How Sci-Fi’s First Drop-In Should Work

Writing more Mesh this week, and thinking about this whole Sci-Fi’s First Drop-In thing. I feel like I should explain more of what I have in mind, and how it should work.

As I said before, there’s a weird dynamic in scifi where people – and I include myself in this group – are a little, shall I say, rambunctious to the new creators of science fiction. There are all kinds of reasons why this happens, some of them have to do with group dynamics and others have to do with basic negativity. But rather than complain about that, we should find a way to solve this problem.

First, let’s talk about what celebrating your first drop-in should and shouldn’t be. Some of these may seem obvious, but let’s write them down, anyway:

  1. Your scifi first drop-in (SFFDI) isn’t about self-promotion, it’s about putting yourself out there for the first time and building trust
  2. Your SFFDI isn’t about negativity, is about what happens when you break out of your comfort zone
  3. Your SFFDI isn’t about hating on someone or something, it’s about making something you can enjoy

I might add some more ideas as I think of them, but this seems to be a good start. We (the scifi community) should be able to celebrate, and be celebrated without turning it into a ‘look at me’ thing. We should be able to try, and try new things without it turning negative. We should be able to create without the mad rush to monetize, build brands, go viral. Scifi began as a community of creators that just loved to dream and create. We should be able to build a mechanism to continue that proud tradition.

I even thought of a hashtag we could use: #SFFDI – nobody seems to be using it.

Feel free to contribute your feedback. This is 100% a community effort.

Sci-Fi’s First Drop-In

My I don’t know if you were like me last week when I first saw this video. It’s a crowd of skateboarders celebrating a kid’s first drop-in, a move that takes a lot of trust and willpower for boarders to execute. My first reaction was “Oh, man … those skateboarders are so supportive. I wish someone was that supportive of my sci-fi.”

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I have no idea who these people are, or who that kid is, but I don’t have to. We connect with this video on a human level. We’ve all been that kid at one moment of our lives or another. He may have been scared, a little bit intimidated. What will the big kids think? What will the crowd say?

Where most people have experienced indifferent scorn the first time they try something, the kid is surrounded by people who are saying, in effect: “You can do it. We’re here for you!” And then he drops in. That boy will skate for the rest of his life, and wherever he goes he’ll take that formative moment with him.

My second thought this video was “I should blog about this. We’ll know that scifi has turned the corner when we can support new scifi creators like these skateboarders support this kid.” Imagine how much different the world would be if we all experienced that level of support on our first try. But that’s when I had my third thought, and that’s what “Sci-Fi’s First Drop-In” is all about.

My third thought was “Wait, why don’t I do that? Why don’t I support someone’s first try? Why don’t I become the change I want to see?”

So, here we are.

There’s a weird dynamic in scifi where people – and I include myself in this group – are a little, shall I say, rambunctious to the new creators of science fiction. There are all kinds of reasons why this happens, some of them have to do with group dynamics and others have to do with basic negativity. But rather than complain about that, let’s be a part of the solution.

So here’s my thought, and I’m inviting others to weigh in and participate. If you’re a first-timer and you want to show off your work, I’m happy to make room on Inkican to celebrate you. Not sure how it’s all going to work right now, people often think of problems I didn’t consider after I say something, but at the very least it might be a fun way for us to support each other in a non-threatening, consequence-free format.

Interested in participating? Have something to share? Reach out to me via Reddit or Twitter. Let’s see if we can make some magic happen.

 

“Gimbal Lock” – What Went Wrong on Cloverfield Paradox

First and foremost: Quit whining. ‘Cloverfield Paradox’ wasn’t that bad. Wasn’t that good, but it wasn’t that bad, either. If you’re interested in a nerdly takedown of Netflix’s third part of the Cloverfield universe, you’re in the wrong place. Go to Youtube. If anything, Paradox should be discussed in terms of storytelling. It’s a story that achieves ‘gimbal lock.’ Let’s talk about what that means for the rest of us.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a huge fan of Paradox. I sat through the third act feeling like I was grinding loot in a video game. You don’t wanna walk away, you’ve lost a ton of time already, but you aren’t having fun. Watching scifi movies is supposed to be a fun activity, and I wasn’t having fun with Cloverfield Paradox. What went wrong with a movie that was supposed to have everything going right?

