Tag Archives: science fiction

Make Friends, Be Useful, Get Noticed!

A guest post by K.J. Russell.

KJRussell_TheDustyManThe best assets a writer will ever have are their colleagues. Fellow writers, editors, proofreaders and organizers are going to help your writing reach readers in a way that social media presence, author platforms and clever selling tactics can’t match (plus, colleagues can help you master those). The first piece of advice I always give writers is to get extroverted, attend workshops and critique circles, network and make friends. That can be a hard sell for a lot of writers and it took me a few years to work my way into it.

Whether you’re still working up the courage to send your first email to a fellow writer, or maybe you’re already a networking guru, it’s easy (and tempting) to think of all things that other writers can do for you. From simply reviewing your work to helping you get reviews, teaching you the ropes of Goodreads, plugging your work on their blog or hooking you up with publication opportunities and event appearances, the ways others can help you are pretty much innumerable. It’s tempting to think about that. But that’s not where you start (even though I just started that. My bad.)

A lot of the people you’re going to meet are going to try to skip the part where they help you and go straight to the part where they ask you for help. Everyone is out there looking for people to help them get a leg up, but how often do you think a new writer walks up to someone with the goal of starting as a helper? You’re going to meet a lot of people who promise they’re going to review your book, or look over your pages and get you feedback, or say they’re going to come to an event and support you, but they’ll forget or won’t have time or something will come up at the last minute. And this will happen with them every time.

So here’s my second piece of advice, and it’s important: don’t be the person who doesn’t do things. Don’t be the person who asks for help without having helped others.

The goal in a relationship with other writers is to be valuable. If you’re in a guild, make yourself an indispensable part of it. If you’re in a critique circle, be the person who works to give the best feedback they can on every writer’s work. Be the person who says they’ll help and then actually does it.

Don’t even wait to be asked for help. You’re a writer; you know what writers need. You know how important it is to get Amazon and Goodreads reviews, so give Amazon and Goodreads reviews. Keep track of what your colleagues are doing and notice when they have new books coming out. Preorder the books, read them, leave reviews. Plug their work on facebook and twitter without being asked to. Feature their cover art on your blog. Go out looking for ways to help writers that you know, and use some of your energy to build them up.

You will be the most successful when you make it your business to help others succeed.

There are a lot of reasons this is true, not the least of which is that they’ll notice what you’re doing and a lot of them will be grateful. Maybe they’ll even repay the favor. At the very least, when your book is done and the time comes that you need help, they’ll be much more likely to respond when you ask them to give you a hand. In my experience it pays back in unexpected ways. I didn’t expect that by steadfastly attending a critique circle I’d get my first editing job, and I didn’t expect that helping my colleagues manage a book fair would get me on my first convention panel. But those things happened.

Yeah, sometimes it’s about knowing the right people and being in the right place at the right time. But you can game the system by being important and helpful to as many people as possible — there’s not one right person to know; most people are the right people — and being in the right place as often as you can manage. It’s all about being indispensable, engaged and active. It’s about doing everything you can to help those in the boat with you, and then one day they’ll help you.

And here’s another important bit of advice: when you do need the help, remember who you’ve helped in the past and actually send emails asking for help. Not everyone will respond as well as you’ve hoped, but some people will, and there’s going to be mutual appreciation there. One great thing about helping a friend reach more readers, is they’ll have more people to tell about your work when it’s time for them to plug it.

Network, make friends. Learn faces and names, exchange cards, exchange emails, keep in touch. Respond to emails quickly. Offer help, and then deliver help. Bolster someone without waiting for them to ask you to. Leave reviews and plug other writers’ work. Be the person others can count on. Make it part of your routine to help others be more successful. Help them reach more readers and then, later, they can help you reach those readers. Ask them for help when the time comes that you need it. Appreciate the help they give and repay it. Help them more. Then get helped more.

You win when they win. They win when you win. Make it a part of your plan that your success is part of someone else’s success. You’re not in this alone. You don’t want to be.

