Try Again, Fail Again, Fail Better

In the past couple of weeks, this quote has been on my mind often:

evertried

Being a writer, (or doing anything worthwhile and challenging), means that failure is inevitable. As I write the ninth version of Chapter One, it’s likely that I’ll add another notch to my failure belt. The thought of getting it wrong for a ninth time is a little unnerving and sometimes it feels like I’m running out space for notches.

And yet, this is exactly what needs to happen. Each time I fail, I improve as a writer. I learn something about the art that I didn’t know a day before, and my story is better for it.

So keep failing. Fail again and again. Getting better is worth it.

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Will Our Kids Be a New Species?

I think I might have to start a “Ted Videos I’m Obsessed With” series on my blog because I’ve found another presentation that’s really exciting.

Evolutionary biology has always been a favorite subject of mine and has definitely influenced my work. In this video, Juan Enriquez talks about how different species of humans co-existed in the past, and how we might be evolving along different paths in the present.

I highly recommend this video for anyone who is interested in sci-fi, fantasy, and those who occasionally like having their minds blown.

Batmobile and GoT Pics: It’s Good To Be A Nerd In My Neighborhood

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve some seen some pretty cool things around my neighborhood.

First, the batmobile was parked unattended and I happened to catch a glimpse. I can only assume Batman was close by, but we all know he’s a master of stealth and hiding.

Second, a barista at Starbucks drew this ode to Game of Thrones on the advertising board outside the coffee-house. I don’t know who created this awesomeness but that person deserves a raise, damn-it!

Well done, neighborhood. Well Done.

How to Come Up With Book Ideas

In the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of conversations about how difficult it is to come up with book ideas. There’s a lot of advice out there by other writers and bloggers about how you can find inspiration, so only add to the info with a couple of points that work for me.

First, create mental space for a book idea. When the idea for The Dark Matter Chronicles came to me, I was actively looking for it. I spent time thinking about writing, about the sort of things I would want to write about, and I started to jot things down even if my thoughts seemed ridiculous. It took a while for the right idea to click. At that point, I had been thinking about writing and looking for an idea for several months. That being said, once you have the idea, you have to continue to give it attention, and actually sit down and write everyday. Once you get into that mindset and make it a habit, brainstorming new ideas gets easier.

Second, be an active learner. I get a lot of ideas from reading about things that I’m interested in or from watching documentaries, and these things aren’t always related to anything in my book. I find that learning for pleasure often leads me to new ideas and new ways of thinking.

There’s tons of tips out there that can help you start your first book, so take advantage of that! Writing requires time and work. But if you do happen to find a magical elf that sprinkles fairy dust on your work to make it better, then please send it my way.

Are We One Step Closer to A.I.?

This video has been circulating the interwebs for a couple of weeks now and is really catching people’s attention now though it was posted over a year ago. A brilliant team at Aldebaran Robotics has created a sophisticated set of robots that can be programmed to perform various tasks, including dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

They do a a pretty good job, don’t you think? Their movements are surprisingly fluid. These robots can’t think for themselves or act of their own will, (if they could, we’d have viable replacements for pop stars), but they do seem to be a physical improvement on Honda’s Asimo.  And, while we tend to focus on  intelligence when we think of computers/robots in science fiction and how they might overtake us, there’s something to be said about whether or not they have the physical ability to do so. The simple of act of walking and being able to move around with ease does give us an advantage.

So until we reach the point where cylons– the human-like A.I. from Battlestar Galactica— rule over us, I say we embrace the technology. I personally would like a Nao robot, (the ones in the video above), as a pet. That way when do they take over, I’m on good terms with at least one of them.

Imaging Aliens (Part 2)

N = N* fp ne fl fi fc fL

Recognize that? It’s the Drake Equation–a formula that is used to estimate how many intelligent civilizations might exist in our own galaxy. It accounts for several variables such as the number of stars that have planets (fp) and how many of those planets might develop life (fl).

