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Monday, August 24, 2015

Using the Technology of Science Fiction to Write

Sorry for the slight delay with the post. Last week was a big one. I had family up from Fresno and we had a great time. I had to make a few sacrifices such as give up chunks of writing time, but since I don’t see my family from Fresno everyday those are sacrifices I’m willing to make. But one of the best things that happened to me over the week was that my parents brought the new laptop they bought for me. It’s an HP Pavilion 11-k013cl that came with Windows 8 but since my parents bought it during a special deal period it allowed me to download the new Windows 10 for free.



A laptop sits open on a stool.
My new HP Pavilion 11-k013cl laptop.
Photo Credit: Steven Rose, Jr.



Word Processor Not Included

So far the new laptop has worked really good and the OS has all the necessary tools and apps that Windows 7 on my desktop has. The only drawback is that it doesn’t come with Microsoft Office and so doesn't have Word. This wasn’t a shock to me because I learned early on that most Windows computers no longer come with Office. But, as a writer, I can’t be without a word processor. So I searched the web for the best free office software out there and found LibreOffice which includes Writer, an MS Word alternative. A new computer device is always an exciting occasion for a science fiction writer, whether world-known or very, uh, obscure (like me) especially if it’s a writing tool, which is my case with Writer.

Science Fiction Becoming Science Fact

Almost any kind of technological innovation is an exciting event for a science fiction writer since it’s science fiction becoming science fact. This goes for computer technology, both hardware and software. But I think what’s been most exciting for many science fiction writers are new innovations in writing technology such as the word processor. Many of the writers who used the early word processors of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s were science fiction authors such as Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Michael Crichton, and Barry Longyear. Then Isaac Asimov published an article by Pournelle and Longyear who argued with each other over whether a general computer or a stand-alone word processor was more efficient to write with (Pournelle argued the former). 

Writers such as these are both in love with the word and the technology that produces it especially if that technology is just making its transition from science fiction to science fact which was not only the case with word processors but desktop computers in general during that late ‘70s/early ‘80s period. Jerry Pournelle was one of the first sci fi authors to write a full novel (Oath of Fealty),with Larry Niven, on a word processing program. Pournelle himself actually says, in an article at his website, jerrypournelle.com, that he was the first science fiction author to write a novel on a computer. As much as I’d like to believe him, wouldn’t all science fiction writers like to have been the first?

Well, maybe not quite all. Harlan Ellison has always used a manual typewriter to write his stories (according to a note in his short fiction collection, Slippage). Even though Cory Doctorow is with it in much of today's computer technology, he prefers using a text editor instead of a word processor. The reason, he says, is that he finds a word processor’s formatting tools distracting in that he feel’s tempted to format as he writes.  

In Search of Free Software

When I found out that I couldn’t get Word on my new laptop even with the Microsoft Office software disc I already had since the HP Pavilion doesn’t have an external disc drive, I was thinking about using Windows 10’s text editor myself. I wasn’t about to purchase downloadable word processing software. I mean, I’m not a best-selling or award-winning author like Pournelle and Niven are and so don’t make that kind of money. But I decided to look for free software on the ‘net first because I knew how much of a pain in the ass it could be having to format everything after I would transfer my stories from a text editor to MS Word on my desktop. This would likely be especially hell when I have to format my upcoming book, currently entitled The Hidden, when it comes time to self-publish it through Amazon’s Create Space (through which I self-published my first book, The Fool’sIllusion). Create Space provides Microsoft Word templates but how well that would work with Windows' text editor (Note Pad) I don't know and don’t want to find out the hard way.

Libre Office Writer

So I did my research and discovered that Libre Office’s Writer appeared to have the highest ratings for free, open source word processing software and so I went with that. So far it works good enough; it converts the text well between itself and Word although I just now found out that some of the stylistic features, such as the highlighting tool, may get lost in the conversion. It has all the essential tools Word has, even more in some respects.

One of these extra tools is word suggestion that suggests the word you’re trying to type and will finish typing it for you if you press the Enter key. This is really nice, especially if you’re trying to write a word that’s spelling you’re unsure of. This would be really helpful to a lot of users, especially if they’re not avid writers like many of us and are just using the software to do a paper in school or a technical report for a job. But, even though it’s no big deal, I find it a little distracting since I believe that as professional writers it’s our job to know how to spell and we should not have to depend on automatic help that shows us the correct spelling. If we have trouble spelling something that’s what the spell check is for, which Writer also has. 


