One Quarter Done

This is an update to my last post. I am rewriting a short story that lost in a science fiction contest. Above is another illustration I hired someone to make for the story.

I am an estimated one quarter done with the first draft of my longer version of my short story that I am excited about. At 8,272 words for the first fourth, it is still going to be a shorter than a novel, but probably three times as long as it was before.

I usually plan my stories in quarters, where in the first quarter I introduce the setting, the situation, the protagonist, and some of the other important characters and try to build up interest. It ends at a decision point or event that sets the story in a new, riskier direction. Hopefully that is accomplished in this new first quarter of the story or will be in later adjustments.

Calling this ‘One Quarter Done‘ is deceptive because even for people who preplan before they write, the first draft is not the last draft. I had a busy couple of weeks with relatives visiting, my real job, and other interruptions. And next week I will be helping at a week long boy scout camp in a wilderness where the internet is not available. But after that I should be able to make good progress.

I want to share the first part of the story here which is currently the first scene of chapter 1. This may become the prologue or the whole chapter 1. This scene was not in the original short story.

Originally I started the story on the alien planet with Robert newly arrived. That seemed to beg much explaining and exposition. To exaggerate how bad it was, it went something like this:

I looked out my window from my hotel suite in the human spaceport on the planet Sonik and saw all that alien landscape… etc. etc. I had arrived yesterday from Earth … took 13 years to travel here …. woke up from hibernation … in the Procyon star system … outer space, outer space, outer space, etc. Oh yeah, and now I am here.

So I made this new scene where Robert can experience his arrival in a spaceship at the same time the reader is reading about it. This is intended to make the information more a part of the story than being just information. This is my official first draft of the new first scene:

The blurry face resolved to that of the hibernation technician, Uzoma, who had been trying to put me into an induced hibernation for the last fifteen minutes.

“I’m still conscious,” I complained.

“Incorrect wording,” said Uzoma. “You are conscious again.”

I felt cold, foggy headed and miserable still. The intravenous tubes and other cables were still attached to me, but the fluid in the tank I was submersed in was at a lower level. My face was above the fluid and I was  breathing air. Did that mean I would have to acclimate to breathing liquid all over again?

How much torture did I have to go through before I could be launched into space, escape Earth, and be on my way to the star Procyon A, my first interstellar trip. I decided to be patient a little while longer. I didn’t have the energy to do anything else.

“Your blood will be warmed to a normal temperature in six minutes.” Uzoma said. I can then disconnect you and you will be free to go.”

That was alarming. “You mean the flight is canceled? What’s wrong.”

Uzoma rolled her eyes and smiled. “You’re here. On Sonik.”

I was on the planet Sonik? Already? The gravity did feel a little heavier, I think. It was hard to tell. “What’s the date?” I asked.

Uzoma looked at a display panel. “UTC Earth time is 2:52pm, August eight, 2198. Local native time is the second hour of the afternoon, the 9th day of the 7th week of the 17th month, of the 2806th year since people were created.”

That meant I was unconscious for about thirteen years by Earth time. Space ships that traveled at near-light speeds made travel to Procyon possible, but not quite practical. My girlfriend on Earth, Fiona, would be thirty four years old now. My age would be complicated considering near light speed time dilation. And according to medical theory with the stasis of artificial hibernation, I had only aged about one month during the trip. I wasn’t feeling particularly young at the moment.

After a long wait, I had the strength to sit up, and Uzoma helped me out of the tank to a chair. She dried me off and helped me put on underpants and a gown.

“Robert, you’ll continue to feel foggy and weak for the remainder of the day,” Uzoma said. “Your hotel room is ready, your suitcase is already there, and your cargo trunks are in the luggage office by the settlement foyer. After a night’s sleep you should feel fine. Are you ready to be wheeled to your suite?”

I nodded, eager to lay down wherever there was peace and quiet.

There you have it. If you have never seen a first draft before, here is one. Comments and suggestions are welcome. I don’t guarantee that I will obey them all, but I do want to read your insight.

Detangling Quantum Entanglement

Note: Quantum Entanglement transceivers are used as fictional communication devices in each of my books that allow my characters to communicate over vast interstellar distances instantly. Julie Schoen (from fiverr.com) did some research for me and published her result here. I am also publishing it on my blog.

