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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Science Fiction Writer's Inspiration



As a science fiction writer there are times when I find a lack of inspiration in my work.  I’m not necessarily talking about what to write.  But more a reason why to write it.  Of all the genres I write, I find developing science fiction that I would enjoy reading takes much more work than writing traditional or urban fantasy.  With fantasy there are so many established conventions that it’s easy to draw on them to quickly develop a world to write in.  For readers I think it’s easier for them to latch onto fantasy instead of science fiction.  Perhaps it’s because most people have learned about the medieval age of our own history and that gives them a basis to imagine a world of fantasy. 

It’s not so easy with science fiction.  There are fewer things a writer can draw on that an audience will immediately recognize.  So why write it?  Why spend time world building space faring races, far flung empires, and fantastic technologies?  I struggled with this for a while.  I wondered why I did it.  Though fun, world building is a time consuming activity.  An activity that isn’t always as rewarding as we’d like in the end.

Then I came to the Kennedy Space Center.  An opportunity came up at work that allowed me to travel to Orlando to attend a conference.  Relatives offered to give me a place to stay for a couple of days before the conference so that they could show me around.  One of the places they wanted to take me was the Kennedy Space Center.  I’ve never been to the Space Center, though when I was much younger my parents took me to the one in Houston.  And from that experience I remembered seeing the moon lander up close.

Named after a president who challenged a young NASA to put a man on the moon within a decade.  He was a president who I honestly believe pushed the space program forward even though he never lived to see the outcome.  Without his directive, I truly believe the space program would not have accomplished what it had.

When I walked through the gates, I felt like a kid again.  Seeing the globe with NASA’s logo on it, the full size replica rockets, and the replica booster unit for the shuttles took me back to my childhood when I and my family, as well as the rest of the country, watched launches from this very place.  I remembered watching the Columbia vanish on television as it re-entered the atmosphere and seeing the Challenger explode on live television a minute and a half after liftoff.  Tragic days in my memory where a country mourned the loss of brave men and women who were doing the impossible.

 
I was one of those who was deeply saddened when the shuttle program came to an end.  When we as a country stopped looking up at the stars.  I think we lost something that day.  We stopped looking at a future of hope and unity.  We forgot that normal people working together can accomplish great and marvelous things.  More importantly we seem to have forgotten that when we looked to the stars, we stopped seeing our differences as a species.  It didn’t matter if we were Americans or Russians or Chinese.  We cooperated in constructing the International Space Station in a time when most of the world thought we were going to end it all in a rain of nuclear fire. 

Walking through the exhibits reminded me of the cost we, as a species, paid for the successes that paved the way for the benefits we enjoy today.  The sacrifices of brave men and women who were driven to going where no one else had gone before.  To give the world a glimpse of the future and to dream of a time when we could explore beyond our own world.  I marveled at the ingenuity and the brilliance that made the Apollo program possible.  They put humans into space with technology that we would consider antiquated.  But without their ingenuity, without their determination and focus on a singular goal, our civilization would look nothing like it does now.

 
I realized that this is what science fiction does.  Stories like The War of the Worlds, A Princess of Mars, and Buck Rogers inspired and sparked imaginations.  They helped shape the future of our technology and our world.  Did you ever consider that the tablet devices we have now are awfully similar to the handheld PADD devices from Star Trek?  Or how flip open cell phones looked like the original communicators from Star Trek?



Standing there in the Atlantis exhibit, staring up at the space shuttle Atlantis, I was reminded that it wasn’t science fiction that inspires me.  Though I’ll be the first to admit I’m a diehard Star Wars and Star Trek fan.  That I love a good science fiction story, movie, and TV show.  That I hate thinking there isn’t enough good science fiction out there.  But as I stood there seeing the scorch marks on the ceramic plates that protected the shuttle during reentry, the dirty white skin of the cargo bay doors, and the massive thrusters that pushed it through space.  I realized that it was this that inspires me to write science fiction.  Not the stories of other science fiction writers, but our accomplishments in that daunting task of reaching the stars.  The sacrifices of those men and women and the innovations they pioneered.  Their bravery in facing the unknown.


It had come full circle for me.  Those first science fiction stories that inspired those men and the accomplishments of NASA and those first astronauts reminding me of why I write science fiction.  I hope that I can inspire others someday.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Creating Suspense In Short Stories


 


Hard to believe I’m published now.  Part of me feels like I can’t really call myself published since its just a short story and its an anthology that all the proceeds for go towards a great charity.  I’m torn.  Regardless it’s a great feeling to be able to pick up my copy flip it open to the contents page and see my short story and name printed in there.

