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.

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

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!

 

Good-bye to Mad Magazine

There is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out. Multiple news agencies are reporting that Mad Magazine is ceasing publication after sixty-seven years. I know it’s not directly related to science fiction, but having to say good-bye to Mad Magazine still hurts. So, it’s worth talking about the satire magazine’s relationship with the science fiction genre.

Mad’s wiki article summarizes the magazine’s impact on American culture. In fact, reading Mad was an introduction for many American kids to satire, critical thinking, lampooning, and humor itself. Silly, without being subversive. Criticizing, without being critical. Mad never hesitated to take on important topics, find something funny to say about them, and challenge us to think on a deeper level.

Science fiction, of course, enjoyed Mad’s loving attention almost from the beginning. Throughout it’s publication history, every single important sci-fi film, book, TV show took their turn being roasted. For lonely, sheltered kids who had no exposure to the world of science fiction beyond whatever their parents brought home, Mad Magazine was a gateway drug to the vast universe of stories out there being told.

Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, Back to the Future, Predator and yes, Stranger Things … we cackled our way through the corny jokes, skewered the plot holes, and ultimately celebrated the victory of another successful science fiction story. We laughed, we kidded, but we loved. In fact, I remember working on a project with a rather talented actor. She said she ‘knew she had made it when she reached the cover of Mad Magazine.’ You can see a picture of Michael Biehn autographing the Mad Magazine that lampooned ‘Aliens’ on the wiki article. ’nuff said.

And look, I get it. I stopped reading Mad years ago. In fact, I think you’re supposed to. It’s sophomoric humor is designed to appeal to the male 12-18 demographic. Gross-out, libidinous humor that’s just this side of acceptable … I graduated from that and moved on, as many others did. In a world of dying print magazines, I guess this was inevitable. It just makes me sad all the same.

Many others are sharing their sadness.  Weird Al Yankovic said on Twitter: “I can’t begin to describe the impact it had on me as a young kid – it’s pretty much the reason I turned out weird. Goodbye to one of the all-time greatest American institutions.”

Weird Al echoes the experiences of several generations of creative, funny people. Mad Magazine’s departure will leave a hole in our collective souls for many years to come.

I originally posted this on Reddit.

The Schöner Machine of ‘Stranger Things’

A phrase in William Gibson’s ‘Hinterlands’ that keeps running through my head as I binge-watch Seasons 1 and 2 of ‘Stranger Things’ in preparation for Season 3. It’s ‘schöner machine,’ or ‘beautiful machine.’ Like William Gibson’s ill-fated astronaut, I can’t help but marvel at a beautiful machine, and that’s why I’m totally in love with this amazing Netflix show.

Stranger Things, above all, is a brilliant story. The Duffer Brothers’ ability to combine Eighties zeitgeist with classic science fiction mysteries and still create a completely authentic, autonomous universe is nothing short of remarkable.

The show drips with rich, elegant visuals that invite you to travel back through all the parts of the Eighties you don’t remember. Beautiful cinematography takes you through thick pile carpets, wooden console TVs, wood-paneled walls, and goofy retro bedrooms straight out of Better Homes and Gardens. You can’t help falling in love with the series for the design elements alone.

Verisimilitude is defined as ‘the appearance of being true or real.’ From the studied detail of the film scratches in the title sequence to ST’s epic soundtrack, all you feel is the reality of the universe. But the show doesn’t stop there. No, Stranger Things is a dense, thoughtful, and action-packed journey through one of the most interesting science fiction mysteries of the past decade.

Equal parts funny, scary, touching … you feel every square inch of Joyce’s torment at losing Will. You feel the boys’ love for their stricken friend. You feel Eleven’s conflicted feelings over her captors, her powers, and her new-found family. Even after you escape the primary story arc, there are other places to go. The show explores other parts of the characters’ lives with care and precision. These things are the hallmark of great storytelling, and Stranger Things has that market cornered.

Then you have the kids. God, I hope they turn out okay. I mentioned two years ago that I admire Gaten Matarazzo for how he’s handled his cleidocranial dysplasia. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: In science fiction, there are no weaknesses … there are only strengths you haven’t discovered.

Every actor inhabits a three-dimensional character that feels like someone you know from high school, your neighborhood, or your job. I’m particularly happy about seeing Winona Ryder and Matt Modine on screen again. The growing cast of child actors are incredibly talented. I hope they have long, safe and successful careers ahead of them.

