One of things we’re talking about on Book Country lately is how to write about the hard stuff: real life pain and hardship. We featured Joshua Henderson‘s memoir RARE AND SPECIAL ANGELS in the Book Country Bookstore this month because it is an example of a writer bravely crafting a story from his family’s struggle–namely, Joshua and his wife’s daughter being diagnosed with Trisomy 17p, a rare and fatal disorder. We talked to Joshua about what it took to write RARE AND SPECIAL ANGELS (which he posted in Peer Review on Book Country prior to publishing), and what he’s doing now that his book is out in the world.
LS: What brought you and your story to Book Country?
JH: I have always been interested in publishing my book and one of the other publishing websites in fact published my other book. I left them because there wasn’t much assistance with the publishing and the prices of the books were too much based on how many pages the book was. I like eBooks, but I would also like to check into other publishing companies that can publish a hard copy of my book that I can sell. I don’t need all of the help trying to get the book sold. I just need someone to print it off that makes it look professional.
LS: How long have you been writing, and is Memoir the genre you write in most often?
JH: I have been writing on and off for a few years, nothing that has been published. I have always thought about publishing a book. The first book that I tried having published was a book about me and my military experiences. After reading it in the eBook version I had to take it offline because I had found somethings that needed to be corrected. I haven’t completely corrected everything, so I haven’t tried to republish it again. The two books that I have written have been memoirs, but I am currently working on writing a fictional book. Continue reading →
I’ve been obsessed with Antarctica since I was a child: it represented a colossal, prismatic space of mystery and unanswered questions, the final wilderness on our planet, where men wearing ill-fitting reindeer skins took teams of sled dogs over glaciers for years at a time, through miserable conditions that are beyond imagination. So when I learned the National Science Foundation offered an Antarctica Artists and Writers Residency, I immediately applied. The NSF selects one or two artists or writers from any discipline – filmmaking, puppetry, painting, photography and poetry, to name just a few – to travel to Antarctica during the austral summer and embed with science teams.
The application process is rigorous, requiring extensive research about the existing science on the continent, permission from any field team that you propose to embed with, and justification of why your art requires a trip to Antarctica. I contacted four different field teams that work with Antarctic animals: from the largest animals, the seals, down to the smallest, the soil microbes. I wanted to spend weeks immersed in the vernacular of the scientists, and to better understand how these myriad animals had adapted to not just survive, but thrive, in the most strange and barren circumstances, and to write poetry and nonfiction about these experiences.
The death of print is a fear that comes hand in hand with the rapid technological developments of our digital age, but in Alena Graedon’s THE WORD EXCHANGE, it has become reality. She presents a not too far-off future where over-reliance on smart digital devices impairs our ability to communicate—even think. What goes into imagining a world in which technology inhibits our thought processes? How about our speech patterns? We talk to Alena about THE WORD EXCHANGE’s “language in ruins.”
NG: THE WORD EXCHANGE is based in the recent future—and yet the death of print and the onslaught of sixth-sense digital technology have already tremendously changed the way people live. You had to coin new words and concepts that only exist in the futuristic sci-fi world of the book and think through how a language virus would change people’s speaking and thought patterns. Can you talk about that process of creating language in a novel about language?
AG: Language is really at the center of the book, you’re absolutely right. In some sense, it’s the hero of the story. Our relationship to language has been profoundly changed by technology, and I’ve been fascinated by the implications of inviting lots of beautiful, blinking machines into our lives, and of gradually relinquishing functionalities to them that we once viewed as fundamental to ourselves—decision-making, creating and interpreting things, communicating. Setting the book in the near future helped me explore what might happen when these processes have advanced just slightly, and how things could go really wrong.
A lot of the decisions I made in writing the book came from its focus on language. For instance, I always knew that lexicographers would tell the story. Dictionary-makers are especially attuned to words—to their diachronic evolutions over time, as well as to synchronic snapshots of what our living language means at any given moment. It was also interesting to have lexicographer protagonists because the publishing industry is changing so quickly, and the shift from print to a more fragile, ephemeral digital medium leaves us vulnerable to certain losses and threats. In the book, these include the hijacking and corruption of language, and also a disease, “word flu,” which makes communication nearly impossible, increasingly isolating and alienating its victims.
