Beta Readers

This past Saturday I went to a presentation about publicizing books. One of the things we talked about was beta readers. Although beta readers shouldn’t replace a good copy editor, they can really help give a reader’s perspective of your manuscript. In fact, a published author at the presentation said it’s always a good idea to get readers to look at your work, not just writers. After all, readers are generally the target audience for books anyways.

At any rate, I’ve been looking at some resources to get a good idea for if I ever wanted to use beta readers myself. I found this helpful list which goes into some broad details about how to treat beta readers well. I also found a beta reader group on Goodreads, though I’ve never used it to look for help with a manuscript before.

If you’ve had experience with beta readers before, I’d love to hear from you. According to some of the writers I’ve spoken with, they can be a blessing or a curse. Any tips or tricks would be much appreciated.

Science Stuff to Ponder: Floating Over Venus

I love SciShow Space. They’re a great resource for all kinds of space-related tidbits of information. It’s also a great channel to provide new things to consider for sci-fi plot lines. In fact, here’s a video I was ecstatic to come across:

I’m a bit biased when it comes to Venus.
The first book I ever wrote (it’s unpublished, though I should have done more with it) featured people colonizing Venus on floating structures. Naturally, seeing similar speculation where it might come true is always an awesome feeling. Hopefully many other people who dream about floating high in another planet’s atmosphere can get excited about this too. It’s something that draws me to science fiction; today’s daydreams could actually become tomorrow’s reality.

The best thing: someone reading this could very well be a future visitor or colonist to Venus. How awesome is that?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Image credit: Douglas Raymond.
Image courtesy of Stockvault.

If I’m being completely honest, I’d have to say that I forgot today was even a holiday. It took Google to remind me (and then remind me again). A younger, more party-enthusiastic version of myself would be ashamed. St. Patrick’s Day is a great holiday for getting together with people and tossing a few drinks back. The more I think about it, though, I realize that I must have had a little luck.

I don’t really believe in luck, though. Sure, there are things in life which are outside any person’s control, and those things can be fortuitous. In that way, luck might be a thing, but I don’t think anyone can control it. If there was a way, I’m pretty sure those people would be in Las Vegas getting rich at the craps tables. That’s what I’d do with it, at least for a little while.

Regardless of whether anyone believes in luck or in the trappings of St. Patrick’s Day, I think that it’s a good idea to take stock in your own good fortune. Luck, I think, involves some sort of positive outlook, a way to search for and appreciate when good things happen. That can’t always be a bad thing. Like the green beer people might drink today, it’s enjoyed best in moderation and with good cheer.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and may you all have whatever luck you can find!

Vox Deae

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Lucy was having the same dream again, one of those weird, embarrassing ones that nobody could ever figure out. She heard a knock at the front door and went to answer it, lamenting that she was still in her pajamas. Throwing open the portal, she saw a young man wearing a tight blue shirt. He flashed her a perfect, toothy smile that made her forget what she was even doing. His cologne reminded her of an ex, one of the few who ended things on good terms. “Hi,” he said, holding out a hand.

A voice rumbled out from below, “GIVE HIM TO ME.” The deep tones shook the ground she stood on, rattling the pictures on the walls and the teeth in her skull. If the man noticed, he made no sign of showing it.

He did, however, see Lucy change her expression. “Is everything okay?” he asked, putting another hand on hers.

Somehow, Lucy felt the cold metal of a wrench in her free hand. “I think I have to do this,” she said apologetically, sorry for something she didn’t fully understand. Bringing up the wrench, she swung it down hard on the man’s head, opening his skull. She pulled him inside and shut the door behind him.

“GIVE HIM TO ME,” the voice commanded, this time rumbling just enough to open the door to her basement. Lucy dragged her victim, his hands still grasping hers, towards the dark chamber.

Awaking with a scream, Lucy sat straight up. Her heart felt like she’d just run a marathon, and her pillow felt like it had been completely soaked. “Strange,” she said, lifting it up. Her sheets weren’t wet, but she saw a dark spot on the wall behind her headboard. Pushing on the drywall, she heard a squishing noise. “No!” she screamed. A pipe must have busted in the wall.

