Write Tip: Resources & Thoughts On Character Naming

Recently I’ve been copyediting The Very Best Book Of Baby Names by Barbara Kay Turner, and it’s gotten me thinking a lot about naming characters.  Character naming is an important consideration for many reasons. One, you want memorable names which stick with readers for a long time. Two, you want names that are decipherable by readers’ minds i.e. names they can sound out mentally somehow. Three, you want names that make sense in the culture and world and follow some sort of decipherable pattern or at least seem to fit together as classes based on people groups, etc. Four, names can have symbolic meanings which play a role in defining characters. Sometimes the formality or informality of it is important. A character who calls another by a nickname is assume to have a closer relationship with that character than another person who uses the formal name. I’m sure I could list other considerations.

I’ve posted on naming considerations before in Write Tips here, but what a great resources this naming book has turned out to be. I highly recommend the purchase of it or one like it by all authors.  Delabarre Publishing is coming out with an ebook version of Turner’s book very soon, for example.

The beauty of books like this is that they examine names based on a number of helpful factors:  genetic appropriateness, tradition, popularity, cultural origins, spellings, usages, etc. They dig into how names are created and used and all sorts of considerations which many authors might not even consider in choosing names. Names can be a way to say a whole lot with very few letters: about your character, your world, etc. There’s so much to think about when writing a book. Some authors spend years considering every little detail, others make decisions quickly and move on to the work of prose. There’s no wrong or right if it works in the end, but internalizing some of this information can add depth to your choices and weapons to your arsenal which will improve your writing and the reading experience for readers of your work.

Here are some examples of charts which could be useful from Turner’s book:

Traditional Boys’ Names (Western world)

Aaron
Adam
Alan, Allen, Albert
Alexander
Andrew, Drew
Anthony
Arthur
Benjamin
Bradley
Brian, Bryan <—- For some reason, I’m really attached to this one
Bruce
Carl, Karl
Charles
Christopher
Colin
Craig, Greg, Gregory
Curtis
Daniel
David
Dennis
Derek
Donald
Douglas
Edgar, Edward, Edwin
Eric, Erik
Ethan
Eugene, Gene
Evan
Frank, Francis
Gabriel
Garrett
George
Gerald
Grant
Henry
Ivan
Jacob
James
Jared
Jason
Jeffrey
Jeremy
Joel
John, Jonathan
Jordan
Joseph
Joshua
Julian
Justin
Keith
Kenneth
Kevin
Lawrence
Louis
Luke
Mark
Martin
Matthew
Michael
Mitchell
Nathan
Nathaniel
Nicholas
Oscar
Patrick
Paul
Peter
Phillip, Philip
Preston
Randall
Raymond
Richard
Robert
Rodney
Roger
Ronald
Ross
Russell
Ryan
Samuel
Simon
Spencer
Steven, Stephen
Stuart
Theodore
Thomas
Timothy
Trent
Victor
Vincent
Walter
Wayne
William
Zachary

Traditional Girls’ Names (Western world)

Abigai
Adrienne
Alexandra, Alexis
Alice, Alison, Allison
Amanda
Andrea, Ann, Anna, Anne
Barbara
Brenda
Brooke
Candice, Candace
Carol, Carole
Carolyn, Caroline
Catherine
Christine, Christina
Claire
Claudia
Cynthia
Danielle
Deborah, Debra
Denise
Diana, Diane
Elizabeth
Emily
Erica, Erika
Evelyn
Gabrielle
Hannah
Helen
Irene
Jane, Janet
Jessica
Joanne, Joanna
Josephine
Judith
Julia
Justine
Karen
Katherine, Kathryn
Kristen, Kristin
Lara, Lora, Laura, Lauren
Linda
Lindsey, Lindsay
Margaret
Marie, Maria, Mary
Martha
Mercedes
Melinda
Miranda
Natalie
Nicole, Nichole
Olivia
Pamela
Patricia
Priscilla
Rachel, Rachael
Rebecca
Renee, Renae
Roberta
Ruth
Sarah, Sara
Sharon
Stephanie
Susan
Sylvia
Teresa, Therese, Theresa
Veronica
Victoria
Virginia

Okay, those are pretty standard for those of us in the Western World, but they are recognizable and probably frequently jump to mind. What if you want something more exotic or a better mix? How about international names with variant spellings? Some were included on the above list and some were not:

International Names for Girls

Alexandra, Alastar, Alexina (English, Gaelic); Alixandra (French); Alejandra, Allessandra (Spanish/Italian); Alexandra (Scandinavian/ German); Aleksandra(Slavic)

Alice, Ailis, Alison (English, Gaelic); Alice (French); Alicia (Spanish, Italian); Elka (Scandinavian/German); Alisia (Slavic)

Angel, Angelica, Aingeal (English, Gaelic); Angele, Angelique (French), Angelita, Angela (Spanish/Italian); Angelika (Scandinavian/German); Andelka (Slavic)

Ann, Aine (English/Gaelic); Anne (French); Ana/Anna (Spanish/Italian); Anni, Annika (Scandinavian/German); Anya (Slavic)

Barbara, Bairbre (English, Gaelic); Barbe (French); Barbara (Spanish/Italian); Birgit/Brigitta (Scandinavian/German); Brygida (Slavic)

Carol, Carrol (English, Gaelic); Carole (French); Carola/Carolina (Spanish/Italian); Karel/Karol (Scandinavian/German); Karola (Slavic)

Christine, Christina, Kirstie, Cristiona (English, Gaelic); Christine (French); Cristina (Spanish/Italian); Kristin/Kirsten (Scandinavian/German); Krystyna, Kristina (Slavic)

Eleanor, Elinor,  Elionora (English, Gaelic); Eleonore, Alinor (French); Leanor/Eleonora (Spanish/Italian); Leanora/Eleonora (Scandinavian/German); Eleni (Slavic)

Elizabeth, Elspeth (English, Gaelic); Elise (French); Isabel/Elisabetta (Spanish/Italian); Elisabet/Elsbeth (Scandinavian/German); Elzbieta (Slavic)

Frances, Proinseas (English, Gaelic); Francoise (French); Francisca/Francesca (Spanish/Italian); Frans/Franziska (Scandinavian/German); Franciszka (Slavic)

Helen, Aileen (English, Gaelic); Helene (French); Elenor/Lena/Elna/Helena (Scandinavian/German); Alena, Olena (Slavic)

Jane, Sinead, Janet (English, Gaelic); Jeanne (French); Juana/Giovanna, Gianna (Spanish/Italian); Johanna (Scandinavian/German); Jana, Ivana (Slavic)

Katherine, Caitrin, Catriona (English, Gaelic); Catherine, Cateline (French);  Catalina, Caterina (Spanish/Italian); Karin, Katerine (Scandinavian/German); Katrina, Ekaterina (Slavic)

Madeline, Madailein (English, Gaelic); Madeleine (French); Magdalena/Maddelena (Spanish/Italian); Magdalene (Scandinavian/German); Magdalina (Slavic)

Margaret, Mairead (English, Gaelic); Marguerite (French); Margarita/Margherita (Spanish/Italian); Margareta, Margit (Scandinavian/German); Marketa (Slavic)

Mary, Maire, Moira, Mairi (English, Gaelic); Marie, Maree (French); Maria (Spanish/Italian); Marieke/Marie (Scandinavian/German); Marinka, Marya (Slavic)

Susan, Siusan (English, Gaelic); Suzanne (French); Susana/Susanna (Spanish/Italian); Susanne, Sanna (Scandinavian/German); Zuzanna (Slavic)

 

International Names for Boys

Alexander,  Alasdair,  Alistair (English, Gaelic); Alexandre (French); Alejandro, Alessandro (Spanish/Italian); Alexander (Scandinavian/German); Alexsandr, Aleksander (Slavic)

Andrew, Aindreas, Andra (English, Gaelic); Andre (French); Andres/Andrea (Spanish/Italian); Anders/Andrea (Scandinavian/ German); Andrei (Slavic)

Anthony, Antaine (English, Gaelic); Antoine (French); Antonio (Spanish/Italian); Anton (Scandinavian/German); Antoni, Anton (Slavic)

Benedict, Benedict (English, Gaelic); Benoit (French); Benito/Benedetto (Spanish/Italian); Benedikt (Scandinavian/German); Benedek (Slavic)

Charles, Searlas, Cormac (English, Gaelic); Charles (French); Carlos/Carlo (Spanish/Italian); Karl (Scandinavian/German); Karol, Karel (Slavic)

Christopher, Criostoir, Kester (English, Gaelic); Christophe (French); Crisobal/Cristoforo (Spanish/Italian); Christoph, Kristoffer (Scandinavian/German); Krystof (Slavic)

Edmund, Eamon (English, Gaelic); Edmond (French); Edmundo/Edmondo (Spanish/Italian); Edmund (Scandinavian/German); Edmon (Slavic)

Edward, Eamon (English, Gaelic); Edouard (French); Eduardo/Edoardo (Spanish/Italian); Edvard/Eduard (Scandinavian/German); Edvard (Slavic)

Frank, Francis, Proinsias (English, Gaelic); Francois (French); Francisco/Francesco (Spanish/Italian); Frans/Frantz (Scandinavian/German); Franc, Franek (Slavic)

Frederick, Fardoragh (English, Gaelic); Frederic (French); Frederico (Spanish/Italian); Frederik/Friedrich (Scandinavian/German); Fryderyk, Fredek (Slavic)

Geoffrey, Jeffrey, Sieffre, Siofrai (English, Gaelic); Geoffroi (French); Godofredo/Geoffredo (Spanish/Italian); Gottfried (Scandinavian/German); Gotfrid (Slavic)

George, Geordi (English, Gaelic); Georges (French); Jorge/Giorgio (Spanish/Italian); Jorgen/Jeorg (Scandinavian/German); Georgi, Yuri (Slavic)

Gregory, Grigor (English, Gaelic); Gregoire (French); Gregorio (Spanish/Italian); Joris/Greger (Scandinavian/German); Grigor, Grigori (Slavic)

Henry, Einri (English, Gaelic); Henri (French); Enrique/Enrico (Spanish/Italian); Hendrik/Heinrich (Scandinavian/German); Henrik (Slavic)

James, Jacob, Seamus (English, Gaelic); Jacques (French); Jaime/Giacomo (Spanish/Italian); Jakob (Scandinavian/German); Yakov (Slavic)

John, Sean, Shaun, Shane, Ian (English, Gaelic); Jean (French); Juan/Giovanni, Gianni (Spanish/Italian); Jon, Johan (Scandinavian/German); Jan, Ivan (Slavic)

Joseph, Ioseph (English, Gaelic); Josephe (French); Jose/Giuseppe (Spanish/Italian); Josef (Scandinavian/German); Josef, Jozef (Slavic)

Laurence, Lorcan (English, Gaelic); Laurent (French); Lorencio/Lorenzo (Spanish/Italian); Lars, Lorenz (Scandinavian/German); Lavrenti (Slavic)

Lewis, Louis, Llewelyn (English, Gaelic); Louis (French); Luis/Luigi (Spanish/Italian); Ludvig/Ludwig (Scandinavian/German); Ludwik, Ludvik (Slavic)

Luke, Lucas (English, Gaelic); Luc, Lucien (French); Lucas/Lucca (Spanish/Italian); Lukas/Lucius (Scandinavian/German); Lukas, Luka (Slavic)

Mark, Marcas (English, Gaelic); Marc  (French); Marcos/Marco (Spanish/Italian); Markus (Scandinavian/German); Mark, Marko, Marek (Slavic)

Martin, Martainn, Mairtin (English, Gaelic); Martin (French); Martin/Martino (Spanish/Italian); Marten, Martel (Scandinavian/German); Martinas, Martyn (Slavic)

Matthew, Maitias (English, Gaelic); Mathieu (French); Mateo/Matteo (Spanish/Italian); Mattias/Mathias (Scandinavian/German); Matyas, Matei (Slavic)

Michael, Micheal (English, Gaelic); Michel (French); Miguel/Michele (Spanish/Italian); Mikael, Mikkel (Scandinavian/German); Michal, Mikhail (Slavic)

Nicholas, Nicol, Nicolas (English, Gaelic); Nicholas (French); Nicolas/Niccolo (Spanish/Italian); Niklas, Nikolaus (Scandinavian/German); Nikolai (Slavic)

Paul, Pol (English, Gaelic); Paul (French); Pablo/Paolo (Spanish/Italian); Poul, Pavel (Scandinavian/German); Pavlo, Pavlik (Slavic)

Peter, Peadar (English, Gaelic); Pierre (French); Pedro/Pietro (Spanish/Italian); Per, Piet (Scandinavian/German); Pyotr (Slavic)

Philip, Filip (English, Gaelic); Philippe (French); Felipe/Felippo (Spanish/Italian); Filip/Philipp (Scandinavian/German); Filip (Slavic)

Richard, Rickard (English, Gaelic); Richard (French); Ricardo/Riccardo (Spanish/Italian); Rikard/Richert (Scandinavian/German); Rikard, Rostik (Slavic)

Robert, Riobard (English, Gaelic); Robert (French); Roberto (Spanish/Italian); Robert/Ruprecht (Scandinavian/German); Rupert (Slavic)

Stephen, Steven, Steaphan (English, Gaelic); Etienne (French); Esteban/Stefano (Spanish/Italian); Stefan, Stephan (Scandinavian/German); Stefan (Slavic)

William, Liam (English, Gaelic); Guillaume (French); Gillermo/Guglielmo (Spanish/Italian); Vilhelm/Wilhelm (Scandinavian/German); Vilem, Vilmos (Slavic)

Okay, not exotic enough? How about some African names then:

African Names for Girls

Ada (Nigerian) “First daughter.”
Adanna (Nigerian) “Her father’s daughter.”
Aisha, Aysha, Ayeisha (Swahili/Arabic) “Life.”
Alika (Nigerian) “Most beautiful.”
Ama, Ami (Ghanese) “Saturday’s child.”
Amadi (Nigerian) “Rejoicing.”
Amina (Swahili/Arabic) “Trustworthy.”
Ashia (Somali) “Life.”
Aziza (Swahili/Arabic) “Precious.”
Chika (Nigerian) “God is supreme.”
Chinara (Nigerian) “God receives.”
Dalila (Swahili) “Gende.”
Deka (Somali) “Pleasing.”
Folasade (Yoruban) “Honor confers a crown.”
Jamila (Swahili) “Chaste, holy.”
Jina (Swahili) “Name.”
Kalifa, Kalifah (Somali) “Chaste, holy.”
Katifa (Arabic) “Flowering.”
Layla (Swahili) “Dark; born at night.”
Lulu (Tanzanian) “Pearl.”
Marjani (Swahili) “Coral.”
Nadja (Uganda) “Second born.”
Neema (Swahili) “Born in prosperity.”
Ola (Nigerian) “Precious.”
Rasheedah (Swahili/Arabic) “Righteous.”
Sade, Sharde (Yoruban) Short form of Folasade.
Safiya (Swahili) “Pure.”
Shani (Swahili) “A marvel; wondrous.”
Zahra (Swahili) “Flowering.”
Zalika (Swahili/Arabic) “Well-born.”

 

African Names For Boys

Abdalla (Swahili) “God’s servant.”
Ajani (Yoruban) “Struggles to win.”
Aren (Nigerian) “Eagle.”
Chike (Nigerian) “God’s power.”
Ekon (Nigerian) “Strong.”
Faraji (Swahili) “Consolation.”
Haji (Swahili) “Pilgrim to Mecca.”
Hasani (Swahili) “Handsome.”
Jabari (Swahili) “Valiant.”
Kato (Uganda) ‘Twin.”
Mongo (Yoruban) “Famous.”
Nuru (Swahili) “Born in daytime.”
Omari (Swahili) “God the highest.”
Rashidi (Swahili) “Counselor.”
Salim (Swahili) “Peace.”
Tau (African) “Lion.”

Still not enough? Oh man you people are demanding. Okay, how about creating your own names? Here’s some tools which can help you create names that sound common even if they aren’t:

Basic Name Endings

a, i, ee, ie, y, ye, ia, ea, ae, an, en, in, ian, ien

ann, anne, ana, ahna, anna, ani, anni, anee, ianne, ianna

een, ene, ena, enna, ienne, ine, ina, inda, ita

ele, ell, elle, ella, iel, iell, ielle, iela, iella

ess, esse, essa, eesa, eece, iesa, iessa, isha, icia

ette, etta, iette, iara, iera, ille, ila, ilia

iss, isse, issa, ise, isa, ice, ica, icka, ika oni, onie, ona, onna, iona, ionna, ionne

 

Name Endings Plus Consonants

bel, bell, belle, bella

chel, chelle, chele, chella

ceen, cine, cene, cina, cinda, coya, cacia

da, die, dee, del, dell, delle, della

dine, deen, dina, dene, dena, dean, deane, dona, donna

gine, gina, geen, geena, ginny, gini

keisha, kisha, kesha, keesha

kie, kee, kia, keta, kita, keeta, kiya, kira

lana, lani, lanna, londa, linda

lane, laine, laina, layne, layna

lee, lie, lia, lea, leah, lita, leila

lin, linn, linne, linna, lyn, lynn, lynne, lynna

line, lina, leen, leena, lene, lena

lisa, lise, leese, leesa, leeza, liza, licia, lisha

liss, lisse, lissa, lyssa, lesse, lessa

mika, mica, meka, meisha, mesha, misha

nae, naya, nea, nia, nel, nell, nelle, nella

neece, neese, nice, nicia, nesha, neisha, nisha, niesha

ness, nesse, nessa, neesa, nissa, nisa

net, nette, netta, nita, nica, nika, niqua, nique

nille, neille, neil, nora

quise, quita, quetta

rae, raia, ray, raya, raye, raine, raina, rayna

ree, reese, rice, rise, risa, rysa, ressa

rell, relle, risse, rissa, reesha, rona, ronna, ronda

rene, reen, rina, rena, rienna, rill, rille

sha, shah, shay, shae, shai, saundra, sondra

shan, shana, shanna, shonna, shawna, shaunda

te, tee, tae, tai, taye, tia, tiya, tel, telle

teen, teena, tine, tina, tana, tasha, tisha, tosha

tesse, tessa, tonia, tonya, tori, tory, toria

treece, trice, trise, trisa, tricia

vette, vetta, viette, vietta

von, vonne, vonna, vonda, vona

 

Name Endings Favored For Boys

an, en, in, on, ano, ino, ion, ian, ien, o, yo

andre, andro, aundre, ante, ondre, onte

del, dell, tel, trel, quel

jon, juan, Ion, lonn, leon

mar, mario, marco, marcus, mond, mont, monte

rik, rek, rak, rick, rel, ron, ray

sean, shawn, shaun, shane

van, von, vonn, vaughn, vonte, vel, vell

If those still aren’t enough, maybe you want something a bit more fantastical? Try these sites:  The Fantasy Name GeneratorDwarf Name GeneratorCharacter Name Generator,  Elven Name Generator and there are plenty more.

I hope this is helpful. Love to hear suggestions in the comments below. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Guest Post: Writetip-Writing Suspense In Science Fiction and Fantasy by Linda Rodriguez

Today’s guest is one of my favorite people, a local friend who’s talented and writes both mystery and speculative fiction as well as poetry. Her debut mystery novel Every Last Secret was published this Spring by Thomas Dunne and tells the story of a college police chief and Cherokee Indian investigating a murder on a college campus. Linda agreed to join us today to talk about writing suspense in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Recently I did a guest post for www.sfsignal.com identifying 15 Science Fiction and Fantasy Thrillers That Are Worth SFF Fans’ Time and mentioned that my second novel,The Returning, book 2 in my space opera epic The Saga Of Davi Rhii, is written like a Ludlum thriller in pacing and surprise plotting,  so her topic seems particularly appropriate.

Writing Suspense in Fantasy and Science Fiction

 by Linda Rodriguez

Suspense is not only the province of thriller writers, and some of our techniques can be useful to science fiction and fantasy writers. Every novel needs suspense elements to keep the reader turning the page. At its simplest, suspense consists of making the reader want to know what happens next. At its best, suspense is making the reader worry that his beloved protagonist will never reach his overpowering need or goal and what on earth is going to happen next! You will find this kind of suspense in all kinds of good novels. Will Atticus Finch be able to save innocent Tom Robinson’s life in To Kill a Mockingbird? Will Scarlett O’Hara save Tara in Gone with the Wind? Will Paul Atreides be able to become the Kwisatz Haderach to defeat the evil Harkonnens and the Emperor in Dune? There are a number of ways to provide suspense in a story. I say “provide” rather than “insert” because the suspense needs to be integral to the story and not just something added on.

One of the most important ways to increase suspense is to make it clear to the reader at the beginning of the story just what is at stake. It must be something that threatens to devastate the protagonist’s self-image, life or world, and he must be willing to make any sacrifice and go to any lengths to keep this from happening. However, another fine way to keep the reader wanting to know what happens next is to open your story or book deep in the action and explain it later. Although these strategies seem contradictory, they can be combined to add powerful elements of tension and apprehension to the reader’s experience of the book. If you start in the middle of some strong action scene, and then in the next scene or chapter, establish the background of your characters and the situation, you can delineate the high stakes that are involved for your protagonist here. These combined strategies can be used in almost any kind of story.

An alternative to this kind of two-part opening can be a first scene or chapter that establishes the protagonist within her everyday world but buries hints of impending change or danger within these ordinary moments. This is foreshadowing, and it has been misused often, but when the hints are subtle enough (while still being apparent to the attentive reader), foreshadowing can build excellent suspense. Movies have it easier here because they can use the background music to warn the audience that something wicked this way comes. Writers must try to create that same kind of atmosphere with sharp dissonant details and atmosphere.

One of the key ways to ensure that your book has the kind of suspense that keeps the reader saying, “Just one more page,” is to offer the reader the viewpoints of both the protagonist and the antagonist. This way the reader can see the problems the antagonist is planning for the protagonist long before the protagonist is aware of them. The reader can see what the protagonist cannot—that he’s on a collision course with disaster. This is a very powerful tool for suspense in all genres of novels, but is unavailable to those of you with a first-person protagonist-only viewpoint.

In the case of the first-person protagonist viewpoint, you can avail yourself of some of that reader foresight of disaster by stealing a trick of the traditional mystery writer. In the traditional mystery, as opposed to the suspense novel or thriller, the reader is in the dark and trying to figure out what happened and who the villain is at the same time as the protagonist does. Write in details that plant questions in the reader’s mind about the various characters, about what really happened in the past, and about what might happen in the future. Mystery writers call these “clues” and “red herrings.” Clues are actual evidence of what has happened or might happen, while red herrings are false harbingers, leading the protagonist and the reader in the wrong direction. Either of these can increase the reader’s need to know what’s going to happen. All characters have some secrets, even from themselves. Something that reveals one of these secrets, perhaps one that someone has lied about, will build suspense. When using clues and red herrings to increase suspense, keep the ratio of clues to red herrings high in the favor of real clues to keep from annoying the reader.

