Today, I'm joined by author Scott Coon. This is a fascinating article about planet building. Enjoy!
I love Star Wars but someone needs to explain Endor. A moon should not be all forest—no polar caps, jungles, or deserts. It's fun but unrealistic. Icy Hoth and desert Tatooine make more sense. But life-sustaining planets can be—and actually are—much more interesting than these mono-climates.
Our Earth formed when two planets collided, leaving us with a wobbling tilted axis and a huge moon. With our moon, four seasons, and ice ages, we may be unique in our galaxy. We would be strange and interesting to other peoples. If you’re a Sci-Fi or Fantasy writer, you can create a planet that's strange and interesting to us humans by considering its satellites, star, orbit and axis.
Our moon is our only satellite. If it were much bigger, Earth and Luna would not be planet and moon but planet and planet orbiting a central point. Luna causes our tides and has protected us from meteors. In contrast, Mars, our sister planet, has two asteroid-like moons. Saturn and Jupiter have rings that are continuously raining meteors on their planets. The moon and the north star have played import rolls in our civilization. How would a ring affect the development of a society or navigation?
Our yellow sun is in a minority of stars. The most common star is the Red Dwarf, outnumbering all other stars in our galaxy three to one. One in twenty Red Dwarves have a planet in the Goldilocks Zone, an orbital distance where liquid water forms. If your sci-fi story visits several solar systems, I recommend you make some of them Red Dwarves. But don't forget about all the other types like Red Giants and Brown Dwarves. Study them and go beyond the yellow.
Orbit and axis come together to create the seasons—or lack thereof. Our seasons are caused by our tilted axis. For half of our orbit, the north is titled toward the sun and the south away, causing the opposite seasons of the hemispheres. The wobble of our axis causes our ice ages. But our orbit is mostly circular, so it has little effect. On a planet with a vertical axis and elliptical orbit, the seasons would be in sync, all regions experiencing winter at the same time when the planet was farthest from its sun. On a world with a vertical axis and circular orbit, no seasons would exist. Weather would only change by latitude.
In Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, the planet experienced the destruction of its moon, sending its axis rolling, causing the unpredictable winters that define their society. Try imaging worlds with different tilts, wobbles, and orbits. Then try imagining one with none of it, not even a spin. This is called tidal locking—one side is always day, the other always night. The day side would be desert while the night is tundra. In between, where water melted off the glaciers into the broiling wasteland, a ribbon of life could arise. Who would these creatures be? How would they explore the extreme sides of their planet?
Around some gas giants, moons are squeezed and stretched by the planet's gravity, creating heat that could support life without the benefit of a Goldilocks Zone. There are orphaned planets, wandering between the stars that could have such moons. Dark Eden by Chris Beckett is set on a plant flung away from its star and its galaxy. It drifts through darkness, its atmosphere heated by the biochemical reactions of the life that evolved on it.
Scientific theories and pure imagination can take planet building even further. Somewhere between a planet and a spaceship is the Dyson Sphere, a shell constructed around a star in the Goldilocks Zone. This scientific theory appears in science fiction, including Star Trek TNG's episode Relics. In Bowl of Heaven by Gregory Benford, Cup World is a half Dyson Sphere. Fantasy stories can break the planet standard altogether. In Discworld and other works by Terry Pratchett, the planet is on the back of a turtle swimming through space. As absurd as this may be, Pratchett creates rules for his world and follows them. The result is interesting and entertaining. And it's not a mono-climate.
Scott Coon has been published in various magazines and has won accolades for his short stories. He served for six years in the U.S. Army as an Intelligence Analyst, including a tour in Kuwait where he received the Joint Service Achievement Award. Now a software developer for a major bank, Scott brings his computer and military experience into his work, along with a sense of spectacle. See his website for links to his published shorts and his papers on the art and business of writing. www.ScottCoonSciFi.com
LOST HELIX by Scott Coon, a sci-fi adventure/mystery. Available for Pre-Order Now! When his dad goes missing, DJ finds a file containing evidence of a secret war of industrial sabotage, a file encrypted by his dad using DJ's song Lost Helix. Caught in a crossfire of lies, DJ must find his father and the mother he never knew.
Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Helix-Scott-Coon/dp/1939844681
Barnes & Noble - https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-helix-scott-coon/1135144023?ean=9781939844682
Kobo - https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/lost-helix
I know, I know… I haven’t put up a blog post in a while. It’s not you, it’s me!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; I’d rather write four thousand words than four hundred. I can craft battle scenes, create new characters and worlds, and destroy them with ease. But the thought of writing a few hundred words about myself or what I’m up to makes me want to throw myself onto the ground like my five-year-old son after I tell him we’ve run out of yogurt… Anyway, enough of that and let’s dive right into it!
The last few months have been exceptionally busy. I’ve watched the British and Irish Writing Community grow from strength to strength and witnessed our online magazine Bard of the Isles continue to expand. We’ve added more members to our community and leadership team and have a dozen projects in the pipeline to support and promote fellow writers across these beautiful islands. With three issues of Bards under our belt, we’re still receiving some fantastic short story submissions, articles, and interviews. With Issue 4 out as of yesterday, we’ve expanded our offerings and opened up a poetry section. We’ve also announced the first ever BIWC prize for indie authors with the finalists due to be announced at BIWCcon in October!
Big Red, my debut Irish military science fiction novel, also got a brief moment in the limelight. Thanks to fans and supporters, Big Red reached the longlist for the BSFA award for Best Novel released in 2019. There were some serious heavy-hitters on that list and some fantastic works – just to see my name alongside them was a massive win.
Big Red was also a year old on the 14th May. A continued thank you to everyone who’s checked out my debut Irish science fiction novel and left a review. A year later and my mind is still blown by the level of support I’ve gotten!
On the writing front, things have taken an interesting twist. This year, I started on a project using the working title ‘Oceania’, a military science fiction set seventy years after humanity colonises a water world. My publisher Diane from Dancing Lemur Press had previously asked for a short story set in the Big Red universe. Setting Oceania aside, I crafted a 13k word story entitled ‘Blood Red Sand’ which covered one of the pivotal backstories in Big Red, namely the Allied invasion of Mars in 1954 and the Battle of New Berlin.
