Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

Book Release Party

This Friday is the book release party for Val Roberts and me at Rediscovered Books in Boise. The event starts at 7 pm, and both Val and I will be reading from our work.

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I’m a bit unconventional when it comes to being a writer. I started out my creative life wanting to be a film maker. In those early days, I shot a lot of film and video tape. I also did plenty of drawing. Storyboarding is a concept used in film making wherein you draw out your scenes like comic books in little squares or rectangles. The idea is to let you visualize a scene from beginning to end, before you start filming it.

There really is nothing like this in writing a novel, except working out and sticking to an outline. But I’m a visual person. Remember, I was a film major in school. Yes, I’m actually in the IMDB. Anyway, early on in my film making career; so early that I was still in Junior High School, my friends and I started drawing scenes from a SF movie that we planned to make in our back yards that would rival Star Wars. Did I mention we were only 14? Yeah, delusions of grandeur.

Anyway, that movie never really got made, but it was so fun drawing the starships and then actually making little cardboard models of them, that it kept us entertained for hours on end and as my dad used to say, kept us out of the pool halls. Being a diligent archivist, I kept everything we drew. From age 13 through our early twenties. Much later in life, I decided to turn those drawings into a novel. The end result was Starstrikers.

Eight-wing Starfighter

This week on my blog, I’m opening up the vault and showing off some art that we drew as kids that I’m now using for inspiration as I start writing the prequel to StarstrikersStarforgers. Not all the art that I will be showing off was drawn when I was a kid. I continue to sketch scenes from my novels to help me visualize them. I can’t help it, I think in visual terms. But fair warning, I’m not an artist in real life, I only pretend to be one. So some of the drawings are less than spectacular. Well, okay, most of them suck. But you can still see where I’m coming from with each brief description.

So how about it, do any of the other distinguished writers on Genre Bender doodle before they write?

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Thought I’d post here, since it’s been a while. Well, okay, maybe like a year or more. So long ago, I can’t remember when I last posted here. Anyway, I have some news. This week I’m launching my first anthology of SF stories. It’s called, Tales From Ocherva Vol 1, and here is the awesome cover for it:

You can find out more about the e-book only anthology over at my web site: http://ken-mcconnell.com. I promise to post here a little more often in the coming weeks. Anyone else join me?

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My name is Sally, and I’m an SF-aholic.

Hi Sally.

You want my story? (The story of me or the stories I write? Today it’s me.) I got my first taste of SF when I was just a child: the sweet, tangy flavors of Walter Farley’s The Island Stallion, a charming and quite stirring (for an 8 year old) tale of horses, alien shapeshifters and space ships. My parents encouraged me to imbibe healthier fare (Trixie Belden books spring to mind… so where’s the healthy exactly?) but that one taste had me hooked.

I resisted for quite a few years, mostly due to peer pressure, but then, one day in hospital after giving birth to my first child, the library lady came trundling by my bedside with a cart bearing Robert Silverberg’s The Time Hoppers. I was in a weakened state. It called to me more loudly than the Harlequins and mysteries around it. I went for it like an alkie with a big, big thirst. That book turned me into a full-blown SF-aholic.

It’s a disease. No doubt about it. In the way alcoholics love to talk about their drinking days, and over-eaters anonymous members revel in reminiscing about cheeseburgers past, we who love science fiction and fantasy flock together to share our joy. As Spider Robinson says: Shared joy is increased, shared pain lessened. And it’s painful to go without a good sf fix for too long.

For me it was always about the books. Sci-fi movies are generally laughable at worst, okay at best, with the occasional rise to greatness (Star Wars-The Empire Strikes Back; Blade Runner, Galaxy Quest (Yes, Galaxy Quest dammit!). But the books! Dune, Red Mars, The Stars My Destination, A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Lathe of Heaven, Neuromancer, Starship Troopers, Ringworld… by God it’s like a bar where the drinks flow freely and the bartender can put his hand on a bottle of the very finest stuff. And open it just for you.

And the best thing is—people are still writing the stuff! And loving it. And passing it around like a doobie.. but that’s a whole other addiction. I’ll stick to the SF, thanks very much.

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Science Fiction author, Tobias Buckell wrote a series of articles intended to educate new writers called, Getting Past Being Joe Blow NeoPro. If you write, no matter what your genre, you should listen or read them. I have the audio version on my iPod and listen to them on a regular basis for inspiration.

One of the things he talked about in that series was finding the original source of your story. Look back in history or across genres for a story that you could use as the inspiration for your own unique vision. Instead of rehashing yet another take on cyberpunk or popular TV programs like Battlestar Galactica or Lost, come up with your own spin based on something tried and true that has been done in the past.

