Why Do You Do That Thing You Do?

How do you pick what to write about?  Do you have a favorite genre?  Do you read more than one genre or do you stick to one type?  I think most of us have interests that lie in many areas.  I love to read science fiction, but I also like paranormal romance and historical fiction and some fantasy.  I like scientific books on cosmology and books on how to write better.  Does that necessarily translate into what I will write about?  The short answer is probably. 

If we aren’t interested in what we’re writing about it will likely come through to the reader.  We often hear the mantra to “write what we know” but I think it is more crucial to write what you have a passion for.  You can fake it pretty well these days with a little research.  There is so much information at our fingertips that just a few minutes of our time can bridge a lot of information gaps, but passion will drive your interest and give your writing LIFE
So we will choose something that sparks our interest, but which genre?  Do you want to write something that is market driven?  Do you even care about that?  Professional writers that work on commission know what they will be writing about because it’s all figured out in advance.  It might be based on a certain appeal in the marketplace for certain types of stories, like vampires in love or cop dramas.  Something they know will sell in the current market.  But the market often moves very swiftly and without notice.  Why does that happen?  It happens because a writer did something on speculation and went out on a limb and it caught fire.  The Twilight books or the Harry Potter series are great examples.  The publishing industry is not a gambling institution.  They like a sure thing and so they’re blind to these speculative endeavors.  So what does that tell us?  We can probably sell a story that fits the mold of what is currently selling but it might prove difficult to find a buyer for your more speculative work.  Do you take this into consideration when you’re deciding?  I‘m curious, what are you all are doing? 
For me, the ideas come as they will.  You never know when one is going to pop into your head, be it from a dream or something you read or often times from an odd amalgam of things that fit together to spark a new idea.  They can be as different as night and day — Steampunk to Far Future to Historical Speculation and everything in-between (those are mine).  So you have all these ideas percolating but which one do you choose to flesh out and give life to?  I can’t give you an answer.  It is an individual choice that each writer needs to decide for themselves.  It’s like my kids asking me what they want.  I laugh every time they do it, and patiently explain they I can’t read their mind; they need to decide for themselves what they want.  
I don’t know why you write.  There are as many reasons people write as there are writers.  Is it because it is your only job and you need to eat?  Are you writing because you are hoping to have a career as a novelist and trying to break in?  Are you an established writer that knows where they are going?  Are you a fan of a particular genre and just want to do fan fiction and don’t care about ever selling a story?   The answer to this question probably drives the train on what you choose to write about.  
When I first started writing it was not quite fan fiction but it was established in a pre-determined setting.  There was no end goal other than just writing because I felt like it.  It got posted on a website for others to read but that was it.  I didn’t care about doing a follow-up or making a career out of it or anything of the sort.  The writing bug started out for me as a very small little tape worm that didn’t really bother me a whole lot.  But it has grown over the years to something that bites the insides of my intestines and makes me pay attention.  I’m developing a career.  Slowly, albeit, but it’s happening.   When people ask me if I am going to sell my work I give them a definitive YES.  I know it will be published when it’s ready, whether traditionally or by my own hand.  There is no question any more.  The current project has twisted to life and grown out of need.  I can no longer hold it back.  I’ll be doing this for the long haul. 
I have several projects lined up already.  One is Steampunk, one is fantasy, a couple of stories are near future sci-fi, and one is an extreme far future adventure. That’s not even counting the next two books in my Clear Ether trilogy.  I wrote a blog about genres a while back and whether or not they are a hindrance or a help for advancing your career.  Will that weigh in your decision on what to write about?  I guess I’m not all that worried about being pigeon-holed, but everyone’s circumstances are different. 
I would love it if you took the time to share why you write in your specific genre and are you considering branching out.
Clear Ether!

Prognosticating 50 and 100 Years Ahead

There seems to be a lot of people making predictions these days about the future.  I love this stuff. Always have.  I made a future timeline when I was maybe 13 that went a hundred years into the future.  It was fairly detailed, and I think I still have it somewhere.  I need to find it so see how we are doing.  I also did a self-portrait of me at 53.  That is almost dead on, except I thought I would have a little more hair on top. These things are fun to do and they help us science fiction writers have a baseline to project from in our worldbuilding.