Of course it’s all speculation and we can only guess what each of those f’s and n’s are actually worth. People have used the formula to come up with anywhere from 0-182 million, (although we know the answer isn’t 0 thanks to us…unless…no wait, let’s not go there).

As a sci-fi/fantasy writer, the existence of 182 million alien civilizations is great news. It’s still great if the answer is only 2, because it means that there are whole new worlds out there waiting to be discovered, along with new species, perspectives, and story lines. And if the answer is 1, then we’ll have to start looking at the other 170 billion+ galaxies in the universe.

To infinity and beyond! Unless the aliens get to us first.

3D Printers: When Fiction Becomes Reality and Mixes With Awesome

Science fiction TV shows, movies, and books have always dangled futuristic technology in front of us, teasing us the way one teases squirrels by eating delicious handfuls of walnuts in front of them while laughing maniacally, (and accidentally choking because that’s what happens when you eat and laugh at the same time). We’ve all been there, am I right? Wait…what do you mean no?

Anyways…one of the futuristic technologies we often see in fiction are replicators or machines that can create something out of nothing. If you’ve heard of 3D printers, then you know that we’re close to making that fictional dream a reality.

These printers do exactly what the name suggest: they let you print out 3-dimensional objects, complete with moving parts and colors — objects that are just as good as they would be if we manufactured them. You could print out a guitar and play it just like a normal guitar. Want a toy dinosaur? Why not print one in chocolate? Or how about a car?

Don’t believe me? Here’s the proof:

Other than the fact that it is an incredible technology that will change everything, (EVERYTHING!), why am I writing about 3D printers? Because they’ll play a role in the 2nd book of the The Dark Matter Chronicles, but probably not how you think…

I’m not going to give anything away, but this technology has a use that will have a profound impact on us; something that’s about 20-50 years out. And I plan to use it in a way I don’t think anyone else has thought of yet. Am I being a tease? Yes. Am I also laughing about it? Of course. Now, if only I could get my hands on a ridiculously fluffy cat, a secret lair, and a 3D printer to complete my evil-genius persona, then I could really show those squirrels…

These 3D printers cannot get here fast enough.

What’s in a Name?

There are some writers who can conjure up a manuscript and pick names for their characters after the characters have been written. I am not one of those writers. In my mind, names and personalities go hand-in-hand. When I think of a name, an image and some character traits immediately snap into place.

So, you would think that I would have settled on a name for every important character before I started writing that character, right? Wrong.

Instead of doing what works well for me, I went ahead and created an unnecessary challenge. After all, what would life be without those self-inflicted stressful moments when you lie awake until 4am, breaking out into little, tiny patches of eczema?

I’m now stuck with a character that has a full-fledged personality and no name. I’ve gone through a long list of existing names and created several new ones, and none of them feel right. I know I’ll stumble across it eventually, (probably at 4am when I’m desperately trying to sleep because, you know, my brain is sadistic like that). Until then, I’m going to continue doing research and keep a very important lesson in mind for the future: figure out what works best for me and stick to it.

What The Hunger Games Has Taught Me About Writing

If you haven’t heard of a little book/soon to be in theatres movie called The Hunger Games, then chances are you don’t live on planet Earth, (or you’re not a fan of YA books which is also possible but somehow less likely in my twisted mind). With all the anticipation surrounding the movie, I couldn’t help but reflect on how I have been influenced by the books. I’ve read through the series 3 times now and each time, I’ve learned something new.

Here are a few of the most important lessons I’ve taken from The Hunger Games:

Introduce your world at the beginning.

I don’t just mean within the first chapter, I mean within the first paragraph. I’ve mentioned how important an opening sentence is to setting the tone for the rest of the book in an earlier post. It’s equally as important that the reader knows what kind of book they’re getting into. A strong opening that captures the essence of the book and hooks a reader in will help your audience stick with it for longer. Not only that, it lets them know what they’re in for. In the first paragraph of The Hunger Games, we know that Katniss wakes up on the day of the reaping (a word closely related to reaper, which we associate with death). Just a quick mention of reaping day and that’s enough to keep readers going until the author has a chance to build an emotional connection with the reader.  Which leads to my next point…

Create an emotional connection early on.

