May 28, 2017

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With “Test” (HiCall, October 1993) Guy Stewart #40

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 was the very first real science fiction story I was every actually paid for. The milestone was incredible as it was the absolute peak of my writing career at that time. The family was living on a farm in western Wisconsin while the paperwork for our first home was wending its way through the banks; I’d gotten a surprise job working with the Science Museum of Minnesota’s NEW EXPLORER’S project, “Dive Into Darkness” – but I’d never had a story published in a major magazine before this one.

Science fiction in a religious magazine had always seemed to be to have to include some sort of “Jesus” scene – but I hadn’t written that into the story. Briefly, a young woman was training for a paramedic-type corps on a colony world that had been forcibly settled by Muslim and evangelical Christians by Earth’s government, in an effort to eliminate anyone who disagreed with the United Faith in Humanity [the YA novel I’m writing here takes place in the same universe at a different time. You can read MARTIAN HOLIDAY by going here: I started this novel eight years ago and it’s part of my round-robin posting. Also, there are missing chapters. Not sure why, but there are. From chapter 26 forward though, there aren’t any breaks. Remember it’s a FIRST draft!]

At any rate, Keen Hernandez is ostracized because the paramedic corps is largely male and Muslim. The story is predictable – she’s gifted, her commander/teacher hates her guts but secretly believes she’s gifted. He’s injured during a training mission that becomes a real emergency. She saves his life despite his orders to leave him alone. He demands to see her after the emergency and she expects to get canned. Instead, he admires her, passes her, and asks to hear about Jesus from her.

It was so predictable it was formulaic.

But that’s what worked here. The publication was a Christian teen take-home magazine designed to reach kids and give them tools to witness to their faith. Science fiction, while a powerful tool, was highly unusual in the realm of Christian fiction. It still is. Especially when it was grounded in reality and written by someone who has secular SF credentials.

Another reason it sold was because the world it took place in was one I’d been playing around in for a few years. I can describe it to you clearly and since the publication of “Test”, I’ve written two other stories set on this planet (which was named after a friend of mine who has since passed away). One of them, “Teaching Women to Fly” was published in the first issue of STUPEFYING STORIES, two others, “Krasiman, Monkeyboy, and the Frog Father” and “THE GRASSRIVER GAOZHONG BRICK AND MORTAR & VIRTUAL HIGH SCHOOL HONORARY MARSHARK FROM OUTER SPACE” remain unpublished but both helped me develop Enstad’s Planet more fully. I knew this world; knew its history, its people, and how it was set up. There’s industry, and despite what the government of Earth wanted to happen, the Muslim colonists, the Christians, and a smattering of Hindu created  viable and vibrant society.

There are more stories here. Lots more. Maybe Keen Hernandez will come back!

In summary, the things that went right with “Test” were its uniqueness, an editor who prized it for its uniqueness, and the well-developed world it took place in.

I like Enstad’s Planet and I want to see other things happen there. In the four universes I’ve drawn up, I once realized that there are trillions of stories in those worlds. There are WAR AND PEACE stories, VORKOSIGAN SAGA stories, DUNE stories, THE FAULT IS IN OUR STARS stories, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE stories…in all of these universes. I am not good enough yet to tease out the really grand stories.

But I AM good enough to tease out the small ones. This was the first. It hasn’t been the last, and perhaps someday they will all come together into a Future History that will bear my name!

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