Tuesday 31 July 2012

What to Study If You Want to Write Speculative Fiction

Today we have a guest blogger, writer Lauren Bailey, who's here with some interesting advice for those geeky writers out there:

What to Study If You Want to Write Speculative Fiction

Judging from my own experience, and that of other sci-fi lovers I’ve met, people frequently fall in love with speculative fiction as adolescents, or perhaps in junior high. Not that you’re entirely unfamiliar with the tropes of sci-fi as a child, in our society where a whole generation of post-Star Wars blockbusters have made sci-fi-lite the hegemonic genre of entertainment. Sure, you watch TV shows with spaceships zooming around, but as a real mind-bending, life-changing literary experience it usually hooks you a little later. For me, A Wrinkle in Time was a one-off thing when I was nine, but then I remember reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and A Spell for Chameleon and the floodgates just kind of opened.

The point is, for a lot of young people, by the time they’re in high school science fiction has become a passion, and can even feel like a calling. So what do you advise a kid in that position to “do with their lives”?

This is trickier with science fiction than other artistic vocations, because, obviously, there’s that whole “science” thing. You have to know something about science to write good (hard) science fiction. Besides, people will be pressuring you to do science and engineering anyway, cause that’s where the money is. But if you really want to be a writer, you’ll need some skills beyond the lab. Here’s my college advice for aspiring LeGuins and Heinleins:

1. Take mainstream lit and creative writing classes.

Literature is a trade in itself. While it’s possible to be both a chemical engineer, say, and a novelist, you have to put time into both. The danger here is that you may feel alienated by the snobbery of most MFA-style writing workshops. There will be strong pressure to drop the speculative elements in your stories or at least do some non-speculative work. My advice: give in to that pressure. You have more to gain than to lose. You can remain loyal to nerd-dom in your heart while taking what you can from the artsy-fartsy world of creative writing.

2. Stay well-rounded.

Besides science, and fiction, there’s a whole wide world of content that goes into any novel, and no field of experience is without its use. Furthermore, the “world-building” aspects of speculative fiction require one to have a good working knowledge of history and the social sciences. A generalized appreciation for the arts is important to be able to have confidence in your judgment as a writer. Good science fiction is good fiction, which means it must appeal to anyone who might pick up your book, not just the initiated and obsessive otaku few.

3. Consider computer science.

This is my big regret as a writer. I double-majored in English and Religious Studies because I was fascinated by the world’s religions. While that’s certainly helped lend some color and flavor to my imagination, I had not anticipated just how much tech skills make a difference for even the most liberal-arts-leaning of poets today. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always been an early adopter and I can get by just fine. But in terms of practical skills for making an artistic dream happen these days, it can’t hurt to learn computers.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Keep watching the stars!

Lauren Bailey is a freelance blogger who loves writing about education, new technology, lifestyle and health. As an education writer, she works to research and provide sound online education advice and welcomes comments and questions via email at blauren99@gmail.com.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

When Did Authors Become Second Class Citizens?

When Did Authors Become Second Class Citizens?

Why are people still condoning online piracy and pirate sites?  And worse yet, participating and encouraging these sites.  Why the lack of respect for authors and other artists, people that you the public supposedly admire?
What is it about being online that makes illegal activities so appealing?  Is it the anonymity?  Except with the technology today, anonymity is harder to come by, users can be tracked, and there is a real possibility that someone will prosecute you.  So why do people do it?
Frankly, I don’t know why people are that offensive and callous, perhaps they just don’t consider what they are doing wrong.  Well consider this, if someone walked into a brick and mortar store, bought several books and then handed those copies out free to incoming shoppers, the owners (or security) would evict them from the store.
But that is exactly what people are doing on pirate sites and in far greater numbers than a few books.  So why is it acceptable online and frowned upon in the real world?

Stop treating authors like they don’t have feelings and they’re not worthy of ethical treatment!

Sunday 22 July 2012

A Fantasy to Watch: A Review of the Watchtower

My Book Review of The Watchtower:

I was pleasantly surprised reading The Watchtower by Darke Conteur.  I expected a reasonably interesting fantasy novel, a short and quick, agreeable read.  What I got was a highly crafted, delightfully intricate book, entangled in a dark and a fascinating fantasy world populated with captivating characters.

