Fun With Covers

When I was advised last summer to get new, genre appropriate covers for the books in my 46. Ascending collection, I had two objections to the idea (besides the obvious ones of time and money.) The first was that I love my original covers. The other was that my stories wouldn’t adapt well to the sorts of covers everyone else uses.

Well, I’ve redone two of the six so far, and I’ve got four things to report.

1. Yes, it does take some time and effort to convey to a designer what you want and to work with them to achieve that end

2. Yes, it does take some money as well.

3. Yes, my old covers were pretty and I’ll always like them.

4. No, the fine professionals I’m working with seem to have had no trouble at all, as far as I can tell, coming up with covers for the first two books that are a) great to look at, b) look like covers for the kinds of books I write and c) capture enough about the story to make sense and not be misleading.

 

Above is the original cover for the first book in the collection, originally called x0 and now called One of One, followed by the designers first proposal and the final version. For context, here’s the description of the story as it appears on the back cover. I think they did a great job.

A young Nigerian telepath faces a crisis. After Somadina’s sister is forced into a frightening marriage, Somadina cannot find her sibling or even her thoughts. She seeks another telepath to help. What she finds is Lola, a busy Texan scientist who has ignored the disturbing phenomenon in her mind for decades, and has no intention of embracing this nonsense now. Yet these two have more in common than they know, and a powerful link will be forged. Once Somadina discovers her sister is a pawn in a dangerous political game, the stakes rise for everyone, including an ancient organization of telepaths compelled to intervene. Both women are stronger than they realize, and they have ignited the wrath of a fanatic willing to kill anyone to alter his nation’s future.

Here is the original cover for the second book in the collection, originally called y1and now called Shape of Secrets, followed by the designers first proposal and the final version. For context, here’s the description of the story as it appears on the back cover. Once again, I think they did a great job.

Zane wants to be himself. He’s gotten a degree in neuroscience to figure out how he can alter his appearance the way he does.  Unfortunately, that degree lands him in the sales department of Penthes Pharmaceuticals, and the more he learns about the company’s dark secrets the more uncomfortable he becomes. Good thing he has always excelled at blending in. Then upper management discovers him and life gets complicated. A sales junket in the South Pacific introduces him to love. It also leaves him dealing with an unsolved murder, an unsavory boot camp manager, and serious repercussions from the fact that not everyone at Penthes likes him, or wants him to knows the mysteries the company has worked so hard to keep hidden. Even in paradise, it will take all of unique his talents to keep from turning into the next murder victim.

Twists of Time will be the next book to get its new cover, sometime in mid-January.  I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

Remember My Name

Do you want to be famous? Why?

The idea of strangers knowing who I am and caring about what I do holds no appeal for me, but of course individual tastes do vary. If you crave your ten minutes of fame, or ten years of it, I wish you well.

There is one thing I do want from you, though, although I suppose it makes no more sense than fame. I want you, or a few people in general, to remember my name. Wait, my name isn’t important. Just remember what I said. Remember something I wrote.

I’m tearing apart the reasons I’ve spent years writing novels, as a way to find a path forward for me, the books I’ve written and my future writing. So far I’ve acknowledged that I write for the sheer joy of it and for the massive amount of things I’ve learned. I write for therapy and play money. I write for praise.

Today, I face the fact that one of the reasons I write is to leave something behind.

“Oh, so you want to be immortal?” you ask. No. I’ve studied too much astrophysics to think anything in this universe will last forever, and enough history to know that few humans leave a noticeable footprint more than a few generations into the future.

The key word to me is noticeable.

Somewhere in my heart, I think if you leave something of value behind, it will affect others who will do the same and so on. Yes, I’m enough of a realist to expect the effect to diminish with time, and to recognize our life expectancy as a species probably isn’t all that long, anyway.

So? It’s not an influence that lasts forever I’m after. However, the idea of leaving a little of me here for awhile is something I’m driven to do. Like I said, individual tastes do vary.

“Why don’t you just have children?” you may ask. Excellent question. I did that and they’re wonderful. If all goes well, I will leave them behind. Whether any of them will go on to produce children of their own remains to be seen, but I don’t think my desire to leave something of myself on this planet should be a driving factor in our relationship. They’ve got their own paths to follow, and that may or may not include passing my fine genetic material along.

Years ago I read a book of short stories called Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson. Each tale takes place in an eccentric bar, and involves a mildly sci-fi premise. To the best of my recollection only one character who wanders in is female, which is maybe why her story stuck with me. She’d lived for centuries, long enough to see every one of her descendants perish until finally she had none. The knowing made her sad. Like I said, the story stuck with me.

“Well, you could get out there and do some good works and leave your mark on this world that way,” you could suggest, and a fine suggestion it would be. I think we should all do that, and I’m trying to do my part. But, it’s not the same thing.

