Indie Author Spotlight – Emma Pullar, author of ‘Avian’

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

For long-time readers of my blog, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of dystopian narratives and indie authors – and today I get to combine both of them!

The indie author and publishing world is an incredibly vibrant and supportive community. Over the years, I’ve been lucky to meet a lot of great authors and publishers who are creating and publishing interesting and unique stories – and today’s guest author is no different.

Emma Pullar

 

Emma Pullar is a London-born author of dark fiction whose  award-winning horror and sci-fi short stories have been published in four different anthologies. A writer of many talents, Emma has also written a best-selling children’s book and dabbles in screenwriting. But it is her dystopian thriller duology (published by indie house, Bloodhound Books) – and not the fact that she spent some time living ‘across the ditch’ 🙂 (an Aus-Kiwi term for those playing along at home) – that I signed up for her blog blitz.

 

I read the first book of the duology, Skeletal, last week and was immediately struck by Emma’s treatment of one of my favourite dystopian archetypes – the divided population. It is a theme I have explored extensively in my own dystopian series, Divided Elements,  and I was interested in discussing with Emma her own thoughts on the trope.


 

Thanks for joining us today, Emma! Your first book, Skeletal, deals with some classic dystopian themes, including a divided population and a government that keeps it divided by spreading lies to both sides about the other –

What drew you to this theme?

What drew me to the divided society theme is how divided our own societies are. I’ve moved between middle and working-class and lived in different countries with varying degrees of class separation. There is always going to be a pyramid structure to any society but some are fairer than others and it’s possible to better yourself. I find the UK (my birth country) a hard place to better your situation. The poor stay poor and now we have a new class of people called ‘the working poor’ and for me, this is disgraceful. I took the injustices I had experienced in my life growing up in a low social economic area and the opportunities I was afforded when moved to an affluent area in another country, and twisted them into the strange place that is Gale City.

Do you have any favourite books or movies that also deal with this  theme?

I love dystopian books and movies. Most dystopian societies in literature and film are divided into the powerful and powerless.  However, the books/films Skeletal has been likened to by reviewers are ones I had never read/watched.

I love The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 but I did not read those until after I had written Skeletal. Writers definitely have similar thought patterns.

The Hunger Games and Battle Royale are two of my favourites. With both of those there is a lottery in being entered into the games. Showcase is a lottery of sorts. So I guess the lottery/getting picked idea was an influence.

Do you see this theme playing out in ‘real life’?

As in my first answer, yes, I do see this playing out in real life. I think history repeats itself and humans never learn from the past. Those in power will continue to be greedy until the majority of society are starving and have no choice but to bring them down. Then the cycle starts again.

How does this theme evolve in your second book, Avian?

In Avian we see how the system came to be in the first place and why humans (emotional creatures) struggle to make good choices and govern themselves. Skyla finds out that alternative ways of living can be harmonious. Everyone has a part to play and people help each other. “The system does not work” and Skyla knew this but that doesn’t mean a new system isn’t the answer.

 


 

Emma Pullar - Skeletal_cover
CENTRAL IS LOSING ITS GRIP ON THE CITIZENS OF GALE CITY.

Megan Skyla, who refused to play by Central’s rules and become a surrogate for her masters, has thrown the city into chaos. Corrupting those around her, she and her friends are forced into hiding – hunted by Central, the evil rulers of Gale City. Skyla’s desperate attempts to keep everyone alive ends when they’re kidnapped by feuding gangs.

Skyla cuts a deal and then betrays both gangs. Now there is nowhere left to run. It’s the desert or die. Her best friend, Crow, thinks she still wants to find a way to cure the Morbian masters of their obesity and finish what she started.

But Skyla has other plans. She’s sure there are settlements in the desert, there must be something out there … and there is. Something terrible.

Skyla is about to find out there’s more than one way to bring about change but one truth remains … Central must be destroyed in order to ensure her survival. There is no other way.

 

Find Emma on:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Emma-Pullar/e/B01N5FM39O

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4795002.Emma_Pullar

Webiste: www.emmapullar.come

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Emma-Pullar-Storyteller-315550881823466/

Twitter:  @EmmaStoryteller

Instagram: @emmapullar_storyteller

 

Want more great dystopian books?

Divided Elements - Book 1 and 2

 

Resistance, The award-winning first book in the dystopian Divided Elements series is now available for free! Click here to grab your copy.

You can also purchase your copy of the anticipated sequel Rebellion. Click here to start reading now!