KJRK.J. Russell Bio:
K.J. Russell is a writer of dark fantasy and science fiction, and a workshop leader for the Writespace studio in downtown Houston. He frequently speaks about the writing process and perspectives on science fiction at venues as varied as comic cons and universities. He has also edited anthologies of short genre fiction on behalf of the Houston Writers Guild. His most recent book is The Dusty Man, a post-apocalyptic genre mash-up of dark sci-fi and fantasy, told with the voice of a wild west novel. Find him at kjrussell.com, on twitter @kjrussell_write, or at facebook.com/kjrussell.write.

The Aliens Have Left the Building

NA cover_jimmy gibbs1I hope everyone had fun with our themes this month. “Two aliens walked into a bar…” has certainly turned out some interesting pieces. Same prompt, yet every single person wrote with different voice, pov, concepts, and the list goes on. The most wonderful thing about pov, in my opinion, is that every perspective is different. It’s those differences that keep the stories interesting.

I’ve been amazed  this month, as I’ve come down to the final wire with publishing my first novel, at how much my personal perspectives on publishing have changed. Formatting isn’t so hard, but formatting to the acceptance of multiple retailers is a near-nightmare. Kobo and Ingram Spark were easier than expected, while Smashwords and B&N had some unexpected curves in the road. Amazon was easiest, as expected. Getting a venue for a launch party…no sweat. Getting the word out and getting everything ready, way more time-consuming than I thought. I could go on, but you get the idea. Perspectives change in life and so should the perspectives of our characters. In my newly released novel, Noble Ark, the main protagonist hates all aliens, is head over heels for the handsome man in her life, and thinks she knows the goals that matter most. As circumstances challenge her beliefs, her perspective changes, and she grows as a person. We’ve all experienced this in some way, and we continue to do so on a daily/monthly/yearly basis. We must make sure our characters resonate with that same experience–a changing perspective.

We’ve received some great tips in that regard from our Fictorians as they covered topics like: multiple pov, YA, scene-setting, controlling characters, secondary charactersvoice, showing through pov, unfamiliar pov, extraordinary characters, fan etiquette, author-to-fan etiquette, and we’d like to welcome our newest Fictorians member, Kim May, and thank her for fabulous information about selling to small bookstores.

I’d like to also make a special shout out of thanks to our amazing guests this month. Such variety!

Randy McCharles runs some of the conventions we love: How do they choose their guests? Find out.

The librarian perspective was shared by Shelley Reddy.

How does a book review show up on NPR? Ann Cummins knows all about it.

Heidi Berthiaume and Victoria Morris joined forces to explain the essential role of the Book Babe.

Ever wondered about those elusive publishers and editors with the magazines?Joseph Thompson, publisher of Isotropic Fiction, talked to us about the editing, rejection, and acceptance process.

Author of the Ronan Trilogy, Travis Heermann, took us into the reasons to love all types and sources of literature.

The talented Suzanne Helmigh agreed to give us an inside look at the artist’s point of view, telling us,”An artist only needs three things.

And hanker up a down-home accent, y’all,  while you read Guy de Marco’s post about how to understand the crazy stuff we write (and when not to write it).

Now I will close by saying, all of the aliens, in all their varied states, have left the building. Time to shut down the glittering disco ball, turn off the lights, and go home for a good night’s sleep.  Join us next month (tomorrow) as Gregory D. Little introduces the hidden gems of the publishing world.

Science Fiction ““ Our Conversation with the Future

Guest Post by Hayden Trenholm

SONY DSCFor me, fiction is about a conversation we have with each other and with the world; science fiction is a conversation we have with the future.  No matter how far away in space and time, science fiction is in the realm of the possible – decisions that we take, individually and collectively, will either bring that future about or prevent it from happening.  Fantasy, on the other hand, is in the form of a wish, or even a dream, about worlds that never have and never could exist.  No decision I make can defeat Voldemort or destroy the One Ring.

