Why would someone limit science fiction?

Dear reader,

A while ago I received a mail from someone who had read one of my scifi stories and the sender of that mail told me the story wasn’t science fiction.

My first reaction was “what?”.

The sender claimed that there were too many aliens in the story, an impossible way of travelling between worlds and hardly any science – if any at all. According to this person the book was fantasy, not scifi.

The book in question, ‘Wanted: hero’, doesn’t deal with any science that we know, and yes, it involves aliens. Stating that this is not science fiction however is going too far for me. After all, in the book there is a scientific laboratory from where the tech is devised to make people move between planets. It’s not our science (yet!) but it’s science.

Aliens have been part of scifi stories for a long time. Don’t tell me that ‘Aliens’ isn’t a scifi film! Aliens is labeled ‘Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi’ on IMDB. Yes, it’s there. Scifi. The SF encyclopedia states “This is the term, in both sf and popular culture, used to indicate sentient extraterrestrial beings – creatures from other worlds endowed with reason, consciousness, thought, Intelligence (the terms for and conceptions of this vital but slippery quality vary). Aliens may have minds somewhat less capable than ours, of comparable capacity, of greater (even vastly greater) power, or minds so different that comparison becomes impossible.”

Quora, a site I respect for the knowledge that’s there, has a good article on aliens in science fiction as well. It discusses what are the most alien aliens in science fiction.

Interestingly the film “Avatar” by James Cameron is categorised as ‘Fantasy’ on IMDB. I guess that is because most of the film plays out on Pandora and depicts the life of the Na’vi who have no technology.

Back to the mail I received though. Contrary to the Na’vi of “Avatar”, the aliens in my story possess the science to create technology. They have automonous cars, communication systems, research centres and laboratories. They also have the intelligence to design a poison in one of their laboratories to take out their enemies. I would say that makes it science fiction. Writing about science. Our lab guys can do this too.

My scifi books aren’t ‘hard scifi’ with rockets, spaceships, space battles and things like that, but there is more to science fiction than that. A good thing was that the person who wrote to me also said he liked the book. And that’s what’s counts.

All the best!

Paul

The magic of doing nothing

Yes, dear reader.

Sometimes (apparently) doing nothing can do a lot of things. As usual I’m working on a lot of stories at once (which has the added disadvantage that some books take very long, I’m sorry). For a few stories I was trying to figure out how to make them proceed.

The privilege of a writer is that you can put your characters in peril. The disadvantage of that is that sometimes the characters aren’t up to the task of getting out so you have to help them. A few of my characters had dug themselves in so deep that it was hard even for me to come up with a solution. The answer to this had a strange shape:

Grimalkin, one of my two cats.

She enjoys sitting on top of my while I sit on the couch. As I wasn’t getting anywhere with the stories I sat on the couch and she lay in my lap, purring away as if it was crucial to survival.

As we sat there, my mind started drifting along with the stories in my mind. I saw the spot where the problem occurred, a few other points in time where the stories had to go and just kept looking at those things, those occasions.

Suddenly something became clear. There was water in the spot where my characters got stuck and there will be water in a place where other characters have to do something. Water was therefore the connecting element. I kept thinking, following the course of events as they might happen. And suddenly I saw it. I had the solution to at least one of the tight spots I had moved a few people in.

My advice for if you have a problem: get your cat and grab a good purr.

From all of us (Obsidian, Grimalkin and me) to all of you:

The weirdest Nanowrimo ever.

Dear reader,

I’ve been silent during this past month. I had aimed to write a new story, this time in Dutch. A story indeed happened but it was not what I had planned. Because, yes, I had planned this thing. In the first chapter the main character started doing everything wrong and in the second chapter he made a total mess of it. This was a sign things weren’t going according to my plan. I know, I should not plan stories because the characters know better.

zipStill I persevered and I wrote up to 60,000 words. Plenty to get me over the Nanowrimo finish line of 50,000. It left me with 60,000 words that are basically 3 parts. A story that doesn’t work, an addition that’s solely there to get to 50,000 and a last bit that was bolted on to keep going. At some point in the last week I thought: “Sod it.” The story wasn’t working, made no sense, fell apart by just looking at it. I made a ZIP archive of all the text and decided to bury it.