Another way to use clues is to plant some detail that brings uneasiness but is made to seem innocuous at the time. Later, this detail will turn out to be an important harbinger of some violence or problem. This stems from Chekhov’s gun on the wall which must go off before the play is over, or Brian Garfield’s famous dictum—“Plant it early. Pay it off later.”

A great technique to ratchet up tension in a book or story is to use a deadline. Time becomes the enemy and is working for the villain in this technique. The bomb is ticking and our heroine must find it and disarm it while that clock on it is inexorably ticking down to explosion and other obstacles are thrown in her way inevitably slowing her down. It needn’t be an actual clock or bomb, and it needn’t be minutes counting down to disaster. It could be years if we’ve been given a large enough view and long enough timeline at the beginning of the book, perhaps with a genetic time bomb ticking away.

Suspense is always present when the reader knows the protagonist is fighting seemingly overwhelming odds. The reader wants to see him stretched to the breaking point as he tries to prevent the feared disaster (remembering that this is a disaster in the protagonist’s eyes, not necessarily a “blow-up-the-world” disaster). Your character must learn new skills, access new abilities, overcome old flaws in ways he never thought he could in order to save the day. This kind of determination will keep the reader turning pages to find out what happens to him next.

We’ve seen how important the protagonist’s character is to reader suspense. He or she has to be earning the reader’s backing. But the antagonist’s character is just as important for true suspense. The antagonist must be worthy of the hero and capable of providing clever and devilish problems for the hero that will really stretch the protagonist. Unless you’re doing first-person narration by the protagonist, allow the reader to know the antagonist’s motivation and make it strong, so the reader will believe that he’s dedicated to what he’s doing to undermine or destroy the protagonist. If your story is a first-person protagonist narrative, once again you can attempt to let the reader know the villain’s motivation through dialogue overheard or another character telling the protagonist or some other bit of news that will tell the reader why the antagonist is determined and just how very determined he is.

An important but often overlooked way to ratchet up tension and suspense is to allow daily life to throw extra obstacles in the protagonist’s way. She’s trying to get to the old house where her child’s been left by the bad guy before the flood waters drown the kid, but it’s rush hour and there’s a huge accident and traffic jam, or she runs out of gas on the deserted creepy road to the house, or the flood waters have brought out alligators or poisonous snakes, or the street she needs to take has been blocked off for road repairs, or her ratty old car that she can’t afford to replace refuses to start, or… None of these are things the antagonist did, but they impede her nonetheless. This technique also has the positive effect of increasing reader identification with the hero. The reader knows what it is to be in a hurry to get somewhere important and encounter a traffic jam or blocked-off road. It also helps with the writer’s most important goal—verisimilitude. We all want to make our story-world become so real to the reader that he will never wake from the story-dream.

Suspense is a technique every writer can use. It’s a matter of creating a steam engine with no whistle, so that the steam builds in pressure, and at any time there could be an explosion. As a writer, in a thousand ways, great and small, your job is to keep turning up the heat under that engine.

In my own mystery-suspense novel, Every Last Secret, I can show some of these techniques right in the jacket copy. I’ll bold them. Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion fled a big-city police force and painful family entanglements for the peace of a small Missouri college town and a job as chief of campus police. Now, the on-campus murder of the student newspaper editor who traded in secrets puts Skeet on the trail of a killer who will do anything to keep a dangerous secret from being exposed. While Skeet struggles to catch a murderer and prevent more deaths, a vulnerable boy and ailing father tangle family responsibilities around her once again. Time is running out and college administrators demand she sweep all college involvement under the rug, but Skeet won’t stop until she’s unraveled every last secret. Secrets, high stakes, motivated and strong antagonist, overwhelming obstacles, everyday difficulties, a deadline, and dedicated protagonist.

You might take your book’s synopsis/summary and try bolding or underlining all the various techniques of suspense you find in yours. If you only find one or two, perhaps you’ll want to rethink your story so it will include more elements of suspense to keep your readers turning the page.

Thanks, Bryan for having me here today. I’ll be happy to answer any questions anyone might have. Suspense is one of those fundamentals with lots and lots of different applications.


Linda Rodriguez’s novel, Every Last Secret, won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, was a Barnes & Noble Mystery Must-Read, and was a selection of Las Comadres National Book Club. Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times bestselling author, said, “Every Last Secret is a triple crown winner; superb writing, hell for leather plotting and terrific characters.” Criminal Element said, “Every Last Secret by Linda Rodriguez is a dark, twisty, turny tale of love, lies, loss, and murder on a quiet college campus.” Publishers Weekly said, “Fans of tough female detectives like V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone will be pleased.” As a poet, she has won the Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence, the Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, and the Midwest Voices and Visions Award. She blogs about books and writers at www.LindaRodriguezWrites.blogspot.com, reads and writes everything, including science fiction and fantasy, and she spends too much time on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda. Every Last Secret can be obtained at http://www.amazon.com/Every-Last-Secret-A-Mystery/dp/1250005450.

Guest Post: Your Punctuation Personality Type by Leah Petersen

Since I am doing a guest Write Tip at Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Mystery Writing Is Murder Blog today, I didn’t want to post another Write Tip here. I’ll have a new one Thursday instead. But I did invite Leah Petersen to guest with a funny post on Punctuations and Personality!  Her follow up post to this on Grammatical Error Personality Types can be found at her blog here.

Your Punctuation Personality Type

 by Leah Petersen

A recent (totally made up) scientific study analyzed what your favorite punctuation mark means about you. Every writer, every person, over-uses and abuses at least one punctuation mark. Here’s what your particular weakness means about you:

Period (.): Type A personality. You are decisive and clear. You have no difficulty with setting limits. Often a stodgy person that no one else thinks is any fun to hang out with. You tend to be good with technology and have the latest gadgets.

Comma (,): The peacemaker. You like to help others, and you get along with everyone. You like to make sure people understand each other. You like clarity as much as the Period type, but, unlike him, you don’t subscribe to the “less is more” theory. You believe more information is better than not enough. For this reason you sometimes confuse others and can become tiresome. But, in general, you’re fun, or at least tolerable, to be around. If not, you can make people think you are.

Exclamation point (!): You are excitable and anxious. You don’t self-censor well and think that your opinion always matters. You use italics a lot in written communication. You get nervous easily and are often too loud. You’re either an overly-affectionate or a mean drunk. You’re fun at parties.

Question mark (?): Indecisive and uncertain. You over-analyze. You may be shy and have low self-esteem. People usually have no idea you’re there.

Colon (:): You like things to be well-delineated. Much like the Period type, you like order. You make lists. People always know where they stand with you. You usually get asked to organize the office parties and school functions.

Semi-colon (;): You’re well-read and urbane. You knew where this was on the keyboard before it became part of the winky emoticon. You’re more easy-going than Colon or Period types, but you’re still put together and usually organized. People are comfortable around you and tend to like you, though they may not be able to say exactly why.

Hyphen (-): You like having fun. You are often creative and are very social. You like throwing parties, though you may call on your Colon type friends to organize them. You’re more likely to be impulsive and throw unlikely things together. No one would be surprised that your decor is shabby-modern or artsy-classic.

En-dash (–): If you knew this was a different mark than the hyphen, you are way too into punctuation. You’re either an editor or a schoolteacher, or else no one likes you. At all.

Em-dash (—): You’re stuck up and pretentious. You correct people’s grammar and complain about how stupid kids are these days. You like to show off. You made good grades in school and perform well at work. Your boss loves you, even if your co-workers don’t.

Parentheses ( () ): You’re scatterbrained. You throw things together at the last minute. You’re often hopping back and forth between different tasks and think you’re multi-tasking. You tend to bore people with your stories because you think every detail is important and you repeat yourself. You are often sarcastic but are good at making other people laugh, often at someone’s expense. (Including your own.)

Ellipses (…): An indecisive and flighty person. You lose your train of thought easily. You are a follower and like to let other people take the risks. You often misplace your keys or spend ten minutes looking for the glasses you’re already wearing.

Apostrophe (‘): You’re casual and carefree. You’re always the one who has random things in your purse or glove compartment that no one else would think to carry around but somehow you end up in situations where it’s a good thing you had that thumb-tack on you. You have lots of friends, usually without really trying. People just like you.

Quotation Mark (“): You aren’t very original. You tweet famous quotes a lot. You are nosy and like to gossip; mostly because you don’t have anything of substance to add of your own. People like to hang out with you for a coffee break but don’t really consider you a friend.

Slash (/): You’re a complicated and complex person. You can be secretive and have a hard time trusting people. You like to keep your options open. You’re the respectable housewife your friends will be shocked to see coming out of the S&M club.

Brackets ([ ]): You are snobbish and self-important. You are likely to use these to add “[sic]” to other people’s comments. You have no friends and probably have a “kick me” post-it on your back right now.

Asterisk (*): Nothing is ever final with you. You can justify anything and have an excuse for everything. You would make a good lawyer. People either find you entertaining, or really boring, because you know lots of random trivia.

Ampersand (&): You like stuff. You collect things and are a packrat. You’re friends with everyone, whether they know it or not.

At symbol (@): You’re very social, sometimes overly. You’re the one who always takes a phone call in the middle of a conversation. You also spend way too much time online. Go get some fresh air. Taking your iPhone out on the porch doesn’t count.

Hash/pound (#): Much like the @ type, you’re online too much, but, unlike @ types, in real life you have few friends and are reclusive. Before the internet, you called customer service lines just to have someone to talk to.

Bullets (•): You have OCD.


Leah Petersen lives in North Carolina. She does the day-job, wife, and mother thing, much like everyone else. She prides herself on being able to hold a book with her feet so she can knit while reading. She’s still working on knitting while writing. Her first novel, Fighting Gravity, a science fiction romance with same sex themes is available now from Dragon Moon Press.  The story of Jacob Dawes and his relocation from the ghetto to the Imperial Intellectual Complex, where he is expected to benefit the Empire with his genius, the book examines social structure and personal improvement as much as the unpredictable human heart. You can read the YA Report review at SFWRTCHT here and an SFFWRTCT interview with Leah here. She’ll be the live chat guest at SFFWRTCHT on 6/27/12. She can be found on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LeahPetersen, via Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/LeahPetersenAuthor, on Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/leahpetersen, via Google+ at http://profiles.google.com/leahpetersen or at www.leahpetersen.com.

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Review: Why You Should Read Sam Sykes Aeons’ Gate Trilogy from Pyr

I don’t do reviews here very often. And this will likely be a bit more of an essay than a review (fair warning). But the reasons are complex. As a fellow writer and professional who is friends or (at least) acquaintances will a lot of other professionals/ writers, I know how hard writers work and how hard bad reviews can be to hear. I also, generally, try and stay mostly positive on this blog, so negative reviews don’t add to that. Plus, if I don’t feel I can compliment the writer and book, there’s a risk of alienating people from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat or in my professional network, and I’m just not at the point where I feel that’s worth the risk or a good move for my career.

That being said, you should also know Sam Sykes is a friend. We have only met in person once, two years ago at World Fantasy in Columbus, Ohio. But we have talked online and emailed back and forth and even scuffled over one of my Adventures In SF Publishing posts when we disagreed. We do it with respect and admiration (at least on my part). There’s still a lot we don’t know about each other. We don’t share the same worldview, but we do have a mutual respect and that transcends differences.

Okay, enough disclaimers.

Because if you have not read Sam’s Aeons’ Gate trilogy from PYR, you really should. I reviewed the debut here (Tome Of The Undergates), and I read the Middle book last year and put it on my popular 70 Most Memorable Science Fiction and Fantasy Books I’ve Read To Date post. But you shouldn’t read this series just because of those things, nor because he’s my friend. The two best reasons to read them are: 1) Sam Sykes is one of the most inventive fantasy writers to come along in a while. And 2) Sam Sykes is an example of an author growing as he writes in a way that is both encouraging and inspiring to writers.

If you’re not a writer, the second reason may be of little interest, but since my blog tends to cater toward the creative crowd, I’ll stand by that as a significant thing. In his first book, Tome, there was a rawness and roughness that showed it was a debut. Much like my own debut. In Black Halo, the second book, he moved a bit beyond with his craft, developing his world, characters and even style a bit more in areas where it had been criticized in the first book. However, the book suffered a bit from feeling, as middle books often do, a little less focused and going off on some tangents which took the core characters to separate places, depriving us of some of the fun we had in Tome with their banter and internal conflicts. But now that I am fortunate enough to get a sneak peek at The Skybound Sea, volume 3 in this sword and sorcery saga, I can say with confidence that Sykes is really starting to come into his own.

The Skybound Sea is an even better read than the first two. Although the group gets separated again, Sykes wisely brings them together early on and then again for the climax. The groupings are a bit different this time and aid in the development of subplots involving the character relationships. I have to be careful what I say, because I don’t do spoilers, but those awaiting a satisfying Lenk-Kataria connection will probably be most pleased with how that storyline develops and yet, even saying that feels fair because it develops in ways that are not predictable and which demonstrate Sykes’ inventiveness.

At the same time, the world-building here really steps up a notch, especially in terms of inventiveness. Sykes is not writing typical fantasy or sword and sorcery here in regards to characters or settings, in particular. I jokingly teased Sykes on Twitter that ” I’m pretty sure when @SamSykesSwears wrote The Isle of Jaga sequences mushrooms were involved of a hallucinatory variety. Just saying.” But Jaga is an amazing world with some startlingly unique aspects. And no, I can’t tell you without spoiling the fun, so I won’t. But half of this book takes place there, allowing plenty of time for its many aspects to be revealed and play a part in the story. Sykes uses the setting here, more than in either prior book, as a character. And that’s what I mean by watching him grow. He did an ample job with setting and description from the start, don’t get me wrong. But the milieu was less important than other factors much of the time. Here, in Skybound Sea, the milieu almost becomes inseparable from events, so significant is its role. And thus, like Tolkein’s Middle Earth, Sykes’ world because as inherent to his story as the characters and themes.

Another point of growth is the use of lots of bodily functions in Tome, particularly during the opening battle. Those elements don’t disappear entirely in later books, but, in The Skybound Sea, they become far less prevalent and Sykes even manages to evoke humor in regards to past incidents of them from his characters. There’s a certain sophistication developing here for this young writer, one of the younger adult fantasy writers I’ve come across (mid-20s). And Sykes has plenty of book writing years ahead of him. So I’m quite certain we have a lot more to look forward to.

The Aeons’ Gate trilogy is the tale of a band of ragtag adventurers led by Lenk,  a human with a mysterious past, who’s haunted by an internal voice that often argues with him, manipulates him, criticizes him etc. Aboard a ship attacked by froglike creatures from the depths, Lenk becomes caretaker of The Tome Of The Undergates, a magical book that holds the key to unlocking the Aeons’ Gate, a gate essentially between hell and earth. The frogmen are part of a conspiracy by demons (in essence) to set their master free to terrorize the earth again. When the tome is stolen, Lenk and his band are sent to capture it back and save the world. That road takes them into a lot of conflict and trouble they hadn’t counted on, encountering all kinds of various dangers and creatures along the way. The saga has lots of action, some romance, good interpersonal drama and politicking, some betrayal, scheming, magic, and good v. evil with some serious stakes. The characters are anti-heroes, but several possess a sense of moral core many antiheroes seem to lack these days. Ultimately, they may be flawed, but it’s understandable and their response to those failings is very admirable and believable.

One thing Sykes does here which is not so common is to really dig into the psychology of his characters. That means we go along with them to some dark places, which may be heavier than some readers would enjoy. But it also makes them more interesting, believable and real than a lot of characters because we see so much of the internal conflict behind their decisions. At times, I do think it can distract from pacing a bit, however, as I mention in the next paragraph, still, Sykes does this really well overall.

Are there weaknesses? Well, I’ve mentioned some in the first two books. There’s definitely some graphic violence here, although my contention is it serves the story and Sykes also gets better about how he uses that throughout the course of the trilogy. And the series is a bit dark, which may or may not be to your taste. But those aren’t genuinely weaknesses per se. Also, I found it a bit hard to envision characters until I got really further in. With book 3, the publishers finally include one of Lenk’s companions, and his love interest, with him on the cover with helps. I also found the netherlings and some of their co-antagonistic groups blended together a bit at times making them hard to distinguish. There are layers to all of them, and it wasn’t always easy to discern who’s who. I also felt some of the POV breaks using those characters didn’t add as much and slowed down the pace at times. However, those become minor quibbles in the end, because of the series’ overall strength.

The trilogy also holds the distinction of having one of the longest battle sequences I’ve ever read. I believe the first 100+ pages of Tome Of The Undergates all take place during the same battle. Sykes pulls it off in stunning fashion. In any case, I really think this is a series that fantasy fans young and old, new or ongoing will enjoy and should take the time to discover. And I have no doubt we are just hearing the first of many to come from Sam Sykes. Highly recommended.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tips: Editorial Pet Peeves – All Of A Sudden/Suddenly

Although I am an editor myself,  my publisher rightly and smartly assigns me editors for my books.  The Founding Fathers built checks and balances into our government for a reason and, for similar reasons, they are invaluable in the editorial process. Bet you had no idea editing is so patriotic? Recently the editor who edits my Davi Rhii novels, Randy Streu, and I were discussing some editorial pet peeves. And I decided to do a series of these dialogues here which some of you may find helpful. This is the first. Others will follow as they come up. In this case, we’re discussing the annoyance of two overused cheats. One a phrase, the other a single word, used interchangeably for similar affect: “Suddenly” and “all of a sudden” in fiction. Let’s explain by example:

BTS: All of a sudden, Randy’s here.

Randy: Don’t start.

BTS: Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Welcome to the blog.

Randy: Thanks.

BTS: So, we were talking about editorial pet peeves and one of them is the use of “all of a sudden” and “suddenly” for dramatic impact, when they usually and ironically have the exact opposite effect.

Randy: Exactly. If you want drama, make it so.

BTS: All of a sudden, I feel like Commander Riker.

Randy: See? That usage feels natural, in dialogue, at least, because people say that: “All of a sudden, there you were. Suddenly, she appeared.”

BTS: Okay, so when doesn’t it work?

Randy: Pretty much anywhere else, but especially in narration.

An explosion knocked us from our feet mid-conversation as a 747 hit the houses behind us and set Randy’s hair on fire. We hadn’t even known the plane was there. I was unscathed, not a hair out of place, which annoyed him. “Nice hairspray,” he commented. “Thanks. Got it at the dollar store,” I replied.

Randy: Okay, that’s silly and ridiculous, but it works.

BTS: Because it’s unexpected.

Randy: Exactly.

BTS: And thus, it really comes on suddenly in effect and captures the intended dramatic impact rather than being slowed down by the words “all of a sudden” or “suddenly.” Because by the time you get to “sudden” or “ly,” whatever you’re describing is expected. You’ve foreshadowed it with a bullhorn, in effect.

So how should you do it? If you want to surprise your readers in a way that feels sudden, then don’t announce it, just make it happen.

Here’s an example from my second published novel, The Returning, which comes out June 19th. It’s the scene depicted on the book’s cover, in fact:

     “All right, what’s the plan?” Farien turned and joined Yao, looking at Davi as they rang the bell at the tower where Lord Niger kept a ground floor apartment. Amidst an elite grouping of residential high rises near the city center, the twin suns glinted off its shiny exterior, lending it a glow. “Home to the rich and mighty,” it seemed to say. Today one of their number would fall.

      “He’s not gonna like this,” Yao said.

      “He should have considered that before he betrayed our people,” Davi said as the door slid open to reveal a dark-skinned woman with her hair up. Her eyebrows rose in a question mark as she stared at them with concern.

      “We’re here to see Lord Niger,” Yao said.

      “My Niger’s in his study and can’t be disturbed right now,” the woman replied, Davi searched his mind for her name—Abena, if he remembered right.

      “I’m afraid he’ll have to be,” Davi said, extending his datapad.

      Abena’s expression changed to confusion. “What’s this? A warrant?”

      “It’s from the Palace, ma’am,” Yao said. “I’m afraid we really need to speak with your husband right away.”

      She scowled, shaking her head and stepping back inside, ripping the datapad from Davi’s hand as she did. The door slid shut.

      “Great! That was perfect!” Farien rolled his eyes.

      “You would’ve done better?” Davi shot him a look.

      Farien guffawed. “I always do better, Rhii. I think you’ve forgotten some of your diplomatic skills since you got demoted from Princehood.”

            Yao chuckled as Davi made a face. Then the wall beside them exploded in a shower of crumpled steel, broken glass and smoky dust. All three ducked and reached for their blasters, spinning around as their eyes panned for the cause of the blast. 

Okay let’s break this down. Davi, Farien and Yao arrive at a wealthy neighborhood to bring a member of the ruling Council in for questioning and are confronted by his unfriendly wife, who slams the door. In context, probably not so surprising. But the wall exploding is. Why? Because, although there’s inherent drama in what came before, the drama there comes from the tension between the people, not from the threat of violence or physical danger. With one fell swoop, or really, one sentence: “Then the wall beside them exploded in a shower of crumpled steel, broken glass and smoky dust” they go from laughing together and mildly frustrated to fighting for their lives.

Notice how I don’t use “suddenly” or “all of a sudden.” It still works. In fact, it’s better. I don’t need them. Because the suddenness of the jolting change in tone to the scene conveys it for me with much more power. And that’s what we’re talking about here. If you craft your story well, you don’t need to show your cards and your craft with such cheating words and phrases. Instead, the drama inherent in the story itself and how the elements or ordered by the writer, does the work for you. It’s why you’ll find readers, critics and editors often complaining whenever these overused cheats appear.

And don’t get us started on “in an instant,” “instantly,” “in a flash,” “without warning,” “unexpectedly,” “all at once,” “moments later” or “out of nowhere…” You can dress a sheep in clothes and it’s still a sheep.

What are other such pet peeves you’ve noticed in fiction or that you try and avoid? I’d love to hear yours in comments.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Randy Streu is a radio announcer, producer, father and husband who lives in Upper New York State. He’s also the co-founder and owner of Diminished Media Group, as well as its primary developmental editor. In addition, he’s a writer and edits Digital Dragon Magazine with Tim Ambrose, his cofounder/c0-owner of DMG. It’s rumored his picture inspired Bryan’s internal image of his antagonist in the Davi Rhii saga, Xalivar. But you know how rumors are.

Guest Post: Historical Research & Science Fiction by Robert L. Collins

One of the benefits of Cons, without a doubt, is networking. You visit with old friends, discover new ones, and have a lot of fun along the way. One of those new friends from two cons this year, ConStellation Nebraska and ConQuesT, is fellow author Robert Collins. Robert’s published books include Stories Of Feminine Strength, Lisa’s Way, and True Friends. His short stories have appeared in venues like Aiofe’s Kiss from Sams Dot, Golden Visions, Pulp Empire and Tales Of The Talisman. But in addition to his speculative fiction, Robert also writes nonfiction. His works include the books: Ghost Railroads Of Kansas, Pieces of Kansas History, and Jim Lane: Scoundrel, Statesman, Kansan. So since research can be an area with which we writers struggle–how much to do, how to do it, etc.–I asked Robert if he had any thoughts he could share about research. Here’s what he sent me:

Historical Research & Science Fiction

by Robert Collins

Many Science Fiction authors know the value of researching history for their genre work. Usually they do so because they’re writing a time travel story and need to learn more about the era their characters are visiting. Occasionally, they do the research because they have the idea of,  say, “the battle of Trafalgar in space” and want to make certain the plot follows the real event. However, most Science Fiction authors don’t think much about researching local history to get story ideas.

