January 1, 2017

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With “The Baptism of Johnny Ferocious” (Dragons, Knights, and Angels, April 2006) Guy Stewart #39

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!

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”. 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.

My original intent was to examine the foundational difference of Confluan and Imperial societies and the impact that difference had on the lives of the billions who lived in each. In the Empire, you are Human only if your DNA is 65% original Human. If you don’t reach that arbitrary and “magical percentage”, you are considered non-Human and you have no rights. Stan Schmidt, former editor at ANALOG liked this idea.

“Baptism” was the first story I wrote and most likely at the beginning of the period of time I wanted to look at. In it, an independent trader flying an ancient zeppelin gets caught in a brutal storm not long after he picks up an old friend of his, a pirate like himself, who is also Muslim. During the storm, Johnny comes to terms with a faith he had been waffling in and finally asks his Muslim friend if he will perform a baptism using water that is leaking into the zep. Once the service is done, his friend has a coronary. They reach safety and all is well – but Johnny (and perhaps his friend) are changed.

The other stories in the set are, “Prince of Blood and Spit”, “Lost in the Depths”, “Into the Deaths”, and “A Choice of Sunrise”(after the Reunification of Humanity). 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 one story at a time. A different one called “The Daily Use of Gravity Modification in the Rebuilding of Liberian Schools” takes place in this century before Humans leave Earth for interstellar space – but the main character has the most important impact on that future. Perhaps he is more important than either the Emperor or the Confluence Parliament.

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.

In “Baptism”, its greatest strength is the world I created. But secondarily, even though the story is a decade old, Johnny Ferocious keeps coming back to me, asking if I might include him in another adventure.

As I’ve written before, creating sympathetic characters is not my strong suit. In fact, in a review of my most recent story, GH says, “The story never makes her very likable, so we don’t much care what she chooses.” (http://www.rocketstackrank.com/2016/12/The-Last-Mayan-Aristocrat-Guy-Stewart.html)

Johnny Ferocious IS memorable and sympathetic. We’ll see where I can go from here – both in creating believable stories, in a well-constructed world, with sympathetic characters!

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