Stuff like that however refuses to be buried.

paulmolenThe alien race I created kept playing through my mind.

I knew I had to do something with them. Thought kept running around and suddenly I was thinking about wind mills. Here in the Netherlands we have lots of them so they might be a good topic to write about.

Aliens and wind mills? Why not?

Nanowrimo 2016

Yes, dear reader, I’m in the race of the mad folks again.

nanowrimo

This time is different. This time I write a story in Dutch. I’m Dutch so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Let me tell you… it’s difficult. And I don’t know why it is difficult. I prepared for this like for no other Nano effort before. I devised characters, places, made an outline, made a new one, created backgrounds, wrote a plot line, I did everything I usually don’t do. I should be prepared. And I’m not. Halfway chapter 2 I noticed things going wrong. Characters not doing what I had planned, locations not being where I intended them and worst of all: the entire story started shifting.

radar4Currently I’m working on chapter 4.

From the centre of chapter 3 I could still see a vague outline of where once the plot line had been. In chapter 4 that’s completely off the radar. From here to the end of the story I’m on my own. Characters are everywhere. Their numbers are wrong, their shapes are distorted and dry land is ‘somewhere’.

All my good intentions have been blown into the water where I am now adrift, holding on to my keyboard, the most trustworthy flotation device a writer can ask for. That and my razor sharp mind which has gotten me out of trouble before. (Stop laughing!)

Not all is lost however. Here and there I see crates with bits of back-story, names, places and intentions bob in the water along with me. With cunning agility of mind I’ll bring them in and slap them into this story. This exercise may have taught me one thing. Or two things. Plotting really isn’t for me. Getting the cornerstones in place however, coming up with stuff that can happen in the story, looking up the problems my victim characters will face (and possible solutions to get them out if they need a hand) is definitely something worth keeping up. I’m throwing the plot line out of the window. Listen how it whistles down all four floors and lands with a sickening thud. (‘Oops, sorry down there!’)

Maybe that will be my salvation for Nanowrimo this year around. In Dutch. It’s fascinating.

Onwards.

Plotting and planning and Hilda

Yes, dear reader,

I’m still here. And let me explain about the title of this post.

Plotting

plottingI’ve taken up this ‘plotting’ thing many writers are dedicated to. It means you sit down and first work out how a story will go before you get it going. I’ve found there are advantages to it. It takes the surprises and blind spots out of many parts of a story. That may sound brilliant but having the surprises taken out of a story isn’t so good. I like my surprises. They’re part of the fun, the shock and the journey I take together with the victims I write about. Of course I didn’t mean that; they’re my valued characters who unfortunately end up in places and situations of ‘interest’.

Planning

BoringNow this is something I might need to look into. I’m always working on a bunch of stories. At the moment I think it’s 5 or 6. Planning might actually help to get some insight on where I am and what I should do.

Planning however is boring and takes time. Time I can use better, like for writing. Or perhaps plotting, which also eats up quite some time. I have yet to find a convincing argument for planning, so let’s leave it at that and move on to the most interesting part of this post.

Hilda

Hilda The Wicked WitchThe Hilda stories are those that will never be planned or plotted.  N-E-V-E-R, do you hear me?

Hilda’s adventures are, in a way, my own adventures. The best kind, where magic, life and fairy tales come together. Is there a better combination?

I love this witch and her circle of family, friends, acquaintances and other people who hang around for some reason or other. I’m proud of her. I have a large canvas picture of her hanging from my wall.

There has to be a benefit to plotting and planning because so many people do it. Some stories however aren’t meant to be plotted. They are travels to uncharted lands, over trails so far undiscovered.

In a few days I’ll find out if the plotting business will work for me. Then Nanowrimo starts, and I’ve done a lot of figuring out for that. Plotting. And planning, if you will, although that’s just minimal.

We’ll see how it works. Or not.

 

A shift in the way I write

Yes, dear reader,

I am aware that this post might not be as intriguing as one about a new book but this is something so different and new I want to tell ‘the world’ about it. This is about writing. Yes, I needed to add that, didn’t I?

