Tag Archives: Superstars Writing Seminar

Waking Up from a Nightmare

I had a nightmare last night, and it was bad. There was no natural disaster, no fire, no car accident, no home invader, no endless falling through the abyss—indeed, no violence. I was at a writer’s convention, which for introverts can be almost as bad, and I didn’t know anyone there. Not a soul. The dream consisted of me making concerted efforts to join conversations and mingle with the other con-goers, and time after time it went badly. I stuck my foot in my mouth. I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t brushed my teeth that morning and had bad breath. Suddenly everyone spoke a foreign language and I couldn’t keep up. The reasons varied. The results didn’t.

It was a story of constant rejection. Which is a worse fear than falling through an endless abyss.

Eventually I did find someone I knew, a writing friend from my hometown. She was gregariously holding court with a bunch of people, and the sense of relief I felt when she welcomed me in and facilitated introductions was so intense that it literally woke me up.

Such is the power of friendship.

I’ve said before that I find friendship to be a more powerful force in many ways than romantic relationships. Going by my own personal tastes, it’s a more powerful force in fiction (sorry, romance readers, I know you outnumber me). In a larger sense, I think the argument could be made that it’s a more powerful force in the world. It seems to me that friendships often outlast romantic partnerships. How does the average length of a friendship compare to the average length of a spousal relationship? I wonder! Calculating these averages would be extraordinarily tricky.

I’ll take Thelma and Louise over Romeo and Juliet, thank you very much. I’ll take Han and Chewie over Han and Leia, Geordi and Data over Riker and Troi, Norm and Cliff over Sam and Diane. But maybe that’s just because fictional couples are plagued by narrative-mandated drama in a way that many real-life couples aren’t. Maybe.

When I think about my best friends, they’ve been with me for an awfully long time. Many of them have been in my life since high school or college, and they are crucial supports. If I lost my boyfriend (whom I love dearly, are you reading this?), I would be devastated. Devastated. But I’d need my friends to get through it.

Friends support us in a multitude of ways, but for now I want to focus on those who support us professionally. I’m talking about writer friends, and how until seven years ago I didn’t have any. Talk about the dark ages. The good times started to roll when I first attended Superstars Writing Seminar, a story I’ve told many times before and won’t go into now, since it’s a story shared by just about every writer on this blog and most of its guests.

But those friends still weren’t local. I couldn’t call them up and go out for a coffee. I didn’t manage to find those kinds of friends until four years ago, and it turned out they were right under my nose all this time. It’s hard to imagine being successful in my career without them. I see some combination of them once a week, often on Mondays, and they play a big role in kickstarting my productivity.

They also hang out with me at those otherwise scary writing conventions, pretty much ensuring that nightmares like the one I woke up from this morning can’t possibly happen.

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 Citizen. He lives in Niverville, Manitoba.

Nathan Dodge: Reflections of an “Old Newbie”

Reflections of an “Old Newbie”

Nathan Dodge

I’ve wanted to be a fiction writer—mainly science fiction—since I was twelve years old. Problem is, life always seemed to intervene.

I grew up, well, not exactly poor, but certainly what would be called “lower middle class.” Often it certainly seemed that we neared the poverty line. I was an only child, certainly not coddled or spoiled, and my parents were loving, nurturing parents, but we didn’t exactly live in the lap of luxury. So, as I was good at math and science, I decided on a career in electrical engineering, for which I seemed to have an affinity—I wanted to have a career where money would not be a problem. Eventually I earned a Ph. D. Along the route to finishing my education, I got married, and children appeared on the scene. Suddenly (a couple of marriages later), children were out of school, I had retired from industry to a teaching position at the University of Texas at Dallas, and I was seventy years old. So far, no writing career.

In 2011, I took a one-day seminar at UTD by Tony Daniel and Bob Sawyer, two amazing authors and speakers, got a few compliments from Tony on a writing exercise, and decided, okay, it’s now or never. It’s not like you’ll be around another fifty years. I started writing and looking online for courses or studies about writing and saw an advertisement for SuperStars Writing Seminars sponsored by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. By golly, I had heard of them! Famous writers that were willing to share their secrets with amateurs like me!

So I signed up—and shortly, I’ll be attending my sixth SSWS. These last five-plus years have been amazing. Whereas a half-decade ago, I was a wet-behind-the-ears wannabe, with maybe a smidge of talent, I am now a somewhat experienced writer, with lots of wonderful friends and colleagues via SSWS. That talent, though still far from perfected, is at least refined a little. I have even published a bit, though my main accomplishment is writing two series of novels and discovering that I really like writing young adult science fiction. I have two novels submitted to a publisher and I continue to write, although at my age, I realize that I have a limited future in writing (as I am fond of saying, I have a fairly short timeframe in which to become an “overnight sensation”).

As the senior member of the SSWS tribe, (even older than Don Hodge, who was generally regarded as our “elder statesman”), I may be an old fogey to many of the younger members, but I sincerely love and appreciate all of them and treasure my opportunities to interact with them. I am fortunate enough to count Kevin, Rebecca, and Dave Farland among my friends, and David has even edited some of my work. His editings of several of my books have been highlights of my short “career” and major learning experiences in term of our craft. Another huge plus is that I have persuaded my youngest daughter (and superb author) Sharon to join the tribe, so that each February I not only get a chance to renew old friendships but also spend time with her.

