Submitted the draft of my manuscript to my editor!!!

posted in: Writing | 0

As I progress through this process of getting a book published, I’m grateful that my manuscript is going through an editor. I know people who have a love/hate relationship with this part of the process, and even though I’m a bit nervous about the editing comments I will get, I am thrilled to be getting them. I love the story I created that is inside my head. I don’t know if I’ve translated that story onto paper as effectively as I hoped. An editor it going to help me achieve that vision.

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Let’s make some wierd science!

The best bit of correspondence between me and Immortal Works, my publisher, other than “we want to publish it” is as follows:

“I’m really excited for this book, and together I know we can make Devil in the Microscope a success!”

Thanks Jason!

I’m excited too.

Check out my book announcement at Immortal Works

posted in: Writing | 0

It’s officially announced at Immortal Works. My mug is there staring back at you. My book’s description is there for all to read. See it all at Immortal Works.immortal-works-logo

 

So, what am I doing now? I’m editing like mad, hoping to provide a slick copy for my edit to really sink his or her teeth into, so we can make my book’s words as fantastic as the story is in my head. I should be assigned an editor soon. When I hand off the manuscript, I’m going to dive head first into another project, probably the sequal, but I have another novel that is already 50,000 words long and a complete story. I still have a lot of work to do on that one before it will be ready to send out. Will it be about a mad scientist? You’ll have to wait to find out.

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In other news:

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My book is going to be published

After many queries to agents and publishers, my book is going to be published. I just signed the contract with Immortal Works Press to publish my novel, Devil in the Microscope.

Devil in the Microscope follows Anika as she moves in with her scientist father in a town he built around his mysterious genetics laboratory. Most of the town are scientists employed by her father, and Anika discovers that the whole town is literally mad, mad like Dr. Frankenstein mad. Anika navigates her way through high school, fending off wayward science projects, vindictive evil geniuses, and the possible threat that her father might be using her for his grand experiment.

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Anika finds allies at her new high school, other kids also being experimented on, and they unite around Anika to defeat the mounting threats to their lives. Anika relies on her scientific skills, her wits, and the unusual talents of her new friends to survive.
I love this story and these characters. I’m just starting the editing process, but I can’t wait until I can get my story into people’s greedy hands. It’s coming…

 

The Mad Science and Friendship of Stranger Things

posted in: Mad Science | 0
Stranger Things by the Duffer Brothers and Netflix is simply fantastic storytelling. Sure, the 80s nostalgia and ode to 80s cinema are prevalent and entertaining, but the heart and soul of this show is rooted in the familiar human experience, just as poignant today as it was back then. The kids in Stranger Things explore what it truly means to be friends, and then the show challenges those assumptions again and again as the threat level rises.
Stranger Things
Spoiler Warning from here on out…
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The mad science of this show is the backdrop. The mysterious girl, Eleven, played brilliantly by Millie Bobby Brown, escapes from the governmental science facility the same time that the monster invades the town. We find out through the episodes that the experiments have been going on since before 11 was born. The scientist raised her to be a weapon and pushed her to extremes, even encouraging her to attempt to communicate with the monster.

In 11’s world, she has no friends. Among the scientist and assistants she lives around, only one man is someone she calls family. The father figure she calls papa is perhaps worse than the monster itself. His ruthless drive to uncover the scientific mysteries mirrors the monster’s purely instinctive need to feed.

Even eleven realizes that the monster is just being true to itself when she confesses to Mike that she is the monster because her power and lack of control caused the incident in the first place. Mike rejects her proposition, insisting that she isn’t the monster, but is trying to protect them from the bad guys.
Mathew Modine play the mad scientist with a very blank personality, despite his mad scientist hair. His drive and carelessness for 11’s life and the lives of the townsfolk and underlings is clear megalomania inspired by Frankenstein and Moreau. His creation is 11, a force he cannot control. The monster was unleashed because he cared more about the experiment than the girl that called him papa. When he loses control of 11 and the monster, his become reckless. He even loses his life to his work. That’s some classic consequences of mad scienting. Textbook, but effective.
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Perhaps his most cruel act, though, was using 11’s need for family and friends, and his role as her surrogate father, to control her and push her into violent and disturbing acts.
We see through all the other characters that defeating the monster is only accomplished by relying on friends. Mike, Lucas, Dustin and 11 all need each other to survive. Jonathan and Nancy try to fight alone, but are only able to succeed together, with Steve growing up at the end in time to help. Even the stubborn soloist, Hopper, finally teams up with Joyce at the end. Friendship is the driving force in Stranger Things, and it is fabulous.
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This show transcends the 80’s nostalgia and movie references that it is built upon by telling a great story. I can’t wait for season 2.