Writer’s Café

Writer’s Café used to be my ultimate writing tool. It runs on every PC platform, Mac also. I wrote a lot using that program and I’ll defend it until the very end. But at times something comes along that just stuns the words and paragraphs out of me. And one of those times happened last week. It’s called

pandoc markdown

Right, what is markdown? Markdown is a way to ‘format’ flat text. In formatted text one uses italics, bold text, and even underlined text. With a plain text file like you make in Notepad or vi that’s not possible. Unless you use markdown. Markdown comes in several flavours, LaTeX is a famous one. I use pandoc. It’s less versatile than LaTeX but that makes it much easier to learn and use. How does markdown stuff work?

Suppose you want to write something in italics in this text way. You simply put asterisks around the text. So *italics* becomes italics. This also works with bold, you just add 2 asterisks: **bold** becomes bold.

You can also add a code for e.g. a chapter header. Simply put # in front of it. E.g. #Chapter 1.

Advantages

The main reason for this is the ability to write anywhere, on anything. If I am on a PC I can use a plain text editor to write. When I have my Android tablet with me I can write the same stories without having to worry about converting it to some other system and lose something in formatting. Even if I copy a text file to my office iphone I can simply carry on with the story.

But what about creating real files for books?

That is where the real power is hidden. It requires a lack of fear from the dos prompt (or x-terminal in Linux) but making a Word .docx file from all the chapter text files is simple (note that I saved all the text files with an .md extension, for clarity):

pandoc *.md -o story.docx

That will collect all the *.md (md stands for MarkDown) files in alphabetical order and create a Word document called story.docx.

This is how that looks on my Linux machine:

Create it:
paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ pandoc *.md -o story.docx
Show it’s there:
paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ ls -l *.docx
-rw-rw-r– 1 paul paul 50908 aug 4 16:55 story.docx

Even more magic is there: you can create an epub from those files the same way:

paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ pandoc *.md -o story.epub
paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ ls -l *.epub
-rw-rw-r– 1 paul paul 55257 aug 4 16:58 story.epub

Do you need a webpage that shows the first 2 chapters? Just feed pandoc the names of the first 2 chapters and let it do the legwork:

paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ pandoc DeJongeHeks01.md DeJongeHeks02.md -o story.html
paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ ls -l *html
-rw-rw-r– 1 paul paul 22509 aug 4 16:59 story.html

There we are. No problem. Creating a PDF, a Kindle file, all that works with pandoc.

Maybe all this looks complicated and scary for those who are used to using nothing but Scrivener or Word, but I thought it worthwhile to show you there’s more out in the world than those programs. If you like to be versatile then this is worth looking into.

Sometimes I don’t write.

Yes, that’s right, dear reader.

There are times I don’t write. This doesn’t mean writing isn’t on my mind though. Last Sunday afternoon I discovered a problem in a story. Something crucial was missing and I had no idea what the crucial part was. Staring at the screen did nothing crucial for me or the story so I decided to do something drastic. I went outside for a walk.

treesThis is not a hazardous thing because I live in a nice area. These trees for instance are between the front door and the spot where I usually park my car.

I picked a good moment of the summer Sunday too because it wasn’t raining at that moment, and even many clouds had better places to go so I found myself facing sunshine. Very uncommon in these areas lately although I am not complaining.

After about 15 minutes I was wandering through my favourite forest (because it’s so close to home that I can walk there easily) and at a certain point I had the choice to go left (where I had never gone) or right (where I usually go). I went left.

To my surprise I came upon a small lake. I had never seen that before! Amazing how lakes suddenly appear when you turn left. The soil around the lake had suffered from the rainfall. The sound of my shoes was interesting, to say the least. The water that seeped into my shoes was less interesting but colder, probably to make up for the difference.

BerenklauwOn the way back home I came across this fellow.

It’s a Heracleum sphondylium, commonly known as hogweed or cow parsnip, and a big one. It was as tall as I am!

I left it there as it looked happy where it was.

Incidentally in Dutch this plant is called a Bear claw.

The last special thing I encountered was this colourful bench in a park. Whoever the artist (or artists) was or were did a great job on creating something joyful! 

bench

Today is the big day

Dear reader,

Today is the big day. The day of the 25 year anniversary of Museum Ceuclum (our local history museum) and the presentation of “In de ban van de stier”, which roughly translated means “Under the spell of the bull.” At 1 pm today the festivities will commence.