I thought a lot about the answer, and it eventually came to me as the good guys save the day: Cloverfield Paradox pushed me through so many twists and turns that I went into gimbal lock. Just like an airplane, or a space craft, stories can experience gimbal lock – their basic premises can get stuck. Then your story, like your space craft, will lose its sense of direction.

I waited a long time to watch Paradox. After all that hate, I didn’t want to see it. Loved Cloverfield, loved 10 Cloverfield Lane … I didn’t want to be disappointed. Finally, one rainy afternoon I fired it up. ‘Fine,’ I told myself. ‘Let’s see what all the hate is about.’ I found myself sucked in after the first ten minutes, and that interest kept me grinding forward until the credits rolled many millenia later.

It felt like that, anyway.

Paradox threw so many plot and tone shifts at you, on top of the idea that you’re in the middle of a complex topic: quantum multiverse travel. Is this about time travel? Is this about the characters I really couldn’t connect with? My lizard brain kept trying to make sense of what I was making sense of and eventually it shut down. As much as I love a complex scifi film about time travel (Primer, anyone?), I couldn’t keep up with Paradox. I think it had wonderful aspirations, but it couldn’t overcome its overbalanced center of story gravity. Requiescat in Pace

That’s not to say the movie was bad. I loved the ideas, loved the execution. If you want to see a movie that features a self-aware disembodied arm, this is your show. The main thing for storytellers is, avoid the ‘story gimbal lock’ you saw in Cloverfield Paradox. It’ll kill a great premise, it’ll kill a great movie. Don’t let this happen to you.

Cloverfield Paradox might enjoy some success if they re-release it with a different edit. Some of those story elements simply did not belong; most of the third act scenes felt like they were tacked on just to give the characters a reason to be in the movie. All in all though, Paradox does what a good scifi movie should: It takes some ideas out of the box, plays with them for a couple of hours, and then puts them away again.

This was me, when they told me I couldn’t leave the theater.

Not only that, Paradox is an interesting model for future scifi projects by Netflix. As you can read in the Wikipedia article, ‘the film was based on God Particle, a spec script from Oren Uziel.’ J.J. Abrams decided to re-work the script, like he did with 10 Cloverfield Lane, to line the franchise together. That’s brilliant for several reasons. Number one, it gives Cloverfield fans more of the universe to explore. Number two, it gives a scifi script that would have otherwise died in development hell a chance to live and breathe. Number three, it’s another stick in the eye of anyone who says Hollywood hates scifi. Hollywood loves scifi, it just doesn’t like losing money.

To sum up – Cloverfield Paradox is an okay scifi movie. For us, the storytellers, we want to avoid the gimbal lock that prevented it from being a great scifi movie. Keep that in mind as you write, and you’ll never go wrong.

New Scifi Short Story – Foreverest

I’m pleased to release Foreverest to Amazon and other ebook outlets – it’s a scifi noir story and you’re going to love it:

“When a middle-aged housewife wins $600 Million in the Lottery, everything in life seems possible. Her ‘new wealth counselor,’ is there to indulge her darkest desires. Arranging a murder isn’t a crime, it’s a unique value proposition.”

Buy Foreverest on Amazon

Buy Foreverest via Draft2Digital

More details later – thanks for supporting Inkican!

Advice on Publishing from Published Authors

If you want to be successful, the saying goes, study successful people. Not that I go around creeping on authors or anything, but when one of them starts talking shop, I want to shut up and listen. That’s why I was quiet when I saw two bits of advice on publishing from published authors that popped up on Reddit this week.

First up, some real talk by Michael J. Sullivan on which is better – published, or self-published, and why. Everybody is chasing a book deal – including me – but is it the right move? He makes a compelling article either way, and the ensuing discussion is rather helpful, too:

Should I Self-Publish, or Be Published?

Next, grab a cup of coffee and read this discussion. Janny Wurts breaks down book sales and how selling too fast is actually a bad thing for authors. The counter-intuitive world of book printing and sales comes alive in:

How Selling Too Fast Can Hurt Your Book

Woo – failure comes in many colors, including success!

