June 19, 2016

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With “Prince of Blood and Spit” (Perihelion SF, September 2015) Guy Stewart #38

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/9f/22/3b/9f223b1e57a36e14db3eb13715fbe3f9.jpgIn 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!

Probably the most important thing that went right about “Blood & Spit” was that the story takes place in a world I have been working in for a long, long time.

The first story I ever wrote for the civilization that had grown in the clouds of a gas giant world called River was “The Baptism of Johnny Ferocious”. (I just realized that I didn’t write about what I did right about that story! That will be a subject for a later Advice coumn!) In it, I introduced the violent nature of the “skies of River” and the society that had developed. I also established that it was in a disputed area of space called the Brink and that the Confluence of Humanity – who embrace genetic engineering; and the Empire of Man – who embraced Human purity; were in a constant state of tension.

The second most important thing was that long ago, when I got serious about my writing, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t write about disposable worlds. A disposable world, like a disposable diaper, was made for a single use then gets thrown away. SF writers – in fact all writers – have been doing this since the first writer pressed a stick into soft clay. We make up places in order to make a point.

I have no trouble with that and have done it myself, but it seems both wasteful and vaguely obscene to create an entire world, use it to make some mundane point, then toss it away and make another one. Aside from the fact that I enjoy reading series of stories, it seems to me to be a brand of hubris to tell a story then assume that there’s nothing else to say in that world.

Last of all, with “Blood & Spit”, I’ve added to a growing series of stories, developing different aspects of a complex civilization. In “Into the Deaths”, (accepted for STUPEFYING STORIES) I look at the responsibilities of the highest echelon of Imperial society and explore their responsibilities; in “The Stars Like Nails”, I look at a different world to see how life debts are paid in different cultures; in “A Choice of Sunrise”, I take on our own ways of looking at the celebration of a life passed; and in “Hūmbūlance”, I explore the real foundational difference of Confluan and Imperial society: in the Empire, you are Human only if your DNA is 65% untampered. Stan Schmidt, former editor at ANALOG liked this idea. But only three of the six have been published. Eventually, I’ll merge them into a novel called IN THE SKIES OF RIVER, but until then, I’m going to keep on exploring the place.

So what did I do right?

1)  I used a world with which I am already familiar.

2) I refuse to use disposable worlds.

3) I developed another aspect of a complicated civilization.

How about you – do YOU like series? (I know my daughter dislikes them, preferring her stories tied up by the end! Lots of people do like series but maybe more do not. Certainly CJ Cherry’s Human/Atevi FOREIGNER series deserves more recognition than it’s gotten – so do “disposable universe” folks hold sway in speculative fiction when it comes to awards?)

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