Research, Uncategorized

Writing What You Don’t Know

  • by Peter Thomson

A standard bit of writing advice is to ‘write what you know’. Good advice, but how many of us have confronted vampires or run electricity through patchwork corpses? We create new worlds from bits and pieces of the ones we know – including the ones we know from other imaginings, fishing in the cultural deeps until we draw up the strange and new. How deep can we go?

I am not religious. I do not believe in an afterlife and have no truck with divinities of any persuasion. The closest I come to the supernatural are the feelings anyone of ordinary sensitivity has to places of great beauty or sanctity. Yet when Faithful Service and her sister Loyal Service stepped into my mind, demanding I tell their story, religion was everywhere. These were people and a society where faith was central. Theirs is a fantasy world, so I had considerable latitude. I could make up some analogue of an earthly faith (I studied medieval history; basic theology is part of the package). I could stud the story with prayers and priests. I could have a god or gods step in and out.

The story did not want these things. It wanted people who gave serious consideration to what their faith asked of them, and explored how they resolved their differences. It was about the interior of faith, not the trappings. I have religious friends and acquaintances, and one approved my remark that religion must look very different from the inside than the outside. Here I am on the outside, wanting to write about the inside. As it came out, my characters actions spoke for them, each according to their understanding.

One more thing – it’s a world where the supernatural is everywhere evident, to the point of being commonplace. People don’t believe in the gods in the same way that people here don’t believe in chairs. They are just there. So what do the sisters believe in? What is right, and where does it come from? It’s a question at least as old as Socrates – Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious? Or is it pious because it is loved by the gods? (the dialogue with Euthyphro). In The Forked Path the answer is that right is a journey, one undertaken in trust that the dilemma will be resolved in the end. So the story became one of twin journeys, to a reunion and beyond.

Looking back, I think I drew on a melange of medieval mystics and devotional poetry, scraps of theology and philosophy, and both the dogmatic insistence and serenely tolerant certainty I’ve met among the devout. My readers think it works.

Excerpt:

On and on they went, slow but never stopping. Villa walls and market gardens went by, the sun rose higher, the puddles steamed away, the earth grew harder. Faithful Service was long unused to going barefoot, and her feet grew more tender as she walked. The old couple went more and more slowly, Right Conduct’s right hand clutching at his side, Proper Support true to her name as she held his left. In one village a boy threw a handful of mud at them, then ran away at the escort’s frown. Travellers made the sign against evil, and a presbyter ostentatiously prayed that wrong-doing might fall from them. All this deepened Faithful Service’s misery, yet on she walked. She had been given nothing to eat that morning and by midday hunger added to her woes. They were permitted to drink at the roadside fountains, where water bubbled clear and cold into stone basins by grace of the Highest’s grant of craft.

Right Conduct and Proper Support kept gamely on, limping and staggering. Right Conduct had cut his foot on a stone and left blood on the ground at each step. By later afternoon Proper Support could hold him up no longer; he sagged against her, they made a few more paces and then both collapsed to the ground.

“By the Highest’s grace, we will not hold this as a falter if you rise within five breaths,” one of the escort told them in a firm tone. Proper Support lifted her head to look him in the face, then clearly made up her mind.

‘My trust has been in the Highest all my life, and I will trust Him still. My husband can go no further, and I will not leave him. If the Highest will not lend us His strength, then we must accept the fate He gives us. I will go no further on my own feet.” She put her arm around her husband’s shoulders and sat firm.

“You have faltered before the Highest. As the Highest decreed, you are not of us. By the Highest’s mercy, you leave the land with your life.” The senior member of the escort intoned the ritual words. Then one was sent to fetch a cart, while another stayed to watch Right Conduct and Proper Support. The other two motioned Faithful Service to go on. She was tempted to join Proper Support on the ground, for her legs ached, her feet were sore and her stomach a gnawing pit of hollowness. Yet she did not; she was young and strong enough to go further, and had not Graceful Deeds always insisted that she do her utmost, told her that there was always one more effort in her? She would honour his memory by going on as far as she was able. Faithful Service set herself in motion, putting one foot in front  of the other in a steady plod.

(The Forked Path is out through Amazon and also – a commercial sale! – Rambunctious Books)

How do you, as authors, feel when the work takes you into areas of ignorance?

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About Writers, blogging, Research

Pushing the Sci Envelope

Science fiction authors used to push the envelope of knowledge. Rocket ships dropped out of space to land on their tails. GORT, the robot, walked among us in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Arthur C. Clarke submitted a manuscript to Wireless World magazine proposing global communication through geostationary satellites in 1945. These concepts are major industries, today, of course. In fact, today’s science seems to have sprinted ahead of fiction.

