Writing is like an onion.
Most who start are just barely peeling the paper-thin outer skin and learning the basics.
As you learn more, another layer is peeled.
Keep peeling, it’s the only way to get better.
Oh by the way, this is a special onion.
It has an infinite number of layers.
As many of you know, most of my books have been in what could easily be categorized as a middle grade (MG) or young adult (YA) fantasy genre.
My bio makes it pretty clear that I started writing mostly because I wanted to entertain my boys (who are now both voracious teenage readers). So as they got older, the content of my material got “older” and potentially more complex.
After roughly 500,000 words of written, revised, edited and finally published material – I can easily say it has certainly been a fantastic learning experience.
Along the way, I’ve personally met many members of the publishing industry, whether it was editors, publishers, authors of every stripe (NYT bestselling ones as well as up-and-coming ones). Some of these folks I now consider to be friends.
Oddly enough, I found myself being somewhat dissatisfied with what I’d been writing. Let’s face it, I’ve spent the better part of three decades being an engineer. I do research, I look at things from the perspective of what will happen a decade+ from now and my personal interests have always been in the sciences.
I mentioned this in passing to some of those aforementioned friends and a couple of them gave me the same advice.
The word “diversity” is a hot button in today’s society, and it is so for several reasons.
Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you’re on, I think the vast majority of people have no issues with differing cultures, religions, and racial profiles of people.
Given that, why is diversity in literature a hot button nowadays?
Simple – it depends on what diversity means to you.
Oftentimes (conservative viewpoints), people see forcing diversity as inherently being unfair because it is an attempt to compensate or balance the scales in an inorganic manner. An example in the real world would be that there is a lawsuit against Harvard by a group of Asian students who find that they needed SAT scores that were about 140 points higher than white students. Diversity leads to bias. Bias leads to racist behaviors.
While others (liberal viewpoints), feel that we must value our diversity in order to work together for the common good of our society/world. Diversity makes a better world by ensuring that everyone is exposed to a wide variety of types of people.
So in one view, diversity yields a racist outcome. The other sees diversity as a means to improve society.
Hard to imagine two views more separated by a giant chasm, is it?
Given that most people have no issues with the vast majority of the world’s population and the different types it contains, it would seem a reasonable first step to include different types of people in our books. Sometimes, authors don’t give the race or background of their characters much thought. It isn’t overt, but it’s akin to not bothering to mention what kind of clothes they’re wearing. Maybe it didn’t dawn on them to describe it or it wasn’t important in that context.
If you typically write anglo characters without thinking much about it, maybe toss in a few other types, just because. Or if you typically write characters of color, there almost certainly should be some variety in your writing too.
Again, nothing forced – but it’s like paprika. Not a strong seasoning, but adds a little something.
As authors, it wouldn’t hurt to add a little seasoning to our writing. It is a baby step to mitigate some of the nonsense happening in the literary circles. Let’s face it, some of these diversity advocates are rabid (see the above-referenced URL). They need to tone down the rhetoric. However we can make an homage as well.
As readers who are sensitive to diversity issues, it might make a bit more sense to focus on the story and maybe send a nudge/hint to authors containing a message something like, “Gee, I’d love to be able to see more characters in SF/Fantasy that are clearly from the Indian subcontinent. That way, I could identify more with them.” When some subset of readers get overly agitated about certain things, I’d remind them about the old adage that says, “You get more flies with honey than vinegar.” It applies here as well.
Most people who know me would never expect me to write this, but it does reflect my beliefs.
I don’t ever write short stories, my mind normally doesn’t work that way, but I woke up one morning and this is what happened.
Waiting For Love
The last of the bodies sank into the quicksand, releasing a stream of bubbles as Anna watched, breathed in the fetid swamp gas as if it were a fine perfume.
She smiled, knowing that she’d wait as long as it took. “Maybe the next one will be the one….”
Brad had spent two years in the noisy dorms and needed something a bit quieter. However, he could barely afford tuition for college and was looking for something cheap and close to campus. As the leasing agent drove them to the farmhouse, Brad stared at the quaint 1920’s single-story building and wondered if the agent had lost his mind.
The place was only minutes from I-5 and a quick drive south to the campus, but the cost … Brad needed something cheap. Really cheap. “Umm … Mister Carson, are the owners renting out a room?”
The agent, an older gentleman with male-pattern baldness and a twitching right eye set the parking brake on his dilapidated 1980-something Chevy and hopped out with a smile. “Come on in and take a look at this place. It’s a fantastic deal. The previous tenant went … uhh, departed mid-lease and that left the owner in a bind. I’d take it myself if I didn’t already have a place.”