We are each driven by what we are. I want to write something that outlives me. Maybe I’ve done it already and maybe it is yet to happen. Either way I’ll probably never know. Based on Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, I see how not knowing can be a better thing.

Whatever the situation is, though, it sounds like I better keep writing.

But first, I’m going to take a minute and enjoy this great video.

 

(Read more about why I write at The Number One Reason I Write Books, My Eye-opening Second Reason for WritingI write because it’s cheaper than therapy, Nothing cool about modest ambitions and I love to be loved.)

 

I started a club!

Every kid wants to start a club, complete with a hidden clubhouse, their own rules and lots of secrets. That childlike fascination is part of what led me to create the fictional x0, a secret society for telepaths of all ages.

It was even more fun having my hero Alex found his own organization in z2. His group isn’t secret; it’s for anyone trying to understand the nature the time. He’s quite proud of his club, and I happen to know it will play a pivotal role in developing scientific philosophy about time travel. Of course, that’s because Alex, his club, and this particular future all live inside my head.

Last week, I crawled out of my own brain to fulfill a childhood fantasy in real life. I started a club, or, to be more precise, a Meetup group.

Now, I’m not a particularly social person, but I recognize that writing is an almost brutally solitary activity and contact with other writers helps maintain perspective and promote sanity. I’ve been in a lot of writer’s groups; some worked well and others were a waste of my time. Those that worked best for me consisted of a small group of people, all committed to writing and all willing to share their thought processes with others.

I liked one group I joined after arriving in the Asheville area, but found it difficult to attend, due to it’s location and time. It disbanded in December, and the original organizer on Meetup sent around a note basically saying “anyone at all want to pick this up?” I was in the process of deleting the email, sent to all 192 members, when something in the back of my head said “wait”.

For the price of a Meetup fee of $15/month, I could have my childhood wish. I could pick the location and time. I could make up the rules. Hell, I could even add a secret handshake if I wanted. I don’t think I want, but, you never know.

So for the last week, instead of blogging, I’ve been creating my own vision of a writers group. Everyone in it will be an active fiction writer with a work in progress. We’re going to meet in the daylight, at a coffee shop that is easy to get to, is affordable for all and has plenty of parking. We’re not going to charge money, critique each other’s work, have prompts or assignments or, God-forbid, homework, and we’re absolutely not going to have guest speakers. All those things are fine if you want them, they just don’t fit my vision.

Out of 192 members, near as I can tell all but a few dozen have turned off notifications and have no idea they ever belonged. Of those remaining, a handful are not so happy with my changes. A couple have quit. All well and good. That leaves me with a potential couple of dozen people out there, more than enough, and if this works as well as I hope it will, we’ll find others.

If you happen to live near Asheville, check out Write and Thrive for Fiction Writers, an outgrowth of the original Write and Thrive Salon. My new clubhouse is the Hopey and Company Coffee Shop in Black Mountain, and we meet the third the Saturday of the month at noon. If you are nearby and this sounds good to you, I’d love to see you there.

 

 

 

The time machines all around you

spring2The world, our world, is filled with magic when we are willing to use a broad brush to define enchantment. And why not? We touch upon telepathy and magic charms, natural shape shifters and mysterious potions, if you open your eyes wide enough in the aquarium or the pharmacy to see the correlations.

But what about that old science fiction standby of time travel? Surely there is no substitute for the cranky old machine in the professor’s garage that will take us to see dinosaurs or aliens inhabiting our world? Maybe, maybe not.

Is a trip to Cuba in 2016 a journey back in time? Is visiting a research lab at a tech firm a jaunt into the future? How about finding a box in the attic? Looking into a newborn’s eyes? Ah yes, time machines all around.

spring3Last week, I discovered a new one, driving from North Carolina to Tennessee. I’m spending my first spring in North Carolina at about 3000 feet above sea level, and have admired the many flowering trees as they burst into bloom. I already know that the full foliage of summer makes for my least favorite season in my new home, and I’ve watched with a little sadness as summer begins at my house.

Then I discovered, to my delight, that at 6000 feet up the little tiny leaves are just beginning to curl outward and the floral fireworks display is only starting. That’s right. It is a full three week trip back in time just driving up over the state line.

But you’re not really going back in time, you say. True. The calendar has not changed. However it looks every bit as if I had, and, in at least some branches of physics, reality is what the observer sees, not what the instrumentation of another says.

GreenlandLater, as we drove back down to lower elevations, I remembered a book I read while researching d4. In Gretel Ehrlich’s This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland she suffers from a heart condition that prohibits her from living in the high mountain terrain that she loves. Then she discovers that moving northward in latitude is the equivalent of climbing higher in altitude, without the oxygen issues. No, she’s not really higher above sea level in Greenland, but the plants and animals and lichens all make it look like she is, and she’s happy.

