Friday, November 30, 2012

Twisting and Turning

In my life, there have been a lot of books and short stories to read, many web posts, ebooks and short stories written.  Throughout that time, I've never been overly worried about twists and turns in a book.  Not when I'm writing, and certainly not while I've been reading.  Is that a big deal to you?  I'm a little curious.

When I'm reading a book, an unexpected twist can be a nice addition, but it's never been a must for me.  Never, in all of my days, have I finished a novel and thought to myself, "Well, that was just way too straightforward!"  Not even once.  Don't get me wrong, when I was reading Timothy Zahn's Frank Compton series they were pretty fun!  The second book, "The Third Lynx" had a few spots that threw me for a loop, I'll be happy to tell you.  Zahn didn't need to do that, though.  Learning about the universe that he's created, the races that he's invented, and the nature of everything going on around the characters was more than interesting enough.  I didn't need anything overly manufactured to try and make me think, "Oh wow!  I never saw that one coming!!"  Perhaps it's just the strength of the story teller.

So, then you had The Hunger Games.  After getting pressed from a number of different angles about how I had to read the series, I finally broke down and did so.  Listen, it's not a bad series.  Having read a great deal of science fiction in my life, and being a huge fan of the post apocalyptic sub-genre, this wasn't bad at all.  You've definitely got some elements of "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson... and, as it was pointed out to me, Stephen King's "The Running Man" (the book, not Arnie's movie) sent shadows into large portions as well.  Still, it was a good enough story.  Not bad for something that, as I understand it, was meant for teen readers.  What bugged me, however, was that all three books intentionally tried to push twists and turns on the reader.  Instead of being shocked (most of the time, it came off as predictable), some of the elements felt forced, and in one case, a little cheap.  That's definitely a risk you run.

For the most part, in my books, I don't look to add any intentional twists and turns.  My goal, when I set out, is to just tell a story.  I've got no need to shock or surprise, just to tell a story.  If it happens, hey great: happy accident!  Nothing is going to get forced, though.  It's hard enough to tell a quality story without manufacturing shock value.  If it doesn't have value to the story (or to the next part of the story) then it doesn't need to be written.  Everything - even the Jeremy Hunter references - has a point to some part of the story, somewhere down the line.  My feeling is that, if the story is good enough, it will carry itself.  Hopefully, you feel that my stories are good enough to carry without intentional twists and turns and shocks.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Science Fiction Story Time

Gather 'round kids, it's science fiction story time!  No, actually, I'm not going to tell you a story right here in the blog.  Actually, that's silly, since every blog posting, from me or anyone else, really is a little story.  So now, it's time to use one of my least favorite phrases in the English language: I digress.

What I'm talking about today is a decision that a buddy of mine helped me make.  My pal Scott, who was reading through book three in the Olympus Union series ("The Future Reborn") to help make recommendations on the book for tweaking, made another suggestion.  He doesn't want me to release my fourth book, Jeremy Hunter, any time soon.  His rationale actually made some sense to me.  So, while book 4 is decently nearing completion, and will continue to do work, I'm going to make it a side project for now.  He also made another recommendation - don't write too many books (at least, not right now).

For the friend of an author, that probably sounded a bit odd.  Almost an indictment of my writing style, characters, and universe.  Well, except for the fact that he just finished telling me how much he liked certain characters, and situations, and why.  So that's betters.  But what's the deal?  Ah, right, his suggestion: more shorter stories.  The recommendation was to only release one book per year (although, I'll still do two in 2012, since I promised Jeremy out for free, and one other book), and to write a number of shorter stories, in the 10-30 page range.  That's actually not a bad idea, the more that I thought about it.

  • Kro needs to have another adventure, but the one I've got in mind isn't so long.
  • Martell Andrews needs to be explored a little deeper.
  • Things are happening on Earth, Luna and around Venus that we really don't talk about.
  • Mars has so much to explore that I really need to get in there.
  • The Red Scythe could use a couple of longer adventures of their own!
So, that's the new plan, for now.  "The Future Reborn" is essentially complete, with a minor tweak necessary for a Martell Andrews speech.  I'll have that out on Amazon shelves by the end of this year.  Then, I'm going to get down to outlining - my tried and true approach for writing - only much shorter outlines.  As I said, stories of 10-30 pages.  Their home will, of course, be OlympusUnion.com (just like the super short stories I've got up there now).  Just like the current shorts, these will be free.  When inspiration strikes, I'll even get back to throwing out some 1 to 3 page shorts.  Everything here will be about exploring the Olympus Union universe.  In fact, I intend to use the blog to talk a little more about some characters, situations, and places, as well.  Hopefully, you'll come along and explore with me.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Giving a Face to the War

If you are a Star Wars fan, you're quite familiar with Wedge Antilles.  The Corellian is one of the most famous characters in the Star Wars universe not named Han, Luke or Leia.  Cracked.com has a fantastic explanation of Wedge, how he's "that guy" who kicks so much ass in the Star Wars movies.  Except, he doesn't get a whole lot of credit. The Star Wars novels universe has turned Wedge into a much bigger deal than the movies ever did - and mind you, I'm talking about the original movies, the real ones - but it doesn't diminish what his initial role was.  You knew the super heroes in the war: Solo, Skywalker, Organa... even the pair of droids, Lando, and old Kenobi get more air time than the crack pilot.  That's just the idea, though.  The story of Star Wars is really about those stars.  Luke and his family reunion with his twin sister (who was originally a different age than him, and there's that kiss in the first movie, so yeah, Lucas made it up as he went along), and dear old Darth.  Oops, I mean Dad.  It's about the redemption of Han, the partnership with Chewie, and the power of The Force.