The agent hopped up to the front porch, unlocked the door and let it swing inward. “After you, Mister Williamson.”
Brad walked into the house and immediately noticed the fine detail of the mantel above the fireplace, the beautifully finished oak floors and fresh smell indicated that a cleaning crew must have just gone through this place.
The agent pointed out the all-new appliances and recently installed RJ45 network connections. “Mister Williamson, this place may have been built in the 20’s, but it’s wired for the twenty-first century. The owner even includes an activated internet connection for the security system that you can use, and there’s a phone line already setup. You literally have nothing to do but just move in.”
Brad stared at the leasing agent as if he were crazy. “Mister Carson, I doubt I can afford anything like this….”
Anytime that a tenant visited her property, Anna felt a jolt of electricity race through her incorporeal presence. It was that feeling, the sweet nectar of life that so attracted her to the living, but it was almost indescribable how much sweeter the moment of their death felt. At the moment of a person’s death, as the body let out its last breath, a primordial energy lifted from him.
Was it his soul? The god-given spark of life departing? Anna didn’t particularly care one way or another, because at that moment Anna would breathe in that spark. Taste of the energy that had sustained the person, and in tasting—Anna gained strength. Strength enough to do what needed to be done as her curse ran its course.
That damned curse.
It had all started with the 1924 Western Washington Fair.
A friend of hers had told Anna about a mystic that she’d visited and swore that the old woman was a real medium. She could speak with the spirits, teach Anna about her future and even help her find true love.
It was love that had driven Anna to seek spiritual insight, and it was love that had ultimately doomed her.
Located just outside of the fairgrounds inside a cluttered tent, the mysterious old crone had hidden in the darkness. The strong smell of burning cinnamon, clove and juniper had overwhelmed Anna’s senses, making her feel dizzy as the woman studied the lines on her hand and consulted the tarot.
Anna felt desperate as a young widow who’d suffered through an arranged marriage and been left with an inheritance, but no husband to share her life with. When she visited the medium on that fateful day, it was the last desperate act of a woman who’d do anything to find the love she knew was out there … somewhere. The one she was destined to meet.
When the old crone had told Anna that she wouldn’t see her love during her lifetime, it was more than she could take. Anna had become frantic. She’d do nearly anything not to be alone. Without the love of her life, was life even worth living?
Anna begged the old woman. “Is there anything I can do?”
The hag sneered, “Oh, there is always a way. But it’s a price that few are willing to pay.”
“I’ll pay anything!”
Anna opened her purse and the old woman shook her head and laughed. “It’s not money that will bind you and your love—”
“What then? I’ll do anything for some … some knowledge that I won’t end my days alone.”
The crone pursed her lips and her eyes narrowed as she studied Anna. “Are you sure?”
Anna leaned over the table and knitted her fingers together. “Anything. I’ll do anything.”
With a huff, the woman extended an arthritic hand. “Give me your palm again.”
Anna laid her palm in the old woman’s and almost instantly, her hand was trapped in a vice-like grip.
Jabbing Anna’s index finger with the sharpened tip of what looked like a bone, the old woman squeezed several drops of blood onto the table.
The mystic began chanting something unintelligible when suddenly the tip of Anna’s finger began to burn. She gritted her teeth as the pain intensified.
The old woman let go of Anna’s hand, and as the fiery sensation crawled up her arm, the drops of blood began to bubble and smoke.
The air stirred and Anna felt a jolt of electricity race through her.
The words the crone chanted suddenly began to echo in Anna’s head, sending a chill of uncertainty up and down her spine.
The old woman’s voice spoke loudly in her mind. “Your search will not end until you succeed in finding the love that you seek. Sealed with blood, I bind you to this world. A soul seeking its mate … this will come to pass. Your love will present himself. The threads of your destinies are now woven together….”
Almost a century had passed since that fateful day, and the curse still held Anna in its grip.
Its power proved true even when the fever claimed her life. Even with her body buried, Anna roamed the halls of her home … waiting. She knew he’d come, Anna wasn’t sure when, but her very existence told her that it would happen. Just as the curse kept her on Earth, defying death itself, Anna’s faith in the curse’s power told her that one day, her love would arrive.
Anna watched as the real estate agent led another would-be tenant through the front door. With all of the prior tenants over the decades, she’d study them, wondering if they could be the one she was meant to be with. Sometimes Anna would know right away that they weren’t for her, but other times it took a while.
She studied the newcomer and knew instantly. The man sent a thrill through her that was unlike anything she’d ever felt.
He seemed to glow.
