September 16, 2012

WRITING ADVICE – SL Viehl #9: Writing A Good Book

I stumbled across the writing of Sheila Kelly (aka SL Viehl, Gena Gale, Jessica Hall, Rebecca Kelly and Lynn Viehl) about eleven years ago with the publication of her first novel, STARDOC. I was looking for a the work of a current writer to replace one of my favorite kind of science fiction – human doctors in a space hospital working on aliens. I discovered this genre as an adolescent in Alan E. Nourse’s STAR SURGEON, followed it into James White’s SECTOR GENERAL books and A.M. Lightner’s DOCTOR TO THE GALAXY. S.L. Viehl’s books satisfied that itch – but I learned about a year ago that she is so much more than just a “space hospital” writer! The bits of writing advice in this new ten part series are used with her permission. This one is from:

“Write a good book first. You can have a million ads and stuff on the internet but if your book is crap we won't read it. Write something really great and then kids will talk about it.” – Kat Kelly

A long, long time ago, I decided to write a young adult science fiction novel that presents a positive future.

In it, there have been no adult-killing plagues, no adult-killing comet fly-bys, no post-apocalyptic restructuring of America into a dictatorship (Sinclair Lewis did this already in 1936 with IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE) with adolescent gladiatorial Games, and no mandatory surgery on adolescents. It’s a future in which Humans had chosen to explore the Solar System in a hollowed out asteroid to prepare for interstellar travel. But we discover that neither were we the first intelligence in the Solar System, nor was the first civilization as peaceful as we are...

SL Viehl also asks what books “the kids at school are talking about” and her daughter informs her that nobody talks about books – they talk about video games.

Even though I write YA books, I have to regretfully confirm that assessment. While a FEW students read for entertainment, the vast majority play video games and listen to music if they want to have a good time. This is true not only of the “average” student, of the white student or the English as a first language student but of the gifted and talented; Hispanic, black, African, Russian, and Hmong; and English as a second language students as well.

Kids don’t talk about books much. Not that that is a surprise. In THE NEW YORKER, Critic At Large Laura Miller notes: “…these novels that adults are the ones who write them, publish them, stock them in stores, assign them in classes, and decide which ones win prizes. (Most of the reader reviews posted online seem to be written by adults as well.)”.

Viehl’s daughter comments that the most recent book she read was a manga. My daughter is much the same, though now at 21, she too is “an adult”, though a young one and her reading tastes have broadened and she reads standard (though electronic version almost exclusively) novels as well as manga.

As I noted above, I’m in the middle of revising my science fiction for young adults novel and while I’m targeting them, I find myself wondering if it will ever REACH them. It’s not dystopian (though a bit dark as the antagonist is a 65,000,000 year old artificial intelligence von Neumann machine and out to kill the protagonist in order to get at artifacts from an alien invasion fleet and rebuild itself to destroy Humanity) and sets a positive spin on the future of Humans in this Solar System. Especially after they learn about the first intelligence.

When I started reading SF a gazillion years ago, I read it because it interested me. NOBODY assigned science fiction books in my school – except a play version of Daniel Keys’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON in our Literature Reader – I had to find them by myself. The fact is the friends I had weren’t interested in SF. I eventually started to write the stuff (imagine George McFly in BACK TO THE FUTURE Part I) and slowly discovered others who liked it, too. Truth to tell, except for GO ASK ALICE, I don’t know what my peers were reading. I read what I wanted, when I wanted to and did my English homework on the (long-forgotten, except for “Leiningen Versus The Ants” by Carl Stephenson (originally written in German!)) assignments I was supposed to do.

I am NOT advocating a return to Heinlein’s and Norton’s and Nourse’s science fiction juveniles. But the fact is that they showed a Humanity off of Earth. The current crop shows Humanity chained to this planet and disappearing into an e-future which is violent in the extreme. It seems that most of the authors have taken the violence of the late 20th and early 21st Century and extended it without amelioration into the future while simultaneously mocking the juveniles has being unrealistic. Perhaps, but Heinlein, Norton and Nourse wrote out of a culture that had its own violence – WWII had recently ended, the KKK was on the rise and the Civil Rights movement was about to explode on to the stage in the 1960s. They were hardly writing from a time of peace and plenty.

So: how do I write HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: Emerald of Earth to appeal not to the adults – but to the young adults. If the adults want to come along for the ride, that’s cool, but like JK Rowling, I want to write well – “children's books chose me. I think if it is a good book anyone will read it.”

No comments: