Saturday, August 31, 2013

Generation One: Children of Mars

My writing buddy Steven R. Stewart, along with a talented group of folks, is putting together a comic book about the first generation of children born on Mars. I have to admit, tears formed in my eyes when I watched the trailer. This looks like an awesome, super cool project. They have only four days to go to reach their stretch goal for funding. But allow me to have Steven describe it in his own words....

As I write this, I’m sitting by a window that overlooks my grassy lawn—a carpet of organic solar panels that turn sunlight into sugar—and the busy residential street beyond. A steady flow of traffic­—human beings in wheeled metal boxes—comes and goes a little too fast for my liking. I have kids, and they play in this lawn, near this busy street. I love my little girls; I don’t want them to break, to go out like a candle, to stop being.

It is night, the moon is out, and I think to myself how crazy all this is. That’s a real place, that ball of white up there in the sky, a place I could plant my feet, draw in the dust with the toe of my boot. It’s not hypothetical. It’s not an idea. It’s really there.

Near the moon, a faint pink dot hangs in the starry sky. It’s a real place too, a red planet, our next door neighbor. It’s so small, so easy to miss, and we could go there.

One day, if we can muster the courage, we will go there. We will live there. As NASA director Mike Griffin said, “One day…there will be more humans living off Earth than on it.” I agree, and I think that’s the way it should be. Earth is just a dot, “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam,” all too easy for some cosmic cataclysm to swat out of the sky. If we want to continue surviving in this absurd, beautiful universe, we have to strap on our pioneer hats and get to work.

So here I am, a 29 year-old fiction writer with two kids and a wife, and zero background in science, mathematics or engineering. How can I help bring this bold future into being? How can I pitch in, or at the very least, cheer on the men and women who can? How can I cheer my loudest?

Generation One: Children of Mars is my attempt to do just that—to create a smart, accessible piece of entertainment that will hopefully encourage young people to look up at that pink dot in the sky and think big about humanity’s future in space. It’s a comic book about kids growing up on Mars and discovering what that means, and what it costs. You can learn more by watching our project video here.

My team and I launched the Kickstarter on August 6th, and so far, the public response has been overwhelming. People are hungry for this kind of story, far hungrier than I had realized. They want the same bold future I want, and that gives me hope. Because once we believe it’s possible, it will be.

We’ve been lucky enough to secure the endorsement of Dr. Robert Zubrin, author of “The Case for Mars” and President of The Mars Society. He had this to say about the project:

“Someday Mars will have its own Laura Ingalls Wilder to tell the tale of growing up on the new frontier. But with ‘Generation One: Children of Mars,’ we can experience some of that story now. It’s going to be great.”

There’s only a handful of days left in the Kickstarter. Join us. Come alongside us as we tell this story; be a part of our journey. It’s the same journey humanity has been on since the beginning: a quest to spread out and survive, to understand and grow, to become more than what we are.

Let’s add to the discussion—and have some fun in the process. We’re human after all.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Bubonicon 2013

It seems like Bubonicon just happened a few weeks ago, and yet here it is again, already. Each year I meet a few more people, the art work and costumes exceed the previous year, and I have a little more fun each time.

I attended some great panels. The first promised a cage fight between fantasy and science fiction. Alas, there were no fists flying or blood shed, but there was a lively discussion on the definitions of fantasy and science fiction. One of the panelists said the difference between the two mostly lies in marketing. Roughly, if a publisher puts dragons and swords on the cover, it's fantasy; if the cover has spaceships, it's science fiction.

Joel Shepherd brought up an interesting idea, namely, that his prose is more lyrical and abstract when he writes fantasy, and it's more specific when he writes science fiction. He went on to say that fantasy is 'a made up past,' and science fiction is 'a made up future.'

Diana Gabaldon
I then attended a talk given by Diana Gabaldon on how (and how not) to write sex scenes. As you might suspect, there was quite a bit of laughter throughout the hour, not only because of the subject, but because Gabaldon is an entertaining speaker. And by the way, hearing her read Jaime's dialogue is worth more than gold. Also, hearing her read the myriad names for a man's private parts is highly entertaining.

She began with a summary of the things needed to write good sex scenes ("This is for those in a hurry.") Sex scenes are about emotion, and lust does not count as an emotion. A good sex scene is a dialogue scene with physical cues/specific body language. For Gabaldon, dialogue is the most flexible and powerful tool a writer can use. She also spoke about "the rule of three." If you use at least three of the five sense, it makes a scene feel three dimensional.

Death & La Llorona
There was also a panel on serial killers and assassins in fiction, which reminded me of an article I read a while back on a neuroscientist who discovered his family had a history of murder. One of his ancestors was Lizzy Borden. Yes, that Lizzie Borden. You know, she took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks.... Anyhow, after reading that, I wondered how many of us walked around like little ticking time bombs, socially functioning only because we had decent childhoods. How much is nature, and how much is nurture? Which is stronger and overrides the other?

As always, Bubonicon left me with a sore belly from laughing, it left me more knowledgable than before, and it left me highly satisfied. The first year I went, there were six hundred and some attendees. This year, the woman checking me in at registration said there were nearing a thousand. This little con is growing fast, and they do a great job of running it. I can hardly wait until next year!

Monday, August 19, 2013

What I Discovered About Outlining

I've been toying around with outlining recently, trying to find what works best for me. A couple of weeks ago, I finished the rough draft of a fantasy novel, which came in woefully short in the word count department by the time I reached THE END. But if I could count all the words I tossed out while trying to find the right beginning, it would have been the perfect word count.

Know what I discovered while outlining? It just doesn't work that well for me. There, I said it. I've tried it because it's supposed to be good for you (like broccoli), but in the end, I'm just not that crazy about outlining (or broccoli, but I drown in it cheese and eat it anyway). My first draft is my outline. It's an exceptionally long and detailed outline, but still an outline nonetheless.