It was a lot of fun delving back into the universe of Big Red. One of the things fans of the novel had said to me on more than one occasion was that they wanted more insight into the action and the actual battles. It’s a fair point because as Big Red was told from the POV of an unreliable narrator, it can be a bit trickier to capture the wider action from a platoon, company, or battalion-sized operation. Blood Red Sand gave me the opportunity to switch to a third person POV and explore the Allied invasion from the perspective of the invading Mars Expeditionary force and the defending Wehrmacht.
Needless to say, I was thrilled by my publisher’s reaction to the story. Rather than launch it as a standalone prequel short story, she suggested developing it into a novel in its own right, which gave me a boost. Three months later, Blood Red Sand stands at slightly over 100k words and is sitting in the hands of my amazingly talented proofreader and editor Monique. I’m sure I still have a bit more to go to polish it off, but I really enjoyed writing this project and especially answering some of the questions fans of Big Red had brought forward.
For those that have read Big Red, I’ve covered a good few topics ranging from the origins of the Hollow Programme to the Mars Occupation Force and the Compression Matrix, as well as some insight into the background of the so-called Natives. Although some of those burning questions have been answered, I couldn’t resist leaving a few threads open, while creating a few new ones…
I have a few more writing projects scheduled for this year and a lot more exciting news coming your way. Stay tuned and stay safe!
To celebrate the launch of his STONE MAN AND THE TRAIL OF TEARS on 8th October, I'm pleased to host a guest article from author Charles Suddeth. I learned about the Choctaw and their donation to Ireland during the Great Famine back when I was in Primary school and it's a story that has always stayed with me.
By Charles Suddeth
The Choctaw call themselves Hacha hatak, River People. In 1492, they lived primarily in the state of Mississippi. Contrary to views about most Native Americans, the Choctaw were farmers. The three sisters—corn, beans, and squash/pumpkins were their staple crops. They lived in chukka, houses covered in mud and grass. They were Mound Builders who they lived in towns Their temples were located on earthen mounds similar to pyramids.
In the 1830s, the US federal government sent several tribes west to the state of Oklahoma to make room for white settlers. Many Native Americans died, so it was called the Trail of Tears. The Choctaw Trail of Tears took place over 3 years: falls of 1831, 1832, and 1833. About 16,000 Choctaw went west. In 1831, a blizzard hit, and food supplies were scarce. Many Choctaw starved to death. In 1832, cholera hit. At least 2,500 Choctaw died, so when the Irish famine hit a few years later, the Choctaw knew of the horrors of starvation.
Today, the Choctaw have 3 federal reservations, small ones in Mississippi and Louisiana, and the main reservation in Oklahoma. Smaller, state-recognized bands also exist in Alabama (1 band), Louisianan (4 bands), Mississippi (1 band), and Texas (1 band). The Choctaw language is still spoken. The Choctaw national sport is ishtaboli, stickball, a type of lacrosse. “Okla” means “people” and “homa” means red—the state of Oklahoma is Choctaw for Red People.
Though I am of Cherokee descent, my great-great grandfather never signed a government roll, so I cannot claim Cherokee citizenship. The Cherokee and Choctaw have many similarities. Both were Mound Builders, farmers, suffered on the Trail of Tears, wore turbans (this surprises many people), and today, they meet yearly for stickball games.
As the Choctaw say, Yakoke. Thank you.
Charles Suddeth has published poetry, picture books, middle reader’s books, young adult thrillers, and adult mysteries in English, Cherokee, and Turkish. He is active with Green River Writers and leads a monthly SCBWI Social. He lives in Louisville and teaches for the Jefferson County Schools.
Website - http://ctsuddeth.com/
Twitter - https://twitter.com/CharlesSuddeth
Driven to Stone Man’s trail...
After U.S. soldiers attack twelve-year-old Tsatsi’s Cherokee village, his family flees to the Smokey Mountains. Facing storms, flood, and hunger, they’re forced to go where Stone Man, a monstrous giant, is rumored to live.
His family seeks shelter in an abandoned village, but soldiers hunt them down. Tsatsi and his sister Sali escape, but Sali falls ill and is kidnapped by Stone Man. Tsatsi gives chase and confronts the giant, only to learn this monster isn’t what he seems.
Their journey is a dangerous one. Will Tsatsi find the strength to become a Cherokee warrior? And will they ever find their family?
Print ISBN 9781939844620
EBook ISBN 9781939844651
Release date – October 8, 2019
Find Stone Man: And the Trail of Tears at:
Barnes & Noble – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1130849102?ean=9781939844620
This week, I'm pleased to host the CassaSeries book tour by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Alex has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design, graphics, and technical editing. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the award-winning site, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. He’s the author of Amazon Best-Sellers CassaStar, CassaFire, CassaStorm, and Dragon of the Stars. The author lives in the Carolinas with his wife. Find out more about this series below!
Where Did the Book’s Titles Come From?
CassaStar was the working story of the original version of the first book. I’m not sure where it came from – possibly Star Wars and Star Trek had an influence. My publisher liked the title though as it was original.
The names of the next two books became a play on the first one. I had no idea what to call the second book and sent it to my publisher without a title. They made several suggestions and I felt CassaFire fit that story best. When it came time for the third one, I selected from the previous suggestions. Since it was the final book in the trilogy and involved a galaxy-wide war and threatening situation, CassaStorm became the title.
The boxed eBook set eventually became CassaSeries, and when my short story set before CassaStar begins was published, I called it CassaDawn. There’s also a short story in another anthology called CassaFate and I’m currently working on another book tentatively titled CassaDark.
Insecure Writer's Support Group: http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com
CassaStar Series Prequel
By Alex J Cavanaugh
Genre: SciFi Adventure, Space Opera
The prequel to the Amazon best-selling Cassa series!
A pilot in training...
Fighting the odds, Byron is determined to complete Cosbolt training and join the Cassan space fleet. Poised at the top of his class, only one situation holds him back–his inability to work with anyone in the cockpit. Byron’s excellent piloting skills won’t be enough without a good navigator…
**Get it FREE!! **
CassaStar Series Book 1
To pilot the fleet’s finest ship…
Few options remain for Byron. A talented but stubborn young man with a troubled past and rebellious attitude, his cockpit skills are his only hope. Slated to train as a Cosbolt fighter pilot, Byron is determined to prove his worth and begin a new life as he sets off for the moon base of Guaard.