For me, using a new computer tool is not only a learning experience but also a partaking in transferring science fiction to science fact. Every invention starts out as an idea, and so even if it’s not used in science fiction story telling it’s, in a sense, still a fiction. But once it becomes tangible it’s fact. And even though both commercial word processing software like MS Word and open source software like Libre Office has been around for a long time and is technology we now take for granted, it started off once as an idea in science fiction and its on-going innovations continue growing out of those science fiction roots. So I’m glad to partake in the use of new innovated computer technology such as Microsoft Windows 10, the HP Pavilion--which is new to me at least since it’s a big upgrade from my old laptop (a Toshiba)-- and function-specific software such as Libre’s Writer.

Do you think ever advancing word processing software such as Libre Office’s Writer with its word suggestion tool is making writing too easy? Are machines beginning to write for us to the extent that us writers, God forbid, will go extinct someday? Please feel free to leave your comments in the box below.


Until next time . . .



Sunday, August 16, 2015

Has Hollywood Really Reflected Racial Progress in Sci Fi?

An army of giant robots fire off rays on houses.
 Brazilian artist Henrique Avim Correa's illustration  for a 1906 edition of Wells's War of the Worlds.
Photo Credit: Henrique Avim Correa/Wikimedia Commons



I said I’ve been wanting to discuss minorities of colour in speculative fiction and what prompted me to do that was this really interesting article entitled “Will It Get Better for Black People In the Horror Genre?” at Blackgirlnerds.com. The author, Valerie Complex, talks about how blacks are often portrayed poorly in horror. She says if they don’t play in stereotypical roles such as maids, janitors and gangbangers in film and television then their characters often get killed off early.

I read Complex’s article just after I saw Jurassic World last month, which was a good enough movie considering that it was a popcorn flick. But the article reminded me how annoyed I was with the movie for its treatment of characters of colour because what happens to them is the exact sort of thing Complex talks about: many are killed off early or, if not killed off, they disappear near the end of the movie where you never hear about them again and so make no contribution to the concluding scene. And these are not just cameo or small role characters but are the more significant characters more directly involved with the plot. So the producers were apparently sticking to this age-old set of tropes that do not work for today’s movies considering how far we’ve come in issues of race. And this is a movie that was made by a person of Semitic background: Steven Speilberg who’s Jewish. You would think he would bear in mind the problem with weak characters of colour which stereotyping contributes to a lot.

I’m reading my first James Bond novel, Doctor No, and, as good as the story itself is, it’s infested with racism and racial stereotypes, let alone sexism. The words used for certain Asians are racist and used by almost every major white character in the book, including Bond himself. (All this on top of Ian Fleming’s writing which sucks.) This is one of the earliest James Bond novels and so was written in the late 1950s, pre-Civil Rights era, so the racist and sexist stereotypes are maybe a little expected. But when blockbuster films such as Jurassic World and even second rate or b-rated movies are using tropes that were too common in pre-1985 Hollywood, something is being missed by the producers as far as today’s issues of race go.

The article from Black Girl Nerds goes on to talk about one of the few films that ever used strong black characters and that film was the original Night of the Living Dead. The starring character, the hero, Ben (Duane Jones) was black and so most of the plot development came from his actions and he was portrayed with a sense of reason and leadership during a crisis situation. Complex goes on to say how in the past 10 years strong black characters in horror have been lacking. I don’t watch a lot of horror films made after 1982, but of what I’ve seen, what Complex says has seemed to be true.

My big problem with the race issue is not just in horror but in speculative fiction in general. The majority of speculative fiction authors, TV and movie directors tend to be white. The same goes true with the main characters and their actors. However, it’s getting better even though it needs to get better yet. The Matrix had a black man of wisdom and guidance as a major character and Will Smith played the starring role in I Am Legend, a sci fi horror movie based on the Matheson novel of the same name. Smith’s character was also strong and heroic.