Detangling Quantum Entanglement: Can You Really Communicate at the Speed of Light?

Although people might like to believe that aliens and extraterrestrials are only relegated to the pages of science fiction books or the screens in our movie theaters, for centuries there have been people who firmly believe otherwise. From astronauts who have walked on our moon to, more recently, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk, there have always been those on “the fringe” who not only believed in ET life, but felt like they had evidence to prove it.

The famous crash in Roswell, New Mexico thought to be one of the events that did such that, offering the proof of a ship and a body, although many still argue its validity.

In one of Musk’s recent interviews, he not only shared that he believes extraterrestrial super aliens a feasible possibility, he went on to say that, if they exist, they   existed, but that “they’re probably already observing us… and we’re just not smart enough to realize it.”

How’s that for a kick to your human ego?

A long time ago, my middle school Language Arts teacher asked my class to read Ender’s Game. Not my typical cup of tea, considering Jane Austen was, and still is, the be-all-end-all author in my book, I found myself fascinated by the world Orson Scott Card created.

But, being the daughter of an engineer who constantly questioned and destroyed every possibility of Star Wars being possible, I found myself skeptic – and I went back to Emma and her matchmaking (which, if you’re an Orson Scott Card or sci-fi fan probably means very little to you).

And then I moved to Boulder and found myself immersed in a company that not only wholeheartedly believes in intelligent life on other planets, many of the people they work with believe that they are contacting people here on this planet, perhaps even right here among us.

Yes, I live in New Mexico. No, I’ve never felt like I have seen something inexplicable streak across the night sky.

However, I was interested to see what the possibility of all of this really could be. Now, I’m far from being an expert but I have some incredibly smart people in my life that let me pick their brains, especially about communication with extraterrestrials: is it actually possible to talk with life on other planets in real time? Or, at least, without having to wait hundreds of years for a text message to finally arrive in your inbox?

During this picking I was pointed to fiction books that have some plausible ideas about communication with other planets, the idea of quantum entanglement, and, less helpful, Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory.

I found myself tangled in quantum entanglement, which apparently is no surprise to anyone familiar with the concept. In a nutshell, quantum entanglement is a phenomenon that joins particles in their quantum state so that they are no longer separate – everything becomes one whole no matter how far apart they are. Albert Einstein is one of the scientists to write about this phenomenon, something non-scientist folk can understand as “spooky action at a distance”.

To break this down in an easier to understand way, quantum entanglement posits that if a particle were spun on one side of the world and it was entangled with another, the spinning of that first particle would cause the second to spin as well and in the same direction.

Yep, spooky.

Some physicists believe that quantum entanglement is the answer to extraterrestrial communication, although it hasn’t been proven yet that information can actually be carried and passed through this phenomenon. There is an interesting book that was written about quantum entanglement being a possible scientific explanation for ESP and psychic readings, although, of course, everything in this realm of science is always up for debate.

(Haven’t Sheldon and Leonard taught you anything?)

So the big question is if you can find a way to send information with entangled particles as doing so would allow for speed of light (or faster) communication that could put us in cahoots with super smart aliens on Planet X (or was it Y?)

While the decision is still out with the jury, many physicists say that you can’t simply because trying to alter the state of an entangled particle breaks the entanglement. And then, there are the ones that argue there’s a way around it – they just haven’t figured it out exactly yet.

But, where there’s a will, there’s usually a way.

And if quantum entanglement isn’t the answer, is there somewhere else to look?

Perhaps interstellar beacons can be used to create some sort of informative light show, like an EDM festival crossed with Dan Rather.

Others believe that learning to understand dolphins may hold the key to unlocking extraterrestrial communication. In fact, researchers in Hawaii are currently practicing communicating with animals, like dolphins, in order to prepare for contact. Researchers involved with this project say that when they’re asked if they believe “we’re alone”, they answer, “No, we’re not alone. There are many animals communicating right here that we don’t understand.”

Point taken.