Much to Byron’s chagrin the toughest instructor in the fleet takes notice of the young pilot. Haunted by a past tragedy, Bassa eventually sees through Byron's tough exterior and insolence. When a secret talent is revealed during training, Bassa feels compelled to help Byron achieve his full potential.
As war brews on the edge of space, time is running short. Byron requires a navigator of exceptional quality to survive, and Bassa must make a decision that could well decide the fate of both men. Will their skills be enough as they embark on a mission that may stretch their abilities to the limit?
“…calls to mind the youthful focus of Robert Heinlein’s early military sf, as well as the excitement of space opera epitomized by the many Star Wars novels. Fast-paced military action and a youthful protagonist make this a good choice for both young adult and adult fans of space wars.” - Library Journal
Book Trailer -
CassaStar Series Book 2
From the Amazon best-selling author - CassaStar was just the beginning…
The Vindicarn War is a distant memory and Byron’s days of piloting Cosbolt fighters are over. He has kept the promise he made to his fallen mentor and friend - to probe space on an exploration vessel. Shuttle work is dull, but it’s a free and solitary existence. The senior officer is content with his life aboard the Rennather.
The detection of alien ruins sends the exploration ship to the distant planet of Tgren. If their scientists can decipher the language, they can unlock the secrets of this device. Is it a key to the Tgren’s civilization or a weapon of unimaginable power? Tensions mount as their new allies are suspicious of the Cassan’s technology and strange mental abilities.
To complicate matters, the Tgrens are showing signs of mental powers themselves; the strongest of which belongs to a pilot named Athee, a woman whose skills rival Byron’s unique abilities. Forced to train her mind and further develop her flying aptitude, he finds his patience strained. Add a reluctant friendship with a young scientist, and he feels invaded on every level. All Byron wanted was his privacy…
CassaStar Series Book 3
A storm gathers across the galaxy…
Commanding the Cassan base on Tgren, Byron thought he’d put the days of battle behind him. As a galaxy-wide war encroaches upon the desert planet, Byron’s ideal life is threatened and he’s caught between the Tgrens and the Cassans.
After enemy ships attack the desert planet, Byron discovers another battle within his own family. The declaration of war between all ten races triggers nightmares in his son, threatening to destroy the boy’s mind.
Meanwhile the ancient alien ship is transmitting a code that might signal the end of all life in the galaxy. And the mysterious probe that almost destroyed Tgren twenty years ago could return. As his world begins to crumble, Byron suspects a connection. The storm is about to break, and Byron is caught in the middle…
“With a talent for worldbuilding and a compelling cast of characters, Alex J. Cavanaugh combines high powered space battles and the challenges of family dynamics to provide readers a space opera with heart.” - Elizabeth S. Craig, author of the Southern Quilting and Myrtle Clover mysteries
Trilogy in boxed eBook set:
Get the CassaSeries Boxed Set Here!
Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a platform that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. She's very passionate about indie publishing and helping authors achieve their dreams! her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing as much she can.
You may have heard the stat that up to 81% of Americans think they have a book in them — a book they want to write, that is, not a manuscript lurking in their intestines somewhere. (Sorry for the mental image.) Extrapolating from that figure, we can assume that roughly 4 out of 5 people reading this right now have an idea for a book — and some of you may have already taken steps toward making it a reality!
But before you excitedly tell all your friends about the Great American Novel you’re going to write, or order new business cards that say “[Your Name]: Professional Author,” you should sit down and evaluate your expectations for this process. Writing a book is infinitely easier said than done, and if you don’t know what’s in store for you, you’ll find yourself discouraged before you’ve even begun. That’s why I want to share these five key things to know about writing a book — so you’ll be prepared to meet each challenge that crops up along the way.
1. Dedication is more important than talent
Perhaps the number-one misconception about writing a book is that talent is the most important factor. While I have no doubt that many of you are brilliant writers — and that your potential will blossom into tangible triumph as you write your book — you can’t rely on talent alone to propel you through 300 pages. For that, you’ll need an entirely different ingredient: dedication.
It’s easy enough to say you’re committed to writing a book, and even to plan a rigorous writing routine that carves out blocks of writing time every day. However, when the hour comes to actually write, it’s a lot more difficult to force yourself to do it… over and over again, especially on the days when it doesn’t feel fun or rewarding, but like a total slog.
This is where dedication comes in. If you’re not 100% dedicated to finishing your book, you’re simply not going to make it. Most great writers have talent, yes, but they also have dedication in spades. For example, Stephen King writes 2,000 words every single day, even on holidays. Maya Angelou supposedly aimed for 2,500, famously declaring, “Nothing will work unless you do.” And countless renowned writers through the ages, from Franz Kafka to Ursula K. Le Guin to Danielle Steel, have gotten up early and/or gone to bed late so they could bank some extra writing time.
If you’re just starting out, forget about artistry and perfection; these things will naturally be honed with practice. But unless you’re able to truly dedicate your time and effort to a project, you may as well call it quits right now.
2. You need to outline (at least a little) before you start
Another potentially crippling misconception is that you don’t need to outline your book before you write, because you can always “figure things out along the way.” While I completely understand if you’re more of a pantser than a plotter — I consider myself a pantser, in fact — writing your first book is a huge undertaking and you'll almost certainly need an outline to guide you through it. After all, you wouldn’t try to build a house without blueprints, would you? (If you answered, “Sure, why not!” remind me never to hire you as my contractor.)
In any case, even if it seems unnecessary right now, trust me that your outline will become your lifeline as you delve deeper into your book. It will help you remember important events, character arcs, and themes you want to incorporate throughout the story. And if you get stuck and start to despair, you can always return to your outline for encouragement and inspiration.
At the bare minimum, this outline should include a few lines for each major plot point, perhaps with offshooting notes about other elements or thoughts you may have as you’re brainstorming. I’d definitely recommend the “web” structure or snowflake method for fellow pantsers, as these allow for the most flexibility. But of course, no outline is set in stone — feel free to change it as you come up with new ideas, or leave parts of it blank if you’re not sure what should happen. The important thing is that you have one, so you can refer back to it when need be.
