Category Archives: Writing

WRITING HARD SCIENCE FICTION

Joe Compton’s Go Indie Now looks at hard science fiction.

Frequently, when authors hear that I write for Analog Science Fiction and Fact, they say they wouldn’t try to write hard science fiction. As much as they may love this sub-genre, they are put off by the degree of difficulty they perceive.


So how does an author go about writing SF that draws heavily on physics, chemistry, astronomy, or biology? I tried tackling this question with a group of hard science fiction writers on Go Indie Now, which you can watch. Our astute moderator, Joe Compton asked a bunch of insightful questions of Sean Hillman, Jan Kotouk, Bruno Martins Soares, and me.

We explored balancing the time you need to do the research vs. the time you have available for the writing. We also shared some thoughts on how the writer moves from initial premise to a mass of specialized knowledge to an intriguing story. Joe boiled what we do down to three handy rules:

  1. Know your thesis.
  2. Do your research.
  3. Don’t be afraid of what you are going to discover.

Come to think of it, that’s good advice for anything you set out to write.

WRITER’S LIFE: WHEN TO SAY “YES” OR “NO” TO AN OPPORTUNITY

Throughout a writer’s career, opportunities come along. It’s almost always gratifying to be asked to write something, especially when it’s unexpected. New writing-related projects hold out hope of growing an author’s readership. I don’t know a single writer who thinks they have more than enough readers. For lots of us, our first instinct is to say yes.

Some projects are no-brainers. Others are require serious thought. For me, unexpected offers have included solicitations to submit stories for themed anthologies and to work in a different genre or medium. That’s how I’ve written a screenplay, a game, and branched out from science fiction and fantasy into essays, detective fiction, alternate history, and horror. Other opportunities have involved teaching, mentoring, judging, collaborating, and presenting at an in-person or on-line event.

Here’s my advice: Be open to these offers and be careful! First do your due diligence in looking into the business proposition. Also, be sure, to stop and consider what else is on your plate. Many writers–including me–have more current projects and hoped-for future projects than time in the day. There usually isn’t a sure-fire way to decide if a shiny, new opportunity should get to shove something else aside, especially when the upstart arrives during a particularly busy period. Sure, FOMO is powerful. Nevertheless, you really don’t want to say yes, only to have to back out when the realities of over-commitment set in. Nor do you want your personal life and obligations to suffer.

Ah well, if nothing else, this is a better class of problem for a writer to have. It also illustrates that few writing careers proceed as planned or imagined. Best of luck to you!

MID-WINTER BLUES AND SUMMER FROLICS

(c) John Naman

With the recent cold snap and pandemic seemingly everywhere, I’ve been huddling indoors making plans for all the places I maybe could visit when warmer weather hits. I’m mostly planning trips around science fiction and fantasy conventions, so my first task is looking at where I might be going: LA, Chicago, Atlanta, and New Orleans, if the universe cooperates. This led to updating my bio, which means figuring out who I am as a writer.

Don’t worry, the dinosaurs will always tromp through a fair number of my stories and essays. Nonetheless, I am branching out. Recently, I took a stab (pun intended) at writing a murder mystery as well as a screenplay. Sure didn’t see either of those coming. I’m also looking into a collection of my short fiction, some of which is out of print. Stay tuned!

WRITERS: YOUR READERS NEED TO KNOW ALL ABOUT YOUR AWARD-ELIGIBLE WORK

2021 was a tough year for readers seeking signs of a return to normalcy and solace in a distraction from reality. It was also a challenging year for writers trying to string words together. Too often, our work that did find its way into print or on line got overshadowed by seemingly everything. Now is the time to remedy this! Writers: your readers, both new and old, need to reconnect with your insights. Please put out on social media your 2021 year-end retrospective. Oh, I see a lot of you cringing at the prospect of self-promotion. Here’s a bit of advice I wrote on SFWA’s blog as to how you might go about this without coming across as egotistical or grubbing for award nominations.

NEW STORY IDEA

I’m beginning to think new story ideas are a way to procrastinate on other works in progress. This is the second time in two months that getting bogged down in a complicated, research-intensive piece has led me to start work on something shorter and seemingly easier. Of course, the ease or difficulty when I set out to write a new story can be awfully misleading. This one, however, takes place in a setting I’ve used before with an antagonist I’ve also spent a good deal of time contemplating. Wish me luck!

Also, I will go back to that other work in progress. Those characters are getting impatient!

GETTING AN IDEA FOR WRITING

Ideas for stories come easily to me. However, not all writers and would-be writers can say the same. If you struggle to come up with ideas, or perhaps ideas you think are good enough to sustain an entire story that people will want to read from beginning to end, let me assure you it’s not an impossible feat. In fact, it just might be easier than it seems.