As the agent walked him around, Anna hovered invisibly nearby, watching … absorbing everything about the man. He frowned.
“Mister Carson, I doubt I can afford anything like this….” The timbre of his voice grabbed her attention like a lover’s whisper. Its sound caressed her very essence, sending a thrill through her incorporeal body.
Anna had no doubts.
She’d do absolutely anything to keep him by her side.
Mister Carson’s cell-phone rang and he pulled it out of his pocket, raising a finger, and answered it. “Oh, hi … yes, I’m showing your place to a client right now….”
Brad glanced over his shoulder and shivered as a chill raced through him. It felt almost as if someone’s cold fingers had trailed down the back of his neck. He looked around for a vent or an open window, but saw nothing of the kind.
He rubbed his arms briskly, trying to rid himself of the chill as the agent asked into the phone, “Are you sure?”
Seconds later, the agent ended his call with a bemused expression. “Mister Williamson, I just got off the phone with the owner. She doesn’t want to have the place empty for any length of time, and since the prior tenants … uhh, well, since they’re not here anymore, the owner asked me to give you a one-time-only offer. I can pretty much guarantee that if you don’t take it, I’ll find someone else right away. She told me that if you’re willing to move in immediately, she’ll offer the place to you for the remainder of the lease, which is about nine months, free of charge. All she asks is that you watch over the property and give the management company a call if there’s any problem that requires service. Utilities are already on, and they’re part of the package.”
Brad blinked, uncertain that he’d heard the man right. “You’re telling me that I get to stay here for free if I just watch over the place? I … I don’t understand.”
The agent shrugged. “The owner pays the bills, so I’m just doing what she asked me to.”
The realization that he’d be able to save a bit of money and live in this place shocked Brad into silence. He panned his gaze across the interior of the immaculate farmhouse.
Brad smiled and asked, “Where do I sign?”
The agent gave him a gap-toothed smile. “I’ll take you to the office where we can finish the paperwork.”
Anna longed to reach out, run her fingers along the pulsing thread of Brad’s life, and have his inner thoughts wash over her. Feel what he felt, know what he knew, but no … the temptation would be too great. Anna didn’t want to hurt him, quite the opposite. She kept her distance, watching, listening to the sound of his voice flow through her. Over the last two weeks of Brad living in her home, it became clear that he was one of the few who could feel her presence.
When she came too close, he’d shiver, sensing that something was amiss. So instead, she watched him from afar. In the past, if a renter had become antsy and was about to leave, she knew what to do. Snipping that shimmering thread of life brought her intense pleasure. The flood of emotions and memories that had flowed through her made Anna feel alive again. For a moment, she’d remember what it was like to feel the warm press of someone’s flesh against her. That sweet taste of mortality.
But she needed to be careful. The last thing she wanted was to scare Brad away. She loved him too much for that. She’d been planning for ages. This would be her only chance.
Anna watched Brad work on his threadbare sofa, the one with some of the stuffing peeking through the partly torn seams. With a computer on his lap and papers spread all around, he grumbled, “I can’t believe he expects us to write another damned report. I mean, come on … this is criminal justice, not a creative writing course.”
As Brad organized his papers, Anna imagined what her life would be like with him. The first thing to go would be that ugly sofa. She gazed at Brad’s thin body and smiled, hoping that she remembered the recipes she’d learned as a little girl.
Lifting one page from the stack, Brad frowned and read it aloud. “Lookup the criminal activity history for the neighborhood you live in and write a fifteen-hundred word essay describing what you’ve found and would expect as a focus of your caseload. Use complete citations.”
Worry washed over Anna as she moved close to Brad. He can’t find out….
Brad twisted on the sofa and looked out the bay windows behind him. He stared at the large yard that led to the marsh and gave a lop-sided smile to no one in particular. “All right, professor, I’ve got farms and swamps out here. Do you seriously expect me to write about the latest rash of cow-tipping?”
Feeling energy gathering at the tips of her fingers, Anna knew she had to do something. He couldn’t learn the truth … not yet. There was too much at stake and she felt afraid of what he might find on the internet.
As Brad typed on the laptop, Anna reached toward him….
Using Google, Brad found the web site for the city’s crime database and began to type in his address. Just as he was about to hit the “enter” key, the screen went blank.
“What the hell!”
Brad checked the laptop’s power cord, but it was still firmly plugged in. With a frown, he followed the black cord to the wall and switched plugs. No change.
With a groan of frustration, Brad closed his eyes and looked up at the ceiling. “God, what did I do to piss you off?” The scent of jasmine tickled his nose as a chill raced through him. “Ugh.” It wasn’t the first time he’d detected the flower’s smell and Brad couldn’t for the life of him understand where it was coming from.
