Category Archives: Kevin Ikenberry

How I’ll Remember 2016

So, we’ve come to the end of December and the end of 2016. To say that 2016 has been a difficult and challenging year, one so closely aligned with the loss of larger-than-life personalities and rampant disagreement, would be an understatement. As for me, 2016 has been a year of change and a recognition that I’d crossed the line from aspiring author to author.

While riding the wave from the release of my first novel, I was retired from my service in the Army Reserve. I spent the last third of my career on active duty and after surviving a necrotizing fasciitis, the demands of service were deemed to be too much for me. After almost 24 years in uniform, my life experienced a huge change to say the least.

Over the following months, my writing career gained steam. In April, I qualified for full Active Membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America. I had an unexpected email from David Brin that complimented my writing ability and my book. In June, Sleeper Protocol was featured in a BookBub ad. The resulting promotions shot my novel into the top #115 books on all of Amazon and #1 in three categories. It sold over 2,000 copies that month alone. One of my friends, Aaron Michael Ritchey, told me point blank that I was no longer an aspiring author. Halfway through 2016, I had no idea the biggest moment of my year was still to come.

When I was an ROTC instructor, teaching the next generation of Army officers at a small university in Indiana, I frequently recommended two books to my cadets. Twenty years earlier, as a cadet myself, I’d first read Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein while in the midst of my junior year. That year, called the MS3 year, is arguably the worst for a cadet as it culminates in a summer training program designed to rank all cadets in the country from 1-n for assignments in the Army post-graduation. My junior year was not great by any means, but Starship Troopers stuck with me. As an MS4, a senior, I first read another book that would change my perception of military service. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman was equally important to my development as an officer. Starship Troopers taught me how, if necessary, to go to war. The Forever War taught me how to stay human and how to come home. They are the two most influential books I’ve ever read and they occupy a shared space on the bookshelf next to my desk. I’ve never been a real “fan boy” but I think I came really close in August.

I made the decision to attend WorldCon in Kansas City at the last possible moment. There were two major factors: my wife put off a foot surgery that opened the possibility, and then my friend Lou Berger made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. It went something like this – “How’d you like to go to lunch with Joe Haldeman?”

I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

So, we went to lunch with Joe and Gay Haldeman. During the course of lunch, I actually got a chance to tell Joe how much The Forever War had meant to me as a young cadet. We had an incredible conversation about it, his upcoming works, and then my book. Gay asked to see it, so I got a copy out of my pack and handed it to them. At that exact moment, Greg Bear and his wife stopped by. Greg patted Joe on the shoulder and then pointed at my book.

“That’s a great cover!” he said.

I started to shake. Gay and Joe had to run to a panel, but they told me they’d find me at the WordFire booth the next day. Leaving lunch, I couldn’t thank Lou enough. I hoped to see the Haldemans again, but I knew how crazy WorldCon was and tried to just bask in the conversation we’d had and my personal time with Joe.

The next day, they came by the WordFire booth where I’d spent my time camped out next to Chuck Gannon, Larry Dixon, and Mercedes Lackey (which was incredible to say the least). Gay walked up, gave me a hug, and said “We want your book.”

With shaking hands, and vision blurred from threatening tears, I signed a copy of Sleeper Protocol to Joe and Gay Haldeman. We then took pictures together and both of them hugged me before they went on their way. We’ve even since maintained email contact, which is mind-blowing. To say that meeting one of my inspirations was the highlight of 2016 would be a gross understatement. I left there energized and ready for the remainder of the year.

Since WorldCon, I’ve completed the edits for Vendetta Protocol and been hard at work on an alternate-history novel that’s been a real ass kicker. It’s a moment of change for me as it diverges from everything I’ve written up to this point. But, there’s also been a recognition that this is part of that whole writing “thing.” Challenge is always out there. We’re fortunate that so many of our inspirations and our favorite authors are approachable and willing to help – sometimes they even go to lunch with you. For that, I’ll be forever grateful.

I hope you have enjoyed our December “Year In Review” posts. From here, I transfer things over to the amazing Sean Golden for next month’s theme: Starting Over.

Happy New Year!

Paid to Play: Writing Licensed Fan Fiction in Kindle Worlds

We’ve all heard that writing fan fiction is something that professional writers don’t do. Fan fiction has a stigma attached to it of being vastly amateur and a waste of time for aspiring authors who should be cutting their teeth on their own works. The truth of the matter is that fan fiction has a very large fan base and can provide a great opportunity for new writers to hone their abilities. Yet, being paid for writing fan fiction has always been reserved for authors who sign literary contracts to write “media tie-ins.” The media tie-in was essentially the sole professional version of fan fiction until Kindle Worlds came along.

Kindle Worlds is a project from Amazon that allows authors to write licensed fan fiction in any of the licensed world. Authors can earn royalties (typically 30%) from their works in a licensed world. Works can be any length from short story to full novels. The only “catch” is that Amazon and that licensed world own your story in perpetuity. Licensed worlds include the worlds of bestselling authors Hugh Howey, Bella Andre, and Kurt Vonnegut. Other worlds include television properties (Vampire Diaries, Wayward Pines, Veronica Mars) and comic book properties (G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero, Quantum and Woody, XO Man-o-War). All an author has to do is have an idea, check the Kindle Worlds quality/content guidelines for that licensed world, write a story, and publish it. It’s licensed fan fiction, and I can say from experience, a huge opportunity.