The last twelve months have been a real breakthrough year, as I placed a story with Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge, and saw my writing style hit a major maturation point. Do you believe in the “10,000 hour rule”? I do, and as my six-year experience in writing approaches that mark, I can see that my ability to coax emotions out of the written page has improved a good deal. I’m not a Kevin or Rebecca or Dave by any means, but maybe I’m not a million miles off anymore. Daughter Sharon and I are readying an anthology of stories on alien contact for publication and discussing with some other writers a second anthology on science fiction stories about religion.

Though semi-retired, I still teach an engineering course at UT Dallas, trying to stay active and on the go. I treasure my interactions with tribe members, and one of the highlights of the day is getting on Facebook to see what fellow writers are up to. I thank my lucky stars that I found the SSWS website and for the friendships and relationships that followed. How many men can say that they share a passion for something with a daughter who is nearly forty years younger, plus have an encouraging wife who says “go for it”? Pretty amazing, right?

So, only about sixty years late, I am “living the dream,” finally practicing the profession that I aspired to when I turned twelve years old and wrote long, involved, truly terrible 200-page novels that have long since turned to dust. I look forward to early February about as much as I do to Thanksgiving or Christmas because it gives me the chance to reunite with many friends and colleagues. I offer thanks to all of them—Monique, Vicki, John David, Jason, Phil, Lissa, and so many more—who have befriended and inspired me, and in doing so, made an old guy feel far younger than his years.

The saying goes, “Do what you love in life, and you’ll never have to go to work.” I’m lucky enough to be living that truism, and even if my time horizon is more limited than most, I plan on living what’s left with zest and joy. How lucky can one guy get?

Thanks, Kevin, and Rebecca, and Dave, and Eric, and James, and all the rest who make SSWS so inspiring and fulfilling. I’ll see you in February—and every February to come, so long as the future allows.

 

Bio

After receiving a BSEE from Southern Methodist University and MSEE and PHDEE degrees from The University of Texas at Austin, Nathan Dodge practiced engineering in industry for nearly 30 years, retiring from Texas Instruments in 1998. He also worked at General Dynamics and Bell Helicopter in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Joining the faculty of the University of Texas at Dallas, he taught full time for 16 years before retiring a second time in 2014, serving as a senior lecturer, teaching four courses per semester and working full-time through the summer season. For five years, he also served as manager of undergraduate electrical engineering laboratories. He still teaches half-time at UTD.

In addition to activities listed above, he also served as a member of the Executive Board of the SMU School of Engineering and Applied Science, a member of the USC School of Engineering Board of Councilors, and a member of the Advisory Board of The University of Washington Human Interface Technology Laboratory.

He was for many years a registered professional engineer in the state of Texas. AT UTD, he was awarded the Electrical Engineering Department Faculty Outstanding Teacher Award in 2005 and 2011, and the UTD President’s Outstanding Teaching Award for Senior Lecturers in 2007.

 

Meet the Fictorians: Ace Jordyn

“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:

Ace Jordyn

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

Ace Jordan (AJ): Hi Kristin! I’m still waking up! It’s 7 a.m. and this is my prime writing time. I’m drinking a green rooibos tea called Sea Buckthorn Green. Its aroma is earthy and it has a delicate taste of macadamia nuts and sea buckthorn berries with a smooth hint of cream and caramel.

KL: You’ve done some pretty exciting traveling lately. Tell us more about that!

AJ: This summer’s main adventure was to northern Saskatchewan to a cabin in the woods. It was fun and busy with a family reunion and seeing many old friends. It’s just remote enough that you have to drive a couple kilometers out to get a cell signal for the phone and internet service doesn’t exist. There are landlines and electricity but otherwise, it’s pretty laid back.

KL: That sounds wonderful! Do you often travel? And do your travels find their way into your work?

AJ: My travels always get into my stories one way or another. For example, I’ve been to Morocco twice and what strikes me every time I’m there is how a civilization has flourished in such a harsh environment. That harsh environment is a setting in a novel. The island of Crete, with all its ancient Minoan sites has inspired a series set 4,000 years ago. I like to take history, or a historical site, and twist it into a fantasy which isn’t necessarily historically accurate. New places are jumping off points. And that can happen in the back yard too like with a rock in a creek which inspired a trilogy. I wanted to know where that rock came from, its journey from the Rocky Mountains, and why it was so important. When I asked those questions, I discovered a whole new world I’d have never imagined otherwise.

The cool thing about being in a new culture where I don’t know the language and the customs, is a sense of being alien, not fitting in. That always puts me in a position of child-like wonder about the surroundings. Also, it reminds me, as a writer, not to take things for granted, especially value systems, cultural norms, and daily life issues. It reminds me not to impose my values and reactions on characters – they must react and be authentic to their world, which usually conflicts with how I live and perceive my own life. Here’s a post about this experience.

KL: I’d love to travel to Morocco. Maybe someday I will! So what are you working on right now?

