When Science and Fantasy Collide

dogfight_by_omen2501The classification of Speculative Fiction is a very broad one.  Inside that, the most common genres are science fiction and fantasy.  Most readers think of these as “spaceships” and “magic”.  But what about those of us who like spaceships with magic?

Take steam punk as an example.  In recent years, its popularity has skyrocketed.  You get the social constrictions of history with the possibilities of the future, all rolled up into an interesting concept that has endless amounts of potential.

For me, I keep falling into a mindset based on Arthur C. Clarke’s third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  This naturally leads to my mind working backwards.  Things like, “so is ESP magic?”  Enter my Rise of the Iliri series.     Or, “What makes life?”  And that spawned a series I currently have one hold based on the idea of sentient planets.  And then there’s the pondering that I can only verbalize as, “Ummm?” that resulted in a nearly finished novel (with series potential) about our human love for chemical energy and an alien species who built their technology on potential energy.  On the outside, it looks like science vs. magic, but each species sees the others’ side as the magic.

blue 2.pngYou see, this conundrum is something I adore.  I think the urge to lump things as magic is a part of our human condition.  From the earliest written histories, we’ve tried to explain the unknown with the supernatural.  Greeks thought thunder was a god, as an example.  Today, we’re studying quantum particles that can reach into the past.  The miracles of science are so hard to understand that it makes us, as humans, think.  That leads to trying to explain.  Those stories?  For me?  They make some amazing books.

But I grew up on Fantasy.  I lived on dragons, magic, and secret worlds.  It’s not just the miraculous possibilities that I loved, but also the language.  The stories are told in a more character driven manner (than typical hard-core sci-fi) with a comfort to the descriptions that feels relaxed.  The stories aren’t as “serious” in their presentation.  As a reader, I liked that these books let my mind wander, helped me escape the trauma of everyday life, and didn’t try to make me feel stupid.

334651-hd-wallpaperSo, when I started writing, I found myself compelled to use a similar style to what I was most comfortable with.  Yes, I have my own “author’s voice”.  I think we all do.  It’s inherent to having a personality (and boy do I!).  Then again, I also spent a whole lot of time in my previous life (before authorhood) explaining complex science to people who had no scientific training.  I’m used to putting those highly technical concepts into basic language, and it’s something I dearly love.  Geeking out with a fellow enthusiast is a hobby I will probably never get over.  So, I try to bring that into my books.

See, in all Fantasy, authors are told to make sure that their magic has rules.  Hmm.  Doesn’t that mean it’s basically science?  If magic is predictable, controllable, and can be studied like that, then basically, it’s just unknown physics.  Well, if you keep going down that rabbit hole, then it makes sense to work backwards from any fantasy concept to the “why” of it all.  Why can the iliri do the things they do?  Because they were derived from the indigenous species who could.  Well, why could they?  Because they have a different genetic structure.  So how does that….

abo_hunter_by_teecee2107-d5pfgpsWell, you see how it works.  And so, I worked all the way back down the evolution of my made up little beasties.  I realized they had to be white – evolutionarily speaking – but would naturally have variances due to the extended time frame I was working with.  They had to have specific traits, including their societies.  Those traits formed their culture and instinctual behavior.  Initially, the idea of them was inspired by the picture here (which I think is just an amazing render, by the way).  But things changed as I worked my way back to their creation.

Because science!

And so, I think of all my fantasy work as Science Fantasy.  Many people pick up BloodLust and are immediately confused.  There’s a strange mix of technology, modern language, and the potential for a standard, fantasy based world – but it’s not European or feudalistic.  There’s a reason for that, but I’m not the kind of author who is going to spoon feed you.  If you want to know, then figure it out.  It’s my challenge to my audience: to give them a framework to find their own fantasies.

omen2501r-3Everything I write, I try to explain.  It might be a single line, buried in the middle of an angry character’s rant, lost in the shuffle of high impact action – but it’s there.  I leave it dangling for you to take or leave as you wish.  And you know what?  Sometimes, I get it wrong.  Sometimes, I change my mind and leave a bit of “old story shrapnel” behind.  A few brilliant readers have caught those things and called me on them.  Kudos to them.  See, those little details make me think harder, and I love to wallow in my own brain power.  I love to imagine, daydream, and create.

