One Big Fat Reason I Keep My Mouth Shut

I only ran across this article the other day, but the second I read it, I was like “I must blog this.” The cautionary tale of Kosoko Jackson perfectly illustrates the one big fat reason I keep my mouth shut when it comes to current events, social issues or anything not having to do with my writing.

Jackson, in a nutshell, is an underknown YA author like me. Not afraid to make his opinions known, he found himself the target of social media outrage when an upcoming novel met with accusations of insensitivity. Before you could say ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ Jackson’s book was dead on the vine, a victim of the controversy. Kosoko Jackson has since moved onto other projects.

So imagine that you spend hundreds of hours developing and writing a story. Hundreds more finding an agent, a publisher, an editor. Here comes your moment, the part in the story where your book, your novel, is out there in the universe. Then, before that moment can happen, your project explodes. You watch your dream, your baby, burn like a roman candle. The dream is over before it got started. What an awful, sickening feeling that must be.

Reason makes no bones about the implications: “Maybe there’s some actual fire here, but determining that would require a close read of the sort that sociopathic social-media dogpilings rarely afford. Zooming out, these episodes will inevitably affect YA publishing, and perhaps other areas of publishing if the fever spreads.”

I’m just a guy, a guy who writes stories. News like this make me want to crawl in a hole, be happy with my disability check, and forget I ever heard of book called ‘Mesh.’ It also helps explain why my social media engagement is pretty neutral when it comes to controversy. My voice is something I’m responsible for, and honestly I can’t handle the responsibility of being a mouthpiece. Please don’t ask.

All of this makes me think of that famous quote: Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt. – Maurice Switzer, but commonly attributed to Abraham Lincoln

I’m keeping my mouth shut, and writing my books. I hope, at the end of the day, that it’s worth something.

What Mesh Means to Readers

Beta Readers are connecting with Mesh in a lot of different ways. I got this email yesterday from Mike in Tampa. He helped me explain something I couldn’t have done on my own – what Mesh means to readers. I got a lump in my throat reading this:

Jackson,

We were discussing, more informally, how I felt about Roman having a disability. I’d be more than happy to go on the record and say that I loved it, and here’s why. I have Epilepsy. It’s not even remotely the same disability that Roman has, but it’s a disability that has affected my life in some pretty negative ways. I have scars all across my body, including 2nd and 3rd degree burns, from my Epilepsy. I was forced to drop out of highschool, I only got my GED this past December. 
I relate to Roman because he was treated differently due to his disability, just like I was. I was babied, and I was picked on. I was treated like I couldn’t do even the simplest things for myself, and I was treated like I was faking, things I’ve noticed with Roman. I also had to have the help of technology to help me, like Roman did, though mine was an implant (VNS). 
Please, on behalf of the other cripples, keep Roman the way he is. He gave me hope when I was breaking my face every day during seizures, and I’m sure he’ll help other cripple kids.


As I said before, I want Roman to be a kid who’s ‘trying.’ Trying means different things to different people. For Mike, it’s about getting past his difficulties and Roman gives him someone to relate to. We’ll see what other people say in the months ahead, but for now I wanted to share this with you.
Thanks, Mike. :-}

New Microfiction – Battlefield Surgeon

I started writing ‘Battlefield Surgeon’ in response to the following writer’s prompt on Reddit: “You are a surgeon working the front lines of the American Civil War. 2 soldiers bring in another, shot twice, one in each leg. Looking closely you realize it is your brother. “Fix him up enough that he can be hanged for desertion” one of them says.”

War isn’t something to be glorified. This prompt struck a chord with me simply because it illustrates the impossible circumstances that humanity can put itself in. War is a horror, how should a doctor respond? I took inspiration from An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce and started typing.

Read ‘Battlefield Surgeon’ here

Here’s Why You Write Every Day: Jerry Seinfeld

Love him or hate him, Jerry Seinfeld is both talented and hardworking. His rockstar career in the world of comedy is due in no small part to his work ethic and the structure he brings to his craft. Here, in this video cast with Tom Pappa, Jerry discusses why you write every day. As a writer, I found a ton of valuable insights and you will, too. Take a look:

It would be fair call this a ‘masterclass in creative professionalism.’ You have to structure your creativity, hold yourself accountable, and get your stuff out there so you can learn and get better. Not everyone is willing to put the hours in, but Jerry is, and that’s why he’s Seinfeld.

So at the end of the day, don’t be afraid to put the work in. It can only lead you to good places. Enough talk for now. Time for me to get back to work.

Your Top Ten Biggest Scifi Writing Mistakes

You. Yes, you. Stop right now and jot this down. There was a thread over at /r/scifi that listed out the biggest mistakes in scifi and I couldn’t help but take note. You should too, because these people are our readers and when they talk, we need to listen with both ears. To keep it super-simple, I compiled some of the best ones into a handy Top-Ten format. I want to keep this for my future reference and yours, too.