Sunday, I was back in the full flowering glory of spring, and I was happy too. Who is to say that’s not time travel.  Certainly not me.

 

 

Best movies about time, at least in this space/time continuum

travel-in-time-to-1969-space-time-continuum-andee-designI am part of the movie-viewing public that never tires of a well done flick that examines time. But, as one might guess from the plot of z2, my favorites involve a clever manipulation of time, or a riff on the mysteries of time, rather than straight time travel stories.

There are several reasons that simple time travel stories don’t generally impress me.

yankeeFirst, when they only involve going into the past, they are too often no more than an excuse to do a “fish out of water” piece on a present day hero in an historical setting of the writer’s choosing. I think that Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (written all the way back in 1889) pretty much covered this, and the subsequent 1949 movie starring Bing Crosby brought it to the screen well. If you want to write about (or watch) contemporary people experiencing early Rome or the Ming dynasty, that’s fine, you are absolutely entitled to your pleasures.  I just consider such stories to be more historical fiction than science fiction, and I’m not all that fond of historical fiction.

eloiConversely, if the time travel is only to the future, the DeLorean (or whatever the time machine is called) is only a vehicle to get present day people into the author’s wonderful, or awful, vision of tomorrow.  It is science fiction, but like H.G. Well’s tale of the poor Eloi, the time travel aspect is far less important than the future that is created. I may or may not like the story, depending on what I think of the tomorrow that is being described. For example, although I admire H.G. Wells and his groundbreaking ideas for 1895, I personally wasn’t all that crazy about the flesh eating Morlocks.

spock-prime1The remaining option, obviously, is to craft a story in which folks shuttle back and forth through time. I believe that this kind of fiction is so hard to do well. It is easy for a writer to fall into the silly and overused “the whole universe is going to unravel because I sneezed” situation, as in my least favorite time travel series ever, “Back to the Future.” Some plots avoid this better than others. I thought that the whole Spock Prime thing in the 2013 movie “Star Trek Into Darkness” was a wonderful example of how to avoid this scenario without a complicated explanation. Well done.

So what time related movies do intrigue this humble author? Well, I recently found this wonderful post called 8 great movies that manipulate time written by Jay A. Fernandez back in June 5, 2014 on a blog called “Signature” and I invite you to check it out for yourself.

Four of the eight are some of my favorite movies ever, based on their wonderful looks at the slippery and fascinating phenomenon of time. In order of increasing preference:

4. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008) is based on a 1922 story by F.Scott Fitzgerald. The idea of a baby born as an old man who gets younger as he ages is intriguing, even though the love story which forms most of the plot was too schmaltzy for my tastes. (The truth is that I like romance novels even less than I like historical fiction.) A more modern take on this same idea isTime's Arrow Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis. This is a far darker story based on the idea of time running in the other direction, in a scenario in which the opposite of reality makes more sense than the reality itself.

3. “Memento”(2000) tells the tale of a man who completely lacks short term memory, meaning that there is no recent past for him. The story picks at that disturbing connection between human consciousness and the laws of physics. What is time without an observer?

2. “Run, Lola, Run” (1998) shows how three split second variations at the start of a story yield three vastly different outcomes, not only for Lola, but for everyone whose life she touches on her maniac mission to save her boyfriend. 

1. “Groundhog Day” (1993) is the infamous story of a man forced to live the same day repeatedly. Yes, it is officially my favorite movie, because of its cosmic implication that we all get each of life’s lessons over and over until we finally wise up and learn what we need.

warped-clockThe list includes three other movies I have always meant to see (“Twelve Monkeys”, “Inception”and “Irreversible”) and one other I somehow missed hearing about but have now added to my list to check out (“Primer.”) It also gives an honorable mention to another favorite of mine, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, which makes up for the honorable mention it gives to Back to the Future. Clearly intelligent movies about the nature of time are plentiful, and hopefully the recent interest in science fiction will spur on even more.

 

If I’d only known…

star trekIt you had to pick one thing out of the original Star Trek series to have in your own life, what would it have been? Beam me up, Scotty? The replicators? Warp drive? Well, we didn’t get those, did we. At least not yet. Face it, we got the equivalent of the com badges, those marvelous communication devices that let the whole crew talk to each other all the time no matter where they were.  No, it wouldn’t have been my first choice either.

Yesterday, I finally finished reading Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s 1952 science fiction satire The Space Merchants and its sequel, Pohl’s 1984 The Merchant’s War. I enjoyed the first novel quite a bit and the second only somewhat. The Merchant’s War had so damn much potential that I felt cheated when Pohl left so much unaddressed, unexplained and unsaid.