Setting aside his laptop, Brad got off the couch, dug his cellphone from his pocket and dialed Dave’s number.
After two rings, Dave picked up and Brad could barely hear him across the poor phone connection.
“Hey Dave, are you guys still coming over for barbecue this afternoon?”
“Yup. We’re meeting at three o’clock, right?” Dave’s voice sounded distracted.
“Right. I just wanted to make sure you guys were coming. My laptop just bit the dust and since Kathryn’s got the same criminal justice professor, I was wondering if she could bring me a printout of the crime database report for my place. She’ll know what I need.”
Dave’s voice came loudly across the connection. “Hey Kat, Brad’s asking if you can print out some database thing for old Doctor Hostedler’s class. His laptop’s dead.” Brad heard a woman say something unintelligible in the background and Dave relayed what she said, “She said, ‘No problem, but Brad, don’t burn the damned chicken this time.’”
Brad pulled two packs of thawed chicken quarters out of the refrigerator and chuckled. “Oh, shut up. This time, make sure the soda’s not five years past its expiration date.”
“Cool, see you in a bit.”
Putting the phone back in his pocket, he turned back toward the sofa and sighed. Brad silently prayed that the warranty was still good on the laptop.
With someone pounding on the front door, Brad hopped off of the couch and yelled, “What the hell, I said ‘come in!’”
The pounding stopped and Brad heard Dave’s voice yelling through a half-open window. “Hey, Brad, open up. It’s Dave.”
As Brad approached the front door, he frowned, seeing that the deadbolt had mysteriously been clicked shut again. He could have sworn that he’d left the door unlocked.
Unlocking the door, Brad greeted Dave, a friend since high school.
Dave playfully jabbed him in the shoulder and laughed, “Hey, Einstein, I thought you said you were leaving the front door open for us.”
Brad shrugged. “So sue me, I forgot. Hey, where’s Kathryn?”
“She’ll be over in a bit. Our internet’s down in the apartment, so she was at the library pulling down whatever research you asked for.” Dave hitched his thumb toward the driveway and asked, “All I saw was your car. I figured your new girlfriend would be here. She dump you already?”
Giving Dave a lopsided grin, Brad shook his head. “No, nothing like that … at least not yet. She’s working late. And besides, I only met her a couple of days ago. I haven’t had a chance to scare her off yet.”
After letting Dave in, Brad closed the door, purposefully leaving the door unlocked. A cold breeze tickled at the base of his neck and Brad caught a whiff of jasmine again. He wrinkled his nose and shrugged off the weird feeling that someone was watching him as he led Dave into the living room.
“Let me tell you, I still can’t believe the deal you got on this place … hey, did the realtor give you any info on what the deal was with the previous tenants?”
Brad groped inside one of the kitchen cabinets for the bag of charcoal and glanced at Dave as he plopped on the living room sofa. “Not really. All that old guy told me was that they left before their lease expired.”
“Well, I don’t know any of the details, but Kat implied that there might be all sorts of reasons why you got this place on the cheap. She said something about a missing person’s report just as I pulled into your driveway, then my phone lost signal.”
Brad peeked into the nearly empty bag of charcoal. “Damn it, I’m out of charcoal.” Slamming the cabinet door shut, he grabbed his car keys off the counter. “There’s a convenience store only about a mile down the road, want to come along?”
Dave shook his head with an amused expression and began examining Brad’s broken laptop. “Nah, I don’t need anything, and besides, Kat’s going to be here any second. While you’re gone, I’ll see if I can do something with your busted computer.”
“All right, make yourself at home.” Brad waved at Dave and jogged to the front door, hoping that his friend, who was a total computer nerd, could figure out what was wrong with his laptop.
“Brad? Dave? Are you guys here? The door was open.” Kat’s worried voice echoed from the front of the house.
“Yeah!” Dave exclaimed. He pumped his fist upward and laughed as he watched Brad’s laptop flicker with life as soon as he reseated the battery. He yelled across the house, “I’m in the living room, fixing Brad’s crappy computer. He’s out getting some charcoal for the grill.”
Kat wandered into the living room, peering about uncertainly, and Dave couldn’t help but smile. Her dark hair was pulled tightly back into a ponytail and her large glasses gave her an owl-like academic expression that he found adorable.
Dave panned his arm across the large living room and the attached kitchen. “Can you believe how gorgeous this place is? Makes me feel even worse about the dump we’re living in.”