The book starts with the character of Martin Cunningham, who is looking for a job and getting a bit desperate.  This job urgency is what brings him to Terin Global, a not-at-all typical place of employment.  Once hired, he slowly gets dragged into a dangerous and strange world.

One of the best aspects of the book is Martin’s point-of-view, which goes from, “okay these guys are quirky” to “I can’t believe this is happening” without ever seeming forced or out of step.  As a reader, you identify with Martin and are drawn into the story as he is wrenched from his comfortable beliefs and faced with another reality.

The plot is fast-paced, but never sacrifices continuity or believability in favour of keeping the action moving.  The reader receives just enough explanation and back-story to construct the fantasy, without breaking the authenticity of the real world setting.  The Watchtower is a first-rate urban fantasy and I highly recommend it.

The Watchtower is available at:  Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, and B&N Nook 

Friday 20 July 2012

Review: On Dark Shores 2: The Other Nereia

My Book Review of On Dark Shores 2: The Other Nereia:

The second volume in the On Dark Shores series, The Other Nereia, lives up to the promise of the first book and expands the story in an ever-twisting spiral of strange and secretive happenings.  Like the first book, it is a plethora of sparkling language and delicately woven story.

The Other Nereia begins where the first book ended, with the immediate gathering of the dangling plot threads from The Lady.   From there we see the consequences of Nereia’s recovery, Copeland’s continued descent into madness, Blakey’s worsening addiction, and more on Vansel, Jack, Mickel and their secrets.  Also, we see other characters, such as Madam, begin their rise to the forefront.

As I stated in my review of On Dark Shores: The Lady, JA Clement’s prose is enchanting, and her subtle touching at twisting the plotlines is just as marvellous in Book Two.  Layer by layer her characters get more complex and her story more intriguing.  As a reader I was engrossed, speculating at where Nereia’s fate journeyed, feeling sympathy for Blakey, despite his thuggish actions and wondering what fortunes would befall the rest as dangers loom.

I can’t say enough good things about the On Dark Shores series, and I highly recommend The Other Nereia.  Of course, now I have to wait patiently for the remainder of the story.

On Dark Shores 2: The Other Nereia is available on AmazonKobo, B&N Nook and Smashwords

Tuesday 17 July 2012

What's in a Name?

Today another guest stops by the blog.  Fellow writer Jane Smith is here to chat about why authors may use a pseudonym...

What's in a Name—Writing Under a Pseudonym
As writers we are constantly considering our craft. There is rarely a moment that goes by without us thinking about our work in some way or another. We perpetually consider what the best and most effective voice is for our writing, what words we use, what imagery we employ, our sentence structure, our titles, and so much more. But, for many, the name that they will publish their work under just isn't something that typically comes to mind. Interestingly, however, authors of all genres have a long history of writing under pen names or pseudonyms. Even some of our most treasured and well-known works may require a bit of a background check to learn who the true author is. So, why do authors write under pen names and what is the benefit of this?

In some cases, authors write under pen names simply because they would prefer to remain anonymous with their writing. However, in history, authors would often write under pseudonyms for somewhat more complicated reasons. Women would often publish their work under male pseudonyms, so that they could be published in actual publications and receive more widespread success. In the past, authors have used pen names and pseudonyms for more political reasons. If an author wrote something that was politically charged or that criticized the government, they would often publish their works under pen names to avoid heavy criticism. While either of these things can still happen today, the use of pen names and pseudonyms in today's society is much different. Authors working in various genres today may write under different names for each genre so as to keep consistency to their "brand". It can be damaging for a writer's reputation if they always write romance novels and then decide to publish a mystery novel under the same name. The romance readers may go to the mystery novel looking for that author's typical writing and be sourly disappointed by the change in genre.

