- Print out the first draft of your novel or story, and mark any spots where you’re able to stop reading, or where you stumble, with post-it notes; keep reading on; then, when you come back to the manuscript to begin a second draft, these sticky notes will show you where polishing or revision is necessary.
- George R. R. Martin believes that magic must be both rare and dangerous in the realm of fantasy, because if it were either common or easily used, then sorcerers would rule the kingdom(s), not historically-based “royalty”; the game of power and politics would be rendered meaningless in the face of true invincibility. He explains that many fantasy worlds “just make no f—ing sense to me.”
- Connie Willis argues that writing doesn’t necessarily have to be approached as a do-or-die, for-a-living vocation, but can rather be viewed as something done merely for the sake of the thing, out of love for the craft of storytelling.
- Willis also contends that “a story takes as long as it takes, be it days, weeks, or many years.”
- When your moderator interrupts you, shut up and let them steer the conversation back on track. No one wants to hear you shamelessly tout your novel while pretending to know your science better than Geoffrey A. Landis, formerly of NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts.
- Philip K. Dick is perhaps the only science fiction writer to have “achieved literature,” according to at least one passionate writer and critic, who also came of age in Berkeley, California in the 1960s.
- Fantasy likely dominates science fiction in terms of broad market growth—according to Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (who comprise the pseudonym James S. A. Corey, author of Leviathan Wakes), Scott Lynch, and others—because of the tendency of SF to rely on intertextuality, in-jokes, and a general sense of literary and intellectual elitism over a compelling narrative. I took their point to be that science fiction writers first developed an emphasis on both a well-read audience and a sophisticated familiarity with scientific concepts on the part of their peers; and then later, as with the cyberpunk movement’s idea-rich, “dense” style, a deemphasizing of plot mechanics.
- A writer is a writer is a writer; in the end, they’re all just like us. Styx’s prog-rock anthem “The Grand Illusion” is a worthy illustration of how, despite how much we may come to worship our literary exemplars, they’re first and foremost fans and readers of the genre that they themselves enrich through their own work. Treat them as equals, and they’ll return the favor.
- Monica Valentinelli reminds us to “forgive yourself for wanting to have a life.”
- Gene Wolfe says that whenever confronted with writer’s block, we ought to take a few days and remove ourselves from the language in all its forms—stop reading, stop writing, and go do something physical in the outside world. After a walk, painting a room, or doing a little recreational gardening, the words are likely to flow more freely in the first-draft stage.
- “The measure of how human you are, is how kind you are.” — Guy H. Lillian III, on the overarching themes throughout Philip K. Dick’s enormous body of work.
- Geoffrey A. Landis argues that cerebral upload is made plausible by the fact that “You can simulate the way [neurons] fire—it’s what computers are good at.” But notes that “Nanotechnology really does have problems with the laws of thermodynamics.”
- Alec Nevala-Lee believes that the more excited you are by an idea for a story, the more suspicious of it you should be. In other words, sometimes simpler or less obvious premises more readily lend themselves to storytelling.
- Jamie Todd Rubin contends that there are some ideas that should be discarded, because a good idea will generally begin to suggest a narrative of some sort, whereas others are only half-formed, or require a second idea with which to fuse into a complete story premise.
Just in time for Worldcon 2012, the second volume of Mirror Shards: Extending the Edges of Augmented Reality is now available from several major online retailers. The book includes my story, “An Apocalypse of Her Own, One Day,” along with new work by some of my favorite writers and fellow Writers of the Future forumites, including Annie Bellet, Marina J. Lotstetter, and editor Thomas K. Carpenter. There’s no technology more relevant than augmented reality, with exciting new platforms like Google’s Project Glass no longer a distant horizon. I find that any science fiction story lacking some form of AR will soon be made quaint by the rapidly evolving capital-f Future and the promise it holds for technology of all sorts. Enjoy!
