Category Archives: Science Fiction

Military Science Fiction Lessons from Jack Campbell’s Legendary LOST FLEET Series

Posted by March 6th, 2014

john_hemry_1What’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.

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SF Worldbuilding: How to Ground Your Science Fiction World with a Mystery Plot

Posted by March 4th, 2014

Alex_Hughes_AuthorBuilding 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. 

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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.

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Member Spotlight: Meet Writer Ellie Isis

Posted by February 3rd, 2014

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Today I am happy to welcome Book Country member Lisa Iriarte, who writes science fiction and fantasy as Ellie Isis. She’s penned several books — many of which well-reviewed on Book Country! — and is currently seeking representation for her work. Her book THREADBARE was recently an Editor’s Pick on Book Country — so be sure to check it out if you’re looking for some original romantic science fiction

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NG: I was impressed to read in your Book Country bio that you try to write a thousand words a day and read a book a week. How do you keep yourself on task?

EI: Hah! The key word in there is “try,” but I do a pretty good job with it. For one thing, I am one of those hyper-organized people. I make to-do lists. Reading and writing are actually on that list, along with chores and such. I go down the list, alternating reading a chapter with doing a chore like laundry, then I write a page on my manuscript and do another chore. Reading and writing end up being rewards to myself for completing other tasks. If I finish all my chores, then I alternate reading and writing for the rest of the day. Of course that doesn’t take into account things like my full-time job, two kids, two dogs, and a husband (they are not on the list :)), so it doesn’t always go according to my grand plan.

NG: You’ve penned four romantic science fiction manuscripts! Tell us more about what draws you to the subgenre and what is, for you, the most important aspect of writing about love in a non-romance  novel?

EI: I’m more character driven than anything else when I write, so the emotional element is vital in any manuscript I work on. When I add a romance in as a subplot, the most important aspects are making sure the balance is right between the romance and the science fiction, and also capturing the feelings/emotions/reactions of the characters in a believable manner. When they suffer from broken hearts, I want my readers to suffer, and when they feel joy, I want my readers to experience that emotion with them.

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Beyond NaNoWriMo: Literary Agent Sara Megibow on Top Publishing Trends

Posted by December 4th, 2013

NaNoWriMo has come to an end, and I’m sure many of you are itching to share your work: publish it or place it into the hand of a literary agent. Finishing a novel is incredibly exciting, but make sure it’s as ready as it can be, first, before sharing it with your readers! Do your research. Edit. Strategize. 

Today we have the third part of our interview with agent Sara Megibow–a special treat for those of you who are gearing up to query agents in the next months. Be sure to check out the first part of our interview, in which she shared specific query advice and the second part, where she talked about what’s behind a good author-agent relationship

Here, we discuss publishing trends, erotic romance, and sci/fi submissions. ~NG

NG: As an agent, you have a birds-eye view of the publishing industry. Are there any trends you see growing or contracting in terms of genre or writing style?

SM: That’s a great question and thanks again for having me here at Book Country! I’ve followed the Book Country website and Twitter feed for a long time now. Thanks for all the hard work your team does to support authors!

Now, on to trends—you asked about genre and writing style. Let’s tackle genre first. I’ve worked in publishing for 8 years and have been a literary agent for 4 years and can honestly say (from an agent’s perspective) brilliant writing has been the “hot” thing all along. It’s easy to point to certain genres that have gone “boom” and been hot over the years—vampire romance, young adult dystopian, erotic romance, etc. but when I’m reading submissions for potential representation I put these biases aside and read solely for quality of writing. I want a book that grabs my attention and draws me in so much that when the cat meows, the kid screams and the doorbell rings, I miss it all because I’m so engrossed in the characters and their lives.

9780778313533_smp.inddAs an agent, I represent debut authors in science fiction, fantasy, romance, erotica, new adult, young adult and middle grade fiction. I do want submissions that match a certain formula based on genre (word count, happy-ever-after ending, etc), but I don’t reject submissions because of the genre itself. I’ve seen a lot of submissions recently set in the dream world or in Heaven or Hell and I’ve also seen a lot of submissions in which the hero or heroine is recovering from a coma or from amnesia. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t represent a book with these elements—it just means a book with these elements will have to display superior mastery of craft in order to stand out among the competition.

Here’s another example—I’ve heard whispered around the internets that historical romance is on a downswing. Well, I disagree. I agree that contemporary romance is trending up right now, but not at the expense of historical as people might say. I represent debut author Ashlyn Macnamara who has two Regency historicals out this year and they are selling like hotcakes. So, genre being what it is—we have to take these trends with a grain of salt.