And this is where my dizzying exploration into the detangling of quantum entanglement came to a screeching halt. Can you learn to communicate at the speed of light? My guess, contrary to Elon Musk’s belief in our lack of intelligence, is that of course we can – it’s just a matter of time. But, until an alien comes up to me on the street to try to ask for directions, I’m going to focus on honing my communication skills for the intelligent beings on this planet.

Flipper, will you be my friend?

My Illustrator’s Daughter Gets Involved

My latest book ‘Claymore’ has been on Amzon.com for a few weeks in all three formats now (ebook, black & white paperback, and color paperback). Besides my day job as an engineer, I have been a bit lazy since then, playing games and watching shows on Netflix. Soon I will need to start my next project in earnest.

Meanwhile I have had some exposure and sales for the new book, especially with friends and relatives. My illustrator bought an expensive version of the book (the version with color interior illustrations) for her daughter. As you can see in the attached picture, she is really happy to have my story in her hands. (Okay, she is happy to have the illustrations in her hands.) I appreciate her positive response.

TizianaDaughter

I am indecisive about my next project. I have two more books planned and outlined for the Tomek series that I want to complete, but I also want to do a ‘hard science fantasy’ story that I have in my head.

I’ve never heard that term (hard science fantasy) before and I may have made it up. The general concept is a world similar to the one Tolkien created (not too similar, but with magic, magical beasts, and wizards). Earthling astronauts land there and try to make sense of it. I have specific ideas in mind (about the science behind the magic and about plots and characters) but haven’t outlined them in any document yet. I would want the plots and characters to dominate and not have it all about the science. It would be, at some stage, a battle of science against magic where science is losing. Later as they ally with the good guys they learn to meld the two technologies together.

I am sure something like that has been done before somewhere, but I want to do my idea with it.

Writing Obstacles into the Story

For my latest manuscript the editing is done and all the interior illustrations. This illustration featured today is for chapter thirty-one. This chapter has Claymore finding exactly where prisoners are being kept.

When I wrote my first book, my editor complained that I had my character solve problems almost instantly. I learned challenging obstacles are important in a story, something everyone seems to know, but I didn’t back then. Obstacles that are quickly overcome are not really obstacles.

Now I am on my third book, and in this particular case, the character Claymore has spent over half the book trying to find where the prisoners of the evil covert organization are. Here he finally gets a peek into the bad guy’s surveillance room and recognizes video feed of one of the prisoners. Now he can switch to planning the rescues.

I am still an amateur writer, but here I have the produced the most serious struggles for the protagonist. I just wonder if I went too far. Nah. It was a struggle for me personally though. I have a tendency to want my character to be masterful or expert. And I still do that to a degree by making the opposition stronger.

I try to have the character to be strong in some things, but also have some significant flaws that cause him or her problems. In Claymore’s case as an example, he is a bit snobby and overconfident. He is a wealthy and clever lawyer. That is one of his weaknesses that make his problems worse. At a point before this illustration, he is living homeless and broke. While he never gets his wealth back, he does become successful again and makes a difference in the lives of the victims.

Chapter 31 final

When the Writing is Finished

I’m excited to be finished writing and editing my science fiction novel titled ‘Claymore’. I have both of the appendix short stories completed by my guest authors, Siriano Lambert and Gavin Parish. I am waiting for the last one of the ten illustrations then I can send all the interior to createspace.com for them to format into the 6″ x 9″ page size. I will then put my illustrator to work on the cover. In the meantime I can take a break and do something with my spare time other than write.

Siriano

My guest authors each wrote a short story about a different minor character. Siriano chose the minor character Jak, a police officer caught selling confidential police information to an alleged journalist. Siriano is my nephew, and as far as I know, this will be his first work published in a book. He does have writing samples available on different web sites. Here the first paragraph of his short story for Claymore:

Rain tapped softly on the hood of the air car. Jak sat motionless in the driver’s seat, eyes glued to the dash-screen video feed. It had taken so long to get approval for this stakeout that he was afraid the suspect would have moved on before he could get the cam-bot installed. Of course, he’d had to pay for the cam-bot out of his own pocket. That had been difficult to get Melysa to understand, but in the end they had agreed the risk would be worth it.