Sorry, too much coffee today. The point is, that I try to capture interesting pieces of information that cover my chosen vocation. I pass them along because, hey, someone was kind enough to do the same for me. Pay it forward, and stuff.

And if you’re looking for other ‘success habits,’ you can also study this article by Inc.com. I found some useful insights in there.

Tokamak – My Stories Are Coming to Life

This is pretty cool – I talked about tokamak fusion reactors in ‘The Battle of Victoria Crater.’ It turns out now that scientists have taken a step forward in making ‘stars in a jar.’ Here’s more:

“A tokamak (Russian: Токамáк) is a device which uses a powerful magnetic field to confine a hot plasma in the shape of a torus. The tokamak is one of several types of magnetic confinement devices being developed to produce controlled thermonuclear fusion power. As of 2016, it is the leading candidate for a practical fusion reactor.” – from Wikipedia

Looking at a tokamak, you can make the connection to Iron Man’s ‘arc reactor.’ The cool thing about this is, we might be able to see one of these come to life in the next few years. I’m glad I got a chance to talk about this idea in TBoVC before I read about it in the paper. Always cool to see your ideas coming to life. 🙂

The Post-Stupid Year

Sorry, forgot one. I need to include another wish for 2019 … I hope that this the  year of Post-Stupid.

With the success of Bird Box, Netflix has had to issue the following warning regarding the new ‘Bird Box challenge.’

Yes folks, from the civilization that brought you the Ice Bucket Challenge, the Tide Pod Challenge and planking comes an entirely new unnecessary fad, The Bird Box challenge! Here’s how it works: I actually have no idea how it works. Someone please tell me.

Is the Bird Box Challenge real? Is it clever marketing? Who knows. The main point I want to get to is that I wish for 2019 to be the year we stopped being dumb. No more challenges. No more ‘trending on Twitter.’ We’re all people, right? We all want to be loved and respected. There’s nothing creepier than a world that seems to re-route our attention at will, pointing our gaze at the gratiutous, whenever it chooses to.

I’m getting tired of it. I’m interested in people who are tired of it, too.

So let’s make 2019 the Post-Stupid year. No more fads. No more hot buttons. Latest pearl-clutching hot topic on 24-hour news? Not listening. You’re trending on Twitter? That’s nice, don’t care. It’s great that you went viral, but so did syphilis and Rebecca Black. That doesn’t make you a superior human being.

Living in a post-stupid world has its benefits – here are a couple:

  • You save time and energy – no more jumping on the bandwagon or complaining that people on the bandwagon are dumb. Nobody cares. It’s stupid, and we’re post-stupid. Let the stupid take care of the stupid, while we remain unto ourselves.
  • You save money – How much did you spend on ‘raw water?’ How much did those adaptogenic superfoods cost down at Whole Paycheck? How much did you spend on those moscow mule cups you never use anymore? It wasn’t an investment, it was a rip-off. It’s okay to say it, and resolve to put the Amazon Prime account down.
  • You save your health – Social media and fads aren’t just annoying, they’re stressful and potentially hazardous to your health. Nobody said you had to be an ‘Instagram influencer.’ Just relax. Let Kendall Jenner fall into a black hole while you go live your life. I promise you, I like you more than Kendall Jenner already.

Say it with me: 2019 is the Year of Post-Stupid. In fact I’ll write 2019 a few more times to get used to it. Let’s do it together! 2019. 2019. 2019. 2019. There, that should help. Too easy to write 2091 for some reason. Maybe that’s a subconscious wish to live in the future I’m imagining.

Welcome to the future. It’s time to be awesome.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Storytelling – Four Things Robert Zemeckis Teaches You

Baby, it’s cold outside. No, I’m not trying to be a creep, I’m just explaining why I’m inside the house, catching up on a lot of old movies. After all these years, I still enjoy the Back to the Future trilogy, among other classic sci-fi movies.

When you think about the guy who made BTTF, you realize that Robert Zemeckis can teach you a lot about the art of storytelling. I decided to jot down four things that his movies taught me.

Before you say, “But Zemeckis is a filmmaker, not a storyteller!”, remember that filmmaking is storytelling, using light and sound where the rest of us use pen and paper. Before he was a director, Robert Zemeckis was a screenwriter. His ability to craft authentic stories over the past forty years and his insistence on telling stories in a unique way is why Zemeckis will always be one of my favorite directors. 

