“…often their last book and their first book are different. They’ve changed.” – Darrick Dean, author of Among the Shadows

My freshman year of high school was a landmark in my life. I started the year with dyed blond hair. I ended it with brown. I started with no experience playing varsity sports. I ended it as our baseball team’s starting shortstop. I started with no braces and ended it with a consultation that would lead to braces (again).  Lastly, I started with no girlfriend…and wait, I ended without one too.

Okay, so it wasn’t a complete landmark experience. But, there was plenty happening that year.

My friends, and especially my family, noticed the changes I was going through the most. Especially when it came to my outward appearance. I shot up about five inches. It was a much-needed growth spurt. For the majority of guys in my eighth-grade class had apparently been taking horse pills during the summer break. So I needed to grow. And thanks to father time, I’d been given the chance to do so.

But, I’d also changed on the inside. I’d gotten more confident. I made decisions faster. I prioritized things. I even broke some rules that year. I stayed out later with friends. I took risks. And though it was uncomfortable at times, I was beginning to navigate who I was as a young adult.

Yet, I did my best to stay grounded. I liked doing things outside the norm. But, I didn’t want to lose who I was as a person. Yes, I wanted to become more independent; more

Writing is often seen as an outward expression of inner workings. The things that make us tick, boiling to the surface and out. How we feel about our world and what we think it ought to look like according to us. Ernest Hemmingway once said about writing, “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” And there you have it – minus the blood.

When I interviewed Darrick Dean, a fellow author, he and I were discussing how writers cand change over time. How even the most seasoned scribes like Stephen King can sometimes change their habits. How writers can alter their styles and even deviate from their core content (see my first book vs. my last).

And though this can be true of the writing world, I don’t tend to stress about it. Style can change; much like a teenager in high school. The only thing I do want to concentrate on is my message; the themes I am engaging. The feelings I am leaving with my readers. This is something I want to have some consistency in. For I believe any great writer knows his words will outlast his lifetime. That he will be regarded (and remembered) by the messages he left behind.

In my case, I can look back and see how I’ve changed; some ways more drastically than others. Yet, I must be aware that this is all part of the process. Finding a voice. Owning it. And being cognizant of how to utilize it. Every writer ought to be aware of this; every good writer, that is.

Because even if you aren’t recognizing every little change in you, your readers most certainly are.

 

 

Imagining Reality…Or Realizing the Imaginary?

Often, Hollywood (or some literary mastermind) comes up with something interesting. An idea. A concept that screams, “Hey, we could be experiencing this someday.” In my last post, I talked about our cosmic neighbor, Mars, and how we found some water there. Again, that was big news. But, to anyone who has been reading science fiction for the past 100 years, it should have come as no surprise. Or rather, it was to be expected. Or maybe it was exciting / expected / holy-cow-those-sci-fi-nuts-were-right? Well, either way, I felt the need to look into it further.

Early 20th century writer Edgar Rice Burroughs (author of Tarzan), wrote a series of books about a character named, “John Carter.” You may recognize the name as it was made into a film a few years ago. Unfortunately, John Carter was not the mega-hit Disney had hoped for (I still liked it and am hoping for a follow up, personally). However, that’s not as important as this: Carter’s tale takes place on Mars. A Mars in which the author, Burroughs, imagined to be devoid of toxic wasteland and instead, be flowing with – hey, you guessed it – water. Now, was Burroughs taking secret trips back and forth to Mars? Discerning there was salt water on the red planet? No, that’s insane. But, he did have the creative sense to think outside the box. He imagined it. And he went for it. Turns out, that presumption was correct.

As for all the green aliens and people with red skin walking around? Yeah, that wasn’t exactly spot on. But, hey, that water though….

Sometimes, like in Mr. Burroughs’ case, imagination meets reality on a collision course. I recently finished reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender series and made another interesting discovery. One of Card’s main characters is a computer program named, “Jane.” Doesn’t sound groundbreaking to have a computer program with a female name, but here’s the deal: “Jane” speaks via a device implanted in one’s ear. Sound familiar? Yeah, it sounds like a bluetooth device. And Siri, too. But again, Card’s books were written before we took bluetooths seriously. Or had Siri answering questions like, “Do you love me?”

Now, does sci-fi always get it right? No, not exactly. I’m sure there are plenty examples out there. And I’m sure we could name them. But, point is: sometimes our imaginations point to what could be. While in other cases, our imagination exceeds anything we could possibly do. At least for now anyway. The Star Wars franchise is synonymous with hyper drives and lightspeed travel. Can it be done? Well, the answer is unequivocally, undeniably….maybe?

