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Subtle Power

I've been collaborating with Lee Dilkie again on my next project which is about to be kicked off in a few weeks. We are still working out the details but this next book is going to be wonderful. I'm not going to spoil the fun by pre-announcing what we are talking about but stay tuned for further information. The interesting thing about this collaboration is that I've never met Lee. He was a person who read my books and occasionally commented on them. His comments were always correct and to the point. Last year, I asked if he would like to be a beta reader for Peacekeeper 2. He agreed. His comments on the book were enlightening and the corrections I made because of his feedback have made Peacekeeper 2 one of my best works (in my opinion anyway). There are two points to make here: 1) Writers should always listen to what their readers have to say. 2) The internet is a powerful force that can bring two absolute strangers from two different countries together allowing them to work as a team on a project.

I'm going to discuss something I rarely talk about with anyone. Writers have the ability to shape people's minds. We don't do it with a gun in our hand or by using threats of violence. We do it with the subtle power of words. We create entire universes that exist only in our minds and the reader gets to enjoy being immersed in these foreign universes. While doing so, the reader's mind is learning, adapting, and changing in subtle ways. For those of you who've read my books (hopefully all of you reading this blog) you may have noticed a subtle theme throughout almost everything I write. I see the future much the same way I try to live my own life: racially neutral and religiously tolerant.

Let's take the first lifestyle and dig a bit deeper. I've always tried to see people for what they are - human. My brain can't help but notice that someone's skin is a different color, the shape of their face and eyes is different, or they talk with an accent. The logical part of my brain, the part that distinguishes me from all other life-forms on Earth, glosses over these details. I see a person, a fellow human, a man or a woman who belongs to the same species as myself. I try very hard not to judge a person based on their outward appearance. It's probably why I have such a hard time recognizing people because their looks are not important to me.

Over the years I've learned never to judge a person by what others say about them. I want to form my own opinions. I was told by many people that my current manager was unpleasant and difficult to work with. That could not be farther from the truth because we get along great. I continually heard bad stories as people talked behind the back of another supervisor I worked with. I never got to know the man well enough to form my own opinion. When I moved into a new department, I heard a completely different story. The work this man did was viewed with high compliments. Don't fall into the trap of going along with the rest of a group and start thinking badly about someone. You might be totally wrong and he might turn out to be one of your closest friends some day.

Religious neutrality is another life-style I follow. Religion has been and continues to be the cause of more suffering than any other human institution. People use it as an excuse to kill, torture, and belittle others. Is that really what religion teaches? Really? Religious fanatics are people who use religion as an excuse for them to act violently. I am a firm believer that people should be able to 'believe' in anything they want. If you want to believe that the Earth is flat - that's perfectly fine with me. I will disagree with you and I might try to convince you otherwise but your belief is just that--a belief. Your beliefs are a personal choice and I should respect that choice no matter how I might feel about it.

Disagreement between people is natural. It is how we handle this disagreement that matters. We are an intelligent species and we should show that intelligence in how we act. I might disagree with you about something but that does not mean I'm going to strap a bomb to my chest and kill your entire family. Disagreement is actually a very good thing because it drives human progress. If we never disagreed with anyone then we would never have built airplanes. Scientists of the past were firmly convinced that nothing manmade would be able to fly. A disagreement over this 'fact' resulted in the creation of the flying machine.

Scientists disagree all the time - it's part of their job to question theory. Stephen Hawking, Einstein, Newton, and many others became historical figures because they disagreed with current theory. Disagreement is a driving force in human innovation. How we handle our disagreements is an indicator of our intelligence. If your cat disagrees with being given a bath, it will physically attack you because it has no other recourse. The cat can't discuss the bath with you so you can arrive at a mutually agreeable solution. Even our closest genetic cousin--the ape--resorts to violence when disagreements break out. It's because they have no means to use to work out their differences. They don't have language.

Writers should be masters of language and as such we have the power to change the course of human civilization. Use that power wisely. Think about what you write. Very carefully analyze the subtle messages your stories send to the reader. Do you stereotype people without even realizing it? Are your characters racially and religiously neutral? We are an intelligent species--it's high time we started acting like it.


Interfacing with other writers

I'm still a bit undecided as to what my next project is going to be. I wrote up a detailed (except for the ending) synopsis of the YA/dragon/deformed teen novel I've been kicking around and sent it out for feedback. An interesting thing occurred while writing the synopsis. Before starting, I thought I had a good idea of how the plot would progress. The plot changed as I started writing; becoming a better, more interesting story. Time and time again I sit down at the keyboard with a plan in my head and that plan changes as I actually put words into the computer. My fingers seem to know more about the story than my brain does! I also surprised myself—I managed to make a connection with another of my books. It won't be a strong connection, but it's there and that opens it up for a third book to tie everything together. The problem though is—will it sell?

Writers write because they must—it's an itch that just has to be scratched. But if we have a choice between working on a new novel that is part of a proven series and working on a novel that will turn a stand-alone into a 3-book series with unknown sales potential…well…it's a hard decision. If I go ahead with the YA (which might turn out to be more of a book for adults), I will pretty much have to write the third book in the series. That will delay work on a Dragonverse 3 by 3 years. I already have a tentative agreement by a prominent YA (Young Adult for those who don't know) author to take a look at the final product once it's done late next year. Her schedule and my writing schedule seem to be a pretty good match—at least for next year. Do I go ahead with this new story and delay work on Dragonverse 3? Do I forget about the new book as well as Dragonverse and work on another Peacekeeper (which has been doing quite well)?