I won’t rehash his examples; you should read or listen to his article for that. But I would like to talk about how I do this when I write a short story or even a novel. My first published short story started out as homage to one of my favorite aviation cartoonists from World War II, Bob Stevens. My father had a collection of military aviation books that I pored through many times over as a teenager. One of those books was called There I Was, Flat on my Back, and it was taken from a cartoon Stevens had drawn about veteran fighter pilots impressing the younger pilots with their daring deeds in the skies over Europe. The older pilots were participating in what is called hangar flying.

I decided that I would emulate hangar flying in my story by having a bunch of space pilots hanging out in a tavern and trying to out-do one another with daring feats of space piloting. I even paraphrased the name of Stevens’ book by starting out with a star pilot just finishing a wild tale by saying “There I was, hanging from my thruster jets as my ship cruised into space dock”. My protagonist then proceeds to start his own wild tale, in which the story takes place. My story winds up being a campfire yarn or Shaggy Dog story in which the entire story is just to get to the punch line at the end which is usually a simple play on words.

Another short story of mine is called “Red Allen” and it is about a military test pilot who bites off more than he can fly and has to save himself from being killed by an experimental star fighter. As you can guess, the original source for this story was non-other than Chuck Yeager, legendary test pilot and the first man to break the sound barrier. I read Yeager’s biography and based my character Red Allen on him in many respects. But I also used the look and feel of early 1950’s test pilot aircraft in describing the ship that Red is called in to fix.

I also made some fairly obvious nods to a well known genre writer by including a barkeep in the story. Originally he was modeled after the woman who ran the bar outside of Edwards Air Force Base that Yeager and other pilots used to haunt – Pancho Barnes. My barkeep is named Spider and I describe him just like Spider Robinson who is known for writing SF novels set in a bar where fantastic things happen. Most of that story involves Red using his engineering skills to figure out why some star fighters are crashing. His reasoning and deductive skills are modeled on the real Chuck Yeager.

I could go on with more examples from my own stories but I think you get the idea what is involved. Put some thought into your stories and have fun with them. Most readers may never be able to pick out your obscure references, but they will respond to the original source material, buried within.

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Over the course of four manuscripts, I discovered that my natural genre is science fiction romance–sort of space-going international thrillers with a happy-ending romance thrown in. Hey, romance is consistently more than half of mass market paperbacks sold; I’m not completely stupid.

So here’s the weird thing: I’ve entered contests, I’ve sent out manuscripts for cold reads, I’m in a critique group, and the single aspect of my writing that is most comment-worthy is the swear words. Yup, people (other than my two critique partners) are absolutely fascinated by how humans are going to swear centuries hence.

Frankly, I’ve never seen it as being much different from the ways we swear now. Most swearing centers around bodily functions, which aren’t going to change much anytime evolutionarily soon. Defecation, urination, fornication–they’ll all be around and so will their particular flavors of swear words.

Plus, I’ve studied the history of English; I know it changes quickly. In six hundred years, humans will barely be able to read what I’m writing right now. Any story I write set centuries in the future, whether off-world or on Earth, has to be written in translation. So the swear words should be translated back to something we can understand too, right?  Well, most of my readers/judges/commenters don’t seem to think so.

They wanted “more futuristic” cussing. I’m going to pause for a moment, because I’m still having just a small amount of difficulty wrapping my brain around that concept. Boggle. Unboggle. Sigh.

Finally, in desperation, I created a new swear word for my work in progress (to take the place of the f-bomb ubiquitous in military conversational English).  I have a space-going society with interplanetary governments and interplanetary trade. As a result, one of the worst things I could think of–especially for someone between planets–is a rip in a pressure suit or hull while in vacuum. Thus, my new word is “rip” (ripped, ripping, rip me, go rip yourself, motherripper, etc.).

When I sent out the first chapter to the recent On the Far Side contest (RWA Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter’s annual contest for unpublished writers), I was complimented on my swearing.

My three judges/commenters didn’t like the female protagonist, they were worried about “Vulcan” trademark infringement (obviously missing that Star Trek ripped it off from Roman mythology), only one person caught the question I really wanted answered (did it start in the right place/right POV), but they loved the cussing. Loved it. Loved. It.


I’ve decided I’m going to start using it in the hopes the word will catch on and actually become a major swear word in the future.

So what do you think; how will we swear in The Future?

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Space Westerns

I like Westerns. I always watch a good Western when I come across it on TV. Recently, I even read my first Louis L’Amour book – Fallon. I intend to read more Westerns in the coming months. In fact, it could become my number one genre choice in 2009. There are many Western novels that I need to catch up on, not to mention all the hundreds of short stories writers like L’Amour have written. My sudden literary interest in Westerns is prompted by my recent fascination with Space Western short fiction.