Even though I didn’t like the series, I, being of Latino background myself, can’t tell you how proud I was to discover that the Mexican-American actor, Edward James Olmos, was playing the role of the ship’s captain in the re-booted Battlestar Galactica series. Then, even though the main character was of Anglo-Saxon background, The Wolfman 2010 remake made me proud to see a Hispanic actor, Benicio Del Toro, playing the title role (both human and were-wolf form, that is).

So even though Hollywood has come a long way in the past 30 years or so in its better portrayal of characters of color or at least people of color who portray major characters (which is the case with The Wolfman remake) it still needs to improve. Cases such as Jurassic World show us this.

Do you think Hollywood needs to improve how it portrays its characters of color in science fiction/and fantasy? Let me know in the box below.


Until next time . . . 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Read an Online Magazine for a Good Cause

A cartoonish purple monster smiles with open arms.
Photo Credit: OpenClipart.org






Last week I said I would discuss minorities of colour in speculative fiction, but I’m going to hold that off until next week because I felt another issue is of more immediate importance at this time. Several weeks ago while looking for online magazines to submit short stories to, I came across a magazine called Buzzymag.com. I followed a link from the submission guidelines page that took me to a letter by founder Joy Poger. In the letter, Joy talks about how the production of the magazine has slowed down due to her taking time off to seek treatment for her cancer. Joy is a very ambitious, hopeful woman who has put a lot of work into this science fiction/fantasy magazine that shows in its great content.

As difficult as cancer is to deal with, Joy is a woman of faith and is determined to pursue her plans for the magazine. But, in order to treat her illness, she has had to put many of these plans on hiatus. How can we support a great woman like this who is enduring a hardship? As she puts it, we can support her by reading the magazine and letting others know about it.

Buzzymag Fiction

You can contribute to this good cause without having to give a penny. All you need to do is read a really neat, entertaining online magazine which BuzzyMag is. There is a lot of great stuff in there for both science fiction/fantasy writers and fans. There’s plenty of good fiction that falls within the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres. I’m actually reading a neat sci fi there now called “The Obvious Solution” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro. It’s about an AI unit that has the brain patterns of a very famous late science fiction author. Who’s the author? Go to Buzzymag.com and read the story to find out!
   

Buzzymag Non-fiction

The magazine has a lot of good non-fiction too. This includes writing tips. One of these is an article called “Zen and the Art of Character Creation” which even though it caters to gaming, a lot of the character development techniques it talks about can work for fiction writing too. BuzzyMag also offers plenty of book, TV and movie reviews as well as interviews with authors, actors and other “people of interest”.

Other Ways to Support Buzzymag

There are other ways to support Buzzymag besides simply reading it. Joy lists these in her letter which range from leaving comments for contributing authors and staff to sharing on social media.


Because Joy and her staff are so backed up with submissions, I’m holding off my own submissions to Buzzymag and am reading and engaging in as much of the magazine as I can to help make it more well-known throughout the Internet. But I or anyone else can’t do it alone. It takes several people, hundreds at the very least, to promote a magazine into popularity. But, as readers, we can do this simply by sitting in a comfortable chair either at our desktops or mobile devices and reading the magazine’s neat articles and fiction. So give it a try and then let me know what you think in the comments box below.


Until next time . . .

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Rewriting a Story and Rewriting for the EU

A mad scientist points out orders to a huge hammer with arms and legs.
Photo Credit: PDClipart.org



It’s been a busier week than usual, both with my writing projects and other aspects of my life, so I’m going to keep this post short. A lot of things piled up on me especially during this weekend.

One of those things occurred just this morning: Google announced that European Union laws now require blogs to display a notice that explains to EU blog visitors how cookies are used. Even though Google is nice enough to provide us bloggers this notice, it’s very basic and general. So I have to rewrite the cookie policy for my blog so it can account for its use of social media tools. Because this is high technical matter for lay computer geeks like myself, I have to take the extra time to look over the policies and advice on how to rewrite the notice which I’ll be doing throughout the week.

It’s a setback. One that I support. I understand that the EU has laws that better protect the privacy of users than our own U.S.’s do. I’m sorry to say, but our country is far behind in many aspects of its social institutions when compared to nations like the U.K. People come before money, so I’m more than willing to make the sacrifice to comply.