Frantically she darted out of bed and ran around the corner to a utility closet. Dragging out a toolbox, she tossed hammers and screwdrivers out until she laid hands on a hefty wrench. She ran into the bathroom and threw open the cabinet underneath her sink. Her house was over a century old, and she had to toss out all the crap she kept under the sink to get at the old cutoff valve. Throwing the wrench onto the valve head, she threw her entire weight into twisting it closed. With a creaky protest, the valve turned and she couldn’t hear the sound of any water. “Perfect,” she said, angry that she’d have to call a plumber again. Whatever gremlins haunted this place, they struck again.

Downstairs, Lucy heard a knock at her front door. “Oh shit,” she said. Of course she’d get a visitor right now while she was still in pajamas. Lucy took a deep breath and marched down the stairs to the door, throwing it wide open. She saw a young man wearing a tight blue shirt that read, “Howard & Sons, plumbers.”

“Hi,” he said, flashing a perfect smile with perfect white teeth. “You called us about a leaking kitchen faucet?”

“Yes!” Lucy said, completely forgetting that she already had someone coming today. “While you’re here, could you also take a look at a busted pipe?”

The man laughed. “I came at the right time,” he said. He held out a hand. Lucy took it, and felt something dreadfully familiar. Her dream came flooding into her mind, and the man’s hand felt exactly the same. She froze, dreading what usually happened next. He seemed to notice her change in demeanor, and he reached out with his other hand.

Underneath her bare feet, Lucy felt a low rumble shake her house. Almost imperceptibly, the pictures on the walls clattered, and a vase she kept near the front door tipped over and shattered. The plumber looked to his right in curiosity. Behind her, she heard the door to the basement creak open.

“I think I have to do this,” she said apologetically, sorry for something she didn’t fully understand. Lucy brought up her wrench and swung as hard as she could.

Sciencey Fiction: Is FTL Travel Even Worth Putting In Stories?

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Okay, so whether it’s warp drives, hyperdrives, wormholes, or any other sort of engine, science fiction used to be dominated by ships that hurled people in faster than light (FTL) travel. Stories sometimes didn’t even really care how it got done, focusing more on the pure whimsy of going from planet to planet on a never-ending odyssey. A really good short example of what I’m talking about is the Spaceman Spiff stories in the old Calvin & Hobbes comics. Nowadays, it’s hard to find that carefree travel kind of story.

Part of it is for good reason: the laws of physics currently don’t allow for FTL travel. The short dirty reason I’ve always been told is that it takes an infinite amount of energy to just get to the speed of light. Science fiction needs to have some amount of science integral to the story, and breaking the laws of physics feels like cheating. Moreover, lacking good science in a science fiction story can quickly turn something into fantasy rather than sci-fi.

But I also see a loss here. Sometimes (like in Star Trek) the story just makes an assumption that humanity will eventually increase its body of knowledge to the point of using new discoveries to tackle current impossibilities. There is a kernel of hope in some brands of science fiction that looks forward to the future with eagerness and not hostility or cynicism. FTL travel can signify that in a way that almost went without saying. It admits that physics are still physics, but people can overcome any problem through using knowledge.

Does this mean that FTL travel is a relic of an idealistic past, or is it something worth keeping around? As a fan of the genre, I think that it depends on the story being told. FTL travel shouldn’t be a crutch to excuse bad science or to gratuitously throw a story into the sci-fi genre. It should be used almost as a literary device, a way to paint a story with an optimistic tone.

Do You Have a Writer’s Group?

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

I’m going to another meeting of my writer’s group this evening, and I’m excited. Getting feedback from other people who struggle with the same stuff I do is something I really look forward to. I really hope it goes well, and that I will be able to contribute to the overall improvement of the group.

