Tag Archives: writing

Science Fiction

I know people who like reading fiction but say they don’t like science fiction (SF). But how can you write off a huge genre that contains everything from literary to trash? There are so many subgenres in SF as there are outside SF—genres and subgenres combined.

I just finished another SF novel that kept me up until 4 AM to finish it—The Man in the Tree by Sage Walker. I started to write another post about science fiction and realized I had already done that, so I am reposting it.

Science Fiction posted Jul 29, 2014.
I love SF books. At least some of them. They cover so much ground. The range from great to boring. But isn’t that true of all novels? There are many genres within SF: Adventure, Space, Hard SF, Soft SF, Paranormal, Cyberpunk, Alternate History, and many more. Some cross over genres into romance, mystery, fantasy, or mainstream fiction. Now they are sometimes calling it speculative fiction, which appears to covers more genres than even science fiction.

I first wrote my novel, The Janus Code, as science fiction or speculative fiction in 1995. When the world caught up with my imagination, I edited it to bring it up-to-date and published it as a suspense thriller.

Getting back to why I started this post, I stayed up ‘til 4AM a couple of nights ago reading a SF book – The Silent History by Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby and Kevin Moffett. This is soft or social SF. I found the book fascinating for several reasons. One is the fact that it is a collaboration between three authors. Something that caught my attention was that the story was originally written as an iPhone app. Another reason is that they wrote in first person, but each chapter is from a different character’s point of view. You don’t see many books written multiple first person.

An interesting point is that these characters may show up in only one or two chapters or they may continue to appear throughout the book. This made the story a bit difficult to follow when I started reading. I kept thinking, “Did I see this person before?” But that didn’t last when I got into the story.

The plot: Children are born without language capability. It turns out to be a virus and more and more children are born with this condition.

I could get into the story and the characters’ reactions. I could tell you how it relates to the way people today respond to anyone who is “different.” I could tell you how the story progresses. Instead, I’ll let you read this very absorbing story.

I’ve started another SF novel – Mars, inc.: The Billionaire’s Club by Ben Bova, one of SF’s most accomplished and prolific writers. This is hard science fiction or maybe even mainstream fiction. The science is real; it could happen today. One man convinces a group of billionaires to finance a crewed mission to Mars. I can’t give you much more on this one because I’ve just begun reading.

For those of you who don’t read SF, give it a try. There are many variations and lots of good writing.

Stephen King — On Writing

Without electricity after Hurricane Irma, I read the two library books I had in two days. The library wasn’t open so I perused my shelves for books to read. I went through a few books I hadn’t read, some I’d bought from authors and some people had given to me. One that I read many years ago and remembered liking was Stephen King’s On Writing. I may have gotten more out of it this time around.

The book is a combination of memoir and advice about writing. The first section, “C.V.,” is a condensed life story as it relates to being a writer—an interesting story in itself. The second section, “On Writing,” is all about the art and craft. He starts by giving us the Great Commandment, “read a lot, write a lot.”

King lists four levels of writers—bad writers, competent writers, good writers, and geniuses—and believes there is no way to make a competent writer from a bad one or to turn a good writer into a great one, but a competent writer can become a good writer. This requires a toolbox: the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, and elements of style) and a second level (hard work, dedication, and timely help). He also emphasizes rewriting and editing. Two of his rules:  “Omit needless words” and “2nd draft = 1st Draft – 10%.”

You’ve probably heard of the two types of writers—“plotters” who plan their books in advance and “pantsters” who write by the seat of their pants. Stephen King is the later and so am I. He claims he never plots a book. I like King’s ideas about writing is that they coincide with my own. And what he produces is very good storytelling.

The third section of the book, “On Living,” is back to memoir. He talks about his accident (he was hit by a car), recovery, and return to writing. This is followed by “And Further More, Part I and Part II.” Part I is about editing and Part II is a book list. And I forgot to mention the three forwards in the beginning of the book.

I enjoyed the first reading and again the second time around.

Publish Your Book With CreateSpace

Are you a writer? Want to see your book in print without spending years trying to find a publisher or carrying hundreds of books in inventory? I gave a presentation August 19, 2017 at Gulf Coast Writers Association (GCWA) on how to get your book published via CreateSpace. It takes you through the steps required to plan, submit, and bring your book to life. And the best part? You can publish your book for little to no money.

Handouts from the presentation — the PowerPoint slide show and a list of links to more information — can be found here.

