Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mercury Rising

I'm sure many science fiction writers see the NASA Messenger's images of Mercury as great fodder for their story idea mill. Imagine living on Mercury with its 88 day years. How many birthdays would you have now?

Sun-scorched Mercury is only slightly larger than Earth's Moon. Like the Moon, Mercury has very little atmosphere to stop impacts, and it is covered with craters. Mercury's dayside is super-heated by the sun, but at night temperatures drop hundreds of degrees below freezing. Ice may even exist in craters. Mercury's egg-shaped orbit takes it around the sun every 88 days.

NASA Photo

To read more about Mercury at NASA, click here!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Creating Short Stories 03

Essential Elements of a Story

See Creating Short Stories!

We already have the story idea: What if the plants were sent by aliens to take over Earth by cleaning the air, then releasing toxins to destroy human life? Further, we know that we need a plot, or nucleus of the tale nestled in the three-act structure, the beginning, the middle, and the end.

One of the more obvious elements needed for a short story is characters. The main or central character is the protagonist. Of course, the protagonist must have a problem to solve. Another crucial character, the antagonist, usually advances the problem.

One character who I think most people know of, Lex Luthor from the Superman comics and movies, epitomizes what an antagonist does. Antagonists do evil. Lex certainly did evil and stood proud as the worst of all villains, wreaking havoc on the world and attempting to kill Superman.

To add dramatic tension and keep the reader interested and asking for more, the protagonist needs some type of inner conflict to overcome to achieve his or her goal. Maybe it’s alcoholism, an inflated ego, or an insecurity that makes it so that he can’t ask the woman he loves out on a date. Whatever you choose for this internal struggle, it will prevent the protagonist from moving forward and achieving his or her goal.

The premise is the what-if question we asked in the story idea. Underlying the story Plants is the idea that aliens have come to Earth to take over the planet. To do this they sent plants that seem to cleanse the air and solve a problem. After a while, the plants release toxins that destroy human life. A good premise creates a desire in readers to continue reading.

A premise only applies to the story, and it need not apply to the real world. It guides us through the three parts of the story. For instance, I once saw a film about vampires that implied that the protagonist, a vampire, lived on the same moral plane that humans do. So the premise fit the story, but it failed the test of reality.

The theme is the underlying idea and may be described as a unifying idea that runs throughout the prose. A writer doesn’t necessarily state it in an obvious fashion. The readers extract it as they read. In Plants, the theme resides beneath the narrative.

Writers take these elements and combine them in a story within a setting.

The setting describes where and when the story takes place. 2001 A Space Odyssey took place in 2001 in space. Superman took place in Smallville and later Metropolis provided the setting. The story always seems to exist in contemporary society. Quite a trick if you ask me.

Next week we’ll discuss some of the spices that go into the short story soup.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New York Times Best Sellers

1 WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen. (Algonquin.) After his parents die in a car accident, a young veterinary student — and an elephant — save a Depression-era circus.

2 TOYS, by James Patterson and Neil McMahon. (Little, Brown.) Hays Baker, a top operative for the Agency of Change and a national hero, suddenly finds himself a hunted fugitive who must fight to save humans from extinction.

3 10 THE LINCOLN LAWYER, by Michael Connelly. (Little, Brown.) Routinely doing business from his Lincoln Town Cars, the bottom-feeding attorney Mickey Haller is asked to defend the scion of a wealthy family who might not be guilty of a murderous crime.

4 3 SING YOU HOME, by Jodi Picoult. (Simon & Schuster.) Picoult takes on the issue of gay rights in this novel about a music therapist who desperately wants a child.

5 4 LOVE YOU MORE, by Lisa Gardner. (Random House.) Detective D. D. Warren must solve the case of a dead husband, a battered wife and a missing child.

For the complete list Visit The Times!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Amazing Wildlife: Reality StrangetrThan Science Fiction

Showdown In Elk Town - Human Planet, Cities, Preview - BBC One

Children's Book Sales Down

Lower sales of its high margin educational technology programs, higher investment in digital initiatives and school funding cuts combined to increase Scholastic’s operating loss in the third quarter ended February 28 to $31.9 million from $500,000 in the comparable period in fiscal 2010. The loss in the most recent quarter includes a $3.5 million bad debt expense associated with Borders’s bankruptcy. Revenue slipped from $398.8 million to $393.7 million. Due to school funding pressures and higher digital investment, Scholastic lowered its sales and earnings forecast for the fourth quarter and full year. Chairman Richard Robinson called the quarterly results disappointing, but said he remained optimistic about future opportunities.

