Category Archives: Kevin Ikenberry

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)

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!