Those who subscribe to my Facebook updates have already heard, but I thought that I should let the rest of you know that I recently signed the contract for my second professional short fiction sale. One of my personal favorite stories, “Prospect of a World I Dream,” has been selected to appear in the Kickstarter-funded Underwords anthology Futuredaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction. As if the concept alone wasn’t exciting enough, the list of contributing authors and poets has me feeling honored to be among some of the genre’s very best, as well as a few of my fellow up-and-coming contemporaries from Codex (of which I recently became a member, thanks to this very sale):
An Anthology of YA Science Fiction
edited by Hannah Strom-Martin & Erin Underwood
List of Contributing Authors
in alphabetical order
E. Kristin Anderson
Anna Della Zazzera
Stephen D. Covey
Alex J. Kane
Alex Dally MacFarlane
Llinos Cathryn Thomas
William John Watkins
I love pretty much every story I’ve read by Lavie Tidhar, Rahul Kanakia, and Camille Alexa; I’m truly humbled to be in such fine company. Not to mention Jack McDevitt, whose novel Chindi I recently picked up at an airport bookstore in Las Vegas — the guy can write like nobody’s business, his books carry blurbs by none other than Stephen-freakin’-King, and I’ve got my fingers crossed for an opportunity to meet him at the Chicon 7 Writers’ Workshop at the end of the month. If you haven’t checked out his short story “The Cassandra Project,” originally published online at Lightspeed, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. McDevitt recently collaborated on a novel-length adaptation of the story with Mike Resnick, which is due out before the end of the year. Can’t wait for that one.
Oh, and before I forget: I’ve got a lot of people to thank for their invaluable feedback on “Prospect of a World I Dream” — Hugo nominee Brad R. Torgersen, Dave Hutchinson, Jeremy C. Shipp, Grayson Bray Morris, Lyn Perry, S.C. Wade, Shaun Duke, Rahul Kanakia, Michael Beers, Ben Godby, anyone else who participated in Jeremy C. Shipp’s Yard Gnome Army fiction-writing class . . . Hell, I owe a lot of people big-time for this one. Seriously, you people are awesome, and beautiful, and I ought to buy you all drinks. Track me down sometime, and I’ll do just that. If there’s anyone I’ve forgotten, please accept my sincerest apologies. You’re amazing, and I love you guys — but I’m a forgetful dude. One of my many faults, unfortunately.
I’ve never gotten this amount of input on a story before, or such a warm reception. Even though it’s been rejected more times than I can count, people seem to love it. I know I’ve fallen in love with the characters, and find myself returning to the idea of a future novelization with greater and greater fondness for the story’s general premise. I think Inna and Ayden deserve a novel-length canvas in which to tell their story — an accessible, relevant YA novel with a science-fictional skeleton and an everyday, real-world heart. Hopefully one day soon I’ll get around to writing that book. Until then, I’ll play around in my Whispering Light universe and see where that takes me.
Here’s my temporary writing office, also known to some as the kitchen.
Most importantly, there’s a stack of books I’ve been using as inspiration for my novel-in-progress, which I’m calling Whispering Light for now: Chindi by Jack McDevitt, The Case for Mars by Robert Zubrin, The Dark Horse Book of Monsters, and a book of artwork by H. R. Giger, who’s perhaps most famous for his work on Ridley Scott’s Alien. And on top, you’ll find my Oakley Minute 2.0 shades, which were a gift from the girlfriend about two years ago. She got me a pair of black-and-green Oakley Jupiters as a college graduation gift, but my dog, Sam, ate them for lunch. May they rest in piece.
To the left, that’s a 15″ Dell Inspiron laptop I’ve had for three years or so, which has taken a lot of abuse in the course of both my college and writing careers — a lot of papers have been hammered out on it.
You can tell somewhat from the picture that the “?” + “/” key is more or less broken — there’s a little white mechanism that the key itself rests on, and two tiny prongs that hold it in place. At least one of the prongs is apparently busted or worn down, because it no longer functions as intended . . . but it gets the job done, with a little added force.
Normally you’d see a coffee mug with a bold dark roast, steaming and giving off its heavenly coffee-shop scent, but since it was getting late I opted to try one of my girlfriend’s Nestle PureLife (devil-corporation!) with Lemon Splash bottled waters. Not bad, but I feel morally soiled for having drunk it. I’m also fond of Coke Zero, Diet Coke, and iced tea. And on occasion, a nice cold one — Dos Equis, Red Stripe, or Blue Moon.