I write Kansas history as well as SF/F. I’ve done a great deal of research into the history of my home state. I’ve used that material to jump-start several of my fictional works.

One example is my biography of the “Bleeding Kansas” leader Senator Jim Lane. I found a newspaper story that claimed that Lane, in the run- up to the reelection for his Senate seat in 1865, had promised a federal post to 17 men. He made these promises to secure their support for him in the Kansas legislature come election time. Sure enough, the men came to Washington demanding Lane keep his promise to them. Lane gathered the men together one night. This is what he said, quoting from my book:

“What I did last winter, I did with the purest motives,” he asserted boldly.  “I thought the state of Kansas needed me in the senate, and it was with that idea that I made those promises which I cannot now fulfill.  If I have deceived you gentlemen, I believe that heaven will forgive me.  But you, gentlemen, who should have voted for me from the purest and highest impulses–you were actuated only by sordid motives.  You voted for me for a price and I do not think you are worthy in the sight of heaven of any recognition or consideration.” Lane lowered the boom.  “I renounce all of you, and in the interest of the state of Kansas I will select an entirely new man for the position that you all covet, and have him appointed marshal.”  With that Lane dismissed the men for the night.

Great, huh? But how to turn that into a story?

I chose to set my fictional version in the universe of my Frigate Victory stories. I’d already established that colony worlds are governed in a similar way to how United States territories were governed during the frontier period. All that I had to do was adjust the anecdote so that it fit into the established background. My research not only led to a story that sold, but helped me fill in details about that universe. Finding such useful material will take some effort, but you’ll can control how much. Start by checking state histories. Look for events or personalities that appear interesting yet aren’t well-known. From there you can either take what you have and build, or dig deeper. If you’re willing to look, and send out inter-library loan (ILL) requests, you should be able to locate biographies on important state figures and histories of state events, periods, and trends.

Statewide sources aren’t the only places where story and character ideas might be hiding. Most towns and counties have histories published. A local library will have their town or county history. Books on other communities can be obtained through ILL. Some states, like Kansas, have a State Library that handles ILL requests. If so that State Library will probably have a searchable website as well.

If you want to go as far as possible, consider historical newspapers. The Library of Congress has a handful of newspapers from each state digitized at their website. A few states like Colorado are doing the same with newspapers in their states. However, for most local papers you’ll have to look at microfilm. Libraries and historical museums are the first places to look for local newspapers on microfilm; state historical societies typically have all that state’s existing newspapers on microfilm.

Keep in mind that this is research for fiction ideas, not nonfiction books. Don’t get bogged down with accuracy or verification. Also remember that, when it comes to local history, there may only be one source.

One last point: there’s always a need for more books on local historical subjects. POD now makes it possible to publish a book without requiring a large print run. If an event, person, or trend interests you, writing a book could allow you to make use of your research, earn back what you spend, and maybe get you a few more readers.

Thanks, Robert, for those helpful tips. For what it’s worth…

The Importance Of Reaching Beyond Female Stereotypes

My friend and fellow editor Kat Heckenbach asked an interesting question on Facebook today which really got me thinking about stereotypes: Are authors obligated to make characters fall into certain stereotypes because readers expect it? (For example, most people think of Goths as angry, snarly, dark, and Poe-obsessed. But when referring to a little kid, they can and do use the word cute–but if a Goth character in a book said that, would it just throw you right out?)

Stereotypes are common in literature, there’s no doubt, and in Science Fiction and Fantasy this can be particularly the case, especially with female characters. Damsels in distress are a mainstay of our genres, both inside the stories/books and on the covers. Most of us have seen Jim C. Hines’ posts about the silliness of the way women are posed versus men in such art. These images feed the stereotypes. Yes, they are an attempt by publishers to sell books using sex, which has worked forever as a means of moving product, not just books. But what message do they send culturally to women, young women and, almost more importantly, men, about the roles women have to play in our society? Are they just objects for lustful stares and wet dreams? Do these images leave open  the possibility for far more substance below the surface? How silly do male characters look when dressed and posed like female characters typically are? Take a look at this imagining or Avengers with such poses.

Think I’m kidding? Take a look at two cover examples below. One is an older example, the other more recent. Do artists and publishers actually think anyone could fight dressed this way or would? It kind of questions the character’s intelligence, doesn’t it? To make it worse, in the case of Ringo’s book, the publisher site describes the character as “soccer mom and demon fighter.” Wow. A soccer mom who walked around in that outfit would be accused of indecency, wouldn’t she? Not to mention being shunned by fellow soccer moms.

For me there’s no question that bucking stereotypes is far more interesting and adds nuances. If you start out with the typical housewife who raises kids while the hubby works but then turns out to be a zombie fighting badass, how much more interesting did she just get? I think, in particular, with women characters, fantasy struggles with this. The traditional epic fantasy has strong, sweaty fighting men protecting their helpless women, but is it really that interesting anymore? And can’t we change our views of women enough to include more possibilities? Even history would demonstrate that women have played far more diverse roles than the stereotypes a male-dominated society describes them with. There has been at least one female Pope, for example, whose gender was only discovered after she became pregnant. That was hundreds of years ago and she had to conceal her identity. But this is a different age. Why should women have to hide their true selves? I’d like to think we’re more enlightened than that, but I know not all of us are.

I grew up with strong women around me. From my Mom, who was the stay at home housewife, a woman who retired from nursing to raise her three kids, to my twin sister, cousins, aunts, and grandmothers, the women I grew up with were not stereotypical. They had common traits we might associate with women, of course. They were often more emotional than men and could talk about it more freely. Most of them were better at cooking and laundry, etc. than we men. But this was not because we were incapable of it, rather it was because that was the role they were expected to take on. They took it on gladly, too, but my Mom sat me down at fourteen with a stern warning. “You’re going to learn to cook, clean, do laundry, basic sewing, and anything else I think you need so your wife can’t send you back some day and tell me you’re not finished.” And so I did learn, and those skills have been invaluable to me. In fact, when I got married, my wife didn’t know how to sew, so I was the one who fixed buttons, dog toys, etc. in our house. I also helped with cleaning. In fact, there were some tasks I really don’t enjoy which are typically associated with menlawn work, for examplewhich my wife enjoyed and did while I helped with so-called “women’s work.”

There’s a ridiculous term if I’ve ever heard one: “women’s work.” The work typically grouped under that heading is the work necessary to daily living. If you’re a bachelor, unless you’re rich, you’re going to have to do laundry, find a way to cook and eat, etc. It doesn’t make you suddenly sprout breasts and start generating estrogen. “Women’s work” is an insulting term because its origins come from a sense of superiority by men that the “important work” is not for women. Because, of course, raising good, responsible citizens while the men are at the office working sixty hour weeks is unimportant. Keeping a nice home so the man can come home and actually relax during down time is menial. We’d all survive without those things, right? Yep, without “women’s work” we’d still be the greatest country on Earth.

Hardly. Some of the most meaningful character-building times in my life were working with my mother and grandmothers on the very tasks typically called “women’s work”learning to cook, fold clothes, sew, etc. I’m a creative after all, and cooking and sewing, in particular, very much stimulate my creative impulses. Add to that the fact that walking around naked outside of performance art has tended to be frowned upon, especially if your ribs are showing like a starving African kid, and, well, they really did me a service teaching me to care for clothes and feed myself. I’m just saying…

And look at this cover for Raven 3: The Frozen God. Seriously. A woman dressed like that fighting monsters on an ice field? Oh yeah, that’s realistic. Yeah, this warrior woman is so badass, she doesn’t even freeze. Yep. The only time women in my life ever dressed this way was to go swimming, at Halloween of costume parties, or in changing rooms at the store. In fact, other than my wife, none of the women mentioned from my life in this post ever dressed this skimpily. It’s not even appropriate for the task. Unless, as my editor suggested, the only way to kill this monster is to get it aroused. Doubtful.

You just can’t stereotype women any more than you can men these days. The fact is that we are all individuals and just when you meet a women whom you think embodies all the “typical female traits,” five minutes later she’ll surprise you with aspects you never would have imagined. It used to be “men’s work” to get an education and write, for example, and where would our genres be without Ursula LeGuin, Connie Willis, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, A.C. Crispin, Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, and numerous others? How much would be have missed out on if the Cat Valentes, Kij Johnsons, Nnedi Okorafors, and N.K. Jemisons had never put pen to paper? Seriously. What about Ellen Datlow and Paula Guran, Beth Meacham and Liz Gorinsky, Anne Vandermeer and Sheila Williams? They buy stories from men as well as women and all are amongst the top editors in this business.

I get the whole male instinct to want to protect their women. But it’s not like those instincts don’t also exist in women. Think I’m wrong? Go to a playground and act weird around some woman’s kid. Be sure and take a picture of that black eye and get a copy of the mug shot, too, okay?

I think it’s incumbent upon all writers, male and female, to carefully consider the roles they give to characters. Yes, with minor roles, sometimes stereotypes can be expedient. And sometimes they get the job done, but push yourself to make sure that for every stereotype you employ ten characters who buck such narrow definitions. Not only will your plots and themes and work expand in scope and meaning as a necessary result, but it will resonate more profoundly with modern readers and even help erase stereotypes as functions of our culture. I can think of no greater goal and contribution Science Fiction and Fantasy writers could make, can you?

The world needs more ninjas posing as suburban housewives who save the world. It needs more mothers who don’t wait for their husbands to save the day but draw their sword or blaster and take on the kidnappers themselves, kicking ass to free their kids. Our modern world has plenty of room for men in the kitchen and sewing, too. After all, think of Top Chef and other cooking shows: Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Curtis Stone,  Gordon Ramsey, Calvin Klein, Bob Mackie, and Guccio Guccishould these men be considered abnormal for the excellence they’ve worked hard to create? Hardly.

As much as I applaud them for having this panel, it’s 2012. Should we really still desperately need panels like this:

(PR) Kicking ass in high heels: These days women can kick ass, save the world, and still have time to fall in love.
But why are they still doing it in hot pants and high heels? Can heroines be a size 18 and still be beautiful?

Unfortunately, we do need them, and it’s because of the perpetuation of stereotypes. Think of the other issues we could be putting our time into if we just put aside these silly limitations and moved on?

One of the worst insults I got in a review was a review which said I had “shockingly outdated female roles.” This was for a story where I have female political leaders, female starfighter pilots, female warriors, female military leaders, and so on. I thought I was trying hard to break the molds, and yet here comes a reviewer to tell me I hadn’t done enough. I still think they’re wrong, but, at the same time, it pushes me to strive harder, to ask more questions, and to do everything I can to prove them wrong so I never hear such a disappointing criticism again. After all,  my Mom reads my books. I don’t want her thinking I didn’t learn a thing from all her efforts. But more than that, I don’t want my daughters and other girls who read my books to ever think I’m telling them they can’t be anything they want to be.

The world may set limits, but in the worlds of your fiction, possibilities are limitless. Don’t let yourself write within the familiar box of the world in which you live. Instead, tear down the walls and shoot for something no one’s seen but should be seeing. Push the boundaries and see where it takes you, your characters and your story. Let no one accuse us of writing the same old fantasy or space opera. Instead, let us together launch a new age and work to redefine what “same old” is. To my mind, we owe it to our wives, mothers, sisters and daughters to open the world’s doors. After all, making the world a better place is a responsibility for all of us, not just a “chosen male few.” We live in an age when the distinction between what women can do for careers and what men can do is fading to almost nothing. How can our fiction represent our times and a bright future if it doesn’t reflect that?

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: On Paid Interviews & Why Authors Shouldn’t Pay For Them

I respect interviewers. In case you don’t realize, I am one. I have a lot of experience with it. Weekly. Sometimes daily, as an interviewer, not just interviewee. But there’s a practice that’s becoming more and more prevalent these days and which I really abhor of people preying on hopeful authors’ dreams and offering big exposure if they’ll just pay a fee for the privilege. And often this takes the form of interviews. And I find that pretty insulting. Exceptions might be a few cases where you’re guaranteed exposure like national television or radio, but even then, you shouldn’t have to pay and here’s why: They need content.

That’s right. You’re providing them content they need. Why else would they be out following random people on Twitter, commenting on your blog or advertising for authors to use their “great interview services?” One guy is so foolish about it, he follows you, then when you follow back, he unfollows. Uh, yeah, right. He’s preparing to interview me and he’s not doing research? There’s a clue right there.

Blogs and media need content. And the reason authors get interviewed is that people are interested. They want to find new books. They want to learn about celebrities and people doing something significant they admire. That’s why authors are getting invited to interviews and it’s why you don’t need to pay to do them.

I have another secret for you to. Listen carefully. There is no short cut to a large audience. Nope. Sorry. Even seeming overnight bestsellers are not overnight. It took them years to get there. And with the marketing muscle of a major New York corporation behind you, it’s easier to get boosts in exposure more quickly, but that takes thousands of dollars, even millions sometimes, and multiple outlets in a constant stream several times a day for weeks or months. If you can’t afford that, you’re paid interviews may give you a slight momentary splash, but I promise it’ll fade within a few hours or minutes and you’ll be back where you started. Even worse, the sales generated won’t make up for it. If I sell it myself, I make $3 per book sold roughly. At least until publisher’s advance and costs are recouped. If I paid $50 for an interview, that would mean I had to sell  17 books to just break even. I’d be losing my $3 on each book because I already spent it. So that’s like giving 17 books out for free. If you pay more for an interview, well, you do the math.

There’s a reason some sites charge for interviews and others don’t. Greed. Yep. They know people are desperate and hungry and they’re taking advantage. They have so many people wanting in, they have people pounding down their doors. And as long as authors continue this foolish rush, they will continue to get used by these people. The authors are not getting rich. The interviewers might be.

I maintain three websites. I spend $300 a year in hosting. That’s $25 per month. I spend 10-12 hours a week in responding to comments and writing posts. If I were paid for that, I’d charge at least $20 an hour. But to keep traffic growing and steady, I need regular posts, and I post not just on my blog but other places where I can link and keep visibility, so I write 4-6 posts a week. At an hour a post, that’s about $120 a week. Forget the comments, let’s call that part free. Most interviewers don’t bother responding to those. So that’s $505 a month right now for my three blogs and time and effort. But these sites post daily. And they post interviews two or three times a week. At three a week, $50 each, they are making $150 or $600 a month. If they have only one blog, they are probably paying $100 or so for hosting. Prep time on interviews is maybe an hour per post. $20 per hour. Plus social media marketing. I spend 3 hours a week probably on that. So $60. So add social media to mine at I am at $565. If you add the time it takes to do interview questions, let’s be generous and say an hour each, that’s $60. So their expenses are $120+$8.40 for hosting each month. $130. They have made $20 off those three interviews. And if you consider they probably don’t account for blogging time, they’ve actually made $70. You’ve lost $50. Who’s getting the better deal?

Interviews are invaluable for lots of reasons. The more the better. The more sites the better. Why do you see celebrities all over the place saying the same things over and over? Because they reach a different audience at each place. It has value for them. And that’s great. But they don’t pay for it. They get it free, because the interviewer uses their name in promotion and gets a lot of audience which is ad revenue. You may be an emerging or unknown author, like myself, but you are still bringing value. Someone interesting people can discover offering possible book of interest. In fact, the fact that you’re not on every channel is to your advantage. They’re less likely to flip through because you’re something new.

And I’ll tell you another thing. Since you don’t have access to their blog stats, you can’t verify the audience they guarantee exposure, too–not for your post, not for other posts. Those visitor counters can be faked. You can get ones that ask you which number you want to start the count on. (Oh wow, day one and I already have 150k hits, I’m awesome!) It varies day to day for them as much as it does for anyone else. AND there are tons of other sites you don’t have to pay for–bloggers, fellow authors, etc. who’d gladly welcome you. You just have to network and ask around. When I tweet that I’m looking for host sites, I always get one or two responses from places I didn’t think of or know about. Free.

If you get a big publishing contract and your publisher wants to spend money that way, let them. Who cares as long as it’s not coming out of your pocket. But when it does come out of your pocket, you should be careful to make sure it really delivers the return you want and need. Don’t buy these interviewers’ story about how they’re just trying to help you succeed. They just care about authors and want to help them live their dreams. My initials. (Drop the middle one.) I’m pretty confident that’s NOT their main motive. Instead, they are like all the other Writing Scams, and they are numerous, read http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/ sometime if you don’t believe me. You are not alone in your dream of writing success. But don’t let greedy people take advantage. This is just one more way to victimize writers, and you deserve better because writing a book is a big accomplishment. It’s worth celebrating. And you shouldn’t have to pay for that.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Outlining From A Finished Draft For Pantsers (How I Do It)

Okay, if you’re a pantser like me, you may reach a point where you feel like you need to actually get a better handle on organizing your manuscript. You’ve finished a draft or two but there’s character arcs to refine, plot line arcs to refine, motifs to identify & exploit, etc. You’re not an outliner. Organization is a crutch. It might even block your process. But there comes a time when one has to refine and examining the structure is usually key to success in doing that. Since people ask me for advice on this, I’d like to show you how I go about this process. It may not work for everyone, no method does with writing, but at the very least, it might stimulate your creativity and help you create your own approach to accomplish the same thing.

First, I like to do this on paper. One, because staring at things on screen gives you an incomplete image of each page/scene. Two, because I stare at the screen all day when writing and editing and need a break. Three, because I can do it anywhere without electricity needed and thus find energy by moving around or even have the manuscript with me on errands if I wind up having to wait, etc. (Although please don’t do it while driving. This has been a public service message from bryanthomasschmidt.net.) Four, because it helps you stay focused on the goal without getting distracted tweaking your manuscript and then never getting back to this task. (Don’t lie, you know it happens.)

 

Second, there are three phases to this:

 

Phase One, make a list of your plots and subplots and assign each a number or letter. For example:

A Assassins are killing Vertullians and Davi and friends must investigate

B Davi and Tela’s relationship hits some road blocks

C Aron has joined the Council and must adjust to life as a leader working amongst his former enemies

etc.

 

Phase Two, you reread the document which you should have not touched for at least 2-3 weeks, preferably a month, so you can be objective and fresh. As you go through, you make notes.  You will label each scene with the letters of the plotline it relates to: A, B or AB if it involves more than one plotline as some scenes can. If you want to focus on the outline, you should also make notes of anything such as character names switched or POV issues or pl0t holes. But keep it short so you can stay focused. You can go back later and wrestle with these. Make notes in margins or keep a separate sheet. You might even do a separate sheet for each plot line. It’s up to you.

 

Phase Three, this is where you go back and take your notes and write a brief description of each scene on a page for each plot line or a master sheet for the whole story with plotline indicators (A, B, C). You might even want to color code it in Excel or with highlighting in Word. This will allow you to read through each plot separately and examine the arc and tension and turning points, etc. to make sure it’s where it needs to be. All you need in scene descriptions is the key dramatic points and which characters and plots are involved. Keep it concise. No need for a whole synopsis of each scene unless you feel compelled. There are no rules. Writing is a journey and a constant process of growing and refining your craft, after all, and that’s what these Write Tips are designed to help with and stimulate. None are intended as end-all rules.

 

That’s it. Three easy phases to an outline AND the bonus is you’ve probably already made notes on some of the issues you need to address. Now it’s easy to go back and move scenes around if you need to, find flaws in plotting or character arcs, or expand motifs. You can also look at pacing, balance and other things.

Now lest any of you pantsers get said pants in a bunch with the “I CAN’T WORK FROM OUTLINES” attitudes, remember that all I am helping you do is make a chart of the outline that already exists in your work. You wrote it by the seat of your pants but you still created a structure in doing so. Now’s the time to fine tune and refine it and I’m merely suggesting a way to do that simply so you can be more effective. If this doesn’t work for you, feel free to take the concepts I suggest and make your own method. In fact, I’d love if, when you do, you’d comment on this post so we can all learn from it.

So there you have it, a simple method for Outling From a Finished Draft. At least, that’s how I do it. What’s your way? We’re waiting with baited breath. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

SPACE BATTLES Author Profile: Meet Author/Editor Jaleta Clegg

The final profile in our ongoing series features Jaleta Clegg. Jaleta set her Space Battles tale in the world of her eleven novel series, which started with Nexus Point and continues soon in Priestess Of The Eggstone. With a science degree and a day job as a science teacher, including helping run Space Camps, author/editor Jaleta Clegg seems uniquely qualified to write science fiction. Her short stories can be found in publications like Abandoned Towers and Bewildering Stories magazines and anthologies like How The West Was WickedThe Last Man Anthology and Wretched Moments and in the zine Tales Of The Talisman, edited by co-Space Battles contributor David Lee Summers. An active social media user, she can be found on Twitter as @jaleta_clegg, on Facebook and through her website/blog atwww.jaletac.com. Information on her novels can be found at www.nexuspoint.info. She’s coeditor with Frances Pauli of Hall Brothers Entertainment’s forthcoming anthology Wandering Weeds: Tales of Rabid Vegetation wherein her own story will once again play lead in to a story by myself as it does in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6.

BTS: How did you find out about the Space Battles anthology and what made you decide to submit?

Jaleta Clegg: I saw the call for subs and thought, “I love space battles. I need to write one.” I had a great idea, too, that just needed some time to finish fermenting so I could write it.

BTS: This is not your first anthology sale, correct? Tell us a little about “Bait & Switch.” What’s it about? Where’d this particular idea come from?

JC: Oh, no, definitely not my first. I’ve got over twenty different short stories in anthologies all over the place that have come out in the last two years. Most of them are silly horror. Writing those keeps my inner demons quiet. Writing the SF and Fantasy shorts keeps my inner geek happy. The full list is on my website: www.jaletac.com 

The main character in “Bait & Switch” is a cadet named Tayvis. He features prominently in my SF adventure series. I thought it would be great fun to peek into his past and find out a bit more about him. In the story, he’s a cadet on his first training flight. He gets sent to the gunnery section as an observer. When the ship is attacked and the point gunner knocked out, Tayvis takes his place even though he’s had almost no training.

BTS: How’d you get started as a writer?

JC: I’ve always loved stories. I taught myself to read when I was four. This leads naturally to wanting to tell my own stories. I didn’t actually finish anything until years later. We had just moved to a new neighborhood, it was early summer, I had four kids ages 2-7, and I knew no one. I wrote my first novel out of desperation. It snowballed from there.  Or I could say that I finally found an outlet for the voices in my head. If I let them play on paper, they don’t bother me as much.

BTS: Do you have plans to do any more with this universe?

JC: Definitely. The universe is a very large place. I’ve got lots of story ideas and lots of characters to play with.

BTS: You have a novel series with the first book out from Cyberwizard. Tell us about that, please?