She glanced at him, put her hands on her hips, and frowned. “Why’d you hang up on me? I was in the middle of telling you I didn’t want to come over anymore—”
“I didn’t hang up on you. The signal cut off just as I turned into Brad’s driveway.”
“Well, we can’t stay here. This place is like the Bermuda triangle of homes.”
Dave opened his mouth to say something, but Kat pulled some printouts from her back pocket and tossed them on the sofa next to him. “Dave, I’m serious! You know what NCIC says?”
“I don’t even have a clue what NCIC is.”
With a huff, Kat tilted her head and stared at Dave the way she did whenever she thought he was being an idiot, which was more often than he’d like it to be. “It’s the FBI’s crime statistics database. Anyway, this house alone accounts for a couple percent of the unresolved missing persons cases in the whole state. I’m serious, we can’t stay here, and neither should Brad.”
Dave glanced at the unrolled printout and a cold sensation washed over him. Kat was excitable, but not nearly this bad. “Are you seriously suggesting that we tell our friend that his place is the next Amityville horror and he needs to leave?”
“I’m telling you there’s something wrong with this place. Think about it. Brad isn’t paying a dime for it, who does that? I’m going to guess that the realtor never bothered to share any of the weird missing persons stuff with him. Your cell phone cuts out just as you enter the driveway….” Kat rubbed her hands up and down her arms and shivered. “Everything about this place creeps me out, and I’ve got to pee.”
With a grin, Dave pointed at the hallway that led to the bathroom.
Kat turned and walked stiffly to the bathroom as Dave reached for the papers.
He lay back on the sofa and began unrolling the printouts when he felt another chill, almost as if an air conditioner had kicked in, but this place didn’t have anything of the kind.
Dave inhaled the scent of jasmine just as he lost consciousness.
With her hands grasped tightly around Dave Myer’s thread of life, Anna pulled at it with all of her might. The shimmering strands stretched, groaned and finally snapped, flooding Anna’s mind with all of his memories. His knowledge of ‘C’ programming, the final exam he’d been studying for, how he and Brad used to date twin sisters in high school.
As Anna absorbed yet another person’s memories, she felt sweetness stir her incorporeal body. Giving her physical strength. Enough strength to do what she knew needed to be done.
With a flick of her mind, Anna jammed the lock in the guest bathroom. Dave’s lifeless body slumped forward onto the floor.
Commanding the strength within her, Anna grasped Dave by his shirt collar and dragged him toward the sliding glass door.
Moments later, as Dave sank into the bog behind the farmhouse, Anna heard Kathryn yelling, “Hey, the door’s stuck!”
Anna smiled as she focused her attention on the troublemaker. “You brought this upon yourself….”
Brad grumbled as he sat alone on the front porch, staring at the three cars in his driveway. “Where the hell could they have gone?”
He took a bite of a drumstick, mildly annoyed at both of his friends for disappearing and that he’d burnt the chicken skin again. He glanced at the hastily scribbled note and read it aloud, “We’ll be back. Kat and I had something to do.”
“Yeah, whatever….” Brad grumbled as a car approached up the road.
It pulled into his driveway and with the sound of the parking brake being engaged, a brunette hopped out of the car and gave him a dazzling smile, lifting Brad’s otherwise sour mood. “Good god, I didn’t realize you lived this far out in the boondocks.”
Brad stood just as Vicki hopped onto the porch and wrapped him in a bear hug, giving him a kiss on the cheek. He tilted his head toward the plate of chicken and asked, “You hungry?”
Vicki glanced at the plate and wrinkled her nose. “Maybe next time, I’ll cook.”
Brad chuckled and guided her into the farmhouse. “Let me show you around….”
Knowing that there’d be only one chance at this, Anna gathered her strength.
She watched as Vicki sat next to Brad on the sofa while he riffled through his papers and grumbled. “I can’t believe she came over and didn’t leave me any printouts or anything….”
Without warning, Anna dove into Vicki’s mind and wrapped herself around the pulsing thread of her life.
Anna sensed that Brad was too preoccupied with his work to even notice Vicki’s tiny gasp. Anna clamped down on the thread and squeezed. However, Anna didn’t want to tear open the golden strands and suck the life from her. Quite the opposite. Instead, she burrowed into the shimmering threads with all of her will and gathered it around her, cloaking herself in the life that wasn’t hers.
Smothering the consciousness that had been Victoria Cromwell, Anna gasped. A real gasp that pulled air deep into her lungs for the first time in ages.
Anna clenched her toes within her sneakers and shuddered with the feeling of life that washed through her new body.
Brad glanced in her direction and patted her on the knee. “Are you okay?”