In its business segments, sales in children’s book publishing and distribution rose slightly, to $193 million, from $192.1 million. The increase came entirely from the trade unit where sales rose 21%, to $43.5 million, due to strong sales in the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series. Book club sales fell 6%, to $74.3 million, reflecting lower revenue per order, while book cub sales declined 2%, to $75.2 million, due mainly to bad weather that caused schools to reschedule fairs to the spring. During the quarter, Scholastic upped its investment in its e-book and e-commerce initiatives from $20 million to $30 million for the full year. The company said it plans to open its children's e-bookstore and downloadable e-reader application in fiscal 2012 (which begins in June). It began beta testing the e-reader last week.The $3.5 million charge for Borders covers all debt associated with the chain, Scholastic said. The chain accounted for about 3% of children's distribution revenue, roughly $20 million annually.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

This Is True for "How To Write," Too

One of the most important things writers need to learn is to make the writing that is essentially simple in a language comprehensible to everyone. And Albert Einstein believed the same is true for science. This might follow for all disciplines.

"Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone." Albert Einstein

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Creating Short Stories 02

Continued from Creating Short Stories

The Short Story Outline

Everything needs a structure. For stories, I believe the three-act structure is the most appropriate, although some may disagree. The three acts represent the beginning the middle and the end, each serving a specific purpose.

Suppose we did a story on Julius Caesar’s war with Pharnaces II of Pontus. It lasted for four years, and Julius told it in three words that are three acts when he said, "Veni, Vidi, Vici."

Act I, I came

Act II, I saw

Act III, I conquered.

It doesn’t get more succinct than that. But, writing the story is more complicated than that because there are elements in each of the acts that give readers a reason to read the tale to its conclusion: emotions, conflict, and drama have a place in the three-act structure that bring the narrative to life. And bringing the story to life is a good way to describe what authors do; they add life to the plot.

Act I
Here writers create the setting, which might be a historical location during the 16th century, say, Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, about the French revolution. (This novel has sold more than two-million copies.) The story might be set in contemporary society as Nelson DeMille’s The Lion’s Game. The setting may also be in a future world, such as Orson Scott Card’s, Ender’s Game. Futuristic stories give one the opportunity to create completely new worlds with quirks and strange phenomena to tickle the mind of readers who enjoy speculative fiction.

In this act, we discover the cast of characters and their relationships.

Act II
The second act begins with a problem for the protagonist that sends him or her into a crisis. The protagonist’s world turns inside out and upside down. Something obstructs the hero’s path that he or she must overcome to accomplish the goal. Conflicts with the antagonist arise and must be resolved. Tension rules. Readers root for the protagonist to resolve the situation and prevail over the obstacles set forth to create tension and prevent the champion from reaching the objective.

The main character experiences a process in which a method to triumph, often against all odds, over the crisis he or she faces.
As the second act closes, the protagonist has an epiphany, a moment of revelation where the hero has insight into how to solve the crisis and reduce the tension created by it. The champion understands how to resolve the problem at hand.

Now that the protagonist understands what needs to be done to remedy the situation, he or she will use the remedy to confront the antagonist and have the final interaction with this enemy. When the hero has a conquest of the adversary that has frustrated him or her throughout the second act, we have the climax of the story. The story reaches resolution, action winds down, the champion prevails (usually), and peace returns.

Next week we will discuss the essential elements that go into the story.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New York Times Best Seller List; Fiction


2. THE JUNGLE, by Clive Cussler with Jack Du Brul
3. SING YOU HOME, by Jodi Picoult
4. LOVE YOU MORE, by Lisa Gardner

For the complete list Visit The Times!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Why Sci-Fi 02 H. G. Wells

Why Sci-Fi 02
Science fiction supplies, not only enjoyment to readers, it also provides futuristic ideas to humankind. If we look at early science fiction authors and their work, we see visions of the future that have come to fruition: space travel, amazing weaponry, computer systems, and air travel to name a few.

One of history’s great writers is H. G. Wells, one of the Fathers of Science Fiction. Wells was born Bromley, England on September 21, 1866 and died August 13, 1946. His works rank among the most popular of all time.
H. G. Wells, English author, sociologist, journalist, historian, prolific writer, wrote more than 100 books. He wrote two on my favorite novels, The Time Machine and War of the Worlds. Both stories made it to the silver screen. For that matter, several of his creations made the same journey: The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The First Men in the Moon, and others.
Wells was a creative and forward thinking individual. War of the Worlds introduced the concept of a force-field that protected the alien ships from our attacks. Did his Invisible Man, which displayed the nightmare a scientist created with his own experiments, introduce the concept of angst?

In addition to his fiction work, Wells wrote non-fiction. Here’s a partial list of titles: An Englishman Looks at the World, The War and Socialism, A Short History of Mankind, The Outline of History and the Science of Life. The list of his writings could fill pages. It’s difficult to imagine one person publishing all this knowledge, especially from an era that didn’t have computers, the Internet or word processors to assist in the monumental task of providing such pleasure to humankind.