Don’t mind the overflowing garbage. You wanna get any writing done, you have to sacrifice some things. Y’know, like chores, showering, and breakfast. Except today. Today I had coffee and an Entenmann’s chocolate-frosted doughnut.
Also, I should probably buy some new shoes. Those once-white Jordans are getting a little beat-up, and they ain’t as comfortable as they were when I bought ‘em, maybe two years ago.
Other books I’ve been reading, or have read recently, include Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Future, Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey, The Apocalypse Ocean by Tobias S. Buckell, Distrust That Particular Flavor by William Gibson, Year’s Best SF 17, eds. David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, Amped by Daniel H. Wilson, Leviathans of Jupiter by Ben Bova, and probably some others I’m either forgetting or gave up on before finishing. For more aesthetic inspiration, when the Giger book fails to get the gears turning, I’ll probably also dig out my copy of Spectrum 17: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art.
I’m up to 4,245 words on the novel, which means I’m at roughly 5.3% completion, based on my initial target goal of 80,000 words for a very basic first draft. That makes for the beginning of a new prologue — which may end up being the first chapter; I’m not sure yet — three more or less “finished” chapters (1-3), and the beginning of a fourth chapter. So most of the scenes are pretty short at this point, which means I’ll be going back and expanding a lot of the dialogue and descriptions once the skeleton of the novel starts to reveal itself a bit more.
I’ve currently written chapters from three different viewpoint characters, and know at least one or two more viewpoint characters will comprise the finished narrative. Would share tidbits from my research and worldbuilding, or character names, but that’d be pretty premature at this point . . . Plus, I may very well decide to use an excerpt as my quarterly Writers of the Future contest entry at some point, so I’ll have to try and maintain some anonymity. And let’s be honest: Most of you probably don’t give a damn about my worldbuilding; you’d probably rather just hear that I finally succeeded in writing one of these long, long manuscripts.
No more talking. As Yoda said so well, Do, or do not; there is no try.
My daily word count goal is 500 words, give or take a hundred. Tonight I finished at 552, and tomorrow I’m hoping to hit 1,000. That used to be my daily goal, but whenever I failed to hit it, or decided I wouldn’t have enough time, I’d just avoid writing anything at all, so the 500-a-day target has proved much more efficient on a weekly basis. It’s been getting results, whereas before 1,000 words a day wouldn’t have. The only downside is, now it’s really hard to write more than the requisite five hundred. But I’ve always been a fairly slow writer, and I write with a fairly minimalistic style, so it won’t hurt me much in the long run — at least, I hope not.
Yes. For real this time.
While my last novel idea was exciting, it was half-formed and unoriginal. Less than half-formed. Like, a-quarter-formed. It’s never going to go anywhere until I develop the premise a lot further. That’s still in the back of my mind, of course, but something I’m saving for when I’m a more mature writer. More experienced.
This time, I’ve spent months researching, reading and rereading some of the best science fiction novels I could find, and giving my creative brain a chance to play around before getting into the nitty-gritty of the thing.
Now, I’ve got a first draft in progress, and a title. Let me know what you think:
Whispering Light, that’s what I’m calling it. For now.
Postcyberpunk with a dash of near-Earth space opera. And nanopunk. Hopefully a touch of mystery, adventure, and wonder, too. Guess we’ll see.
I’ve got about three or four chapters done, but I’m only at about 4% completion as of right now. Gotta get in at least 500 more words tonight. Should be a hell of a first draft if I can keep this slow but steady, regular pace going.
I’m finding that by writing a little bit every day, rather than being lazy during workdays and writing like mad one or two days a week — like I used to have to do — I’m getting a lot more done on a week-by-week basis. And I feel a lot better about the project as a result. I’m excited about my characters, and where I hope to take them. I’m writing the sort of thing I’d like to read. Something like The Apocalypse Ocean by Tobias S. Buckell or 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke.
Oh. And I sold another short story recently. Pretty exciting news, but I can’t share the details quite yet. Check back soon.
According to my extensive scholarly research over at Wikipedia this afternoon, the third installment in Fox’s Alien Quadrilogy (’cause why use the word tetralogy, right? what a lousy word . . .) went through development hell for several years, and despite the criticism its received from longtime fans and critics alike, it should’ve ended up a much worse film than we actually ended up with.
