Why I Wrote “The Orion War”

I was reading a Sci-Fi novel a few years ago in which a group of primitive aliens were discussing their various religious beliefs.  One of these aliens turned to the human protagonist to ask about religion on Earth.  The human responded, rather snobbishly I thought, “Oh, we outgrew that stuff.”  I’ve known more than a few people who longingly await the day when religion is tossed upon the ash heap of history, and this attitude seems to be pervasive among science fiction authors as well.  “The Orion War” is my response.

1.3 Orion War

“What good has religion ever done for us?” these anti-religious individuals might ask.  They’d then point to the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the current discord over evolution, gay marriage, and stem cell research.  They might also point to the ongoing threat of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.  Given all the trouble religion has caused us, wouldn’t it be better to simply eliminate the whole institution?

But let me ask who would Martin Luther King have been without his faith?  Or Gandhi?  Or Nelson Mandela?  I was once an agnostic; then, I became a Christian.  Although I still remain skeptical about many details of Judeo-Christian mythology, I have found a deep sense of peace and well being since my conversion.  Religion is not 100% good, I admit that, but it is not 100% bad either.  To think that we will simply “outgrow” it is, I believe, a narrow-minded attitude.

In “The Orion War,” I wanted to portray both sides of this debate.  The story is set in the distant future at a time when religion is outlawed.  The process of hunting down and uprooting secret religious communities has turned into a new Inquisition almost as ugly as the one once conducted by the Catholic Church.  But by the end, the persecuted Community of Christ is not without sin.  Though they start off with the best of intentions, these exiled Christians soon turn violent, waging a holy war for control of the Orion Nebula.

Today, I am posting the latest revisions to “The Orion War.”  I wanted to slow the pace of the story just a bit to give it some room to breathe.  Never before nor since have I written a short story on such an epic scale (with the possible exception of “The Wrong Future”).  I hope you will find the new version to feel less rushed and less hectic than the original.

Click here to start reading “The Orion War,” and please let me know what you think in the comments below.

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Sneak Peak at the New Cover Art!

In 2012, I wrote ten Tomorrow News Network stories, nearly one per month.  I’d hoped to do the same in 2013, but life got in the way.  At this point, in mid-November, it should be clear that I’m not going to be able to finish the next five stories by December 31st.  So those will have to wait until 2014.

But I do have some good news.  My plans to re-release the 2012 stories as an ebook are now back on track.  They’ll soon be available on Amazon Kindle, both as individual stories and as an anthology.  Shortly thereafter, there will also be a version of the anthology in print thanks to Amazon’s Create Space service.

I don’t have any release dates yet, but they’re coming soon.  Today, I can offer you a sneak peak at the cover art for the anthology.  Obviously I still have to add the title and my name, and I might tweak a few small details before I send it off to Amazon, but basically here’s it is!  Please let me know what you think!

Live from the Newsroom

As the anthology comes together, I’ll have more updates for you, so please remember to follow this blog.  In the meantime, the stories are still available for free here on the Tomorrow News Network website.

Waiting for Tinker Bell

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Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh.  Click here to see a full list of participating blogs.

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When I’m writing, it is as though the people in my head actually come alive and start talking to me.  Some of them don’t wait until I’m writing.  They bother me at work or in the grocery store or late at night when I need to get some sleep.  I also have a muse, an imaginary friend who gives me the basic ideas for my stories, who encourages me as I’m writing, and who chastises me when I get lazy.  Having so many voices in my head, you might think I suffer from a mental illness.  Maybe I do, but I happen to know many other writers have it too.

A person commenting on another blog complained that some writers think of their muses as Tinker Bell sprinkling fairy dust on their stories.  These writers seem unable to get any writing done until that magical moment of inspiration comes.  I’ve heard other writers describe their stories and their characters as children, and they feel a strong need to protect their children from the harsh criticism of readers and editors.  While I certainly believe there is something magical about muses and while my characters do behave like children at times, it’s important to not let this get out of hand.