One of his quotes: “After people have repeated a phrase a great number of times, they begin to realize it has meaning and may even be true.” He also said, “Advertising is legalized lying,” which aligns him with the thinking of Eric Blair, whom most know as George Orwell, who said, “Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket.”
Obviously, Wells was a knowledgeable writer, well versed in human activity, science, and the potential humans have to create. He provided hours of enjoyment to readers.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Publishers Weekly Reports Amazing News

January E-book Sales Soar, Top Hardcover, Mass Market Paperback
he surge of e-book buying expected to take place in January following a round of holiday e-reader gift-giving did in fact materialize. According to preliminary estimates from the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales from 16 reporting companies jumped 115.8%, to $69.9 million in January. No other trade segment posted a sales increase in the month. Sales of mass market paperbacks were terrible in January, down 30.9% from the nine reporting companies, falling to $39.0 million, $30 million below the sales of e-books. E-book sales also topped $49.1 million in adult hardcover sales reported by 17 publishers; hardcover sales fell 11.3% in January. Trade paperback sales fell 19.7% in the month but remained above e-book revenue at $83.6 million from 19 houses.

Downloadable audio sales increased 8.8% in January, to $6.5 million at 14 publishers, while physical audiobook sales dropped 6.7% to $7.3 million from 20 publishers. Religion was the only print segment to post an increase in January with sales up 6.8%.

Visit PW Daily!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Creating Short Stories

Since I began writing, many people have asked, “How do you write a story?” That’s a difficult question to answer because within the fiction category, there are so many different types: science fiction, children's, young adult, fantasy, horror, romance, mystery, historical fiction, and more. To complicate matters, there are sub-divisions within each category.

It’s not necessary to define them to understand how to write one. Just pick the one you want to write. My choice is science fiction.

There is a common thread, at least as far as I know. Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. The three parts constitute the plot: 1) in the beginning of a tale in which there was previous activity; 2) the middle builds on what you learned from the beginning; 3) the end ties the loose ends from the previous two parts and resolves the conflicts generated.
A short story takes a slice of life and creates a whole, the beginning, middle, and end, of course with a twist.

Where do you start? Let’s start with the “story idea,” that propels a writer to create those three segments. Where do “story ideas originate?” They come from everywhere. You can find sites on the Internet that supply them. One site in the United Kingdom, Story ideas, Visit Story Ideas! that offers characters, scenarios, titles, lines and more. All you need do is fill in the questions, and the answers display on the screen.

Writer’s prompts are another avenue for ideas. Writer’s Digest Visit Writer's Digest! has page after page of prompts that can help any writer get going with a story. They’re not the only site to offer this gift. offers a plethora of ideas for stories and characters. To find others, search “writing prompts.”

Writers also find story ideas in everyday life: a funny character from childhood, a startling event, everyday news. To me, this is the best way because it’s organically induced creativity that allows a writer to exercise the imagination.

Yesterday I read about using plants to remedy global pollution problems. It seems that certain plants have the ability to purify the air. Before I finished the second paragraph, I had three story ideas written in a notebook: 1) What if the plants emitted a gas that made people drunk and made them do silly things? 2) What if the plants made the atmosphere too clean and people lost the ability to fight off viral and bacterial infection? 3) What if the plants were sent by aliens to take over Earth by cleaning the air, then releasing toxins to destroy human life? The third option presents the most promise for an exciting story, at least to my thinking.

Now that you have the story idea what comes next? Many people may say, “The beginning.” That might be correct. But is it the best way to write a story? Do you just sit down and begin writing? Some might be able to do this, but I’m not one of them. There something recommended that might come before you begin to write. We call it the story outline.

Next week we’ll discuss more about creating a short story outline and its components.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Best Sellers

New York Times: Best Sellers
Combined Print & E-Book Fiction
1 SING YOU HOME, by Jodi Picoult. (Simon & Schuster.) Picoult takes on the issue of gay rights in this novel about a music therapist who desperately wants a child.

2 THE WISE MAN’S FEAR, by Patrick Rothfuss. (Penguin Group.) In this sequel to “The Name of the Wind,” the magician Kvothe continues to narrate his fantastical life story.

3 RIVER MARKED, by Patricia Briggs. (Penguin Group.) The shapeshifter Mercy Thompson and her mate, the Alpha werewolf Adam, must confront evil lurking in the Columbia River.

4 WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen. (Algonquin.) After his parents die in a car accident, young veterinary student — and an elephant — save a Depression-era circus.

5 TICK TOCK, by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge. (Little, Brown.) The New York detective Michael Bennett enlists the help of a former colleague to solve a rash of horrifying crimes that are throwing the city into chaos.

For the complete list Visit The Times!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why Sci-Fi?

