Friday, January 31, 2014

On craft: Five things Spec-fic writers can learn from basic Sociology

One thing that spec-fic writers need a firm handle on is world construction. It's not enough to say that aliens cured cancer, your character lives on a space station near a jovian world, or that the Orcish Hordes have been raiding the kingdom's boarder towns for three decades. You also have to represent how that affects the society your story takes place in, and how your characters perceive that. At 11am on April 12th, I'm going to be giving a presentation about Creating Alternate Worlds at the HWG's 2014 Writers Con. Obviously I feel like I have a lot to say about the subject; I'm not planning to spend an hour babbling about fictional plate tectonics (only about twenty minutes, tops, on the geology thing).

Pretty much this except the athenosphere is giant dragons and the volcanoes are full of zombies.
Seriously. Come to my talk. I might actually say those words.

We all know the writers who do this well. Frank Herbert gave us summaries of galactic economies compressed into two paragraphs so dense we barely noticed them. Ben Bova wrote almost a dozen novels about the same fundamentalist regime and how different groups of people overcame the problems it caused (while also discovering space whales in Jupiter. Love.). Larry Niven's Mad Puppeteers had a society based on putting the most cowardly individual in charge of everything and also planets that moved like spaceships, and he made it make sense. And let's not even get started on Tolkein's grasp of fictional history.

There's good reason that the best Spec-Fic writers are usually highly educated and always extremely well-read. In addition to knowing a thing or two about science, language, and psychology, odds are they've read at least one book on sociology. And if not one book, then at least an essay called The Promise, by C. Wright Mills, (highly recommend link to click, by the way) which essentially pushed the 'reset' button on the entire school of thought while also making basic sociology accessible to anyone with the ability to tell the difference between public issues and private troubles.

Here's the five most important lessons I think that spec-fic writers need to take from the essay.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Absolute Tenacity, published

I have a disproportionate number of memories about writing this book. Its first incarnation was a 500-word piece of flash fiction that made no sense, written between shifts in the small parking lot behind a noodle shop in Colorado Springs. I remember writing it again, later, in the parking lot outside the south campus of Pikes Peak Community College, a much larger black-top, far hotter, listening to the sound of gunshots from the army shooting range less than a mile from my car. One time, while struggling with words at a Seattle's Best coffee shop at a Borders (which I miss), I put away my laptop and began to march frustrated lines between the shelves of books, staring at names of writers who were apparently better than I was. My self-loathing reached a breaking-point that caused me to sit down on the floor, back to a bookshelf, and begin writing again. This time I wrote on a legal pad, my handwriting so poor that it would take a cryptographer days to discern my words.

The trend of writing by hand would continue. From then on, most of it was written by hand, and I rewrote the book that I would eventually call Absolute Tenacity eight times over the four years I worked on it. I had five different jobs, dropped out of college and enrolled at a university, lived in two different cities, fell in love and got engaged, all while I was writing Absolute Tenacity. I spent several days sitting on the fourth floor of the University of Colorado's Auraria science building, filling legal pads with unreadable scrawling while my fiance did science. She became a Masters of Science. I became an author.

In order to write Absolute Tenacity, I tossed my muse in a great vice and squeezed a million words from her. Of those I kept roughly twenty thousand. Hopefully they were the best of those words.

Absolute Tenacity was published by the Max Avalon imprint of TZPP on January 18th. I'm not as concerned with its best-seller rank as I am with those reviews, and the conversations I've been having with everyone who's read it. They're the vindication that I spent those four years doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. From where I'm sitting now, all that hard work wasn't so bad after all.

Monday, January 13, 2014

I Thought About the Bug ...

I shook them out of the bush as best I could, with the admission that I was humbly intimidated by the brightness of their ruby bodies, the yellow specks and their very long, black legs. My intimidation was likely instinctive: bugs bite and bright ones are often poisonous. My respect, though, was my own, for never has destruction been my first instinct upon seeing insects and spiders. I found them beautiful, fascinating, and to be intimidated by them was the greatest compliment I could give them. But the shrub had to go, the plant frozen to death in the unusually cold week prior, and so I shook the dozen bright red bodies from the dead limbs of their home. Just like humans would one day, the bugs had outlived their tiny world.

Cutting the shrub off at its roots and turning it over, I had left it mostly whole. And now, having shaken it nearly to the point of destroying it, seeing the beautiful, large, long red insects scramble confused into the brown-green grass, I lifted the shrub over the garbage bin and watch its sharp limbs poke into the black trash bag. I let the shrub fall into the bin. I pushed it down and listened to the crunch of dead twigs.

I thought about the one stubborn bug I had almost certainly failed to shake from the bush. Its strong, many-joined limbs would be wrapped around some deep branch that had fallen below my notice, below my attention, below my concern. While I respected them enough to shake most of them from the shrub, I certainly wasn't going to go fishing into it to make sure I'd gotten every one. The limits of my mercy were drawn by convenience. So this old bug, perhaps one, perhaps with a companion or two -- I could only guess -- simply clung fast with no notion at all as to why it should have let go. And why it was too late now.

And I pushed down on the shrub. The branches cracked and broke and compressed, closing around it, the light fading as the shrub sank deeper. The brittle edges of the bug's world strained against the unyielding walls of the bin, black like glistening shadows. Panic and confusion would overcome the bug as its world fell into darkness, inexplicably, suddenly. Perhaps it thought to itself, "We cannot surrender even an inch. This is our home. God help me, where is my family?" as I crushed the shrub, as I pulled the garbage bag around its world and tied it shut, and set it all off to the side as though unimportant.