3. Steel yourself for setbacks — especially in the middle
Once you actually begin writing, with a prepared outline and true dedication to your work, you’ll probably feel incredibly excited about your project and the possibilities it holds. You may still have a few kinks to work out, but in all likelihood, this energy will carry you through the first few chapters — possibly to the midpoint of your book.
Unfortunately, the midpoint is often where even the most dedicated writers start to falter. You might suddenly register a gaping plothole, realize you’ve neglected one of your characters, or simply run out of creative steam. Setbacks like these are always discouraging, but especially when you’re right in the thick of it: far enough along that major revisions seem impossible to enact, yet not close enough to the finish line to give you that final burst of motivation.
When you get stuck in the middle of your book, you have two options — you can either work through doggedly, or take a break. Be careful with either of these, as the first can cause burnout, while the second can all-too-easily lead to giving up. However, if you can figure out which works for you (hint: it’s usually the opposite of what you want to do), you’ll surely find your way out of this literary labyrinth you’ve created.
I personally find that taking a break, while at the same time setting concrete limits, works best for me. If I lose my footing in a project, I take a week — no longer — to work on other pieces and enjoy my hobbies. Most of the time, this incubation period is exactly what I need to solve the problem that’s been plaguing me. By the time I get back to writing a week later, I’m fully unblocked, recharged, and more than ready to get back to work.
4. Feedback from other people is your best friend
You know how I just said that what you want to do is usually the opposite of what you should do? Well, that advice also applies to asking for feedback (and exercising, but I digress). 95% of writers I’ve met, including myself, are highly reluctant to show their work to anyone. This is extremely understandable — after all, if you’ve chosen this path, it probably means that writing is near and dear to your heart, and even a single word of criticism can feel like a crushing blow.
But once you’ve finished the first draft of your book, it’s time to toughen up and do it anyway. Friends, family, fellow writers: these are all invaluable sources of feedback as you transition into your next draft. They’ll confirm what you need to fix or change, and point out issues you never would’ve noticed by yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to show your book to everyone you know, but if you can pick a handful of advisors to give you feedback, it will be a huge help in avoiding bigger problems — like scathing reviews from actual critics — down the line.
And after you’ve shown the book to your personal contacts, consider getting a professional beta reader or editor to take a look. Fair warning: their feedback will likely be less considerate than your friends’, but more honest and helpful overall. These pros know what they’re doing, and you can trust their opinions, even if you don’t always feel good about them. Just keep in mind that, no matter how painful the process, listening to feedback will ultimately result in a better book.
5. Don’t be intimidated by the prospect of publishing
Congrats! You’ve made it through the first, second, maybe even third or fourth draft of your manuscript, and it’s finally finished. What are you going to do next?
You might just pop some champagne and close your ridiculously long Google Doc forever, satisfied in the knowledge that you achieved your goal. But if you’re like most authors, you’ll probably want people to read your book — which means, of course, publishing it.
Traditional publishing can sometimes seem so lengthy, complex, and filled with rejection that you may feel it’s futile from the start. However, if you break it down into bite-sized pieces, it’s much more manageable (and definitely worthwhile if you can get signed with a major publisher)! You can start by querying agents and submitting your manuscript to slush piles, and if you have success, move into additional edits and negotiations from there.
That said, if you don’t care about trad-pub “prestige” and just want to get your book out in the world, self-publishing is also a very viable option! It’s easy to self-publish a book on Amazon, and with just a bit of research, you can learn how to market your book independently as well. But whichever path you choose, remember my very first tip: if you dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to your ambitions, you’ll find that you can accomplish almost anything.
I always tend to start my blog posts with some reference to how busy I’ve been. I tried to come up with some other way of starting this post, but the truth is; I have indeed been kept busy. So, without further ado, it’s time for a quick catch up and a progress report!
Probably my most exciting piece of news is that I’ll be attending Titancon 2019 in Belfast 24th-25th August. I’m really excited about this as I’ve never been able to attend a con before. To top if off, I’ll be doing a book signing at the con and hosting a talk about Twitter pitches for aspiring writers.
For those of you who’ve followed my journey from the start, you’ll remember I got a lot of interest for Big Red during last year’s #IWSGpit. Not only was that the first time publishers had ever expressed an interest in my work, but it also allowed me to land a traditional publishing deal with my amazing publisher.
I’ve talked about Twitter pitch events during various radio, magazine, and newspaper interviews and I’m still amazed by people’s reactions. I know a lot of people in the Twitter writing community are aware of these events, but there’s still a lot of writers out there who aren’t. Just like any other form of querying, participation doesn’t automatically guarantee success, but it does open up your work to a whole load of potential matches. I’m really looking forward to chatting about this and hopefully pointing a few aspiring writers in the right direction.
In other news, the British/Irish Writing Community has nearly finished work on our very first e-zine and website. We’ve opened submissions to writers from all across Ireland and UK and some of the short stories we’ve received have been mind-blowingly good. Thanks again to everyone who’s gotten involved! I really can’t wait to share the very first issue with everyone. Also, keep an eye out for my own short story ‘The Republic of Inishdearg’. More details on that soon!
Last of all, I’m making steady progress on my current WIP. I’ve had a few mini projects over the last few months that slowed things down , but I’m glad to say I’ve thrown myself full steam into it again. I’m roughly halfway through the first draft now, which I’m aiming to have done early to mid-September. I’ll leak some details about it in a future post, so stay tuned!
That’s all from me for this week, folks. I’ve plenty more good news to share with you soon, so watch this space!
It’s been a while since I’ve posted here and it’s great to be back!
I had a busy few weeks after Big Red’s launch which didn’t leave a lot of time for blogging. Thankfully, things have started to settle down a bit. For the first time in what feels like an eternity, I have time to dive back into a few different projects, some of which I’m hoping to share with you soon…
The first project I wanted to take on is this blog. I’ve since rebranded it from (the not-so-original name of) ‘My Blog’ to the ‘Mars Occupation Force – Press Office’. Whereas beforehand I wrote a bit about Big Red and my journey so far, I’m now looking to expand my horizons.
