I'm writing, so I'm trying to broaden my reading. It stops me unconsciously copying from other authors and also gives me inspiration and ideas to make my writing better. Last week I read science fiction. This week, I’ve been reading poetry. During the week I decided to read Australian poets, regardless of how tempted I’ve been to read Edgar Allen Poe and Wordsworth as they’re two of my favourites. So, Australian poets it’s been.
I started with Oodgeroo Noonuccal, just because. She manages evocative images and emotions with a few spare words, and none of it needs deep analysis unless you want to spend the time with it. Her classic, Son of Mine, with its clear decision to focus forwards and not dwell on past wrongs always wrings the emotions in me. The Last of His Tribe is another favourite: such a casual telling of a life disregarded, but evoking the emotions of an entire race. Of course, as soon as I read Corroboree, I had to slip to We Are Going. Those two are linked like bread and cheese and must be read in that order. From there it was a short slide to Judith Wright’s Bora Ring.
The contrasts between the two poems highlight the contrasts between attitudes. Noonuccal feels the loss personally. Her people are gone; we’ve all lost something precious and we must acknowledge that. Wright feels it as something a little sad that happened to someone else and can’t be changed: Oh well, let’s move on now. Those two poems (three if we count Corroboree) together tell the tale of Australian history, and the attitudes prevailing, still, today.
From there I slipped into some Bruce Dawe and Thomas Shapcott; a different perspective of the country. Their work is known to me as well, still a homecoming. (I met Shapcott a lifetime ago when I first started uni. That was probably my first ‘fan-girl’ crush. It lasted all of three hours – the duration of his lecture, discussion afterwards, and the walk home to my reality.) I’ve been thinking about analysing the political and social environments at the time of their writings to see what correlations I can draw. Just because. It’s not as if I have nothing else to do.
So that was the comfort zone. Now it’s time for something a little different. I want to read some things by Luke Beesley and Kim Chen Boey. It’s not as simple as doing a search and downloading onto my ereader for them. I’ll have to buy an actual paper book to read them. I’ve searched the local independent and chain bookstores online. A couple of them have one or two books by Beesley, nothing by Boey. The only book I’ve been able to find by Boey is a travel memoir. Otherwise, I have one poem from a mixed anthology. Just one.
It'll be enough for me to read many different words, many different ways of putting those words together and many different ways of making readers think and feel differently. Some of it might even rub off on my writing. I can hope.
I began reading science fiction when I was four. I used to sit on my father’s lap as he read, and learned to read along with him. If he was reading E. E. (Doc) Smith or L. Ron Hubbard, he’d change books and we’d read Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke instead. I’m not sure if he considered the content of Smith’s and Hubbard’s books unsuitable for a four year old or if he thought the language was too difficult for me to read. It could have been something as simple as the size of the type.
Either way, science fiction was my first love and, while I read other things, I always return to it. It’s my comfort zone, my safe place.
I’m currently writing a science fiction novel as I do Year of the Novel through QWC. One of the questions I have to answer this month is what comparable books/writers there are to my story. If this was a romance story, I could easily find an answer because romance follows the same tropes. While there are differences with each story, there are always similarities too. Finding a comparable book would be a simple as finding another author with a similar voice or style. Science fiction isn’t that easy.
I don’t write hard science fiction. I don’t have the depth of science background to do it justice so I don’t even try. I also like fantasy stories so my SF, as well as being soft SF, often has fantasy elements. I love space operas, so I often write entire stories where most of the action is aboard ship, with planetary landings being rare and brief. When you add in the romance as well, it’s difficult to find something comparable.
I don’t know of anything similar to my new story, Memory for Loan, and couldn’t find any that combine similar SF features with romance. Some Steampunk novels touch on similar aspects of Victorian England culture and pollution as seen on Tolifax but Memory for Loan isn’t steampunk. I couldn’t find a romantic space opera that had similar elements although the writing of some hard SF authors (Greg Bear, Ralph Kern, Elizabeth Moon) resonates even though the majority of their writing (that I’ve read) is set on-planet.
The inspiration for Memory for Loan came from The Martian (Andy Weir), mixed with Victorian England slums, a concern over global warming and pollution and their affects on the environment, an interest in the idea of terraforming dead planets to make them habitable, melded with a personal background of Star Trek, Dr Who, Isaac Asimov, E. E. (Doc) Smith and Arthur C. Clarke.
The premise of the series is that the planet, Tolifax, has been used as a dump for centuries. The powers on Earth have dumped everything unwanted there, including human beings (especially hardened criminals). The communities on Tolifax are finally beginning to work together and revolt but how can that be successful when the people have no power and the ecology of the planet has been all but destroyed? The rebels set up camp, stage left, taking chunks out of the Galactic Government, centre stage, which fights dirty and for keeps. Enter, stage right, the planet whisperers, and you have the set-up for Memory for Loan.
They say to write what you know. That will give your writing greater depth and believability. It’ll be real. But how far should an author go in the pursuit of authenticity? We can’t all experience every emotion, or every action. For the experiences we haven’t had personally, we can read newspapers, journal articles, research papers. We can talk to people; friends and strangers. One thing we shouldn’t do is groom vulnerable people, make them trust us, then betray them.
It takes a lot of courage for someone who has been hurt to trust again, and even more courage to speak openly about the pain they’ve suffered. For someone to come along and use that courage and vulnerability for their own ends, without permission, is reprehensible.
