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Entries in science fiction (8)


Week Nineteen: A time-traveler recognizes you...

Okay, so remember in Week Eighteen's prompt when I said that this was the last prompt of my Freshman year box?

...That was not true, for there is a whole notebook of Spring semester class notes that I had misplaced, and lo! many questionable prompts therein.

Here's the first. The full text, for those who cannot read the scrivenings of a mad man, reads

A time-traveler recognizes you and is shocked to have met you. This provides the driving force for your future success.

I must have stolen that from somewhere, right? I mean... it's kind of too good for Freshman Me?

Anyway, it's yours now. 400 words by Sunday at midnight! Who's up for some SCIENCE FICTION?


In addition to rich, I'd also be okay with "comfortable"

From sci-fi author (and professional good guy) John Scalzi, a different perspective on the financial considerations of being a writer:

Every once in a while someone in the comments here says, usually as an aside to something else, that no one becomes a writer to get rich. So as a point of clarification, and to give everyone else who is slightly exasperated by this sort of comment something to point at:

Hey, I became a writer to get rich. I’ve always been in the writing business not just to write, and not just to make money, but also to make a lot of money — basically, to get rich at it. Why? Because speaking from experience, being poor sucks, and in the world we live in, things are a whole lot easier if you have a lot of money. The thing I do best in the world in a professional sense is writing, so if I were to become rich, getting rich through writing seemed like the most likely way for me to do it.


As a final thought on the point, one of the reasons that “no one writes to get rich” and “no one writes to make money” bug the crap out of me is that this is the sort of thinking, intentional or otherwise, that gives bad people cover to screw writers with regard to money, and gives uncertain writers a reason to shrug off being screwed. If you as a writer buy into the idea you can’t/won’t make money and that you can’t/won’t get rich, then you are more than halfway to ensuring that you won’t, in fact, make money (much less get rich).

Read the rest here!

And happy Friday!


Piers Anthony on growing up different

On the way in to work this morning, I listened to an episode of This American Life that told the story of a 15-year-old superfan of science fiction and fantasy author Piers Anthony. He had a troubled home life and ran away to seek out and hopefully live with his idol... several states away. It was a riveting episode, and there was a quote from Anthony at the end that really resonated with me:

"One thing you who had secure or happy childhoods should understand about those of us who did not, we who control our feelings, who avoid conflicts at all costs or seem to seek them, who are hypersensitive, self-critical, compulsive, workaholic, and above all survivors, we're not that way from perversity. And we cannot just relax and let it go. We've learned to cope in ways you never had to."

The episode's transcript is here or (recommended) you can listen to it here.

Of course, who among us had a perfect childhood? We all have our wounds, but I found this inspirational because it came from a very successful and large-hearted guy who had once struggled mightily but found his way through.

I think I might run away to go and live with Piers Anthony...


Brainstorming Week Eight, continued

Per my resolution to make writing fun and not work (or to work at having more fun... whichever) I'm going to try something new with Week Eight's prompt, which is to use the idea behind it to inform a character or scene from a larger work.

A larger work? Doesn't he find the shorter works difficult enough...?

Well, faithful readers, the goal has long been to write a fantasy/sci-fi series of some kind, but I've always felt too overwhelmed by the scope of such a thing. And of course that's still the case, but a few broad strokes have started to fall into place and I'm approaching something not unlike an outline. With very, very general characters.

And here's where Week Eight's prompt comes in: I want to use the concept to flesh out and explore one of the series' major characters. This may or may not become part of the larger work, but for now I'm just interested in the kind of exploratory writing that prolific writers (those mythical, dignified beings for whom writing is never a struggle) do on a daily basis. 

I don't know much about this character. I think she's a she, kind of a capable rogue type, a Gypsy-like person (or has been traveling with them for awhile)... quick to use humor as a defense mechanism, pretends that she is pragmatic and crass but deep down she's disappointed by how things have turned out for her. Her careless actions are contrary to who she wants to be, but in line with the kind of person she thinks she is.

Hey-oh! Week Eight's theme. Wham.

I still don't know how fantasy this fantasy world is, the names of the continents or kingdoms or if there even are kingdoms. I don't even know her name. All I know is that she's made a niche for herself in a merchant caravan of some kind, but she came from a very different life...


Brainstorming Week Eight

[The Unwritten Kitten was sick for a week—like, three-visits-to-the-vet- and forcing-nourishment-down-his-gullet-via-syringe sick—and so my writing output has been not so much. But he's better now, and so we return to our regularly scheduled blogging endeavors...]

Week Eight's challenge reminds me of a phrase inscribed in the "buoy's" bathroom at Outward Bound's Hurricane Island center many years ago: "The true measure of a person is what they do when no one's watching." I used to really take stuff like this to heart—I was very lost, but still searching like hell for home. Somehow, these aphorisms felt like guideposts, even if I didn't quite know what to do with them.

[Also, isn't it great that even the bathroom graffiti at an Outward Bound center is meaningful?]

Which is all very interesting, but how to turn the sentiment into a story. "You are a person of little worth if..." isn't the most interesting theme. I don't particularly want to read about someone the author has judged to be of little worth. It's going to read like a parable.

I could turn the prompt inside out: write about a person of great worth who is deliberate with his/her non-verbal actions.

Every so often I come back to the idea that I ultimately want to write in a literary/genre hybrid style, but for some reason in these prompts I keep pushing toward straight literary. Maybe this person of great or little worth lives in a magical fantasy world? Or on a spaceship? Or on a spaceship in a magical fantasy world?

