Author Archives: JAB

This site moving

I haven’t updated this blog in a month. The reason for that is the limits that the WordPress hosting system puts on me. For a free blog they’re okay but not for my personal brand.

Update soon.

Writing Multiple Novels at One Time

I read this written about elsewhere, and it’s a concept that makes sense for me:

When you’re writing a trilogy, you want there to be sub-plots that match up from one book to the next one. Also, you don’t want to make your readers wait a year or more for the next book. To solve this problem, you should write at least the first drafts of other books in a series at the same time.

I’m facing this situation: I’ve been writing the first book of a trilogy (within an overall series) for over two years. If I’m fortunate, I’ll have it finished this year (revisions, beta readers, cover art and editing). With this current pace, I’ll have this first trilogy finished before I’m sixty. That’s not acceptable to me.

That passage of time is another problem for me. I’m 49 in less than two months. I want to be known for a lot of books by the end of my life. I already have 11 RPG credits so far, but most of them are very small press, and that’s a small interest pool. Novels are in a much larger one. I hope to follow of game writers who also became novelists, like Mike Stackpole, the late John Ford, and an also-late friend Aaron Alston.

I won’t achieve that goal at my current output rate. Writing multiple books at once might, depending on my writing output speed.

A caveat, though: I won’t attempt this until after I’ve finished book 1. Friends bought into my attempt to crowdsource that book on Indiegogo. Even though it didn’t make the funding target I want to finish it for them (I used the platform’s Flexible Funding plan, and the rules for that are that I have to finish, but I planned to anyway). Starting other books before I finish this one wouldn’t be fair. Besides, I follow one of Robert Heinlein’s Writing Rules: always finish what you start.

Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After I finish Book 1, 2 and 3 I’ll work on together, and I’ll hope this makes them more consistent and my output grows.

Space Opera Examples Part 2

The Perry Rhodan issue that went into space. C...

The Perry Rhodan issue that went into space. Credit: ESA/André Kuipers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. Perry Rhodan

This is seen as the best-known science fiction series of all time, accounting for more than 2 billion (not a typo) copies sold since its premiere in the 1960s, first creating a buzz in Germany, then being translated worldwide, but not ultimately succeeding in America in English.

It was originally published in German alone, but was translated into other languages over time. This is where the incredible publication and sales numbers come from. In Germany it’s a weekly novella in a magazine.

On the surface, this series has science fiction concepts: hyperspatial

English: This image is a reproduction of an or...

English: This image is a reproduction of an original painting by renowned science-fiction and fantasy illustrator Rowena http://www.rowenaart.com/. It depicts Dr. Isaac Asimov enthroned with symbols of his life’s work. Français : Peinture de Rowena Morill réprésentant Isaac Asimov sur un trône décoré des symboles de son œuvre littéraire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

translation and positronic brains — concepts that Isaac Asimov created in his stories. The M13 cluster also exists. Everything else about this series (functional immortality — never aging, but violent death possible, multiple time-lines/realities, the psionic web, moralic code, many other fanciful ideas) is a made-up concept.

Part of why the series has gone on for so long is that, like many pulp series like The Shadow, The Spider, and even Doc Savage (and modern day series like Mack Bolan) many authors have written it.

Sci-Fi legend Forrest J. Ackerman championed English translation of this series. He said that serious German SF fandom said how it hated this series, yet it was still a top seller in the country. It proved the same case with the English translations by Ace Books, which ceased publication with 117-118 in the early 1980s (it’s over 2400 stories-long). Then-head of Ace Tom Doherty found them to be too juvenile in quality.

Good or bad, these books (and spin-off series) inspired music, film (George Lucas cites it as one of his influences), and is even an inspiration to other science fiction series. Would that other series could go so long!

Space Opera Examples, Part 1

These will all be long, so I’ll cut the post up.

Flash Gordon (soundtrack)

Flash Gordon (soundtrack) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Flash Gordon

Originally a comic strip in newspapers then made into movie serials, a campy movie in the 80s, as well as a disappointing TV show a few years ago (many pundits have spoken of that already, so I won’t go into that here. Anyway it’s not a feature of this piece). Most of it was centered on the planet Mongo. For that, the space opera feeling came from the fact that Mongo had many climates and zones, but they had little in the way of scientific rationale; they just existed — and differing races… so there are barbarian birdmen and men with the heads of big cats, and so on.

His origins? Here’s the information from Wikipedia, with my additions:

“[…] the adventures of Flash Gordon, a handsome polo player and Yale University graduate, and his companions Dale Arden and Dr. Hans Zarkov.The story begins with Earth threatened with a collision with the planet Mongo. Dr. Zarkov invents a rocket ship to fly into space in an attempt to stop the disaster. Half mad, he kidnaps Flash and Dale and they travel to the planet. Landing on the planet, and halting the collision, they come into conflict with Ming the Merciless, Mongo’s evil ruler.

Flash Gordon (film)

Flash Gordon (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia) The character was often portrayed as an Oriental stereotype.