I don’t usually comment on these things, and certainly not in the heat of the moment. I wait until I calm down and understand clearly what I’m thinking and feeling. I haven’t calmed down with this one; not at all. I am outraged and filled with a deep, all-consuming sorrow.
You don’t need to use and betray others to achieve a feeling of authenticity in your writing. You only need to have compassion and empathy. You only need to respect others and understand their lives are not yours. If you can’t do that, perhaps you’re writing in the wrong genre. If you can’t imagine it, perhaps you’re in the wrong business.
The Year of the Novel continues. I’m half way through the first month and should have 3000 words written by now. I have written about 1000. Not as much as I need, but better than I have been doing so I have to be happy with that.
I’m still struggling with where the story is going but I’ve decided I need to just write something and trust that, eventually, the story will sort itself out. I’ve done as much planning as I can without planning myself to death and never writing anything.
So that’s what I’ll focus on this week—getting words on paper, whether they’re good words or absolute rubbish. At least I’ll have something to work with.
As a teaser, I’ll give you the beginning of my new story, Memory for Loan. This is probably the fourth beginning, and probably won’t be the last one, but I think I’m getting closer to something I’m happy with.
Now to work on the second half of the first chapter. I want that finished before the end of next weekend, so I can move forward with the story.
One man hears the whisper
Lonnar pressed his hand against the sensor to open the lift door, pausing the action. He’d been on board the Augustus for six months, the captain in charge of nearly 3000 crew. It was his job, what he’d trained for since he was fifteen, yet it felt alien. Like he was living someone else’s life.
What else could he do though? This was what he’d always wanted. He pressed his fingertips against the pain that flared in his temples every time he thought about leaving his position. The pain was getting worse; sharp stabs behind his eyes, like pokers jabbing at him. He didn’t have a tumor; his last medical was only a few weeks ago and the pain had begun well before then.
Perhaps he should see a psych-med and… No. Any hint of mental illness with the captain would put the entire mission in jeopardy. Every order, every action, would be questioned and refuted. They’d come too far for that to happen.
And he was fine.
Lonnar took his hand away from his face, straightened his shoulders and punched the door release. The door slid open with a refined hiss and he stepped out, onto the bridge. The subdued murmur of ‘busy’ dulled his recent sensitivity, and the view of neverending stars washed over him like a balm.
Space. This was where he belonged.
“Report,” he said quietly.
His 3IC punched a few buttons on the arm control panel of the captain’s chair then stood. “All quiet, sir. The full report is now in your inbox. I’ll be in the rec room if you have any questions.” The Thrick always took over during Lonnar’s sleep period. His 2IC, the Tick, took over during Lonnar’s rest time.
“Thank you Thrick.” Lonnar sat, grimacing at the warmth of his seat. Shared. Not his. He opened the report from the previous session and began to read. The bridge was quiet, with only a few murmured comments or instructions between the crew. Lonnar liked the quiet, but it felt unnatural with twenty people around him.
The hours passed. Lonnar was superfluous.
“Captain, we’ve received a hail from the Caesar. Commander Milosovitz is ready to transfer to the Augustus.”
Lonnar didn’t both lifting his head to look at the comms officer. They wouldn’t be looking at him. “Notify receiving. Take the commander directly to his quarters. Inform me when he’s settled.” Lonnar continued reading the reports that continually landed in his feed. Through them he could monitor every activity onboard. Every few minutes he glanced at the pilot, his hands itching to take over the controls. That was flying.
“Professor Milosovitz is aboard and in his quarters, sir.” Lonnar tapped a button on his console that indicated he was still on duty but away from the bridge. He gazed around the bridge at his crew as he stood. They, just like the ‘sir’, were part of the package; part of the life that had become his after the completion of his last mission, and the promotion that followed his injury. A promotion and injury he didn’t remember. Maybe. Sometimes he thought he remembered it. His head buzzed with it every time he tried to get the facts straight, like a search array gone wrong. Stuck in a loop. Circling and circling for days until he thought he’d go mad with it. The medics thought it would always be like that, said it was normal in the face of trauma, said he would adjust to it soon. Lonnar wanted to believe them.
I love writing courses, especially face-to-face ones. I always meet such interesting people and am exposed to amazing minds and incredible ideas. It stretches my mind and forces me to try new things with my writing. I always come out writing better, writing happier.
Last week, I began The Year of the Novel with Venero Armanno. Week one was the overview. We touched on a lot of things such as writing habits, structure, and voice. We began looking at character, their background and conflicts.
We were given homework!
I don’t know if it makes me a nerd or not—I live on the edge of nerdness anyway (or perhaps not so much on the edge)—but I love homework. It’s a great way to see if I’ve understood the conversations during the day and to try it out on my own, and to find out how it works best for me. So far I haven't reached my set goal of 3000 a week. I'll need to write more than that to finish the book by my self-imposed deadline, but it's a good number to start with.
I’ll admit I’m still struggling with my story—so much so I can’t decide where to start it or what the first ten pages should show. In my head the idea is a good one, but every time I write a few thousand words, it reads like a stereotyped space opera. The uniqueness of the idea isn’t showing through.
I’ve thought about giving up a number of times. I’ve put this story away to think about, a number of times. This time, I want to get it written. I’m not giving up. I’ll find the way to make this story work.
E E Montgomery
About writing, life, and random thoughts.
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