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Science Fiction Today and Characterizations of the Genre

Science Fiction Today

Science fiction can be defined as that branch of literature which deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology.”
— Isaac Asimov

From the early days of pulp science fiction, the 1920s and 1930s saw the popularity of science fiction begin in earnest with Philip Francis Nowlan’s first Buck Rogers story, Armageddon 2419 published in 1928. In 1937, John W. Campbell was named editor of Astounding Science Fiction and thus began what many consider the Golden Age of Science Fiction. There is a debate on how long that Golden Age lasted, some feel into the 1950s, but there is no debate that the novels from that era stand today as classics in the world of science fiction.

Among those classics, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series followed over the years by the dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human, an exploration of the future evolution of humans, and Robert Heinlein’s military sci-fi novel Starship Troopers.

During this time the first attempt to separate science fiction from fantasy began when Hugo Gernsback, at the time editor of Amazing Stories used the name scientifiction to describe the genre. He defined the term as “…a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision…

Notable authors such as John W. Campbell J, Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark, and others added their own opinion to Gernsback’s definition over the years. One point all of these authors agreed on was that the basis of science fiction is scientific theory and technology. Robert Heinlein’s term ‘speculative fiction’ written in a 1947 essay has remained the term most used to this day. The attempt to redefine the genre never completely took hold although speculative fiction is still being used.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a new term arose. New Wave Science Fiction was used to describe a more literary and artistic feel to a sci-fi novel. Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris dealt with human limitations. In 1965, Frank Herbert introduced an incredibly complex and intricate future society in the amazing novel, Dune. Phillip K. Dick, whose novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? spawned the film, Blade Runner. These years also saw an explosion of social and feminist science fiction as exemplified by Ursula K. Le Guin.

The last forty years of science fiction has introduced us to a myriad of sub-genres such as steampunk and cyberpunk as seen in Neuromancer, William Gibson’s first novel published in 1984. Themes such as the environment, the Internet, biotechnology, nanotechnology, post-apocalyptic worlds, and the increasing list of sub-genres like steampunk, biopunk, and others have opened the genre to new horizons.

The most recent trends in science fiction discussed at Speculate, the Speculative Writers Festival in 2019 were as follows.

  • Climate Fiction – Dealing with climate change
  • New Space Opera – A grander, more technology-based and character-driven version of the old Space Opera.
  • Generation Ship – Where original colonists and their descendants travel on slower spaceships. A recognition of the vastness of space and that faster-than-light speed is impossible.
  • Gender-Focused – As we see in our society now, the question of gender fluidity is central to the story.

In reviewing the amazing and innovative stories that form the history of science fiction, it is evident that from the beginnings of Buck Rogers to Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, science fiction continues to evolve with compelling stories to tell.

Common Characteristics of Science Fiction

While there are many aspects of science fiction that are shared with other genres, there are some characteristics that are unique to the genre. These identifiers should be present in the story.

1.       Time Frame – This is the one area where there is some flexibility. While most science fiction is set in the future, a sci-fi story can be set in the present or in the past but other identifying characteristics must be present.

2.       Advanced Technology – In the early days of science fiction, advanced technology while imaginative was not as difficult to create. In present day, technology advances at an exponential rate. It is considerably more difficult to imagine technology for advanced civilizations and stay ahead of current tech. Consider the tech, computers, communication, spaceships, ground transports, etc. that you want your characters and those they encounter will have, and be consistent.

3.       Worlds and world-building – Probably the most formidable and most exciting aspect of writing sci-fi is alien world building. Some authors spend weeks building and creating their worlds. When you are presenting a futuristic Earth or an alien world and civilization, pay attention to detail. Think about how your characters will live, eat, breathe, and what kind of clothing and transport they will have. Every detail is important and will add depth and reality to your story.

4.       Characters Creating a cast of characters for your story can be as much fun as world building. As we know from some favorite movies, there is no limit to the imagination. Again, pay attention to detail. How they breathe, ambulate, dress, communicate, and appear.