Charlie Stross broke his down nicely into categories and I am going to follow suit.  So, here I go, putting on my thinking cap.  This is an extremely long post.  Just warning you now.
50 years from now … 2062
Climate 2062
It’s hard to refute the data that the globe is warming.  But if you go back even 35 years ago they thought the Earth was cooling.  I’m not completely convinced that man is having a significant impact on the change, but regardless, the climate is changing.  If we are to blame we certainly don’t appear to be on a path to change our ways.
There is a great deal of speculation about whether or not greenhouse gases are going to keep increasing and by how much.  An increase could trigger a cascading affect that will accelerate the effect.  Will it continue to rise or maybe only rise a little and stabilize?  The earth has sustained a great deal of change over the millennia, but a lot of these changes weren’t really compatible with human or mammalian life.  The natural system seeks balance, and does well to adjust to catastrophic events like massive volcanic eruptions.  But, if we really are to blame and continue to pump CO2 and halocarbons into the atmosphere we could push ourselves into a really desperate situation. 
My prediction is the global temperature will increase by a few degrees and stabilize.  There will be some geographic impact, like changing coastlines as a result of some glacial melting.  The climate in some areas will no longer be able to grow the same sorts of things, but it may become better suited for other things. 
Energy 2062
There is a global push to reduce the use of fossil fuels and it will continue.  Solar keeps improving and so do batteries.  I think we will see a major change in rechargeable batteries both in capacity and efficiency.  We will be getting close to commercial cold fusion but it will still not be viable.  I think nuclear will make a comeback.  It’s green and although the initial expense is high and probably going to increase to improve safety, once it is up and running it is a reliable source of relatively cheap energy. Coal is on the way out in most developed countries.
Transport 2062
No flying cars, yet.  I think airliners will still use the same sort of engines as they do now, although they will be much more fuel efficient.  FAA and global aviation authorities are moving to a more and more automated approach.  I think pilots will be there only as a safety measure for passenger hauling.  The aircraft will be automated from takeoff to landing.  Pilots will likely still be taxiing to and from the runway.  Cargo aircraft will be unmanned.
Piggy-backing on the improvement in batteries, automobiles will be all electric with solar adaptors for long hauling.   Metropolitan areas will continue to improve mass transit.  I think we will see trains and trucks still moving cargo cross country and automated cargo ships with minimal manning to move cargo across the oceans.
Population 2062
We’ve seen people move to the cities at the turn of the 20th century only to move to the suburbs midcentury and now the trend is reversing again.  Major city hubs will continue to grow, and some larger cities may combine.  Sprawls like Dallas-Ft Worth come to mind.  It’s almost one metropolitan area already.  I think the family farmer in the US will continue to dwindle.  Rural areas will still have populations, but the farming will mostly be done with automated equipment.  I’m not familiar enough with the European farming situation to comment on it. 
World population growth may stabilize somewhat.  The one trend I see is that education and industrialization appears to impact people’s decisions to have large families.  As the economies of China and India continue to grow I see those two massive populations stabilizing.  The big question for me is if Islam will continue to grow.  We have also seen every major religion have its day in the sun and then fade in power/popularity. 
My prediction is that the growth of Islam will stabilize also and as Arab cultures adopt a democratic philosophy we will see improvements in education and slowing of population growth.   Most of Africa is trailing but I see a spreading of education coming that will fundamentally change the political environment there.  South America will continue to improve economically, with Brazil becoming a major player.
Politics 2062
I see the rise of China and India continuing.  I don’t have a topic for Economics here but I think in the near term Europe and the US are going to continue to struggle.  I’m not sure we’ve seen the bottom yet.  I’m not convinced the Euro is going to survive and if the European economy tumbles further it will drag the rest of the world with it.  The market is truly global now and even though the world markets will still be there in 50 years we may be at the pinnacle of a global attempt to join together.  I don’t see global unity when I look ahead.  I think we are seeing that trying to force together populations of greater than 10 million starts to become unmanageable.
From a military standpoint, the Western powers will continue to be dominant, but China and India will join them if they aren’t already there.  There will not be one world superpower, although the US will still be the most technologically advanced and strongest from a purely military ability standpoint, but it will be much smaller than now.  Gross spending for defense will be in decline I think accept for China and possibly India.  
I think there might be at least one major world event in the next 50 years — either an even more serious financial catastrophe or a major war.  I’m betting on the former, which may push us into the later.