Writing Fiction — Premise

buildingabetterargument

…writing a story without a premise is like rowing a boat without oars.
 ~ James N. Frey, from How to Write a Damn Good Novel

I’ll admit up front that I have problems defining premise. So I Googled it and found differing definitions. I’m still not certain of what a premise should be. I know when writing research papers you need a premise. You are trying to prove something and your paper is the argument to prove your premise. In writing stories, maybe the same holds true.

Several websites and references appear to define premise the same as a “log line” or “tag line.” Others are quite different. Frey, who started me down this path while I was rereading his book purchased almost thirty years ago, defines it as something that leads to something—as simple as love leads to happiness or crime leads to punishment. Or it could be crime leads to happiness if that’s what you want your story to say.

The tag line for my novel, The Janus Code, was, “What if the ultimate computer firewall turned out to be the ultimate computer snooper?” By some of the following definitions, this would be the premise. By others, including Frey’s, it would not. It would need to be something that leads to something—cause and effect. Maybe my story’s premise is, “Releasing the ultimate computer snooper leads to world-wide disaster.” I’m not sure.

I didn’t take the following references’ advice (hadn’t read them at the time). They all say you should have a premise before you begin writing your story. (I think one reference said many authors don’t consciously do that, but if it’s a good story, the premise is there.)

If you want the scoop on premise, read from some of the following links. There is a wealth of information, but the writers don’t always agree on the definition of premise.

  • Merriam-Webster:
    a : a proposition antecedently supposed or proved as a basis of argument or inference; specifically :  either of the first two propositions of a syllogism from which the conclusion is drawn
    b :  something assumed or taken for granted :  presupposition
  • The Scribes website makes premise sound like the blurb you put on the back cover of your book.
  • Writers’ Digest confused me with concept and premise. What they call concept, others call premise. At the end of this article, they compare Concept vs. Idea vs. Premise vs. Theme.
  • James N. Frey defines premise more closely to what Writers’ Digest calls concept or theme. You won’t find this on his website; you’ll need to read the book, How to Write a Damn Good Novel. He says, “The premise of a story is simply a statement of what happens to the characters as a result of the core conflict of the story.”
  • On the website Taking Notes, Jeanne Vincent talks about theme and premise. She gives many examples of theme but basically uses Frey’s definition of premise.
  • Hollywood Inkslinger, Andrew Oye, says,Premise and Theme Are Cousins Not Twins.” He says the premise is the subject of the story and the theme is the meaning from the story. He compares the premise to a “log line.” Even though he’s talking about screen writing, what he says applies to books as well.
  • The Writer’s Store talks about themes, but says true theme is premise. Melanie Ann Phillips says, “A premise is a moral statement about the value of our troubles caused by an element of human character.”
  • The Writer online magazine talks about premise in a way I think of as “tag line” or “log line.”
    “A story premise, along with its tool, the premise line, is a container that holds the essence of your story’s right, true and natural structure.”
  • Where’s the Drama, another screenwriting website, has two separate articles on the same webpage —the first is on Log Lines and the second on Premise. Their definition of premise: “A premise is something to be proved, something asserted as true…”

If you read some of these, you will see why I’m confused about the definition of PREMISE.

Writing Fiction — Creating Characters

Two things prompted me to write this post. Gulf Coast Writer’s Association (GCWA) is a large organization of writers based in Fort Myers, Florida, which offers speakers, workshops, critique groups, and lots of networking with other writers and people associated with writing. They have been my lifeline to writing since I moved to Florida. The July meeting featured a workshop on creating characters.

The second item that prompted me to write about characters is a book that I purchased and read nearly thirty years ago—How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey. I plucked this book off my shelf one recent night when I ran out of novels for my nightly bedtime reading. It’s as pertinent to fiction writing today as when I first read it. The first chapter is all about characters.

If I can’t get into the head and heart of the protagonist in a novel, I probably won’t finish the book. The story is even better if all the main characters (even the antagonist) are three dimensional. I want to understand where they are coming from. The same goes for writing. I need to get into the head of the character—become the character.

My first attempt at a novel (not published) was written from my point of view. I started by fictionalizing some past events in my life. But the character took over and told a completely different story with events that never happened to me and that I never imagined would. She became a different person than the author, with her own distinct personality.

The idea for my first published novel, The Janus Code, came from wanting to understand a man that I knew. He was a complex personality (bipolar) and I wanted to get inside his head. I started writing without any idea of the story, the plot, the premise, other characters… I let him write the story. Of course, he became a completely different person than the real person about whom I started writing.