Perhaps my kids will see it. Or their kids will. At which point, I’m fine with that generation having a go at it. I’ll be happy watching from the sidelines.

 

Mars and Science Fiction

Wow. It’s been a while. Let’s get right to it.

Being a sci-fi enthusiast, I found myself anxiously awaiting NASA’s big Mars announcement this week. I mean, come on, we’re talking about Martians here. Did we find’em? They out there? Every book that’s ever been written about the red planet would be turned on its head if so. But, as we know, that wasn’t the big news NASA had for us. Make no mistake though, what we got was still big news: flowing salt water. Water. Flowing freely. That’s pretty cool, right? I mean, water is a precursor for life. And though there are slim chances of a Mars shark or a Mars dolphin swimming about the water highways of Mars, there’s always that slim chance something with a heartbeat could be on the red planet. Right?

Or as so many science fiction minds have imagined in the past: absolutely. 

From a literary perspective, Mars has been a source of inspiration for more than a handful of stories over the years. Perhaps most well-known is H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds; one of modern literature’s first attempts at the alien invasion genreFirst published in 1898 (hard to imagine), Wells’ classic detailed a battle between Earth and Mars’ inhabitants, the technologically advanced “Martians.” The book was received well and consequently influenced several other science fiction writers. Most notably, perhaps, was Edgar Rice Burroughs; the man behind the John Carter series, who wrote a series of books on Mars and his fictional race of people who lived there.

But, that’s not all we got from Mars over the years.

There was the trippy and engaging film, Total Recall, that took us to a Mars where people were trying to make the air on Mars “breathable.” Oh, and there’s mutant people in it, too. Then there was Mission to Mars, a film that tried to explain the theories of the universe through the eyes of highly intelligent alien life form (I guess that’s like having mutant people?). And there was the unfortunate box office flop, Red Planet, that tried to convince us of Martian “nematodes” that eat people. No mutants, just yikes. And for the less-than-serious takers, there was the satirical Mars Attacks! A film made to intentionally mock old school alien invasion movies while poking fun at its cast throughout. Jack Nicholson is in it. Pierce Brosnan is in it. Natalie Portman is in it. And so is… well, that’s all you need to know. Mars has been host to more than a few stories where alien life is bent on our destruction. And naturally, the general public loves it. Even if it’s coming from brother Mars.

But, what about now? Does the discovery of flowing water change much? I’d be reluctant to say that it hasn’t. If nothing else, it’s provided even more inspiration for us Earthen folk. And with Matt Damon’s The Martian coming out this year, it seems like the timing couldn’t have been better. We may not be dreaming of terrifying tentacles or tripods with ray guns (well, not as much) but we do have that much more to work with. Ice miners on Mars? Rivers filled with Martian fish?

As I said earlier, I’m eager to see what’s next.

 

 

 

 

#12Months12Books – February: “A Dinner with Titans”

A Dinner with TitansFirst off, much thanks to Diane Zizka – the one responsible for this cover piece. Thank you for your talents and hard work! It was much appreciated. I can’t do anything with watercolors. You’re a pro.

Now, onto the book itself, A Dinner with Titans.  Here’s a quick synopsis:

My February story follows a young man, Caretaker, who owns a castle in the wilderness. Everything’s fine except for one thing: he is surrounded by Titans, huge beings that destroy castles (like the Caretaker’s) and rule the land outside his walls. Over the years, the Caretaker has watched others fall and crumble, leaving him lonely and cut off from the world. But, the Caretaker makes a bold move and lifts his doors for one night – to host a dinner. For the Titans. His goal is to somehow make peace with those who might threaten his castle. But, when he opens his doors, he encounters something terrible. Not just the Titans themselves, but something sinister that has been eating away at his castle for years.

Okay – as you can guess, this story is a fantasy. But, I’ve written it as an analogy for the human heart. The Caretaker lives alone, behind his walls – guarded and afraid; fearful of being overtaken by the ‘Titans’ – the people we idolize or aspire to be like. His past experience tells him to keep his distance – to stay safe inside his castle – but his real enemy is not what’s outside his walls, but what’s inside.

When I was high school, I was asked to bring in an object representing love. I brought in a tiny paperweight. One that was shaped like a castle (terrible, right?) and honestly, I had no good explanation for it. But then I had to tell the class my reasoning, and I remember that presentation ending quite well; lack of preparedness and all. The ‘home is where the heart is’, but in my story, it’s a castle.

Looking back, I never dreamed I’d actually write a story about that concept, but hey, I’m a believer now.

I’ll have some more stuff to chew on with the next post. Till then.