 

 

 

 

 

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Indie Author Spotlight – Emma Pullar, author of ‘Avian’

How does this ‘conflict, not goals’ thing work anyway?

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Recently I wrote a post about character needing conflict, not goals. I received a great question from a reader via email and thought I’d post it – and the response – here so that you can all get some additional insight and join the conversation.

(Note: story details from the question have been removed – but don’t worry, it doesn’t affect the response)

QUESTION:

 

OHHHH MAII GAWD

So, I read that article like a thousand times over, and I’m trying to get in the mindset of thinking this way.

But I’m hitting a wall.

I keep thinking Goal oriented.

Should I just think of a character and give her problems to solve which will in return create a goal?

 

 

REPLY:

 

Hey! Thanks for reaching out.

Yeah, it can be tricky to change your mindset when the ‘every scene needs a goal’ advice is so prevalent. The way I like to think about it is this:

In Act 1, your character is just living (or trying to live) their normal life, even though external problems/forces are starting to disrupt things (to various degrees of success) until…

Act 2A, where your character is finally engaging with this external problem/force but hasn’t really changed who they are (i.e. hasn’t changed their habits/mindset/normal way of approaching things and hasn’t undergone any real personal growth and change) and they aren’t really being proactive, just reacting to things,  until…

The midpoint/reversal throws them into Act 2B and then they start being proactive and drawing on the new skills, resources, mindset, allies, etc they have accumulated on the way. They start approaching things from a new perspective and understanding (even if it’s still early days and they’re only just learning how to use them).

So – that said – it’s hard to give your character goals in Act 1 and Act 2A, because those two acts are really about avoidance of/denial of/disinterest in/inability to engage with the emerging problem (Act 1) and reactive efforts to just survive (Act 2A).

For those two acts that make up the first half of your book, I find it easier to focus less on ‘goals’ and more on ‘conflict’.

Conflict can be problems, obstacles, challenges, physical altercations, arguments – anything that puts the character out of their comfort zone and demands they respond.

So, going back to your story example  – in the first act, ask what conflict is removing your MC from her comfort zone and forcing her out of her normal routine? Don’t worry about giving her scene goals – use the assumption that, in the first act, every scene’s goal is to avoid the problem.

In Act 2A, ask yourself how would ‘normal’ MC deal with the new environment/situation she finds herself in? And then put in her way things that challenge that old way of dealing. If she was always able to defeat her foes by drawing on a magic power, make that power not effective anymore. Or give her antagonists that know how to beat it. Keep putting conflicts in her way that limit her ability to draw on her old way of doing things and force her to grow as a character so that in Act 2B she has to grow and change in order to succeed.

I hope that helps!

 

What about you? Do you also struggle switching your mindset from goals to conflict? Or do you have your own perspective on this paradigm shift that can help our reader/author?

How does this ‘conflict, not goals’ thing work anyway?

The 15 Minute Four Act Structure

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Over here, in my part of the world, it is winter. Which means flu season. Which, when you have a toddler in daycare, means lots of sniffly days on the lounge under blankets watching kids shows ad nauseum.

It’s not as bad as it sounds – there’s a lot of quality kids series out there these days and most only go for fifteen minutes. That means a distinct, wholly-contained, discrete narrative in fifteen minutes. And, as a bonus, the really good ones are perfect examples of the four act structure boiled down to its essentials.

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that I’m a fan of the four act structure and have seen me break it down and assess it in detail before – so go ahead, you can skip this paragraph. For the newer readers, the four act structure is (at its core) a three-act structure that has its second act broken up into two components. The second act is still the middle – it’s just a middle of two parts – Act 2A and Act 2B. You can read more about the four act structure (and my take on it) here: go ahead, we’ll still be here when you get back.

So here I was, on another chilled out evening, rugged up in my favourite Basotho blanket with my favourite little man watching another episode of Rusty Rivets. Rusty Rivets is a series about a young inventor, Rusty, and his best friend, Ruby, who invent things and then get into trouble when those inventions don’t go as planned, and then have to use their creativity, ingenuity and resourcefulness to get themselves out of trouble.

Rusty Rivets

As I was watching tonight’s episode I thought to myself how I really liked that each episode always showed Rusty and Ruby thinking up new ideas, testing them, refining them, and then coming up with new ideas when the others didn’t work (a life lesson I’m always trying to teach my son). And that was when I realised, each episode is a quick lesson in the four act structure.

