Meet the Fictorians: Kevin Ikenberry

“Come in, — come in! and know me better, man!” -Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

We’d love for you, our wonderful readers, to get to know us better. That’s why, each month, Kristin Luna will interview a member of The Fictorians. We’ll learn more about each member, such as their writing processes, their work, where they live, and what they prefer to drink on a warm summer’s day. We hope you enjoy this monthly installment of Meet the Fictorians.

Meet the Fictorians:

Kevin Ikenberry

Kristin Luna (KL): Hi Kevin! How are you doing, and what are you drinking?

Kevin Ikenberry (KI): The snow seems to have finally left Colorado behind, so I’m doing very well. As for the drinking thing, lots and lots of water. Living over a mile above sea level (around 6800ft) requires constant hydration, which I offset occasionally with a cold adult beverage.

KL: Colorado is great! Do you take advantage of all the hiking as Kevin J. Anderson does? What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

KI: KJA is a hiking machine! My family likes to hike, though with a little one we don’t hit the challenging treks very often, but we still get out in the sun and fresh air. When I’m not writing, I like to be active – I’m an avid golfer and I enjoy swimming and exercising. There’s nothing better than a nice evening walk with my family, though.

KL: You have a military background. Can you tell us about that, and how it fits into your writing?

KI: I served just under 24 years as a commissioned officer in the Army until my medical retirement in March. I survived a necrotizing fasciitis infection but my ability to do the hard, physical requirements of the Army was compromised. I served as an Armor officer (tanks and cavalry) and later in my career as a Space Operations officer. Military service has a ton of unique experiences and good “there I was” stories that can easily find their way into fiction and bring a huge amount of realism.

In a way, my military service led to my writing. In 2009, I was teaching ROTC and I started making notes for a story that I realized was going to be a novel. Being on a college campus, I went back and took Creative Writing and started writing for publication as a result. There’s a lot more to that story, but being in uniform for more than half of my life made an impact on me and as I began to write, my military experiences came through.

KL: Speaking of those notes for your first novel, tell us a little more about Sleeper Protocol.

KISleeper Protocol was my debut novel and it was published in early January from Red Adept Publishing. This was originally a longish short story that my writing group encouraged me to develop a bit more. It became a 40,000 word novel, then a 75,000 word novel before there was an epiphany that changed the story completely.

Sleeper Protocol is the story of a man, cloned from our time, who awakens three hundred years in the future in a wheelchair overlooking Sydney Harbor. He is given one year to determine his identity through experiences or he will be euthanized. What he knows could save Earth from a coming war. Whether he believes the future is worth saving is another matter.

Sleeper Protocol is a military character study set against a partially dystopian setting with a touch of psychological thriller. A friend of mine said it was “military science fiction without being typical military science fiction.” I believe he’s right. Originally, Sleeper Protocol was going to be a standalone novel. However, my editor called me one day and asked a very simple question that has already bred a sequel and will make this a series of likely four books.

KL: My dad’s going to be very happy to hear that! He’s already read Sleeper Protocol and adored it. I see Runs in the Family just came out in January of this year. Is that a stand alone or will that be a series?

KIRuns In The Family is a military science fiction novel set in the same universe as Sleeper Protocol, except about twenty-five years earlier during The Great War. The story follows a young woman who receives a memory imprint from a long-dead ancestor who is a near perfect genetic match. She goes to war, falls in love, and is forced to make very tough choices along the way. This will be an ongoing series, though I have scrapped the original outlines for books two and three. I’m working right now on a revised outline for book two and am very happy with where this particular story is going.

KL: What are you working on now? Anything coming out that we can look forward to?

KI: I recently contracted the prequel novel for Runs In The Family with Strigidae Publishing and we’ll be starting edits later this summer. Right now, I’m tidying up the sequel to Sleeper Protocol (working title Vendetta Protocol). My beta readers have sent it back with solid feedback and loved it, so I’m hopeful to turn that in to my publisher mid-summer.

KL: Now for a very important question. Dogs or cats or neither?

KI: We have two cats, Charlize and Binx. Charlize is a sleepy, sweet black and white ball of fur. Binx is a black cat who is cuddly and wants attention. If we could get them to stop fighting, it would be great. I’ve always been a dog person, but it’s been years since I’ve had one. Our cats are good with our kids, so we’ll stay with two pets for now. A dog may enter the picture in a few years, who knows?