It ain’t as good as Scott’s original classic, or Cameron’s ’86 sequel Aliens – and probably not as good as Prometheus, which I happened to enjoy a great deal — but it’s sure as hell better than that money-grab atrocity Alien Resurrection. But I’m building up a modest library of Blu-ray films, including Alien and its first two sequels, and I couldn’t resist the chance to finally revisit David Fincher’s directorial debut, over ten years later.
Now, for some reason, I’d gotten it into my young head long ago that Alien 3 wasn’t worth my time, that was a dismal and offensive and, well, trash. Like Resurrection, I guess. But that really isn’t the case — it’s actually quite a decent film, when you overlook its status as a lackluster sequel to two of the most beloved science-fiction movies of the twentieth century.
It lacks the “science” element that you’d prefer to find in a film with a title like Alien 3, granted, but when viewed as a standalone horror film, it’s not all that bad. Really. It’s got all the trademark Fincher-isms that we recognize from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Se7en, and Fight Club: moral ambiguity, (incredibly) flawed characters, visceral grit, existential atmosphere, and an unflinching gaze at the hostility that exists in our world, like it or not. Excellent cinematography, too, if one can forgive the lack of screen time allocated to the creature itself and the primitive CGI thereof.
(Note: Over ten years ago, the first time I saw the film, I watched the 1992 theatrical release on VHS. This time around, I opted for the 2003 studio “Assembly”/Special Edition extended cut of the film, in stellar Blu-ray high definition. The extended cut does more than toss in additional footage to flesh out the inmate characters; it also harms certain key plot points from the original, such as the origin of the quadrupedal alien variant, and the chest-bursting scene that made the ending so dramatic the first go-round. Watch ‘em both, when you can, but go with Fincher’s 1992 cut the first time you watch the film.)
Despite it being not-that-terrible, however, Alien 3 catches a lot of flak for being, well, less than great. In the scope of the first three installments of the franchise, yes, it’s a disappointment . . . but for anyone who’s seen Alien vs. Predator, AvP: Requiem, or Alien Resurrection, Alien 3 really ought to seem like a goddamn masterpiece!
So, what can we learn from it?
When you’ve got a successful series going over the course of decades, it’s tough to maintain relevance and originality after early successes. Oftentimes an idea is examined to the point that it ceases to be interesting, and eventually you start repeating yourself. Perhaps, as with the example of Scott’s Prometheus, it’s best to pack up your toolbox and go build something new, something bigger, rather than continuing to tinker with past successes. Audiences are hard to please as it is, let alone when they come into an experience with overly high expectations.
Tone, mood, and intensity should waver slightly over the course of a single film, but not within the scope of a four-installment series — movies, films, games, comics, whatever — unless there’s good reason to do so. Having every character but your protagonist be a rapist-murderer, with whom the audience is supposed to sympathize, is risky as hell. Fincher can pull it off, I think . . . but after a film like Aliens, where Cameron established a clear divide between who and what is good and who the bad guys are — corporate slime-balls and aliens on one side, marines and civilians on the other — it’s hard to pull off a spectrum of gray, gray, gray.
Also, I can’t understate the importance of keeping primary characters — good, heroic characters as well as innocent children — alive unless the story absolutely demands that they be killed. I’m not spouting dogma here, but as novelist Alan Dean Foster opined of the film, the deaths of Corporal Hicks and Newt are obscene. Neither character deserved to die; both fought valiantly to survive the preceding film; and audiences loved them.
In Fincher’s world, as with our world, even the innocent are occasionally made to suffer. But in art, it’s also necessary to be aware from a creative standpoint what kind of reaction a character’s death will elicit from the audience. Don’t kill everybody’s favorite character, unless you want to piss them off or make a profound point by making them a martyr. And please, for the love of all things sacred, don’t have an on-screen autopsy performed on a ten-year-old girl in your film, bloody bone saws, exposed lungs, and all. Jesus, that’s just gross.