And what I really like, is that each episode is a lesson in using the four act structure in a medium that needs to hook attention early and keep it throughout. Something that novelists are being challenged with in an era of countless books, short attention spans, and lower tolerances for books that don’t grab readers by the throat and keep the pressure til the end.

So, what does this lesson in the four act structure look like – and what does it mean for us who use it in longer forms of narrative (like novels and scripts)?

Hook comes before the Status Quo

In my interpretation of the four act structure, each story (and act) begins with the status quo before moving to the disturbance. And that still holds true – but rather than locate the story’s hook with the disturbance, this new approach puts it up front in the status quo. In this approach, the hook is a point of interest that happens in the world of the status quo. It is interesting, but not unexpected or unusual.

In the  Rusty Rivets episode where a robot skunk is on the loose, Rusty is attending a flower show festival with his mum. The festival a point of interest within his usual world. It’s noteworthy – it stands out from the regular routine – but it’s not unusual or out of the comfort zone. It’s the difference between a festival (lots of fun and excitement, but in a comfortable/’I’ve seen this before’/’I know what this is about’ event) and an alien invasion (exciting, but also terrifying in a ‘I’m completely out of my depth’ kind of way). One’s the hook, the other’s the disturbance.

In Hunger Games – the hook is the day of the reaping. It’s noteworthy and interesting, but not unfamiliar. Compare that to Prim being called and Katniss volunteering – that’s noteworthy, interesting, terrifying, and something that upsets the status quo and sends things on a new trajectory.

And that’s kind of the point:

  • The hook is something interesting about the status quo/normal/business-as-usual world – it’s a bright point but it doesn’t change the status quo and doesn’t elicit any change or need for development in the protagonist. It serves three purposes – i) to get us interested in the story, ii) to hint at the disturbance and/or story conflict, and iii) to show the story world and the status quo and the protagonist’s characteristic moment.
  • Unlike the disturbance, which is the thing that interrupts the status quo and threatens to throw the normal world off balance and the protagonist out of their comfort zone.

In the Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise’s character, Major Cage, getting deployed to active combat is the hook. And one that really pushes the envelope as far as hooks are concerned – because it does seem to teeter on the edge (no pun intended) of becoming a disturbance. It is a dramatic shift in the status quo and normal world of the protagonist and it pushes the protagonist out of his comfort zone.

edge of tomorrow

And maybe, if the story was a war drama, it would have been the disturbance. Except this is is a sci-fi movie, so we know that things haven’t really disrupted the status quo. A military desk officer being deployed to active combat is still within the realms of possibility in this story world – the event is an annoyance to the protagonist and threatens his comfort zone, but doesn’t threaten his worldview of what is or isn’t possible. That comes when kills an alpha alien and gains the ability to reset time every time he is killed. That’s the disturbance.

LESSON: Put your hook up front and use it to show the normal world and the protagonist’s motivation and armour/critical flaw.

 

Keep the initial response short

The initial response to the disturbance (typically a refusal of the call to action) in the long form of the four act structure is designed to show the protagonist’s inner conflict – to show that engaging with the disturbance/story problem is not an easy decision or one within their comfort zone.

There a hundreds of reasons why a protagonist won’t engage with a disturbance – it doesn’t directly affect them, the personal stakes aren’t high enough, they don’t have the skills or resources or opportunity to engage, the risks of engaging outweigh the risks of avoidance, etc, etc.

If you’ve done your job in establishing the hook and status quo, you shouldn’t need to spend too much time on this initial response. The refusal should be logical/reasonable given all that has come before.

In Rusty Rivets, Rusty doesn’t engage because his mum steps in to deal with the skunk. In the episode about the super sticky glue, he doesn’t engage because he is literally unable to move. Both reactions are brief and quickly followed by a push towards the first plot point/the point of no return/the undeniable push for protagonist engagement.

In Edge of Tomorrow, the initial response by Major Cage is to become a passive spectator. He gets reset and reacts to the same scenario and dies and gets reset again. It’s shown in a kind of montage – emphasising that he is stuck in this new reality and that his reacting isn’t getting him anywhere. It quickly changes when he meets Emily Blunt’s character, the Angel of Verdun,  and we get the sense that now the real story is starting.