KL: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received to date?

KI: That you, as a writer, are responsible for the contract that you sign. I received a contract on Sleeper Protocol from a small press before it sold to Red Adept. Because the contract was not something I felt comfortable signing, and the publisher would not negotiate at all, I walked away. Given the success of both Sleeper Protocol and Runs In The Family, I believe I made the right decision and I still scrutinize every contract (short story or novel) that comes my way.

KL: What advice would you give a new writer?

KI: Seeking the advice and counsel of mentors. When I started writing with the intent of getting published, the best thing I did was to find mentors and learn from them. All of us writers, funnily enough, like to share and teach. We want to see others avoid the mistakes we made and help in any way we can. My mentors have been phenomenal in my growth as a writer and as a person. That’s something I want to continue in any way that I can.

KL: I know you’re new to the Fictorians, but what has been your favorite post so far that you’ve written?

KI: A couple of years ago, I was asked to guest post on Fictorians about my stranger than fiction illness and recovery. It’s probably the best, more coherent, telling of the story. You can find the story here: http://www.fictorians.com/2014/09/15/based-on-a-true-story-2/

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If you have any questions for Kevin, please leave a comment below. Thank you for reading!

Looking For The Fun Factor

5th 2

A guest post by Jacqui Talbot

First off, let me be clear, I’m a consumer. Not a critic. When it comes to movies, I watch for one reason—entertainment. And when it comes to said entertainment, I have very specific tastes. I like big adventure flicks, full of explosions, gunfights—or even better, swordfights—and the occasional one-liner.

So, as you can imagine, DEADPOOL was my jam.dead

But that’s a blog for another day.

Today, I want to discuss a different, imperfect film full of weak character motivations, structural issues, and plot holes big enough to accommodate a Mondoshawan spaceship and a giant black ball of skull fire.

5thThat’s right, people. I’m talking about THE FIFTH ELEMENT.

A few weeks ago, I watched an interview with Gary Oldman about his most iconic roles. When THE FIFTH ELEMENT came up, he admitted that he only did it as a favor to the director, and that he didn’t even read the script. When the interviewer reminded Oldman that the film is now considered a cult classic, he laughed and said, “I know. That’s the wacky world we live in.”

Now, I’m not a huge fan of Mr. Oldman (or his political views) but I will freely admit that the man is a great actor. And that interview started me thinking. Why would someone so talented denigrate one of my favorite movies? Was I wrong about THE FIFTH ELEMENT? After all, it had been a while since I last watched it. Could it be that my memory—faded by too much time and tequila—was ascribing greatness to something that wasn’t all that great?

So, I dug out my old copy and popped it into the VCR. (Yes, I still have a VCR. Don’t judge me.) And I found, to my surprise, that the movie still held up. The costumes were just as outrageous, the comedy as broad, and the action as blood-pumping as I remembered. I laughed. I cried—mostly from laughing. And I wanted to watch it again as soon as it was over.

Now, I’ve seen plenty of action movies in my time. And, on paper, they all have the same attributes—swordfights, gunfights, explosions, and at least one gratuitous shot of a sweaty, muscular hero sans shirt. What more could a gal ask for?

Just one simple ingredient—fun. Remember this guy? (If not, you can watch the scene play out in the link below.)

See what I mean? Sure, THE FIFTH ELEMENT may have some major logic and pacing issues, and the acting is hardly Oscar-worthy. But, if you’re looking for a goofy, gleefully over the top movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then this is the one for you.

Don’t get me wrong, as an author, I know that movies are great resources that offer valuable insight on story structure, character development, and visual storytelling. But in the end, for me, it’s all about being entertained.

So, whether you’re outlining, writing, revising, or editing, always look for the fun factor—that special bit that gets you excited or makes you smile. Because, just like movies, novels are meant to be entertaining.

And if you’re not having fun…then what’s the point?

About the Author:

Jacqui Talbot is a book worm, devoted Whovian, and certified fantasy geek. When not pursuing her dream of becoming a full-time writer, she spends her time learning different languages (six and counting) and being a nuclear chemist. Her current projects include SPINNERS, a YA supernatural thriller set on the Choctaw Indian reservation where she grew up, and KARMA AND CHEMISTRY, a MG fantasy adventure featuring a twelve-year-old protagonist who uses science to battle dark magic.