While writing this particular novel, I finally put aside the outlines after about three failed attempts at the beginning, jotted down the major plot points, and then simply started writing. At last I could write past 15K or 30K words and keep going, carried by the initial excitement that had me wanting to write this particular novel in the first place.

I think outlines work. I think some people thrive on them. But for me, I discovered I need to jot down a few key ideas and plot points, research, maybe do some Q & A to discover what makes the character tick (if it's somebody new), and then go for it. Then let it rest. Give myself some space so I can look at it objectively. I did that by writing a new short story and critiquing. I critiqued three pieces for World Con and two for one of my local writers' groups. It's definitely gotten me in 'editor mode' and ready to look at the rough draft with fresh eyes.

I plan to start revisions some time this week. I already have ideas for expanding a couple of the subplots. I know I'll be writing new scenes and adding huge chunks to the novel now that I know where it was all going.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Breaking Bad is Back

Ahh, Walter White is back! Just a warning, massive spoilers ahead, so if you haven't watched the show (and if you haven't, then get to it!), turn back now. I'm going to go out on a limb and make some predictions. We'll see if I'm any good at this, or if I'll end up with pie all over my face (as long as it's key lime pie, that's all right).

I loved the opening of the last eight episodes. Walter is fighting cancer again. Of course he is. What could be more appropriate than the cancer returning, worse than ever? Walter has a limited amount of time regardless of how you look at it. He's being backed into a corner, and like any wild animal, he's going to eventually lash out at somebody, and I think that first somebody is going to be Jesse.

Jesse has become a liability. He wants nothing to do with the money he earned making and selling meth. His conscience is eating away at him overtime, rather like the cancer eating away at Walt. It's in overdrive because, let's face it, Walt has no conscience left whatsoever, and Jesse is making up for it. There's the slimmest chance that Jesse can be free from Walt, and that's if he either (a) rats out himself and Walt, or (b) uses that money to buy himself a new identity on the other side of the globe. I think he's more likely to do (a), but only if he can drag himself out of the funk he's currently in. Walt has had to make some tough decisions when it comes to killing, and I think Jesse will be one of the hardest.

That car wash has been part of the show from the beginning (sorry for the glare... the photos on the wall are part of a small Breaking Bad gallery in the local car wash that served as the location). First, Walt worked there to supplement his teacher's income. Then he bought it to launder money. Now Skylar is part of it, and he's suggested she expand. I think she'll end up working with Lydia, using the car wash as a means to transport goods for cooking meth or the meth itself (in addition to laundering money). I used to think Walt Jr. might end up dead or part of the 'family business,' but I think he'll actually end up finishing college, with a major in chemistry.

At this point, I'm rooting hardest for Hank (and Jesse). I thought the first episode would be all about the set up, and Hank wouldn't confront Walt until the end, so I was surprised when they duked it out in the very first episode. Dean Norris's acting is superb. The shock, the hate, the anger, and the feeling of betrayal just oozed from every pore. And at the end, there was a little bit of fear coming through as well. Hank has narrowly avoided death several times now, and I'm hoping he avoids it again. I'm really not certain what will happen to him, other than I'm pretty sure he won't 'break bad' like Walt did.

Then there's the ricin pill that Walt removes from his boarded up house. I wondered if he'd use it on Hank, but he wouldn't. If he killed Hank, it would be quick and brutal and secluded (so he can get rid of the body). Hank might be his brother-in-law, but Hank has also always been the enemy. The ricin could be for himself, but he was growing his hair back in the opening scene. So maybe he's beaten the cancer after all. I've thought for a while that Walt will end up destitute and alone at the end, alive and suffering. I don't think Walt would kill himself, at least not with ricin. He'd do it with a huge bang. I think the ricin is for Jesse. I think he can't bear to look Jesse (his conscience) in the face as he kill him.

And there you have it. Tonight's episode already surprised me, so I'll probably end up wrong on all accounts, but it sure is fun guessing.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Setting Goals

I've been thinking about goals quite a bit lately, more specifically, writing down my goals for my writing career. At the beginning of this year I wrote down ten writing goals for myself. Some were small and seemed easily attainable. Finish that short story and submit it? Sure, no problem. Others seemed more daunting. Write that novel rough draft? Eep! But I pulled out the list recently, and you know what? I've achieved all but two. And it's only August! True, one of those goals is actually a four parter that I should break down, but still... I've gotten stuff done!

I recently read Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt. The book is chock full of great advice for building an online presence and marketing. One of the things that stood out was something he mentioned about Lou Holtz. Now, I'm not the biggest Lou Holtz fan. In fact, every time he comes on TV during football season, I roll my eyes. I'm afraid if I ever meet the guy, I'll roll my eyes as I shake his hand because it's a habit.

Anyhow, Holtz made a list of goals for himself back in the late 60's after he was fired from his job. He wrote down 107 items, some of them as far fetched as appearing on The Tonight Show or being invited for dinner at the White House. Guess what? He did both of those things, as well as scratching off nearly a hundred of those goals.

There's something about picking up a pen and writing down one's goals that make them more real, more concrete. You've stopped dreaming and you've committed your dreams to paper. You've implanted them more firmly in your mind.

So I decided to borrow from some writing friends (and Lou Holtz) and come up with a huge master list of goals to achieve over a lifetime. I included some I'd already accomplished, like publishing my first book, and highlighted those. You know what? There are pitifully few items highlighted. But I like to look at the goals from time to time to remind myself of the direction I'd like to go, and I like to imagine that I'll start checking things off more frequently.

So if you haven't written down your writing goals, or your career goals, or your life goals, then go do it right now, and put that list some place where you'll see it often.