For many years, the three companions have adventures on Mongo, traveling to the forest kingdom of Arboria, ruled by Prince Barin Prince Barin and Flash; the ice kingdom of Frigia, ruled by Queen Fria; the jungle kingdom of Tropica, ruled by Queen Desira; the undersea kingdom of the Shark Men, ruled by King Kala; and the flying city of the Hawkmen, ruled by Prince Vultan Price Vultan. They are joined in several early adventures by Prince Thun of the Lion Men Prince Thun. Eventually, Ming is overthrown, and Mongo is ruled by a council of leaders led by Barin.
Flash and friends return to Earth and have some adventures before returning to Mongo and crashing in the kingdom of Tropica, then reuniting with Barin and others. Flash and his friends travel to other worlds and return to Mongo, where Prince Barin, married to Ming’s daughter Princess Aura  Princess-Aura,   has established a peaceful rule (except for frequent revolts led by Ming or by one of his many descendants) […]”
Flash has been redesigned over the years. He’s now a football player rather than a polo one.

Space Opera — What is It?

This is a genre that’s existed for decades, but it’s often misunderstood.
It was considered as Science Fiction in the 1950s, the Golden Age of Science Fiction, but it’s really a form of Science Fantasy. There are many worlds of aliens, in fact hundreds, which gave it the veneer of science fiction. How it no longer fits it:

There are myriad inhabited worlds, often within the same systems. Science shows us that’s not the case, without major terraforming. That is a concept that didn’t exist in those early days.
Entire worlds often have a single feature, such as a desert world or an ice planet. Just look at Earth… we have different climates based on different areas. Just winter alone is different here in Canada and in Northern Europe – and it’s non-existent in the equator zone.
A major example is the Lensman series by E.E. “Doc” Smith, and in film: the Star Wars saga.

E. E. "Doc" Smith

E. E. “Doc” Smith (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Note that I’m not ragging on Star Wars. I’m a fan). Star Wars because there are so many worlds with life on them, and entire worlds just one climate.

Technically it isn’t entire worlds with a sole environment. A good writer could say that we just see part of a world, so the entire world isn’t just one environment type… but for the sake of this genre it’s considered to be.

Also, there are more intelligent versions of this genre. Lois McMaster-Bujold has her series of Vorkosigan novels set in a Space Opera universe, but she uses more science fiction ideas in it than others do.

Lois McMaster Bujold. Photo: David Dyer-Bennet...

Lois McMaster Bujold. Photo: David Dyer-Bennet 1996. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The main definition of space opera, according to its entry on Wikipedia, is that a space opera is like a ‘soap opera in space’. This is a bit simplistic, but they are often melodramatic stories involving ship combat, or romances and betrayals. We see them in standard SF, but far less melodramatic.
The Wikipedia article lists Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series as an example of Space Opera; I have trouble with that. First off, I’m a big Asimov fan. The Mule is an example of a large power escalation — cited as a characteristic of Space Opera — but Isaac didn’t write deep romance, and he was an actual scientist; his writing did have a more believable basis (I’m not saying that Psychohistory is real.
My 2nd NaNoWriMo novel (Into the Flock, a winner) was a Space Opera. I may try to redo it someday.

8 Important Steps I Follow to Write a Book a Year

I haven’t yet succeeded in doing this, but it’s worth my consideration. This is my first Guest Post as well, and it needed some editing:

I have few business ventures that are as rewarding as writing a book.

Please don’t interpret that in financial terms; most any business author will tell you that getting rich on writing a book is a pipe dream. But the ancillary benefits are amazing:

• Credibility — People take you more seriously when you have a book.

• Marketing — Books are far more powerful than brochures and are roughly the same cost to produce. And people just can’t throw away a book!

• Confidence — For many (including me), writing a book fulfills a long-held dream

• Launchpad — One book can launch a series of other products (follow-up books, seminars, webinars, audiobooks, etc.).  That is why I have committed to

That is why I have committed to write one book a year without fail. I’ve written five books to date, and I am currently working on both numbers six (I’m writing it now) and seven (it’s in the research phase). What I write are business books, not fiction, and my “steps” refer to the former, not the latter. The steps are also about how to write the book, not how to market or sell it (by far the more difficult part). So, have you been wondering how to actually sit down and write your first book? Then here are those eight steps.

1. Determine a concept. You may think you have this down already, but the key is to vet the concept with some honest and trusted advisors. Find people who will tell you the brutal truth and then listen to their counsel. Sometimes, we fall in love with our own ideas so much that we get blind to what people actually want to read.

2. ‘Avatar’ your reader. Design the profile (avatar) of your typical reader. Who is s/he? What and how does this person like to read? How do you want this reader to be affected? When you understand your reader, you gain clarity on how to both structure and write the book. In this step, establish your “big takeaway.” What really matters to the reader? What do you want him or her to walk away with?