Would I rather be writing about speculative fiction, including my own? To be honest, yes. But I keep in mind that science fiction brought us miraculous technology such as the Internet. So I feel it’s time to make responsible use of that technology and so to “give back” what science fiction gave us. I say this even when I was hoping to finish my latest science fiction short story by this weekend. Although even without the new requirement for my blog, that probably would not have happened.
   
During the week I found out that I needed to rewrite my story. It happened when I made a plot outline for it. I always make my outlines for my short stories after I write the first draft. If I make them before, my creativity is stunted and so an outline becomes even more cause for writer’s block which I already get enough of. The exception is if I’m writing a longer piece such as a novel or novella, in which I’ve only attempted but never finished (yet). Longer works cause too much wandering if an outline isn’t used before writing the first draft, making rewrites much harder. And so the outline showed me that I had to restructure the story including re-ordering the events. In order to do that, I have to rewrite the whole thing. Hopefully it will be easier to do since I’ve already got a rough draft, though the rewrite is turning out to be a rough draft within itself.

Before I found out about all these last minute changes for my weekend, I had wanted to discuss minorities in horror and in other speculative fiction. But it looks like that will have to wait until next week. But I’ll leave you with a link to a great article that talks about people of colour in horror so you can prepare to read more about it here next week. 

Does outlining for your story work better if done before or after your rough draft? Let me know in the box below.

Until next time . . . 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rise of the Ebook Equals the Fall of the Print Book?

I’ve been studying the literary markets by reading magazines to see which ones my stories would fit in. I’m still considering self-publishing my book but I want to put some of my stories in magazines too since that’s how authors get their larger works exposed. Publishing both big and small can be very beneficial.

Fortunately, many of the sources I want to submit to are online magazines and so most of their fiction is free. If I had to purchase the paper magazines it would get really expensive as much as I prefer reading the paper ones. So far this summer, I’ve only bought one print science fiction magazine, issue 103 of Clarkesworld. The stories and articles looked so great that I wanted to read everything in hardcopy without having to print them up on my printer. Printing them on the printer can eventually add up to colourless clutter of papers that are held together by nothing more than staples.

The Nightmare of a World Without Print

This reminds me of an interview I saw on a re-run of a TV-hosted horror movie show called Cinema Insomnia. Even though this show mostly features cheaply-made horror and sci fi films that it basically makes fun of, the host, Mr. Lobo, interviews another horror movie host, John Stanley of the San Francisco area, about a book (The Gang that Shot Up Hollywood) he released at the time, which was 2012. They talk about how the internet and digital media was apparently (and still is) making print obsolete. They discuss the physical experience that a reader gets from reading a print book that he/she won’t get reading a digital version
.
For book nerds like myself, the ebook permanently bumping off the print one is a nightmare no horror movie can match. In the interview, Mr. Lobo himself puts it similarly when he says to Mr. Stanley: “We are living in a world where bookstores are closing and media is all breaking apart and consolidating and changing, and it must be a nightmare taking on [a project] such as putting out a book in this day and age.” To which Stanley responds: “It is. This might be the last book in a print paper format. . . . If I write another book two or three years from now, what is going to exist out there? What is the world going to be like? Is a paper book still acceptable?”

To that last question, three years after that interview, I respond: Yes, Mr. Stanley, I’m happy to say it still is. Although the majority may be turning to their devices to read their books, there is still a crowd of readers, especially of the speculative genres, that likes to read and collect printed books and that crowd will probably continue to be around for a long time.

Books are Like Music Albums


As much as I make my work available in ebook format as well as print, it doesn’t mean print versions have to or will disappear. Similar to many music lovers, especially of vintage music, who continue to collect vinyl records, and have been doing so since vinyl went out of popularity 20 years ago or so, there is a crowd of us that sees the printed book not just as a medium to convey story but as an art within itself. Reading for us is not just a mental engagement but a physical one. It’s a physical one that involves holding the material the story is printed on. This engagement is most intimate when the story from the book is represented on the front cover by wonderful art, as are a lot of science fiction and fantasy stories. Sadly, unlike years ago, much of that art is produced by digital means and so is too photographic, missing the interpretive aspect of the illustrator that freehand art often conveys. However, it is still part of the larger art of book printing and binding.  So we like to touch this art as much as we like to read and view it.

