Tag Archives: Scifi novel

Amazon, Mon Amour!

Glances and hearts

Amazon Love:

In today’s post I want to pay a personal tribute to Amazon. Now, I do realise that it is sometimes unpopular to align one’s self with a large institution such as Amazon, an institution whose operational style might be seen, by some, as predatory. But, with all due respect to contrasting views, I make no apology for this.

No. I don’t own shares in the company, nor do I work for it—although, I do, in a real sense, work with Amazon to achieve my personal goals.

Let me explain.

Some fourteen years ago, whilst working as the resident screenwriter for Elmo De Witt Films in South Africa, I wrote a short novel called Scarab. A fellow South African writer read it, liked it, and recommended it to his publisher at Perscor. The book generated interest with the local branch of the company, but before it could go further, the branch closed down and some of its staff relocated to Cape Town to form a new company. The South African economy was shaky at the time, and businesses were folding one after another. This was during the early days of Nelson Mandela’s Apartheid-free South Africa and the country was excited, nervous and focused on more important things. I was advised to try to find another publisher, failing which, I should contact the Cape Town group and take it from there.

I never did.

I was eyeing Australia at the time, busy with my graphics and animation company, and somehow, I let things slide. I suppose the fear of rejection also played a role.

As time slipped by, I found myself teaching and studying in Australia, while a little device called the Kindle gathered in strength and popularity. The thought occurred to me that there was no harm in updating my novel (the pentium processors mentioned in my old revisions of Scarab were now passé), with the view to publishing it on Amazon.com as a Kindle ebook. And so I did.

I’d love to say that the rest is history, and offer some rags-to-riches story, but, sadly, that wouldn’t quite be the truth. What is true, however, is that since that day, I haven’t looked back. Scarab performed better than I had ever expected, hitting the #1 spot in the bestseller list in High-Tech Scifi, both at amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. And some two years later, the novel is still holding a place on the same bestseller list, while its off-spring, Scarab II: Reawakening, has staked its own bestseller claim on amazon.co.uk.

The effect of this small gift of success was to grant me confidence that with enough hard work, output and dedication, I could eventually earn a living solely through my writing. What a rush for any writer!

The truth is that without Amazon’s global reach and innovative vision for the future of books, its research and development, its success in making reading “cool” again for the younger generation through the introduction of its Kindle tablets and software, Scarab would have remained a pile of pages on my shelf, placed in a box, gotten lost, and Scarab II would never have seen the light of day. My dream of being a writer might never have materialised—not for me, and perhaps, not for many other authors who have trodden a similar path to mine. This has been an opportunity for which, I, for one, am deeply grateful.

Invitation

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Future Story-Worlds

City at dusk

Near Futures

In his book, Writing Popular Fiction, Dean Koontz offers writers useful advice on a number of aspects that go into writing a well-crafted novel. In this post, I want to look at one aspect of the writer’s toolkit à la Koontz—the construction of near-future worlds (as opposed to words set in the far-distant future.)

Thirty or Forty Years Hence

Writing about our world, as opposed to writing about a completely alien planet, is more difficult because not everything can be made up; our crystal gazing has to ring true, even if it is cast years hence. It has to contain enough extrapolated but recognisable elements to convince us of the verisimilitude of such a world. This requires the ability to project and predict the outcome of trends and defining issues, or, at least, the ability to sound convincing. It requires knowledge and maturity.

But what are the signposts a writer ought to identify in seeking to create such an authentic future? Koontz offers us the following:

The Future of Moral Codes

What is considered acceptable today, wasn’t mildly acceptable, even in the West, a few decades ago. One only has to look at the issue of gay rights to realise the extent of the shifts currently underway.

Domestic Politics

Will current political systems still be defined by polarities as seen in countries such as the Untied States (Democratic/Republican), Australia (Labour/Liberal)?

World Politics

Will the U.S. still exist? Will Russia or China? Or, will a new power have risen to prominence. Brazil perhaps?

Religion

Will the U.S. remain predominantly Christian, or will another religion rise to displace it? Perhaps science will eventually weaken religion to such an extent that it becomes irrelevant? Or perhaps the reverse is true: the resurgence of monolithic religion?

Personal Lives

This is, perhaps, the most important and detailed category.

How will our homes change? Our clothes, music, transportation? What types of food will we eat? Will marriage still exist as an institution? Will the number of children be limited by the sate? Will the smoking of cannabis be legalised? Will the moon and Mars harbour human colonies? Will space travel be made accessible to the common man or woman? Will cancer, madness, disease in general, be cured or will new diseases arise?

These are some of the categories, which, Koontz suggests, are useful in helping the writer to sketch in the background of a world that is both familiar and strange—a world that allows one’s characters to live and breathe in the imagination of the reader.

Summary

In thinking about possible futures, it is useful to concentrate our mental journey around key markers that define us as a society. This post explores Koontz’s ideas of what some of those markers might be.

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Inspiration

Lightbulb over head

Inspiration:

In this post I take time-out from my usual exploration of specific creative writing techniques to ruminate about a subject that I’ve been interested in since I started writing. At its core, it’s about the relationship between plotting and pantsing, the relationship between the left and right hemispheres of our brains.

I hold the view that a pre-determined plot is necessary prior to the commencement of the first draft, especially in a screenplay where there is limited space for things to fall into place. But I also maintain that magic often comes unexpectedly.

Certainly, our knowledge of structure, dialogue, pace, and the like—essentially a left brain activity, is necessary during the editing of the drafts to follow, but can this theoretical knowledge of the craft ever take the place of spontaneity, serendipity, and the efficacy of the muse—the activity stemming from the right side of our brain?

I think not. Nor should it have to. I think the purpose of theoretical knowledge is to saturate both hemispheres so that the level of practical knowledge (active skill) is seamlessly guided by the theoretical.

In writing Scarab II: Reawakening, for example, I meticulously plotted the shape of the story, using my knowledge of structure, before commencing work on the actual writing. Yet, perhaps the most interesting, and, in my opinion, gripping part of the novel, the expanded role of Dr. Kobus van Niekerk, the South African archeologist, occurred at the last moment, during the actual writing itself. This was quite unplanned for and was as much of a surprise to me as I hope it will be to the reader. This was a moment of inspiration that rode above the pre-planned plot—although it did significantly add to it.

My point is that large structural changes or additions can assail one at any time, and should be absorbed, if deemed fitting, at any stage of the writing process. They are perhaps the clearest sign of the two hemispheres working together in concert and, therefore, that plotting and pantsing are not rivals but co-conspirators in the craft of writing.

Summary

Insight often comes unexpectedly and seems, at first sight, to be at odds with our original direction. Integrating it into our creative process, however, often makes for a more original and inspired story.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.