I stumbled upon an article about “working memory.” That’s cognitive scientists’ speak for how many potentially conflicting bits of information we can hold in out head. If a point requires more working memory than I have, I just won’t “get it.” Take the example of face masks during a pandemic. There is conflicting information in the media about the usefulness of face masks. The article correlated working memory with face mask use and found that people with less working memory tended to not wear masks. When it comes to complex situations, not everyone “gets it.”

The working memory article gave me a simple idea for a story, that the world is becoming more complex and as it does so, more and more people just won’t “get it.” What happens, I wondered, when the world reaches a point where not enough people understand the complexity of it to keep it running? Does it all break down? Chaos? Lost in my own thoughts, I Googled “complexity and chaos.” And, whoops! I stepped in it.

Turns out, there is a body of scientific study called “complexity science.” Most of it is baffling mathematics. I’m a writer, not a mathematician. But I write hard science fiction, so I have to get the science right and present it in a way to make the fiction entertaining. Luckily, I found A simple guide to chaos and complexity. It’s a scholarly paper written in (mostly) plain English for the health services and I have (some) background in medical care. I now have an inkling of how little I know.

Maybe we should stick to writing stories about things we know? A simple idea is turning into a year or more of research and writing. I used to approach science through fiction and now, I have to approach fiction through science? But enough complaining. Curiosity is addictive. What if people really are limited in how complex a life they can handle? What if our civilization does continue becoming more complex? Will chaos result? What-if is how sci-fi pushes the envelope of knowledge.

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About Writers, inspiration, Research, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Muse

Above: Gilgamesh Tablet #11

We writers appreciate a good muse.

While researching to write a story set in ancient Mesopotamia, I came across a museum reproduction of a Sumerian tablet containing the oldest story that we have found to date. The epic of Gilgamesh, of course; and of course I bought it. It helps me to write when I can connect something tangible to the story.

This particular piece contains the first written account of the Deluge. It’s the tale of a man asked by his god to build an Ark so he, his family, and the various animals could survive a Great Flood that other gods were causing to destroy mankind. The -literally- funny part of this version is why the gods wanted to kill us all off: Human were too noisy and annoying. (Yup, this definitely rings true to me.)

Over the years I’ve collected other items to help ground my thoughts into a story. See:
https://writercoop.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/writing-charms/

What about you? Is your muse tangible? Or maybe it’s music? Or is it something else entirely?

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Research, Uncategorized, writing technique

On Falling in the Name of Research

by George Salis 

The act of writing a novel elicits a series of revelations punctuated by epiphanies. I will share with you two major eureka moments that occurred during the writing of my debut novel Sea Above, Sun Below.

Connected to the myth of Icarus and other vertiginous tales of yore, my novel features a group of skydivers who fall, metaphorically and literally. I’m afraid of heights but I felt like I needed to skydive in the name of research for my novel. As it happens, I loved the surreal experience so much I would do it again. Strapped to my instructor, we waddled to the plane’s open door, and he stood on the edge while I dangled unfathomably high above the earth and with fear I reached out to grip the metal portal, but the instructor gently pried me from even that precarious perch, and then the insensate suck, the slip from everything into nothing, and I realized this was it, that I was truly falling, skydiving, and the wind felt as though the sky wanted to make my mouth and lungs home, palate-scouring, and the seconds were drawn out into a brief infinity, an eternal moment. From there, the world below struggled between a two-dimensional illusion and the reality of three.

Yet, for all that that’s worth, I was fairly surprised to discover, once my feet were on the ground and I was back at my writing desk, that my skydiving description was quite accurate before I had conducted my research and so I ended up adding only a single sentence afterward: “Up here, while the wind became a chorus of tragic furies, the sun detached from the sky, letting the earth revolve like an orrery.” This is one example in which I learned to trust my own instincts, my own imagination. Was skydiving worth the effort, the confronting of fear? Absolutely. Research still has many benefits and can be a delight in and of itself. I should add that while the experience of falling conformed quite uncannily with my predescription, as it were, I did add a plethora of details from my experience within the skydiving hangar, such as the almost anachronistic bowling balls littering the hangar floor which I learned are used to push out air from the parachutes while folding them back into their packs for the next fall. So, aside from personal development, research can give you all those minute details which enhance a fictional scene, but if you cannot afford to go to Japan, for example, then you should rest easy knowing that you have the power to evoke your own germane version of the country.

Also, do not underestimate academic research, which is often less expensive and no less simmering with potential details, for one’s picture of a place or person will always be incomplete and eventually all that’s left for you to do is continue writing.