When you reveal something personal about your main character, (e.g. the relationship between Katniss and her younger, more fragile sister Prim), it makes your protagonist more relatable. The easier it is relate to him or her, the easier it is for you to build an emotional connection with your readers. That’s how you get people invested in your characters and stick with them until the end. For me, I connected with the story when Prim’s name was chosen and Katniss volunteers in her place. That was the moment I became fully invested in Suzanne Collins’s world. Again, this plot point occurred early on (end of chapter 1/beginning of chapter 2).

Be honest about human nature.

The reason why this series strikes such a chord with so many people is because the issues presented within it are a reflection of many things happening in our world. The division between rich and poor, the garishness of reality TV, and the ongoing wars and violent acts that are carried out everyday are just some of the issues that it touches upon. While your story doesn’t haven’t to revolve around specific events in our world, (or even take place on Earth), it should tell the truth about human nature. Like all artists, writers have a responsibility to tell the truth—about who people are, what we’re like, what we’ll do—in any given circumstance. A good book will hold up a mirror to humanity and say ‘here you are’. And when a book tells the truth as well as The Hunger Games does, people are responsive to it.

Create a logical and consistent world.

Everything about the world within The Hunger Games is rational. It makes complete sense as to why society organized the way it did, why the games take place, why the people behave as they do. I’ve found that if I ask any ‘why’ question about the world, the answer I get will be consistent with the answer to any other ‘why’ question.  This is because the world is well thought out. This is what every writer should strive for. I find that sometimes writers don’t spend enough of time on this and when they don’t, it always shows. It usually means there are gaps in the background story, plot, or with character development. Odds are that your reader will walk away unsatisfied. If your world fundamentally doesn’t make sense, your readers will know. And it will detract from the quality of your work.

If you’re like me, (neurotic with a long list of issues), or a fan of the book, you’ve probably already bought your ticket for opening weekend. In which case, I’ll see you guys in line at the theater. I should warn you though; I have developed a method to shove people out of my way as I run to the best seats at back. And since there were 8 Harry Potter movies, I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Simple Ideas Lead to Scientific Discoveries (and Great Novels?)

We’ve all heard the expression that the simplest idea/solution is usually the correct one. I think that definitely applies to the field of science but it also applies to writing. I find that the best stories, (even the ones that are very intricate), are simple at their core. *On a side note: I’ve touched upon this topic in my post about The Simpsons and Writing (see below).*

I’ll use one of my favorite series as an example: Harry Potter. *Spoiler Alert*: skip this paragraph if you haven’t read the book but want to! If you’ve read the series then you know that each of the 7 books has its own plot line with many twists, characters, Chekhov guns, and plot details. J.K. Rowling has created a very elaborate world with a million little parts that all add up into something that’s magical yet tangible–a world you’d actually want to be a part of. Who would pass up on a chance to go to Hogwarts, am I right? At the same time, it has an underlying plot line that permeates the entire story; one goal that all 7 books work towards. I think the entire story can be summed up with 2 statements: ‘Boy learns he’s a wizard and goes to wizarding school’ and ‘Hallows vs Horcruxes’. Interesting fact: J.K. Rowling has said that idea came to her as ‘boy who’s a wizard that doesn’t know he’s a wizard’. That one simple idea launched one of the most beloved and successful series of all time.

As with science, it’s important to remember that when it comes to writing, the simplest ideas are often the most powerful. That’s not to say that story can’t have depth and layers. It should. But it should also convey simple truths and revolve around one central idea. That one idea then becomes the foundation that the story and all its details rest upon. And anything that isn’t consistent or relevant to it should be cut out in the editing process.

I highly recommend this short and interesting TED Talk that elaborates on this topic wonderfully. Take a look and enjoy!