I’ve worked in the television and film business for several years now, and before that I was heavily involved in theatre.  As a writer, I’ve chosen to visualize myself as a director and my characters as actors.  A good director gives his actors the freedom to perform their roles as they see fit, but within certain guidelines.  A good director also knows how to coax a strong performance out of an actor even when that actor isn’t really in the mood for it.  I’m not sure what job my muse has in this scenario.  Assistant director?  Casting director?  Playwright?  Maybe she’s all of those things.

The point is I try to interact with my characters and my muse in a professional environment.  We aren’t children on an imaginary playground, and there’s no fairy dust.  We have a job to do.  It will require a lot of hard work, and we might get criticized for it, but we’re grownups and we can handle that.  And whether we’re producing a play, filming a movie, or just writing another short story, there will be something magical about it if we all do our jobs right.

So how do you interact with your characters and your muse?

My Harshest Critic

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First of all, let me make this clear: I love my mother.  She raised me well, pushed me in my education, and supported me through those dark, teenage years despite the nasty things I may have said to her at the time.  I would not be the man I am today if not for my mother.  But on this one thing, on my writing, we’ve never quite seen eye to eye.

For a long time, I just assumed her tastes didn’t match mine.  I watched Star Trek and Babylon 5.  She watched operas on PBS.  I read Dune.  She read The Da Vinci Code.  I played video games like Star Fox and Final Fantasy.  She played Solitaire.  Why should I expect her to show any interest in science fiction stories, even the ones I wrote?

I particularly remember one incident, while she drove me home from a friend’s house, when she told me I was too young to know anything about the real world, and it showed in my writing.  Of course this was true.  I was fifteen.  Still, it stung to hear her say it.  But I kept showing her my stories anyway, well into adulthood, despite all her negative comments.

She sometimes said she was only giving me her honest opinion, that she didn’t think I needed a sugar coated version of the truth.  Unfortunately for me, the truth (according to her) was that my writing sucked.  I wrote several short stories and screenplays, all science fiction.  She hated them.  I wrote a book about robots, a book about time travel, and a book about parallel universes.  She hated them too.  Eventually I learned to laugh her criticism off.  I had to or I wouldn’t be able to keep writing.

Then I wrote a short story called “The Tomorrow News Network” (which I later re-titled “The Medusa Effect”).  It introduced Talie Tappler and Mr. Cognis, a pair of time traveling journalists who arrive at newsworthy disasters before they happen.  My mom read it.  Grudgingly, she admitted she liked it and asked when I’d write the next one.

Let me emphasize this point.  She not only said she liked it; she wanted to know when I’d write more.  A few weeks later, she started hassling me about when she could see the next “Talie story.”  You cannot imagine the shock I felt!  I knew “Tomorrow News Network” was a few steps above anything I’d written before, but still… my mom liked it!

For most writers, having your mother’s endorsement is next to meaningless.  She’s your mother.  She’s supposed to love your writing, no matter how terrible it might be.  But for me, being able to say, “My Mom likes my writing,” is a huge accomplishment.  And it occurs to me now as I finish this post that my Mom was right all along.  She gave me her honest opinion, no matter how much I didn’t want to hear it, and maybe that pushed me to try harder and become a better writer.  At the very least, her unprecedented enthusiasm helped keep me going through the ten (soon to be eleven) subsequent Tomorrow News Network stories.

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Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh.  Click here to see a full list of participating blogs.

Confession

Most of the science in Tomorrow News Network is based on factual science.  Time dilation in “The Orion War”: based on fact.  The planet Cancriph in “The Medusa Effect”: based on a real planet named 55 Cancri f.  The hyper intelligent dinosaurs in “Dinosaurs vs. Astronauts”: that’s loosely based on fact (emphasis on loosely).  But I have a confession to make.  Some of the science in Tomorrow News Network is totally made up.

Take a look at the most recent story, “Who Invented Time Travel?”  There’s some serious technobabble in there, but very little of it is real.  Here are some examples.