The ‘passive spectator’/’react only’ characterisation that is at the core of the initial response. It’s only when the protagonist starts to actively engage that we move into Act 2. Readers and audiences want to get to this part quickly – they like warming up to a story, but once they get a feel for the world, the protagonist, and the story problem, they start getting impatient to get to the ‘real story’ – to know what thread, out of all the many possible threads there are, will be followed. Don’t hold out on them – get to Act 2 quickly.

LESSON: Do the heavy lifting with your hook and status quo to limit the time you need to dedicate to the initial response. Get to the ‘real story’ of Act 2 as soon as you can. 

The difference between Act 2A and Act 2B

Where the initial response is passive reaction. Act 2 is all about active engagement. The first part (Act 2A) is engagement without growth or change. It’s the protagonist acting the way they would normally act, drawing on the same resources, falling back on what they know and have done in the past.

In Rusty Rivets, this is always Rusty and Ruby trying to solve things without an invention (i.e. running after it, sneaking up on it, trying to catch it themselves, etc) or trying to fix the invention that has malfunctioned by normal means (things that any kid would come up with as a solution).

In Hunger Games, this is Katniss surviving using the skills and knowledge she already had back in District 12 – hunting, trekking, climbing, being stealth.

In Act 2A, the protagonist is engaging, but not growing.

Act 2B the protagonist is both forced to think completely outside the square of their old life and draw on the new knowledge, skills, resources, and comrades (mentors, sidekicks, allies) they have gained in Act 2A to make progress.

In Rusty Rivets, this means Rusty and Ruby combine it and design it to come up with a new invention to fix the problem. Which they continue to refine until they get to their false victory.

In Hunger Games, it’s Katniss no longer relying on herself to survive (as she always has), but teaming up with someone else to win.

It’s still active engagement, but it’s engagement that requires the protagonist to do something new (hinting that protagonist is becoming someone new).

LESSON: Act 1 is passive spectating/reaction, Act 2A is active engagement without change, Act 2B is active engagement by trying something new/becoming someone new 

Act 3 is still the same

Yep, it’s still what follows the false victory and dark night of the soul, where the protagonist must use all that has been learned along the way and shed the final remnants of the old self in order to gain ultimate victory and achieve the final goal. Whereas Act 2B shows the protagonist doing something new, Act 3 is the protagonist emerging as someone new.

This is probably more on the lighter side in kids shows – there’s not as much character development (obviously). In Rusty Rivets, it’s always the same ‘transformation’ – Rusty and Ruby trusting their innovative and creative minds and thinking outside the box to use their latest invention in a new and unexpected way (like using the hot air balloon as a cushion to save Rusty’s mum from crashing into the ground). In Edge of Tomorrow, the transformation is deeper and more complex – Major Cage becomes the hero he ran from being in the beginning of the movie even though he no longer has the ‘reset’ ability to fall back on.

LESSON: Act 4 is the emergence from the chrysalis – the butterfly ready to confront and defeat the antagonist in a way that the caterpillar never could. 

The 15 Minute Four Act Structure

Forget the Goal – Your character just needs conflict

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Everyone has seen them – the pithy pieces of writing advice that can fit on a 940×780 pixel sized square, perfect for posting on facebook and inspiring a new generation of authors. Show don’t tell! Every character should want something! Every scene needs a goal! Wait, what? Every scene needs a goal?

 

I have always struggled with that last piece of advice. My characters are usually pretty clueless at the beginning of the story and are entirely reactionary in the first part of the second act, so goals never really seem to fit. 

Maybe it’s my inability to get past the definition of a goal. A quick google search defines ‘goal’ as the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result. Embedded in this definition is a sense of knowing, of conscious decision-making with a specific end-point in mind, of a plan or strategy to get something or somewhere. And that just doesn’t work for me.

Yes, yes, I can hear you saying – “just replace ‘goal’ with ‘want'” – and that does seem, on the face of it, a nice solution. Everyone wants something, even if it is to just sit around all day in the sunshine ignoring the problems of the world. But even ‘want’ implies a sense of knowing – a want is really a goal without a plan for achieving it.

And, besides, if we focused on building a story around our character’s wants, we might end up with a novel about someone who just wants a glass of water. Not really interesting right?

“But it could be interesting,” I hear you say, “if there was a monster standing by the sink, or if the character had a deep-seated phobia about water, or there was only one glass of water left in the entire world and a hundred other people were bidding for it.”

Excellent points! And I am so glad you raised them! Because, that is what is at the heart of this post – forget about the goals (and the wants) – what every character needs, what every scene needs, is conflict.