With my second published book, Mangrove Madness, (I’d written a few in between) I started with an imaginary character not based upon any particular person. I did have a good sense of her personality. With this story I had a basic idea of a plot, but didn’t know the ending. Again, the character took over the writing and told the story. She decided the plot, the twists and turns, and the ending.

After Mangrove Madness, several people asked if I was writing a sequel. I decided to try, so first I wrote a biography of Ernie Pratt and character sketches of a few other players in the book. I found that I knew them quite well, even though they didn’t exist before I wrote the book.

I know that some writers create their characters in detail before they begin writing a story. Maybe it’s because of the way I write (in the zone) that allows my characters to create themselves. I’m not sure I understand it, but this is how it works for me.

Literary vs. Mainstream Fiction

I have a problem distinguishing between literary and mainstream fiction. And sometimes genre fiction seems to overlap into those categories. I spent some time poking around the Internet trying to find distinctions or definitions of the two and it only confused me more. The general consensus seems to be that literary fiction is more about style of writing that about plot, while mainstream is plot driven. I found that many believe that a crossover exists between mainstream and literary (and even genre). One suggested that literary was for the “elite” reader. Janet Paszkowski on absolutewrite.com tells a writing professor described non-literary fiction as “artless.”

Some of the interesting articles I read:

I claim I don’t enjoy most literary novels, but I have found several books that are classed as literary that I liked. I’ve reviewed some here on my blog; check the literary category. Some of them may be classified as “Women’s Fiction” rather than literary. Is that another crossover?

What sent me to the Internet to define literary vs. mainstream is a book I read recently (The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi) with a blurb on the front cover saying, “A gripping literary thriller….” To me this is an oxymoron. Thriller to me is definitely genre. The book was good and very plot driven, with good characterization. I would probably call it genre/thriller. Possibly mainstream since the writing didn’t exactly follow the rules for the genre. The one thing I see that probably classifies it as literary is the lack of quotation marks. This style of writing drives me crazy. Literary or not, I don’t see the purpose of eliminating quotes except to make a book more difficult to read.

The next book in my pile (All that Followed by Gabriel Urza) turned out to be literary in my mind. It is a twisted tale set in the Basque Country of northern Spain with three main characters POV: an American expat teacher, a young man almost accidentally involved in revolutionary activity, and the wife of an upcoming politician. Great reading! (He didn’t eliminate the quotation marks.)

I still don’t know the answer on how to define literary vs. mainstream. I think the definitions change with time and with the person defining.

The Unreliable Narrator

Definition: An unreliable narrator is a narrator, whether in literature, film, or theatre, whose credibility has been seriously compromised.
The term was coined in 1961 by Wayne C. Booth in The Rhetoric of Fiction.

The term unreliable narrator came to my attention recently when I was reading reviews of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I turns out that the novel has three first-person unreliable narrators. Rachel (the girl on the train) imagines the lives of people she is watching from the train window every day. She is an alcoholic who suffers blackouts. She fills the blanks with what other people tell her, in particular, her ex-husband, Tom. Megan is a woman she has been watching. Rachel has invented a perfect life for her. Megan has a terrible past that she hides from the world, her husband, and even at times from herself. Anna is married to Tom and pretends their life is wonderful if Rachel would just stay out of their lives. Tom, who is not a narrator, lies to everyone.

Megan disappears and Rachel involves herself in the investigation to find out what happened to the perfect woman she has created in her mind. The plot is complex and we are led down many wrong paths through the unreliable narrators.

The next novel I read, The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney (British), also had two first-person narrators. (I happen to prefer first-person POV.) I read somewhere that any first-person point of view in a novel is likely an unreliable narrator. Keeping this in mind, I looked at the story in a slightly different way. Ray, the main character, is a half-Gypsy private investigator looking for woman who has been missing for eight years. JJ is a teenager living with family in the Gypsy site from which the woman disappeared. Ray is looking into a way of life he doesn’t truly understand and hearing different versions of the story of when and how the woman disappeared. JJ is only getting bits and pieces, excluded from conversations because he is a child. He uses his wild imagination to fill in the blanks. So, both Ray and JJ are unreliable narrators.

Next I read In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen. This novel is written in third person (sometimes second person) with multiple narrators. It is a complex story of intertwining lives. Each character has a different perspective on the same events. So I found that even though this story isn’t told in first person, it is told by unreliable narrators. Maybe every story has them in order to keep the plot interesting.