JC: Nexus Point (www.nexuspoint.info) is my first published novel. It’s set in the same universe as “Bait & Switch”. Tayvis is an undercover Patrol agent on a low-tech world looking for drug smugglers. He finds Dace instead. She’s not what he expected. The book is told from her point of view, though. He’s not what she expected either. Yes, there is a teensy bit of romance in the book, but also lots of explosions and fights and chase scenes and action.

BTS: How’d that idea come about?

JC: I had several story ideas I wanted to play with and in a stroke of genius or insanity, realized they were all about the same character – Dace. I started writing one, realized it was book three, backtracked to write the other two, and watched the storyline change. Tayvis was originally supposed to be a throw-away character in the first book. I’m glad he stuck around for the rest of them.

BTS: How many books are planned for the series?

JC: I’ve got eleven books written. I don’t think there will be more about these characters. Once you save the universe, there isn’t much story left to tell.

BTS: When do you expect more books to come out?

JC: I recently signed a contract with Journalstone for the next book – Priestess of the Eggstone. It is tentatively scheduled to be released in August 2012. I loved working with Cyberwizard, but the economy caused a lot of things to change. Cyberwizard is still publishing, but they had to cut their list of pending manuscripts. I’m very happy Journalstone has offered me a contract. We haven’t discussed the rest of the series, but it’s definitely on the table for the future.

BTS: You also edited your first anthology, Wandering Weeds. Tell us about that and when it is expected to be released.

JC: My hat is off to any editor who tackles anthologies. It’s hard work! Writing rejection letters was very difficult. I know how bad it can sting to get one. But, we couldn’t take all the stories that were submitted. The ones we have are fantastic. I’m excited to see this project come together. The idea came from a writing challenge in our writers’ group. Someone mentioned tumbleweeds, someone else mentioned radiation, and the idea of mutant tumbleweeds was born. We wrote stories, loved them, but had no idea where to submit them. So we decided to put together an anthology. Hall Brothers Entertainment is publishing it for us. We’re just about ready to send them the files. I can give you a sneak peek at the cover. Wandering Weeds: Tales of Rabid Vegetation should hit the shelves sometime late this spring.

BTS: Where’d your love of SF come from?

Jaleta's Wookie

JC: I’ve always been fascinated by the night sky. Astronomy is one of my loves. When I discovered that people wrote books about space and aliens, I was head-over-heels. I remember reading a much-battered copy of The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet when I was eight, A Wrinkle in Time when I was nine, and my first Andre Norton when I was ten. I devoured all the books by Andre Norton, Isaac Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Niven, and any others I could find. I’m still looking for copies of Jack L. Chalker’s Well of Souls series. I want to read them again. Watching Star Trek whenever my dad wasn’t making me weed our enormous garden also helped fuel my love of space. But, confession time, it was always Scotty and Chekov for me. I saw Star Wars when I was twelve. I wanted my own Millenium Falcon so bad it hurt. I still do. I’ve got a Wookie, now I just need a starship.

BTS: What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to?

JC: I’m up to my elbows in steampunk fairyland elves right now, working on a new novel. We’ll see where that one goes. I’ve also got a lot more silly horror short stories cooking. And some dabbling in other genres. I’ve got more story ideas than I have time. I’m playing with the idea of opening an etsy store to adopt my cutesy cthulhu items. I’ve got crocheted cthulhu toilet paper cozies and Sunbonnet Cthulhu pillows, based on an old applique quilt pattern. There’s always something to keep me busy.

Thanks so much, Bryan, for letting me stop by the blog. And thanks for the opportunity to be part of Space Battles. From what I’ve read, it’s a great collection of stories. With lots of explosions. My kind of chick lit.

Speaking of chick lit, here’s an excerpt from Jaleta’s decidedly non-chick lit Space Battles story “Bait & Switch”:

Bait and Switch

Jaleta Clegg

“Buckle up, kids, battle drill time.” Lonnis flipped his station to live. The lights in the tiny room glowed red.

Tayvis fumbled with the restraint in the jump seat next to the door, excitement making his hands shake. Cadets rarely got the chance to see the weapons in action on a Patrol cruiser. Lonnis sat to his right, straddling the control console, both hands seated in the gloves that controlled the ship’s weapons. Tish, his spotter, sat to his left, her face green in the glow of her targeting screens.

Lonnis rolled his shoulders, settling into his controls. “Watch closely, kid. This is more complicated than those simulators. No matter how good the programming is, it will never match the real thing. Comm, port forward is live.”

“Target-firing commencing in five.” Hedrik, the voice of comm control, crackled from the speakers.

“Let’s break our old records,” Lonnis said as the screens came alive with multi-colored traces.

Tayvis tried to keep track of the screens. Each object near them appeared on Tish’s screens. She marked targets with red, other objects turned gray under her rapid touches. Colored lines spread from each target, green for projected course, blue for last known heading. Lonnis twisted, firing weapons at the targets. Lights flickered and died across his screen, replaced by new targets, new tracings. Their ship position and heading, thruster settings, and other information scrolled across the bottom of his screen.

The tracings disappeared. No new ones replaced those eliminated.
Lonnis’ screen flashed once as the last target disappeared. He slipped
his hands from the control gloves. “Targets eliminated. Port forward,
locked.” His hands flipped the safety switches on. The control screens
faded to silver, the lights changed from red to normal. “How’s my
time, Hedrik?”

“You’re getting slow, old man. Three point four seconds longer
than your record.”

Lonnis grinned. “That’s because you reprogrammed the spinners
again. I wasn’t expecting that sharp spiral.”

“Keeps you on your toes, Lonnis. You’re buying the drinks next
port. Comm out.”

Lonnis stretched his arms over his head. “We should work on the
projected courses. You were off your mark today, Tish.”

“Right, blame me because you can’t shoot straight.” Tish unbuckled
her restraint. “Not as exciting as you thought, Tayvis? Real battle is
more chaotic.”

“It’s a game of prediction and anticipation,” Lonnis said. “You
figure out where the target will be and lay down a trap. Mines and
missiles.”

“Pulse beams are better,” Tayvis answered. “Mines and missiles
can be detected and detonated by counter-measures.”

“True, but not if you place them right. If you fire a pulse beam
inside your shields, the energy reflects back and blows your own ship
to kingdom come. You have to leave the weapon port outside the field,
making it vulnerable. Pulse beams are for close range combat only. Or
for salvage work.” Lonnis leaned on the doorframe. “Mines and missiles
are more effective and safer for distance combat between ships.
Of course, whether you hit them or not depends on the skill of your
spotter.”

Tish leaned back in her seat, crossing her long legs. “I’m the best
and you know it, Lonnis.”

Lonnis dropped his hand to Tayvis’ shoulder. “You’ll be a decent
point someday, if you can get past the theory. That’s what the Patrol
Academy is good for, beating the nonsense out of you before you get
yourself killed.”

The lights blinked red, on and off before settling on a steady glow.
An alarm shrilled.

“Proximity alert,” Tish said, flipping her screens on. “Incoming
missiles!”

“Another drill?” Lonnis reached for his controls.

The ship rocked. Smoke and explosions filled the air. The door
to the gunnery pod slammed shut as more alarms sounded. Tayvis
gripped the restraints as the ship’s gravity field flickered off. Lonnis
slammed into the doorframe.

“This isn’t a drill.” Tish tapped rapidly on her screen, scanning for
information. “Lonnis, we’re under attack. Lonnis?”

“He’s out,” Tayvis said, checking the older man for a pulse. Blood
trickled through Lonnis’ white hair.

Another round of projectiles slammed into the ship. Smoke poured
through the air vents.

“Central comm!” Tish hit buttons. “Nobody’s answering.

Nobody’s shooting back. I’ve got a ship out there, and more missiles
incoming. Three minutes to impact, unless someone does something.”
She waved at the gunner’s seat. “There’s a comm link to the bridge.
Activate it.”

Tayvis rose to his feet. Half the systems in the pod were dark, unresponsive,
but the gunner’s seat still showed lights. Observe only, the
captain had said. Was this a test?

“The red button to your left. Press it.” Tish tapped her screens, then
swore. “We’re rotating. I lost the ship. Starboard Aft, you hear me?”

Tayvis flexed his hands. He’d never touched a live station before.
Would they have staged real smoke and blood for a drill?

Tish slammed her fist into the side of the weapons screen. “Hey,
stupid. Get the bridge on the line, now!”

It wasn’t live weapons, it was only a comm button. Tayvis slid
into the seat, straddling the controls. He tapped the red button. The
control gloves hung empty, inviting. He slid his hands inside. The firing
screen lit up.

Speakers crackled to life. “This is Hedrik. Port Forward, what is
your status?”

“Lonnis is down, but the cadet and I are fine,” Tish answered.

“What’s going on?”

“Thank the stars someone is still down there. We got ambushed by
a Fellucian marauder. The shields are holding at thirty-seven percent.
For now.”

“The other weapons stations? I picked up another salvo headed
our way before the ship drifted. I’m on the blind side now.”

“No one else is responding. The marauder knew just when to hit
us. End of drill and we had most of the systems resetting.”

Tish frowned. “Our weapons are still live.”

“We have no engines,” Hedrik answered. “We have thrusters, but
I don’t know how much good they’ll do us.”

Tayvis flexed his fingers in the gloves. Anticipation and prediction,
he could do this. “I can shoot.”

“Cadet, you are ordered to stand down.” Hedrik’s voice crackled
over the speakers. “You have no training or authorization to use those
weapons.”

“I’ve got enough, and you don’t have anyone else. Tish, can you
track those incoming missiles?”

“Cadet, stand down. That is a direct order.”

Tayvis punched the button, shutting off comm control.

Tish stared at Tayvis. She licked her lip, a dart of red tongue.

“We’re dead if we don’t do something.” Tayvis tapped the buttons at
the end of the gloves, mentally reviewing what weapons each released.

“Hedrik gave you a direct order.”

“The comm line must have cut out. I didn’t hear anything. Give
me targets, Tish.”

Tish tapped her screens. “We’re turning to face the ship. Targeting
systems online. Incoming missiles. Impact in thirty seconds.”

“Not if I can help it.” Tayvis released a cloud of reflective debris
on a trajectory to intercept the nearest.

“That will get the lead one, but miss the other two. Drop a few
mines on a starboard curve to pick those up. And do it soon or you
won’t catch them in time.”

Tayvis tapped the buttons in sequence, launching mines on a
curving course towards the two missiles.

“Mines to port, and more missiles.” Tish spoke in a clipped voice
devoid of emotion. “Painted red and gold.”

Colored dots sprang to life on his screens. He dropped more chaff
and several mines of his own, blue dots glittering on the screen. He
launched a shrapnel missile towards the enemy minefield, hoping to
detonate the mines.

“Let’s hope the bridge detects that one,” Tish said. “And changes
vectors before we blow ourselves up with our own missiles. I’ve got
the marauder targeted.”

A red dot, with a blue line tracing its last course and a green line
tracing its predicted course appeared on Tayvis’ screen.

“They’ll use the explosions as cover and change course. It’s what
I would do.” Tayvis flicked through his options.

“And you’re an expert now?”

He fired missiles at the ship. Think of it as a game and he wouldn’t
panic. “They’re moving into that radiation cloud so they can change
vectors without us detecting it.” He launched a salvo of mines to the
left of the nebula cloud, scattering them across the far edge.

Tish swore as she scanned for new targets. “You’re wasting mines.
We have a limited supply, cadet.”

“They’ll come out the way they went in.” Tayvis launched
another round.

“Is that what you think? They’re stupid if they come out the way
they went in, and their attack proves they aren’t stupid.”

The thrusters fired, the ship veered onto a new vector. The Fellucian
marauder screamed across the screen, almost close enough to touch.

“Mines!” Tish shouted as a new round of explosions rocked the
Exeter. They grabbed their consoles as the ship shuddered and rolled.
The stream of damage reports across the bottom of his screen.

Continued in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which you can purchase here.

SPACE BATTLES Author Profile: Meet Author-Editor Johne Cook

Despite being one of the founders and editors (i.e. Overlords) of Ray Gun Revival, “With All Due Respect, his Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 story, is Johne Cook’s fiction in print. A technical writer by day and creative writer and editor at night, his interests include progressive rock, film noir, space opera, and racquetball. Johne is older than he looks but acts younger than he is. His short fiction has appeared in Deep Magic, The Sword Review, Wayfarer’s Journal, and Digital Dragon magazines. He can be found online at Facebook, on Twitter as @theskypirate and via Ray Gun Revival, where he hangs out often vaporizing someone’s puny planet for various arbitrary infractions. Married and newly a grandfather, fellow Space Battles author is no relation.

BTS: How did you find out about the Space Battles anthology and what made you decide to submit?

Johne Cook: I heard about the Space Battles anthology on Twitter in February a year ago and thought I might have something fun to add to the theme. Of course, rationalization is the second strongest human impulse.

BTS: This is your first anthology sale, correct? Tell us a little about “With All Due Respect.” What’s it about? Where’d this particular idea come from?

JC: It is my first anthology sale, and I’m delighted with the company I have fallen in with here.

This story features a character I’ve written about before, a space marine-turned-diplomat in homage to Keith Laumer’s “Retief” character. The Retief stories were funny and sharply satirical of governmental red tape while depicting the value of one good man whose primary gifts are common sense and personal initiative. In an era where we like to see how people change over the course of a story, I liked the idea of seeing how one good man could change the world around him over the course of a story.

I blame the situation in this story on my natural good-humored contrarianism. I grew up with Doc Smith and his endless technological escalation. For this story, I fell prey to a Whedonesque urge to tell a character-based story where the largest battle was really internal, man against his own nature, against his own fear. I wanted to see what would happen when one good man was stripped of everything and had nowhere left to hide. And honestly, I’m not as up on the latest trend in space armor and weaponry, so I thought I’d lean more on the man than his machines. In my vision, spacecraft of the near future aren’t that much different than what you might see today, no tractor beams, no artificial gravity onboard, no energy protective shields. In that environment, space battles become scarier because there’s no safety net, no formidable defenses to hide behind.

My original idea involved a sort of Trojan Horse, a diplomat going to meet with ravenous aliens and delivering the method of their destruction himself and leaving it attached to the hull of their ship or something. But along the way, I found surprising motivation for my alien antagonists and I discovered that the physics in space don’t work the way I’ve been trained to expect from every sci-fi movie ever. So that forced the first of many changes, ultimately leading to what I hope is a more interesting story.

BTS: How’d you get started as a writer?

JC: The seed was planted in the 4th Grade by my English teacher, Miss Kinane. It was the first time in my life that I ever felt I could do something effortlessly that others considered difficult and the curse of my daydreaming suddenly became a virtue. It was like discovering a superpower I was previously completely unaware of.

BTS: Where’d your love of SF come from?

JC: If writing was my new super ability, my dad’s phenomenal SF/F paperback library was my spice, my Melange, fueling that super power and stoking a fiery desire to see where it could take me.

BTS: Do you have plans to do any more with this universe?

JC: I’ve written two other stories with this character, Random Tenerife, entitled “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” and “Blessed Are The Persecuted.” I can imagine a series called something like “The Tenerife Beatitudes,” giving a SFnal treatment to all eight. As a person of faith, I was distressed that there wasn’t more SF I could embrace, and as a SF fan, I was distressed with the quality of the fiction passing itself off as being from the worldview I embrace. The thing is, I don’t care for preachy fiction. If I want answers from my reading, I’ll read non-fiction. I think the best Art asks questions without necessarily giving you the answer. This is where SF and my worldview can bring the greatest synergy.

BTS: You are a founder and editor of Ray Gun Revival magazine. Tell us about how that got started and what you do.

JC: RGR was spawned in 2006 in a surge of pure Browncoat passion when they took the sky from us. L. S. King and Paul Christian Glenn and I were so in love with space opera in general and Firefly in particular that we wanted to keep that space opera vibe going and started the magazine as a way to share that love with a new generation of readers and writers. It was also a testament to blissful ignorance of how much work it takes to cultivate such stories in an era where Cyberpunk (and later Steampunk) reigned supreme. Furthermore, it revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of one of the primary virtues of space opera, where bigger is usually better and we were looking for short stories. Fortunately, we didn’t know that we couldn’t make it cultivating and nurturing and growing a new generation of space opera and golden age sci-fi readers and writers. This summer, we celebrate the start of our seventh year of blissful ignorance and genre fun.

BTS: What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to?

JC: I’m two-thirds of the way through a swashbuckling adventure space opera novel called The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, and have a number of genre mash-up short stories in the works.

Here’s an excerpt from Johne’s Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 story, “With All Due Respect”:

With All Due Respect

Johne Cook

The first attack came shortly after they exited the jumpgate outside of Aldebaran.

Random Tenerife was startled awake by a blaring klaxon. He heard the muted sound of a code being entered from the other side of the steel hatch. The interior bolt on his door unlocked. A red-haired stripling wearing spacer fatigues pushed the hatch open and poked his head in. “Mr. Ambassador?”

“Just ‘Tenerife,’” he corrected. Tenerife ran a hand over his face and rubbed away the sleep.

“I’m Ensign Salter, but everyone calls me ‘Salty.’ You should come with me.”

“What is the klaxon for?” Tenerife asked.

“It’s not for me to say,” Salty said.

“Very well.” Tenerife loosened the straps that kept him in his bunk and pushed off. As he floated over to the hatch, he saw two crewmen slide past pulling themselves hand-over-hand toward the cockpit in the zero gravity of the courier ship’s central corridor. He and Salty followed.

Three men were already floating in the small common area outside
the cockpit-proper. The man in uniform sitting in the elevated command
chair behind the pilot looked up at Salty and frowned. “Did you bring
the prisoner?”

The spacers parted and revealed Tenerife in back of the group.

“Captain,” he said.

“Salty, since you’re here, you may as well introduce everyone.”

“You know Captain Bolivar—he shares piloting and astrogation
duties with First Officer Ollie Wu. Abe Sigorda oversees the port cargo
hold, and Abe Fungee oversees the starboard cargo hold. They also
share some engineering expertise and help maintain the Kikayon, ergo
Portside Abe and Starboard Abe.”

Tenerife smiled.

“The only one missing is Chief Engineer Scott Magoro. He’s back
in the engine room.”

“Greetings,” Tenerife said.

“So, what’s going on with the klaxon?” Salty asked.

Mr. Wu spoke over his shoulder while scanning a display in front
of him. “That was a munitions-based proximity alarm,” said Mr. Wu.
“The interloper fired a dumb missile across our bow.”

Tenerife noted a collective shiver go through the tiny crew.

Salty raised an eyebrow. “A what?”

“An attack?” Starboard Abe asked.

“A warning,” Captain Bolivar said, turning back to his console.
“How far away are they?”

“Five thousand klicks and closing” said Portside Abe. “They
didn’t miss at that range, they intentionally didn’t hit us. This time.”

“Have they hailed us?” Salty asked.

“That’s the funny thing,” Mr. Wu said. “There’s been nothing but
radio silence.”

“Mr. Tenerife, I called you up here to see if you can shed any light
on these attackers,” Bolivar said.

Tenerife’s eyebrow arched. “Me? What do you think I would
know about this?”

Captain Bolivar shot Tenerife a look. “You were planetary
Ambassador for the entire Garçonne system. If such attacks were
common out here, you’d know about it.”

Tenerife stroked his chin. “Sorry, captain. This is new to me. The
most nefarious space ships out here in recent days have been our own,
but I took care of that myself. I suspect that’s why I’m being recalled
to Earth.”

“Then you’re useless to me,” Bolivar said, and turned back to his
console.

Another klaxon went off, and the ship shuddered under multiple
blows.

“What was that?” Salty said.

Bolivar slapped a button on the console. “Mr. Wu, get us a jump
solution now!”

“Engine ready,” radioed Magoro from the engine room.

“Coming right up!” Mr. Wu said.

The rift opened, the power dimmed, and they jumped.

***
“Damage report,” Bolivar roared.

“Why didn’t you fire back?” Tenerife asked.

Bolivar glared at him. “Not now, Mr. Tenerife.”

“Everything remains green in the engine room,” Chief Engineer
Magoro said.

“How’s the hull?” Bolivar asked.

“There was no damage here,” Portside Abe said.

Starboard Abe had a different story. “Instrumentation says no hull
breaches between the external hulls and the internal hull. However,
the external camera shows some minor damage along the starboard
side.”

“Can you tell what they hit us with?” Bolivar asked.

“The gashes are about six inches long. I’d guess a cloud of
industrial-grade flechettes.”

“Why didn’t you raise shields?” Tenerife asked.

“For the same reason we didn’t detach the saucer,” Bolivar
snapped. “We don’t have such technology in the real world.”

“What about hull armor?”

Bolivar growled. “Tell him.”

Portside Abe tsked and started ticking things off on his fingers.
“Small ships like ours don’t have artificial gravity, and none of them
have protective energy shields. If somebody fires accurately enough,
it hits metal and causes real damage.”

“Ships are expensive to fund and time-consuming to build,” Salty
said. “The cost is so high and space is so vast that little actual combat
occurs out here.

“I’ve seen huge battleships docked at space stations,” Tenerife
said. “Don’t they use those warships for defense?”

Starboard Abe nodded. “The Terran Space Navy keeps some
dreadnoughts with reinforced hulls and spinning artificial gravity
and all manner of heavy weapons, but they’re deterrents more than
anything.”

“So what does this tell us about our attackers?” Boliver asked.

“They’re telling us they can hit us whenever they want and they’re
unafraid of inflicting damage.”

Bolivar nodded. “That rules out pirates.”

“Is there any way we can find out if anyone knows about these
attackers?” Tenerife asked.

“Mr. Wu, dial up the system’s transmitter beacon,” Bolivar said.

“What’s a transmitter beacon,” Tenerife asked.

“When someone encounters an anomaly near the jump gates, they
flash a message to the galactic transmitter beacon. It’s like leaving a
note on the door for others.”

“We’ve found the nearest beacon,” said Mr. Wu. “Putting it on
speakers.”

The message on the Terran language band was repeated in Galactic
Standard, Mandarin, French, and Spanish. “Beware the Terran warship
TSN Manitou recently seen in this system. Reports indicate it has
been commandeered by aliens unknown to us. A cryptic message from
the ship translated their name as the Gruener, cannibals who have devoured
the entire crew of at least two ships. They intimidate ships and
compel the crews to heave-to and board the Manitou. Do not comply!
… Beware…”

“They eat people?” said Salty.

But Tenerife’s eyes widened. “First contact,” he said under his
breath.

***
The proximity klaxon sounded again.

“Everyone to your stations!” yelled Bolivar.

“Do you think it’s the Gruener?”

Bolivar rubbed his chin. “It could be a coincidental sighting of a
different ship, but I don’t believe it. There’s just not that much traffic
out this way.”

Mr. Wu yelled, “I’ve found the object.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a probe, sir.” He put it on the captain’s screen. The system
zoomed in and displayed telemetry data.

And then, as Tenerife watched, a warship slid through the rift.
“They’re here!” roared Bolivar.