3. Identify major sections. With your theme and target reader in mind, break the book up into several major sections. The purpose here is to make the book easier for you to write, and simpler for the reader to read. The sections should work like the acts in a play, providing something of a course to follow.

4. Identify chapter themes. Start by identifying your “big idea” — the one thing you want your reader to take away from every chapter. In my current project I literally include the words “big idea” in every chapter, along with a one-sentence takeaway. In every case, I identify that major point before I begin to write. This keeps me focused on my message and helps to prevent me from going off on a tangent. Don’t worry about titling your chapters just yet. Those can be written at any time. You will likely find that the titles come more easily after you write the text.

5. Rough write. Many business writers get bogged down because they try to craft the perfect sentence during the first writing. Big mistake. The words might sound good, but you lose impact because the bigger points get lost. I find much greater success in the “brain dump” method — just free-writing without paying much attention to word choice, punctuation, etc. The resulting content is a mess by the time you finish this step, but free-writing is so much easier to do than the eventual real writing.

6. Form write. When I have done a rough write on the entire book, I go back and write for style,

7. Polish write. With my form-writing complete, I come back and polish things up. Here is what’s key at this stage: Read the text out loud. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough. You will make tremendous improvements when you do this, because you’ll hear the sentences read back to you. You’ll find yourself saying, “Now wait, that doesn’t make any sense,” or, “I can make that clearer still.” Some writers read their manuscript out loud three or four times before they consider it complete. (Note: I read this blog out loud before submitting it!)

8. Get a copy or line editor. Big mistake: editing your own work. Second big mistake: getting your spouse to do it. Line editors are a special breed of people with an attention to detail that is uncanny. And they are detached enough to be honest about your work. Their job is not to critique the arc of your narrative; their job is to make sure you don’t look stupid. I don’t know how else to say that. Skip this step, and you’ll likely end up looking foolish. You can find editors who will bid for work at elance.com.

There you have it: writing a book in eight steps. It’s not easy, but it is possible these days for virtually anyone to write one. And it might just change your world.

Reading Writing Books

Some people are puzzled by this: I am a writer, yet I still get books aimed at new writers like ones about plot structure, or creating characters, or on dialogue, and so on.

Some books just make sense; I’m self-publishing on the Kindle, so I’m reading many books about that. In a  few months, I won’t anymore.

The books about writing techniques also make some sense. First: any writer who thinks that there’s nothing more to learn is just fooling themselves. You can master what you’ve already learned, but there may be new approaches to elements that you’re not yet aware of.

This too will hopefully be soon done, however!

Trying to get back on track

I’ve fallen behind on regular posting here for a few weeks. Mea culpa. I’ll try to fix that.

Mea Culpa (Part II)

Mea Culpa (Part II) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My future plans – some dreams not yet a reality – include:

  1. guest posts (I’ve invited a few people; now I’ll see if that pays off)
  2. an update on my Blogroll (some of my links have been inactive for a long time)
  3. Interviews (a dream right now. I have to ask them of people)
  4. I’m now using Trello  along with Scrivener to build up my posts;  the former offers encouragement to my writing, and the later organizes it.

    Scrivener (software)

    Scrivener (software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ll start number 2 now.

 

Science Fiction vs Science Fantasy

There’s a difference between these two genres, and it’s a difference that I learn more every day. I called myself a science fiction writer, but I’m really the latter.

 

They share a similarity, in that their original genesis is a basis in scientific concepts — but that’s where they diverge. Good stories are the ones in which the characters are ultimately more important, but in science fiction the science has a basis in aspects that can be explained — at least extrapolated.

 

Science fiction can be further divided into hard and soft varieties, but that’s a separate article for the point of this piece.

 

Where science fantasy differs is that there is no rational explanation of things. This is why Roger Zelazny’s Amber series and Robert Heinlein’s novels are really in different categories.

Midshipman Heinlein, from the 1929 U.S. Naval ...

Midshipman Heinlein, from the 1929 U.S. Naval Academy yearbook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

As I said my current stories are science fantasy; I deal with ghosts. There’s no scientific rationale for their existence — but that isn’t a reason for me not to write this story.

 

Ironically, I had no interest in the sciences in high school (except for astronomy) — but my writing interest is science fiction, for both reading and writing. I guess my interest in astronomy helps for the writing…

 

So my current Work in Progress (WIP) is really science fantasy, not science fiction.

Steampunk list

Here are references to get you into the genre:

English: The Great Wetherell Refractor - a ste...

English: The Great Wetherell Refractor – a steampunk telescope by artist Tim Wetherell. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Books

http://steampunkworkshop.com/nine-novels-defined-steampunk/

Games – Video Only

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Steampunk_video_games

All Games – Roleplaying Too

http://steampunk.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_Steampunk_Games

This list includes Space: 1899. The original game is out of print, but I took part in a Kickstarter for the new version. Contact the project runners to find out if you can get it from them.

This is far from a complete list. I’ll likely update it over time. This will, at least, get you started.