Tales from SaltCON, a Northern Utah Board Game Convention

In March, I attended a board game convention in Northern Utah called SaltCON as a part of the Meeple Nation Podcast. As podcast hosts, Nathan, Brent, and I ran several social deduction games, including Two Rooms and a Boom!, Ultimate Werewolf, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, and Live Codenames. We also recorded podcasts with industry insiders, including game designers, developers, game store owners and game manufacturers.  To read my full review, check out my post at Meeple Nation here: http://meeplenation.com/gaming-life/meeple-nation-saltcon-2016/.

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The hosts of The Meeple Nation Board Game Podcast

The Mad Scientist in The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1843)

Science Fiction LitWhen I was in college, I was fortunate enough to have a Science Fiction Literature class taught by a great teacher using a great textbook: Science Fiction: The Science Fiction Research Association Anthology. This book is a chronological look at science fiction through the years with stories published from the 1840s to the 1980s.

The book started out with an old Nathaniel Hawthorn short story called The Birthmark, which may be one of the first mad scientist stories. The narrator of the story doesn’t explicitly call Aylmer, the scientist of the story, a “mad scientist,” but the profile fits quite well upon examination.

The first paragraph calls Aylmer a “man of science” and tells us that he left that life behind and “persuaded a beautiful woman to become his wife.” But after marrying her, he becomes obsessed with the birthmark on her cheek in the shape of a tiny hand. She is offended when he suggest the possibility of having he birthmark removed from her face, hurting her deeply. She thought it a charm because it was often thought beautiful by other suitors.

Alymer discovers that he does not think it a charm, but rather a flaw in her beautiful face, which becomes a “symbol of his wife’s liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death.” The man of science is suddenly faced with a dilemma, as he believes he can fix the flaw, but at the cost of putting science above his love for his new wife.

We find, though, that Alymer was delving into fringe science in his earlier days when he takes his wife back to his old laboratory to perform the experiment on her birthmark. As he prepares, he shows his wife his old experiments, which blossom into wonder, but soon fade to ruin before her eyes.

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With one shudder as he glanced upon the birthmark, though, her own desire to be rid of it was cemented in her mind. She could not bear to see him shudder at her again. She now hated the birthmark more than him. At this point, she finds Aylmer’s journals and discovers that all of his experiments have been failures in his own eyes because of the grandiose vision of perfection. For some reason, with this insight into his motives, she fall more in love with him. His experiments have indeed pushed forward the scientific discoveries, but have been failures none the less.

Even though I am basically spoiling the whole story, I suggest anyone interested in “mad science” as a literary device should read this story, which can be found online for free. This is the madness and the great part of this story. The Birthmark is a great look at the mad scientist persona through a love story instead of a monster story. I use the term “love” but Alymer doesn’t love his wife.

He uses the birthmark as an excuse to return to his old ways—his old “mad science” ways. He’s messing with things that only “God” should have power over. Heck, the dude even has his own Igor—a hairy assistant of low stature, though that trope may have come from this work. He assumes that if he can rid her of the birthmark then she will be perfect and lovable again.

The funny thing about flaws, though, is that once the largest goes away, the next largest becomes brightly apparent. That is my own interjection, though, because the story doesn’t get to the point where it would explore that scenario.

Both Alymer and his wife know the most likely outcome of his experiments is her own death. He is willing to go through with it because he is mad—mad meaning that he can’t see his own flaws, his own faults, his own ability to change, and his own megalomania in trying to fix his beautiful wife. She is willing because she can’t live in a world where her husband could shudder when looking at her face.

Alymer is successful at removing the birthmark at the cost of her life. The story ends there and we don’t see his reaction to his wife’s death or the impact that has on his own science career. I wish Hawthorn had continued the story. Does Alymer continue with his secret science or does he again reject that part of himself? At some point, villagers are showing up with pitchforks though.