A few years ago at the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, I met Hugh Howey. We had a great conversation then, and ever since via infrequent emails. I first heard about Kindle Worlds from Hugh. Roughly about the time that I finished the second of his Silo Saga novels (SHIFT), I had an idea for a story in his universe. Knowing that the universe was available through the Kindle Worlds program, I worked up a story and promptly hesitated. On the cusp of submitting the story, I chickened out and emailed Hugh for advice. He told me to publish the story, and I did. I’ve published several short stories via Kindle, but none has sold like my Silo Sage novelette “Vessel.” It’s been out for a couple of years and has never left the Top 200 in Kindle Worlds Science Fiction and Fantasy, topping out at #3. The story has done nicely, putting some extra money in my account while generating name recognition. I never thought about name recognition as a by-product for Kindle Worlds until I had an idea for another story in a different universe.

As a kid, the cartoon series G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero was my favorite series of all time. When I saw that its universe was part of Kindle Worlds, I was amazed and thrilled. In the Kindle Worlds stories, there are some really good ones including those by bestselling author Carrie Vaughn and my friends Peter Wacks and Aaron Michael Ritchey. On a getaway weekend to Breckenridge a couple of years ago, I had an idea for a story in that universe and wrote it inside of a week. After some read-throughs and edits, I used the Kindle Worlds cover builder, formatted the book, and set it live. What happened next is surreal. About 24 hours after I set the title live, I had a Twitter notification on my account (@TheWriterIke). I’d been mentioned in a tweet from Amazon Kindle Worlds that reached almost 35,000 subscribers. They’d also tagged one of the major G.I.Joe toy collector groups, and they then retweeted it to another 6,000 subscribers. The story hit #7 in all of Kindle Worlds within the next few hours. I gained fifty or so Twitter followers. Like “Vessel,” my short story “Friends In High Places” has continued to do very well, and the fact that it’s licensed fan fiction is something I’m very proud of.

I believe firmly that writers should seek payment for our work. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills. Kindle Worlds is a perfect opportunity to play in someone else’s world while earning royalties and gaining exposure. Check them out at KindleWorlds.Amazon.Com and see if there is a licensed world you’re familiar with. Then, if the muse whispers in your ear, sit down and write the best story you possibly can. You never know what might happen with it.

Promise – A Double Nickel Story

Gideon turned away from the scene as the blue planet’s atmosphere shredded like paper. The swelling star would soon absorb the remains of the world and the species known as man. There was no last, frantic attempt to leave Earth despite their knowledge and abilities. The whole experiment was lost. Mankind once possessed such promise.

Two Great Genres That Read Great Together

Science Fiction and Horror – Two Great Genres That Read Great Together

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll get this.

Imagine a kid, tousled hair and freckles staring in horror at a book in his hand walking down the aisle of a library. From the other directions another kid, this one a girl with thick dark curls held up in two ponytails, as they peruse the aisles of their local library. They comically run into each other. The first boy recoils. “You got your science fiction in my horror!”

The girl looks equally aghast. “You got your horror in my science fiction!”

As an aspiring writer, I tried to write what I thought was purely science fiction while I wrote my first short stories. I knew that the novels developing in my head were more military science fiction and I was completely comfortable with that subject matter. I wanted to keep my learning curve within the bounds of “traditional” science fiction. In hindsight, I’m very glad for the opportunity to have had my mind changed for me.

In 2012, I joined the Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group and became a regular member. While submitting short fiction for critique, analysis, and help, we had a contest to write a flash fiction story combining two dissimilar genres. To this day, I’m glad I did not draw Lovecraftian horror and “chick-lit.” Instead, I drew science fiction…and horror.

Horror was something I never expected to write. I’ve never been a huge fan of horror movies, and I very rarely watch them. Walking Dead? Nope. It’s just not my thing. So, faced with writing a 1,000-word story I panicked and wrote nothing until the weekend before it was due. I was hung up on two things. First, to paraphrase Ray Bradbury’s definition of science fiction – it is the art of the possible. Horror, to me, seemed like the art of the impossible. Granted, I’ve experienced a few crazy, unexplained things in my life, but horror seemed to be all about fear. How could fear and (at least to me) optimistic visions of the future be related?

The second thing standing in my way was failing to understand why we read horror. I am a dedicated Stephen King fan and I realized while I was trying to get past the blinking cursor of doom that I was not connecting the science fiction scenery to the emotional response from the reader. When that finally happened, I wrote the story in one sitting while waiting for a flight at the Salt Lake City airport. I submitted the story “Poultry” for critique and was told I should find a place for it. Eventually, I did find a magazine for it, but without pay. In the last six months, I sold it again to Digital Science Fiction, where it recently appeared in their Quickfic Anthology.

Writing a miniature space opera with a horror element (and admittedly, a dark humor, too) was easier than I thought because I realized I wanted to elicit a response from the audience. I wanted there to be a moment of revulsion and a head-shaking chuckle at the end of the story. I’m hopeful I achieved that because that was the lesson I learned while writing the story.

We tend to think of prose as painting a picture for the reader. That’s part of the equation. We need to visualize the reader’s response. Can we do that for every reader? No. But, if we have that “target” in mind, we can deliver an emotional punch to the reader’s gut. That’s what makes stories memorable.

And, for the record, science fiction and horror are two great genres that work great together. (Insert head-shaking chuckle here)