As part of our promotion of the book, I’ve been asked to write my tips and such about how to create suspense in a short story.  I don’t consider myself an expert but I can tell you about the things I think about when I’m trying to write.

Writing suspense can be tough in any genre.  Figuring out how to keep the reader turning pages is a skill that I constantly work on.  Some genres lend to developing suspense easier than others, but there are some things that can help.

When I started writing SEED and Soul, I wanted to convey a sense of desperation and a bit of urgency to the reader.  Writing the story in a First Person Present perspective helped to give the story that impact.  When you write in a past tense the reader assumes that whatever has happened the main character of the story survives and the story has worked out one way or another.  In a sense the reader assumes that they are hearing the story after it has happened.  By using present tense I wanted to give the reader a sense of uncertainty in what the outcome would be because the events were unfolding as the story unfolds.

Besides utilizing tense to try to increase suspense, I also told the story from the perspective of a character who isn't what you would consider the protagonist.  He isn't a good guy, at least not at the beginning of the story.  He is portrayed as a bad guy, a serial killer.  This combined with the use of present tense makes the reader wonder if he'll get away with it.  It adds a sense of uncertainty to the story.  As a society we want the good guys to win, we hate to see injustice.  This uncertainty helps fuel the suspense because you want to know if justice will be served in the end.

Lastly I used a sense of immediacy.  The urgency imposed by the main character.  After years of meticulous planning, he is ready to execute his plans.  He is ready to 'save' the woman he loves and he isn't willing to wait any longer.  He has to accomplish his goals that night.  The immediacy of his actions propels the story at a faster pace and drags the reader along with it as they are fed little bits of back story and plot that reveals more and more about who this man is.

And there you have it.  How I created suspense in my short story, SEED and Soul.

You can find Secrets & Doors at:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gut Punched...

So its been exactly a week since I got the news and it still feels like I've been gut punched. I wake up in the morning still wondering if I dreamed the whole thing. Then I look at my tongue in the mirror and realize that its real. We've told just about all of our closest friends and family now, but it still feels weird saying it. Cancer... Cancer of the tongue to be precise. I'm not even 40 yet, and I've never smoked or chewed tobacco. I always thought that Oral Cancer was limited to people who smoked or chewed. But I guess I'm wrong.

I'll be honest, I cried when I left the doctor's office. I got angry, I got depressed, I joked about it. The whole gamut of emotions. I'm not afraid of it killing me. What scares me more is that I'm not going to be able to speak again. I won't be able to tell my kids how proud of them I am when they get older. Or tell them how much I love them. That I'll be reduced to being mute and with that the assumption that I'm dumb as well. I've joked that its sort of ironic that I would get oral cancer since my job and livelihood entails me talking on the phone to customers day in and day out. I've also remarked that if I was going to get cancer why couldn't it have been a cancer that sounded cooler. I mean, c'mon, tongue cancer. That sounds like the prelude to a bad 'Your momma' joke.

My ENT doctor guessed that it was almost Stage 2 cancer. Still early enough that it shouldn't be life threatening. He said that I would lose a piece of my tongue but that there should be very little impact on my speech once it healed. The big question... Has it spread and how far has it spread? I'll most likely lose my lymph node in the left side of my neck, but if its spread into the tissue then I'll have to have radiation treatments. Chemo is also a possibility but only if its more severe than what they first believe.

So now I'm waiting. Waiting to have my CT scan done... waiting to hear the game plan from my oncologist... and then waiting just to see what happens next. Waiting sucks. Not knowing sucks. Because when you don't know, you're mind always thinks about the worst thing that could happen.

Last year Josie and I complained about the High deductible health insurance because we ended up paying a lot more for doctor's visits and never hit our maximum. This year we'll be praising it because between the surgery and medications we're going to hit our maximum this month/next month which means all of the rest of our visits this year will be taken care of.

Wish me luck... and if your religious maybe include us in your prayers...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Musings

So here it is... 3 days left... In 5 days I'll be waking up in a foreign country. Up until now this whole thing was a bit surreal. Now though, its suddenly crystal clear. In 3 days, I'll be leaving for a different country to participate in the biggest competition I've every been in. I will officially be an international athlete. That's an amusing thought, considering I'm not a picture of the physical perfection. I have a bit of a belly still and I'm certainly not 21 again.