Right now, I'm leaning heavily toward the young adult/dragon book mostly because it is the one that seems stuck in my head. I don't have a firm idea for the ending though and if I can figure that part out then it will be a go. I'm also waiting to hear back from Susan Forest to see what she thinks of the synopsis I sent her. I have been told by several people that my endings need more work. Nobody is perfect and everyone can learn by listening to constructive feedback. That's why I listen to my readers. The way I figure it, if someone takes the time to write to me to point out what I did good and where I can improve, then I'm going to take the time to listen to them. There are some writers who never read their reviews or reply to reader emails. I don't believe that's the right approach.

Although writing is a solitary activity, writers should not live in isolation. We need to interface with other writers as well as the people who read our words. Before going to Launch Pad, my only contact with other writers was the small number of people in the writer's group I attend monthly. The leader is a mystery novelist and most of the regular attendees are unpublished. Launch Pad put me in contact with a movie producer, a game developer, award-winning editors, and professional, published, and award-winning authors. Each and every person I've met over the years has had some impact on my writing. You may not realize it, but your brain is always learning. Take advantage of this fact and get to know your readers and other writers.

This past Saturday, my wife and I were at the local Barnes & Noble as we almost always are on a Saturday. There was an author there: Donald Templeman. He has 4 books out and he was promoting his latest. I stopped by and said hello. His intro pitch was perfect and I was tempted to buy a copy. Unfortunately, I simply don't have the time to read another book at the moment. We chatted for awhile and then I let him know I was also an author. He took my card and listened as I told him about Launch Pad. I hope to hear from him again. His books are getting good reviews and it would be nice to add yet another author to my list of writer friends.

There are rumors that the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) are voting on whether or not to admit indie writers into the organization. I'm not sure what membership would bring us, but being allowed to join would be one step toward acknowledging that indies are actual writers. Most indies work just as hard on a book as a writer who has been published by one of the major publishing houses. Fact is, if you're a good indie, you probably work harder. The publishing companies cannot be expected to sign contracts for hundreds of new authors every year. That leaves self-publishing as the only other avenue for writers like myself to publish their works and it's time the SFWA acknowledges that fact. I haven't tallied up my total sales recently but I'm sure I'm over the 100,000 mark--if not, I'm damned close. Why can't I join the SFWA?

I'll be keeping an eye on this and I will let you know if I hear of any changes in policy.


Thoughts of my next project

Yes—I missed last week's post. Since I'm between writing projects, I've been spending a large portion of my time on non-writing activities. My biggest project of late has been reorganizing the collection of Microsoft Access database applications I wrote shortly after accepting my new job as a database administrator. Instead of a loose collection of programs, I've created what I call "The Plan". It centralizes the automatic database updates into a single program and organizes the primary data repositories into a tightly integrated database system. Data is stored in specific locations with well-defined groupings. These databases are updated using a single application. Three other Access applications make up the various user interfaces each one meant to be used by a specific group of people. This will make maintaining the entire system far easier.

This does not mean I've not been thinking about my next project. It has been a close toss-up between a third Dragonverse novel and a new YA novel involving a dragon and a deformed teenager. If I do a third Dragonverse book I'm going to have to go back and revise the first two to bring them up to my current standards. I've learned quite a bit about writing since penning Dragonverse and if I'm going to write a third book I'm going to want to make sure the first two are updated.

The other possibility is a YA (Young Adult) novel about a dragon and a deformed teenager. I've never written a YA novel before which means the story could be a challenge. The genre has certain formats that must be adhered to otherwise it might be rejected by the readers as not being a true YA novel. Luckily, I will have the help of Susan Forest, an award-winning YA author whom I met at Launch Pad this year. She has expressed an interest in reading and reviewing the story once it's complete. I'm still working on the major pieces of the plot and if I can solve a few issues before the start of next year then this will most likely be my next project. I want the story to teach a lesson as well as present a story to the reader. I will need to develop a large amount of back story—most of which will not appear in the book—in order to make it clear in my mind as to how everything will fit together. I will let you know in this blog how this goes.

In other news: I picked up the recent copy of Locus magazine and was shocked as to how many people I've met are in the magazine. I originally picked it up because of a large article featuring Linda Nagata--another author I met at Launch Pad and someone I've kept in touch with over the years. A quick flip of the pages revealed Jenn Brissett, Ann Leckie, Ellen Datlow, and Eugene Myers—all people I've met at Launch Pad. If you are a writer and you do not have a circle of acquaintances who are published writers, then I highly recommend you do something to change this situation. The above writers are all award-winning, well-known writers in their field. They are people just like you and me. I count them as friends and acquaintances I can talk to if I need advice. We stay in touch via Twitter and an occasional email and we will get together anytime we find ourselves in the same location together. We support each other as all writers should.

Writers need to interface with other writers. I did not really understand this until I attended my first Launch Pad. Attend conferences, join a writer's group, apply to Launch Pad (multiple times if you have to), go to conventions, or watch to see if a writer is appearing in a library or a book store. Introduce yourself to them. Talk to them. But don't think that getting to know a well-known author is a gateway to publication. They've all worked hard to get to where they are. They will give you advice, provide guidance if they have the time, and will answer your honest questions if at all possible. But they will not, and cannot, give you a direct line to their agent or publisher. That's your job. They also don't have the time to read everything every writer asks them to read. The biggest advantage of knowing other writers is feeling like you belong. Listen to what they have to say and learn what they have to offer in the form of wisdom. Eventually, if you treat them like a person and not a means to achieving another goal, you will gain their confidence and eventually their friendship and trust.