Over the last few months, I’ve had the chance to delve into so many fantastic military sci-fi and Irish sci-fi and fantasy books. My goal is to expand on these topics a bit more and shine a spotlight on some amazing novels and topics you may already know about, as well as some you may not have heard of.
I’ve also had the opportunity to meet and talk with some fantastic Irish sci-fi and fantasy writers, who I’m hoping to guilt into dropping by on this blog to say hello. It’s been an amazing year for Irish SFF writers and I’m really excited about seeing what the rest of the year holds in store!
For anyone who’s been following along, The British/Irish Writing Community has also been taking our next steps towards global domination. We’ve spent the last few months throwing around ideas and seeing what we can do as a community. Finally, we’ve decided to launch our own quarterly magazine.
It’s still early days on this but we’ve had a lot of interest so far. Our overall plan is to use this platform to highlight and promote the fantastic works of Irish and British writers of all levels who write speculative fiction. There’s no official launch date in sight, but if you know anyone who’s interested, have them check us out on FB or Twitter!
Hopefully I’ll have more details on the above topics in my next blog post. In the meantime, if any writers out there are looking to do a guest post/interview for an up-and-coming launch or just for the fun of it, let me know in the comments below. I’ve learned a lot from the community and I’m looking forward to giving back.
There’s more to come soon, so stay tuned!
Big Red has landed!
It’s been a long few months, but everything was worth it to launch Big Red surrounded by so many friends, family, and well-wishers. A massive thank you to everyone who came out to show their support and to everyone who’s picked up a paperback of Big Red or downloaded the eBook.
My mind is still blown from the events of the last few weeks. Coming from relative obscurity, it was a surreal experience to suddenly find myself doing radio and newspaper interviews (with a magazine interview coming up soon). I’ve even been approached with an invitation to work on a very interesting project… but more on that later…
It’s been a long journey to get here. There were times when I felt like giving up, but every time that thought popped into my head, I pushed it straight back out again. It’s normal to experience fear, especially if you’re doing something that takes you way out of your comfort zone. What matters most is what we do with that fear. I had a picture as clear as day in my mind; I wanted to see Big Red sitting on a bookshelf (although hopefully, not for too long!) No matter how tired, exhausted, or frazzled I felt, I pushed forward. The moment I saw Big Red sitting on a bookshelf in the Gutter Bookshop on 14th May, I knew everything was worth it!
Thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey. From my family, friends, and colleagues in the Irish Writers Union and British Irish Writing Community to every single person who has purchased Big Red. Thank you for putting up with me and for helping me to create the latest addition to the ever-growing library of Irish sci-fi.
It’s been a rollercoaster and I look forward to sharing more stories with you in the future.
Click here to order a copy of Big Red now: https://www.damienlarkinbooks.com/order-big-red
The next time you get stuck for an idea and find the whole process so frustrating you want to commit random acts of violence, stop and let things incubate. Nature does it so well. New life arrives in an egg but it needs to be warmed up to encourage growth. Even then, life needs to chip away at the hard shell that’s provided protection during the incubation process, until it finally arrives into the world.
Ideas don’t just happen, they need incubation too.
If you’re a fan of The Big Bang Theory, you’ll know this episode well. Sheldon tries to apply Wave Theory to a particular problem which eludes him. He tries all sorts of comical methods - using peas and lima beans then later, organising the plastic balls in a kids’ playcentre’s ball pit. In the end he takes on menial work (doing Penny’s job!) and, when he drops a tray of dirty crockery, the resulting mess provides the answer.
Sheldon used a method called Divergent Incubation. By taking a break from the creative process, to do something which doesn’t challenge the brain, the synapses continue the thinking process, undisturbed by new stimuli. Or from going around and around in frustrating circles. Refreshed and renewed, when you revisit the topic, your brain has caught up and found the answer.
Think of it like this: the brain is like a computer and sometimes we can demand so much of its processing systems, that it starts to buffer. It can’t cope with the pressure we place on it. As writers we demand a lot from our brains. Ideas that offer the next plot twist, the means to define a character or describe a location, the challenge of choosing the right words, reflecting on the story’s tone, pace and rhythms. On top of that come the emotional and personal issues that complicate everything: the crippling self-doubt, the stress of cramming your writing into the spare hour when family and work don’t demand it.
It's not surprising the brain starts to buffer, is it?
Divergent Incubation comes in different forms, it can include sleep. I know lots of authors have woken up with ideas or dreamed them. Paul McCartney conceived his hit Yesterday in his sleep!
If you’re a “pantser” I think that pressure is even greater. We force ourselves into situations in our story where we don’t know what’s going to happen next. John Keats called it Negative Keepability, the ability to stay in a space where you don’t know what’s going to happen next, it’s a willingness to chase down ideas that may lead somewhere. We believe (or just hope beyond all reason) that the experience of pursuing an idea will influence the next step in the story. It can generate as much despair as it triggers excitement but when that despair strikes – and it will – this is when you need to step back and give your brain that chance to process things, to buffer.
So next time you get stuck for ideas, let them incubate. Go do the washing up, clean your home, sweep the leaves off the patio. Not only will it benefit your writing, you may find your Significant Other is grateful for this sudden burst of industry too. When they ask you why – tell them you’re incubating - and watch their reaction.
It took eight years of messing around with his story before Phil Parker published it himself. It was only when he was selected to join the Curtis Brown Creative novel writing course that he developed the confidence to pursue this goal. Since then he's learned a lot. Some of it he's outlined in this post. He's still trying to make sense of the rest.
Welcome to Part Two of the Big Red back story. This one picks up where the last one left off, so dive right in and enjoy!
The first concrete evidence that the Nazis had escaped the war came about in 1947, just outside of Roswell, New Mexico. In the wreckage of a crashed spaceship, Airforce investigators found the bodies of two human pilots- later identified as high-ranking SS members - thought to have died on the Eastern Front.