Space 2062
We may have a viable commercial transport to space by 2062.  The question is to what?  I can see that at that point there may be multiple projects for orbital stations and maybe a presence planned for the Moon.  We may be on the way to Mars, but there will be no permanent station yet.
Food 2062
As the population continues to grow food production will be increasingly more important.  I think people will get over their aversion to genetically altered food.  We will start to see a proliferation of vat grown meats.  I don’t see the world going vegan.  We may see improved food production globally in places that aren’t currently doing a very good job. 
In metropolitan areas, you will be able to do all your food shopping online and have it delivered.
Technology 2062
I hear talk that Moore’s Law is going to be over by 2062.  I don’t think so.  People are already working on the next great thing for computer chips, from Graphene to Molecular Molybdenum, to Bose-Einstein condensates.  Something will work to get us to an even smaller level, perhaps even subatomic.  Quantum computing may be close.  I think Nanotechnology will have improved dramatically and we will have industrial ability with new composite materials.
It means we will have faster speeds, more memory and greater capability to mimic the real.  I see video games continuing to become more and more lifelike.  I think tablets will become pervasive along with some version of the phone/wrist computer.  Many companies are working on a holographic user interface or control mechanism.  It’s been an ongoing concern for at least seven years already.  In another 50 I think they will have solved the issues.  The Xbox 360 Kinect has already shown a lot of promise and this technology will be mastered within the decade.  It will have far reaching effects for virtual or augmented reality.
Robotics will continue to improve, with more physical capabilities to mimic human manipulation and we may see some surrogates emerge that allow people to stay at home and interact with the outside world through their robot.  I think this is likely.
Internet 2062
I see a merging in the future of cellphone companies, telcos and cable providers.   They provide the onramp.   There will be ubiquitous high speed internet and most metropolitan areas will have full-coverage wireless, with a push for global wireless started.  I think the bandwidth will evolve if everything is already connected, and I don’t see it costing more, I see it costing less to get online.   Social media will be an integral part of life for everyone across the globe (of course there may be pockets they aren’t but I see those dwindling).  With the way cameras and cell phones are proliferating I see aspects of lifelogging starting to become mandatory for safety and legal issues. 
I see television programs moving to internet fulltime. Media Stations, like NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX etc will become just another source provider for the interwebs.  
 Medicine 2062
I see a “cure” for most cancers and even HIV.  By cure I mean it will be completely manageable.  Our medical scientists have developed a hubris that they think they will get to the root cause of everything within the human body by breaking down the various systems into smaller parts.  They think by understanding a small piece will allow them to solve the root cause, but the human body is so complex and interconnected I seriously doubt we will be anywhere close to this within the next 50 years.   I worry a little about the prevalent use of antibiotics at the drop of a hat.  There needs to be a lot more research done to advance our knowledge in this field and get ahead of mutating bacteria that are resistant to almost all strains of our current stock of antibiotics.  The potential is there for a major outbreak that we will struggle to control.
Scientists have mapped the human genome and will probably have mapped most of the brain and subsystems of the human body by then.  The computing power will be there.  But simply mapping the systems doesn’t give a special insight into how they are connected necessarily.  It doesn’t answer root causes for certain diseases.  I think we will be a long way to curing a lot of things that we can’t now, like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.  Life expectancy may increase by another 20 years by then.  I expect to be around to see this.
100 years from now … 2112
First off, I don’t think we have to worry about the Temples of Syrinx running the show.  But who knows, in a hundred years a lot of things can happen.
Climate 2112
Global warming may have continued to the point where it is now creating major shifts in climate.  Some parts of the world may be too warm to live in without air conditioning or living underground perhaps.  Canada and Siberia may become the breadbasket of the world.  Lower US, much of Europe, China and India will have some problems to contend with. 
My personal feelings are that sometime in the next hundred years we will figure out how to capture the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the problem will be solved.
Energy 2112
We will have commercially viable cold fusion.  For the small stuff solar powered rechargeable batteries will run everything else.  And by everything I mean everything, from doorknobs to adjustable solar panels to cars to houses to climate controlled, green, self-aware buildings that will adjust to maximize their energy input and pollution output.