Now, let’s talk about writing style for a moment. In terms of trends, writing style has a much more concrete answer than genre. For example, here are some quantifiable success stories from the past two years:

The eBook tie-in novella. Think about SUBMIT TO DESIRE by Tiffany Reisz—a novella-length story set in her ORIGINAL SINNERS world but sold at a lower price and as an ebook only. SUBMIT TO DESIRE sells well and readers seem to love the occasional quickie read, especially when they get to see some of their favorite heroes and heroines again. Also, the lower price point works well in convincing new readers to try an author she/he might not have read before. We recently inked an ebook novella tie-in deal for Michael Underwood’s GEEKOMANCY series too. The novella will be called ATTACK THE GEEK, will feature Ree Reyes in a new adventure and will be available as an ebook in early 2014. Will this trend continue? Yes, I think it will.

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Keep kids creatively occupied with Book Country coloring sheets while you are writing this holiday season!

Posted by November 22nd, 2013

Book Country Coloring Sheets Image

The holiday season is almost upon us!

If you are anything like me, your writing schedule gets totally thrown during the holiday season. Between cooking, shopping for and wrapping presents, entertaining houseguests, and going to parties, my word count stalls at the end of the year. I know that for writers who are also parents, this time of year is even trickier because kids are out of school and in need of entertainment and care.

That’s what gave me the idea of Book Country coloring sheets. If you’re hanging out with kids this holiday season, grab some crayons, markers, or colored pencils, and download and print Book Country genre flags for them to color in while you write. They’ll learn a little about literary genres, and you’ll be able to steal a few minutes to work on your WIP.

Here we offer six kid-friendly Genre Flags, ready to be colored in:

As you can see from our examples above, coloring is not just for kids! We took a breather at lunchtime this week to color in Genre Flags ourselves. We highly recommend coloring as an activity for relaxing and recharging during this busy time of year!

Check out this picture of Nevena coloring–relaxed indeed!

Book Country coordinator Nevena Georgieva colors a Book Country Genre Flag

Share the fruits of your artistic labor with us by tweeting photos to @BookCountry and tagging Instagrams with @BookCountryOfficial. We can’t wait to see how you bring these Genre Flags to life!

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Behind the Scenes of a Literary Dystopia with Chang-rae Lee, Author of ON SUCH A FULL SEA

Posted by November 21st, 2013

 Chang-rae Lee (c) Annika LeeAward-winning Riverhead Books author Chang-rae Lee took the time to answer a few behind-the-scenes question for us about his new literary dystopia, ON SUCH A FULL SEA, which comes out in January 2014.

Lucy: The titles of your books (NATIVE SPEAKER, THE SURRENDERED, ALOFT) are easy to remember, but also poetic, evocative. Tell us how you choose titles in general, and how this title was chosen.

Chang-rae Lee: Choosing a title is rarely easy. I start thinking about possible titles early on in the writing, testing out candidates as I go along, for meaning and a certain ‘music’ – both have to feel right. ON SUCH A FULL SEA was especially difficult, and came quite late in the process. I happened to be reading JULIUS CAESAR by Shakespeare and came across the phrase in a famous quote by Brutus, in which he advocates via metaphor the seizing of an opportunity. I simply liked the ring of it, too, immediately picturing my heroine on the ‘tide’ of her adventure, and so leaped on it. Continue reading

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Win Margaret Atwood’s Postapocalyptic Trilogy!

Posted by November 19th, 2013

maddaddam_sweepstakes_image_finalThis week we’re celebrating dystopian and postapocalyptic fiction, and we knew we had to talk about one of the genre’s biggest names: Margaret Atwood.

I first encountered Atwood’s work in a college class called “Post-collapse and Postapocalyptic fiction.” Out of the eight books assigned in the course, three were Atwood’s! While that reflects my professor’s utter devotion to her writing, it’s also a testament to the vast array of issues and themes that she explores in her body of work — no single novel could tell the full story of her contribution to the dystopian/postapocalyptic fiction genre.

The MaddAddam trilogy, which just came to an end a few months ago with MADDADDAM, shows how man-made environmental cataclysms can cause unimaginable devastation and wipe out the social order as we know it. With her brilliant cautionary tales, Atwood imagines what could be if present social and environmental problems spiraled out of control, unattended. This is postapocalyptic writers’ hardest task — acting as our internal barometers.

Thanks to our colleagues at Doubleday Publishing, we can give a copy of Margaret Atwood’s entire MaddAddam trilogy to one lucky Book Country member!

To enter our sweepstakes, tweet your Book Country username to us @BookCountry on Twitter. Use the hashtag #winbookcountry so we can see your entry. We’ll draw a winner at random.

Here’s the Sweepstakes’ official page, where you can read the full rules.

Good luck and happy (postapocalyptic) writing!

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Member Spotlight: Meet Horror Writer Nikki Hopeman

Posted by November 18th, 2013

Today we’re joined by Book Country member Nikki Hopeman, who has wonderful news to share with the community: her debut horror novel HABEAS CORPSE was just released from Blood Bound Books.