The touch of Brad’s hand sent a thrill through her body like one she’d never experienced. She nodded, blinking tears away as Brad turned to his laptop, oblivious to what had transpired.
Brad laughed as his computer came to life in his hands. “Well, what do you know … Dave must have fixed it.”
Anna scooted closer to Brad and felt her thigh press against his. Her heart raced with the sensation as she leaned closer and gazed at what he was doing.
With Dave’s computer expertise a part of who she was, Anna smiled as Brad watched his laptop turn on. When Windows finally finished initializing, the notepad application popped open and Brad patted Anna’s leg excitedly, “Vicki! I can’t believe it. Kathryn must have typed something and left it on here just after Dave fixed my PC!”
“Oh?” Anna smiled, knowing that Kathryn had nothing to do with what was on the PC. Kathryn would have nothing to do with anything anymore, and something about that deeply pleased her.
“Well, it looks like … no way! She did the entire assignment for me. Look at all the tables and charts.” Brad laughed. “Just like I figured—almost nothing ever happens around here, but it’s at least documented. Heck, she even wrote specifics about this place.”
“The home was built in 1921 by Anna Jane Rehnquist—”
“I so love that name,” Anna volunteered.
Brad glanced at Anna and cocked an eyebrow. “Rehnquist?”
“No, Anna. It’s actually what my parents called me when they were alive.” Anna moved even closer to Brad and nuzzled his neck, whispering softly, “Call me Anna.”
She wrapped her arms around Brad as he looked into her eyes.
He tilted his head and smiled. “Anna, you look different somehow.”
Their faces were inches apart. She felt the warmth of his breath as they closed the gap between them, sharing their first tentative kiss. Anna tightened her embrace as jolts of electricity raced through her.
Brad nuzzled her hair.
Anna luxuriated in the feeling. He inhaled and suddenly she felt him shiver.
Brad sat back, holding Anna at arm’s length, eyes wide with uncertainty. “Didn’t you tell me that you were allergic to flowers?”
I’m about to swim upstream for many people in the literary world by positing that there is practically no difference between most Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Before I go into more of that hypothesis, let me note a few things about myself.
I have a very deep background in the sciences. They span the disciplines of physics, chemistry and oddly enough, computers. So much so, that some of the material I’ve written on these technologies is used in university courses both internationally and domestically.
Before I’d ventured seriously into writing, I’d envisioned that I’d probably focus mostly on fantasy. After all, that’s what I enjoyed reading the most as a youth, starting with novels like The Hobbit/LOTR and into adulthood, moving through tales like Sword of Shannara and The RuneLords series.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Science Fiction as well (e.g. Asimov, Clarke, etc.,) but being very close to technology, I didn’t always relate to the science portion of the Science Fiction I was reading.
I remember having a discussion with a cousin of mine who is a physician and asked him if he watched some of the medical shows on TV (back then, E.R. was popular). He immediately shook his head with a look of disdain and explained that he couldn’t get into it, because there’d be things that weren’t right or it was too close to home and was unpleasant for him to watch. It was a sentiment that I could totally relate to.
For me, reading was an escape. So I enjoyed not knowing how stuff happened and allowed myself to go on the adventure that the author had intended without muddying the waters with laws of physics and other inconvenient realities.
That was until I began writing stories.
When I first sat down to write, my mind immediately turned to the material I enjoyed reading the most, Epic Fantasy.
It didn’t take me long before the engineer/scientist part of my brain began arguing with the would-be fantasy writer.
If I was about to put something into my story that was magical, the engineering side of me couldn’t help but wonder, “How could I make that actually work?”
Fantasy writers have always been taught that when you construct a magic system, you must be descriptive, consistent, and hopefully interesting.
For most authors without a strong science background, that simply means make up the reality, explain it and stick to it. Simple. However, I couldn’t see myself doing that. The scientist part of me kept nagging about, “How could I make a magic ring actually work in real life?”
It then dawned on me that I could borrow from one of Arthur C. Clarke’s laws, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
What if I took that capability that I wanted, applied known science to it, and then extrapolated a bit, kind of like the science fiction folks do.
For example, I have a story that I’ve written called, DISPOCALYPSE:
In this story, I introduced the concept of a gold ring with some very unique properties. At its simplest, two people can wear a matched set of rings, and when one person taps or squeezes their ring, the person carrying the matching ring would feel the tap or squeeze in their ring. It serves as a very typical fantasy element and acts as a means of communication across great distances between two parties. Neat stuff. You can imagine in a fantasy setting, such magic rings being employed with various interesting outcomes. That’s in fact exactly what I do.