And if you have conflict in every scene, you don’t need to worry about articulating the character’s goals or wants. Sometimes the conflict will naturally uncover them – Kasie must sell her soul for the last glass of water in the world (implies that what Kasie wants is that glass of water, also implies her goal (since a plan is involved) to successfully sell her soul and outbid the others), but sometimes it will uncover something else.  Anaiya is secretly playing her forbidden music in the Edges to avoid being detained and executed – this is a summary of the first scene in my book Rebellion (Divided Elements #2). There is no clear goal and even the want is ambiguous – Anaiya’s wants are in conflict with one another. She wants to avoid detention and execution, but she also can’t deny the part of her that needs to make music. It is the conflict (and not the wants) that is more interesting and more critical for the story development.

 

CATEGORIES OF CONFLICT

So, what type of conflicts are there?

I’ve come up with two major categories (I’ve also come up with a range of types – but am leaving that discussion for a future post):

  • Direct threat: Antagonistic force that requires defeating for the character to progress. Can be proactively engaged, but is more likely to be engaged reactively. Must be defended against or pre-emptively attacked.e.g. A fire outbreak closing in on a house. Demands engagement. Can not be avoided. Requires direct combat – either defensive (stopping it from reaching the house) or pre-emptive (trying to put out the entire fire). Must be defeated if the  house and the character are to survive (and the story progress).

    e.g. A super villain terrorising a city. Demands engagement (won’t stop until the whole city is razed to the ground).  Is actively attacking either the character or what is important to the character. Can be proactively engaged (typically the case with superhero narratives, where the protagonist will actively seek out and defeat the evil force), but is typically only engaged when the protagonist (or what they value) is directly threatened.

    e.g. An illness that becomes debilitating. Demands engagement. Is actively attacking the protagonist. Must be defeated.

  • Passive obstacle: A permanent or temporary barrier that requires removal for the character to progress. A challenge to be overcome. A detente between two forces that must be resolved. Must be proactively attacked.e.g. The memory of a dead husband stopping a character from dating again. Doesn’t demand engagement – there are two ‘wants’ in opposition – the character wants to remember her husband and wants to find happiness with someone else. One of the two opposing forces must be (fully or partially) removed for the character to progress, e.g. she could give up on the dating scene, could try to re-animate her dead husband, could undergo hypnotherapy to forget her husband, etc.

    e.g. Two destinies competing for realisation – is she destined to save the world or condemn it to a black hole of oblivion? A detente between two equally-compelling forces. What will she choose? What is required to tip the balance one way or the other (in effect, limiting (partially removing) one of the options).

    e.g. An inability to score the grades necessary to make it into the starfleet academy. There is nothing directly attacking the character, but there is an obstacle that needs removing and a challenge that needs to be overcome. Must be proactively engaged, otherwise the status quo will remain.

 

Interestingly, these two categories can be articulated as either POTENTIAL conflicts or REALISED conflicts. Potential conflicts are those that are hinted at – where the preconditions for actual conflict are present, but the catalyst has not been triggered (e.g. the bomb is present, but the fuse hasn’t been lit). Whereas REALISED conflicts are those that have been triggered and are actively in conflict or opposition with the character or are actively challenging them.

 

PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE

The best thing about these categories is that you can use them in the plotting or revising stages of your novel. A case in point, this is what I get if I apply them to my recent novel, Rebellion (Divided Elements #2):

Scene 1: Anaiya plays her forbidden music in the Edges to avoid detection – which will only lead to detention and execution. There is a conflict within her – part of her revels in her new Heterodox existence, finds joy and inspiration in creating music, thrives in her growing Air identity; part of her is terrified that her Heterodoxy, her blatant flaunting of the strict rules that govern Otpor, will lead to her death – just like they lead to the death of her mentor (and original Heterodox Resistor), Kane 148. REALISED PASSIVE OBSTACLE

The conflict is amplified when her music and presence is discovered by a character from her past. Seeing Kaide brings back painful memories and stirs up uncomfortable emotions of guilt and regret. But, it is his realisation that Anaiya’s realignment back to her original Fire Element has failed that generates the real threat – with that knowledge he could send her to the Execution Pillar. POTENTIAL DIRECT THREAT

 

UPDATE: A reader contacted me via email to talk about their struggles with switching away from the ‘goal’ mindset and focus on ‘conflict’. You can read their question and my reply here.

