I just finished the first draft of my sixth novel. Woo hoo!

My goal was to get the first, ugly draft completed this fall — and I did it! Now my plan is to let it sit and cure for a month or so. Then I’ll go back and make revisions, probably beginning the first of the year.

I don’t figure anyone reading this cares one way or the other, but this is my blog, so I’m going to shout about it!

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Happy Thanksgiving

The list of things I’m thankful for would be too long and involved to write here.

My physical blessings are astonishing. But my spiritual blessings are beyond comprehension.

Maybe that’s one reason I write: to try to express the inexpressible. To illustrate the unknowable. To demonstrate the invisible.

What am I thankful for? Perhaps above all, I’m thankful that Jehovah God, the Creator of all, is love personified. Speaking of speculative fiction, can you imagine a scenario where the universe was not created by Love?

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The Frustration of Good Advice (Part II)

In the last post, I promised you a quiz on one of the many good sites out that dispensing advice for aspiring writers.

Did you read it?  Are you ready for the quiz? Ready or not, here it is:

1) Have you read every book on the recommended reading list? Or even most of them? Plus a whole lot of others, as the writer suggested? Or are you working diligently on the list?

2)  Do you practice your craft every day, or at least on a regular basis?

3)  Have you taken any writing courses?

4)  Do you participate in workshops, whether in-person or online?

5)  If you answered “Yes” to 1 – 4 above… Have you no LIFE?

I mean, seriously, we’re talking about a huge time commitment here, and as Angela commented on my previous post, many of us can’t afford it.

So far, we’re just talking about the actual writing of your novel. If you ever hope to sell it, you need to establish a platform, network with others in the industry, make a name for yourself, yada yada yada.

There’s no shortage of sites telling you how to go about doing that too, and it’s essential to do certain things if you ever hope to be a published author. Have a website; blog; interact with people on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

In a world where time is money, none of that stuff comes cheap. Many of us have day jobs (or maybe, night jobs), spouses, children, and households to take care of. You might be active in church, go to school, care for an aging parent, volunteer your time with a local civic organization. And, usually about once a day, most of us have to devote a few uninterrupted hours to sleep.

All these things the experts tell us might constitute practical wisdom, but it makes me tired just thinking about it. I can usually squeeze time into my day for writing, or for reading – but it’s a rare day when I can do much of both. And I’m supposed to spend a couple hours a day on Twitter, too? Please!

So what do we do with all this good advice that seems impossible?

The best we can.

Do you want to be a writer? Then you’ll have to take it seriously. Get tough with yourself. Review your priorities. Make a reasonable schedule, and stick with it. Streamline your tasks as much as possible. Relax at night with a book rather than the TV.

Determine which of the recommended activities are most important for you in your situation/most practical for someone in your circumstances, and focus on those, not worrying about the rest.

Most importantly, if you’re a follower of Christ, pray about it. A lot. Being a writer might be what you want to do, but it’s important that you do what He wants. If it’s what He wants for you, He’ll give you success (remember Joshua 1:8)? Sure, we need to listen to the experts. But let’s face it. God is bigger than Twitter.

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The Frustration of Good Advice (Part I)

Sometimes we think we can go it alone. Particularly if we’re writers, and we have a story, and we know the basic mechanics of the language, and we feel inspired. We just know we’re on the cusp of brilliance.

With an image in our minds of an obsessed Jack Kerouac madly pounding nonstop for three weeks on a 120-foot roll of paper feeding continuously through his typewriter, we work as a thing possessed, confident of success, certain our writings will change the world.

Been there, done that?

If so, you probably thought you were going to die when you slammed into the wall of rejection and disillusionment at the end of that road.

But if you’re a real writer, you didn’t die. You got up, staggered around a bit, reeling and stunned. Maybe fell down once or twice, or nearly so, but eventually pulled yourself up by the computer desk (or kitchen table or whatever) and, after a period of queasiness, sat down again to write. A little less starry-eyed and a little more humble.

And a lot less certain of yourself.

Sooner or later, every writer comes to the place where he knows he needs help. When that happens, who ya gonna call? Wise writers seek the advice of people who have trod that path before them and found their way past the brick wall.

Most published writers are happy to share their wisdom with us wannabes, either through their websites, how-to books, seminars or groups. There’s no shortage of advice out there. The fact that much of it is redundant would indicate that there’s a lot of truth to it. I really don’t think these people are just spouting clichés, I think they’re telling us what we need to know.

Worse yet, what we need to do. How we need to change – change our habits, our attitudes, the way we spend our time.

Hey, I don’t want someone to tell me what to do, I just want someone to tell me I’m a genius!

If that’s your attitude – well, I wish you luck. But if you’re hungry for direction and are willing to learn, pull up a chair. Let’s learn together.

In my next post, we’ll look at some of the advice that’s out there and commiserate about it. For your homework, check out just one of many good sites out there, Jeffrey A. Carver’s Advice to Aspiring Writers.

Pay attention, because there will be a quiz.

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Blind Men and Elephants

I read a discussion recently about why, within the field of speculative fiction, fantasy is so much more popular than good, old-fashioned, technical science fiction.

I expect there are a number of reasons all working together — kind of like the parts of an elephant.

One viewpoint says it’s a matter of the demand determining the supply.

Traditionally, boys ate up the sci-fi stuff, but today, girls’ tastes dominate the world of Young Adult books. What the female chromosomes go for, as a rule, is the magic stuff, the romances, the neck-suckers. And whether you’re talking about books or movies, if that’s what the buyers want, that’s what the producers produce.

Of course the menfolk do watch plenty of things on the screen, and the action-filled stories they go for are well represented. But you don’t see a lot of scientific stuff anymore. Even what goes under the SF heading is usually far more “Fi” than “Sci”.