5.       Plausibility – This is possibly one of the most important characteristics of your writing. Remember that your reader has one frame of reference, the current world they live in. You need to keep your worlds, characters, and technology within a scope that most of your readers can understand. This does not preclude you from being innovative, but always remember to be plausible. Another thing to remember is to allow your characters to live in this world—nothing that you provide them with, from weapons to transport should surprise them. It should be normal. These guidelines apply to all genres except for fantasy where you can suspend belief. Which is a good thing if you are writing science-fiction fantasy.

Writing science fiction is challenging and exciting. Pay attention to these aspects of the genre and have fun!

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We will be covering world building, character development, and plots in upcoming articles.

Resources

Asimov, “How Easy to See the Future!”, Natural History, 1975

Asimov, Isaac (1980). In Joy Still Felt: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1954–1978. Garden City, New York: Doubleday. chapter 24. ISBN 978-0-385-15544-1.

Quoted in [1993] in: Stableford, Brian; Clute, John; Nicholls, Peter (1993). “Definitions of SF”. In Clute, John; Nicholls, Peter. Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. London: Orbit/Little, Brown and Company. pp. 311–314. ISBN 978-1-85723-124-3.

Roberts, Adam (2000). Science Fiction. New York: Routledge. pp. 85–90. ISBN 978-0-415-19204-0.

Sammon, Paul M. (1996). Future Noir: the Making of Blade Runner. London: Orion Media. p. 49. ISBN 0-06-105314-7.

Spivack, Charlotte (1984). Ursula K. Le Guin (1st ed.). Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 978-0-8057-7393-4.,pp=44–50

http://www.dirkstrasser.com/dirks-blog/current-trends-in-science-fiction

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Writers Unite! Workshop: Those Pesky Brand Names

Recently an author published a story on Amazon.com that included a brand name in the title. With the investigative algorithms that they utilize, Amazon caught it and politely asked the author, who complied immediately, to correct the error. Much effort ensued to change titles, ISBN numbers, and cross-references across the author’s extensive body of work.  

In this case, it was a simple matter of oversight. The author never considered there was an issue. The brand name was so commonplace, it never occurred that using it would be a problem. A lesson that illustrates the care needed to be taken when writing.

This is not to say you can’t use brand names. You can. However, the context that you use them in is essential.

In an article written by Michy and posted on the “Accentuated Authors Services” website, she notes the following:

•    If you have a character crying in your story, she should ask for a tissue, not a Kleenex.
•    If a person is cleaning the bathroom, they should be using bleach and not Clorox.
•    Babies should be wearing diapers, not Pampers.
•    When you order a soft drink, it should be cola not Coke.
•    If cleaning ears, one should use a cotton swab, not a Q-tip.    

The point is that brand names should not be used in describing a generic product that may have numerous other brand identities. However, don’t despair, brand names can be used when identifying something specific. Michy writes that if you are in a football stadium and the Goodyear Blimp flies overhead, it is perfectly acceptable to use its correct name. For a mystery writer like me, she also mentions that if you are identifying evidence in a crime, it is okay to use the brand name and type of a tire or an automobile or other items because it is unique to the situation.

What you must not do is use a brand name in a title. As we learned at the beginning of this discussion, algorithms exist to find such occurrences, and usage will be caught by the company or publisher through Internet searches.

There are times, however, when you can use brand names. If you mention that a character drove a Ford Thunderbird as a young man and loved the car, that is acceptable, but make sure it relates to the plot. The most important thing to remember is never to use a brand name in a derogatory way. Bad-mouthing a company or product is one quick way to receive a cease-and-desist letter from an attorney.

Another critical factor to remember is that brands are fleeting and can date your story quickly. That is why choosing the generic word for a product, if one exists, is essential. You want your reader to relate to the product more than the brand. The fact is using too many brands can lead to your story reading like a commercial. Brands can be distracting, so use them wisely and infrequently.