Tenerife said, “How…?”

Mr. Wu pointed to the display. “When we opened the rift for our
jump, they launched a probe after us to show them where to follow!”

“Who does that?”

Mr. Wu looked at Tenerife and licked his lips. “Uh, we do. The
Terran Space Navy does that.”

Bolivar stabbed a button on his console. “Magoro, how long until
we can jump again?”

“The engine’s still in recovery. I’ll need another seven hours more
or less before the engine is ready.”

“Let me know when it is. In the meantime, Mr. Wu, prepare another
jump solution. Abe, can you hit anything with the laser?”

Starboard Abe radioed in from his station. “Yes, sir!”

“After we jump, you will have precisely one shot to take that probe
out before they can lock in on it to pursue.”

“Aye-aye, Captain,” Abe said. “I await your command.”

Bolivar spoke to Mr. Wu. “Try to put as much distance between
us and the enemy. Buy some time. I want to see how fast they are. As
soon as you have a jump solution, prepare an S.O.S. to beam to that
beacon before we jump. It’s a long shot, but I want to request any
passing dreadnought to follow our jump coordinates.”

“Captain,” Tenerife said. “Is there anything I can do?”

Bolivar glanced at Tenerife. “You can vacate my command center
and pray these cannibalistic pirates don’t rip our ship to threads and
eat us all.” He turned his back to Tenerife and kept barking orders to
his crew.

Continued in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which you can purchase here.

An Alternative To A Song Of Ice And Fire

I respect George R.R. Martin as a writer. He’s immensely talented. I’ve met him. He’s a nice guy. I respect the achievement that is regarded as one of the greatest fantasy series of all time. I read the first two books. I enjoyed them for what they are. But I couldn’t finish book 3. A Storm Of Swords just lost me. I have wrestled with that for a couple of weeks now and finally sorted out why.

Why would I want to read a book that deals with heroes like reality does? GRRM takes all the archetypes and knocks them off one by one. Killing any admirable heroes and leaving us with mostly unlikable scum. Oh Jon Snow and Arya and even Tyrion still have likability, despite flaws. But you know, I get this kind of depressing reality on the news daily and the internet, I don’t need it in my fiction.  I read fiction to escape. I read it to hope for a better world. I read it to see possibilities, not realities that are depressing and sad or reminders of that.

Maybe I’m more thoughtful than some people. I’m painfully aware of my frailties, failures and inadequacies. My life’s quest has been to try and conquer them or at least counter them by living a life that makes a difference. From teaching to volunteering to mission  work, I have sought to help and encourage others and myself by seeking to make a better world, at least in the portion that I touch. And when I write, that’s why I write old fashioned heroes where the good guys are good and admirable, despite being flawed, and the bad guys are bad. You know who you want to see win and that’s okay because it’s natural. It doesn’t have to weaken the characters to have them be people who make us want to be better people ourselves; to make us hope people, including ourselves, can rise above our depravity and lead better lives, lives of significance that make a better world.

As my friend and editor Randy Streu states it: “It’s like, somebody decided that ‘nuance’ meant that, to be a real hero meant to be so flawed and depraved that actual heroism was dead. Acts for the greater good are a biproduct of self interest.” I guess some people do probably believe that. But I don’t. I think heroism is alive. I sometimes think the media wish it wasn’t. They go after anyone with character or fame like sharks at a steak cookout, tearing them to shreds, cutting them down to size, poking and probing at every potential weakness or flaw to tear them down. Reality TV thrives on this. It’s a celebration of mediocrity and failure. It’s about taking people we admire and bringing them down a  notch. That’s why it’s so wonderful when someone actually survives the reality TV feeding frenzy and comes out shining. Take Clay Aiken on the current Celebrity Apprentice or even Arsenio Hall. Arsenio lost it once, but then apologized and let it go. And he showed himself to be the class act most of his fans always hoped he was.

But Song Of Ice and Fire as well written as it is, as deep as it can be, just leaves me cold. Are people really this bad? Probably. But why are we celebrating it? Why are we putting that out there as a tale of fantasy when it’s really more a tale of sad reality? Don’t get me wrong, GRRM has a right to write what he wants. I stand up for his freedom of speech. I’m just saying that the alternative to A Song Of Ice and Fire appeals more to a lot of people and that’s not bad or wrong. I wish there were more of it.

I recently interviewed Robert Silverberg about the rerelease of the incredible Majipoor books which changed my life. The hope and excitement they inspired not only in the possibilities of what one man can do but what one writer can do have been formative in my life. Are there bad guys in that? Yes. Is the hero flawed? Yes. But there’s an underlying sense of wonder and optimism which is inspiring and moving. Lots of books used to have that. Less have it today and I wonder why. Is our nihilistic age destroying our ability to hope?  My childhood memories are filled with books which so inspired me: from Winnie The Pooh to Dr. Seuss to Huckleberry Finn and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Some of these books, like Finn and Wilder dabble close to the vest with reality. It’s not that characters don’t face real problems or flaws but that they triumph and grow into better people and the overall theme is hopeful and makes you want to do the same in your life. Is that such a bad thing? Does anyone who has kids really want them reading books with the tone of A Song Of Ice And Fire to set their expectations for the world and their lives?

Again, I am not saying A Song Of Ice and Fire is bad. I am just suggesting that another type of literature has its place and its importance and is still needed and wanted by many readers today and that, perhaps, the focus on moving away from that is misplaced. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are popular for a reason. They celebrate the triumph of flawed heroes over strong forces and great odds. And the protagonistic characters are admirable and likable.

It’s funny to me that so much of Christian literature took it to the opposite extreme. There, heroes are so whitewashed and villains so tame that readers living in the real world quickly grow bored and frustrated. The books don’t engage their reality enough, rather than the opposite of perhaps engaging too much. Instead of lacking heroes, they lack realistic people. The characters are cardboard and perfect and don’t resemble anyone we know and the world is too neat with too many rounded edges and not enough jagged ones. If that makes any sense. Whereas the Bible is filled with powerful heroes who are flawed men and woman fighting to rise above their flaws and facing incredible odds. Those character types still have power and meaning for audiences today. I think that’s why so many classics continue to be reprinted again and again, like the Majipoor series.  I’ll continue trying to write it, and I hope others will as well. I really hope the kids of tomorrow can find books to inspire them like I used to.  And I’ll continue to seek an alternative to A Song Of Ice And Fire.  Not that I refuse to read such things but that I’ll visit them sparingly. They offer me less of what I seek and need and thus don’t satisfy my cravings.  The HBO version has just made me feel stronger about it as they ditch the story and important POV characters like Arya for any scene where they can show more flesh and more gritty sex, violence, etc. They emphasize even more the darkness and they’re losing their way with the story in the process.

Yes, I still believe real heroes exist and the world can be a better place if we do our best to rise above our flaws and make a difference. I still believe story telling even on film doesn’t need to be darkly discouraging and total depravity, that there can be hope in its midst. And I hope I always will. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: 7 Things I Learned About Working With Editors From Editing SPACE BATTLES

In Spring 2010, I got the chance to pitch publisher David Rozansky of Flying Pen Press some anthology ideas I’d been developing and wound up hired to edit the next installment in the publisher’s long running Full Throttle Space Tales anthology series, Space Battles, which release last week, April 18. After three years now of significant work editing books, stories and now an anthology with authors, I can tell you I have come to the conclusion every writer ought to get experience being an editor. There’s so much helpful stuff to learn but this was particularly true from editing an anthology. Here’s 7 things I learned:

1 ) Meet Deadlines — As an editor, there’s nothing worse than sitting around waiting on writers. If you set a deadline, particularly as I did, many months out for your project, and hardly any stories come in by deadline, you start to worry. I had invited 37 people and needed 17-19 stories, and I had 6 come in by deadline. Unsurprisingly, two of those were by my headliners Mike Resnick & Brad R. Torgersen and Jean Johnson. There’s a reason Mike Resnick gets so many awards and has such a body of work: he’s a pleasure to work with. He’s a professional. He’s reliable. You never appreciate that more than when you’re editing something like this.

2 ) Be Courteous — I invited you to submit to my anthology, in many cases because you’re friends or I like your work. Some of you expressed an interest beforehand and I honored that. Okay, then how come I can name at least 10 “friends” I’ve never heard from since? They didn’t thank me for the original invite. They didn’t respond to the reminders as deadline approach. Not a word after the post-deadline pleas for more stories. I have heard nothing. How do you think that makes me feel about their professionalism and their friendship? How likely do you think I’ll be to invite them to my next project? I leave it to you to figure that out but I’d bet it’s pretty obvious after what I said about Resnick. Resnick’s already invited to my next project.

3 ) Work With Me — Editors edit. It’s what we’re employed to do. My job is to help both your story and the anthology as a whole be the best it can be. I want us all to win. I don’t want to ruin your story, so don’t be difficult. Yeah, I’m not perfect. I don’t know everything. But neither do you. When I ask for changes, I expect you to discuss it yes, but I also expect you to make the changes. If there’s something you feel strongly about, I am fair. We can discuss it. But don’t make me do it for you from stubbornness and don’t nitpick every single minor change. I had some authors who asked to keep a couple things for various reasons and I agreed because they willingly made every other change I asked for. I didn’t ask for a lot. I hate asking people to change their precious words. But sometimes it’s necessary for good reasons. One of my authors wrote enough backstory to fill several novels and his story dragged and suffered for it. He refused to make changes, even after I went through and marked stuff out for him. Most editors would have just rejected it, but I went the extra mile. I wanted to help him make it work. Then this same author kept bragging about how this was “the most brilliant story” I’d gotten of all of them. I passed. And I won’t be inviting him to future projects. I asked for a couple tweaks in Resnick & Torgersen’s story and had it back in less than 24 hours. Who would you rather work with?

4 ) Editors Want Your Story To Be Good — Not only is hard to ask writers to change their precious words, but it’s really hard to reject their stories. It broke my heart. The first story Jean Johnson subbed, I rejected. It didn’t have a core ship on ship battle in space. I did the same with trunk stories from Jay Lake, Kevin J. Anderson and Chuck Gannon. The stories were all brilliant. I’m sure they will find homes. They just didn’t fit the guidelines for this. Yes, I couldn’t believe I was rejecting stories from such talented people. But then I also rejected a couple off sub-par stories as well. And one of them was by a good friend. That was really hard. It hurt me to say it. I didn’t want to be another rejection for any writer. We get enough. I wanted their stories to be good. I wanted them all to be ready and right for the anthology. They weren’t. Thank God I chose not to do an open call. Imagine how many more painful rejections I’d have had to make? As it was, at least I could personalize and praise the good along with saying “no.” And although I know I did the right thing by saying “no,” I still wish I could have said “Yes!”

5 ) Editors Have Deadlines Too — Yeah, I set a deadline for story subs, but you know what, your missing that deadline creates issues with my deadlines for having stories picked and submitting a manuscript to the publisher. I actually had to push it back waiting for stories. How does that make me look professionally? Oh, the publisher was gracious. He understood. But if you continually put me in a spot where I can’t meet deadlines, how likely am I to want to work with you in the future?

6 ) Editors Work Hard — I don’t think you realize how much work it takes to edit until you do it. I’m not talking revision passes on your manuscript. I’m talking editing someone else’s precious work so that it comes out shiny and make everyone get the praise they deserve. It needs to not just fit with the stories around it and flow well, but you need to polish it for typos, get their name right, format it, polish it. It takes a lot of passes reading the stories and it takes a lot of time nitpicking little details. Sadly, I just the other day found a typo in one story near the end of the anthology which I should have caught. I am going to be kicking myself about that forever. I let those writers down. It’s a lot of pressure and work to not just sell the anthology to the publisher, but figure out the best story order, manage the budget wisely, recruit writers, control deadlines, meet deadlines of your own, etc. It takes work to keep fresh eyes rereading the same stories over and over because of all the details. You want to make sure they’re as good as can be and yet you’ve read them so many times it becomes a bit like editing your own work. So writers, don’t think editors have the easy job, because they don’t. And they’re reputations are dependent not just on picking great stories but lots of other factors too.

7) It Feels Just As Good — The sense of pride and accomplishment you get from seeing an anthology you edited published is not that different from that you feel when your novel comes out. It feels really good to help fellow writers achieving career goals even as you achieve your own. It feels really good to know someone finally made it into print with you. It feels good to see them published alongside respected colleagues like Mike Resnick, Jean Johnson, or David Lee Summers. It’s not entirely your own work, gestated for years, pounded through many drafts, yes, because it’s a community effort, but that doesn’t make the success of that any less different. Especially when, having finished, you feel like the writers have become better friends and people you’d welcome working with in the future and who would welcome the opportunity to work with you. And when the publisher asks you ‘what else have you got?’ Boy, that’s a great moment, too. I never looked down on editing as lesser–less of a craft, less significant than writing– but I also never realized how good it could feel to do it and see the end result published professionally. I’ve been proud of the books I edited which got published and were well received, but this pleased me more because I really played a more significant role in its creative design and overall final form by choosing stories, cover, writing intros, bios and the cover copy. It’s a really good feeling and I doubt anyone who takes it on would disagree.

Well, there’s 7 things I learned from editing Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6. What lessons have you learned from editing, working with writers, or editing others? I’d welcome comments. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, the children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and editor of the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  An affiliate SFWA member, he also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter and is a frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and Hugo nominee SFSignal. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via www.bryanthomasschmidt.net.

Write Tips: 8 Copyediting Tips For Writers

It’s common wisdom that writers make terrible self-editors, even those of us who edit for others on a regular basis professionally. It’s a natural thing given the passions at play. Writers get so close to their work that it’s easy to gloss over missed words, typos, etc. We know what we meant to say and the mind just fills it in. Plus, you can only reread the same words so many times in a row without losing focus. But copyediting is an important step in the process. And when you get to the final stages of preparation for publication, you’ll face the need to review your manuscript one final time to make sure it’s right. After all, you have to live with the results ever after. So here’s 8 Tips I’ve learned from trial and error which have helped me when it comes to copyediting my own work.

1 ) Take Your Time — It’s easy to be impatient and rush. After all, copyediting isn’t the most exciting stage of the process. And again, you’ve already been over it so many times, the words just start blending together. But this is your last chance to avoid embarrassing mistakes you might regret later. So work at the pace you need to in order to pay attention to the details, even if that means taking a break every few pages.

2 ) Read It Aloud — I don’t sit down and read every word of my novels out loud. That’s hard to find time for. But I have friends who do that. I do read aloud scenes after I write them, and I read aloud passages which pop out at me in later drafts. If it raises a question mark, I read it aloud.  Run-on sentence? Read it aloud and see if you run out of breath. Awkward phrasing? Read it aloud and you’ll know for sure. Missing punctuation? Reading aloud will verify that, too.

3 ) Print It Out — Yes, I know. Cartridges and paper cost money. But if your galleys don’t come printed, it’s a good idea to print them yourselves. If you spend as much time each day staring at a computer screen as I do, you’ll understand how your eyes can begin to glaze over after a while and really affect your concentration. Copyediting required solid focus and full attention. Having the whole page in front of you without the back lighting, can really help you with this. It also makes it easier to get context and catch repetitive words or phrases. You can read aloud without scrolling. And you can flip back more easily to compare passages if the need arises.

4 ) Posture Makes A Difference — When you’re dealing with details and need focus, it’s not the time to lay on your bed or relax in a lounge chair. This posture sends signals to your body that it’s time to relax and your attention span tends to relax along with it. Seated in a good, straight-backed chair at a desk or table is a much better place for copyedits. It sends signals to your mind that it’s time to be alert and pay attention. And it really can make it easier to get the focus you need.

5 ) Plan Your Time — Through trial and error you probably have learned when your best creative times are; when you’re at your finest focus and most productive. Right after lunch when you’re needing a nap, for example, is not the time for detail work. Neither is anytime you’re riled up emotionally (angry, sad, frustrated, elated, etc.) For me, my most focused creative time tends to be from 7 a.m. to 12 noon daily. I get occasional spurts between 3 and 7 at night as well. But mornings are the times I can get the most done, so they are sacred for writing. Additionally, I edit well during the 3-7 window, post-nap and 1 mile walk with my dogs. So that is a time when I can concentrate well enough to take on editing, if my writing time was needed for wordcount that day. Experiment. Find your ideal times and guard them zealously. Plan appropriately so your copyediting will be most effective.

6 ) If It’s Not Obvious, Make A Note — There’s nothing worse than having an editor or publisher ask you questions about your copyedits and not being able to remember what you were thinking at the time. Some edits are obvious on the page. Others are not. Don’t count on your memory to keep it straight. There may be a delay before your editor or publisher has time to go through them, and if you’ve moved all your focus on to another project, you may not remember why you did what you did. If the change is not self-evident at the time you make it, write  a note for future reference.

7 ) It’s Called CopyEdits Not ReWrites — All writers have a tendency to be their own worst critics. Typos, grammar, etc. are obvious copyedits. So are repetitive words and unclear passages. But what if you suddenly decide your writing is subpar and get an urge to start fixing a lot more? Your editor and copyeditor have put a lot of time into this, and your manuscript has been approved for moving through the final stages. It costs money and time. They are not going to be enthusiastic about having to start over from scratch. In fact, they have other projects and deadlines and probably don’t have the time. Turning in a copyedited manuscript that’s so marked up it’s practically a new draft does not impress them with your diligence. Instead, it may piss them off. So remember, it’s a copyedit, not a rewrite. If something really bothers you and it’s a complicated change, include it in your notes and inquire about it later. They will happily change anything that you validly point out is worth fixing. But copyedits are for tweaking, not page by page redrafts.

8 ) Take Pride In Your Accomplishment — You, more than anyone, know the work that’s gone in to get you to this moment. So many people can only dream of sitting there looking at galleys of their about to be published work. It may not be perfect, but that doesn’t negate the significance of the accomplishment, so it’s okay to enjoy it. Allow the butterflies to dance in your stomach and enjoy seeing your work looking like real book at last. It’s come a long way, so don’t forget to enjoy the moment and be proud of yourself. You deserve it.

Well, those are 8 Tips for Self-Copyediting which I’ve picked up through trial and error as both author and editor. I hope they help you be more effective in the process. Have I left any out? What do you do that I haven’t mention? I’d love to have you mention them in comments so we can all learn from each other. Writers helping writers is what my Write Tips series is all about. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing along with the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tips: The Power Of Diligence

In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, Steve Martin talks about how important diligence has been to his success. And the website Study Hacks, which explores how some people succeed and others don’t explores his comments. I also recently read that a high percentage of Robert Frost’s most acclaimed poems were written after he’d reached the age of 50. That got me thinking how important diligence is to the writer’s journey.

If anyone hasn’t figured it out yet, the writing life is a lifelong journey. The day you stop learning new things or striving to get better, you might as well close up shop because that’s what it’s all about. Through all the rejections, all the bad reviews, all the starving days, all the tribulations of artistic life, only one thing is sure: you can always get better. You’ll know know everything.

That’s why diligence is so vital for success as a writer.

If someone as respected and famous as Robert Frost did his best work in his later years, if someone like Steve Martin values diligence, how can we not ask ourselves to be diligent too?  You can only be the best you can be at any moment. But if you continue to grow and learn, i.e. through diligence, you can get better and better. And, like Frost, the highlights of your career can come later in life. Martin won two Grammys for his banjo albums, both well into his career as movie star, post-career as standup comedian. He’d been playing banjo for 50 years when he won one of them. Now that’s diligence.

How successful do you want to be? Do you want a career or just a hobby? One requires diligence, one doesn’t. Period. To do anything artistic well, one must constantly reexamine and strive to improve technique, craft, etc. No one’s perfect and there’s always room to grow as an artist. There’s a reason writers talk about the “writer’s journey.” There’s also a reason you don’t hear successful authors say “the journey is over.” In fact, many would say “my writer’s journey’s just begun.”

Think of writers like George R.R. Martin, who is writing a 7 book series but taking more than a decade to do it. The gaps between books are years, not because he intends to drive readers and his publisher to distraction, but because he’s diligent. He wants to get it right. Would anyone begrudge him that? To me, there’s something to be admired in that kind of dedication. It’s a level of intensity I sometimes wish I could match. On the other hand, GRRM has more financial security as a writer than I do and I wonder if I’d survive such long periods between paychecks. Still, I admire his dedication and diligence in writing it the best it can be and doing it the way he needs to in order to get there.

To do anything well, one must be willing to work hard. Some times working hard means different things for different people. For some, certain things come more easily than for others. I have writer friends like Jay Lake who turn in what they call “clean first drafts.” Others of us spend days going over copyedits. I think these are things one can improve on with time. I know some who struggle with POV and description, while others roll intricate flowery emotional prose off their keyboards like breathing air. (I hate them for it, don’t you?) Some are stronger on science than character. Some are stronger on dialogue than plot. Part of being human is to be imperfect. It’s not a crime. It’s a challenge. But it’s a challenge that can be overcome with diligence.

It’s a cliche, I suppose, to say anything worth having is worth working for, but in a sense, that’s just truth. The writers whose careers last decades are known for diligence: Robert J. Sawyer, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Anne Rice, Orson Scott Card, Ben Bova, Stephen King, Peter Straub, etc. All have worked hard to perfect their craft. All write with great discipline and take advantage of every opportunity. All produce multiple books and stories every year. And all will tell you it’s hard work and that they are always seeking to improve.

For me, part of following their example is modeling myself after their efforts. I am diligently blogging, writing, and networking. I am diligently educating myself about this business. I am diligently reading to be aware of what’s come before and who’s writing what. And I am diligently studying storytelling, craft, prose, etc. to understand how others do it well and improve my own work in the process.

How’s your diligence? Is it a priority for you? Are you in it for the long haul or short run? Good questions to ask, I think. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

Write Tip: How Screenplay Structure Can Help Plotting & Pace In Your Novels

I am a film school grad of California State University, Fullerton. I spent several years working in TV and film and had a script in development at Disney. It never got made. I never got rich and famous. But the lessons I learned from film school and, particularly, the books of Syd Field about story structure have stayed with me. In Screenplay, field presents the standard for screenplay structure: 3 acts, the first and last of 30 pages (a page equalling approximately a minute on screen) and the middle being 60 pages. This is called the Three Act Structure.

On a basic level, it works like this:

The First Act sets up the setting, characters, etc. We are introduced to our protagonist, antagonist and their problems, i.e. the issues which will cause them to clash later on. Around page 30, a major plot point occurs, called a turning point, where something happens the compels the protagonist to react and takes the story in a new direction. He or she must respond and struggle to save the day, solve the problem, win over the girl, or otherwise deal with their life being turned upside down in a major way to get back to happy again. This act tends to move fairly tightly and concisely. And a good steady pace is helpful to get people into the story and make them want to stay for the rest.

The Second Act is the middle. The first major plot point has happened and the character must now respond, going on an adventure or quest to solve the problem. The antagonist, meanwhile, is working to get there first or keep the protagonist from succeeding. Act Two is full of complications. The first half propels us toward a middle plot point which in some way turns the story and compels them to action toward the second major plot point at the end of the act, around page 90. Although pace is important here, at times, in Act Two, one can slow down a bit and develop characters, etc., allowing the story to breathe.