Transport 2112
Flying cars might be viable now.  We have the propulsion and automation to make them safe and reliable.  You won’t be able to fly them though.  They will be completely automated.  You will get in and tell it where to go and it will calculate the safest and fastest way to get there.   Jetsons?  Maybe.  But these aren’t really designed for long voyages.  Airliners will be around for that.  I know Boeing and the other aerospace companies are working on a highflyer that is almost leaving the atmosphere with a deltawing design that is extremely efficient.  They may even be supersonic by then.  Passenger jets will have actual pilots as a failsafe, but everything else will be via drone. 
Efficient mass transit in all cities.  But here’s the thing.  There won’t be as much need to travel.  The world can come to you “virtually”.  Have you seen the movie Surrogates? It won’t be quite like that but I don’t see anything stopping us from having Robots that can travel for you and you will be able to see and hear everything they could.  Everything else can be brought to you.
Population 2112
I’ve seen a few predictions that the future will be filled with old people living in huge cities afraid of the sky.   Perhaps, but it will be because we’ve solved a lot of aging issues that have allowed the life expectancy to go well past 100, maybe pushing 150.  The real questions are how will virtual and augmented reality, the use of surrogates and ubiquitous social media affect the psychology of our society?  We will become like Asimov predicted in his robot novels and stop having human interaction?  That will have a huge impact on population growth. 
I think that the basic family unit will still interact with each other.   I don’t think we will all be sitting in a recliner slurping our dinner through a straw like in WALL-E.  People like to go the local watering hole for a drink or out to see a sporting event.  I think stuff like this will still be a part of our culture.  People will still play sports; the internet stuff will just be another part of their life like watching TV is now for most people.  The majority of people will still go to work, because, let’s face it the employer wants to know what you’re doing.  You will be monitored also.  A lot of professions may telecommute though.  Obviously it will depend on the industry you work in.  Restaurants will still be around.  The restaurant has to have cooks and servers and a supply chain.  You get the idea.
Insurance and police/legal system will require everyone be lifelogging from birth.
Politics 2112
HellifIknow.  I imagine a few wars will have changed the face of a few areas of the world.  The only constant is change.  I still think the major players, like Britain, France, Spain, United States, Australia, Japan, China, and India will all be around in some form or fashion.
Space 2112
I hope to God we have a lunar base by then and maybe a fledgling base on Mars.  Assuming we can get stuff to orbit cheaply it will open up the entire solar system.  Time and acceleration are still the big barriers.  You can only push a human body so hard before it becomes jelly.  I think 30 Gs is about the max you could withstand for any length of time if you lay in your back in an acceleration coach.  How long though?  A few hours at best, and I honestly think that is pushing it.
Food 2112
We will get more efficient with what we have.  The world will be producing food in most areas of the globe that will support it by then.   Urban farming will become common, inside and on rooftops.  Genetically altered food will be the norm.
Technology 2112
People will be monitored either by their own equipment or by someone else’s pretty much 24/7.  Augmented Reality is pervasive.  Voice control for everything in your home.  Your couch will know how soft or hard you like it and recognize you.  Your house will know all your preferences and be completely automated, unless you just don’t like it that way.  Your “computer“ system will have a voice and  holographic interface and display, and it will cover all your multimedia needs.  You will also be able to do most of your multimedia anywhere with a portable device that will display in holographic 3D.
We will see neural interfaces starting to become common.  Basic integration with either an implant in the eye or glasses. 
We will have the technology to get personal invisibility devices, but they will be outlawed for most uses.
Nanotech is making major breakthroughs.  We will be expanding 3D printing into new areas and developing basic matter teleportation, but only inorganic material.
Internet 2112
It will be so pervasive as to be like the road in front of your house.  It’s part of the landscape.  We are connected through neural implants or our house/appliances.  It will be effectively free.  Revenue for the providers will come through advertisements and the sales generated through your preference package they have been able to build, based on everything you do or like.
Medical 2112
We will have solved a great many diseases.  People will still get the flu and common cold though.  We will have a workaround for blindness and hearing impairment.   Nanotech will have little monitors for the bloodstream and other major organs that will report to your lifelog, for preventative care.  At birth you will have monitors installed. 
We will have solved a great deal of the issues with aging.  The decline at the end will be fast.
We will have the ability to grow organs for replacement.  We have the technology to clone humans, but I seriously doubt it will be allowed.