 

Science and Magic are two sides of the same coin

posted in: Writing | 0

After some contemplation about magic systems, I’ve decided on a new philosophy on writing. This is for me only and not a “writing rule”.

  1. In fantasy, I’m going to treat my magic systems like a science.
  2. In science fiction, I’m going to treat my “Pushed” science like magic.

Magic

Magic in fiction can create a sense of wonder and be a tool for the characters. Also, it has the potential to create Deus ex Machina ending, or make the resolution to the conflict be a wave of a magic wand. In order to avoid this issue, writers can spell out the “rules” of the magic. The reader should understand what is possible and what the characters know about the magic. Rules, guidelines, laws are all words associated with science. In a world with magic, that magic would and should be studied by someone at some point, though not necessarily as part of the story you are telling. Often the POV character is learning the rules of the magic as she goes through the story.

The best example on magic as science and magic as say “religion” is the Lord of the Rings. Gandolf has an endlessly unknown and powerful magic that he uses as needed to get out of the situations they are in. His is a religious character and often acts as a savior character. No one could tell you how his magic works. The One ring on the other hand (`snicker`) does work like a science. It was constructed. It always works in the same way. It has rules: can only be destroyed in one place, corrupts, turns the wearer invisible. It is a constant.

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Within this framework, you can still have surprises. Someone can figure out new ways to use magic, but they still have to follow the rules. Foreshadowing goes hand in hand with this. You are building up to something awesome, but if you don’t put the pieces in first, the resolutions is going to feel cheap.

So, in my fantasy writing, my goal is to treat the magic scientifically. I’m going to invent rule,s and the characters must use the magic within the set of rules.

Science fiction

Sciences fiction works a little differently, and this whole point depends on how much science knowledge you have and how much of that you want to build into the story. Personally, I don’t have science education past high school chemistry. So, in my science fiction stories, I don’t dwell on or explain the science in the story. I’m only talking about the parts of the story that are different from our current reality. Faster than light (FTL) travel is a good example. Me trying to explain the science of FTL is going to sound amateurish no matter how much research I put into it.

Unless the story is about the scientific effects of FTL, what I choose to do is present FTL as a thing that exists and no one in the story universe questions how. It just works. Kind of like magic. It just works. No one ages differently. Reality isn’t bent. There are no consequences. No side effects. (Unless those are a part of the story you want to tell). Likely, I will never write a story where the effects of FTL are central to the story because I don’t want to try to get the science right.

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You could argue that if I don’t delve into the science than the story isn’t really science fiction. That type of story is only a part of the science fiction umbrella. Some call it Hard SF, or at least the more a story focuses on the science, the harder the SF. That one thing that is different has many consequences on how we as humans would think, speak, behave, interact, and react to the world. These human experiences do not depend on an explanation of the science. Those human experiences are what I like to explore in my science fiction. How it works is just magic.

My winning poem from 1999 at Weber State University

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These days, I don’t write much poetry, but back in college, I was rather enamored with the idea of being a poet. I actually won Weber State University’s poetry contest in 1999. I have a great story about how this poem came about, but first the poem:

 

Fluids gone sour…Ripe for the Thirsty

And as Anne said, she drank—a lot—because
that’s what writes do. I cannot write like
  Hemmingway.
Do I have to look the part—drink the part?
My paper is wet. Smells funny. Some odd
  White-out replacement
smeared ink into design, squinted into place
through likeness to great ones and I am
  small.
I walk with a small notebook because dead
people did it, and they are worthy of
  being replicated
as if I cannot be me and a writer. Damn Emerson
for his way. I have conformity enough.

 

Yeah, that poem beat out some great poets of my time at school, including Abel Keogh and Emily Peterson Whitby, who were and still are talented writers.

This poem was lifted from my writing journal almost verbatim. I still have the journal somewhere around here, but I’m not going digging for it. I was in a journal writing class and as a part of the class we were required to journal meticulously. We studied writers who journaled, including the hows. The Anne in the poem was Anne Lamott from Bird by Bird, which I had just finished. I was feeling conflicted. Did I have to become someone else to be successful as a writer? My beliefs made some of that conformity difficult and I wasn’t really interested in the “hard living” method of generating art. I guess I was rebelling from the notion that I had to be a certain way or live a certain way.