 

What about you? Do you also struggle to find a character’s goal/want for every scene? Does thinking about it in terms of conflict make it easier? Let me know if you apply this to your own novel – I would love to hear if it works for you!

 

Divided Elements - Book 1 and 2


Resistance, 
The award-winning first book in the dystopian Divided Elements series is now available for free! Click here to grab your copy.

You can also purchase your copy of the anticipated sequel Rebellion, for just USD 2.99 for a limited time! Click here to start reading now!

 

Looking for some other great dystopian or speculative fiction reads? Why not check out these:

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Genome Trials

 

A new power has risen in North America, but now a terrifying virus is spreading across the countryside. Once infected, people change, mutating into superhuman creatures known as the Chead. Wherever they walk, death follows.

 

 

 

An instafreebie giveaway of 42 books and previews that spotlight diverse sci-fi and fantasy. All books have a main character who is a Person of Colour and/or belongs to a marginalised racial/ethnic group (that may or may not fall under PoC) and/or is LGBTQ+ and/or is disabled/neurodivergent.

Diverse SciFi

 

 

 

Forget the Goal – Your character just needs conflict

Women of SciFi

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

A few years ago. author and blogger, Foz Meadows , wrote on the HuffPost blog:

Science fiction is a sandbox, and for most of its history, men have been hogging it.

daniel-cheung-129839-unsplash

(Photo by Daniel Cheung on Unsplash)

 

It’s an interesting quote – full of layers that become more interesting as you peel them back and really look at them. Importantly, it a) calls to mind the great female science fiction authors of the old guard (Ursula Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Mary Shelley, CJ Cherryh) and the new (Emily St John Mandel, Becky Chambers, Nnedi Okorafor, Kameron Hurley, Ann Leckie, Anne Charnock), b) challenges emerging female science fiction authors to continue the legacy being forged by these pioneers, and c) asks questions about what it means to be a woman in the science fiction sandpit.

These are questions I’m interested in exploring! As an emerging female science fiction author myself, I’ve been lucky enough to build a growing network of talented, passionate, and engaging female scifi authors and this week I want to introduce you to two of them: Anela Deen and Kate Rauner. Both Anela and Kate are successful scifi authors who have some interesting reflections and insights on what it means to be a woman of scifi.

I hope you enjoy their stories!

 

Writing Beneath a Glass Ceiling

by Anela Deen

Every author will tell you critique groups are essential to the writing process. We need other writers to go over those passionate scribbles and point out the spots that need work. I tend to use online groups because you get a variety of readers and people seem to lean more towards honesty if they aren’t sitting face-to-face with each other. I’ve found them to be full of well-meaning writers looking to support, encourage, and improve each other’s art…that is until I asked for feedback on a Sci-Fi story I wrote.

No Girls Allowed

Let me back up a bit here before I tell you what happened. Last year the Twittersphere lit up with the hashtag #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear. Women tweeted about the gender assumptions they face when it comes to their writing. What stood out to me, having experienced it myself, is the condescension and oftentimes outright belligerence doled out to women who dare to publish in genres viewed as “belonging to men”. Like Science-Fiction.

Anela Deen - Twitter - SciFi

This is not a new issue, of course. It dates all the way back to when Mary Shelley published Frankenstein anonymously in 1818. Although it gained great popularity even then, when critics discovered it was written by a woman they pumped out scathing reviews and dismissed the work entirely (Thankfully those toads were unsuccessful in shunning it from literary history). But this isn’t to say that women don’t continue to suffer under the same misogynistic yoke today. It just gets slapped with a new kind of label to disqualify it from the genre.

Hard vs. Soft Science-Fiction

“Hard” Sci-Fi is a classification ascribed to books that are based more on physics and technology as we understand it. Think, Andy Weir’s The Martian. “Soft” Sci-Fi refers to books set in the future but which revolve around more social or psychological aspects rather than the technological. Some examples are The Hunger Games or Divergent. You might be thinking, “Okay, so this makes sense. What’s the problem with that?”

Well, here’s the sticking point:

There’s a patriarchal overlay on the whole issue since this “soft” classification is mainly pushed on books written by women. Think of the word “soft” itself. It denotes “weak” or “feminized” in this context whereas “hard” denotes “virile” or “masculine” (That’s a lot of quotations marks, but stay with me.) And exactly why are we using “soft” here at all for books about futuristic societies? I mean, have you read The Handmaid’s Tale? There’s nothing soft about it! The purpose, as so often is the case with labels, is to devalue novels written by women in this genre. It’s saying, “Here are the real Sci-Fi books, and here are the fake ones.”