I was excited to involve Siriano and he came through with a nice story that I feel will enhance my book. Siriano focuses successfully on emotions and relationships. There is action here also. After reading Siriano’s story about Jak and his family, you understand why Jak felt justified in his later actions, even though Claymore wasn’t sympathetic.

Gavin

I had hired Gavin Parish in the past with my novel ‘Baktu’ and enjoyed his results. He chose the minor character ‘Lucy’, a person of a race known for their intellect but physically comparable to cephalopods (octopuses). He went the extra mile and read my other novels for more background information. Here is his first paragraph:

Lucy was in deep water, and wouldn’t have had it any other way. The plajoni home world was mostly ocean, but here on Regalia she had grown accustomed to spending much of her time on dry ground of late. Even so, it felt good to get her tentacles properly wet once in a while, though the level of toxicity in the water was an ever-present concern. Strict antipollution laws had long been in place across the planet, but busy traffic around a major spaceport posed a heightened risk she would be foolish to ignore. Nevertheless, she would only use the breathing filter Scod had given her as a last resort. It went against her instincts to swim with any kind of aid, and she had not liked the fit and feel of the thing when she tried it on for a test run before setting out.

He made blatant and subtle references to several other characters in the Claymore novel and my other novels (in the same universe), including the Baskin Shipping Yards, Death Ray, and others. At the end the amnesia that he gave Lucy subtly explains how she ended up a homeless tramp when she first appears in the main novel. It’s Interesting story of suspense and action.

Tiziana

The featured picture this week is the one Tiziana made for chapter 29. Here Claymore is poses as a customer in a hanger for spaceships. He is actually spying on the bad guy’s ships. Claymore ends up leasing a spot even though he has no space ship. The picture shows the environment, the open ceiling, and the general busyness of the place.

Chapter29final

Sequels as Standalone Novels

Some of the feedback that I got back from an editor on my sequel sci-fi manuscript was that I did not explain particular things, such as various sentient races and what they looked like. This is a sequel, and I did go over those details in my previous books. That means readers of my previous books would not need those explanations again. So it did not occur to me to explain them again. Right?

I suppose the decision is whether the author wants to require the reader to read each book in the series, and in order. I’ve read some first-of-a-series books that ended on a cliffhanger such that none of the major plot lines were resolved. You had to buy the next book to get any resolution. I decided against this. I did design in a series plot line that would require reading all five books to resolve. However, I wanted each book to be a satisfying novel all by itself. So I made special efforts to have a special plot for each book, with the series plot being secondary. This may be an old concept to experienced writers.

Anyway, since I want the Claymore novel to be good and satisfying without reading the previous ones, I took the editors concerns seriously. But then I was still concerned about boring the readers that already know what the races (or other things) look like. So I tried to either be concise, or to explain it in a way that added insight that previous readers wouldn’t already know, or “show, not tell” in a way that was an important to moving the scene or story forward or to show the particular character’s unique personality compared to others of her race. I think I was able to address most of the issues that the editor brought up in a good way.

On another front, the appendix short story for the minor character Jak is almost finished. The guest author just needs to review some editing that was done to his story. It is a backstory that explains some of Jak’s motives and dilemmas. I am excited to include it in my novel.

Tiziana created the illustration below for chapter 23. Here, Claymore, the lawyer accustomed to wealth and power, is penniless and homeless. With help, he has escaped from prison. But the bad guys are monitoring all his accounts. If he spends anything, they will know where he is. The picture shows this scary new experience as he and Phee try to find a place to sleep in a strange city.

Chapter 23 Final version

Short Story Writers

I wanted to update you on the three short story writers I recruited. I had hired three writers to write a short story each about some minor character in my science fiction manuscript for $250 each. For a peek at the formal invitation with requirements and details click ‘Short Story Invitation‘.

So far two of them have picked characters (tentatively). They picked Jak and Lucy. They had been busy with other things when I contacted about this and just recently have been able to turn more of their attention to the project.

I had my manuscript edited by http://www.scribendi.com using their proofreading package (with query letter, etc). It was my first time with scribendi.com for editing, and it was a positive experience. The editor went beyond proofreading and pointed out some important inconsistencies in the story that I intend to follow up on. A great edit even though I was hoping it would be my last one. Below are the comments from the anonymous editor who did the work (not counting the comments in the actual documents). They were glowing and made me feel good.