We got our official team warm-up jackets on Saturday, with all of the embroidery and patches on them. They look friggin sweet, and certain makes me feel like an official team member. I wonder if the way I felt when I put it on is anything like the first time an Olympic athlete puts on their team jacket. So full of awesomeness...

I still have a few things to take care of before I leave, and moving the hot tub has been postponed until I get back from Korea. Tomorrow night I take my final test for my Blue belt which is the minimum belt rank that you can compete at. Hopefully I don't totally brain fart it and fail. LOL.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Anything to take my mind off things...

Okay, so not all things, just one thing. Leaving for Korea is looming closer now, and I find that I'm stressing out a little more. Its not even really the competition or anything that's stressing me out. Its the anticipation, the waiting. Work outs are suppose to be a daily thing, though I have to say I had to take yesterday off. There is a twinge in my back that's bugging me and I don't want it to get worse.

So I went and saw a movie to take my mind off of practice and my trip. I was tempted to go see Despicable Me, but instead I opted to see Predators, so I've decided to do a review of it here.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Review: All in all a fun movie with some twists, though nothing really surprising. Adrien Brody played his part well and I was surprised how much I enjoyed his presence in an action/sci-fi movie like this. I'm not a die hard Predator fanatic, so I haven't read all of the fan written stuff or any of the books. My experience with them have been strictly from a movie stand point so I have to ask myself if some of the things they did in this movie were pulled from some other source than the movies. I won't give away any spoilers here, but I would say if you enjoyed the previous Predator movies (with the possible exception of AVP) then you will probably enjoy this one as well.

I hope everyone has a great day!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Two Weeks!

Wow. As of today, in exactly 2 weeks I'll be on a plane leaving for this adventure. While for the most part the trip is taken care of now (I've even confirmed with my flight carriers that I get 2 check ins), money is still a bit of a worry. Fun money that is. I've promised to get my kids something as well as my wife. One of the items I put up on Ebay finally sold after relisting it and I have had an offer on another item from an internation buyer. So that all might work out in the end.

We've also got an opportunity to pick up a used hot tub for free. The downside is that we have a small backyard, so it would most likely take up most of the backyard. Plus it might be a pain to move when we find a bigger place. How heavy are hot tub? Are they really heavy, or is it more the fact that they are large and ungainly to move? We would have to get a special breaker installed for it as well as a 220 outlet outside. Decisions, decisions.

Am I nervous? A bit. I know that I'll feel a lot better about everything once I'm over there. I'm a bit nervous about the tournament, but I've been in them before and so a lot of it is not going to be new. Getting yelled at in a foreign language will be a different experience. And it will certainly be entertaining to have everyone immediately start talking to me in Korean. I don't think I'll be able to order a kilt by the time of leaving for Korea. Sad I know. My training routine has intesified (well, as much as it could) for the next two weeks, with classes or personal study everyday. I think I strained a muscle in my back the other day doing shoulder rolls for Form 5 so I do have to watch that. Plus I'll have to get a new ankle wrap to take with me. Man, I must be falling apart... And I haven't even had my mid-life crisis.

Movies worth seeing for those that are interested: Toy Story 3 and the A-Team. Haven't seen Get Him To The Greek yet, but it looks like it could be a fun time as well. Don't waste your money on the Last Airbender.

Movies I want to see: Predators and Despicable Me.

Peace out everyone and have a great day! Keep checking back for updates!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Last Airbender Movie Review

So I just went to see The Last Airbender because my curiousity got the better of me. Because it is a martial arts (of sorts) movie I thought I give it a quick review for anyone who is interested. Of course these are just my own personal opinions.

To start with I'm going to give it two different ratings and reviews, the first are for those who have seen the animated series that its based off of and the second is for those who haven't seen the cartoon.

First Review: 2 out of 5
Where to start. If your a fan of the animated series then you probably won't like the movie. It is just the first season that they have tried to squeeze into a 2 hour movie. Shyamalan has made a number of changes that some may or may not like depending on your view.


Firstly, through the animated series, Firebenders have been able to generate fire of their own, and in the case of the more power firebender lightning as well. In the movie they can't, they must - like all of the other Elemental Benders, use existing fire. There is one notable exception as I'm sure if further movies are created other exceptions. This does make some sense and does make it easier to differentiat more powerful firebenders from the normal firebenders.

Secondly, the movie feels a little disjointed as they jump around from location to location, some of which are recognizable from the animated series.