And I play the long game.  Maybe it’s because I learned from Anne McCaffrey.  Her dragons on Pern?  I had a love/hate relationship with that series, but I did read it at a formidable time.  I always found myself drawn to the stories that explained gods as aliens, showed magic as a virus, or gave the reader something plausible to ponder.  Keyword: plausible.  The “what-if” that I’m addicted to has shaped my mind as an author, and I love it.  I love thinking about the why as much as the what-happens-next.  I love building worlds that are deep enough, varied enough, and interesting enough to make my readers want more.

And I’ll keep giving you more so long as I’m able.  There have been serious discussions with my publishing group about writing novellas based around the side characters in the Rise of the Iliri series (later.  When I’m done with other things).  Or showing the enemy’s side of the story.  I don’t know if I’ll do that, but it would be interesting.  Mostly, I plan to keep writing, keep producing books at some inhuman speed to feed my own need for escapism, and hopefully, some of you will come along for the ride.

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Why I write

fountain-pen-442066Like I mentioned previously, most authors claim that writing is in their blood, that they just can’t remember a time when they didn’t write.  I, on the other hand, grew up as a reader.  I can’t remember a time I didn’t read.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected to end up a writer.  Books were a way to escape, something I was offered like a gateway.  They were never a creative outlet for me.

Then, as an adult, I became the victim of online bullying.  Now, it’s a very strange situation to be a grown-ass woman, unable to escape the virtual harassment of another, older, grown-ass woman, but it happens.  Rather a lot, I think.  Every form of social media, every forum, every hobby site, every place I’d ever “hung out” online became a battle ground.  I was accused of everything from tax evasion to pornography.  It was over the top, clearly nothing but lies, and oh so persistent.

The irony here is that I have real thick skin.  I’m not the type of person to get all weepy because someone doesn’t like me, but this was different.  It was invasive.  My only escape from the constant noise of it all was to unplug.  So I did.

ydm4q9qThen I stared at the computer.  For most of my life, the internet has been my escape.  I don’t have a television, I don’t care for most movies.  I read books.  Ebooks.  (Hey, at least I’m consistent in my love of technology!)  Well, between the literature and the video games (which I could still safely play, since most middle aged ladies didn’t run in the same gamer circles I do) I found a little escape…

But it wasn’t enough.  In the hours between another game or the maxed-out credit card that prevented me from buying another book, I still stared at the screen.  I wished for a world where the downtrodden could get a little revenge.  I dreamed of a character that could get knocked down seven times and stand up eight…. growling!  Then, one day, I opened MS Word.

I didn’t expect anything.  Hell, I’m not really sure I had planned out what I was going to do.  I just sat down with this idea of a beast, mocked by the people around her, who tried so hard to fit into the rules society had put around her – like a cage – when inside she was so much more.  This small, vulnerable girl who survived on the hope that one day she could make things better.  If she just worked hard enough, pushed through the pain a little more, and kept going, then one day she could change her tiny corner of the world.

Salryc's Search.jpgI wrote.  The words came – and they were ugly.  I didn’t care.  I lost myself in this world caught between science and fantasy, where magic was just misunderstood science, history had been lost to the ages, but humanity was still the same.  People still wanted to lift themselves up by treading on the backs of those they found weak, but one of those victims had teeth.  Sharp teeth.  And patience…

Somewhere around Chapter 3, everything changed.  The catharsis of my writing faded behind the characters.  The plot that I hadn’t put any thought into began to form.  Edits were made to what I’d already created so there could be a compelling story arc, and I kept going.  I forgot that I was writing to escape because I’d fallen so far into this rabbit hole that I couldn’t imagine trying to get out.  I was lost in a world of my own creation…

And it felt good.

I became a hermit.  I think it helped me heal a little, mentally, from the abrasion of the real world’s noise.  Mostly, the story kept me going because no matter how much I abused my cast of characters, they kept hoping, kept finding ways to not only survive, but grow closer.  They made hope into something so tangible I could almost taste it.  And then I wrote some more.

tumblr_mntax1w0zm1s0wwqso1_500It wasn’t until I finished the fourth book in the series (at that time, it was the third), that I got the nerve to show my manuscript to anyone else.  Let me assure you, that’s the most terrifying thing anyone can do.  In a novel, we leave little parts of our soul behind.  I worried that people would assume I had written Salryc Luxx to be a version of me.  I was terrified that the constant erosion of self that I’d been suffering every time I went online would be visible to anyone who read my story.  I thought that by showing my written daydream of escapism to another, I’d be exposing my inner vulnerabilities, but this was my best friend.  The one person who knew how hard I’d been trying not to give in to something as foolish as words online.  The person I’d been leaning on when times got so very hard.  She already knew about those wounds… so I showed her my book.