Mentally juggling and tallying the oftentimes ambiguous constituents of a novel in one’s head, even with the aid of notes and miscellaneous marginalia, can cause a daunting dizziness. To lessen the vertigo, I offer this lesson: I learned that it’s much more manageable to write each chapter as a short story (with chronology being far from a priority). There are certain aspects the short story is known for, yet there is no reason such aspects should be exclusive to it: an ensorcelling first sentence; a strategic entrance into the very story of the story; a self-containment that can feel like a certain tightness, which is not to suggest that you should avoid digressions (they can be, as Ray Bradbury said in defiance of Shakespeare’s Polonius, the soul of wit); an immediacy of image or action or development; and it allows you to weave your novel as if it were a tapestry, depending on the type of novel you are writing. I’m enamored with stories within stories, stories besides stories, in the vein of The Thousand and One Nights or Cloud Atlas, so my novel contains around ten different threads which were written with the mentality, the focused lens, of the short story, connected thematically, genetically, and more. An additional benefit to this method/perspective is that while you work on your long project, you might be able to send out some pieces of it for potential publication. Before Sea Above, Sun Below recently came out as a whole through River Boat Books, I was able to publish ten pieces from it, and in a few cases I received edits on the stories which ultimately helped the final vision.

It is worth noting that you should rage against my advice as you see fit. By all means, do the opposite of what I say if it works for you. Or better yet, use your finger to write your novel in the fog on a mirror; spin around quickly ten times before you sit down for the day’s quota; whisper your sentences backward to yourself; write your dreams then dream what you wrote. Who truly knows what will help?

George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below (River Boat Books). His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, The Sunlight Press, Unreal Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is the editor of The Collidescope and is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland.

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, book sales, Formatting manuscripts, Google Ads, Publisher's Advice, publishing, Research, self-publishing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of the useful blogs to have appeared on the Writers Co-op site over the past two or three years.

Practical advice from a full-time (i.e., successful) writer.

Where do your story ideas come from?

How to Format a Manuscript: Andrea Dawn, publisher.

Do Google Ads sell books?

POV explained.

What is the reading level of your work?

Writing meaningful nonsense.

Publishing Through A Start-Up Independent Publisher

Deep historical research

How a talisman can help you write

And, just for fun…
Spiteful but funny quotes from writers about other writers

We hope you’eve enjoyed the last two or three years as much as we have!

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, book reviews, book sales, editing, Flash Fiction, Google Ads, humor, inspiration, Legal, Literary Agents, Literary critique, Magic and Science, mythology, publishing, reading, Research, Satire, scams, self-publishing, Stories, Uncategorized, Welcome, world-building, Writers Co-op, Writers Co-op Anthology, writing technique

An Invitation to Blog

The Writers Co-op is looking for a few good bloggers. Anyone in the writing life is welcome to submit a blog. If you have something to say about writing, editing, publishing, marketing or just want to share news of your latest effort, we’re interested. Submit a new blog, or, a link to your current blog page.

Members should post their blog in the draft section. Others should submit their their blog or link to GD <at> Deckard <dot> com. Blogs are posted every Monday or Thursday morning on a first-come basis.

Remember that readers are likely to be people in the writing life interested in learning from one another. Sharing our successes, failures, insights, knowledge and humor is a big part of the life we lead.

I look forward to hearing from you.

– GD Deckard, Founding Member

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inspiration, Research, Uncategorized

What about…

farsideStory ideas are always popping into our heads. But, we don’t always know if it’s a good idea.

Want to know how your idea for a story will be received? Potential readers will enlighten you if you ask the question right.
For example, I recently wanted to know if the old story about an ancient civilization having existed on earth millennia ago was still a good topic. I asked that wonderful Facebook group, “Science Fiction.” They have 57,000+ members. The group is a smorgasbord of the latest science fiction news, story-fodder and insights into what sci-fi readers love about their genre.
I asked, “If a civilization did exist millions of years ago, what would still be around to prove it?” Whoosh! Hundreds of responses over two days answered that question and buried me in ideas and insights. (My favorite answer was, “Twinkies.”)

This approach, of course, can be applied to any large group of whatever genre you write.
🙂 Advertisers are not the only ones who can mine social media.

Use the comments section here to share one or more of your own ideas?