So in short, I’m a fan of Stranger Things in several ways and for several different reasons. I love sci-fi and it doesn’t get much better than this. Not only that, the production of Stranger Things is a classic underdog tale.

We’ve been on a journey since the Duffer Brothers leap-frogged from short-film producers to pro filmmakers to rubbing elbows with M. Night Shyamalan on Wayward Pines to successfully pitching Stranger Things to Netflix via 21 Laps Entertainment. Stranger Things is the answer to every person who says ‘there’s no room for the little guys anymore.’

As Season Three comes out tomorrow morning and I settle in to binge-watch , I want to take a moment and say ‘Yes!’ Stranger Things is a beautiful machine, and until I started watching I had no idea how much I needed one in my life. I’m betting you do, too.

New Short Story Submitted – ‘They Did the Math’

New Short Story Submitted - 'They Did the Math'Pleased to say a new short story popped out of me. I submitted ‘They Did the Math’ to Terraform on Saturday, a short story about the discovery of time travel.

Although most people will think ‘Back to the Future,’ let me assure you that I went a different direction. Like the discovery of fire, or atomic weapons, a working time travel technology would have broad implications for humanity and I wanted to explore those ideas.

Now we wait to see if Terraform likes ‘They Did the Math’ enough to buy it. If they don’t, I’ll be submitting it elsewhere. I’ve got a good feeling about this one.

That’s What Scares Me the Most

I’m about five or six thousand words away from being done with Mesh. As the clock winds down, as my beta readers come in with happy words or notes, my anxiety is going up. I want to talk about something that’s been hanging in the back of my head since I started this crazy project. What scares me the most is the attention I might get.

Don’t get me wrong. I want to write, I want to share my work, but I’m terrified of attention. The world is full of freaky social media horror stories, doxxes, hoaxes and pranks. You can be the nicest person in the world, and creeps will still accuse you of horrible behavior just for the attention.

My story is more complex than Tom Hanks’ of course, but that’s my point. It took me years to understand that I attract the attention of damaged people. Broken people. Birds of a feather flock together, right? 😉 Doesn’t matter that we don’t want to be broken. Doesn’t matter that we’re tired of the drama, irrationality, and stress. We’re citizens of London Below, and there’s no going back.

I don’t perceive an answer to any of this right now. My hope is that by correctly articulating the problem that the solution will be easier to find. Dear readers, please understand that if we lose cabin pressure, this blog post can be used as a flotation device. Remain calm, stay seated with your seat buckle fastened until told to evacuate by a uniformed crew member.

 

Proof That Science Fiction Is Growing and Changing

Proof That Science Fiction Is Growing and Changing

Taking a moment out of the writing schedule to discuss something interesting that happened this week. Two things, actually. Both of them together bear out my prediction that science fiction itself is growing and changing into something more suitable for the universe in 2019.

Step one was this tweet courtesy John Scalzi:

Before you can say ‘Yeah, but Scalzi’s gonna Scalzi,’ look at the next piece of data – the ‘Not All Men’ episode of ‘The Twilight Zone.’ Jordan Peele picks up where Rod Serling left off by producing thoughtful, one-hour meditations on the darker side of human culture. In his case, he skewers toxic masculinity with a laser-sharp focus, reminding all of us that what we do is what defines us.

More clearly than ever, science fiction is no longer in the hands of fanboys and toxic tribalism. History will not be kind to the broken, hateful dweebs that use gatekeeping and bad-faith arguments to chase people away from science fiction. They don’t own sci-fi, they never did, and it was only a matter of time until we figured that out.

So I’m hoping that Mesh can be a happy part of that bright future. It’s never easy, taking the first step. I just think it’s important, and I hope one day we’ll all meet there together.

How To Own Science Fiction For Free

I admit it, I’m broke. It’s tough sometimes finding ways to entertain yourself when your income is fixed but your medical expenses are not. Happily, the Internet is a big place and thanks to the generosity of a number of kind souls, I was able to put together a simple page on ‘How to Own Science Fiction for Free.’

If you’re like me and you need a quick scifi fix but you’re short on cash, you can dive into the following resources for free stories and videos to watch. Enjoy!

Free Scifi Books and Stories

Chicago Review of Books – List of Free Scifi

Project Gutenberg List of Public Domain Scifi Stories

Scifi Stories from Freebooksy

Fonerbooks’ List of Free Scifi

Scifi Stories for Free by Inkitt

Free Scifi Movies

Scifi Movies on Youtube – Ranked by Inverse.com