Here’s how a new story came to me a couple of weeks ago: I was staying with a long-time friend at a cabin near a lake. Naturally, as you might expect, we got to talking about mutual friends and acquaintances. A couple of those people had done things that I could very loosely use in a story. Next, since my friend and I are both kayakers, we went out on the lake. Since she knows the waterways quite well, she led me through a series of channels when the water was unusually high for August. Still, there were challenges like getting around a beaver dam and one narrow, brisk channel where we wanted to go upstream. We finally reached a calm, lovely pool. Some days earlier, we had visited the house where John Brown once lived and is buried, now a historic site. I had had no idea he even lived there! I did know that several forts in the region played key roles in the French and Indian War.

I put these disparate elements together into a new story, one I had no notion of writing before my visit. Notice how I’ve shifted from talking about story ideas to story elements—setting, backstory, characters, events. That’s how I cobble together a bunch of my stories. It’s nothing like starting off with a killer idea.

Now here’s my challenge if you are struggling: What events—be they historic or simply fascinating incidents—happened near where you live now or once lived? What about them intrigues you? What have you seen, done, and experienced in these places? Who else was with you? What else can you throw into the mix, especially an obstacle or two? I hope that before you know it, you’ll be in the middle of a fine story that only you can tell.

WOMEN WRITING AND TALKING ALTERNATE HISTORY

Hey, you can watch my second appearance on Joe Compton’s Go Indie Now. Our panel of all women had a great time discussing what draws us to alternate historical events and how we go about turning these “what ifs” into stories. We look at how we weave together real events and historical figures with made up ones. Turns out, we’re all quite willing to discard some of what historians tell us when it gets in the way of a good story. Joe asked a bunch of insightful questions of Madeleine Holly-Rosing, A.F. Stewart, Nikki Nelson-Hicks, Jenn Thompson and me. Check us out!

In case you missed my alternate history of space exploration during the 1960s, it’s available in the July/August 2021 issue of Analog Science Fiction.

CONGRATULATIONS, WRITERS, YOU’VE LEVELED UP!

What's that you say, it doesn't feel like you're doing better work? Your in-box still collects all those disheartening rejections? No matter.

Seriously. Here's the evidence:

Pull out something you wrote years ago, way back when you first got the urge to write fiction and began putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, or whatever your early method was. Start reading through that piece. Do you see stuff in the first few pages, or paragraphs, or even sentences that makes you cringe? You would never make those rookie mistakes today, would you?

Well there you have it! These are all signs that you've honed your technique, at least to some extent, given that you know at least some of what needs to be improved. Yeah, figuring out the best way to transform that early effort into a story you'd be proud of today is harder. But heck, I bet you have a few thoughts on how you can improve it.

Now, I'm not saying that early piece is thoroughly professional, even with reworking. But then again, you never know. It just might be. I once sold an early story after it sat around for twelve years. That was how long it took me to figure out what it needed.

Give it a shot! I wish you the best.

WATCH ME ON GO INDIE NOW

I had lots of fun talking about writing short stories as a panelist on Joe Compton’s Go Indie Now. You can watch it on You Tube and find out how creators of short fiction do what we do. Joe asked a bunch of insightful questions of Jae Lavelle, A.F. Stewart, Alexander Gideon and me.

It turns out we came to short story writing in quite different ways, ranging from starting with novels, poetry, etc. You see, there’s no single path to becoming a published author. You definitely don’t need to be an English major much less get an MFA degree.

We also talk about starting with ideas characters, themed anthologies, and a bunch of things we learned along the way. Check us out!

HORROR STORIES: WHAT SCARES YOU?

Announcing…I sold a horror story! This is only the second time I’ve tried my hand at writing one. I’m chuffed to say that I am now two for two when it comes to writing horror. Be sure to stay tuned and I’ll let you know when the time comes for you to buy the anthology it’ll be in. My story is just under a thousand words, so it’ll be easily readable in one sitting when it comes out.

I don’t read a lot of horror, despite tearing through all of Edgar Allan Poe at a formative age. Nowadays, I don’t particularly enjoy being frightened. This means I am even less of a fan of horror movies. That said, my success in selling these two stories leads me to give some thought to what I find particularly frightening. Sure, serial killers and the undead and horrible suffering and predatory velociraptors are on my list. But my biggest fear is something that doesn’t get anywhere near as much attention as I think it deserves.

I’m afraid of the widespread public rejection of science. There seems to be no arguing with those who sneer at others’ efforts to understand basic scientific concepts and methods, those who reject anything smacking of science out of hand. This attitude strikes me as closely tied to a more widespread rejection of experts and expertise. It’s especially pernicious these days and I don’t have much in the way of a suggestion to combat it.

But getting back to horror in fiction, I’m curious what my readers and blog followers think:

  1. Do you enjoy reading horror fiction?
  2. How about horror movies?
  3. What scares you the most?

Let me know and I’ll post comments.

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