Maybe it's not about a person of variable worth, but the question of how to determine worth is somehow central to the story?

Man. I dunno.


Reflections on Week Six

[Read the completed story here!]

It's kind of illuminating that the only way I'm able to break these silly prompts into actual stories is to stretch the meaning far enough that it becomes an almost new idea. There's a reason (apart from a near-chronic case of procrastination) that I didn't turn any of these ideas into stories when I first jotted them down nearly 12 years ago.

(...12 years...?! Eff.)

Anyway, if they didn't quite work for me then, the inertia of not having touched these ideas in over a decade makes all of them seem that much more stale. So really how else could this work? I understand now that part of the process of each week's challenge is that I have to make the idea fresh and exciting again—otherwise, this is just homework. (And I have always excelled at not doing homework.)

So that's a useful revelation.

For this particular challenge, I thought I would attempt science fiction or fantasy, but that felt like too much of an investment right now. I do eventually want to write a series of sci-fi/fantasy-ish books, but I don't think I'm quite ready for that yet.

(Possibly I'm just building it up so much that I'll never start. I've also been known to do this...)

Anyway, this challenge involved some brainstorming, a bit of freewriting, some procrastination, and finally an hour of freewriting one day (mopey rambling about why video games are a lot more fun than writing—I will spare you the agony of this) followed by outlining, writing, and revision over several hours the next day.

Overly observant readers will notice that I named the siblings after the siblings in Week Two's challenge. I just liked the names, okay? And I've always thought that Blake would be an awesome girl's name. Blake knows what's up. She's extremely likeable, sure, but you do not mess with Blake.

For the longest time I struggled with the bones of the story—single child or sibling? is the boy or girl older? does the older sibling trick the younger into going down into the basement? or accidentally lock him/her down there? Knowing that it was going to be a children's picture book with 16 pages of text forced me to narrow the scope of the story to its bare essentials, which is good for me, since I tend to get verbose.

The final result is cute, I think, and has a moment of two that makes me smile, but I don't think it's an instant classic. Let me know what you think in the comments. Don't be shy—constructive criticism is always welcome!


Instructions for the proper care and feeding of writers

From David Farland's Daily Kick in the Pants:

When I was young and newly married, I used to sit down to write, and my wife would immediately think that “since you’re not doing anything, let’s have a conversation.” That’s a frequent problem for those who work from home. It might not look like I’m busy, but sometimes I really am busy. 

In order to write, I have to get into what I call my “writer’s trance,” a state where I’m vividly dreaming about my world (with my right brain) while composing and analyzing my prose (with my left brain). So I have to work with full mental capacity, and it can take about ½ of an hour to get into that state deeply enough to get some good work done. So, if I’m in the groove, don’t bother me. I need time to focus completely on my work.

I've found that having a discreet but limited amount of time to write is perfect. If I have all day, I will definitely not spend all day writing, even if that's what I've been craving for weeks, months. Instead, I'll read some things, watch some things, play some things. Whereas if I have only, say, an hour before I have to be somewhere, so long as there's no distraction I can get into the writerly headspace pretty efficiently. However:

Your writer is insane. Remember that your writer spends a great deal of time in a dream world, talking to imaginary people, visiting places that don’t exist. Shakespeare often lamented about his poor mental health, wondering if he was a genius or a nut. He was obviously both. I once heard a psychologist say that “most writers are provably borderline schizophrenics.” I know that I am. I’m a science fiction writer, and being spacy is a job hazard. 

...Getting back out of the writerly headspace can be a challenge. I tend to miss train stops and spill things on my pants. How about you?

Link to the rest here.


Week Six: Write a novella about the journey into the psyche

I remember this one very well.

Peter Corea's psychology class had a lot to do with the philosophy of the mind. Not just what we think, but why we think what we think. To give you a sampling of the things that struck a chord with me, here are a few lecture notes I took throughout the semester, all of them direct quotes from Dr. Corea:

"Just because we are able to describe something doesn't mean we are able to understand it."
"Change is the very essence of energy."
"Words are just symbols of reality."
"There is an unknown energy that is not space and time."

(Check out an older post I wrote for more about the late Dr. Corea.)

You may have gotten the impression by now that this was not your standard psychology class, and you would be correct. It was, however, structured like one, and so there was the matter of an end-of-term research project that we had to propose. I was champing at the bit to do something creative, and I landed on the idea you see above.

I wanted to investigate several areas of parapsychology (ESP, astral projection, etc.), reconcile them with some of the ideas Corea himself espoused, and compose a sci-fi novella about someone who abruptly discovers these abilities and what they mean for him/her.

He hated it. More to the point, he all but accused me of trying to repurpose some crap story I'd already written for some other teacher. (I was occasionally guilty of this later on in my academic career, but in this case I was entirely innocent.)

Anyway, I never did write it. If I had, I imagine it would have been somewhat dark and very melodramatic, for this was my disposition at the time. I still have this image of the nameless, faceless protagonist aflame with psychic energy as he rises above the SWAT team and National Guard members who all have automatic weapons trained on him. The boy is innocent, of course, but how else could this possibly end?

(So, okay, maybe not the best end-of-term paper for an aging professor.)

What to do with it now? Well, with apologies to the over-eager freshman year version of myself, Week Six is not going to be a novella-length work. The subject area still intrigues me, though. Ultimately I would love to write a series of sci-fi/fantasy/literary-minded books, but apart from an audio drama project I co-wrote with fellow Emerson alums once upon a time, I don't think I've ever actually dipped my toes in that water. 

So thentime to give it a shot!