Why is it that we love science fiction? Most of it’s unbelievable, and much of it is hokey. Yet we continue to read science fiction books; watch science fiction movies and TV shows. Some even attend Trekkie conventions.

And let’s not forget the other science fiction gatherings, not just in the United States, but globally. There must be something to this activity. Couldn’t we all read romance novels or mysteries? There’s a reason we flock toward these “strange stories.”
For me, it was being in the library and browsing a copy of Ray Bradbury's "Illustrated Man." His writing grabbed my attention in a way that few others ever have.

Reading about the crew stranded on a planet of horrible rain in "The Long Rain" that Bradbury described as follows:
"The rain continued. It was a hard rain, a perpetual rain, a sweating and steaming rain; it was a mizzle, a downpour, a fountain, a whipping at the eyes, an undertow at the ankles; it was a rain to drown all rains and the memory of rains. It came by the pound and the ton, it hacked at the jungle and cut the trees like scissors and shaved the grass and tunneled the soil and molted the bushes. It shrank men's hands into the hands of wrinkled apes; it rained a solid glassy rain, and it never stopped."

"The Veldt," that used a futuristic nursery to enhance a concerned couple's children to commit the ultimate horror of killing their parents.

These are a couple of the most unusual stories I remember from that day. Ray did it for me. I was hooked for life.
What’s yours?

Friday, March 4, 2011

How I Became Addicted – 2.0

With all the talk of Charlie Sheen, star of Two and a Half Men, I thought it appropriate to speak because there are better things to be addicted to than Charlie Sheen. I know this blog has its roots in science fiction, culture and writing, but with the hullabaloo about Charlie being addicted to Charlie, I just have to mention some of my addictions. Yes, non-celebrities have addictions too. Fortunately, mine are positive, and I hope you’ll share one, or more, of them.

The first time I wrote about addiction, “How I Became Addicted” in 2008 Visit How I Became Addicted! , I spoke of how reading entered my life and became an obsession at eight years of age. Since that day, I’ve developed several other obsessions: exercise, writing, writing science fiction novels, problem solving and strategic thinking. Now, I’m hopelessly addicted to learning, especially online. No body of knowledge is safe.

How potent is the Internet as a learning resource? It’s magical.

The Internet is a potent resource for learning because supplies education at the PhD, Masters and undergraduate levels. Further, it offers courses for nearly every subject imaginable just for general edification. And the web provides professional development for medical practitioners too.

Since I began taking online courses, I’ve discovered how wonderful adding knowledge to the brain makes you feel. Don’t forget, scientia potentia est, or Knowledge is Power.

In addition to earning a Master’s degree, I learned about things I could not have imagined, at least not before the Internet came into vogue. Here are a few classes I’ve taken online:

• How to create a three-act outline
• How to write a short story
• How to write a novel: John Dechancie taught the class. John’s works include Starrigger, Red Limit, Freeway, Paradox Alley, and the Skyway Trilogy. I would recommend his course to any aspiring novelist.
• How to write poetry
• How to write science fiction
• How to create Microsoft Excel spreadsheets
• How to use Intuit Quickbooks
• And more

I’ve even found a college, Marylhurst University, that allows certain people to audit online classes. There are universities that offer “free online writing courses.” That you can’t beat.

What’s more, the Internet offers classes in playing chess and drawing. For the art classes, you’ll need a scanner.

Just as the medical professionals don’t understand why people become addicted to drugs and alcohol, I don’t understand why I became addicted to the things I did. But I do know that there are great benefits associated with my obsessions.

The grey matter, known as the human brain, controls all human activity. It consists of the brain stem, the limbic system and the cerebral cortex. According to the National Institutes of Health, the stem controls our basic functions, the limbic system regulates emotions and the cerebral cortex handles the senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell—nothing worth jeopardizing. And this magnificent three-pound computer comes free of charge with the human body.

Things such as drugs interrupt the communication between neurons, and present a danger to the long-term health of the tiny skull-encrusted orb. On the other hand, things like exercise, writing and learning improve communication between neurons and increase the number of cells in the cerebral cortex.

The Franklin Institute states on its website, “Physical exercise has a protective effect on the brain and its mental processes, and may even help prevent Alzheimer's disease. Based on exercise and health data from nearly 5,000 men and women over 65 years of age, those who exercised were less likely to lose their mental abilities or develop dementia, including Alzheimer's.” Pay attention baby boomers.

While writing is its own reward, it also provides a forum for self-expression. In addition, it improves listening and speaking skills. After all, you must organize your thoughts to write a coherent paragraph. According to Jill Taylor, PhD and author of My Stroke of Insight, the right side of the brain helps create and the left tells the story. Doesn’t that make it a good idea to make the brain as healthy as possible?

Remember, a brain is a terrible thing to waste! OMG, I don’t believe I said that.

Take advantage of the Internet and develop you positive addictions. Good luck!