The Third Act is the wrap up dealing with the results of major plot point two and all the loose ends from throughout the story. Like Act One, this act moves quickly, and more quickly than any of the others because it needs to feel driven to carry us to the climax.

Those are the basics of Three Act Screenplay structure, but further breaking it down is where it really becomes useful for us as novelists. In screenplays, stories consist of beats.

There are three types of beats:

1. Story Beat (Plotting) — these are action points upon which the story is framed. They build together like a puzzle. These include the major turning points at act breaks and usually the halfway beat for Act Two. But many smaller beats occur as well (we’ll get to that shortly). Major Story Beats typically include:

Opening (Normal World)
Inciting Incident (Act One midpoint)
Act 1 Break (Plot Point 1)
Midpoint (Mid-Point of the Act 2, takes us into the second half of Act 2)
Act 2 Break (Plot Point 2)
Climax (Resolution)

2. Emotional Beat (Character Arc)–We’re all familiar with “character arcs.” These are made up of emotional beats: events wherein the physical action of story creates an emotional reaction within your character. These show us what motivates the next action within the character. By connecting the emotional beats, you see the character arcs.

3. Reversal (Emotional Beat Within a Scene)–Unlike the others, this refers to specific moments within a scene where a character undergoes an emotional reversal. Example: Bob confronts Joe who killed his mother. Bob wants to kill Joe. But then Joe explains Bob’s mom viciously murdered his mom years before. Not only that but Joe is Bob’s half-brother from his father’s affair. Now Bob is reconsidering his initial emotional reaction.

Something major happens every 15 pages. While the major act turning points occur at page 30 and page 90, these in between breaks matter too. They are beats. And some are emotional, some story and some reversals. Reversals are powerful and must be used with care, but you can use more than one to provide some mystery and twists and turns to your story as long as you use them wisely.

How can this help novelists?

By thinking of your story with this framework, you can make sure you keep your plot moving at a steady pace. You can avoid long periods where “nothing happens” and, instead, focus in on beats and plot points which push things forward. It doesn’t matter if you’re a pantser or an outliner, this can work for you. I tend to be a pantser and that’s how I write. I ask myself: what could happen next that would surprise the characters and take things in unexpected directions? Sometimes, I surprise myself. The Returning, my second Davi Rhii novel, is full of moments like that. The Story Beats lead to Emotional Beats as characters affected by the events of the plot react emotionally. Examples: A friend’s life is threatened, the protagonist takes action to protect and/or save the friend. A secret past is revealed and the protagonist struggles to come to terms with it and redefine who he/she is. See how it works?

Novels don’t share the same paging as screenplays, so you have to set aside the specific 15,30,60,90 pages marks in this case. But screenplays consist of sparse description/action and lots of dialogue, so thinking through this structure should still make things come out fairly close to the same as you write. By incorporating these beats and plot points, something many of us do on instinct, you can be more deliberate about arranging your story so it moves at a good, even clip and avoids needless sidetracking or lags. The end result will be a tighter, better paced story which hooks the reader and keeps them interested to the end.

How do you structure your novels? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: 5 Tricks To Adapting A Well Known Story For Fiction

It’s been done. All too many times, if you listen to some. The story is world famous, well known. Many know its details by heart. Yet it’s compelling and you have an idea you know is different—one no one’s done before. So how do you keep it fresh? Adapting a well-known story for fiction has many challenges, but above them all is the issue of freshness, avoiding predictability.

There are some techniques which work well to invigorate the retelling:

1)      Use the original story as character history/backstory so the parallels are interesting but you don’t have to follow it to the letter—In The Worker Prince, my debut novel, because my characters are colonists to space from Earth and Protestants, they share the religious history of Christianity so the Moses story, which inspired mine, is prehistory. Some parallels from that story occur, when a prince discovers he was born a slave and helps the slaves fight for freedom, for example. But having established that as prehistory, I was able to depart quite a bit from biblical elements like the plagues, miracles, and parting of the Red Sea to tell a different, although familiar story. The inspiration remains the same but the story takes new and interesting twists.

2)      Change the timeline (order)– What if the events are the same but they don’t happen in the same order? Sometimes the order of events is not vital to the story and you can make new twists and turns just be changing the order of events and, thus, how those various events affect each other. It can lead to new conflicts and new undercurrents which didn’t exist in the original story and make it more interesting for those familiar with the story on which yours is based.
3)      Identify the core elements and throw away less important ones—In The Worker Prince I did exactly this: keeping the idea of one people enslaving another under a ruthless dictator, a prince secretly adopted from slaves, ideological conflict, and injustice but dumping things like the Red Sea, years of exile in a desert, plagues, etc. It kept the story familiar and grounded in the tropes of the original while allowing me to take it in totally different and surprising directions. Some scenes and events are vital for the story to remain familiar. The same can be said of key characters. Others can be thrown away or reinvented to keep things original and unique in your telling.

4)      Reverse roles, species or genders of characters—What if your hero in the original story was male but in your story becomes female? What if a human character becomes alien or animal? What about a robot? What about other characters? Can your sidekick become the love interest? What if your antagonist becomes a relative instead of  a social acquaintance? What if the characters take on bigger roles and multiple functions they didn’t have in the original? The differences between genders, species, etc. can then be exploited for new aspects of your story and new twists and turns different from the original in fun ways.

5)      Change the setting—Setting your story in a culture and context far removed from the original can provide interesting opportunities. I set The Worker Prince in distant space far from Earth with different aliens and plant species, etc. It allowed me to have technology and related problems totally foreign to the original Moses story and made for a more fun and interesting telling for me as storyteller and for readers. The same can be true of resetting the story in a different decade or era from the one in which it originally occurred. Imagine, if you will, a steampunk Cinderella or Sherlock Holmes in the 24th Century. All kinds of possibilities present themselves.

All of these suggestions are about making the story your own. If you can find ways to do that, you can create a fresh experience and telling while utilizing powerful elements of the familiarity and themes of the original story. Grounding your story in a well-known tale, definitely has advantages.  But a little creative rethinking can make it even more powerful and draw in an audience of people it might not otherwise appeal to. It’s fun to work from a familiar foundation and structure. Especially if you love the story, it can stimulate the imagination. But if everyone knows the twists and turns and outcome of your story, why should they want to read it? I hope these suggestions give you ideas how the old can become  new and fresh in the retelling.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince—which received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Best Science Fiction Releases of 2011—and The Returning, both from the space opera series Saga Of Davi Rhii. He also wrote the collection The North Star Serial, and short stories published in Tales Of The Talisman and the anthologies Of Fur And Fire and Wandering Weeds: Tales Of Rabid Vegetation, amongst others. A freelance professional editor and proofreader, he’s edited books for authors like Leon C. Metz, David Brown and Ellen C. Maze. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Twitter (#sffwrtcht), where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, A.C. Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website: www.bryanthomasschmidt.net. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

‎3 5-star & 8 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: 8 Key Elements For Capturing The Star Wars Feel In Your Story

One of the highest compliments I’ve gotten on my debut novel, The Worker Prince, and I’ve heard it over and over, is that it “feels like reading Star Wars: A New Hope.” This was very deliberate on my part, and I referred a lot in writing it to Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy and Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Academy books.  It’s a challenge to capture the feel without going too far into imitation. And while watching the films repeatedly and reading tie-in books is definitely essential, I also think there are other factors which must be present to lend the right aura. Here are the 8 I’ve identified:

1) Your story must have an epic scope. Both Star Wars and The Worker Prince are stories about a quest of good vs. evil, to win justice over evil and save the universe, or at least their part of it. This is epic and requires bigness: big baddees, big ships, big planets and world, big stakes, big heroes, etc. You can’t really do it well staying inside an Enterprise or just on a single planet. There has to be a larger picture and bigger feel to capture it. Despite the different key focus of each movie or book, all encompass this epic scope of good vs. evil.

2) Larger than life characters. You need characters we can relate to, yes. Who can’t relate to the young farm boy with big dreams of a more exciting life somewhere else? Both Luke Skywalker and Davi Rhii (protagonist of The Worker Prince) share that trait. And thus, the first segments of both trilogies are coming of age tales about their quest to become men and men with a purpose. Han Solo and Leia are larger than life. Leia may be a petite figure but her attitude far outsizes her physical body. Han Solo is edgy. He comes off as dangerous and unpredictable, but, as we get to know him, he has a morality not so different from our other heroes, and, above all, he wants good to win. Chewbacca  is another obvious example, as is Darth Vader. Both are feared on sight for similar and different reasons. And both are formidable foes. One possesses a kind, giving heart. The other is selfish and cruel. But neither does it half way. Vader takes his cruelty to the extreme just as Chewbacca takes his kindness to extremes with his loyalty and dedication to his friends. I gave Davi Rhii some companions who have trait like this. None of them is a copy or exactly identical to any Star Wars character. I was careful about this. Davi’s love interest, Tela, is a pilot, a slave, but she has Leia’s sass, values and strength of will. His companions Yao, a tall alien, and Farien, a shorter, bulker, edgier human, compete and banter with Davi throughout their adventures much like Luke, Han and Leia do. And the bad guy, Xalivar, is definitely a dark lord, even though he and Vader approach it very differently. The anti-heroes are not dominant in these worlds. Luke is pretty clear cut in his goodness as is Leia. Han teeters on the edge but he comes out good overall in the end. The same is true of characters in my saga. There are very clear cut bad and good characters, not a lot left up to reader interpretation.

3) Adrenaline filled, relentless action. High stakes require a sense of fast pace and constant jeopardy for your characters. They can never be totally at ease or seem to get ahead without something new and dangerous knocking them off course. The action scenes are intense, with real danger, and the character’s witty banter adds to both the urgency and tension while also infusing much needed humor at times. Zahn and Anderson’s action scenes were particular important to me in writing the many action sequences of The Worker Prince, because I wanted to capture this style. I also had to make sure the action only lets up for short periods. The story always had to keep its sense that the heroes’ lives were on the line.

4) An overarching ideology with which characters must wrestle and which they must interpret in living according to their own understandings. In Star Wars, this is called “The Force.” In The Worker Prince, I used a conflict of religions. Not only do all characters good and evil wrestle with what these belief systems mean for them and how to interpret them in their lives (in both stories), but so do the two major opposing forces: The Empire and The Rebels in Star Wars, The Borali Alliance and the Vertullians in The Worker Prince. Some characters, like Han and Farien, are indifferent and don’t really hold much credence to the ideologies. They live by their own code of morality, even if they share some of the larger ideology’s values. Other characters honor the ideology for living good lives, serving others, like Luke, the Jedi, Leia, Davi Rhii. Vader, Xalivar and the baddies, however, turn that ideology into a force for evil. Vader playing with the dark side, and Xalivar persecuting anyone who doesn’t share the traditional birthright and ideology of his Boralian people.

5) Rapport/banter. I already mentioned how much this adds to action scenes but it adds to character in general. Good guys banter. It’s part of their rapport. And good guys banter with bad guys as well. Much of this occurs with humor. Humor humanizes the characters, lessens the tension at the right moments, and endears the characters to the audience. It’s fun, too. Banter is difficult to write without dipping into silliness. Star Wars has certainly been accused of it, at times. And I’d imagine The Worker Prince will get a few criticisms, too. But audiences love it. C-3PO and R2D2 aren’t popular for their looks. It’s their heart and personality, so often expressed through banter, which won audiences over. There’s a reason action movies are known for quotable lines. They may be silly but they sure are memorable. The key is to find proper balance and not take it too far one way or the other.

6) Cool gadgets and vehicles. Lightsabers, blasters, landspeeders, X-Wings, Tie Fighters, The Millennium Falcon–these are characters as much as the people in Star Wars. In The Worker Prince, we have blasters, datapads, Skitters, Floaters, air taxis, VS28 fighters and more. All these ships become huge parts of the world and how it operates. And they play essential roles in the characters’ abilities to survive and triumph over adversity. Can you imagine the stories without these things?

7) A Sense Of Wonder And Discovery. It’s no accident that Star Wars: A New Hope is a coming of age tale. It’s about Luke’s self-discovery and we discover it along with him: his world, his abilities, his future, etc. Davi Rhii takes a similar journey in The Worker Prince. Both approach the world, as young people often do, with wonder and curiosity that’s contageous. And they also share a drive to discover how to make the world better and how to be better men. The second stories, Empire Strikes Back and The Returning, change focus a bit. In Empire, it’s more of Han and Leia’s story. Their relationship, their beliefs, are central in focus as they are chased around the galaxy by the Empire and threatened time and again, fighting side by side for their lives. Luke’s still present and discovering who he is, but his journey is a bit more thoughtful this time around and less adrenaline packed at times. In The Returning, Davi, Yao and Farien find their lives on the line from very early on until the very end. They are involved in most of the book’s huge action scenes and there’s almost one per chapter, some many pages long. Davi is being chased by those who want to kill him, and, at the same time, he and his friends are chasing answers to who’s killing Vertullians and who’s threatening the peace. At the same time, Davi is discovering how to be a good mate to Tela and he and Tela are both rediscovering relationships with their long lost fathers. Aron’s new role on the Council as the first Vertullian to serve in leadership brings many challenges of discovery, and so does Miri’s adjustment from royalty to civilian life. In Return Of The Jedi, Luke’s quest comes center stage again as he tries to discover the truth about Vader’s claim to be his father and what that means. He also struggles to confront Vader and the Empire and end the chase once and for all. Leia and Han’s relationship continues to develop and the Rebels continue fighting the Empire, but the focus is still different from Empire. I am still writing The Exodus, my third book, so I’m not sure how it all will wind up, but this story has chase elements and also people stepping up, like Luke, for final confrontations, including Davi and Xalivar, Davi and Bordox, and Tarkanius taking charge in his leadership role.  Throughout, the discoveries impact the characters with a profound sense of change and continued wonder at the bigness of their worlds.

8 ) Emphasis on Character and plot, not science. Both Star Wars and The Worker Prince are space opera and space fantasy. They have elements of science, but the science is not hard science and often wouldn’t hold up to scientific law. In both cases, there are some elements of true science, perhaps, but mostly the tales are driven by the characters and the plot, not the science. The characters and their journeys are the heart and what draws us in and makes us care; what entertains us and captures us. There’s never a sense of some infodump teaching science nor is there a sense of it teaching philosophy or religion. The ideologies are present as part of the world, but they are not for our indoctrination but for our understanding of what drives the characters and frames their understandings of the world.

For me, these 8 elements are at the core of why stories like Star Wars have the feel they do. Reading The Worker Prince, even if you notice the feel, they’re still very different. I do pay tribute to the former’s influence, of course, but the story is original and stands on its own. And I think anyone trying to capture a similar feel would do well to keep these elements in mind. Yes, they can be traced back to old fashioned pulp stories, in many cases.  What do you think? Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear comments.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Transitions & Seeding – Essentials For Plausibility

Recently I came across a situation that reminded me how important transitions and seeding story details are to good fiction. These are things which most pros do without even thinking about it, but up and coming writers, learning craft, probably have to be more deliberate about. I will not specify where I encountered this but will give examples and suggestions how to handle this better. By transitions, in this case, I am talking not about segways between scenes, but rather, transitions in introducing new world elements so that we accept them as organic. And by seeding, I mean subtly introducing these things early enough so that when they become key to the story we have no trouble believing they belong there. (These are the best terms I can come up with to describe it, so that’s what we’re going with.)

You can put anything you want in your world but it has to fit together in a way that feels organic for the reader. Thus, you must carefully consider what you introduce, how you do it and when you do it. Foreshadowing it, planting seeds early and transitioning properly are essential.

In the case at hand, the story is a mixed genre story with both epic fantasy and science fiction elements. For the first six chapters, though, it’s all epic fantasy, clear and plain. Then, all of a sudden, these important characters from afar are said to have a space ship. Later, the protagonist is on the space ship and they pass a planet and he has a revelation that the planet has elves.

My reader’s reaction was a laugh and a “WHAT?!!” Which is NOT the reaction you want, believe me. It threw me out of the story and made me question the plausibility. Why are there elves and space ships? Just because the author likes them or is it organic to the world? The way it’s written,  they don’t feel organic but as it turns out, the elves and the space travel are vital parts of the later story and world. They can’t be cut and they definitely are not thrown in there just to have tropes the author likes. There are good reasons.  So the issue here is they are not handled appropriately. So I made some suggestions and I’ll share them with you.

Early on, the protagonist explores cities and the world. If the protagonist saw sky highways with space ships or flying cars of some kind, we’d know subtly that this is not your typical fantasy world and to expect space travel and SFnal elements. Another possibility is to have laser guns mixed with the swords. Just a subtle mention of either would have laid groundwork to make the later space ship reveal much more plausible.

BUT the author has set up a world where one group hogs all the fuel and space travel is thus not available to everyone. So the world where the story starts has no space travel. How can one reveal it as not sudden then?

One way is to have foreigners come by space ship as merchants to trade. Another might be to have disabled ships grounded with no fuel and comment on the situation when they appear.

If you, as an author, box yourself into a situation where elements necessary to your world are so limited, you still have to do the work to find a way to introduce them as possibilities so you don’t lose plausibility or chase off readers. Inventing such restrictions does make it hard for yourself but that doesn’t excuse you from doing the work to make it believable.

The same is true of the elves. If he encountered elven merchants, traders or vendors in the market on his wanderings, it would be no surprise when they turn up later on a neighboring planet. No dialogue or interaction would have to occur, it could all be descriptive passages as the protagonist observes the world.

In this case, however, there are no elves on that planet and he would not encounter them because they are alienated. So such a set up would also be inorganic to the world. So how to handle it?

One way is to have references to elves earlier. There could be problems that people comment on: “If the elves weren’t banished, this would totally seem like their handiwork” Or “Those nasty elves, always making trouble” or “This looks like the kind of trouble we’d expect from elves, not our own people.”

Another is to have the elves just appear as the protagonist encounters them and have him ask all the questions we as readers would ask. Our discovering them along with him would make it far more plausible.

In this case, since he’s traveling with others, they could tell him “we’re doing to see the elves” and have a dialogue about those questions before hand.

Whichever way is chosen, it would lay groundwork so it’s  not like elves just appear out of nowhere and make us shake our heads as to why they are there. World building is hard. It takes attention to detail even beyond what you need for the story. You may not need to describe certain aspects but you need to know them because they affect other things. Food chain affects diet, even if you never have to describe it. Geography affects diet and availability of resources, etc. And those elements you do include must but introduced well so that they seem natural and not unexpected. In both the above cases, I was thrown out of story with “why are there suddenly space ships/elves” and “why didn’t we see them earlier.”  In this case, the writer has a strong vision, but she’s still learning this aspect of craft, so my job as editor is to point that out and suggest ways to resolved the issues. As I explained, the author had good reasons for this, but we are not going to stick around and find out what they are if we are not sold on them. Because if we think the author doesn’t have a plan, we lose confidence and our interest wanes. Unless we have a compelling reason to read on (it’s a friend or family member), you may well lose us as readers.

So transitions and seeding are vital skills to learn and use as writers. What are some similar issues you’ve observed in reading/workshopping stories? How did you resolve them? Please share in comments so we can all learn.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

Write Tip: Special Punctuation—Ellipses, Em Dash, En Dash and Hyphen

Ahhhh punctuation. A gift and yet a bane for us all, isn’t it? Editors fix way too much of it. Writers get confused and abuse too much of it. And the rest of the world scratches their head and gives up with a bevy of messages which start to look like this: cumin 2c u ok so b thr & b readE.”

Sigh.

Today’s Write Tip is the first in what will be an ongoing series on Editing. Why am I starting with this? Because it came up first in my freelance editing and I think it’s an area all of us need clarification on. I keep my rule of thumb handy and refer to it regularly, so here goes.

Let’s examine the most common special punctuation characters we encounter:

… Ellipses

— Em dash

– En dash

– Hyphen

Here’s my simple rules for their use, based on reviewing several style guides and online resources as well as grammar books. Yes, some variations do exist, but those can get pretty complicated. If you follow these simple rules, you’ll please most people, and at least use them well. (You can’t please everybody, so let’s not pretend that we can.)

RULE OF THUMB:

Ellipses (…)

An Ellipses (…) is appropriate if the speaker trails off leaving an incomplete sentence.

Example:“Well, I was going to talk about it, but…”

This could end a sentence or be mid-paragraph as their mind wanders:

Example: “Well, I was going to talk about it, but…hey, cool hat! I really like that. So where was I?”

 

Ellipses are also used for omission of words, phrases, lines or paragraphs from a quote, in which case they replace the missing portion(s).
Ellipses can also be used for missing or illegible words.

Example: “Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s “The Worker Prince” will appeal to readers of all ages…deftly explores a world where those who believe in one God labor against oppressors, and a single man may have the power to change their situation for the better…” — Brenda Cooper, Author of The Silver Ship and the Sea and Mayan December

 

Em dash (—)

An Em dash (—) is for when the speaker is cut off either by an event or another speaker.

Example: “I think we may have a problem here, but” BOOM (car explodes).

Example: Tom was excited. “I think we may have a problem here, but” “Just shut up and follow me!” Sara said and started running.

An Em dash (—)  is also appropriate when a thought is interrupted with a clause such as: “The bass—the biggest fish Josh ever caught—was only six inches, don’t let him lie.”

 

En dash(–) 

An En dash(–) is used when demonstrating numerical ranges such as 100–200 or when making compound adjectives with more than one word “pro–German Army campaign.” In this case, the proGerman Army are two words which must function together as one adjective.

 

The hyphen (-)

The hyphen (-) is often mistaken for a dash but a dash it is NOT. The hyphen (-) is for joining words, separating syllables, simple adjectives, such as “pro-German,” phone numbers, multi-word numbers, or in prefixes and suffixes.

Examples:

twenty-eight 

co-star

ex-wife

girl-next-door

314-555-1212

syl-la-bi-fi-ca-tion

fighter-sized

line-of-sight

shell-like

anti-intellectual

I hope you get the idea. All of these can be greatly abused, of course, and paragraphs wind up looking like this:

I was hoping…well, anyway…never mind.  Would you like to go to the zoo—the new one—with me? It’s not really that far…just down in line-of-sight of twenty-eighth in that pro-Italian community, you know?”

This is simply abuse. Please remember that the purpose of punctuation is to provide clarity, not make things more complex or unclear. They are designed to help readers and speakers know where to pause, where the clauses come together, where lines of thought diverge, etc. So use them wisely. Remember that if your publisher or editor has a style guide or subscribes to specific manual, such as The Chicago Manual of Style,  you really need to consult that guide first before finalizing usage to avoid problems. It’s a matter of being a pro, as per last week’s post.

I hope the above rule of thumb is helpful. It certainly helps me. I’ll be working on more of these. Do you have requests?


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

The Returning: It Is Finished

Well, my second contracted novel is on its way. ARCS are being prepped. E-ARCS are already going out. And copyediting and cover design will begin in earnest for our June release of The Returning, sequel to The Worker Prince. Pretty exciting stuff. A year ago, this book barely existed and now here it is. Three years ago, it was barely a figment of my imagination. Yet, here it is.