Good scifi cannot save bad writing. I think we all know that. At the same time, bad writing can be forgiven under certain circumstances (Looking at you, Ready Player One). Ideas, premises, tech that would interest a PhD cannot be mated to sixth-grade prose, just like you can’t expect to run an F1 car with a toddler at the wheel. We know that, too. So the question is, how to you write good-sci-fi? I’m still trying to figure that out. In the meantime, here are some ways to avoid writing bad science fiction. Let’s look at the top ten worst offenders, in no particular order: Continue reading

Writing Scifi – That’s Me Trying

Originally posted this over at Reddit, but I want to capture the whole thought here. Feedback is floating in about my novel is floating in, and yes it looks like I’ll be re-drafting Mesh. Not too crazy. The consensus seems that Mesh is ‘good,’ and now I should focus on making it ‘great.’ I can live with that.

My professional author friends are (rightly) asking structural questions about Mesh: does this character *have* to be this way? Does this thing drive the story? I’m taking their feedback with care, and thinking deeply about what they mean. After all, I need to care about Mesh and its characters if I expect anyone else to.

One person challenged me to think about why Roman – my protag – is the way that he is. Is it right, is it necessary for Roman to be a disabled kid? Why is he Mexican? Am I doing this to say ‘Yay, diversity and accessibility?’ My kneejerk answer is “It’s important,” but that’s an insufficient answer. Those are fair questions to ask, and I’ve been thinking hard about the answer.

If there’s one beef I’ve had about popular science fiction over the years, it’s been that the main characters are two-dimensional, unrealistic, and insincere. Think about how wooden most scifi protags are, especially at the beginning of a movie, where Captain Perfect of the USS Flawlessness approaches Planet Hypothesis to learn a new form of human postulation. We’ve improved over time, seeing new character depth (Hello Stranger Things and Next-Gen), but we still have much progress to make.

So, here’s Roman, my protag. How will I make him an authentic, genuine person that you care about? As Pixar tells us in their ‘Storytelling Rules,’ we admire a character for trying more than we do for their success. So Roman has to be trying, but what will he be trying to do?

This is where the personal part of Mesh comes in. Roman’s journey isn’t about saving the world, it’s about not letting the world destroy him. His life is complicated and difficult, like mine and many others. His family suffered some tremendous losses (the car crash that disables Roman also kills his sister – try living with that when you’re thirteen) and he has to learn to carry on. So every day he gets up, lives his life, and does the best that he can – that’s Roman trying. He’s trying to make it work, and that’s why I admire him as a character. His journey through Mesh shows that resilience, ingenuity, and spunk are still valuable skills to have in the 21st Century.

All that being said, how close am I coming to addressing these structural story issues? Does it make sense that I’m trying to make ‘good scifi’ that helps push back against the soulless, money-driven, bottom-line-only stories that suck the life out of us?

When I asked people what they thought on Reddit, I got some different ideas. The consensus seems to be that I’m on the right track. Stories should be character driven, with a strong focus on making sure the people in the story look, feel, and act like real people. I’m still trying to figure out what that means. For now, this is as far as I’ve gotten. Now it’s time to get busy, and get writing.

In closing, here’s what William Shatner sounds like when he’s trying. One thing about trying is that when you aren’t clear about what you’re trying or why, you can come across as insincere. Fun fact: This song was written by Nick Hornby.

 

One Thousand and One Nights – Historical Scifi

Since I love since fiction, I’ve been doing some research about its background. Sci-fi is often viewed as a modern genre, but did you know that science fiction story elements date back as far as the 14th Century? It’s true. Sci-fi stories have a deep, historical background. In fact, they’ve been around about as long as The Canterbury Tales, and their birth took place during the Islamic Golden Age.

One Thousand and One Nights, AKA Arabian Nights contains many story elements we recognize in modern sci-fi. Wikipedia has more detail:

Several stories within the One Thousand and One Nights feature early science fiction elements. One example is “The Adventures of Bulukiya”, where the protagonist Bulukiya’s quest for the herb of immortality leads him to explore the seas, journey to Paradise and to Hell, and travel across the cosmos to different worlds much larger than his own world, anticipating elements of galactic science fiction; along the way, he encounters societies of djinn, mermaids, talking serpents, talking trees, and other forms of life. In “Abu al-Husn and His Slave-Girl Tawaddud”, the heroine Tawaddud gives an impromptu lecture on the mansions of the Moon, and the benevolent and sinister aspects of the planets.

You can continue reading about those fantasy and science fiction elements here.

The main takeaway from all of this is that science fiction has been entertaining people for many years, perhaps over a thousand if my math is correct. Anytime a nerd complains about ‘tired story tropes’ in 2019, just know they were probably doing the same back in 1019.

Nerd on!