Museum Ceuclum
Museum Ceuclum

It all looks to be great and wonderful, with something for everyone – young and old. We’ll be seeing a Roman emperor with some of his soldier, the Cuijk council member for culture, Rob Poel, will be present and also the sun has promised to show up.

hilda01For me as a writer this will be a special day as well. I’ve had many amazing experiences since I started writing, for instance the success of my series “Hilda the wicked witch” and the e-mails of so many people all over the world who told me what my books mean to them.

And today another highlight will be added to that list. The presentation of my book about Cuijk. A project of almost 3 years when I add everything up. 2 years of thinking about it and after that 1 year of research, writing, checking and getting things ready for publication.

Today will be amazing. Just a few more hours before things begin.

A little update on… Hilda, book 18.

Dear reader.

Hilda the wicked witchIt may not come as a shock that there will actually be an 18th story about Hilda and William. A story full of surprises, I might add, but which ones will still be covered under a purple wizard’s cloak.

Private matters in the life of my editor have delayed progress on the appearance of this book.

We are however working on making this book a reality so don’t despair just yet. I’ll give you proper warning ample time in advance if your worrying is required.

If there was one question you could ask about this new book, which question would it be? Please don’t ask ‘when will it be available’; I’ll give you the answer on that right now: as soon as it’s done. I know that’s a bit of a dead give-away but some things in the life of a person can’t be rushed.

To ease your curiosity a little however I’ll drop a tiny hint on what you will encounter in the new book. What… I should rather say ‘who’.

Pirates
Note: this is a hint. Arrr.

Incidentally the hat you see in this picture also is referred to in the story. This however is quite coincidental as I had no idea I would locate this image while I was writing about the hat and the person beneath it.

If this hint was not clear enough then I will also drop the words “September 19th” here. (That date falls on a Monday this year.) Employ your search engine skills and you might discover more than you bargained for!

 

Scifi, fantasy and portals

Food for happy thoughts.

Recently I read a post online that made me happy. The post dealt with things that are often seen as bad things in scifi and fantasy writing. One of the ‘bad’ things discussed was portals.

Why are portals considered bad?

Probably because they are easy. Portals can just be there without any further explanation. No one knows how it got there, nor who built it. The fun is to figure out if it still works, how it works, and how to get yourself out of the mess once you went through it.

Why do certain critics insist that writers should come up with other, more credible bits of equipment to get their characters into trouble? It will only add to the size of the book because the whole thing needs to be explained, invented, put into place, made credible. All that will draw the attention away from the actual story.

Of course, at times coming up with a new way to go from one place to another can be bunches of fun, but then that whole experience should be part of the story.  No such thing needed with a portal. Bam. It’s there. We’re in trouble Now what?

 

My own portals.

Seriously, I love portals. I’ve used one in Francis and Frankie for instance. And the times that Hilda and William travelled from Fairyland to ours and back, for instance in The Wytches Roone, that didn’t happen because of well-defined physics and other particle storm entities. Portal. Get them there and make the story happen. The titles I mentioned up here were fantasy stories. My Scifi story “Wanted: hero” also uses a portal to get to another planet. No space ships, no FTL-drives (Faster Than Light, another thing mentioned on the article I referred to). Without portals many stories would not have happened, and I’m not just referring to my own stories here.

A famous portal.

Sg1 stargate frontDo you remember the first Stargate film? What else is that star gate but a big, old portal? An entire network of them even!

As the series went on, the origin of the star gate was divulged, little by little. A great way to do this because it gave the people writing the series time to come up with credible parts to make this sound plausible. For me they did a great job with that.

(And since I’m a book lover: did you know that there are books published about the Stargate universe? Really! Follow the link and be surprised if you’re a fan and didn’t know about this yet!)

Gimme my portal and no one gets hurt.

Portals. I love them. Because they’re so convenient and versatile. How do you feel about portals in fiction (and film) to move to other places, other times, other worlds? Heck, maybe I’ll write a book called Portal World some day. I can see interesting things happening in such a place…