The Rewards of Glaciality (Which I Realize Is Not a Word)

Sense8Last summer, I got psyched up about Netflix’s new series, Sense8. I had no idea what it was about—I hadn’t even seen a trailer—but it had J. Michael Straczynki and the Wachowskis at the helm, and that was enough for me to give it a shot. I stayed up until 2:00 a.m., waiting for the show to appear in my Netflix queue. I was strangely drawn to the fact that the cast was mostly composed of people I hadn’t heard of before. After all, when I see Matt Damon onscreen playing a character, I have trouble seeing the character; I see Matt Damon onscreen playing a character. Know what I mean?

Anyway, I watched it all very quickly. Finished it in two and a half days. And then I read the reviews, and to my surprise realized that as a profound admirer of the show I seemed to be in a minority, at least as far as critics were concerned. And usually I’m on the same page as the critical consensus.

Sense8 is so many things to me. It’s beautiful beyond description, mostly. It’s atmospheric. It’s sensual. It’s sexy (I’m looking at you, Episode 6). It’s worldly, global. It’s cosmopolitan. It’s mysterious and coy. It’s haunting. It’s diverse. It’s profoundly moving.

It’s slow.

Glacially

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l

o

w

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Which is awesome! I mean, one of my favourite movies of all time is Meet Joe Black, so obviously I’m not averse to taking my sweet time getting to the point (and even then, perhaps being a bit vague about the point). Sometimes I don’t want something explained; I just want to dig in and experience every aspect and nuance of it.

As the years go by, I value plot less and less. When I read books, I skim right over the battles, the big action scenes. In movies, I drift off to sleep when everyone else’s pulse starts to pound. The setup, and the aftermath—that’s my jam. The long travelogue of meandering from Point A to Point B? The average person may throw their popcorn across the room and stalk out of the theater in frustration; I eat that shit up.

These weren’t always my preferences. So yeah, I admit that this is a surprising trend in my life.

At the heart of Sense8, you have a really powerful and beautiful idea—eight people, waking up slowly, suffering from confusion and long-dawning realization, discovering that they’re connected, that they’re sharing each other’s memories and emotions and experiences. They are strangers and they are intensely familiar.

This series, or at least the first season, is dedicated to exploring the underlying confusion of these eight characters as their very separate and independent lives begin to merge in surprising ways. They come from every corner of the globe, have different passions, different sexualities and gender identities (did I mention this show is diverse?), and they all bring unique skills to the table. And they don’t know what the hell is going on. They’re very slow—realistically slow—to put the pieces together.

And damn if that isn’t a beautiful thing to behold.

It’s a massively complex idea, on a character level. And there are eight main characters to be explored, and just as many interesting side characters. The best novelist would have trouble executing this, never mind a TV series. And if Sense8 wasn’t on Netflix, which is about a hundred times more patient than its broadcast cousins, it wouldn’t exist at all past the pilot.

As you make your way through the show, you realize that the show is not particularly interesting in explaining things. Well, it does explain things occasionally, but it’s never in a hurry to do so. The show knows that as long as it’s turning the spotlight on the characters and their relationships and interactions, and their inner struggles and emotions, it’s on solid ground.

But if you need plot bleeding from your every pore, Sense8 may not be for you. It’s character first. Character, character, character, and more character. So much character that you almost can’t stand it.

In a world of brainless action flicks, it’s pretty refreshing.

P.S. I also adore The Leftovers. Which is, now that I think of, Sense8’s spiritual sibling. It evokes very similar reactions in me, critics, and the overall TV-viewing audience.

Evan BraunEvan Braun is an author and editor who has been writing books for more than ten years. He is the author of The Watchers Chronicle, a completed trilogy. In addition to writing science fiction, he is the managing editor of The Niverville Citizen. He lives in Niverville, Manitoba.

A Man Plus A Woman Equals – Comrades?

pacific rimI’ve heard the advice that, when possible, it’s a great idea to add a romance subplot to your story. I’m not talking about romance as a genre–a genre that I’ve published in–in which the developing relationship between two characters is the focus of the plot. I’m talking about stories in which the heroes are in pursuit of another goal and just happen to fall in love with one another along the way.

Well…

Sometimes it’s a great idea, and sometimes it’s not.