There is one other area where company names and brands are important. World building is not just a tool of the science-fiction or fantasy writer. All writers build their world, and it is essential to be accurate about location when setting your story in an existing town or city. Remember, some of your readers could live there, so be precise with places and street names, and especially business names. 

I tend to be quite careful about the names of individual businesses when I write. I often set my novels in New Orleans, and I will mention Jackson Square, Café du Monde, Preservation Hall, and other iconic landmarks or businesses but set the action of my story in fictitious locations. Again, this is to keep the possibility of any negative connotation being associated with a real business or brand. You should not, however, use the names of private companies. If your scene calls for action at a restaurant which is in a specific area and there is an actual restaurant there, make up a name for it.

Using the real names of well-known landmarks provides realism to your stories and enhances the reader’s experience. I once had a reader tell me that my description of a small town in California was exactly how she remembered it from growing up. She knew the town square, the ice cream shop I mentioned, and the corner drugstore, and said I must have spent a lot of time in her hometown. The fact is I had never been there, but I utilized Google Map’s street-level view to provide the ambiance and setting for that scene. Her reaction shows that an accurate representation to your reader brings them into your story.

Writing can be a challenge. With so many factors to consider, we must remain cognizant of the issues that can harm our stories. If you do, you will not have to worry about those pesky brand names.  

Resources:
http://accentuateservices.com/archives/567

Adam J. Johnson: Benefits of Indie Publishing: Part Two

Part Two

When you think of indie publishing or self-publishing, what’s usually the first thing that comes to mind? You usually think—not quite as professional, right? Maybe not as much earning potential? Well, I’m glad you stopped in because we are going to break these misconceptions today! One thing that traditional publishing does have the advantage of is that it is a bit easier to become nationally recognized through a traditional publishing house, but we will cover that in Part Three of this series.

Issue One: I won’t be taken seriously as a self-published author.

This is something that many indie authors fear. We struggle with it and convince ourselves that we need to keep sending manuscripts to big publishing houses so we aren’t “settling” for indie publishers. Well, let’s talk about that for a minute.

Self-publishing is quickly moving to the foreground for a lot of reasons. There are some who will say that a self-published author isn’t a professional writer. The main reason for that is they don’t gain the preconceived success that comes with traditional publishing. But that’s all it is—perception. There are writers with book deals who are just scraping by, and there are self-published writers who are raking in upwards of forty thousand a month. I don’t know about you, but I would call that success! It all lies in your perception and the work you are willing to put in. If you don’t see yourself as a professional writer (even if you have a day job), then you won’t put in the work of a professional writer. Ultimately, if you want to be taken seriously as a writer, then you need to take yourself seriously and work hard at honing your craft and producing your best work! Which brings us to the advantages of indie publishing.

Issue Two: There’s not as much earning potential.

This is so far from the truth it hurts! The reason this is a popular notion is because of the instant accreditation you can get through a traditional publishing house. Publications and critics will see traditional publishing as a sign of quality because the work comes from a credible source. So you will have initial purchase orders, but as we covered in part one, purchase orders don’t necessarily translate into sales. Let’s look at how indie royalties work.

There are two ways you can go—completely self-published where you handle every aspect of creation, publishing, and marketing, or there are indie publishers who pick up some of the legwork. We will delve into the differences between the two in the next part of this series. Either way you go, the royalties end up pretty similar. Amazon royalties can vary depending on where and how you are publishing.

Through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), you can sell print books. After their cut is taken out for printing costs and a little to wet their beak, you are left with around 23-35% profit. Which isn’t bad when you consider that you won’t have an agent taking 15% of your profit from sales.

For ebooks through KDP, as long as you are priced between $2.99 and $10, you will profit a whopping 70% of your sales—something you will never see from a traditional publisher. With population growth and the widespread use of the internet and social media, that leaves you with literally billions of people that you can potentially reach. That’s easier said than done, though. That is why it is of the utmost importance that you build your marketing skills and practice them daily!