But back to the first book, because that is what I want to talk about here. I could find no date at which the story takes place. We only know that it’s far enough in the future that a man has been sent to Venus, and laws and government structure are substantially different. Pohl and Kornbluth create a world that is believable enough, if one lives in 1954, and that is the trouble with writing science fiction. Things change, even over the lifetime of a book. Twenty or thirty years after a book is written, we do have a better sense of the trajectory we are on. Yesterday’s future world looks unrealistic and even silly today.

growing bolder 6The Space Merchants biggest failure to predict has to do with electronics, which plays almost no role in the story.  There are no computers, there is no internet. Communication is essentially what it was in 1950, only the characters are talking about rocket ships instead. You have to ask yourself how could they not have known? Then you ask yourself, how could they have?

Think quick. Your new novel takes place sometime around 2090, although you aren’t going to give a date. Let’s say it’s a medical thriller.  Or an alien invasion.  It doesn’t matter. It’s the future. I’m going to read your novel in 2055. I really am. Now, you take a good hard look at society today and tell me what the most significant unexpected change in direction is going to be over the next forty years. No extrapolating current trends. This has to be something that is basically new or in its infancy now. The world will center around it by 2055. Any story of 2090 will seem silly if you leave this out.

Got it? Me neither. There are definitely days when I think writing romance novels would be easier.

(For more about The Space Merchants, see my posts on this amazing book at I Know Sexism When I See ItThe Kinky of the Future, Through the Eyes of Another, and Predicting the Future or Shaping It.)

“To Say Nothing of the Dog” and what I learned from Connie Willis

When I picked up my own pen to start writing fiction in late 2010, I quickly discovered that I couldn’t read the novels of others while I was writing my own. Just couldn’t. This was a real problem because reading books was my favorite pastime. I moved on to flash faction, to playing online word games, and to losing myself in the worlds I was creating. So it was a big deal a few weeks ago when I finished d4 and left for a two week vacation with my family and decided that after almost four years it was high time I read a book for the sheer fun of it.

I chose Connie Willis’ “To Say Nothing of the Dog” which I had bought for my travel friendly Kindle. It had been on my list for years. Her award winning short story “Daisy in the Sun” remains one of my favorites ever and what could provide more vacation reading pleasure than a book described as a “comedic romp through an unpredictable world of mystery, love, and time travel.” Too bad I did not enjoy the book.

walk talk 4It’s well written, of course. Willis is an accomplished teller of tales. Part of the problem might be that I’m a more critical reader these days, and part of it might be that my expectations were too high. But mostly,  I was reminded how much the reading of a novel is an interaction between two people. There isn’t just a book. There is chemistry between the book and the mind of the reader and the problem here is that Connie Willis and I don’t have enough chemistry together to get through a whole novel.

She’s fascinated by Victorian England. A lot of people share this obsession, as the whole steam punk genre proves. I don’t particularly, and I had no idea that the novel would be so deeply rooted in it. I also seem to lack the genes for fascination with World War Two and with Napoleon, either of which would have helped. I am fascinated by the history of lots of other things, mind you, like mountain climbing in the Himalayas and sailing in the south Pacific and you’ve got my full attention for anything about the Mayans, or the Druids. Not a trace of these were to be found, however,  just endless riffs on butlers, chaperones and appropriate cutlery. There were also far more details about an old English cathedral than I was prepared to absorb.

My favorite part of the book involved an intellectual feud between two history professors about whether individual actions could affect the course of history. It was funny, and it showed how silly we all can be when we adhere blindly to a our pet theories. This brings me to the second problem between me and Ms. Willis.

I really, truly do not like her approach to time travel. I winced when I saw the movie “Back to the Future” long ago, explaining to anyone who would listen how you can’t go back in history and change things. You can’t kill your grandfather and then fade into nothingness. You can’t kill off Stalin and destroy the space time continuum. If you can somehow find a way to go back in time then by definition you are on another time line when you get there. You now live in another universe. Kill off who you please, including people who appear to be your grandparents if you can find them, because it won’t affect the folks back in your own universe who created you. You are just an alien now, causing havoc in your new home maybe, but destroying nobody’s cosmos.

Most of the parts of “To Say Nothing of the Dog” that were not infatuated with Victorian courtship were all about saving the universe from the misdeeds of other time travelers lest the whole universe unravel. “No!” I screamed, just like one of Willis’ pedantic professors. “You’ve got it all wrong! It doesn’t work that way.” The people on the beach just ignored me.

I finished the book feeling quite disappointed, and turned to the other science fiction fan in my family to vent my frustration. Turns out he read “To Say Nothing of the Dog” a few years ago. He really enjoyed it. What was my problem?

Even though Connie Willis did not give me the fun read I hoped for, she may have given me something better. She helped me to understand why some readers really seem to like my work and others are not impressed. I’ve received enough of both kinds of reviews now to know that it’s not just me. Ms. Willis has me thinking that it is also not just them. It’s me and the reader together, and the ways that our interests and philosophies compliment each other, or don’t.