Writing groups aren’t always for everyone, though. This group requires participation in critiques in order to receive any. Constructive criticism is a great way to improve writing, but sometimes people might not be able to see past the feedback for what it really is – a chance to get some support for one’s work. The thought of having one’s labors dissected in front of them is enough to terrify even the bravest people.

Still, this group has only met twice, but I hope that it lasts for a while. The people I’ve met are amazing, and they’re a very welcoming bunch. Between this and the write-in that I drop by, I can say that the writers I meet here in Huntsville are a good bunch of people.

The Diary of an Awful Tyrant

Photo Credit: Aperture Alice Reprinted with permission from here.  All rights reserved.

Photo Credit: Aperture Alice
Reprinted with permission from here. All rights reserved.

Dear Diary,

My evil plan is nearing fruition. Phase One is complete. The evil lair has been remodeled to look like an inconspicuous theme park, boardwalk, and amusement center. None of my enemies suspect that behind the racks of cotton candy and assorted prizes are the secret entrances to my underground network of tunnels and fortifications. While people unwittingly amuse themselves at reasonably priced rates with the latest thrill rides, they will never expect what doom I am concocting underneath their tired feet. Note to self, offer free pedicures to the patrons so that their feet won’t be as tired at the end of the day. I’m evil, but not insensitive.

Phase Two: Revenge of the Phase has also gone by without any hindrance. I have wisely invested my minions’ money in healthy index funds and diversified stock portfolios. Their health insurance is high quality, and they also have dental and vision plans. No other tyrant can compete with my company savings plan, ensuring my minions remain loyal to me. If only I can get them to use the suggestion box, I think things would be going perfectly. Second note to self, remember to use recycled paper on the suggestion box forms.

The Third Phase: This Time It’s Personal has also been completed. I have installed a fiendishly clever surveillance device in a Ferris wheel overlooking the compound. It took a little longer than expected to complete because my contractors tried slipping substandard parts past me. The fools didn’t know who they were dealing with! My legal assassins sued their pants off. Third note to self, see about donating all those pants to charity. It might come in handy if I’m ever caught.

Oh, Diary, it’s so lonely being the evil tyrant over a clandestine organization bent on pure villainy. At least I get to walk around the lair for free. In fact, I think some cotton candy will cheer me right up.

Yours Truly,

Tyrant Snuffles K. Fluffybuttons

P.S. I need to come up with a menacing name for my fourth phase. Right now I’ve got several titles, with “Four-get what you have learned!” as the leading one. However, I don’t think puns really fit into my evil idiom or the brand of the organization.

Author’s Note: This story was inspired by the photograph at the top (originally posted here) by Aperture Alice. Click the link to go to her blog for some awesome photos and short fiction!

Getting Through Emotionally Charged Scenes

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Earlier this week I got stuck looking up at a mountain of text that went nowhere, did nothing (except set up some really trifling details), and just got in the way of the story. The whole chapter wasn’t useless, but it needed extensive work to bring it up to how I’d rewritten other parts. I deleted all of it and rewrote it all.

What came out of the process is definitely a lot better, although it’s almost kind of cliche. Essentially it’s one of those “goodbye to the family” scenes that’s a necessary evil to show your characters actually care about their loved ones. Poorly written, they end up being a quick exchange of “I love you” at some train station or airport, or maybe a trite line of how Character X loves Character Y so freaking much. On the opposite spectrum, the goal is to get a reader to feel the breaking and fear that separation brings.

Reading an emotionally charged scene is one thing, but writing one is a whole other matter. The process is exhausting. Although I’m happy with how the revision is going, reworking a scene like this is a marathon and not a sprint. I’ve been having to fight the urge to jump to a fight scene where the action picks up, time dilates, and I don’t have to care about feelings. Sadly, the scene is also one of those pivotal moments of decision that ends up having an effect on everything that comes afterwards, so I can’t just leave it alone.

I’m pretty sure there are different types of scenes that writers love hanging out in. There are probably writers who love doing scenes that involve punching readers right in their feelings. Personally, I’m happy the story goes down the plot rabbit hole after this.