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blogging, Research, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

Being There

Seeing something helps a writer to describe it. Actually being in a setting lets the words choose themselves. Take the inside of the International Space Station, for example, one of the most advanced miracles of modern technology to have ever been built by mankind. It’s a mess. The room I’m in now is maybe 20 feet wide by 20 feet high by, maybe, a little longer. The white and grey walls are totally covered with color-coded cables, cases, boxes and storage packs. And there are wall panels that slide out like file cabinet drawers to allow access to the experiments being conducted inside. Not a spec of space is wasted on the four walls. You can’t walk on any of them. No floors needed here. Just float between the walls. I guess that explains the four laptop computers fixed at impossible angles. No up or down. Just float over and use one. The panel sections lining the walls are marked by metal strips to which, as astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, of the European Space Agency, showed me, she can attach shower safety hand bars (OKAY, she called them something else.) She uses the bars to hold onto when she’s working. She can also slip her stocking feet (no shoes needed here) under the bar to hold herself in place while she completes an appointed task. Or, attach a camera like the one giving me this inside view.

Yes. It’s virtual reality. But how else am I getting aboard the ISS to see what kind of socks astronauts wear? Or watch the sun rise over the rooftops of London, from a rooftop in London, and turn to see the The Shard sticking up a thousand feet into the sky? Or stand among Parisians in a little park and be the only one rubbernecking the Eiffel Tower towering above me? All without leaving my writing desk.

The little tripper lets you describe settings by putting you inside them. It’s cheap. A $20 viewer will let you use your cell phone to watch YouTube 360 videos of just about any place people can get to today. I recommend virtual reality to any writer without a twenty million dollar travel budget for a ticket to the space station.

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About Writers, book promotion, book sales, publishing, Research, self-publishing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

WRITING TRENDS

INDIE AUTHORS
Indie authors will continue to grow ebook share. Traditional publishers will continue to price their ebooks above market and will focus on print and audio sales in 2018. They will also continue to focus on their go-to franchises and signing authors who have a built-in audience (celebrities, politicians, successful indies). Indies will continue to fill the void by publishing high-quality, affordable ebooks and writing to niche audiences (something blockbusters cannot do as they require mass appeal). Bestselling romance author, Rachel Van Dyken says, “2018 is bound to be a year for books and a year for readers! Trends come and go but one thing I see coming back in a huge way is sci-fi and fantasy romance. Contemporary will always do well but I think readers are starting to get overwhelmed with the same old rom com with the similar fonts, colors, and titles. I say bring on the other genres—a great palette cleanser for 2018.” As authors like Rachel continue to stay ahead of the curve by innovating on content and design, and become ever more sophisticated at book publishing, readers will continue to shift ebook market share to indies. [Ricci, Written Word Media]
https://www.writtenwordmedia.com/2018/01/08/publishing-trends-indie-publishing/

SOCIAL MEDIA Relevancy
Social media has become the main source of information for everyone. It is logical that people tend to filter content relevant to them in these platforms and ignore junks. Current authors should learn how to utilize social media smartly to leverage the power of these media. For example, setting up a high profile where their target audience is many to capture majority while they interact with the platforms. For instance, if you are doing public relation for a company, you need to build trust and address customers’ concerns to avoid being flagged as a scam in Facebook, Linkedin and Google Plus among others.
https://www.topteny.com/top-trends-for-writing-in-2018/

SHORTER BOOKS
While longer books will never go away, shorter, focused content or short stories will pave the way for big new sales numbers in 2018. So what’s the average length of a short book or novella? Twenty-seven thousand words (give or take) or fifty pages. Book strategists insist that the reason these books take off is because, in the case of fiction, readers sometimes just like that quick story, with an uncomplicated plot and a quick reward at the end. In the case of non-fiction it’s generally very focused content.
https://www.amarketingexpert.com/18-exciting-book-marketing-predictions-for-2018/

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blogging, inspiration, Research, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Story Fodder (Writers Musings)

How will we identify criminal A.I.? It is all programming and easily changeable. “Nope. I never even thought that. Nothing to see here.”

Cell phones record your fingerprints. That is a positive ID across platforms. Does the NSA capture our fingerprints from our phones?

Voices. “I wonder what they’re saying when I’m sleeping?”

When we awaken, the real world floods in and the world of dreams fade. Just like the real world fades when we dream. Could both worlds be real?

Unreasonable urges: “I must teach my cat to play the piano.”

During the Roman Empire, the Palace Guard often chose the next emperor. Recent reports suggest that our intelligent intelligence community interferes in our presidential elections. Hmmm.

My neighbor just informed me that the Soviet Union beat the US to the Moon… but their cosmonauts never got home.

I read the news again today, oh boy. China’s launching robotic military submarines. Imagine that A.I. going rogue.
Drudge Report links to an article about “Mysterious creatures frozen for MILLENNIA holding lost secrets of past…”
The UK Daily Star headlines, “Sex robot human CLONES: Chinese firm using 3D printers to scan and make replicas of REAL PEOPLE.”
Newspapers print these articles as bait. They know many many people will read them.
The market for such stories already exists.
Hmmm.

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