That discovered poem I lifted from my journal/poetic rambling won the poetry contest that year.

Report from Life the Universe and Everything Symposium 2016

posted in: Podcasts, Writing | 0

I just got back from the Life the Universe and Everything Symposium held in Provo Utah. They brought in some fantastic authors and artist who presented great content at the various panels over the three day conference. I think the highlight for me was Shannon Hales’ keynote address about gender inequality, especially on how we unknowingly under-represent girls and artificially limit what we allow boys to experience. All her points also apply to race, even more so. It was thought provoking for sure.

I have always been drawn to the female protagonist in stories, and one of my favorite when I was a kid was Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. I also loved The Blue Sword and Outlaws of Sherwood. To the credit of my parents and older brother, I didn’t know that it wasn’t cool for boys to read women authors or read stories about girls. I’m grateful that I read so many. Two of my favorite books are The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin and His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik. Still, I was the boy who played with his G.I. Joes and He-man figures, though I would act out long-drawn out stories with my Joes, including the female Joes. I professed to hating girl (though I really didn’t) for most of my childhood.

Brandon Sanderson was great in all of his panels I attended. He is definitely in his element at these cons. Great guy. I attended koffeeklatches, which are sit down sessions with authors in a small group, with both Dan Wells and Howard Taylor (both of Writing Excuses podcast fame). Both were great. Dan Wells is a board game enthusiast, and the only big time author I approached. I told him that his podcast was a big motivator in starting my own podcast and gave him a Meeple Nation business card.

The Writing Excuses Podcast Panel at LTUE
The Writing Excuses Podcast Panel at LTUE

Speaking of Writing Excuses. I attended the live recordings of the podcast, which was awesome. They did a great job and anyone who listens are in for 6 good episodes whenever they come out. I wish I had a chance to listen to Mary Robinette Kowal in more panels. She is amazing.

I paid for a pitch session with an agent, and the experience was kind of weird and sort of helpful. I chose to be a part of a group session with 4 other hopeful writers. Our agent was running late and gave us our ten minutes, but was quickly scanning our paper content for errors. She did give us a bit of good advice and gave me two nice comments on my phrasing in my opening page. Still, she didn’t comment on the overall pitch and worth of the story. It didn’t feel like she had any intention of actually considering our stuff. I guess it was worth the $20 bucks for the experience.

I have more to write, but I’ll save it for another post.

Mad Science in Agent Carter, Season 2 (spoilers)

posted in: Mad Science | 0

 

Agent Carter season 1 was full of wacky mad science, which I enjoyed. In fact, the entire season was centered around collecting wonky scientific devices stolen from the lab of Howard Stark, our resident mad scientist/playboy. The light implosion bombs were clever, though they were used up rather quickly. Most of the technology was used as a MacGuffin to move the season’s plot along, including Steve Rogers blood.

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Howard Stark and his son, Tony Stark, are an interesting version of the mad scientist. They are generally seen as “good guys”, but are both arrogant, selfish, and often criticized for their lack of caution when inventing. The line between good and evil is a constant theme with this type of mad scientist. How much good have the Starks done vs. how much collateral damage have they caused? That factors a bit into my own story about Anika Frankenstein. Her mad-scientist father believes that his ends have justified his means and that the good he can accomplish in the future justifies his current actions.

Agent Carter

But alas, this post was about Agent Carter season 2, where we’ve seen dark matter, the freezing of people, the phasing out of the scientist, and the Return of Howard Stark and his science proficiency. Howard makes a spray that can make Jason Wilkes reappear, and somehow, spraying into his throat makes him able to talk. For a spy/agent show, Agent Carter is built on not only science fiction, but wacky mad science fiction. I like it.

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Howard Stark in his lab

Peggy comes from a world where Captain America was created in a lab by scientists. She is more than happy to use Howard’s technology to close her cases. But she doesn’t have much to do with the science herself. She doesn’t fit into the “mad science” trope, but stands apart from it. I wonder what this show would be like if it didn’t use mad science. I loved Jarvis as Howard’s lab assistant, helping him with the wacky.