This is really an outstanding work, well written and well edited. Naturally, I have made grammatical and other editorial changes, but since the text was already in good shape, I’ve focused most of my efforts on spotting inconsistencies, discontinuities, loose ends, and things of that nature. I’ve made copious notes throughout the revised copies of your manuscript, and have also summarized some overall things I noted about the novel at the end of the TRACKED version of the document.

I think I read on your blog that you were looking for short stories from other authors aiming to develop some of the minor characters. This is a great idea and I would love to contribute, though you’re probably looking to finalize content at this point rather than add new material. Nevertheless, reading this novel has really made me curious about the backstories of some characters, and I’d love to help you fill in the blanks.

The attached TRACKED_REVISED version of your manuscript shows all changes and comments. The CLEAN_REVISED version shows just the comments (apart from my overall comments at the end of the work, which I’ve retained in the TRACKED version only). In addition, the query letter aims to pitch your work to your prospects. The synopsis is a concise one-page summary of your novel, highlighting the major points. The outline provides a more detailed summary on a chapter-by-chapter basis, laying out the plot, characters, action points, and ideas in the novel.

It’s been a pleasure to review your novel, and I mean that as fact–it really is an interesting story. Feel free to contact us again for any additional help. You can request me specifically by entering EM1229 in the Editor Code field after uploading your order. If you make further edits to your manuscript and you want us to proofread them, you can just highlight the new/edited sections and include only those in the word count. Thanks for using our services. I wish you success with your novel, and I look forward to seeing it in print.

The editor was wanting to do a short story for me. I was flattered and intrigued. The problem is, scribendi.com enforces the anonymity of their editors. Customers have no way of contacting the editor directly. I am not complaining about their business choices, I am just sad about it in this case. However, once he (she?) saw my meager $250 price tag, he may have changed his mind anyway.

The next illustration I am presenting from Tiziana is chapter 17. Here Claymore is imprisoned by the bad guys. Tiziana went for mood here, capturing the hopelessness of Claymore’s tiny isolated world for the next indefinite amount of time, with death the most probable resolution.

Chapter17 Final

Telling the Same Story Twice

Recently, writing my novel in progress, I needed to write the same scene from my previous book for my current one. Both books are in the same series. I felt this needed to be handled carefully because I didn’t want my previous readers to feel like I was recycling the same material.

The important difference was this time it was a different protagonist. That same party the “Tomek” was at in a previous book was an important event for Claymore’s story as well. The timelines of the two novels overlap. I decided this could be a good thing if I handled it right.

First of all, I focused heavily on Claymore’s perspective of the scene, leaving out all elements that Claymore did not experience, and telling things that happened to Claymore there that were not in Tomek’s story. I did include the moment they both talked to each other but still made it different by filtering it through Claymore’s mind and assumptions.

Also, I had Claymore wondering and guessing about Tomek’s reason for being there, just as Tomek wondered why Claymore was there in the previous story.

But Claymore and his ‘Trident’ crime investigation was the theme of the scene this time around. I used the chapter to move Claymore’s plot forward. Claymore finds an important clue there that propels him into a web of danger soon after.

I expect and hope readers that recognize the party from the earlier novel will enjoy the nostalgia and finally knowing why Claymore was there.

Chapter13 final

Here is the illustration of the scene that Tiziana made for the chapter (chapter 13). Tomek and his girlfriend are looking on as Claymore tries to get someone to dance with him. Can you tell how well he’s doing? (It’s a formal party on Zimvia where gowns were required regardless of gender.)

Introducing Supporting Characters

Supporting characters are important in most stories. Chapter seven of my work in progress introduces Phee, the green girl in the picture who is the major character besides Claymore himself (the other green species). I didn’t just want her to show up for no reason. Her existence on the same planet as Claymore changes the whole story.

Chapter seven was originally the first chapter until I found I needed introduce Claymore and establish his personal conflicts first. Then Phee’s appearance could be all about her, and the significant twist she presents to Claymore’s goals and hopes. Phee represents mystery, and evidence that the criminals Claymore is trying to hunt down are way bigger than a few street hoodlums. He still won’t know how big until later.