She read it in a night.  Typos, grammar issues, sloppy sentence structure and all.  Hidden in all those words, she could feel the aspirations to be more, the desire to fight back when there was no enemy to target.  She read the story and was inspired, almost recharged, to push just a little harder.  By encapsulating my pain and fears into a story, then twisting the plot to offer hope, I’d not only helped myself get better mentally, but I’d given someone else a boost.  I don’t even know when you’d call it, but hearing that someone reading my book FELT something?  I honestly hadn’t expected that.

So I kept going.  I kept writing.  I learned how to write, and then how to write better.  I dove into perfecting my craft, playing with new ideas, and I wrote almost constantly.  My husband supported me completely, and while he doesn’t read, he loves for me to tell him my stories, to explain the bits that make me excited, and he says it’s inspirational.

Cyntaks.pngFor as many times as I’ve turned to a book to help me crawl out of my funk, I had just created something to help others.  The story was like a ladder, giving a path that the reader could use to move up, to get out of the oppressive mental anguish that is so easy to fall into.  And for those with no depression, anxiety, or other problems?  Well, it was just a good story, right?  A new story, wrapped up in a bunch of old ideas.

But that was just a side effect.  I wrote because I felt things.  I wrote these books as a way to understand my own emotions, and maybe let my readers see a new side to their own.  I wrote because we spend so much time trying to be calm, strong, professional, and independent that only in a fantasy world did I feel safe enough to admit I wasn’t.  I wrote because I wanted people to think, to question my way, their way, and all the ways.  In the iliri books, I focus on taboos, pushing at each one to find the line between good and bad.  In One More Day, I lost myself in the powerlessness of disease, forcing a situation where the strong female character simply can’t be strong anymore because of her failing body.  I write stories where others step up, fail, and sometimes even run away.  I write stories where I can ponder something more than just the next task.

As someone who never wanted to be a writer, I now can’t stop.  I’m a reader, and I will always be a reader first.  I create books I want to enjoy myself.  Books that fill a gap I can’t find anywhere else.  I write books about people – regardless of their type – who have to face the darkness inside themselves and realize that it’s not so dark.  I write stories with happy endings, even if the happiness is fleeting, because I think that every so often, we all need a chance to know it’s ok not to be perfect – but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be good.  Even in the darkest shadows, there’s always a glimmer of hope, and I hope to tell stories that focus on it.

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How books affect us

book-419589Ask any author and they’ll tell you how writing has always been in their soul.  Every bio has some anecdote about writing stories in elementary school, on a hidden notebook, or such.  So many of these writers act as if those childish scribbles were important somehow.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  For a writer, any and all writing feels important, but if it’s junk, it doesn’t really count.  Anything we write as an 11-year-old kid counts as junk.  It’s part of the learning process, and precious for that, but it’s NOT art.  Not yet.  Maybe finding the love of writing was important, but that writing?  Just one more step in the path we call life.

Then, there’s me.  I didn’t want to write books.  I was a READER!  I loved to read stories, to devour them like free cake when no one’s looking.  Growing up as a science dork who made good grades, had no friends, and didn’t really care?  All I wanted at the end of the day was a good book to lose myself in.  I didn’t watch TV.  I read, then read some more.  I loved that the little boy or girl at the center of it all was kinda like me.  Not exactly like – oh, no.  But s/he was enough like me that I felt I belonged someplace.  I belonged in that story.

boy-447701I will never forget checking out a novel in the second grade, and the librarian trying to make sure I understood that this book didn’t have pictures.  Duh.  But it was about horses and I was a seven-year-old girl.  Who needed pictures?  Horses!  While I was reading that book, I could pretend that I had horses, too.  And when the bad things happened, just like the girl or boy in the book, I could use my pretend horses to make everything all better, and I’d be the hero!

And those lessons lasted outside the pages of the book.  I learned when to keep my mouth shut by reading the verbal fights of my favorite characters.  I figured out that sometimes, even when parents were meanies, they were honestly trying to help.  I managed to have it sink in that adults aren’t the bad guys, but they aren’t always right, either.  And most importantly, I learned that no matter how someone looks on the outside, what matters is the person they really are.

reading-1223519C’mon, we’ve all done it.  That hunky man who is tall, dark, and handsome… except that the author clearly described him as nerdy, blonde, and scrawny?  But not in OUR heads.  Oh, he’s sexy in a way that has nothing to do with muscles, so we imagine him as a hunk.  We make him what we want because we can.  Or her.  Or them.  The dress doesn’t need to be blue.  It can be pink, purple, or any color we like because when we read a book, the story is in our minds, and that gives the reader almost as much power as the author.  The writer makes the frame, the reader fleshes it out, and in the end, no two people ever read the same story, but we can still learn the same lessons.