This prompted alarm within military and government circles that an invasion from technologically superior Nazi forces was imminent. In response, President Truman ordered the creation of a covert organisation known as ‘Majestic 12’. Given wide-ranging powers, this group began reverse engineering the downed spacecraft, directing government policy and overseeing a massive public disinformation campaign to cover up the truth. For the remainder of the 1940s, Nazi incursions into Allied airspace continued, although no direct hostile actions were taken by the aggressors. This led many within the Truman administration and Majestic 12 to believe that these fly-bys were either shows of strength or meant to test the capabilities of the enemy’s fighter-sized craft.
By early 1950, the construction of Earth’s first interstellar fleet of ships was midway under construction when Majestic 12 reported that the Third Reich leadership had opened negotiations with the USSR. Unwilling to admit to Stalin about the existence of the new fleet under construction, President Truman secretly ordered Majestic 12 to open a back channel with the exiled German forces to learn of their intentions.
To buy time, the President ordered these unofficial talks to be dragged out for as long as possible, while Majestic 12 stepped up their efforts in building the new interstellar fleet. These negotiations came to a head in March 1952 when Stalin made public his infamous ‘Stalin note’. This note called for a reunified Germany, free elections and the subsequent withdrawal of all Allied forces. The US and their allies publicly rejected the Stalin note, seeing it as the first possible step in a Nazi attempt to return to Germany from exile and re-establish a militarised National Socialist state.
Infuriated, the Third Reich leadership ordered an aggressive show of force, culminating in the 1952 UFO Washington Incident. Between the period of 12th – 29th July 1952, there were multiple sightings of UFO’s over America’s capital (including the White House). Determined not to back down, President Truman opened secret negotiations with Stalin and confirmed the existence of an American interstellar fleet of ships. After a series of long drawn out negotiations, the two sides agreed to form a united front against Nazi aggression and began planning an invasion of Mars.
Despite mutual shows of good faith, neither side could agree on the make up or composition of the ground forces needed to conquer the German colonies on Mars. Stalin feared a blow to his prestige if it ever became public that American forces were victorious in Earth’s first interstellar war, while Truman worried about a Soviet presence on Mars once hostilities ceased.
As a compromise, it was agreed that although the fleet would remain nominally under US control and both sides would commit support personnel and military attachés, the necessary manpower would need to come from third parties. Both sides reluctantly agreed to a joint British-French task force. This new group would be known as the Mars Expeditionary Force (MEF).
In early 1953, the Mars Expeditionary Force set off on its mission and arrived on Mars in March 1954. Although the initial landing of MEF soldiers and supplies went according to plan, the fleet was practically annihilated in a series of daring suicide attacks by Nazi spacecraft. These actions left the MEF soldiers effectively cut off from re-supply or escape and forced them into a do-or-die action to seize the German colonies.
The Battle for Mars had begun.
That’s all for this week folks! I had thought about doing a Part Three on this subject, but delving into the world of Big Red again has given me too many ideas that I’m not going to share just yet…
I have some announcements coming up to do with Big Red’s launch on 14th May, so stay tuned!
For today's post, I've been lucky enough to have an interview with fellow British Irish Writing Community member and Indie author Matthew Olney. Matthew lives in Worcester with his wife Chloe. By day he works as a content creator but at night he writes novels. An avid gamer and supporter of the mighty Leicester City FC, he is a fan of most things geeky.
He is author of the Sundered Crown Saga, The First Fear, Blood of Kings and the Terran Defenders series.
1 How long have you been a writer?
I’ve been a writer in some form I think all my life. When I was little, I would tell stories to my classmates and I’d even make my own comic books that I would then sell for 2p a pop. As I got older, I became an avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy but it wasn’t until I left uni and faced a tough period of my life that I sat down and wrote a novel. With a background in journalism I eventually ended up in the world of marketing and now work as a content creator for a cybersecurity company. I literally write for a living.
Where did you get the inspiration for your books?
Real world events and history are my main inspiration. For the fantasy side of things, I’ve been inspired by books, games and movies. I think Morrowind was my biggest inspiration for taking the plunge into the genre. Bernard Cornwell however is my biggest inspiration. I love his writing style and I try to emulate that when I can.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve experienced in your writing career, so far?
Learning the tricks of the trade, I guess. An indy author has to do everything themselves and finding editors, cover artists and proofers that you can trust is a massive challenge. Also, it’s expensive. The old adage of having to spend money to make money is true. Also, getting that first inevitable 1-star review for things that are out of your control takes some getting used to. You learn a lot about yourself in this game, especially about your pride and how you react to things.
If you could go back and give your younger self a single piece of writing advice, what would it be?
My advice would be not to rush. I wish that I’d written complete series before hitting publish.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’ve tried to be a plotter but it never works out. A pantser for sure. Letting characters and plots run free can lead to some very fun and interesting scenarios.
What do you think the biggest challenges are for aspiring writers, right now?
The competition and getting noticed for sure. The downside as well as a positive is the advent of self-publishing has resulted in a flood that drowns out some pretty good talent. I always wonder how many awesome stories are lost in the crowd. Authors themselves have done no favours by selling their works so cheap either. Readers now expect or demand books to either be free or ridiculously cheap to the point that from a monetary viewpoint it’s just not worth it.
Do you believe that having a strong social media presence leads to more book sales?
I’d like to think so but I’ve never been able to prove it does. I think a strong mailing list and mailing list swaps with other authors in your genre is the most effective way to generate sales.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I covered this topic in a blog post recently. You can read my advice at - https://msolneyauthor.com/2019/02/12/tips-for-indy-authors-3-writers-block/
What is your favourite part of the writing process?
World building is my favourite part of the process. I love letting my imagination run free and coming with entire histories and cultures. Map making too is great fun and it allows me to express my more artistic side.
If you could collaborate with any other author on a project, who would it be and why?
I’ve worked with other authors on a few projects over the years and I think there’s plans for a fantasy anthology via the British Writers Community on Facebook. I did have plans to do a big expanded universe that incorporated several authors books so there could be cross overs of characters etc. In Quest for the Sundered Crown I worked with Rob May, the author of the Dragon Killer books and there is a brief crossover in it between the two series major characters. I’d love to more things like that and with magic the possibilities are endless.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on three projects at the moment. My main focus is completing the Empowered Ones Book Two, the sequel to my SPFBO 2018 entry The First Fear. I’m also working on Book 4 in the Sundered Crown Saga and have started on as yet to be revealed series.