A Hierarchy of Merit

This becomes especially clear when you take into account literary awards for Science-Fiction. Books written by women have been disqualified based on this distinction. In 2013 judges of the Arthur C. Clarke award threw out many books written by women because they were viewed as “Fantasy”, as in, “not requiring the realism of science”—exactly the type of Sci-Fi dominated by women writers.

In another example, the Sad Puppies group that haunted the Hugo Awards in 2015, angered because they felt the Hugos were being used as an “affirmative action” award, published this statement to explain their actions:

“…only those works embodying the highest principles of Robert A. Heinlein shall be permitted. Girls who read Twilight and books like it shall be expelled from the genre.”

I could put in more quotes from them but really, their entire manifesto is hair-raising.

Back to what happened at the critique group…

So, I’d submitted my Sci-Fi story to my group. It features a main character in her early thirties of South Asian descent, a wily and dry humored woman who doesn’t sit passively by when there’s trouble. The women of the group loved her, but the guys (not all of them, of course) didn’t. They hammered on about cutting any part where the MC had an introspective thought—the parts the women critiquers called out as their favorite. They jabbed fingers saying the story should focus on the science and mechanics of the situation, the technological aspects rather than the relationships between the characters. What took me aback was how angry they seemed about it and I suddenly had the impression that they felt I was trespassing in a territory where I didn’t belong. In fact, they kept saying the story was more Fantasy than Science-Fiction, popping a red flag that harkened back to those exclusionary categories occupying the genre.

“It’s a good story and well-written,” one said. “But you’re just making it up.”

Well…yeah, what with this being fiction and all.

The crux of the matter is women and men experience life differently. Their narratives may reach for different themes within the same genre and depict issues from their own unique perspective to examine our society, our world, and our universe. The question is why are the fantasies of men viewed as legitimately belonging to the Science Fiction genre but those of women are not? When women’s writing is dismissed and disqualified, when their voices are marginalized in this venue or any other, we all lose.

Virginia Woolf once wrote, “Literature is impoverished beyond our counting by the doors that have been shut upon women.”

It’s up to all of us, readers and writers alike, to insist on change. Silence is the instrument of oppression; speech, its mortal enemy. Make yourself heard.

About the Author

Anela DeenA child of two cultures, this hapa haole Hawaiian girl is currently landlocked in the Midwest. After exploring the world for a chunk of years, she hunkered down in Minnesota and now fills her days with family, fiction, and the occasional snowstorm. With a house full of lovable toddlers, a three-legged cat, and one handsome Dutchman, she prowls the keyboard late at night while the minions sleep. Coffee? Nah, she prefers tea with a generous spoonful of sarcasm.

Find her on Amidtheimaginary.WordPress.comTwitterFacebook

The complete omnibus of her Sci-Fi series Insurrection is on sale for 99¢ July 26th – August 3rd

Insurrection by Anela DeenFor twenty years Inquisitor Gemson Agaton used torture and interrogation to root out subversives undermining the Establishment. He earned his cold, hard reputation, setting morality aside in the name of a strong state. Now he’s on the subject’s side of the interrogation table, duty to the regime he believes in pitted against loyalty to the one person he always protected.

Gemson isn’t the only target on the Establishment’s radar. An insurgency challenges its authority. Every attempt to capture the Albatross, the rebels’ enigmatic leader, has failed. To the oppressed, he epitomizes freedom from tyranny. But behind the symbol is a man haunted by his past. Not even his closest allies know his true identity, and he’s careful to keep it that way.

As the Albatross rallies Earth’s citizens to resist the regime’s dictatorial rule, many are listening, including one of the Establishment’s most talented operatives. To find and betray him is her directive. To fall in love with him is treason.

In this universe, there are no easy answers and secrets cloud the truth. When a new threat emerges, these unlikely few must overcome their discordant history and forge alliances among enemies. The survival of mankind depends on it.

At over 100k words, the Insurrection omnibus brings all five books from the novella series together. An action-packed space adventure, it’s a tale of redemption and sacrifice in the

 

Glory on Mars

by  Kate Rauner

We all have the same sorts of taste buds, even if we like different foods. That sort of objective reality is important to me. By personality, I’m an engineer.