This is why I love literature: because the reality changes as we need it to.  It gives us hope when we don’t have it, offers solutions when we are desperate, and wraps us up in comfort.  Books are friends who prove to each of us that we’re not in this thing alone.  We’re not the only people alive who are struggling.  We’re all involved in the human condition, and it’s universal in so many ways…

children-1822474And yet it’s not.  As a typical white kid, I was lucky.  There was always some main character who was just like me.  Maybe this time it was a boy instead of a girl, but they had similar families, financial worries, and the type of lifestyle problems I “got”.  Only recently have our main characters had to deal with single parent families, abusive parents, familial histories of drug addictions, prejudice, discrimination, and things that so many young kids are put through.  The stories I used to escape into are great for everyone, but it’s just a bit nicer when you’re reading and the main character, “Audrey” has dark blonde hair just like young Auryn, and collects plastic ponies.  LaShonna, Rafaela, or Jiao might get the ideas easily enough, but it’s not the same as having a character written who could be a twin.  I know because one of my childhood friends was a very sweet Muslim girl who kept waiting for a heroine to wear a hijab like her.

blur-1840538.jpgNow, the diversity in our characters is growing – and fast – but it’ll probably never be fast enough.  There’s a magic to knowing an author could imagine someone like you.  It makes the child reading that book feel a little less invisible.  It’s a tiny shard of hope to hold onto.

And hope is what books always give us.  No matter how bad things get, there’s always the chance that the hero will win, or at least that the villain will pay for what they have done.  There’s always that little spark of light that the world could be better than it is now.

It’s why I fell in love with reading.  That impossible hope is a drug I will never get enough of.  The daydreams of a future where everyone gets what they need/want/deserve is seductive to an intelligent mind, and I like to think mine is.  That need is what kept me coming back, book after book, to read yet another story, to lose myself in this hobby called reading.

And one day, when my own hope finally broke, it’s the same thing that made me open a document and type those first words onto the page:

“Weaving through the large, dark-skinned bodies of the soldiers around her, Sal touched the paper in her pocket like a talisman.”

Eventually, it catches up

3112489487676223714-account_id3I am a very driven person.  I always have been.  No matter how many times people tell me to slow down, take it easy, or smell the roses as I pass, I just can’t.  I need a goal.

And not some pie in the sky goal.  I need a path to work toward, so that once I reach it, I can set a new one.  Maybe it’s like a map to life?  Honestly, I couldn’t explain it in a way that makes sense – I know because I’ve tried.  But this is me.  This is how I operate.  It either drives people crazy or makes them impressed.  Rarely anything in the middle.

There’s a downside.

Being goal driven makes it easy to push just a bit more.  Just a few more minutes and I’ll write twice as many words as I’d set out to.  Just one more day and I’ll be exactly two weeks early for my deadline.  Sleep?  I can do that once I reach the goal (uh, if I don’t immediately have another waiting).  Eating right?  Bah.  Starvation diets are the stuff of artists!  Ok, mostly because we forget to eat in our creative streaks, but still.  It evens out.

But last week, it finally didn’t.  Years of this have all piled up.  What started as a sore lower back ended up as a trip to the hospital.  One kidney stone and a rather impressive infection later, my life was full-stop.  I spent 2 days thinking I had food poisoning, and almost a week in the hospital after it was discovered to be a kidney stone.  I don’t think I’ve been this sick in my entire life.

9166406936255404416-account_id4I’m still working on getting better.  The good news is that I’m finally home again.  I have the comforts every girl needs (like her puppies, husband, and undies that don’t bind when confined to bed!)  I’m writing, but only a little.  Mainly, that’s because my brain is so muddled on so many drugs, that I just can’t tell a story right now.  Most of all, I’m sleeping.

I have another little stint of this in the future.  The stone that caused all the trouble still has to come out.  They got it “out of the way” while we’re curing the infection, but it has to go.  That means another round of bed rest, frustration, and getting just a bit farther behind comes in two weeks.

I figure this is a very good lesson in life.  Working harder doesn’t always fix the problem.  Sometimes, we just don’t win.  Sometimes, we just can’t make miracles happen with a few more hours of investment.  Sadly, it appears that sometimes, trying too hard for too long really will catch up with us and make us pay.  I’ve just done my time.

And I’m so ready to get back to writing.