Quick digression - why didn't Chewbacca get a medal?  That has always bothered me.  Apparently, I'm not the only one asking.  Clearly, I wasn't bothered enough, though, because someone else did something about it. Check out this slight re-hash on the end of "A New Hope" (or, as those of us normally called it, Star Wars).  It's on YouTube, and someone gave Chewie his medal (go to 2:15 in the video).

Alright, back on track.  My pal Scott has been reading through book three in the Olympus Union series and providing me feedback.  He even created a video blog (or vlog) to talk about giving feedback.  It's an entertaining, quick watch.  What's important, however, is the actual feedback he's been giving me.  As I've been going through my last sweep, tweaking a few things here and there, and making a couple of recommended changes (mostly extra explanation, with a handful of minor changes), I came upon my own little Wedge Antilles moment.  Actually, for those who have read "The Past Repeated" and "Drawing Battle Lines" you'll realize that I've done this more than once.  Scott actually called me out on it, though.

I like to give a face to the war. Book one is really about Duncan and Kro, more than anything else.  Book two focuses a lot more on Justin Brand and Avinoam David, along with Duncan's transformation.  In book three, I've really focused a lot on Brand and David, with some other characters coming to the forefront as well.  In each book, however, someone a bit less consequential comes into play.  Most of my people have names, even if you'll barely hear from them again.  Yesterday, in fact, I decided to add one more, casting Xavier Zorsh as the man known for the last year as "the singed soldier" just because he needed a name.  He was a member of the Ares Elite for all this time, how could he not have a name?

So, here I was, unable to sleep, and starting to do my final edit on Chapter Four.  It's all about Keema and Tomas.  Who are they?  Folks that you haven't ever heard of before.  Will they eventually end up as stars in another free short story in my growing collection on OlympusUnion.com?  Could they one day wind up as Olympus Union fan fiction targets?  (That'd be cool - feel free to write OU fan fiction)  Maybe, but for now, they're just participants in the war.  Like the two men working on the reservoir on Ganymede, or the crewmen on Dondo Kriz's water ship.  Conflicts are won and lost by heroes and villains throughout various forms of entertainment, but in reality, they are fought by people. Ordinary people with ordinary jobs.  It just feels right to give a face to the war.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Factories in Space

Following up from my last blog post about putting people into space for varying reasons (moon colonies, orbital prisons, and so forth), I read an article about NASA's new "Space Launch System" or SLS.  Now, according to Space.com, NASA is already trying to trim costs.  That brings me back to my initial though, however: why are we aiming for deep space when we haven't done a whole lot with near space?  By 2022, according to the initial article, this rocket will be able to deliver "286,000 pounds to Earth orbit" and I've got a fantastic way to take advantage of that.  Let's start building in space.

Now, I understand that we've got that International Space Station orbiting and providing lovely images of Earth, or of astronauts doing goofy tricks.  Apologies to all who I'm about to insult, including Howard Wolowitz, but I'd like to put up an orbital platform that can do something slightly more useful.  Oh yes, I know, that statement is an affront to science and purists everywhere.  Just bear with me for a moment, however, and consider how I'm looking to make an advancement here.  The "space race" brought about some rather incredible technological advances.  It had to in order to keep people alive and bring them home.  Further, it created jobs.  So why aren't we trying to do both, one more time?

My thought is that we can use the SLS not as a long range ship, but as a courier.  Consider just how much material 286,000 pounds consists of, especially if you're building in space.  We can build a new orbital platform designed for construction out of materials that we ship up.  Then, we can ship up more materials and tools, and begin building.  With plenty of solar power, developing and building an orbital green house shouldn't be that much trouble in the scheme of things.  And from there, how tough should it be to begin assembling transport craft to ferry us to the moon, materials and rovers to build structures on the moon, and construction of farming building on the moon.

If you'll notice, I just mentioned construction a few times.  We're talking about new jobs - people assembling crafts up in space, people come up with pre-fab construction and back-up parts on Earth, people working as farmers in the sky.  Pipe dreams?  At one time, living in the Americas was foolish.  Going into space was laughable.  Walking on the moon was impossible.  It's time for us to retake the possible, refocus our efforts, and make the future begin to happen.  Why should science fiction have all the fun?