Quick, think of your favourite onscreen romance. Your “canon ship,” if you will. (For those not in fandom = “Ship” means “relationship,” and “canon” means it actually appeared in the source material….because creators of transformative works will happily develop relationships between characters who never even meet in the source material…)

Who have you got?

Han Solo and Princess Leia?

Robin Hood and Maid Marian?

Korra and Asami?

korrasamiThese are examples of romance being a great addition to the story. Plenty of readers who would never pick up a “romance” story enjoy the interpersonal dynamics and the fantasy of falling in love taking place alongside the epic adventure. Romance adds another level of appeal, and the more appeal, the better when you’re trying to sell a story.

But we can all list examples of romance being done poorly.

Stories where “romance” is replaced by a sex scene – the kind that doesn’t contribute to the story. I’m sure many of us have waited through “this is the part where they have sex, because of course they do. Hurry up and get back to the real story.”

Stories where “romance” takes place between two characters that have no chemistry, no reason to be interested in one another, save for the fact that the “romance” box on the writer’s checklist needs ticking.

Stories where one character–often but not always the female character–exists solely to be a love interest for another character, and has little personality beyond “X’s girlfriend/wife/etc.”

Stories where an interesting female character suddenly becomes “weakened”and falls in love with the “Mr Average” leading man, who saves the day (does anyone have examples of a male character falling victim to this? Female examples include the Lego Movie, the Matrix, All You Need is Kill/Edge of Tomorrow…)

And worst of all, stories where romance runs counter to the themes and ideas in the story.

Mad Max: Fury Road was a breath of fresh air to me and many other people in that its lead characters, Max and Furiosa, are a man and a woman who…don’t fall in love! Their relationship develops from adversarial (Furiosa has gone rogue to rescue five women who’ve been held in sexual servitude, and she fears Max is an obstacle to her success; Max just wants to live and will go through whoever he has to) to mutual respect, friendship, and, yes, affection…but nowhere is there any hint of romance. Indeed, Furiosa’s position as a woman in a leadership role in a patriarchal community has interesting implications as to what her views of sexuality, gender, and relationships must be, given the society in which she lives (and in contrast to the society she was born into, which has flaws of its own). To try to shoehorn in a romance with Max (who is suffering from mental illness and also struggling to define his role in society) would not have fit this story whatsoever.
fury roadThis is not to say that romance has “cooties”. There’s an obvious relationship between Warboy Nux and ex-breeder Capable, but whether this is “romance” or a more innocent sort of childlike affection between two emotionally stunted people is open to interpretation. Mad Max doesn’t shy away from deep emotion and vulnerability. It does show that romance and sex are not the only ways to show emotion and vulnerability in relationships between men and women.

Pacific Rim is another excellent example of a movie where a male and female soldier work together to accomplish a dangerous mission. There’s no doubt that Raleigh and Mako are very close, emotionally–they wouldn’t be able to fight together in their robot without a deep connection. But there’s no sex and not even so much as a kiss between them in the movie itself. Are they in romantic love, or are they comrades-in-arms? The movie doesn’t answer this question, and doesn’t need to. In this case, open-ended ambiguity lets viewers imagine a romance, or not, as they choose–whichever is more meaningful to the viewer. Some viewers will want the romance fantasy; others will want affirmation of closeness without romance. Unlike Mad Max: Fury Road, where it’s important that Furiosa and Max not be romantically involved, Pacific Rim benefits from an ambiguous relationship that can be what the viewer wants it to be.

In real life, plenty of us interact with people of the opposite gender who we aren’t 1.) related to, 2.) sexually involved with, or 3.) romantically attracted to. Yet so many stories focus on romance to the exclusion of other types of relationships. The result is stories that don’t reflect the full human experience, and a skewed depiction of romance as the be-all and end-all of relationships.

Romance has a wide appeal, but there are some stories that don’t benefit from romance. These include: stories with asexual and aromantic lead characters (people who do not experience sexual or romantic attraction)…characters who are equally worthy of being heroes with their own stories. Stories with lead characters who are at points in their lives where they are not ready for romantic relationships (Furiosa, Max). Stories in which a man and a woman work closely together, risk their lives together, would do anything for one another…but whose “love” need not be romantic love.

In some stories romantic love will make sense for the characters, the plot and the setting. In some stories, it won’t. While there will always be a market for a good old-fashioned love story, I believe that audiences also want to see other kinds of relationships on the big screen, the small screen, and in the stories they read.