What is a Space Western you may rightly ask? Well, broadly speaking its anything from Star Wars to Firefly. The link to Westerns in Star Wars is most prominent in the character of Han Solo. Trade his blaster for a six gun and you could drop Han into the American West and he would look and act right at home. For those of you not familiar with Firefly, it took the Western motif quite literally by placing cowboys directly into a space setting. Everything from clothing to the wooden diner table on the Firefly starship are lifted directly from a Western movie. Heck, they even speak Chinese. Why was Chinese part of American history? Who do you think built the railroads?


The many tropes of the Western tend to lend themselves nicely to the fantasy side of Sci-Fi. What is generally considered Space Opera. Big, epic stories often set during galactic wars with faster than light travel and things blowing up, tend to define the Space Opera sub genre. Again, think Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. However, most short fiction tends to focus on one or two characters. And so the Space Western usually focuses on one protagonist and his or her struggles.

I’ve been writing quite a few Space Westerns lately. Six of them are complete with another six or so on the back burner. Science Fiction writers tend to create elaborate universes and then set the majority of their stories in that universe (there’s a post for another day). The reason they do this is because creating fictional universes is hard work and one way to flesh them out is to write a bunch of stories set in that universe. For me, I use the Galaxy Collision Series as my universe. My novel Starstrikers is set in that universe and so are my two published short stories.

My Space Westerns are mostly set on a dusty moon called Ocherva, at the edge of the known galaxy. The stories center around two different but related themes. The first is about the exploits of a Stellar Ranger company. This is a direct cowboy parallel to the Texas Rangers of the old West. The second is about androids who come to the moon to get an upgrade that makes them sentient. After having the upgrade, they have to deal with the repercussions of it before heading back to the inner worlds and helping to free themselves from service to humans and other carbonates.

With these two overarching themes, I create stories that have a distinctly Western flavor but that turn traditional tropes upside down. A theme in many of the stories is how the land changes the people and androids who live on it. Just as the vast, open spaces of the American West left a mark on those who lived there, so does the vast, deserted landscape of a barren moon, affect those who live on it. For the androids, the raw material – silicon, used in their upgrades is mined on Ocherva. It gives them a soul, but at what price? Sometimes the androids can’t handle it and they go mad. Sometimes they feel a desire to meddle in the affairs of humans, like becoming a sheriff for a town of frightened people. The humans chew on (for hydration purposes) and sometimes smoke a native weed called Ocha. The Ocha weed, when smoked, gives them crazy dreams. Sometimes the dreams give them glimpses into the future.

So you see, I have plenty of opportunity to play on this moon and will be writing Ranger and Silicant stories for years to come. I hope to build a world so familiar to my readers that they will think of it like they think of the American West, as a big, wide-open place full of adventure and danger; but also a place where humans, aliens and androids all mix together in interesting ways to make fun and engaging stories.

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Organizing 101

Last year I decided to move to Scrivener the fantastic novel writing program for Macs only. Since all of my writing happens on my MacBook, that decision was a good one. I have been writing my third novel in Scrivener this year and I have to say, its been great. So good in fact, I am moving all my short stories into Scrivener.

Screenshot of Scrivener.

Screenshot of Scrivener.

I have created projects for groups of my short stories that are related. For instance, since I write primarily SF, I have a project for all the stories that take place in my current novel’s universe. I have another project for miscellaneous short stories that do not take place in that universe. Every time I come up with a new short story, they will be a new chapter in the short story project.

I used to write my short stories in Word or Gedit, but now I keep them all together and divided into folders within the project. This makes things easy to find and keep organized. Scrivener lets me also save notes, and pictures related to my stories. Essentially keeping all my research in one place so I don’t have to run around looking for things when I forget where my notes are for a particular scene or a character sketch.

You don’t need to use Scrivener for such organizing. You can accomplish the same task with several very excellent Windows based programs. What matters is that you keep yourself organized so that you can stay on task and write your stories.

For larger projects, like novels, it really pays to be organized. Many programs like Scrivener help you in more ways than one. They have outlines built in and places to put photos and notes. I don’t know how I would live without Scrivener anymore. It keeps chapter notes, a simple outline and the actual chapter all together in one screen. Deep in a complicated novel with lots of characters and intricate plot lines, this kind of organization really helps.

Here is a screen shot from Tyrmia, my WIP. You can see all the areas of the program in use for this SF novel. I was posting a picture like this every couple of weeks on my blog, so show proof that I was actually writing and making progress. Perhaps I should continue doing that.

Click for larger image.

Click for larger image.

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