With an indie publishing company, you will, on average, keep a flat rate of your profits, and it can vary from 40%–60% of your sales. You also get the benefit of purchasing physical copies of your own book at cost, not retail price. So, with that being the case, say you decide to sell your book at $5 a piece. With 60% profit, you will make $3 per book sold. Meaning you will only need to sell 333,333 copies of your book to make a million dollars. I say only, but we all know that isn’t easy, either. However, it’s a lot better than the 1.3 million copies you would need to sell to make a million with a traditional publisher.

Other Benefits

Some benefits that I didn’t cover are that when you completely self-publish, you retain all of your rights and are free to do what you want with your work. This could come in handy in a lot of scenarios. Also, the rate of publication is exponentially quicker. You can have your book on the market in a very short time after the final edits are complete. As you can see, there are many benefits to self-publishing—it just takes a little more work than traditional publishing. So, if you are willing to put in the work, then you will be poised to reap the benefits!

Thank you for reading, and stay inspired! Stay tuned for Part Three in our Benefits of Indie Publishing.

Writers Unite! Tips on Writing: Grammar

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Adam J. Johnson: Benefits of Indie Publishing Part One – Traditional Publishing

 

Part 1: Traditional Publishing

  Many of us dream of getting that acceptance letter from one of the big publishing houses. We wait by the mailbox or constantly check our email in a child-like fervor, hoping to see “Congratulations” come through. We think that once we get that acceptance, life is set, we’ve made it, and we are now successful authors, right? Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are so many hoops to jump through with traditional publishing, and for a brand-new author without an agent, you will almost certainly get the short end of a short stick. There are a few exceptions to the rules—those like J.K. Rowling, who found massive success with her first series, but that is a rare case. Yes, we all want to hit that goal, but we need to plan for reality and write like we’ve got that success waiting for us. Let’s look at some of the drawbacks of traditional publishing. 

Royalties  

Royalties vary greatly for traditional publishing contracts. They can be from as little as 3% to as much as 15%. It would be exceedingly rare to get anything more than 15%. They have overhead costs, binding costs, and distributing costs that drive your earning potential way down. For a new author, you will probably get between 3-5% royalties. If you got the high end at 5% and your book sold for $15 per copy, that means you would make $0.75 per book sold. At that rate, you would have to sell 1.3 million copies of your book to make a million dollars. Sounds doable, right? What they don’t tell you is that the big publishing houses don’t really do much marketing for you—that is still mostly up to you. If you want to get the best deals and have someone set up events for you, you have to hire an agent before even getting signed with a publishing house. Your agent will go to bat for you negotiating your publishing contract and could get you a slightly higher percentage. They will set up events for you and get you different speaking gigs, but their focus isn’t even marketing, so that’s still up to you. Not to mention the high cost that comes with having an agent. They are an invaluable resource, but most authors can’t afford one before signing with a big publishing house, so most of us lose out when entering into new contracts with publishing houses. The advantage that traditional publishing gives you is that they will get you into many of the bigger-name retail stores. However, even though they get your book in front of those buyers, that doesn’t guarantee a sale. Most bookstores and retail outlets will place an order for your book through the publisher, but they usually require that they retain the right to return unsold books to the distributor. This is damaging to your royalties and this is how.  

The bookstore puts an order in for your book and the publisher sends it to them through their distributor. Even though there is technically a purchase for your book, the publisher holds payment until they are certain of how many copies were actually sold. This process could take months. So, if the bookstore purchased 5,000 copies of your book and only 1,000 copies sold over the course of six months, then the bookstore sends back the other 4,000 copies. Once the publisher receives the unsold copies, they will release payment for only the 1,000 copies sold despite the large order that was originally placed.  

