Thursday, October 20, 2011


I realize that there are a lot of story ideas on here and not much beyond the initial statement. This is actually a conscious decision. As a writer, I have a lot of things floating in my head at any given time. Some of it is more concrete than others. The commonality with all of it is that they are just ideas. Some of them have been floating around in there for years, while others are more recent. But, for one reason or another, I have never gotten them written down. This is one of the many reasons for this blog. If I write something down, it might gel faster or maybe inspire me to do more. As they bob to the surface, I'll write them down. "Sleepers" is just one of many ideas in there. It came to me when I was reading Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy.  He was talking about world building and developing the science of science fiction, specifically, regarding space travel.

One of the concepts he proposed involved colonization and how a space faring race would accomplish such a far reaching goal.  He mentioned that, unless a society had discovered some practical means of traveling faster than the speed of light (or even Hyperspace travel), it could take years to travel between star systems.  To do this, it would require a ship where the majority of the crew was in suspended animation with a skeleton crew to maintain everything.  It was at this moment, I had a "what if" moment.  What if something happened and the ship got off course?  What if the damage was so extensive that the skeleton crew couldn't fix it?  What if the majority of the sleeping colonists were killed by whatever went wrong?  As these thoughts started swimming through my head, the idea of "Sleepers" was born.

Simply put, "Sleepers" takes place on a colony ship that was knocked off course by something.  I hadn't really decided on what that something was.  It could have been sabotage to the more mundane mechanical malfunction.  Whatever happened, it was catastrophic.  Instead of maintaining course, the ship was sent adrift.  Instead of a few years, it floats for a couple centuries.  Now, there are some issues with this concept, but I think there are ways of getting around the whole need for supplies, air, power, etc.  The technology that allowed them to travel several years without supplies could theoretically be adapted to sustain the skeleton crew.  Another problem was that all but 11 stasis pods remain functional.  The others either failed or were destroyed.  Entire sections of the ship became uninhabitable.

Despite all this, the crew needed something to focus on so they continued to do their jobs.  In the face of uncertainty, humanity will strive for equilibrium.  One way of doing that is by returning to processes or actions that are familiar and comfortable. In this case, it would be returning to the maintenance of the surviving stasis pods and the remainder of the ship.  As the years turn to decades, combined with the uncertainty of their destination, it would not be a far stretch to imagine that people would consider propagating as a way to maintain the workforce.  The children would then be trained from very early on to continue in the parents footsteps.  It would also not be too farfetched to imagine that this training, over the span of several generations, would start to take on a religious bent.  The focus of this religion would be the 11 remaining colonists.  They would be viewed as heralds of salvation because when they emerge, it means that the journey is finished and they have reached "paradise" (a.k.a a habitable world).  Of course, with any story, that isn't how it happens.  The best laid plans, as they say, oft go astray.

Till next time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sometimes You Can't Avoid a Story

Before I started blogging, I was using Google Docs to organize my thoughts and ideas. I still use it. It's very useful. Now that I'm blogging, I can use it for the more formal writing that blogging can't handle. As with all things, it has its purpose.

It was during a flash of inspiration that the following story came to me. It wasn't that I wanted to write it, I had to write it. The story wouldn't go away and the more I thought about ignoring it, the more my mind started to develop it. I titled the story "Rage". It is by no means autobiographical in nature, but it does come from a very dark place. My father's rage was a focal point of my life growing up and there were many times that I felt the fear that young Martin (the protagonist) feels.

I don't know if I could ever write this story beyond what I have done. The glimpses that I have had of it scare me. It is not a happy story. So, without further adieu, here is "Rage".

Martin’s father slowly stood up. His face twisted with rage, his fists clenched and white knuckled. Martin stared into his father’s eyes and saw only hate. Martin carefully backed up, terror etched across his face. He had to get out. If he didn't, he was sure his father would kill him. It was that knowledge that kept him moving.

Without warning his father leapt, his lips pulled back in a snarl. Martin dodged quickly to his left and down the hall. Pain exploded through Martin’s head as his father’s fist grazed the back of his scalp. He stumbled down the hall; his eyes blurry with tears, the outside door his only salvation. If he could get to the door, he could escape. His father wouldn't follow him out into the light. Then they would know what he was.

Just as he reached the door, he felt his father’s hand close on the back of his jacket. His father barked with triumph. Panic roared through Martin. He deftly slipped from his jacket and burst into the cool October afternoon. Without a pause, he jumped the steps to the concrete walkway. Pain lanced through his ankle as he landed. He tucked into a roll that carried him out the front gate. He was free!