Introducing Phee properly was so important to me that chapter seven is probably the most carefully crafted chapter in the book. (Though, I’m still an amateur no matter how hard I craft.)

This illustration for the chapter is another by tizianafruiu of freelancer.com. Here Claymore is trying to research the strange planet Phee came from. I think Tiziana did a good job making research look intense.

chapter-7-final

Claymore and Content Editing

Hello. It has been a while since my last blog post. I have been working on my next novel, tentatively titled Claymore.

A preliminary bit of news is that my published book ‘Baktu’ is now available in audio format.

In my last post I claimed that my last book in the Tomek series was all planned. Well, things change. I decided the plans were too big to fit comfortably in one book, so I planned three books. With the current plan there will be a total of five novels in the series. I have finished the first (sharable) draft of Claymore last Saturday. That does not mean I am ready to publish it. However I am excited by this milestone because it means I can start dragging in help in the form of content editors.

I have been noticing fiverr.com, and decided to try a sample of the service from two specific content editors that are sellers there. For a sample I submitted my first chapter of Claymore to each of them.  The chapter is between 1500 and 2000 words. One cost me $10 and the other was $20. Both of the editors turned out to be good. I want to share one of the results here, in case you want to see what a good content editor does to your draft. Click here: ClaymoreChapter1_developmental_edit_CateHogan

Now I want to sent in my full manuscript for content editing, but I need to fix my chapter 1 first, based on the editor’s input.

When I send in one of my precious documents for editing, I usually go through stages. I don’t know if these stages are typical of all authors (who use content or developmental editing) but I will list mine anyway:

  1. Almost immediately after I submit it, I am impatient to get the results. I monitor my email  several times a day. I am tempted to contact the neighbor girl (when I hire her) or check guru.com, freelancer.com or fiverr.com (if I hired services from there) several time a day, and sometimes I give in to the temptation.
  2. I get the manuscript back and read all the comments and notes the editor made, with feverish anticipation.
  3. And then I feel crushed, deflated. The evil editor found flaws. They have implied that my precious words, that I worked so many months on, of are  defective. You won’t feel that when you read mine because you haven’t given birth those darling  words. I even start feeling rebellious. What to editors know anyway? What is so special about their opinion? I am exaggerating. The editor is usually polite about it, and they do sprinkle in compliments.
  4. I think about it. For a full book manuscript I ponder a whole day on it. I start to understand what they are talking about, and understand why those flaws weaken the story. I start seeing how the book could be so much better if I make specific adjustments to address the various issues they pointed out.
  5. And now I am excited. I can’t want to add all those improvements.

In the specific content editor’s notes attached to this blog, some things you will see are where the editor simply misunderstood. And that is good information too. I don’t want the reader to misunderstand. For example, the editor complained that I had Ramos (the human) looked down to talk to Claymore. Since Claymore has four arms he should be taller, right? No. Navinos have always been shorter than humans in the series. So I need to clarify that somehow in chapter 1. There was another item that was a simple misunderstanding.

Another specific item, and this one is a big deal, is that Claymore is not properly motivated. The reader does not have a sense of why Claymore would take risks, or why helping Phee would interest him enough to make sacrifices. This, I decided was deadly important. Sure Claymore wants law and justice for all (like I do in real life, so I automatically assume the reader has the same feelings). But is that enough? Even if is  a valid motivation, it is not specific enough. (Like she pointed out, there are lots of injustices in the news. What is so special about Phee’s situation?) And even that were his only motivation, I have not properly shown enough of Claymore’s background to show why. I am not sure all of this motivation needs to be established in chapter one, but I think I will try to do it in a prologue + chapter 1.

In any case I am planning on giving this serious attention. I now have planned something very specific about Claymore’s background that I want to write as an exciting prologue, where he loses someone dear to him. And it’s something that not only motivates him to help Phee, but goes beyond that and has specific repercussions in the remainder of the book and the plot. I won’t tell you the specifics of my plan, but I am excited to implement this new idea. The bad news is now I have to write a prologue, rewrite chapter 1, and make adjustments throughout the book. Probably before I submit the whole book for content editing. My schedule slides again, but that’s normal.