AJ: Right now I’m working on two projects (maybe more, and that depends on the day). I’m back to world building for a steampunkish fantasy novel. Here’s my process: I get a flicker of an idea and I write it down. I do some character building. I write the first few chapters to get a feel for the story. I sketch an outline, then do more character work. For this novel, I decided that a female protagonist would work better than a male protagonist so I rewrote the first chapters. Now, I’m doing a little more world building. I find that if I nail the character and world details at the start, it sets the tone and the rest of the novel writes itself.

I’m also writing short stories. New fables and folk tales for children. I just had one (When Phakack Came to Steal Papa, a Ti-Jean Story) accepted for Volume 27 No 4 by On Spec, The Canadian Magazine of the Fantastic. Here, I twisted up history and fantasy in a Canadian context.

KL: Where can we find and buy your work?

AJ: I coedited Shanghai Steam Anthology. It is recommended reading in Orson Scott Card’s book Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction: How to Create Out-of-This-World Novels and Short Stories.

I also have an independently published middle grade book Painted Problems which deals with the impact graffiti has on a community.

When Phakack Came to Steal Papa, a Ti-Jean Story can be obtained through On Spec next month.

As for my other novels and short stories, they’re being subbed to traditional publishers. My reason for doing this rather than self-publishing is because of distribution. My target market is middle grade and YA. Traditional publishers have access to a distribution system that I can’t access on my own.

KL: What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?

AJ: My favorite thing is whatever I’m currently working on. How can it not be? If I don’t love it, it won’t be written.

KL: From what I understand, you’ve been in the Fictorians from the beginning. Were you one of the first?

AJ: Yes. I attended the first Superstars Seminar and it was a great experience not only for the instruction we received but also for the people I met. As we got to know each other, we realized that we all wanted a web presence but weren’t necessarily ready to have our own website. But most importantly, we wanted to provide meaningful information, to share our experiences and knowledge so that others could benefit from what we’ve learned. So we formed the Fictorians and it’s been a wonderful experience for us and hopefully for our readers too.

KL: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

AJ: Hmmm …. There has been lots of advice, but the best one, the earliest one ever was receiving permission to be mean to my characters. I didn’t have to be nice – isn’t that what we’re taught as kids, to play nice? But as a writer, I don’t have to be nice. It’s better if I’m not. Characters need to struggle, they need to make mistakes, and they need to take readers on a journey that hits the all the emotional points.

KL: What advice would you give to a new writer?

AJTake your time and write a lot. Don’t be in a rush to publish (self or traditional) your first novel or short story. By all means, do so if you want for some have had great success in doing that. Most of us don’t. I think what’s important for all writers is to find their storytelling voice. That takes time and refinement of the craft. Here’s my story with this: I couldn’t write a short story. The form eluded me forever. Anything I tried always sounded like a long pitch for a novel. After six or seven novels, short story writing clicked. Why? Because I had found my voice. I had discovered my passion, or niche as some would call it. And that passion is for folk tales and fables. Finding your voice does wonderful things – that’s how the Ti-Jean story got written and it’s the first ever fable published by On Spec.

My novels incidentally, aren’t folk tales or fables – they’re a tidbit of history with a fantasy twist. So I guess that means I have two writing voices.

KL: Great advice. And finally, what’s your favorite Fictorians post that you’ve written so far?

AJ: My favorite is the one I wrote about using Maslow’s Hierarchy to write pitches and get to the heart/moral premise of a story. Discovering that I could use Maslow in that way was astounding and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a tool that can be used when you’re trying to write a pitch or when brainstorming a new story and you need to nail down the moral premise. I refer to that post a lot.

Thanks for this opportunity to chat with you, Kristin. I wish you and all our readers many great inspired moments!

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

Writing By Example – Or Not

Welcome to November!

With November being National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), many are writing furiously, getting those awesome stories on paper as quickly as possible. That’s great!

But how do we know how to tell a story? How did we learn to tell a story? By example of course! We know from reading them, what we like, what inspires us and what leaves us yearning for more. So we write!

What is that we have gleaned from the literature that inspires us or from that which we don’t like? That’s the big question because that forms the basis of how we tell our stories. We can take writing classes on composition, critical analysis and grammar but it’s what we subconsciously learn that prevails.

So for this month, we’ll be sharing what we think are some of the best and worst pieces we’ve read. This is done in the spirit of learning, making us better writers, as we examine what works and doesn’t work for each of us. In a previous post, Stillness – How Shall I Write Thee?, I asked how one could write about stillness and reflection in a way that was engaging because our characters may need to take time to reflect on a situation. I explored how Wordsworth captured contemplation in his poetry because the English Romantic writers so successfully captured ordinary moments and imbued their writing with deep meaning. It is in this spirit that we write this month’s posts.

Whether we read stories and literature form either current or by-gone eras, we are subconsciously considering what we like, what we think works and what kind of story we’d like to tell – or not.

So, sit back and partake of what we’ve gleaned from the stories we’ve read. And this month, look for a special post about Superstars Writing Seminar’s scholarship.

May your writing (and reading) be productive!