All three of the above mentioned novels are intriguing reads.

I believe my first novel, The Janus Code by J.C. Ferguson, has an unreliable narrator. It is written with a one third-person POV. I haven’t given much thought to the reliability of Ernie Pratt (first person, one narrator) in Mangrove Madness, my second novel. But maybe I will keep it in mind as I work on the sequel.

On Writing and Selling Books.

I love to write a new story. I don’t even mind going back and editing a few times or formatting and designing covers for publishing. I even do that for other people. But I don’t like marketing. I like doing a website or two (another thing I do for other authors), sending out a few emails, doing book signings here and there, but I don’t like selling myself and my writing.

The book I just published in June, Mangrove Madness, has been hanging around for years waiting on an agent and a couple of publishers to make up their minds about publishing. It might have gone through if I was better at selling. But instead, I got tired of waiting for something to happen, took it back, and published it myself.

It’s a mystery to me what sells a book to a major publisher or what makes it into a bestselling novel. I just finished reading (or partially finished) a book by a New York Times bestselling author. Within the first few chapters I had figured out who committed the murder the female PI was investigating. Plus, I knew she was going to lose her boyfriend because she was being so stupid and not listening to what he was saying. I checked the end of the book to see that I was right then put the book aside. How and why does something like that sell?

I know people who write much better novels who are self-publishing and selling very little. But the business of writing and the business of marketing are two very separate things. Most of my friends who write are not expert marketers. A few can do both. I guess I need to learn marketing or hire someone who is good at it.

Wish me luck with marketing my new book.

Bragging Rights

FAPA-GoldI don’t usually post about myself and my writing, but I won an award. The Janus Code by J.C. Ferguson (that’s me, Judy Loose) is the winner of the Florida Authors & Publishers Association 2014 President’s Award Gold Medal for Adult Fiction: Action/Suspense. It’s exciting to win a prestigious award—first place. Wow! It’s probably silly to be so pleased, but it does feel good to have professional writers and publishers approve of my work.

This is also a credit to the Gulf Coast Writers Association. They have three winners this year. In addition to my award, Alice Oldford won a gold medal in the Home and Garden category for her book, Recipes and Life and Patti Brassard Jefferson won a silver medal in the Children’s Picture Book category for Stu’s Big Party.

Thanks for listening to me sound off.

The Trials of Editing

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could write something – an article, a story, a book – and publish it without any more work?

I don’t know any writers who can safely do that. I imagine there might be some who have grammar and structure so embedded in their brains that it comes naturally. But I don’t think we see our own mistakes. I catch things in others’ writing that I don’t in my own. I’m not exactly sure why. It may be that we are so involved in our own stories that we can’t see the trees for the forest.

I’m planning to publish another book this summer and I’m on my bazillionth edit. After editing it several times myself, I sent it to an agent and she went through it. I sent it to my sister-in-law who is a good editor, sent it chapter by chapter to my critique group where each person found different things to correct, went through it again and found more edits….

Now it’s with my very good editor, The Grammar Granny, and she is finding so much more. Yesterday, she sent me a note telling me to look for “just” in the manuscript and try to get rid of a few. I found 283 occurrences in the book and whittled it down to 66. A replacement wasn’t required for most of them; removing “just” didn’t change the meaning at all. And I wasn’t aware I was doing it. It’s “just” one of those words that “just” disappears in my mind as I read.

Besides using one word too often, another big problem in my writing is commas. I know all the rules but don’t think about them when I write. Going back and finding all the places I added them but shouldn’t, or should have and didn’t, is tedious and difficult. (Did I get them right in that last sentence?)

My last book, The Janus Code, was self-published. It had been edited several time by myself and others. Yet when the first books were printed there were errors. Typos!

I track all my changes in MS Word as I’m editing. After the last edit, I forgot to accept all changes before sending it to CreateSpace. Even though I wasn’t seeing them on my computer or my printed copy because I had it in the “final” view, all the changes showed up as the old AND new versions. If I replaced a word, you could see both the deleted word and the new word. Luckily, I only had 10 copies printed, but I sold some or gave others to friends before someone noticed. The proof was correct, so I never looked at those first copies until a fiend or two pointed out the problem to me.

My advice to all you authors and would-be authors out there: please have another pair of eyes, or several sets of eyes, look over your work before you publish. Read your proof and read your first copies after the proof. You’ll be happy that you did.

Back to my editing….