More than that, science fiction relies on the laws and principles of science both for world building and for problem solving.  That means cause and effect, the conservation of matter and energy, measurability and certainty.  The laws of physics can’t be broken on a whim and mysterious and mystical “forces’ can’t be called on to save the day.  Star Trek (“I kenna break the laws o’ physics, Captain”) is science fiction; Star Wars (“May the Force be with you, Luke”) is fantasy.

So to write good SF you need a basic understanding of, and interest in, science.  Make an error in the science and someone – probably an editor but certainly a fan – will point it out to you.  If science bores you and fact-checking is an abomination, maybe writing science fiction is not for you.  If you feel your grade 11 chemistry doesn’t quite ground you enough, try some of the Writing Science Fiction Series books from Writers’ Digest.  Edited by people like Ben Bova (both a scientist and science fiction writer), these will give you lots of basic information on space travel or world-building.  Robert Zubrin has some good books on near-Earth space travel and Michio Kaku’s “Physics of the Impossible“ lays out the law of what can and cannot be accomplished – and when.Hayden Steel

Having said that, one probably shouldn’t be dogmatic about it.  A lot of the fun in writing science fiction lies in exploring the gaps between what we do and don’t know.  In “The Steele Chronicles,” my trilogy of books from Bundoran Press, I read a lot about “junk DNA,’ genetic causality and the theory of mind-machine interfaces to ground my near-future police procedurals.  Discovering that there were several as yet unproven theories about the function of junk or inactive DNA, I was able to pick the one that best suited the story I wanted to tell.

That’s the other thing to remember – science fiction is first and foremost fiction.  While the science background is critical, you still have to tell a good story with strong and interesting characters.  The story also has to be about something.  Defining Diana was, for me, about the nature of human identity: who we are and, more importantly, why are we who we are.  By addressing that theme, I could look at issues of choice and destiny – free will versus programming -in self-definition.

defining dianaThe choice of story is, of course, impacted by the genre.  Mystery novels have to have a mystery (usually a murder) as the core problem to be solved and romance has a broken relationship at its heart.  In science fiction, science and technology are more than simply background, they are central to the main conflict.  The main character may not be a scientist but the problem they face must be grounded in something that is essentially “scientific’ in nature.  Isaac Asimov used to say the way to tell if a story is science fiction is to remove the science from the story; if it’s still a story it wasn’t SF to begin with.

Of course, it isn’t all about physics.  As I already mentioned, my novels were mostly immersed in biology and theories of mind.  On the other hand, my short stories have often revolved around political or anthropological questions.  In my five Arakan universe stories, I wondered what power ideas – especially those imported from “alien societies’ – might have to change a culture.  In that case the alien society was human and the cultural element was music.  But, of course, what I was really talking about was how multiculturalism might change the way we live and the values we have.

There are, of course, many sub genres of science fiction, each with their own rules and regulations.  So-called “mundane’ SF demands stories confine themselves to known facts and well-grounded theories (remember: in science, theories are never proven, merely not disproven yet).  Post-singularity science fiction posits a point at which we can no longer predict the future because advances (usually in the area of artificial intelligence) have outstripped the ability of the human mind to understand them.  Space opera routinely permits faster-than-light travel without worrying too much about the physics that might be involved – though most writers try to give it some kind of scientific gloss involving black holes, anti-matter or wormholes.

Nonetheless, they all have those basic things I listed at the heart of the story – cause and effect, adherence to the basic laws of physics, and a reliance on reason and human action to get things done.  Even in the most pessimistic post-apocalyptic novels, where all our problems (environmental, political, economic) may have arisen from the misuse of technology, science fiction will still rely on science to find a way through, rather than falling back on a mystical return to nature or the power of prayer.

To learn more about my views on writing and other topics, visit my web-site at www.haydentrenholm.com or my blog at http://bundoransf.wordpress.com