Saw Prometheus last night. I’d been dying to see the film since the first trailer hit the web many months ago, and despite what a lot of people are saying about it, I wasn’t disappointed. Complaints dwell on its busy plot, supposedly one-dimensional characters, and the pervasiveness of the Alien franchise’s trademark horror elements. I’m not sure I buy the criticisms about characterization, except maybe in the case of Charlize Theron, whose character gets little screen time despite a solid, if enigmatic performance. To be honest, no negative review I’ve seen has mentioned the tacked-on second ending, which I found to be completely unnecessary. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that I haven’t stopped thinking about the film, contrasting my expectations of it with my actual experience, and with others’ criticisms; and I plan to see the film again, if possible. It’s easily the best science-fiction film since Duncan Jones’s Moon, or Inception – which I consider fantasy, rather than SF, really – even if it is a tad bit flawed. I loved the visuals, the performances by Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender, and some of the ideas put forth about the nature of intelligence and creation. The 3-D was spectacular, but gave me a slight headache, which I get fairly often with 3-D theatrical releases (The Avengers was a notable exception).
Been writing quite a bit, compared to still-in-college Alex. Full-time banker Alex has churned out a short (often very short) story every consecutive week since, well, May 10th, to be exact. That’s five stories in five weeks; I’m very proud of this small milestone in cultivating regular writing habits, even if it means I haven’t exactly developed a high word count.
It hasn’t quite hit me yet, that I’ll never step foot inside a classroom, after eighteen years of institutional learning. That I’m more or less in charge of how I spend my time outside of work. Been reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, albeit sporadically and somewhat slowly over the course of two weeks or so. Enjoying the hell out of it, though — it may end up being one of my favorite novels by the time I’m through with it. I can definitely see the influence Gaiman’s had on Joe Hill, whose novel Horns is probably my all-time number one.
Yeah, I’ll probably have more to say about Prometheus sometime in the next few days. Might write a review for someone else, or just post a short one here. We’ll see.
Hey, I got two new jobs. As of today, I’m a full-time universal banker at my present place of employment — a local bank, not one of the nationwide corporate banks, thankfully. It isn’t lost on me just how fortunate that makes me. I graduated from college with a B.A. in English only two weeks ago; to have a full-time, career-worthy day job already makes me part of a very small minority. I owe enormous thanks to the educators, friends, and colleagues who have guided and encouraged me over the years. I’ll now have a chance of paying off my student loans and living a modest real-world existence, hopefully with little enough stress that my writing — ahem — career will proceed as planned.
I’ve also been given a position reviewing science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels for the lit website Bookgasm, who publish some of the best book reviews on the web, in my entirely biased opinion. Check ‘em out. My first assignments are Killing Ghost by Christopher Ransom and Year’s Best SF 17, ed. David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer. I’ll share the glorious linkage as soon as those are online. Looking forward to reading both of them. I get a kick out of writing book reviews, so getting a regular supply of free books out of the deal ain’t half bad.
Let me know if you need an author website, too. Don’t forget. Y’know, only $200.00 for a custom, high-quality online presence. That’s cheap. I know, right? Helluva deal.
Over at Black Moon Books’ website, editor Thomas K. Carpenter has posted the table of contents for Mirror Shards 2, which features my short story, “An Apocalypse of Her Own, One Day.” It looks like another very awesome book of stories, with fellow Mirror Shards original volume contributor Annie Bellet opening the book and fellow Writers of the Future Forums member Marina J. Lostetter closing it out, as well as returning contributors Terry Edge and Amy L. Herring:
- “Ghosts in the Mist” by Annie Bellet
- “Facial Recognition” by Michele Lang
- “An Apocalypse of Her Own, One Day” Alex J. Kane
- “The Pressure of Esctacy” by Terry Edge
- “The Mirrored Ends of Whitechapel Market” by Tomar Volk
- “The Open Source Woman” by J. Daniel Sawyer
- “This Secular Technology” by Bogi Takács
- “Tijuana, Massachusetts” by Robert T. Jeschonek
- “The Lorieme Job” by Thomas K. Carpenter
- “Bloodhound” by Amy L. Herring
- “Interstices” by Samantha Murray
- “A Splash of Color” by William T. Vandemark
- “Rats Will Run” by Marina J. Lostetter
In completely unrelated news, S.C. Wade just posted a guest blog I wrote for his “Be Inspired” feature. I basically tell the story of my first sale at SFWA-standard professional rates, and try to urge folks not to quit when things seem hopeless. Enjoy!