Book Advance 

 

Now, for people who have money already or are already somewhat successful authors, the book advance is great! However, for new authors and people without much money, it can be damaging. Here comes the tricky part regarding if the publisher had paid you an advance on your book, which they do a lot of the time. Say that 1,000 copies were the first copies of your book sold. It took six months to sell through them plus the time it took for the distributor to receive them and verify that they are there. Now, the publisher recoups their money from the advance before you even get to see a royalty payment. So If those copies that you sold don’t cover the advance, now you’ve waited around seven months and won’t receive any royalty payments because your advance wasn’t covered. So you can see how purchase orders from a bookstore don’t necessarily translate into sales. This is where marketing comes in. Most of the time, the big publishing houses won’t put much, if any, money into marketing your work unless you are an established author with a good following. So you are still left to market your book with your own resources and you are taking such a small percentage of the profits for your own work!  

So sure, traditional publishing does seem like a glorious pursuit, and sometimes it can be! The reality of it is—it’s not as glamorous as you would think and is actually somewhat unfair to the author who puts in a large majority of the work to get a small fraction of the rewards.

Stay tuned for part two of this series where we will dive into the reality of indie publishing and the benefits we can reap from it.

Words Of Ernest Hemingway

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Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway is seen as one of the great American 20th century novelists, and is known for works like ‘A Farewell to Arms’ and ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’
Born on July 21, 1899, in Cicero (now in Oak Park), Illinois, Ernest Hemingway served in World War I and worked in journalism before publishing his story collection In Our Time. He was renowned for novels like The Sun Also RisesA Farewell to ArmsFor Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea, which won the 1953 Pulitzer. In 1954, Hemingway won the Nobel Prize. He committed suicide on July 2, 1961, in Ketchum, Idaho.

Hemingway left behind an impressive body of work and an iconic style that still influences writers today. His personality and constant pursuit of adventure loomed almost as large as his creative talent.

When asked by George Plimpton about the function of his art, Hemingway proved once again to be a master of the “one true sentence”: “From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality.”

In August 2018, a 62-year-old short story by Hemingway, “A Room on the Garden Side,” was published for the first time in The Strand Magazine. Set in Paris shortly after the liberation of the city from Nazi forces in 1944, the story was one of five composed by the writer in 1956 about his World War II experiences. It became the second story from the series to earn posthumous publication, following “Black Ass at the Crossroads.”

 

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Resources:

Image: https://medium.com/@Reedsy/30-inspiring-writing-quotes-from-famous-authors-ca601bfa5915

https://www.biography.com/people/ernest-hemingway-9334498

Words of Hunter S. Thompson

 

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Hunter S. Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1937. He showed a knack for writing at a young age, and after high school began his career in journalism while serving in the United States Air Force. Following his military service, Thompson traveled the country to cover a wide array of topics for numerous magazines and developed an immersive, highly personal style of reporting that would become known as “Gonzo journalism.” He would employ the style in the 1972 book for which he is best known, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was an instant and lasting success. For the remainder of his life, Thompson’s hard-driving lifestyle—which included the steady use of illicit drugs and an ongoing love affair with firearms—and his relentlessly antiauthoritarian work made him a perpetual counterculture icon. However, his fondness for substances also contributed to several bouts of poor health, and in 2005 Thompson committed suicide at the age of 67.

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https://www.biography.com/people/hunter-s-thompson-9506260

Words of Ray Bradbury

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Ray Bradbury was an American fantasy and horror author who rejected being categorized as a science fiction author, claiming that his work was based on the fantastical and unreal. His best-known novel is Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian study of future American society in which critical thought is outlawed. He is also remembered for several other popular works, including The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury won the Pulitzer in 2004, and is one of the most celebrated authors of the 21st century. He died in Los Angeles on June 5, 2012, at the age of 91.

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Resources:

https://www.biography.com/people/ray-bradbury-9223240

Writers Unite! Tips on Writing: How to Open Your Novel

WT - Opening

Live Limitless

There is always a path from the place you are to the place you want to be. Never stop building the bridge to your dreams. Work hard, be persistent and you will create the reality you dream of.

We are used to creating new worlds for our characters and we work tirelessly to build full, exciting worlds for our readers. The truth is, we can do the same for ourselves and the key to that ideal world lies in each of us. We determine our mindset and outlook and that determines our world. Build well and build often. 

#livelimitless

 

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