Pen Names and the Blogosphere
Using a pseudonym in the blogosphere is also a fairly popular endeavor. While the reasons for using a pseudonym online today vary, there are some things to carefully take into consideration. Many people suggest using a pseudonym online simply because of the nature of the online world. With the influx of social media, social networking, and everything else online, online threats have become more palpable in recent years. Many bloggers will write under pen names or initials to avoid threats of identity theft or stalking. While this isn't necessarily common throughout the blogosphere, it does happen and is something to consider. Furthermore, much as it did for famous authors working in different social climates, pseudonyms can protect bloggers from direct criticism.

Some Famous Pen Names
George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans): Born in 1819, George Eliot was an extremely prolific author in the 1800s, who published under a male pseudonym. Born Mary Anne Evans, Eliot wrote about her controversial views on faith, religion, marriage, and the government. At the time, women authors were basically unheard of and were never actually taken seriously. Under her male pen name, Eliot gained much success as an intelligent and challenging writer.

Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson): As the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, Carroll was an extremely successful author during his time and remained one of the most renowned authors in our history. It is believed that Carroll, born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, wrote under a pseudonym both because he was unattracted to the spotlight and fame and because he desired a more neutral name that would be widely appreciated at the time.

J.K. Rowling (Joanne Rowling): As a more current example, J.K. Rowling author of the Harry Potter series used a pseudonym for her hugely successful work. While this pseudonym is not completely masking her identity, it does serve a purpose. Rowling believed the wizard series would see more success with her target audience if it was published under a gender neutral name. Because the primary target originally for the series was adolescent boys, she worried that an overly feminine name would turn them off the books. By using initials, Rowling made the books easily marketable to young boys and young girls.

Jane Smith's informative blog posts can help you make sense of any personal history situation. Whether you are pursuing a tenant background check or pulling an employee's criminal record, feel free to email her at janesmith161@gmail.com.

Thursday 12 July 2012

3 Things to Consider When Creating a Book Cover

Today we have a guest blogger with us, writer Mariana Ashley, who brings her insights on creating that perfect book cover:

3 Things to Consider When Creating a Book Cover

People tend to say "don’t judge a book by its cover," but unfortunately that's exactly what happens—especially if you're an "unknown" author. If you just graduated and want to get your creative writing thesis published, or perhaps you just want to make sure that your first book is produced the right way, then it's important to carefully ask yourself all of the questions below when meeting with your creative director. These questions will help ensure that once your book goes to press (or goes online), your book cover has enough pizzazz to attract readers.
Does it Help Summarize the Book?
First and foremost, you need to make sure that the book cover actually helps the reader easily identify the genre as well as helps give some sort of clue of what the book is about. All too often, publishers are so concerned with stamping the book with raving reviews from critics that there really isn't much said of what the book is actually about. It can become quite frustrating for a customer blindly picking up your book. If he or she can't grasp the concept, the book will most likely stay on the shelf. So does your book cover help summarize what the book is about? Or is it too conceptual and misleading? For example, drawing crosses for a sci-fi book could make it look like a religious book instead.
Is it Gender Neutral?
If you want to appeal to a larger audience, then it's best to create a book cover that can appeal to both men and women. Although The Hunger Games is a young adult novel, it's one of the best examples on how to accomplish this. The book cover has only one central color and only one motif to represent the book. It did not appear too "manly" or too "girlish" and adults were not embarrassed to have the book cover showing when reading it in public. That’s the trick— you want both genders to feel comfortable reading your book in public.
Does it Look Good as a ThumbNail?
Last but not least, you also have to consider how it will look online. A good majority of your book sales will be generated online. If you choose to self-publish your book then of course naturally your sales will be generated 100% online. Because readers choose to surf their iPads and tiny smartphones when looking through book galleries, you need to make sure that your book cover still seems appealing even as a small little thumbnail. Otherwise, no one will click to see what your book is about and you won't make any sales.
Hopefully the tips above will be able to move in a smarter direction when formulating a design for your book cover.

Mariana Ashley is a professional writer and blogger with a penchant for researching and writing about personal growth, education, and how technology changes the way we communicate. Mariana is technically retired after years of teaching middle school creative writing in Nebraska. However, she still devotes some of her time to professional projects that involve online colleges in Nebraska. Please send your questions and comments to mariana.ashley031@gmail.com. Any feedback is welcome!

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