Although a fantastic little trick, the concept for such an item originated from within a deep dark cave in the world of particle physics called quantum entanglement.
Briefly explained, quantum entanglement is the concept that through a variety of methods a single item can be split into two parts where each of the parts end up sharing an unseen link even though they may have a relatively great distance between them.
This is most easily imagined as a photon of light being split (via a special type of beam splitter) such that each corresponding half can be affected in ways that ultimately affect the other. However, I’ll note that quantum entanglement has already been experimentally verified both at the subatomic level as well as macroscopic level between two small diamonds.
This is a very active area of research in academic circles today. I would greatly appreciate it if any of my readers (who happen to have the proper background and wherewithal) advances the concept and research further.
I want one of these rings.
Nonetheless, I’ve suddenly turned my “magic” ring into a ring of science fiction. Odd how that works.
I wouldn’t make a big point of that single instance of co-opting a fantasy item and morphing it into a science fiction element had I not found myself doing this kind of thing over and over again.
My “fantasy” novels were becoming Science Fiction – or at least the lines between the two were certainly blurring.
How about another example?
Let’s try mind reading.
The concept of reading minds has always been in the realm of hocus pocus. People wiggling their fingers and voila! Karnak the magician can now guess your name, etc.
But what if there was something more to it than that? In the novel I have under submission called THE CODE BREAKER, one of the characters has the ability to read minds. It’s something he simply is able to do, but if we take a step back, (which I did) and think, “How could such a thing actually work?” You too might come up with some of these revelations.
Today we have the technology to map the electrical currents in the brain via special wired harnesses.
The fact is, these wires aren’t actually touching the brain, they’re measuring fields that the brain generates and using triangulation, they can determine where in the brain certain activities are occurring.
You can almost think of these fields as a type of sound if you will. Something that can be “heard” and even transmitted through the skull, blood, skin.
Using today’s technology, the brain can not only be “heard” it can be “talked to” in a similar manner. When certain frequencies and fields stimulate the brain, it reacts. Depending on the section of the brain being stimulated, the patient will get a variety of sensations, possibly a taste or visual effect or it may actually bring forth an emotion or memory of an event. These are all things that today are actively being researched with the hope of mapping out the different parts of the human brain and all of that serves as fodder for the imagination.
Going back to the novel and my mind reader, what if we imagined that someone had the ability to both “listen” to the brain at that level but also “talk” to it. Given special hearing, it is conceivable that the brain could be programmed, much in the way a computer is programmed.
So if the mind reader could subconsciously send out a signal (e.g. sub-sonic sound carrying a pattern) and the recipient’s brain reacted in a fashion that the mind reader could detect, you might have a means for someone to probe another person’s thoughts.
Heck, in THE CODE BREAKER, I even included a sample illustration of an audio spectroscopy analysis illustrating how such a thing might work. (TBD as to whether publisher will let me put that in.)
So I covered magic rings and mind reading as two simple scenarios where “Fantasy” elements could actually be part and parcel of a Science Fiction story without really anyone blinking an eye.
I have much more, but I think the point is made.
It’s really up to the author to decide whether he wants to explain how it might work relative to technology that really exists in our world or not. If it’s a derivative of something that’s conceivable with known science, then it isn’t fantasy anymore, it really is science fiction.
I could just as easily formulate my story with the same magic ring and telepaths and make it a fantasy story. It just requires the author to base the “what makes it work” pretense less on science and more on “because I said so.”
I go back to my initial thesis which was, “Fantasy is really unexplained science fiction.”
While I think there’s plenty of room for both genres as being distinct from each other, I really believe that the lines blur severely and in some cases there’s an obvious reason why people lump “SF/Fantasy” together.
Supposedly, Fantasy sells better than Science Fiction. In truth, I wonder about that. As a writer and a reader, I’m torn.
I know I’ve always been partial to reading Fantasy, but as an author, I find myself drawn to writing stories that let people imagine, “What if.”
I never imagined myself growing up as a hobbit, nor did I hope to find the Sword of Shannara or become a Rune Lord. Nonetheless, I personally think it’s cool to leave a reader with that “what if” impression, because you can almost imagine yourself going to school and seeing technology evolve in a direction that makes some of the Science Fiction possible.
I suppose time will tell regarding whether the preponderance of my writing gets the Fantasy or Science Fiction label.
In the meantime, get back to reading – it’s a great way to escape, and maybe learn something if you’re lucky.
I’d always (always being since the late 70’s) been a reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy novels.