Nikki has a Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hall University, and has worked as a “mad scientist” at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Immunologic Monitoring and Cellular Products laboratory–two talents that have undoubtedly helped her with her first zombie novel!

Here we’re talking about her the publication process and her fascination with dark fiction and zombies. ~NG

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Your debut novel HABEAS CORPSE just came out–congratulations! Will you tell us more about your book’s journey: from the muse descending upon you to the book capturing the attention of Blood Bound Books?

The roots of HABEAS CORPSE formed during a graduate school class when I read Richard Matheson’s short story, “The Funeral.” In Matheson’s story, we meet a vampire who is disappointed he’ll never have a funeral, so he throws his own and invites an interesting mix of supernatural friends. Chaos quickly ensues. I’d just finished reading Jeff Lindsay’s DEXTER series, and the two worlds collided. I initially wrote a short story about an entirely supernatural forensics squad, but a friend told me I had the makings of a novel. After a few false starts, I realized the best character from the story was the evidence-eating zombie, so I kept him and made everyone else human. I finished the first full draft and approached RJ Cavender and the editorial department to help me polish the manuscript. When we finished, he acquired the novel for Blood Bound Books. It was really fast, and my head might still be spinning. Continue reading

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Plotting a YA Dystopian Series: Use the Title & the Cover to Your Advantage

Posted by November 15th, 2013

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YA dystopian books sure have been on my mind lately. As I’m waiting for the CATCHING FIRE movie to come out and I’m reading through the last installment of the DIVERGENT series, I can’t help but wonder about the secret ingredients of a successful YA dystopian series.

What you need, of course, is a great story. The stakes in the genre are higher by default, because of the overwhelming menace of the totalitarian dystopian society. In that sense, YA dystopian books are like regular YA on steroids: the protagonist needs to overcome tremendous hurdles and dangers, and often experiences the death of a loved one. The possibility of discovery–and punishment–by the big-brother government overshadows our character’s journey through the book and keeps us on our toes. 

And one of the best ways to reach out to your audience and give them a taste of the series is to come up with a great title and cover design!

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Diving into YA Dystopian with SLATED Author Teri Terry

Posted by November 14th, 2013

Fractured

The precedent of the HUNGER GAMES opened up the door for other talented authors to tell their YA dystopian tales. Today we’re talking to British author Teri Terry, who pushes the envelope with her SLATED books, one of the most thought-provoking and chilling sci-fi series I’ve read in the past year. In SLATED, we meet young Kyla, who’s had her memory and personality erased as punishment for a crime she can’t remember committing. Who is really Kyla without her memories and what makes her *her*? Teri  takes on these big questions head on, and she approaches Kyla’s characterization with the kind of subtlety that is a joy to read.

NG: What inspired you to write a dystopian series for young adults?

I never set out to write a dystopian series. SLATED actually started from a dream I had, about a girl running, terrified, on a beach, afraid to look back to see what chased her. That same morning I wrote the dream down before I was really awake, and the story kind of grew from there. So it is really difficult to say what inspired writing it! The story chose me: it came from an unconscious need to explore issues that were troubling me, obsessions that I had. These include the whole nature-nurture debate: does someone who commits a horrible violent crime have something inherently wrong with how they are wired up inside, or does everyone have this capacity, given the right (wrong) circumstances? Next the identity issue: what makes us who we are? If you take someone’s memories away, are they still the same person? And finally, terrorism. More specifically: are a violent group defined by their objectives, or their methods? What is the difference between terrorists and freedom fighters? Do we define groups based on whether we agree with what they are trying to achieve?

NG: Your Master’s degree coursework was on the depiction of terrorism in young adult literature, which has clearly impacted the oppressive world you’ve crafted in the SLATED series. How did you thread your findings into the books?

slatedTT: Things happened kind of the other way around. I was thinking for some time about doing a creative writing MA, and in the end focused on a research degree. The way that worked is that I had to come up with a research proposal that included both a novel I planned to write, and a contextual thesis surrounding it. In my case the novel was SLATED, and the thesis was a consideration of the depiction of terrorism in YA dystopian fiction. However, I actually wrote SLATED before I really made much of a start on the thesis. Having said that, the impact the research had was more on examining how I wanted the trilogy to end, and why.

Traditional dystopian novels tend to end very badly for the hero: the whole point is that of a warning, a call to action – to change the world to avoid this coming to pass.

Conversely, YA dystopian novels tend to have more hopeful endings, even happy ones at times. Literary critics argue this negates the message of a dystopian novel; at the same time, debate rages about the impact of dark dystopian novels on younger readers. But I can’t tell you much more about decisions I made about the end of the trilogy without major spoilers!

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