Where do you see your writing career in 5 years?
Probably the same place I am now to be honest, unless I catch a big break. The ultimate goal is to be able to write books for a living, but for now, I learn and keep chipping away. Practice makes perfect and all that.
Have you ever considered writing in another genre?
I’ve dabbled in many genres including science fiction with my Terran Defenders books and historical fiction with Blood of Kings. I’d love to move more into historical fiction once my fantasy series are completed.
Pen names – yay or nay?
Nay. I have too big an ego to not want to take credit for hard work!
What marketing tips would you give to someone starting out in their career?
It’s a minefield. Never use a service that promises the earth. Sadly, many of the book promo sites are no longer very effective so put all your effort into the promised land that is a Bookbub US promotion. I’ve seen it work and it’s the only one that does.
I posted previously about the world-building involved in creating Big Red, giving some insight into where I got the ideas from and what inspired me. With just over sixty days to go until Big Red lands in a book shop near you, I wanted to dive a bit into the background, giving readers a better insight into the fictional back story and history. A lot of these events took place before the characters of Big Red arrived on Mars, but in a lot of ways these events shaped their surroundings and environment. So, here goes!
As World War 2 drew to a close in Europe, Nazi scientists perfected a revolutionary new form of long-range interstellar travel. Having been used to establish secret research facilities on Mars in the 1930s, this was hailed by an increasingly deteriorating Hitler as a chance to turn the tide on the Allies.
Hampering the Nazi leadership was the fact that this technology was based on unknown origins and couldn’t be operated to transport troops to any point on Earth. As the Russians advanced to the gates of Berlin, an increasing number of high-ranking party officials began to break with Hitler’s fantastical beliefs of a final victory and contemplated using this new technology as a chance to escape. With the Russian forces emerging victorious in the brutal Battle of Berlin, the last remnants of the Third Reich escaped the slaughter and retreated to the only place the Allies couldn’t reach them – Mars.
On Mars, the Nazis had long since established formal relations with the indigenous population dubbed “The Natives”. These Natives were an agrarian society, primarily living underground in subterranean communities. Although they had an awareness and even an understanding of technology, they had forsaken it to pursue a more idyllic life based on community, hard work and family.
Believing the lies of the new German settlers that they were fleeing genocidal persecution back on Earth, the Natives readily allowed the Nazis to excavate the planet in search of technologies left over by the forebearers of the Natives. Rumoured to be a powerful and technologically advanced civilisation, the Nazis believed that this would give them the upper hand in their quest to reconquer not just Germany, but the entire world…
That’s all for this week, folks! In the next post, I’ll detail pivotal events in the Big Red story covering the (historically documented) 1947 Roswell UFO Incident, the 1952 Washington UFO incident and the 1952 Stalin note.
These events together serve as a catalyst for the Allied response to German plans to stage a comeback and the 1954 Allied invasion of Mars (culminating in the oft-referenced “Battle of New Berlin”).
Stay tuned and don’t forget – Big Red lands on the 14th May!
“You want to become a writer? Are you drunk?”
That was one of the many reactions I received after I made the conscious decision to take writing seriously. I can’t blame anyone for reacting like that – prior to September 2017, I had never once openly expressed an interest in writing. It was always something I’d considered doing when I had more time. When my children are more settled in school, when things get quieter in work, when the latest season of Game of Thrones is over. The list of reasons not to write grew longer and longer.
Then, in September 2017 something happened. For years I juggled parenthood, working and building my app development side-project. After one particular project went south, a moment of clarity struck me when I asked myself what I wanted to do. Did I want to spend every spare hour continuing to build and develop apps? I thought about that question over and over until I came to a realisation.
Deep down, app development was nothing more than a means to an end. I wanted to grow my app portfolio for no other reason than to increase my income. That would then allow me to quit my job and focus on what I really wanted to do – write. From that moment, an idea crystallised. Rather than spending what little free time I had doing something that I may have been good at but realistically, had no interest in, I decided to start writing.
The transition wasn’t easy, but I did have a head start. Prior to forming my first app development company two years previously, I had written roughly thirty pages of a story based on a vivid dream I had. I dusted this story off, re-read and edited it and then I wrote a single sentence. From that sentence a paragraph was born, followed by an entire chapter.
I became possessed, spending every (extremely rare) moment of peace and quiet dragging a story out of me. It was something I had been thinking about for years, something that I had torn apart and put back together so many times, that it felt more realistic than the real world.
Determined not to rest until I had this story completed, I worked furiously around the clock, eventually finishing it two hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve 2017. The sense of satisfaction from drafting a 100,000-word story struck me like a hammer. It almost felt like an out-of-body experience as I read through it. Through sheer force of will, I had ignored every desire to relax, laze about and waste my time and instead, had built an entire world from scratch.
It isn’t easy and there are times when the last thing in the world I want to do is write. I sometimes think back to September 2017 and wonder what things would have been like if I didn’t have that epiphany. There would have been no self-publishing journey, no countless hours of bashing away at a keyboard, no publishing deal and certainly no Big Red.
I could easily have kept on developing apps and who knows where I’d be with that now. The most important thing is that I’m happy. I’m glad I made that decision. I’m glad I spent months sacrificing my free time to write Big Red. I’m glad I have the opportunity to be a writer.
And no, I’m not drunk. (Well… Not that drunk…)
Like most of my writing projects, Big Red started as a dream. I’ve always had an overactive imagination, which is something that’s followed me into sleep. It’s rare that I don’t have vivid dreams (or nightmares) that I can easily recount the following morning.
When I woke up, I wrote roughly two pages describing what I had dreamt about. It wasn’t much and I didn’t know it at the time, but that became the basis for the first two chapters of Big Red. I can still remember seeing rows upon rows of fold-out beds with soldiers laid out on them, screaming and howling out in pain and agony. Dressed in an army uniform myself, I walked past them before looking up and seeing a swirling, crisp image of the planet Mars. To say this dream impacted me would be an understatement.
I played around with the idea for months, trying to figure out the context. What were those soldiers screaming about? Why Mars?