So with that in mind, let’s talk about four things his movies will teach any person who wants to tell stories for a living: Continue reading

Don’t Tell Me How to Hammer

Dear WordPress –

We interrupt this blog for a quick piece of hate mail for you and this platform I’ve been blogging on for several years now. Not that I think WordPress knows or cares who I am, but I’m pissed off enough to say it anyway. Perhaps it’ll help other WP users who feel the same way realize that they are not alone. Re-inventing the WP editor in favor of this idiot ‘Gutenberg’ tool makes as much sense as re-inventing the hammer for a carpenter. You don’t need to tell me how to hammer.

Since the 80s, people have been tinkering with the UI of a WYSIWYG text editor. I can remember learning to type on AppleWriter years ago, and the commonalities of interface stretched through Wordstar, Wordperfect, Staroffice, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Write, Microsoft Works, Framemaker, Wordpad, and Google Docs. We know you aren’t perfect, and we were prepared to love you anyway, but this is too much.

Re-organizing the entire interface to support ‘media rich pages and posts’ ignores your entire raison d’être: WORDS. That’s your name, isn’t it? WORDpress? Not MEDIARICHPAGESpress. How are we supposed to write words when every single paragraph is in its own little box and all the tools for formatting said paragraphs are buried under an avalanche of non-intuitive clickthroughs that only make sense to people who aren’t actually trying to write?

Fixing this is really easy: give us the option to turn off Gutenberg and go back to the original editor, so we don’t have to run a plug-in to write like we usually do. If you’re so serious about making WP work for media-rich experiences, fork the code and give those black turtleneck-wearing dorks what they want. Give us our word processor back, you evil swine!

I just wanted to get this off my chest. This is why George R R Martin continues to write with Wordstar. Any more nonsense out of you fools, and I’m gonna port this whole site over to Mambo.

Mesh Update #11: New Free Wallpaper

Just in time for the end of the year, a new free wallpaper for Mesh.  I do concept art digital paintings of my stories – helps me inform my writing. For this piece, I wanted to try something different and focus on the characters of Mesh themselves.

Mesh Update #11: New Free WallpaperSo let’s do that. Tina is one of the ‘Snow Foxes,’ an elite group of techno-geeks that dominate the school and virtual reality. Let’s be clear: She isn’t a ‘damsel in distress,’ or ‘born sexy yesterday.’ I hate tropes that perpetuate mean-spirited stereotypes, so Mesh leaves them by the side of the road where they belong.

Tina isn’t perfect. She on the austistic spectrum. She’s also brilliant, athletic, witty, and brave. She’s a teenage girl who codes, plays basketball and practices jujitsu. She isn’t there to talk about the boys, or be talked about them. She’s there to be herself, like every person should be free to be.

Inside the Station, the massive VR system that contains our fearless geeky kids, you’re allowed to create your own sprites. Tina decided to transform herself into an anime princess as you’ll learn in Mesh:


“She looked up at two sprites that had just come through abusy communicating arch. “Watch it. Incoming nerds.”
“Huh?”
“Kids from the other team,” Tina said, morphing into a taller version of herself, now with red hair instead of blonde, and green eyes instead of blue. Her t-shirt melted into modular white plates, forming armor that belonged in some anime show. In the blink of an eye, she transformed herself into a warrior princess, ready for battle. “For these kids, you want to have your war face on.”

“I think I just fell in love with you,” Zeke mumbled.

“You’re cool, my sweet summer child.” Tina’s smile was somewhere between amused and flattered. Then she turned back to the approaching sprites. “Just remember that we’re friends. That’s all we’re ever going to be.”

Zeke nodded, swallowing so hard that his Adam’s apple bobbed like a yo-yo.

Mesh – Chapter 2.6

With that scene in mind, I started working with Photoshop. I started with a free open-source picture from Unsplash and with the help of some visual references and my trusty digital tablet, put the wallpaper above together to give away for free.

Love it, hate it, it’s still worth it to me. Making one thing in one way helps me make something else in another way. I hope you enjoy ‘Armorgirl,’ and the other free wallpapers I have to share.