I’d also always considered myself a fan of the genre and enjoyed reading as much as watching movies steeped in the nostrum of SF/Fantasy.
I’d never considered the word “Fan” that much of a controversial thing, but evidently it is.
If I consult the dictionary, it says the following:
Definition of FAN
: an enthusiastic devotee (as of a sport or a performing art) usually as a spectator
: an ardent admirer or enthusiast (as of a celebrity or a pursuit) <science-fiction fans>
Let me set that definition aside for a moment and talk about WorldCon (borrowed from their web site below, emphasis is mine.)
The World Science Fiction Convention (“Worldcon”) is an international gathering of the science fiction and fantasy communities. The Worldcon attracts members each year from North and South America, Africa, Europe, Australia, and Asia. In the last decade, the convention has been held on four different continents.
Worldcons are organized and run by fans, volunteers all.
Members/Attendees of the Worldcon are all eligible to vote for something called the Hugo awards.
The Hugo Awards are awards for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy.
So by definition, the fans of Science Fiction and Fantasy are the ones who are eligible to vote, the only requirement is that you become a member ($40 fee) of the Worldcon.
This all seems harmless and simple, right?
What if people who had been longtime readers of genre material and even casually knew of the Hugo awards had noticed that the awards weren’t necessarily being given to the books that they enjoyed the most. Or weren’t the most popular. By all rights, you’d think that Harry Potter would have swept the awards or you’d see Terry Brooks’ Shannara in the list of winners. Maybe Dave Farland’s Runelords? No?
Oh well, that’s not that big of a deal. Sometimes popular things don’t always win and these things are highly subjective.
However, some folks had noticed a trend that books were being chosen as candidates weren’t even good stories. I won’t cause a ruckus and name names, because what’s the point – the issue was mostly that people had noticed a trend for nominating works that had certain political (some termed them progressive) themes over telling a good story.
These same people assert that as the preeminent award for Science Fiction and Fantasy, the Hugos should belong to what the fans believed are the best stories.
It was also further asserted that people who were painfully deserving of awards (again, remaining nameless), were being overlooked because of their associations with certain publishers or because they held certain political beliefs that weren’t congruent with the voters.
This is when the Sad Puppies was formed (initially by Larry Correia, but the current banner is held by Brad Torgersen.)
These “Sad Puppies” were sad, because they felt that not enough emphasis was being given to works because they were just “damn fine stories” and the Hugos had lost their way. After all, you too would be sad if you were lost and didn’t have a good story to read. 😉
Let’s go back to the voters and that definition of what a fan is.
The dictionary says that a fan is an enthusiastic devotee of something (e.g. SF/Fantasy). I tend to agree.
However, the people who have long been the organizers and members of the Worldcon (and thus voting for the Hugos) do not see it that way. Many of their most vocal members say that a fan is not simply a reader. You must have been a participant or actively contributing in some manner to fandom overall by some measure of Fanac (Fan activity).
When I learned that, I wondered, “Am I not a fan?” I always thought I was. I began feeling a little sad, kind of like those puppies.
Let’s just say that I wholeheartedly disagree with this unofficial definition of what a fan is. And in fact, the Worldcon rules state very simply that if you pay for membership, you are entitled to vote. You are entitled as much as any of the “old guard” fandom that seems to have influenced the votes in the Hugos in recent years/decades.
The Sad Puppies campaign has been going on for a while and in its third iteration, the Sad Puppies campaign resulted in a rather fantastic influence on getting more quality work on the ballot.
This has resulted in a lot of very immature reactions by the “establishment” and more to the point, the vitriol spewed by the old guard is sufficient to have people who’ve known each other for decades at each other’s throats.
Who’d have thought that the idea of reclaiming the Hugos to be an award for GOOD STORIES was such a controversial thing?
I can say one thing in parting: if you’re a reader of SF/Fantasy and have an opinion on to whom and which works the preeminent award is bestowed, you could check www.sasquan.org to sign up for a membership. Otherwise, if you want to scan facebook or the internet for the maelstrom that is ensuing – now you know that “Sad Puppies” and “Hugo” are good search patterns.
I continuously stumble into blogs where aspiring authors are lamenting the cruel nature of the publishing industry and how their efforts are unrecognized. If the aspiring author could only get the attention of X or if Y would simply read the first couple chapters of their manuscript – then they’d of course understand the author’s brilliance.
This post is for other would-be authors and those curious about keeping people from getting access to your precious documents. I wrote this a while ago in slideshow format to illustrate simply some issues that are inherent to our digital age and many take for granted.
Nobody would ever steal from you, right? Nonetheless, I hope some of you find this useful.