This seems very pie in the sky to me.  I’ve left out so much.  There will be terrible things that happen along the way I’m sure.  Catastrophes of every sort — hurricanes, floods, food shortages, wars, plagues, who knows what.  We will overcome all of these things along the way though.  Our population is so spread out now and so large that we can absorb a lot of damage and keep on truckin as a species.  None of the major events of the past century have really slowed down progress, no more than a speed bump.  Only a global disaster of unprecedented proportions will slow down our development.  I pray that doesn’t happen.

I hope you enjoyed it.  Clear Ether! 

Beginnings are Hard

Getting the beginning of a story right is hard.  Oh, it’s not hard to start a story; it’s just hard to get it right when all the dust settles. 
When you finally get that idea that’s been percolating for weeks or months all ready to go you have no trouble putting words to page.   The first draft, especially the beginning, seems to flow.  Partly it’s because it was the kernel of an idea that got you started in the first place and so you know how it starts.  You might even know how it ends.  The middle part seems like the hard part initially because you need to stitch it all together and keep the story moving forward with meaningful drama to fill in the holes.  But you muddle your way through the middle and then hit the final stretch, which, by the way, seems to go on and on.  You think you’re almost at the finish line but it’s like someone keeps moving it away from you.  Finally you cross the finish line, and it’s a victory, although it’s short-lived and less spectacular than you thought it would feel.  You know you still have a mountain of work ahead.

Once you finish that first draft you can breathe a sigh of relief and maybe step away for a few weeks. But you have to go back to the beginning again for the revision and this is when you can start poking sharp sticks into your eyeballs trying to solve the issues with your beginning, which suddenly doesn’t look as good as it did when you started on this journey.
There is so much advice out there about how to start your story.  It should grab your attention right from the word go, but don’t use gimmicks and make sure you touch on all five senses in the first few pages or was that paragraphs?  But really, you should make sure you sink the hook by the end of the first chapter, but keep in mind that you need to lay out some normal in there also and set-up the “Big Problem”.  Don’t just go on and on with exposition, and make sure you show and not tell.  You have a whole lot of information that you’ve been working on, you know, all the time spent world building.  You have a compulsion to share that info with us even though it really doesn’t move the story forward.  A lot of that can go into your boneyard of lonely used sentences.  It’s kind of like the Island of Misfit Toys.  Those words still have a fading hope of being used again in some form, maybe in a sequel.  Anyway back to fixing the beginning… 
You knew where you wanted the story to start but your alpha readers are telling you there’s not enough action there, you need to start the story in the middle of the action.  But which action and which problem?  You are likely introducing multiple issues in the beginning so where do you start?  With the “Big Problem” or maybe a smaller conflict just to get the ball rolling?  Some writing columns will tell you that really there are four acts to a novel, and you should put in some foundation of how our protagonist lives before he slash she encounters the “Big Problem.”  Maybe you didn’t start far enough back.  But remember, every chapter should have a conflict and move the story forward.
Having alpha readers is essential to this task.   As the author you can often hear how your characters talk and you know what they know, but the reader has to discover all this by what you “show” them.  It’s really easy to miss things that you forgot as the author that the reader doesn’t know already.  The alpha reader can spot these from a mile away because they get confused.  You didn’t provide enough background material somewhere, so you have to go back and add that in.  Now you’re definitely not starting in the middle of the action. 
So how do you reconcile all this?  Well, you actually listen to your alpha and beta readers.  You don’t have to use every piece of advice, but when you see repeatedly the same comments about a particular section then you need to understand what they’re telling you and go and fix it.  Maybe not with their words, but it needs repaired somehow that answers the concerns they had.  You manage to fix all these issues but you need to make sure you don’t lose your “Author’s Voice” in the process.   I wish someone would tell me how to do that, but that’s a post for another day.   Now you’re nearly done, but you haven’t read it out loud to make sure it sounds right and flows properly, so you find someone to read it to you out loud.  You go back and iron out all those rough spots.  
I don’t want to even talk about how many iterations this may take.  I’ve rewritten and revised the first chapter at least a dozen times, maybe more, I’ve lost count.  And of course any changes you make have repercussions throughout the book and you have to make sure the continuity holds up.  YMMV.
Whew!  Okay done.  Now you start sending that one out and start the process all over again…
Who said this was easy?
Clear Ether!