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!
HEIRS has got to be the single greatest exercise in writing persistence in my long and varied writing career (see “Writing and Air Quotes” for a discussion of my writing career: http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2016/02/writing-advice-31-writing-and-air-quotes.html).
As my kids and wife will attest, I started HEIRS fifteen years ago in response to the wave of dystopian science fiction aimed at young adults. Of COURSE there has always been dSF – I was really and truly hooked on science fiction by the grim future in John Christopher’s THE WHITE MOUNTAINS books. Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER and Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE leaped back into popularity again.
But the current deluge brought us the “book-to-movie” best sellers like THE HUNGER GAMES and MAZE RUNNER following on the heels of what I think of as “teen carnage” novels where, like the Harry Potter series after GOBLET OF FIRE, teens slaughtering and being slaughtered became de rigueur for YA fiction.
So I started to look at a DIFFERENT future. Even so, I was compelled to give my novel a title that would draw in YA readers expecting carnage in their reading. HEIRS’ original title was simply “Emerald of Earth”. I wrote the novel and it took place in a future where Humans were going to explore the Solar System thoroughly and methodically. Using a hollowed out asteroid as a base, they would spend a year at each planet, probing, landing on, collecting samples, data, and answering questions without having to worry about shipping tiny amounts of material “home” to be analyzed by experts. The experts were right there.
But clearly the title was boring and would have had a hard time finding advocacy among the more exciting titles (except THE GIVER; that was hardly self-explanatory, nor was THE HANDMAID’S TALE or even Butler’s 1979 masterpiece, KINDRED). Flashy titles had replaced subtle, so I had to do the same. I came up with EARTH ATTACKED!
Then I tried LEGACY OF THE WOUNDED WORLDS…
Worser and worser!
Finally I resorted to something I’d never done: I sat down with a thesaurus and the “Legacy” title and found synonyms for all of the words and wrote them on slips of paper. Then I went to a table and began to rearrange them, speaking them out loud countless times until I found one title that held up under the stress of repetition.
HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES.
I decided to keep Emerald’s story separate from the others, but hers needed to be part of a larger story. I wouldn’t have her defeating Inamma in one fell swoop. She needed to fight for her existence, so I made Inamma smarter than it had been before and more subtle.
Even more though, I needed Emerald to have “kid problems”. She needed to deal with issues every kid on Earth needed to deal with. So I gave her friend problems. She wanted them but couldn’t seem to keep them. But what began as a nebulous “I can’t get friends”, needed a firmer foundation.
As a guidance counselor, I’d started working closely with several autistic students and had come to understand them just a tiny bit. The ones I dealt with were brilliant – but challenged by the world they lived in. I realized that my growing understanding of these young people might be an aspect of Emerald that I hadn’t really developed.
Once I started to understand Emerald, other things fell into place – things like answering the question, “What do teenagers DO on a spacecraft committed to a twelve year mission?” Next time, I’ll look at the development of “school for teens in space”…