We can examine this elephant’s trunk, tail, tusks, etc., and come to any number of conclusions. But I’d like to step back and take a look from a broader perspective, if possible.

In its infancy, SF spoke of brave new worlds where technology would improve our lot in life and humanity would solve every problem. The atom bomb, among other things, caused people to realize that science was as likely to spawn ruin as redemption, and in the 1950s and ’60s, SF often contained warnings of the dangers of technological irresponsibility.

(Note, I’m speaking in generalities here. Mary Shelley created her Frankenstein’s monster almost two hundred years ago. My point is, though not all utopian SF predated the Bomb and not all of the gloomy stuff came after it, that seems to be the wider trend.)

Nowadays, the trend seems to be a retreat from the frightening world of hard reality into the hopeful fuzziness of fantasy. We see this not only in the realm of speculative fiction, but in many aspects of life.

Video games allow us to kill without killing and die without dying. Easy credit lets us usurp a lifestyle that isn’t rightfully ours. Situational ethics tells us there is no final authority, and feel-good amorality teaches us to think our actions don’t have lasting consequences. Big Brother’s revisionist history books work with popular culture’s docu-dramas and bio-pics to distort our view of the past. PhotoShop and “reality” TV skew our concept of the present. In many ways, the line between truth and fantasy has become blurred.

Science has given us a world that seems almost magical. Technology has provided us with so many amazing things, it’s easy to think that anything we can conceive is possible – someone just needs to invent a way to do it. Every fantasy, then, becomes a possibility, and just because it wasn’t real yesterday doesn’t mean it can’t be tomorrow. So we eat up fantasy with the same “what if?” curiosity with which our teenaged forefathers devoured Buck Rogers and Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Of course, some of that fantastic SF stuff became reality later, because the writers based their imaginings on hard science. However, the chances that the world’s population is divided between Muggles and witches/warlocks, or that some of those Goths you see walking around are really vampires, or that Middle Earth was real, are not likely to be proven or developed by science. But plenty of people like to escape to those worlds as often as they can, and stay there as long as they can.

What’s the appeal? Why would we rather be vicariously bitten on the neck than journey to Mars? Could it be that the promise of science has failed to deliver?

Fantastic advances have been made, and even the common person in this society lives in more comfort and security than the wealthiest of ancient kings. But despite our high-tech world, life still disappoints. Human nature is still corrupt. Diseases still ravage, wars still mutilate, parents still abuse, neglect and abandon, the powerful still oppress, and every improvement merely opens the door to new opportunities for exploitation.

Perhaps we grasp at fantasies because we sense that salvation can only be found in the spiritual realm, not the scientific. True, what we’re so hungrily reading and watching is as much a deception as a politician’s promise — but at least it gives us hope that maybe, just maybe, there’s something out there that’s true, and eternal, and worth pinning our hopes on.

It’s not elves or hobbits, it’s not extraterrestrials, but something buried within tells us that what we deeply, desperately need cannot be provided by science.

What is this elephant we’re examining piece by piece? Could it be a creation of God?

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A Rose By Any Other Name (Part II) (or, Still Learning, Never Quite Figuring it All Out)

A while back I wrote about genre classifications, inspired by a discussion in a LinkedIn group for SciFi readers, writers, collectors and artists.

I’ll admit, it was a pretty dull post. One reason is, it’s a pretty dull subject. But it’s a hot topic in the SF world. Someone in the group started another discussion last week, and the posts are flying like bats out of Carlsbad. This time, the question being bandied is the proper use of the terms “SciFi” and “SF.” I had no idea there was a distinction, let alone how strongly people felt about it.

Which is not to say they’re frothing at their keyboards. On the contrary, the discussion is being conducted in quite civil language. Nevertheless, it’s apparent people have strong opinions about the various aspects of the speculative world.

I’m a newcomer to the Science Fiction neighborhood. I read a little bit as a kid – in particular, I loved the Mushroom Planet series, which is pretty soft stuff where SciFi is concerned (it’s permissible to use the term “SciFi” in this context, isn’t it?). But I read a lot of things as a kid, and in general, science fiction titles didn’t rank very high on my list of favorites.

Fantasy is a different story. I was a Tolkein junky from fourth grade on, but that’s not the point; we’re talking about science fiction here.

As a newcomer, I’m trying to learn. Toward that end, I’m reading Age of Wonders by David G. Hartwell, which gives an overview of the history of the SF genre. The author talks about kids being introduced to SF at an early age (a group he refers to as omnivores), some of whom become hooked on the sense of wonder the stories create (these addicts, he calls chronics). Sometimes they outgrow the affliction and sometimes it’s terminal. In either case, it affects the way they view the world for the rest of their lives.

I can’t say I was ever what Hartwell calls an omnivore, and at this stage of my life, I’m a little long of tooth to become a chronic. But I am trying to get a feel for the genre and familiarize myself with some of the books and authors people are mentioning.

Why, if I’m such an outsider, do I want to write SF? The answer is simple: because it’s fun! And there’s a great deal of variation within the SciFi universe. Though I don’t get into the “science” parts, my tastes definitely do run along the speculative side of the tracks. So I don’t think I’m sniffing around the wrong tree.

Will being out of the loop help keep my writing fresh and original? Or will I unwittingly tromp over old ground that’s already well worn by others before me? Will I ignorantly break rules? Or are there no rules?

I don’t expect the chronics to appreciate my books, and the omnivores might not like the taste, either. But I hope to be able to create that sense of wonder that’s SF’s hallmark. And perhaps I can learn to do it well enough that a broad spectrum of grazers can enjoy a good feed, even if they never feel an intense craving for more.

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