Kudos to Randy Streu who knocked out the last chapter and epilogue in record time the night before his birthday and family weekend vacation.

I look forward to seeing what Mitch Bentley creates this time around. We’ve already had discussions.

Most of all, I look forward to getting it into the hands of reviewers, blurbers and YOU! My beta readers and Randy tell me it’s better than The Worker Prince, along the lines of a Bourne movie type pacing and lots of plot surprises and twists, including a cliffhanger of an ending. Can’t wait for your verdict.

It feels really good to have finished yet another novel. With the publication of my children’s dinosaur jokebook and Space Battles, an anthology I edited, this Spring, it will be quite a year of publications, taking my book table from two books up to six quite fast. Very exciting!

Thanks all for the support!

Write Tip: Be Professional

One of the highest compliments anyone has paid me is to tell me “You’re a professional.” I’ve actually heard this several times the past few months. My first reaction is: “I wish I was. I don’t make any money.” But what they really mean is that I act like a professional in my timeliness and practices toward others. I am guilty of professionalism. When I say I’ll do it, I do it and I meet the deadline. If I have a contractual obligation, I try and meet it. The exception has been when I edited Space Battles and I pushed back the deadline due to lack of submissions, but I checked with the publisher first and he was fine. I also did that editing job for a profit share, not pay, which makes a difference. Even for SFFWRTCHT, I handle things like a professional–from my preparations, reading time for each book to how I deal with publicists and authors and how I moderate the hour show.

Why?

Because if you want to be a professional, you have to act like one. Period. If you don’t act like one, you won’t get treated like one. It doesn’t matter that unprofessional people will still be around acting unprofessionally toward you. Your professionalism has nothing to do with them. It’s on you. You want to be considered a professional? BE ONE.

Why does it matter?

For me, it’s about self-respect and the understanding that when you show professionalism, people who are professionals will respect you and want to work with you. If you like to be seen as serious and someone who’s worthy of people’s time, you must be someone they trust, admire and respect. And since I like to work with people who are reliable, trustworthy and admirable, I will show them I am  myself.

What does the dictionary say it means to be professional? “to show  respect, professionalism, adherence to policies and prompt payments.

Who likes to be paid late? Who likes to be disrespected? Who likes people who refuse to play by the same rules as everyone else?

NO ONE.

Yeah, I get it. Some people hate rules. They hate to follow orders. That’s why they’re not in the military. I’m not in the military myself, I get that. But we’re not referring to a set of laws or strict regulations as much as “rules of the game,” i.e. expected behaviors of professionals. If you hire someone, pay them promptly and on time (by contract date or before); if you sign a contract for a novel/story, deliver it on time, in the format requested, polished and professionally ready for publication; if an editor requests rewrites, ask your questions respectfully, then decide if the changes make sense, make them, and turn it back in on time, etc. These are just the thing it takes to get paid for your writing. (No, it doesn’t matter that even publishers are bad about paying on time, etc. Again, their unprofessionalism has nothing to do with yours.) Be reliable. Do what you say you will, when you say you will, with respect for others and a good attitude. That’s what it means to be professional.

Some of the most successful authors I know are very professional: Kevin J. Anderson, Mike Resnick, Mary Robinette Kowal. Kevin keeps good lists and fills his orders promptly and well, with quick thank you notes hand written and includes some swag to remind you to visit again. I’ve seen Mike do a similar thing. Having dealt with all three of these fine people for SFFWRTCHT, they handled prep and questions professionally. They showed up when they said they would (except a brief car trouble for Resnick who stayed longer when required to finish the job right.) Editing Space Battles, which Resnick headlines, his story came in polished, with the right word count, right on time. All three are impeccably polite and kind. Anderson even has hecklers who are anything but kind and polite. I’m sure he gets frustrated. But I’ve never heard him say an unkind word or be nasty back. He’s a professional. Why do these people sell so many stories? They’re a pleasure to work with.

It doesn’t matter that our politics don’t agree or our religions. (Honestly, I’m not sure as they keep that to themselves mostly.) It doesn’t matter that I’m a newbie who hardly anyone had heard of three years ago and hardly anyone has heard of today. They treated me like they would any other fellow professional. And when I asked for edits, Mike Resnick sent them back without complaint. (It was intimidating to edit Mike Resnick. But man, he made it easy and I appreciate it. I don’t ask for story changes lightly and I didn’t ask for much.)

I’ve learned so much just by watching them. If you still don’t believe professionalism matters, I asked SFWA writer friends on my Facebook if they’d rather work with professionals and why, and here’s what Barb Galler-Smith, Fiction Editor for Canada’s On Spec magazine said:

“Working with people who don’t act professionally is easy. I can ignore everything they say and do with impunity and never have to deal with them again. I am grateful that of all the people I have met in the writing biz over the years, only one acted childishly, and that was a source of great amusement behind closed doors. No matter what your endeavour, behaving professionally is essential. It’s about respect for the art, craft, job, message, person, and yourself.”

So be professional. Even if you’re still broke and struggling to make it. Act professional even when you think the rejections will never end. Act professional even when you don’t feel like it. People will remember you as a professional and, take a chance on you one day, perhaps. They’ll forgive you when life happens and you do miss deadlines. They’ll want to work with you. And maybe then you’ll live that dream of making a living as a full time writing professional.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

The Returning: How I Dealt With Middle Book Syndrome

Well, we’re four chapters from finalizing the editing of my novel, The Returning, sequel to my debut The Worker Prince. ARCS will go out next week, and then copyediting. As I look at this book, a book which I’m amazed even got written–written in the midst of my life completely falling apart (unemployment, mental health issues and hospitalization for the wife, then divorce and a cross country relocation), I also marvel at how well this second book actually works. I know, I know: “We’ll be the judge of that” you’re thinking. And yes, you will. But from beta readers to editors, responses have been encouraging. They comment that it starts out fast like a Bourne movie and never lets up. They talk of the stakes being upped on every level from character development to complexity of plot to emotional arcs and actual events of the story. The stakes were higher in every way. And although that was deliberate in part, I find myself pondering how important second books are for us as authors and in trilogies generally. And how hard they can be to write.

When I started The Returning, I had no idea what the book would be. I knew where the story would have to go for the ending in book 3. But unlike Book 1, which employed the biblical story of Moses as a framework, and book 3, which will also employ more elements of that, book 2 had to fill in gaps and required me to create more of my own storyline and structure with these characters. I knew there were mistakes I’d made in The Worker Prince which I didn’t want to repeat. I also knew there were things I wanted to do with the characters. But I wrote in total chaos. Outlining a chapter at a time is usual for me, so that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that my life was so chaotic in the background of writing that I often went a month or weeks between chapters or even scenes. Coming back to it, I found concentration hard, so I couldn’t review what I’d written as fully. And often I didn’t want to reread the previous six chapters just to write. Unlike The Worker Prince, this book took 9 months to write. And it went out a chapter at a time to three beta readers as I went. They urged me for more quite often. Their patience was greatly appreciated. I didn’t look at their feedback until after I’d finished.

I was amazed.

First of all, as I hinted at above, I’m a pantser. I let the story go where it takes me. I always have some key plot points in mind. And I always have a rough idea of the base storylines (plots and subplots). But in this case, I had no idea how I would end it until I was well over 2/3rds through. It’s a middle book. There was no real ending. Many events in this book carry over into Book 3. But at some point, I realized I could still create a satisfying denouement, even if it was a cliffhanger ending. And the book most certainly has that. At the same time, the events push toward the point where a chapter feels closed in spite of that.

Early on I realized Book 2 needed a sense of everything being turned upside down. The Worker Prince was a happy story overall. It almost feels like a standalone. Despite the survival of the antagonists and potential for more stories, everything gets wrapped up in a pretty happy ending. But for the characters to progress and the story with them, I needed to tear all the stability and happiness apart again. Their lives, relationships and future all needed to be in jeopardy, and readers needed to be surprised. So, as I wrote, I set that goal. In addition, I wanted a fast pace, action packed novel, both emotionally and physically. It required a more complicated plot. And wound up with seventeen point of view characters, a hell of a cast to manage. (Some only have a scene or two from their POV. There are major POV characters who have scenes throughout as well.)

As I reached each plot point I’d planned, I examined my options and looked for the unusual choice, the surprise twist. What could happen here that would make readers say: “Whoa! I cannot believe that just happened!” Where can I take things that makes it more complicated and pushes them further from their goals and happiness again? At every chance, I made such choices. Unlike The Worker Prince, I knew that meant important characters would have to die. In the end, four do.

It’s hard to kill characters. You spend so much time with them that you begin to feel a bit like they’re family. So killing them, unless you’re psychopathic I suppose, feels wrong and mean. Who wants to be mean? But in order for the heights of the emotional arcs and plots to be reached, the stakes had to get higher and higher in The Returning, and I found no way to do that without endangering characters. In choosing the characters to subject to this “cruelty,” I also tried to make surprising choices. I chose characters I liked but characters who, ultimately, have less interesting arcs left to them than the ones who remained. My readers may disagree, but I hope not. Because the deaths of these characters actually redefine and energize the arcs for other characters in Book 3. They serve to drive the rest of the story.

I also did more exploration of my solar system, using more alien species and worlds, and exploring more of how the Boralian Alliance got to be in control and treated the natives they encountered. This will be a big part of Book 3 as well, and I think it made for some very interesting worldbuilding along with some nice plot twists and turns.

Obviously, I can’t say too much. The book doesn’t release until June. But in any case, by the time I concluded writing The Returning, I knew I had the makings of a very satisfying chapter in my saga. In fact, editors and my beta readers all agreed it’s a better book on every level than The Worker Prince. [That’s a compliment writers. We need to grow with each book. So I took it that way. It was also my goal as mentioned above.]

And so now I can’t wait to share it with you. It goes out to reviewers and other authors for blurbs next week. I have some pretty cool people lined up, including a couple of Star Wars authors. I can’t wait to hear what they think. I hope you’ll take the time to read The Worker Prince and The Returning and love them as much as I loved the experience of bringing them to life for you.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Guest Post: Writer Confidence—Too Much or Too Little?

by Patty Jansen

Let’s presume for a moment, that there is a writer called Leon. Leon doesn’t exist, of course, and I picked the name because I don’t actually know anyone by that name. Leon, however, embodies a number of characteristics I’ve seen in workshops and on writer sites.

Leon has written a novel, has self-published it ‘because so much crap gets published by mainstream publishers’, and is now frequently, and loudly, complaining about the lack of reviews, about the idiocy of ‘legacy’ publishing and about how everybody else should be self-publishing, too. But, you know, it is the first novel he’s ever written and to be honest it’s–uhm–not very good.

Let’s presume there is another writer called Frederica. Same deal as Leon–I don’t know anyone by that name. Frederica has dwelled in writer workshops for yonks, and enjoys ‘helping absolute n00bs out’. She has had some minor short stories published, and has submitted to publishers and agents. She’s had a few requests for the manuscript, but she hasn’t submitted anything for a while now. Which is a pity, because she writes quite well and has some lovely ideas.

Now consider that horrible thing: writer confidence. It’s that little voice in your head that says ‘This is total rubbish’ when you’re writing something. It is the insidious feeling that makes you cringe when reading your own manuscript, and makes you think twice about submitting to anywhere that pays top rates because ‘it’s not good enough’ and will never be so.

Leon clearly has too much confidence, and Frederica too little. Both are crippling. Leon would benefit from spending more time learning his craft and listening to people who have read his work. Frederica would benefit if she didn’t consider any criticism as euphemism for ‘I’m no good’ and if she could be made to submit her stories. At the root of their problems, both are probably afraid of rejection. Leon takes rejection as an insult and becomes defensive. Frederica takes rejection as a rejection of her person and feels hurt.

It would of course be ridiculous to suggest that writers aren’t–and shouldn’t be–affected by rejection, but neither defensiveness or crawling in one’s shell are productive reactions. We need to learn to write to a standard that publishers will buy, and the only way we’ll know that is to submit to markets. It does not help a new writer to withdraw from this market-testing for whatever reason, even if you intend to self-publish.

Note that in the above paragraph, I never said ‘we need to learn to write well’. What constitutes publishable writing is a fluid concept. The parameters of what is good writing are ill-defined and subject to taste, namely, that of the editor where you send your submission. Contrary to popular belief, an editor is a human being, with preferences and likes and dislikes, and with the style of a magazine or publishing house to consider. An editor is not the same person as the next editor. Therefore, if an editor says no, that doesn’t mean that the next editor will also say no. Similarly, if an editor says no, it doesn’t mean that the editor is an idiot. It means that the editor had no need for the material, nothing else.

A writer with too much confidence gets hung up about rejection. A writer with too little confidence gets hung about rejection. A writer with the right amount of confidence may feel down for a bit, but will send the submission somewhere else. This writer will think ‘I’ll show ’em’. And you know what? Sooner or later, you will indeed.


Patty Jansen lives in Sydney, Australia, where she spends most of her time writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. She publishes in both traditional and indie venues. Her story This Peaceful State of War placed first in the second quarter of the Writers of the Future contest and was published in their 27th anthology. Her story Survival in Shades of Orange will be published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

Her novels (available at ebook venues) include Watcher’s Web (soft SF), The Far Horizon (middle grade SF), Charlotte’s Army (military SF http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005OOFFPC ) and books 1 and 2 of the Icefire Trilogy Fire & Ice and Dust & Rain (post-apocalyptic steampunk fantasy).

Patty is on Twitter (@pattyjansen), Facebook, LinkedIn, goodreads, LibraryThing, google+ and blogs at: http://pattyjansen.com/

 

Write Tip: The Necessity Of Discipline

Okay, it’s an old topic, I know, but discipline is so vital to your writing success. And if I’ve learned anything about discipline over the years, it’s that to be disciplined in any area of life, you need good discipline in all areas of life.

There’s nothing that bleeds from one area of life into others faster than lack of discipline. If you want to succeed at your work as a writer, you have to dedicate time to it regularly. Whether it’s an hour a day, fifteen minutes a day or five hours a day, you have to set aside time and do the writing. If you miss a day, it’s easier to miss another day and so on. If you’re only going to write five days a week, okay, fine, if that works for you. But don’t take off an extra day. It’ll be that much harder to get back to your regular schedule after.

When you diet, you can’t have a cheat day. One cheat can blow the whole week’s diet. When I lost 66 pounds in ten months on Weight Watchers in 2003, I didn’t have cheat days. I couldn’t. I counted calories every day and if I wanted a special treat, I just had to compensate with low calorie foods for the other meals that day or the next two days, period. Cheat days just made it harder to get back into the discipline, and, early on, I discovered without that discipline, my diet wouldn’t succeed.

For me, this is true in other areas of life.

The times I’ve been successful with exercise have been times when I’ve made it routine. Four to five days a week, forty-five minutes to an hour every day, period. No excuses. Once I start skipping days, pretty soon I just stop exercising. It’s happened time and time again. I find a similar thing with writing. One reason blogging helps me so much is that I am forcing myself to make content daily. I am doing my warm ups for other writing, in essence. I blog twice a week at least for my blog, but then I do guest posts for other sites on other days. Sometimes I blog in advance and save them up (Saturday I wrote my Valentines Day post), but by blogging almost every day (I skipped Friday for example), I get my writing chops working automatically and it’s easier to do other writing I need to do for the day. Similar perhaps to warming up before a jog or a game.

I do the same thing with my reading time for SFFWRTCHT, dividing a book into daily goals by page count to make sure I get the books read. Sometimes I fail because I often have more than one book to read at a time. And some books are longer than others. But I still push myself to meet the goal, and most weeks I succeed. It’s why I’ve read so many books in the past year, per my 2011 reading post.

When it comes to writing, I have to set clear goals. Without goals my discipline waivers. For me it’s a word count of 1200-3000 words a day, when I’m working on other jobs and 3-5000 words a day when I’m not. I also set goals to do a certain number of scenes or a chapter each day. Sticking to it, the work gets done. Not sticking to it, and pretty soon I’ve gone weeks with no output.

It’s ironic that the fun part of writing isn’t the task of putting words to paper. Editing and polishing is a lot more fun for me, but the really joyful part is the daydreaming when I think up ideas. I could sit and do that all day, couldn’t you? But making those daydreams work on the page is tough sometimes. Yet in 2008 I decided to write a novel and by the end of 2009 I’d written two. By the end of 2011, I had my first published novel and I already know that by the end of 2012 I’ll have two more published. Imagine what will come in 2013 if I keep working?

Right now I have two half manuscripts to complete and one that is ready for second draft. If I get all of those done this year, and that’s a goal, I will have three more books to sell for 2013 but in addition, I need to write the finale to my Davi Rhii saga which is due to be published in 2013. So I could end up with as many as four books coming out in 2013. That would be doubling my publication output every year. Pretty cool, huh? Even if it doesn’t happen, what a worthy goal, right?

In 2012 I have Davi Rhii book 2, The Returning, coming out, along with 102 More Dinosaur Jokes For Kids, the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales 6, which I edited for Flying Pen Press, and the episodic novel based on a flash fiction series The North Star. I have stories coming out in Tales Of The Talisman and the anthologies Space Battles and Wandering Weeds: Tales Of Rabid Vegetation.

None of this would be possible without the discipline of regularly sitting down to write.

Am I rich yet? No. But in 2010 and 2011 I spent more on writing than I made. In 2012, I have already made 50% of what I spent on writing last year and I still have a bunch of stuff to come out and advances, etc. to receive with only a month gone in the year. That’s what I call progress, the good kind. It can only get better.

This year I am disciplining myself to eat better regularly and exercise at least four days a week. I am getting a used elliptical machine to make sure I have no excuse to not do it. It’ll be staring me in the face and with my e-reader, I can read while I do it. I am reorganizing my grocery shopping to plan healthier meals. Cutting out some of my unhealthy snacking and replacing it with healthier choices. All of this discipline will help me keep discipline high in my writing and other areas of my life. I’m sure my reading goals will be easier met, too. And I’ll bet I can meet that 2013 goal.

So when you think about your writing, ask yourself about your discipline. How does your discipline or lack of it contribute to your writing success? In what ways can you do better? In what ways are you already doing well? Where have you made progress? Where does progress need to occur? Adjust your goals and discipline accordingly. Don’t forget to look at other areas of your life.

I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t started disciplining myself, but I know I can do better. What about you? How’s your discipline? For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

4 5-star & 13 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: The Importance Of Distance

I know it’s not obvious but I’m not a patient person. I hate waiting. I hate lines. The only form of delay I enjoy is procrastination. I’m awesome with that one. But because of this problems have developed from time to time. I always heard people talk about how important it was to get distance from your work before doing second drafts, etc. I always struggled. So excited about it, caught up. It was hell to put it aside for two or three days, let alone a month or two. And I think some of the criticisms I got in reviews for The Worker Prince reflects that struggle. I see little things I could done better. I know, authors always do that. But I see a few bigger things, too. (Oh, you say, that never happens to me.) Okay. I’m not perfect. Is that what you needed to hear? Feeling good about yourself?

In early November though, I turned in The Returning, my sequel to The Worker Prince, and my publisher was busy with another novel release and I launched immediately into a sword & sorcery book I was chomping at the bit to write. And somehow, I didn’t look at The Returning again until early January, when we started editing it. My beta reader’s feedback had already been incorporated before the publisher got it. So I was feeling pretty confident it was a better book than The Worker Prince. (My goal in life is to improve, just saying). But nonetheless, before I cracked the pages, I compiled a chart of all the negatives from the good reviews The Worker Prince has received and decided to make sure none of them repeated in the sequel.

As I began to go back through, it was fun to rediscover my book. It had been written over nine hellish months during which my now ex was hospitalized five times for mental illness, I lost my part time job, went through divorce, came close to bankruptcy, etc. In other words, a period where I had weeks, even a whole month, of no writing. So I wrote in total chaos. To make matters worse, the plot was complicated and I had fifteen Point of View characters. By the time I was done, I was totally struggling to remember what I’d done earlier. I was sure the book was a complete mess. My beta readers, however, raved and, upon reading The Worker Prince (which I refused to let them do until they were well into The Returning), assurred me this book was better. I didn’t really find it that easy to believe. Until I started back through.

Not saying it’s genius. Not saying it’s Twain. But I did find the book a lot better than I remembered. I also found a lot of conflicting plot holes and repetition and other items needing fixing. Things I didn’t catch on my second pass with beta reader’s notes. Things they didn’t catch. I’m pretty confident I wouldn’t have caught them without that distance. So, yeah, I’m starting to believe even more than I did before that good distance is vital to better writing.

For example, descriptions are a weakness for me. I come from a screenwriting and journalism background so having to wax poetic about setting and emotions is hard for me. I didn’t practice it much until I started with fiction. Much of my rewrites involve looking for opportunities to do this. In fact, I found that I had not even described the various vehicles in my story. Everybody knows what they are from book 1, right? Ha! Never assume. I’ve striven very hard to make book 2 a standalone entry for the series, not requiring people to go back to the first book unless they want to. (I hope they will, I need the sales and it has its own charms, I swear). That was why I wanted betas who hadn’t read the first book. So here I was leaving out vital description. How embarrassing would it have been to leave that out?

Other examples, I found repeated scenes where I did the same thing twice in separate settings. I found extraneous dialogue to cut. I found repetitive word choices. All things it’s so much easier to see with fresh eyes. Fresh eyes also helps me see character arcs and themes better. I find motifs and other elements I can repeat or use to add depth to the story and characters as well.

So, yes, I do believe distancing yourself from your work is vital to good fiction writing. And I think we do ourselves a favor when we force patience and take time away. After all, it writing is an art (and I do strive for it to be), part of the artistic process is seeking excellence. Anything one can do to get better perspective and improve is worth doing. Don’t you think?

What are your experiences with taking time away? Do you have a set period? Do you ignore the advice? Has it helped you? Hindered you? Frustrated you? I’d love to discuss it more in comments. I’m sure there’s a lot more to say but those are my thoughts for now. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

4 5-star & 12 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: Thoughts On Choosing Point Of View

There are many decisions one makes when writing fiction. One of the most important is the choice of POV character and whether it’s first person or third. Often, when dealing with multiple POV characters, the choice is based on who has the most to lose or gain in a particular scene. But sometimes other factors can be useful.  

In The Returning, my forthcoming sequel to The Worker Prince, I found it advantageous to tell a scene from the POV of an antagonist despite the fact the focus of the scene was a subplot of the romance between the protagonist and another character. In doing so, I was able to up the tension beyond the drama of the moment. While Davi and Tela are having a fight and their relationship is jeopardized, the scene becomes more powerful because Davi’s rival, bent on killing him in revenge for past slights, is stalking them during the scene. Thus, not only is their relationship in danger, but their very lives. It wound up becoming one of my favorite scenes because of that.