  • Fermionic condenser: as far as I know, there is no such thing.  If there were, though, we’d probably use it to make fermionic condensate, which is a real thing.
  • Iota particles: Again, as far as I know this is not a real thing.  Since the word iota means something very small, I’d guess iota particles are very small even for subatomic particles.
  • Sigma oscillation experiment: I have no clue what this is.  It just sounds cool.

So I made stuff up.  Some people would say that means Tomorrow News Network isn’t science fiction and I’m not a science fiction writer.  They’d demand more real science in their fiction, complete with detailed equations and Feynman diagrams.  To those people, I’m sorry.  I’m not a scientist.  I’m a science enthusiast and occasional science journalist.  I know a little more about science than the general public, but I’m no expert.

So how much science do you expect to find in your science fiction?  Does it bother you when science fiction writers make stuff up?

Indie Life: Your Day Job

They say write what you know.  Well, I write about a journalist who travels through time.  I know nothing about time travel.  I’ve never done it myself.  I don’t have any friends who’ve done it either.  It’s not something I can research because nobody’s done it, and all the credible scientific sources are purely hypothetical and mostly agree time travel is impossible.  But journalism?  I know something about that.  That’s my day job.

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This is my first blog post for “Indie Life,” a blog hop sponsored by Indelibles.  Like most “indie writers,” I have a day job.  Admittedly, it’s a pretty cool day job.  I work for a local TV station as a video editor, and on occasion they let me write science related stories for the news.  But my passion is science fiction, and by TV job–cool as it is–is just a day job.  Yet with Tomorrow News Network, I turned my day job into an asset for my life as a writer.

Much of Tomorrow News Network is based on my own experiences in the news business.  Talie Tappler, the main character in the series, is based on two of the best reporters I’ve worked with.  Everything else is loosely based on science.  Very loosely.  Except the story I wrote about Roswell.  That’s 100% true.

They say write what you know, but I disagree.  I say start with what you know then add whatever made-up, crazy $%*& you want.  Maybe you’re an accountant; write about being an accountant for the mob.  Maybe you’re a nurse; try writing about a hospital run by sorcerers.  Maybe you’re a janitor; write about being a janitor during the zombie apocalypse.  You might write a really cool story.  At the very least, my fellow indie writer, you may discover your day job is more interesting than you thought.

That One Stupid Sentence

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Sometimes it takes hours to write one sentence.  Those are the most agonizing hours of a writer’s life.  You start off sitting at your computer, your hands hovering over the keyboard ready to type some brilliant prose, but nothing happens. You pace back and forth for a while or doodle on some scrap paper or play several dozen levels of Angry Birds.  Finally, you find yourself lying on the floor thinking, “Why do I have to be a writer?  Why can’t I be like normal people?  Why can’t I go sit in front of the TV and eat nachos and forget all about this story I’m writing?”

Of course the right thing to do is move on to another sentence.  Maybe skip to the next scene and save this problem for another day.  That’s what successful, responsible writers like J.K. Rowling and Steven King probably do.  But you can’t because your brain is stuck on this one sentence.  You’re obsessing over it, and you’ll keep obsessing over it no matter how hard you try not to.  Your frustration increases until you stop and say to yourself, “Seriously, why am I doing this?”

I suppose each writer has a different answer to that question.  Some of us have multiple answers.  Sometimes I tell myself I’m doing it because I love my characters.  Sometimes it’s because I love my readers.  Other times it’s because I want a new career with a more flexible work schedule or because I think I can do better than some of the trash that gets published these days or because I believe God chose this path for my life and I must follow it.  This can get very deep and philosophical.  Sometimes I think about the purpose of literature and art in a functional society.  Sometimes I wonder about mythical archetypes and the collective unconscious.  Or maybe I consider the possibility that I’m the fictional character and my story is real and that the reason I can’t figure out what to write for this one sentence is because out in the “real” world that part hasn’t happened yet.

So why do I do this?  I don’t have an answer, but at some point after contemplating my existence and determining that the meaning of life must involve ice cream, I suddenly realize I know what that one sentence should be!  Why didn’t I think of it sooner?  Back to writing!

So how do you get through those days when you can’t write a single sentence?

P.S.: Click here to check out more blogs participating in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.