Martin lay on the ground for a moment, gasping from the exertion, his heart racing with fear. He gingerly stood up and faced the open doorway where his father hid in the shadows. Even from the safety of the street, Martin could feel his father’s unrelenting malignance. For a second, Martin thought his father would brave the light of day and show the world his darkness. Instead, he closed the door. His body shaking with adrenaline, Martin slowly turned and limped up the street.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


I think that revising a story is just about as hard as starting one.  There is a part of you that thinks, "Hey!  This is awesome!  I'm awesome!  Nothing could make this better!".  The reality is always far different.  This doesn't say that the original idea is bad; it is just that you have some work to do.  I think it is a little intimidating to some, much like the blank page.  There is the whole, "Where the hell do I start?" feeling that is so familiar when you begin a new idea.

As an aspiring author (and I say "aspiring because I haven't been published yet), I have been blessed with several very talented readers.  They have given me a lot of very good feedback.  Sometimes it isn't easy to hear, but it is still useful none the less.  Of course, picking readers for your work isn't some random process.  In my opinion, you must be selective and find people that you can trust.  They are, after all, holding your dreams (some might say "soul") in their hands.  However, on the flip side, you don't want someone who is going to just tell you what you want to hear.  Another thing to keep in mind is that you want someone who is interested in doing the work necessary to be a reader.  Because it is work.  Especially if they are good.

A varied group of readers is also a good thing.  In my group, I have a professional writer (definitely a plus!), a former English teacher (also a big plus!), another aspiring writer (bingo!), and several other people of various backgrounds (also a big plus!).  In addition to that, I have between 2 and 4 children (very helpful as the stories in question are for children).  Of course, the composition of my reading group can change depending on the story (I wouldn't have children read a story that is adult oriented).  All these people have very different backgrounds that can provide me with a variety of viewpoints on my story.  I may not always agree with them, and vice versa, but I know that their advice is important.  They don't need to provide me with solutions, just encouragement and the occasional nudge in the right direction.  I am human after all and prone to the occasional "error".

Till next time.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Finding a Voice With Which to Write

It's interesting that there are so many books about plot, character development, setting, etc, yet not that many talk about voice.  Maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places, but I would think that this would be one of the more important concepts in writing.  Finding your voice is important.  It's what defines you as a writer.  It is unique, like a fingerprint.  It is wholly you.  When you read it, others will say, "This is that writer".

Stephen King mentioned it in an essay in his book, Night Shift.  He referred to it as "filters".  He explained that he didn't write horror fiction because he wanted to, but rather, that is just what came out.  He gave the analogy that if he and Lois L'Amour were to sit on opposite sides of a pond that they would come up with story ideas about the same time.  The difference being that L'Amour would come up with a story about water rights in the Old West.  Whereas he, King, would come up with something involving monsters living in the water that would eat anyone that happened by.  What King describes is the concept of "voice".  It isn't necessarily a "choice", but rather "what comes out".  Some might find this concept a little restraining.  After all, we all want to be masters of our destiny.  The reality being, that human beings do what comes more naturally.  We can step out of that "box", but what we create doesn't always look, or feel, natural to us or others.

When I was in college in my music composition class, I remember writing one successful piece of music.  Successful in that the teacher thought it was good and not, as he would call it, "mental masturbation".  Crude though that statement was, it did make its point.  The piece was called "River Fanfare" and was, in my humble opinion, rather nice.  However, what really frustrated me was that my professor mentioned that it reminded him of Aaron Copland.  Now some might find my frustration humorous.  After all, Aaron Copeland is an American icon.  Unfortunately, I'm not a big fan of Copeland.  I liked his music, but I didn't love it, not like the European masters that I grew up with (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, etc.).  I wanted to write like they did.  The reality was, however, that every time I tried to write like them, I would fail.  I wouldn't be able to express what was in my head the right way, and as a result, never finish it.  My professor would call it "crap" and I would ultimately give up on my dream to be a music composer.  The rest, they say, is history.

In my very short career as an aspiring writer, I've submitted two stories to publishers (see my blog post on dealing with rejection for the sordid tale).  Both stories were children's stories.  From the feedback I've gotten from friends and family, they are good (now if I could only convince a publisher!).  The second story, Sir Grumpsalot, really surprised me.  It was light, cute, and downright silly.  It wasn't what I would consider "me".  After all, two of my favorite authors are Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King.  So it was doubly surprising when a good friend of mine, who is also a writer, told me that I had found my voice.  She read it to her children and they even said, "Wow that sounds just like how he talks".

So, now I've found my voice, what does that mean?  Does it mean that I'm supposed to write silly kids stories my entire career?  Or is "voice" more complex than just a simple, this is what you should write all the time?  Sometimes I wonder if I have more questions now than when I started.  I guess if it was easy, it wouldn't be fun.

Till next time.