My next issue with the movie has to do with the character struggles and growth which are apparent in the animated series but not so much in the movie. Having to condense the whole first season (all 20 episodes of them) into a 2 hour block I think really hurts the character depictions within the movie. For example, some episodes which deal specifically with Katara have been rewritten to include Aang and Katara's speeches given to him. While this seems a necessity because of the limitations of a 2 hour movie, I think it does reduce the growth potential of characters like Katara. This also seems to have led to another character difference. One of the key elements of the animated series (at least in my eyes) was the conflict between Aang's upbringing (and a vow of not killing anyone) and the influence of previous avatars while he is in the 'Avatar State'. Aang only entered the 'Avatar State' when in grave danger or when he lost control of his emotions, he was never able to voluntarily enter this state himself.

(Spoiler Alert: In the series, Aang is present when the moon spirit is killed and that triggers the Avatar State and in this state he deals with the fire nation in an incredible show of power which serves as both a foreshadowing of the type of power Aang might be able to achieve later as well as showing that the Avatar stands outside of the normal cycle of elemental benders and therefore isn't affected by the lost of the Moon the way the rest of the Waterbenders are. Both of which are, to me, important events. Next to this Aang kills Commander Zhao, showing that while in the Avatar State, Aang is not Aang but all of the past lives and they are willing to kill to preserve balance.) This leads to important internal conflict for Aang and a transport for his growth in later seasons.

I was willing to give the casting of the movie a chance. From a screen stand point, I can understand making the visual appearance of the different nations distinctive. After having seen the movie, my only issue is that there is no consistency in the background extras which are still a mix of nationalities. It seems to me that if there was any seriousness about making the nations distinctive they would have spent more time getting more extras of the appropriate nationalities to serve as extras, more Indian asians for the Fire Nation. Also, while I like the actor who is playing Iroh, he doesn't seem to fit the image of Iroh, but of course that is minor and based on the fact that in the animated series Iroh is a bigger (read slightly overweight) character with a laid back and more nurturing nature.

I am impressed that Shyamalan did seem to take to heart the difference in style used by the different nations. However on the flip side, The Last Airbender is more of a martial arts movie and less of a 'Bending' movie, something that is a little disappointing. In the movie the act of Elemental Bending seems to take longer to accomplish, which means that the battle scenes are more akin to the battle scenes of Braveheart and less like the animated series. In addition, many of the combats that include benders seems contrived and done just so that they could keep the title rather than working it into the actual story. As an example when the Earthbenders rebel, in the animated series they work together to accomplish bigger feats of earth bending, which is the reason they move in unison. In the movie it seems they only did it as a nod to the animated series and Aang still does most of the work. After that everything seems to be reduced to a martial arts brawl rather than a battle of elemental benders.


I did feel that Dev Patel does a good job as Zuko, just like Jackson Rathbone grew on me a bit as Sokka. However, and this is no reflection of the actors or actresses themselves, all of the dialogue in the movie seems forced with a bit too much time spent on trying to explain things rather than just getting on with telling the story. On the up side at least Aang actually moves like he has some martial arts experience (which he does) though his acting skills are still a bit rough.

I also want to note that while Firelord Ozai is the ultimate goal/villain, I felt he made too much of an appearance in the movie. In the animated series he felt more menacing because you don't really see him. Its not Ozai who makes the decision to kill the moon spirit, its an insane Commander Zhao.

Second Review: 3 out of 5
Okay, so for those of you who have never watched the animated series, I give The Last Airbender a 3 out of 5 rating. The disjointed nature of the scene changes can be very disorienting and make the movie at the beginning hard to follow. The confusion lessens once they make it to the Northern Water Tribe and the 'meat' of the film occurs.


While the special effects are good, the dialogue is weak and too mechanical. I don't blame the actors and actresses for this, but rather I think the script dialogue was written to try to make them sound older. I think younger kids will enjoy it, but I think adults will certainly pick up on the dialogue issues. The fight scene are fun and in many cases I think are well done even though they still feel very choreographed. Visually it is stunning, especially when you get to see the air temples from a distance. In general they do a good job of setting up the story, but I felt that they spend too much time explaining some things that don't really matter in the context of the title. Being called the Last Airbender, to me implies that in the beginning you don't have to explain too much about the Avatar. You can hold off on it till a bit later when the explanation feels less forced and more natural. It isn't the kind of movie we are use to seeing from Shyamalan, which isn't a good or bad thing, but don't expect a twist at the end of this movie like he has done with his others. It is a fun movie that I can see (along with the new Karate Kid movie) as increasing enrollments in Martial Arts schools around the country.

Just my two cents. Have a great day!