August 23, 2015

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With “Invoking Fire” (Perihelion, November 2013) Guy Stewart #22

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Since then, I figured I’ve got enough publications now that I can share some of the things I did “right” and I’m busy sharing that with you.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote above will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

This is a story I loved! (Not that I don’t love everything I write…) But this one was special for a few reasons. It didn’t make it into one of my “first tier” markets. Initially I wrote it for the anthology “Futuredaze”, though after it was reviewed as being most “meh”, I’m glad I didn’t.

The story allowed me to access a few of those “write what you know” things. It also allowed me to explore an area of my fiction where I’m REALLY unsure of the reaction I will bet when my second novel comes out this Fall.

I’ll start with the area I’m nervous about: I wrote a black, young adult male character.  Na’Rodney Jones Castillo-Vargas Daylight Hatshepsut (as should be obvious), has been strangely named. What no one ever asked was WHY he was named this way. So I’ll tell you here: a created American black name, standard “white” last name, Mexican mother-father last name, Native American name, Egyptian last name. I wanted him to NOT be “black” or “white” or “Mexican” or whatever. I wanted him to show the ethnic diversity several of my students show. I wanted him to be a new paradigm.

As it is, no one really cared, so my daring experiment went unnoticed. (My Autumn novel may not be so invisible – the main character is biracial and the IRRESPONSIBLE one is a white dude who left his son in the care of his black mom. “How can you get into the head of a black kid? Only black writers can possibly do that!!!!!!” Yeah, well, the black, high school, male reader who read it and commented extensively didn’t object – and offered comments that helped clarify THAT character…anyways, that’s the subject of an Advice column in the future…)

Na’Rodney lives up on the Iron Range, the Vermillion Range to be precise. In my version of the future a couple of things are happening that I’m concerned about. Again, the ideas went unremarked, anywhere. The first is that I have concerns about electronic books – a couple of concerns, actually. The first is that I wonder about the…shall we say… “external influences on manuscript fluidity”…the question being, what’s to stop electronic books being tampered with so that the text reflects the current political, sociological, psychological, or ideological “atmosphere”. I use a passage from Stephen King’s CARRIE as a prime example. The beginning of the book shows a bullying scene. In order to protect young minds from such horrific images, there are (I DO NOT DOUBT) those who would just as soon edit the scene. This would make paper, which is much harder to edit post-printing, the only externally verifiable source of a manuscript’s unchangeability.

Na’Rodney’s great-uncle was a proponent of storing works, as unchanged as possible, in a safe, distant place. In this case, the Erg of Bilma in Sahara. He sends his great-nephew on a quest, financed by contacts who will pay big credits for the original paper versions of books in a backpack Na’Rodney has to carry from northern Minnesota…in the company of his autistic brother and a REALLY annoying, genius young lady whom his great-uncle was also tutoring.

In case you were wondering, this is supposed to be the first chapter of a novel.

The second part of the story was that it took place in an atmosphere of profound change. Humans have finally decided to clean up the planet. They have the technology to build immense Vertical Villages, four kilometers tall and housing a million or so people apiece. On the Iron Range, where contemporary American society is already disassembling villages, townships, towns, and small cities – though in our current state of mind, we’re just abandoning them rather than recycling them...

So – Perihelion editor Sam Belatto (after “Futuredaze”, ANALOG, and ASIMOV’s passed on it) loved it, bought it, and published it.

Based on my meanderings above, you can probably figure out what when right here:
1) I love writing YA science fiction.
2) I covered several areas of concern: the “whiteness” of SF, the changeability of electronic documents, and (unstated) my concern that with the advent of ebooks, there will no longer be a steady source of paper books being sent to developing countries.
3) I kept submitting the story until someone bought it.

I’m going to write this novel someday. It’s just a matter of time. But I want to find a bigger market than that publishing my first novel (this coming Friday!!!!) I have ideas. I have concerns, but I need to keep Heinlein’s admonition firmly in mind: “If a writer does not entertain his readers, all he is producing is paper dirty on one side. I must always bear in mind that my prospective reader could spend his recreation money on beer rather than on my stories; I have to be aware every minute that I am competing for beer money - and that the customer does not have to buy.”

How am I doing so far?

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