Twitter is a micro-blogging social network through which millions of people communicate with each other, and with the world at large, via 140-character “tweets.” Twitter can be accessed via their website, mobile apps, text messages, or a number of third-party applications, such as HootSuite.
Twitter is a vital tool for driving site traffic and also for participating in online conversations and communities.
How It Works
When you sign up for Twitter, you select an available handle, or username, then you choose who you want to “follow.” When you follow someone, each tweet that person sends shows up in your Twitter feed. People can also follow you, of course, and the more active you are, the more people will follow you and subsequently receive your tweets. You can converse with people directly by using the @ symbol followed by the person’s handle, or you can participate in larger group chats using hashtags, which are defined by the # symbol.
We are really excited to introduce Ace and Roc editor Danielle Stockley. Danielle has been a trusted counselor to us over the years and is our go-to science fiction and fantasy fiction expert. (She also edits Book Country member Kerry Schafer‘s the Books of the Between!) It is our pleasure to have her answer questions about her work at Penguin Random House on Book Country today. Read on for great tips about the craft of writing—and editing—in those genres.
NG: What are some of the clichés in science fiction and fantasy submissions that make a manuscript an automatic “pass” for you?
DS: I hate to declare anything an automatic pass, because inevitably it will show up in something that I’ve published. There are definitely things that make me wary, though. Plots involving mind control; protagonists who are constantly developing new powers just when they are needed most; character “development” by way of sexual assault; and evil, monolithic corporations with seemingly limitless resources don’t feel especially fresh to me.
This morning we welcome Book Country writer and wrimo Dan Croutch to the member spotlight! An IT admin, father, golfer, and gamer, Dan is also hard at work on his debut epic fantasy novel, THE KINGS OF CARNIN. He *just* uploaded a new version of the WIP for all of you to read and enjoy!
NG: You joined the site during NaNoWriMo. Tell us about your experience on Book Country so far? What’s your favorite part?
DC: The experience so far on Book Country has been nothing short of great. I found the site while doing research into the publishing industry after finishing NaNo. It mentioned how Penguin had a site that provides tools for people to self-publish electronically. Since this is an avenue I was interested in, I was naturally drawn to the site. I have thoroughly enjoyed the community involvement around NaNo and the great feedback from other site members on my query and manuscript alike. There are a lot of resources for both people looking to workshop their work and also fully self-publish; it’s not just for “either—or.”
NG: How has your NaNo novel progressed, three months after NaNoWriMo is over?
DC: It hasn’t! I’ve actually put it on hold in favor of revisions to last year’s NaNo, which also happens to be the first book in the series. Once those changes are made and the new draft posted to Book Country, I’ll start back up. Hopefully it’ll be finished before the next NaNoWriMo comes around.
In the Book Country newsletter this month*, I started to talk about creating a digital footprint for your book, and just how important it is to make your book “findable.” For the same reasons, I wanted to write today about the importance of the keywords you enter into your Book Details page when you upload your book for peer review or to publish on Book Country.
Nowadays, many readers find books via searching online. You want to make sure that your book will pop up for any reader who might be looking for books like it online. Keywords help make a book findable to potential readers in specific ways that the title, subtitle, the author name, the About the Book, and genre categorization might miss.
For example, if a visitor to the Book Country Bookstore wants to learn more about Poland, they won’t necessarily know which members are writing about Poland, and they won’t know the titles of the books about Poland on the site. However, a simple search for “Poland” will yield results for all the books about Poland so long as “Poland” has been entered as a keyword by the author.
Member Eryka Martin‘s memoir SIGNATURE OF THE IMMIGRANT takes place in Poland, so she made sure to have “Poland” as a keyword. For that reason, I can find SIGNATURE OF THE IMMIGRANT when I’m looking for books about Poland even though it doesn’t have “Poland” in the title.
What’s military science fiction, you ask? Fiction in the style of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA would be the short answer. Stories about interplanetary conflict that emphasize military strategy and play-by-play descriptions of battle scenes. To get the long answer, read our Q&A with Military SF Landmark author Jack Campbell. His Lost Fleet series recounts the adventures of naval officer Jack Geary, who “comes back from the dead” to help the Alliance stand up to its enemies—the Syndicate Worlds.
NG: There are 15 books in the Lost Fleet universe. What’s the secret to your world’s longevity? Do you have advice for writers who want to write military science fiction worlds that make readers readers keep coming back?
JC: There are several different things that have enabled me to keep the stories coming in the Lost Fleet universe. The first is that the initial scenario gave me so much to work with. I had been thinking for years about how to successfully write a long “retreat in space” story. That’s a lot harder than it may sound, because it requires a combination of technologies and ways of fighting that allow a beleaguered force to survive and continue trying to reach safety. I had the classic long retreat book as a model (Xenophon’s March of the 10,000), which had been used by other writers in the past, and I wanted to make what I was doing feel real. During the same period that I was thinking about how to do that story, I had also been thinking about sleeping hero legends, which are common in societies around the world. Such legends (like that of King Arthur) say that the hero is not dead, but sleeping, and will someday return when needed. They are probably based on real people who were, well, real people, not awesome heroes. I wondered what it would be like for someone to awaken from a long sleep and discover that they were now thought to be an awesome hero, and that everyone was expecting them to save the day. After years of thinking about these two ideas, I suddenly realized that they fit together perfectly. Both required a lot of background to make them work, so the Lost Fleet stories began with a double dose of background. That gave me a lot to build interlocking storylines about.
I’m thrilled to be blogging for Book Country today about one of my favorite subjects: world building!
One of the greatest challenges in writing paranormal and fantasy fiction is crafting a setting that feels real, even if all of the rules we normally abide by are turned inside out. Writers trust their readers to willingly suspend their disbelief and accept the truths that the prose give them, but this trust isn’t freely given—writers must earn it. Think of your favorite world building writers and try to recall what they did to build an environment that was so completely different from our own, yet so easily imaginable.
Some of my favorite writers capitalize on familiar objects, identities, and themes, which they use as the foundation for their fantastical world(s). For example, JK Rowling takes human experiences and puts a metaphorical twist on them: Dementors and Boggarts represent fear; Physical markings like scars and Dark Marks represent power; and even the names of the characters are scrambled from words and sayings we all recognize–like Voldemort, which means “Flee from death,” or “Remus Lupin,” which is a combination of Wolf and Moon. By creating metaphors out of the ordinary and familiar, JK Rowling gently leads the reader into her magical world, slowly introducing magical elements, until eventually all that is left is fantasy. One of the greatest lessons we can learn from her craft is that every world, no matter how extraordinary, fantastical, or magical, is conceivable via the human imagination. Continue reading →
Building believable worlds is a skill—one that can be honed. Today Mindspace Investigations series author Alex Hughes shares her techniques for marrying science fiction elements to the realism of the murder investigation crime scene.
Good mysteries these days have crime scenes. It’s a requirement—and not simple crime scenes either. Since CSI, mystery audiences love seeing detailed clues in crime scenes and on murder victims that help the detective solve the case. So when I sat down to write the latest book in my science fiction mystery series, I knew I needed at least one detailed crime scene. But I also wanted those real-world details to work with the science fiction/fantasy elements of my world.
To address the mystery elements, I watched a lot of CSI and then did detailed research on forensics to get my head around the reality (and the fiction) of crime scenes. Having a real-world grounding in detail meant that I knew how forensics people and detectives both in the real world and in fiction tended to think. Then, when I added a character who could see in Mindspace (where human minds leave traces of themselves), I could add clues in a way that would help the police find the killer. I could pull ideas and situations from my research, and then add other elements on top of them; the layers and the research make the science fiction elements feel more grounded.