It’s About Collecting Things

Also, as sci fi and fantasy geeks, and as literary geeks in general, we like to collect things. Can you collect pixels and shelve them on your book case? Of course not. Pixels are only with you when you conjure them up at the press of a button on your hand-held device, similar to the way Aladdin conjures up the genie from its lamp. Then when we don’t want to read any more, also at the press of a button, we make the pixels disappear into some cyber netherworld. Hell, even the damn button in many cases nowadays is made of nothing more than pixels!


Comic book cover depicting a giant genie rising from a lamp and a young Arabic man and woman looking up at him.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons



We as speculative fiction fans, like to collect the tangible versions of what we see in movies, on TV and read about in books. We like Star Wars and Star Trek but can’t just stop with the movies and TV episodes. We want Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Capt. Kirk or Lt. Uhura in our lives. We want the aliens, no matter how weird or inhuman-looking (for me the more inhuman the better!), with us in our physical lives. So we collect things like the action figures of these characters, the posters for the movies and TV shows and the models of spaceships from them. Similar is true for our love of fantasy movies and TV such as Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones or Universal’s classic horror flicks.

The same goes with our books about imaginary events such as space battles, epic fantasy battles and dead people seeking vengeance. Many of us want the hardcopy books that convey these events of other worlds, and not just want to see them on a device’s screen where the book is going to be replaced by something totally unrelated.

So as long as there will be avid readers who are in love with the art of the medium the story is told on, there will be printed books. So what if demand for the printed book is small? That only means that much more money the author and publisher will make off of that million dollar best- seller. Every little bit counts, doesn’t it? If not, why not? If you think us small niche of hardcopy book lovers will become extinct with the hardcopy books themselves, why? Feel free to leave your answers in the box below.

Until next time . . . 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

4 ‘Fantastic Finds’ for Writing Fiction and Marketing It

Two aliens: one with one huge eye with a globe for a pupil, the other with two globes for eyes.
Photo Credit: OpenClipart.org



A very busy week, made even busier when you don’t have a car which is my situation. Even though I prefer public transportation and walking, sometimes those two things aren’t practical. So when I do have a car I try to reduce driving it as much as possible. I believe in taking care of our planet. Who knows when we’ll be able to find and settle on another inhabitable one. Even though scientists are discovering them already, traveling to them is a long ways off. I found this out when I was researching for the world-building of my recent short story that I talked about last time

I was researching interstellar space travel and the sources I looked at indicated that traveling to other solar systems, where many inhabitable planets are, won’t happen that soon. According to these sources, it probably won’t be possible until after AI has dominated the planet which probably won’t be for another 100 to 200 years. Keep in mind, this is all speculation, but speculation based on scientifically plausible theories and so is not scientific fact yet. So it looks like I’ll be setting my space opera in the pretty distant future since it’s set on planets outside our own solar system. Here’s a couple of the sources I used for my research:


And now for some . . .

Far Out Fantastic Finds

I found these four Far Out Fantastic Finds to be really informing about other authors’ writing processes, including marketing and promotion such as the one on book trailers. Also there’s a good one by Auden Johnson of Dark Treasury about using keywords to market your books. Speaking of world-building, Johnson is an expert on the subject and so if you want to know more about it then I strongly suggest you check out her blog. Now for the Finds:

“Keywords are important in getting your book found online. . .”
From Dark Treasury

“I’ve talked about it off and on in interviews and the like, but I cannot stress how big of an influence libraries have had on me. I still remember going into my first one as a kid. It was built into a former residence in a small Illinois town, the librarian still lived above it, and it was magic. . . ”
From Come Selahway With Me


“So, I've had people ask me, ‘What do you think about doing a book trailer for Thorn or Murder?’ . . . Here's the problem: . . . it wouldn't be a trailer for the books.  It would be a trailer for an interpretation of the books. . .”
From Marshall Ryan Maresca


“. . . All this chaos also slowed down my writing considerably. . . I was having a really hard time trying to decide where to take the next scene in the story.  I had several options but none of them were really going anywhere.  They seemed more like unnecessary side streets that did not lend enough to the main story. 
Finally I did the one thing I keep reminding everyone else to do...”
From Musings of a Creative Mind


That’s all for this week.