A further advantage was that several subplots are advanced in the process–the Davi-Tela love story, the Bordox revenge plot, and the main story about attacks on Davi’s Vertullian people are all advanced in this scene. Having Davi’s rival, whose hatred for Davi seethes throughout the book, see Davi in a humiliating fight with his girlfriend also serves to make Davi’s situation more sympathetic. It’s bad enough he’s messing up his relationship, it’s bad enough some of that conflict is based on misunderstanding each other, but now his life’s in danger and he’s been humiliated in front of Bordox. It just adds layers of dynamics to the scene which up the pace, the tension, and the stakes all at the same time. When you add to that the fact that this encounter was coincidence–Bordox was there for other reasons and just stumbles upon them–it’s all the more dramatic.

Below is the scene from my third draft so you can see how it plays out. Remember: Bordox is working for a group trying to unseat the government and reenslave the Vertullians, ancient enemies. He’s Davi’s Academy rival and his family are the rivals of Davi’s for the leadership of the Borali Alliance. Tela is Davi’s former trainee, fiancee and a fellow Vertullian pilot. The romance that started in The Worker Prince is facing new pressures and their relationship is strained because of it. 

As you read, consider the POV choice. How does it work for you? Would you have chosen differently? What are the questions you ask when deciding which POV to use in scenes? Feel free to discuss it in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts on choosing POV.

***

Bordox fought his every instinct as he stepped off the shuttle into the starport landing bay on Legon. His mission required stealth yet he stiffened at having to sneak around a place he’d once walked freely—admired and respected. Here he was, less than a year later, hiding in shadows like a wanted man. And there was only one person to blame: Davi Rhii!

He made his way through the pedestrian corridors and deliberately avoided areas frequented by pilots and maintenance crews with the hopes he’d be less likely to be recognized. The datacard in his pocket pressed against his leg with every step. He just needed to get to the flight data booths and insert it. The program it contained would do the rest, drawing out the desired intel from the systems, and he’d be on his way again.

“What’s keeping you so quiet?”

He knew that voice, stopping to listen as it came from around the corner ahead of him.

“Nothing. I’m fine.” A woman’s voice answered. One he didn’t recognize. He heard footsteps approaching and shrunk back into a shadowed doorway. “Just let me check the shuttle maintenance records for Aron and we’ll be on our way.”

“I know you, Tela. Something’s upsetting you.”

Rhii! Bordox gritted his teeth. His old enemy, the idiot who’d ruined his life, was coming toward him. What was he doing here this time of night? Last he’d heard Davi was a squadron commander. Military pilots didn’t casually walk around this side of the starport.

Davi and the woman appeared around the corner and stopped as Davi jumped into her path so they were face to face. The woman was medium height, shorter than Davi, with long brown hair and sparkling blue eyes. Her pleasing curves stiffened in anger as Davi blocked her way. Both wore Borali Alliance flight uniforms with rank insignia on their shoulders and blasters holstered at their sides. Seeing Davi in uniform just launched him into a rage. Rhii had the career Bordox deserved.

“I know you, Tela,” Davi said. “Why won’t you talk to me about it?”

“Because it won’t make any difference. We’ve tried before.”

She stepped around him and continued down the corridor as he hurried after her.

“So it’s about me then? What did I do?”

The woman, Tela, sighed. “I am not some delicate damsel in distress, Davi Rhii. I’m a fully qualified Borali officer, just like you.”

Davi looked confused. “Of course you are. What are you talking about?”

She stopped and whirled to face him, arms on her hips. Her eyes narrowed with annoyance. “You had me taken out of your squadron rotation. You got me in a lighter flight duty assignment. I keep finding myself not chosen for any risky missions—”

“There haven’t exactly been a lot of risky missions lately, and your reassignment was required by military rules. Couples can’t fly together.”

Tela growled. “A convenient excuse.”

“It’s true. I can show you the memo the commander sent asking me to sign the transfer paperwork.”

“You don’t get it! I am not going to be the girl who sits at home and pines after you. I want to do my duty like anyone else. I don’t want to be protected.”

“I’m not protecting you.”

“Yes you are!”

She whirled and started up the corridor toward Bordox again. He slipped further back into the shadows, sliding his hood up over his head as he enjoyed the show. They were so distracted with each other he doubted they’d even notice him. Bordox began to relax from his rage a bit as he watched Davi Rhii get put in his place by a woman. The only thing better would be the day he did it himself. Like instinct, his hand felt for the blaster at his hip, closing around the handle, he squeezed it. All he had to do was draw and shoot and Rhii would be dead. They would never see it coming, totally taken by surprise. His fist clenched and unclenched around the handle as he fought the urge. He’d blow his mission. But he might never get a chance like this. The feel of the cold steel of the blaster against his palm got his adrenaline pumping.

“Okay, maybe I didn’t argue.” Davi smiled as if that alone would charm her. Bordox wanted to step out and wipe that smarmy grin off his face with a fist but he swallowed, silent and hard, and stayed frozen in place. Or maybe I should blast it off. “Look, I love you, okay? Guilty! It’s my instinct to want to protect you.”

“We fought side by side in the Resistance. Why can’t we do that now?”

“Well, there’s not really any enemies at the moment for one. And we were just getting into things then. Now we’re together.”

“So I’m supposed to sit at home and worry about you while you get to relax and know I’m safe? That’s fair.”

Davi grinned and shrugged. “I’d feel good about it.”

Tela groaned and punched him hard in the arm. “Well, I don’t.” She turned and marched on down and through the door into the landing bay as Davi raced to catch her.

Bordox paused a moment, tempted to follow, but shook it off, remembering his mission and slid on down the corridor the way they’d come. There was more at stake. He had to remember that. Rhii’s day would come. Just not today. In less than two minutes, he’d stepped into the data center and selected a private booth. He slipped the datacard from his pocket and inserted it into the terminal then watched as the screen exploded in thousands of numbers moving and changing at a pace so fast his eyes could barely recognize them. After another minute, the terminal beeped and the datacard ejected. He returned it to his pocket then slipped out and headed back the way he’d come.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

4 5-star & 11 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: 15 Top New Year’s Reads For Writers

As my Holiday gift to fellow writers, who have been so supportive of the tips offered on this blog, I’ve compiled a list and brief descriptions of 15 really top writing resources to help you move forward in your growth as a writer. Links to either Amazon or Barnes & Noble are included for those who want to purchase the books or just read reviews. With the exception of one series, they’re individual books, organized by category. All on my shelf and well worth your time and money. Thanks again for the support you’ve shown me and this blog in 2011!

Standards:

On Writing by Stephen King — a go to book by a master storyteller. Part autobiography, part examination of craft and writing process. Widely recommended for all writers with good reason.

On Writing Well by William Zinsser — Yes, I know, the subtitle is about writing nonfiction. Don’t let that put you off. An amazing classic on how to write well which every writer of all genres and stripes should have on his or her shelf. Period.

Imaginative Writing: The Elements Of Craft by Janet Burroway — a standard textbook for MFA programs, very useful for any fiction writer. Really in depth examination of the elements of craft with exercises, tips and more.

 

Marketing:

Guerilla Marketing For Writers by Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman, Michael Larsen and David L. Hancock — Great tool to learn marketing on a budget. Walks you through all kinds of promotional resources you didn’t even know you had as well as breaking down the ones the pros use and how to plan your PR campaign like a pro. Very useful tool with great resources in the appendices as well.

Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore — great marketing book on the psychology of successful marketing and pushing through to the next level. A standard in marketing.

Getting Known Before The Book Deal by Christina Katz — A new standard for how to build your platform and audience well before your book’s release. A must read for writers of all levels.

 

Craft:

Screenplay by Syd Field — One of the all time most important books on story structure, often used at film schools, of great use to novelists as well. Learn how to follow the three act structure and develop your plot in a solid, powerful way.

Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass — written by a leading literary agent with years’ experience selling books and writing them. Agent to many big name authors. A really powerful book for any author on how to make your novel top notch.

Revising Fiction by David Madden — a great book full of tips on how to revise your novel to the minutest detail. Covers anything and everything with good organizational suggests for how to approach it and think through later drafts. Out of print but well worth tracking down used and easy to find.

Writer’s Digest Elements Of Fiction Writing series — a series of books by successful authors like Orson Scott Card, Monica Wood, Nancy Kress and more covering specific elements in each book: Plot, Description, Setting, etc. Very useful tools. Like a classroom in your bookcase.

The 10% Solution: Self-Editing For The Modern Writer by Ken Rand — life changing, hands down. A great, short, concise editing methodology which will improve your writing over night. A must have for writers. The one writing resources I seared in my brain and use daily.

 

Resources:

The Writer’s Guide To Creating A Science Fiction Universe by George Ochoa and Jeffrey Osier — useful for any writer needing to learn worldbuilding. Although it’s specific to science fiction, the reasoning and tools apply to any genre. Very useful. Also out of print but easy to find used online.

Negotiating a Book Contract: A Guide For Authors, Agents and Lawyers by Mark L. Levine — Step by step guide to book contracts covers standard clauses, negotiation, and how to identify what you want and get it. A must read for anyone involved with book contracts by an author who also happens to be an attorney.

English Through The Ages by William Brohaugh — Another out of print gem which covers the origination of English words through history. Helps authenticate your language usage in writing novels set in particular periods, especially historical or fantasy ones. Easy to find used.

I Have This Nifty Idea…Now What Do I Do With It? by Mike Resnick — A collection of book proposals for best selling novels compiled and edited with commentary by Mike Resnick. If you hate writing outlines, proposals, synopses, etc., this is the book for you. How the pros did it. You can emulate it. Can be hard to find. Small press. But well worth the hunt.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎

4 5-star & 9 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

Dialogue: How Golden Age SF Influenced The Worker Prince

This post originally ran on Jamie Todd Rubin’s blog as part of my blog tour for The Worker Prince. Jamie gave me permission to rerun it here so more of you can find it.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt: Well, Jamie, thanks for inviting me to your blog. I am a big fan of Golden Age Science Fiction, as are you, and I enjoy your updates as you take your nostalgic trip back through the pulp zines of old. In particular, I am a huge Leigh Brackett fan, but, of course, I’ve also been influenced by Robert Silverberg, who started out in the pulps, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Henry Kuttner, Edward Hamilton…so many. So much so, in fact, that when I wrote my space opera novel, I wanted to capture some of the magic feel I found in the pulp stories. Good v. evil, with clear cut bad guys, larger than life heroes, sidekicks, interesting aliens, space guns, space fighters, and also that good clean family fun. So many of those stories were meant to be read by fans of any age, and I wanted the same for The Worker Prince. If people can get lost in my world and escape into some fun for a bit, I’d feel very successful with it.

Jamie Todd Rubin: Let’s see, I’ve encountered Brackett, Asimov and Kuttner so far in my Vacation, but of course, I’ve read Silverberg, Blish and Bradbury elsewhere. One of the things that I find interesting is that these writers were, for the most part, at the beginnings of their careers. I’ve read 2 Brackett stories so far, and they haven’t been great, but over time you can actually see the improvement. You talk about stories that are meant to be read by fans of any age, and “good clean family fun.” I’ve often thought that at its heart, science fiction needs to entertain first and foremost, because how else can you expect to do anything else if you aren’t entertaining your reader? I’ve been criticized for this, but I still think it’s true and it sounds like that is what you are going for in The Worker Prince; something that anyone can pick up, start reading, and enjoy. That is not as common today as it was 70 years ago. There are some writers still doing this, but a lot of science fiction and fantasy writers are writing darker pieces, perhaps reflecting the time. I’ve listened to you interviewed and I know that The Worker Prince is more than just entertainment value. I wonder if you see part of it as a reaction to some of the darker fiction being published today?

 

BTSIt is interesting to see the development of writers like Brackett, Silverberg and others which you most certainly can over the course of their writing. I would say that I am reacting to the darkness of modern fiction, yes. I don’t personally enjoy over the top sex, foul language and violence. For me, it really has to serve the story and so often I think it’s there for shock value or a writer wanting to prove they reject “moral police” or something. It’s not even surprising anymore, that’s how over used it is. But more than that, in a time when we have faced so much darkness in the real world, where’s the inspiration stories of hope? Anti-heroes have, in a sense, become the new heroes. But the old fashioned heroes of old have disappeared. I remember when Captain America was ended because he had no flaws. He was too good for them to continue it. What is that? When did that become an issue? With moral problems in our politicians, celebrities and others being more and more front page news, perhaps our expectations have been forced to lower. But I still believe admirable heroes exist and that kids and adults both need them. Because they are so inspiring. Thirdly, I fell in love with science fiction as a kid and so much of that market today is questionably appropriate for kids below teenage and maybe even young adult. At least, parents should be aware of the content and involved in decision making. Call me old fashioned, I still believe parents screening exposure to some things for their kids is their responsibility and also healthy. I did some studies in college on the effects of content and they do influence people. I doubt that’s changed much twenty years later. So I wanted to write stuff like the pulps that kids and adults could both enjoy, something they could discuss as a family. Nothing preachy, per se, as I’ve mentioned on the podcasts, but something that inspires hope and a belief in heroism like so many Golden Age stories did. You have kids. How much do you monitor the content their exposed to and when would you stop wanting to?

JTR: It seems to me that this “shock value” was mostly (but not entirely) absent from Golden Age fiction in part because writers didn’t have television to compete with. I don’t watch much TV any longer (no time) but it seems to me that with rare exceptions, shows are aiming for shock value over storytelling. That said, there was a reaction to John Campbell’s notions of good fiction–what today we call “new wave” science fiction. But even the new wave stories didn’t seem gratuitous for the sake of being gratuitous. If anything, they were attempting to follow literary trends outside of science fiction to better legitimize the genre. Your question about suitability for kids is one that I am particularly interested in. I do have kids, but both of them are at this point too young to understand most of what appears in science fiction. I have, however, thought about how I would monitor what my kids were exposed to. I was fortunate. In my own case, my parents got me a library card and let me read whatever I wanted, telling me that if I had questions, I could come and ask them and we could discuss them. I think I’d want to do the same with my own kids. I don’t want to hem them in, but I want them to understand what it is they are reading, and be there for them to address any questions they might have about what they’ve chosen to read. Of course, as a science fiction writer and a big fan, I could certain urge them in the direction of works that I admire. But even this, I’d hesitate to do for the same reason that I try not to overtly make my boy into a New York Yankees fan: I don’t want him to rebel from it just because it is something I like. ;-)

It does raise a question in connection with your novel, however. As you’ve said, much Golden Age fiction was read by kids and adults alike. Do you find it difficult to write for such a wide audience? Or perhaps is the story clear enough for anyone? I recall Isaac Asimov writing that he never “talked down” when writing to children. The only change he ever made in his writing style was to take care with his vocabulary when writing for particularly young audiences. How is it that you write something that is accessible to both adults and youngsters?

BTS: My approach was similar to what Asimov described. I didn’t write down but I did watch my vocabulary. And I tried to be clear. I also tried to have a variety of strong characters, besides the leads, to connect with. And I found ways to incorporate elements in my world building which tie well to modern issues so people could recognize commonalities and connect, even kids. I avoided four letter words, sex and graphic violence and focused on descriptions which might stimulate the reader to fill in the gap. If you say “Xalivar cursed,” for example, every reader will fill in their own favorite curse word for you. I don’t have to explicitly state it. And the sophistication of the words will vary by age and other factors, of course. But I think that’s a great way to help readers become a part of the story, to draw them in. And I loved books that did that when I was younger. I can understand where you’re coming from about your kids, and certainly as one with no kids, I have limited experience. But I’ve read a lot of studies on how various content affects people and I certainly don’t want to be the one to negatively impact anyone so I tend to feel great responsibility for anything I put out there. And I also would likely want to oversee what my kids read at least to a certain age. I’d also follow your example and try not to push anything but also leave the dialogue open. That’s important. And my effort to write for a broader audience came from a desire to stimulate dialogue. I remember discussing The Hobbit with my dad and other stories as a family and how fun it was, how much I learned. I wanted to create an experience similar to that for readers through my book.

And I agree one hundred percent about the impact of television and movies. I think shock value is a selling point these days. And I think people are so used to more dark or gratuitous content and thus it’s become commonly accepted, even considered normal for good storytelling. But I do find that it often distracts because it can be done poorly in many cases. Not all, by any means. But I find that I work harder when trying to create tension and character and drama without using those shock tactics. I have to be more creative and that makes me a better writer.

JTR: There were some big works that emerged from the Golden Age. There were two Lensman novels by E. E. “Doc” Smith, for instance, published by the end of 1941. Between 1942 and 1950, Isaac Asimov published all of the stories that make up his original Foundation trilogy. Robert Heinlein published most of his Future History. For whatever reason, this established a pattern that lingers even today: science fiction lends itself to continuing story-lines and sequels. Indeed, in today’s market, it seems difficult to sell a standalone novel to a publisher, although often times, I find stand-alone novels enjoyable because there is less of a commitment–or perhaps because there is a deeper commitment to a single work. From the Golden Age, I think of L. Ron Hubbard’s Final Blackout as a fine example of a stand-alone. Today, a book like Robert J. Sawyer’s Rollback comes to mind. What are your plans with regard to The Worker Prince? Do you see this as a stand-alone novel, or is this a world that you want to revisit? Either way, where do you go next?

BTS: Well, I wrote The Worker Prince to feel like a standalone, although certainly strands remain which can obviously be explored further. The antagonist is still alive. And as I finished it I realized that there was more I could do, so it became a trilogy and I began to mentally map that out. I am almost finished with Book 2. Another polish pass and work on the ending. It’s called The Returning. Then Book 3, The Exodus will wrap things up. But if there’s demand, I’d love to do a prequel YA series of the adventures of Davi Rhii and his friends in their younger years. And then, after that, as is the trend, I’ll go back and change stuff I don’t like in the original trilogy to make them better, of course. (Just kidding).

I’m with you on standalones. Especially with the Chihuahua killing size of so many books these days. It’s just a real investment to ask a reader to make. Being not only a new writer but one who’s had that experience, I worked hard to keep my novel a smaller size and the sequels will follow that pattern. I also have an epic fantasy series which should be shorter than average and an urban fantasy series as well. I have a standalone steampunk book and a future steampunk book in the works as well. So much to write, so little time.


Jamie Todd Rubin is a science fiction writer and blogger. His fiction has appeared in Analog, Apex Magazine, and Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, and most recently through 40K Books. He writes the Wayward Time Traveler column on science fiction for SF Signal, as well as the Vacation in the Golden Age column on his website. Jamie attended James Gunn’s online fiction writing workshop in 2008. He is a member of the Young Gunn’s writers group, the Codex writers group, and the Arlington Writers Group. He is an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎

The Worker Prince is the story of a prince who discovers he was born a slave. When he raises objections about the abusive treatment of slaves, he finds himself in conflict with both friends and families. After a tragic accident, involving the death of a fellow soldier, Davi Rhii winds up on the run. He then joins the worker’s fight for freedom and finds a new identity and new love. Capturing the feel of the original Star Wars, packed with action, intrigue and interweaving storylines, The Worker Prince is a space opera with a Golden Aged Feel. 

4 5-star & 11 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

Write Tip: Preparing For Book Blog Tour As You Write Your Book

Okay, I know. It sounds crazy to some of you already. Preparing for a book blog tour when my book’s not even done? Insane! Arrogant! A distraction I don’t need! But wait. Let me explain please.

Book Blog Tours are a great way to promote your book. I had 32 stops on my book blog tour, stretching from interviews to podcasts, to short story prequels, to dialogues, to excerpts, and more, and I can tell you it’s hard work. It takes a lot of time to prepare so many posts, even if all you’re doing is answering someone’s interview questions. And here’s the thing. Your blog tour posts are supposed to be unique, interesting and keep people coming back daily for the next one. And they should relate to you and your book in some way.

Do I have to tell you it’s easy to run out of ideas?

When you’re writing your book, however, there’s often nothing you’re thinking about more. You’re always analyzing what you’re writing, why, how, etc. It’s the perfect time to capture this process in little snippets you can use later for those book tour blog posts. I am not talking about writing whole blog posts necessarily, although let the muse lead where he/she will, okay? But what if you jot down a paragraph or two of the various craft processes you’re going through as you go through them to give you something to build a blog post around later?

Seriously.

I do 18-20 blog posts a month. Two a week for this blog, at a minimum, and 1-2 for sffwrtcht’s blog. Then I do the other 10 for guest posts on other blogs. I have 4 a month for Grasping For The Wind as a column. I do one a month for SFSignal. That makes 15. So I do 4-5 others for other blogs. Yes, it’s time consuming. Yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, it’s worth it. The result is that my name and my book’s name are never far from people’s minds. I may not reach the same audience every week, but I’m out there and name recognition of me and my book is growing daily. It’s so important to book sales, not just of the present book but future ones, too.

Doing all of this, as I think about my next blog tours which will be next Spring and Summer, I get overwhelmed. How in the world will I continue all this posting and write 31 more blog posts?

And here you are thinking, I’m fine. I don’t have all those commitments, Bryan. So I don’t need to worry about it.

But the catch is, since most books are written a year or even longer before they actually hit shelves, your blog tour posts will be written 12-18 months after you’re done writing the book. You will have moved on to something else. Your thought processes on writing THAT book will be dominant and remembering what you thought when writing the PRIOR book will be frustrating and difficult at times.

But not if you have little thoughtful notes written during the writing of the book to capture your frame of thought at the time, jolt your memory and help you frame blog posts.

Do you see what I’m getting at? And we’re talking something that takes less than 5 minutes for most of us. It doesn’t have to be polished or even formal. Just stream of thought and you’re done. You fix it later when you make the post.

Does anyone not see how helpful this could be?

As the world of publishing continues to change, writers become more and more responsible for our own publicity and marketing. And PR/marketing is something people do for a living. That means it’ll be almost a full time job for authors as well. If you’re not a full time author, or even if you are, you have a lot going on already. Making time for all this marketing is a push. Some people can’t do it well. Some don’t even try. And they’re missing out on a great opportunity as a result.

My suggestion is to help yourself by setting yourself up with some possible prompts as you go. It will not only make things easier, your blog posts will be richer. You’ll capture the feeling and thoughts behind your book and readers will be fascinated. The result will be a better blog tour and more interest for everyone, including you. Writing a book is a big accomplishment. Going back to it can be very encouraging for you, not only in reliving the experience as an accomplishment but in seeing how far you’ve come.

Readers always want insight on their favorite author’s writing processes and lives as books come out. So do fellow writers. And the more personally meaningful and detailed a blog post is, as far as giving real insight, the better it tends to be received. So preparing for your book blog tour as you write the book itself can make a lot of sense and save a lot of later stress. It shouldn’t get in the way of the writing itself, of course. But it can be a valuable part of the analysis you’re already doing as you write. It isn’t a distraction if you are just documenting what’s already going on in your head.

And it’s not arrogant. You’re not blowing your own horn. You’re explaining why you do what you do. Leave it up to others to decide if you did it all wrong or if it’s of any quality or other value. Those are not things you can worry about. You can only do the best you can.

So there’s a write tip I hope gives you something to think about. You can prepare for marketing your book even as you write it. And that can be a real blessing. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

‎4 5-star & 8 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.