have thought of, and pop culture references that one of us might have missed. It was fun, enjoyable, and we’re planning on more projects in the future once our free time reappears.

All in all, you have to be more than a little crazy to do either. To do both, well, you have to be certifiable Mad Genius. 🙂

And now your promotional news. Jason has a book out right now that you should buy. For a measly $3.99 you too can pick up your copy of the latest, Wraithkin, from Theogony Books. If you have KU then it’s free! Pick up a copy and leave a review.

 

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Filed under SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY, WARP CORDOVA, WRITING, WRITING: LIFE