Until next time . . .

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

World-building: How to name your alien or fantasy world

Sorry for being so late with this post, again. Last week was kind of a bad one because I was having back problems and have been out of a car, so that slowed me down quite a bit. Also, some writer’s block may had added to it. Authors get writers’ block at different stages of their writing. Some get it at the rough draft stage, some in the revision stage. Some writers even get it outside of the draft itself, such as in the characterization and world-building stages and I’m one of those writers. Right now I’m working on a new short story and so I’m on the world-building part which is where I got the writer’s block on Saturday. It was when I was sketching out a world for an alien race in my story which is a kind of space opera-horror. So I’ll tell you how I got over that block in a little bit, but first a couple updates:


Updates

My Author Interview



If you haven’t seen it yet, my interview at HorrorAddicts.net is up. David Watson who’s on the Horror Addict’s staff interviewed me about my interest in horror and how I live “the horror life.” This second one is in light of Horror Addict’s new anthology, TheHorror Addicts’ Guide to Life, in which two of my articles were published in. So please check it out.


Photo Credit: HorrorAddicts.net

Last Week’s Post

I made a slight update to my post for last week. For those of you who had already read the post, you may had noticed that the text ran outside of the column, making it hard to read. I apologise for that. I missed that error completely because I was trying to make the photo of the concept sketch for the cover illustration for my upcoming book, The Hidden, large enough so the details could be seen. So I reduced the size which moved the text into the column.

World-building

A cover from the 1954 science fiction magazine "If" depicting astronauts climbing rocks on an alien planet.
Photo Credit: Kenneth Fagg/Wikimedia Commons


Well, back to developing the setting of my new sci fi-horror short. Particularly, I had been having problems naming one of the alien races’ planet. I tried thinking of a name based on the planet’s geography and the aliens’ overall institutions and customs. I looked to real-life myth first since I was thinking in terms of the race’s religious beliefs, in which being made up of warring city-states each state holds its own religion. But these aliens are imperialising, particularly when it comes to discovering new planets with rich resources (the ill rationale for just about all imperialism) . I didn’t want to reflect too much of our own world’s myths in the planet’s name so I turned to various languages. Unlike the world-building I did for my other story back in March, the world-building for this one involves naming a totally made up planet even though the setting is in our own Milky Way Galaxy. This is precisely how I came up with the planet’s name and how you can too for your alien or fantasy world . . .

1. Create a geography: Although this doesn’t necessarily have to be done first, this is how I did it and it helped me. I imagined what the planet’s terrain would be made up of. Since the story calls for a conquering race of aliens, I created a rocky, mountainous, relatively cold planet where mountains separate the societies and because the terrain is not very fertile, there is fierce competition between the societies.

 2. Create a language: Anthropology says that geography shapes a society’s culture and that goes for language too. So I needed to name my alien race’s planet, but in order to do that I needed to create a language for them. Because the race lives in an environment that has lead to harsh competition, their language system would be made up of hard sounds that are choppy and fast in tone. What cultures on our own planet have such hard-sounding language, all morals of the cultures aside? The Germanic cultures, and believe it or not, this includes our own English language (regardless of our ancestral cultures). 

So I took two words that represented the rocky, mountainous planet and those words were, as you might’ve guessed, “rock” and “mountain” and used Google’s translator tool to translate them into several Germanic languages. But unlike I did for my last story that I used the translator for, I didn’t simply translate the words. I combined different parts of the them to come up with a satisfying name that reflected the aliens’ language system. The translated words I came up with were the German word for rock which is “felsen”, the Finnish word for mountain which is “vouri” and the Norwegian one which is “fjell”. I tried several combinations of the above translated words until I came up with one that sounded harshest and most alien, and that was “Felvuric”. So, at least for now, I named my alien planet Felvuric. 

What emotions does “Felvuric” convey to you in its sounds? Does it convey fear, anger, aggression? For the fellow authors out there, what techniques have worked for you in naming the worlds in your stories? Please feel free to leave your answers in the box below.



Until next time . . .