While doing day-to-day errands the idea played on my mind. I created characters and their backgrounds. I read up on interstellar colonisation and exploration and kept track of the growing attempts to put a manned crew on Mars. I considered setting Big Red in the future, at a time when we had the mainstream technology to do the things that so many people dream of. But that didn’t feel right.
I thought back to my years in primary school. One of my teachers once quipped his belief that our current level of technology is far more advanced than most people realise. In a two-minute ramble, he told us that, in his opinion, technology is released to the masses decades after being developed behind the scenes by various shadowy government organisations.
Was he wrong? I have no idea. I enjoy reading conspiracy theories with an open mind, but I never bought into the idea that some international cabal was trying to control us. Still, I took his idea and looked at Big Red through his lens. What if (in 2018/2019) humanity already had the ability to travel between the stars and establish colonies? What if those colonies have been there for decades? What would that be like?
And with that thought, the background story for Big Red was born. It took further research to develop and flesh it out. I wanted the history of the colonies to be based (as much as possible) on real life events and fears, even if that history wasn’t directly dealt with in Big Red.
Being a bit of a history buff, I remembered reading about the Nazis V1 and V2 rocket programs during WW2 and the fear and terror this newfound technology brought. I studied up on it and read about how the Russians and Americans both rounded up these Nazi scientists post war and quietly put them to work.
Using that and the still ongoing fascination with the theory that Hitler escaped as jump-off points, I created a background where the last remnants of the third Reich used their advanced technology and escaped to Mars.
Stories like that have been done before, but the events in Big Red don’t deal with this. Instead, it takes place decades after the Allies victoriously crush the Nazi threat (following the historically documented “1952 Washington UFO phenomena”) with their 1954 invasion of Mars.
The characters in Big Red learn all this, shortly after realising they’ve been abducted. As fascinating as it is to them to learn about this alternate history, these events don’t impact them directly. The aftermath does.
The simmering racial tensions between descendants of the Nazis, Mars-born Allied colonists and the Earth-born soldiers that protect and police them is a vital aspect to the overall story and one that brings dire consequences.
To think, all of that started with a dream.
It took eight years of messing around with his story before Phil Parker published it himself. It was only when he was selected to join the Curtis Brown Creative novel writing course that he developed the confidence to pursue this goal. Since then he's learned a lot. Some of it he's outlined in this post. He's still trying to make sense of the rest.
On January 15th 2018, I joined Twitter. My intention was to prepare the ground for when I published my Knights’ Protocol trilogy, which would be three months later. The date represents the moment I committed to starting a new career.
Which sounds grand and laudable perhaps, except I had no idea what I was doing. I’d suffered enough, trying the traditional route to publishing so decided to tread my own path and self-publish. I’ve learned a huge amount in the last year, THREE lessons stand out.
Research – get familiar with the landscape.
I spent a lot of time researching which marketplace I wanted to use. There’s lots of advice out there, it’s conflicting as you might expect, so that meant having to compare and contrast, like at school. It’s potentially the biggest decision anyone makes so choosing carefully is essential.
I found Tom Corson-Knowles’ The Kindle Publishing Bible to be a great help. It explained issues such as devising saleable titles, writing book descriptions that sell, how to get reviews (ethically) and promotional campaigns. It’s objective too. Kindle Direct Publishing pages will save you time and increase your awareness too I found.
Navigate the jungle of social media
I’ve met people who only Follow agents and publishers. I’ve found the greatest benefit comes from a network of folk who will support you, share similar values and experiences – people you’d call friends in the real world!
I don’t just click Follow to anyone either. I check profiles, see what they’re posting. That way you network will always remain focused on the topics you want to see in your feed.
I prefer Twitter. It’s easy to use and concise in its content. I went through Follower lists of the people I Followed to identify like-minded folk. I discovered software that helped me analyse my data to sharpen up my account – is the best. It’s free if you only have one account and can help you work efficiently.
I suffer Facebook. I dislike its endless pressure to advertise and haven’t found that it works anyway. It didn’t help that my first book, The Bastard from Fairyland, caused them to ban my adverts for the use of profane language! However, Facebook does have useful forums you can join, some of which help promote your work.
Finally, to get real traction, you need to spend time on these platforms. It is a commitment but it does pay off in the long run. People get to know about you, they buy your books on the back of it. Spread yourself too thin (over several platforms) or only log in occasionally, and you don’t get the relationships you need. It’s like any friendship!
It took me six months to learn this lesson! You’re not the only one on a journey with your book. That old adage about not judging a book by its cover doesn’t apply in this context! People do judge! Plus, you need to stand out. The answer?
Get your book designed professionally. I tried to cut corners, bought images and used Amazon’s book cover systems and thought I was being clever. They were crap. I look at the originals even now and shudder in embarrassment. Yes, it will cost money but you will recoup it in the long run.
Tom Parker (@papagaeio) designed mine. These people think in visual media, as writers we use the written word. Tom asked me for an outline of the books but also their themes, backgrounds, even one-word definitions. (I gave him Rage for my first book and I suggest you see what he did with it!).
A few final thoughts:
1. Writing is a lonely business. The internet is changing that. There are online groups you can join but social media offers you forums where you can share ideas, concerns and general chat with others who are just like you. It is not infested with trolls.
2. Get people to review your work – but check them out first. Make sure they are bone fide reviewers, people who consistently offer constructive comments. There are people – even businesses – who offer to do this for you but I recommend forming relationships with bloggers, it’s more honest and rewarding.
3. The hashtag is a wonderful tool to identify networks and themes. Such as #BritishIrishWritingCommunity
4. Don’t spend all your time on social media plugging your book. You’ll annoy people. Promote others, they’ll do the same for you. Show you’re a person first, a book-selling author second!
2018 has been a rollercoaster!
Just a little over a year ago, I sat where I’m sitting now having penned my first novel. It still needed a lot of work, but after an exhausting few months, I had done the impossible. The story that bubbled and boiled for so long was finally here and I had no plans on resting until I shared it with the world.
I submitted it to various publishers and literary agents, but after three months and dozens of template rejection emails, I decided to self-publish. I read every blog and article I could find and after putting together a marketing plan, I unleashed my story into the world. It did surprisingly well for the first few weeks, before ultimately crashing and burning.