I’m an engineer by career as well. I’m too young to have been a pioneering woman in the field. By the time I got to college, about ten percent of my class were women. But I’m old enough to have been the first or only woman in a lot of work situations. Not as much lately, but I was part of the “Dress for Success” era. Slacks and oxford shirts in the office, boots and jeans in the field.

A secretary (as she was called back then) took notes in meetings with a note pad balanced on her knee. Not me! A portfolio notebook, open on the table. Coffee cup to the right, pager to the left. I occupied my space! Problems to be solved attracted me, and my focus on the job made me one of the guys, even as I avoided becoming one of the boys.

Just as I looked around those male-dominated meetings and see myself in the work, I read science fiction and found myself in the heroes more than in the princesses. It was just a mistake that the hero was a man, easily corrected with imagination.

Glory on Mars by Kate RaunerWhen I wanted to colonize Mars, it was easy to send a woman roboticist as the main character. Glory on Mars follows Emma Winters, one of the first twelve settlers. She’s braver than I am, because a one-way journey to Mars is scary, especially when you’re sent by a private outfit with a limited budget. The Red Planet is a deadly place – but human failings are the greatest danger, and, just like you and me on Earth, they carry those with them.

These colonists are real people, men and women, with various skills and goals, so readers of all genders can relate. If you’ve ever wanted to go to Mars, go today with these settlers.

Download a long, thirteen chapter, preview here. Follow the links at the end to get the rest of the book for free. And follow the colony into its uncertain future with the entire, five book series. One settler in each story struggles to survive and build a life in a hostile world. Men and women because, yeah, I’m in touch with my inner male too.

At Amazon and other favorite stores.

Kate Rauner
Visit my blog for short posts on science news, scifi, and a little science-inspired poetry too. Because reality is important, whatever you’re doing.

Women of SciFi

The dirty ‘M’ word – Marketing

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Writing a book is a mammoth task. Editing, re-editing, revising, polishing, revising, (did I mention revising), and pouring over word selection, sentence structure, and punctuation line-by-line is harrowing. And then, if you are an indie author like myself, there is marketing.

Marketing sounds like such a dirty word. I blame that on all those prim and proper writers in their pure ivory towers whose fingers would never deign to touch a marketing strategy let alone draft one… Just kidding. Kind of.

Truth is, there is a perceived touch of the uncouth – the unpalatable – about an author spending time on anything but penning beautiful prose to paper. A (dangerous) stereotype has been born that equates author authenticity with a very limited skill-set (or focus). We want our authors to be creatives – to focus on the words and leave everything else to the ‘professionals’.

But I have never been one to play to stereotype, or expectations, so being an indie author suits me just fine. I’m also a bit of a control freak – my authenticity is intimately tied to my vision for a book, a series, a character… And I want to control how those things are presented – to you, to my readers, to the world.

And that brings us back to the dirty ‘M’ word. Marketing.

As humans, we market ourselves every day – how we dress, what car we drive (or don’t drive in favour of public transport), what words we use, what words we place emphasis on, who we associate with, what we choose to comment on (and not comment on), what posts we promote and tweets we retweet. We don’t think of it as marketing – it’s just our way of communicating our identity.

That’s how I see book marketing. It’s less a manipulative capitalistic venture designed only to pull dollars from weary pockets and more an introduction. It’s a chance to introduce the identity of a book, or a series, or a character. It’s a chance to match-make – to pair one thing of unique interest and beauty with a person of unique taste and desires.

And like match-making, which can end in disaster as often as true-love (probably more so), marketing is a tricky art to master.

Recently, in the process of finalising Rebellion (the second book in my Divided Elements series), I tried to contact the cover artist who had created the beautiful cover for the first book, Resistance. After multiple attempts, and with a looming publication deadline, I had to start my search for a new cover artist.

This was a tough undertaking – so many readers loved the original cover and (as the cover of my first ever published book) I had also developed an attachment to it. It took me forever to find an artist that I was comfortable to approach, and even then I was skeptical I would end up with a cover that was as imaginative and original as the first.

I shouldn’t have worried.

I first contacted Ethan Scott, an independent artist himself, on the basis of a striking cover he had imagined for HG Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’. It was the closest thing I had found to capturing the tone and genre and audience of Divided Elements. I told him about my series, gave him some general parameters, and asked him to come up with something striking.

And then he started working on it. And what he came up with was beautiful. Different from the original – as it should be – but still capturing the abstract illustrative style, the theme of a fractured identity, and the singular focus on a strong and independent female protagonist.

This new re-imagining of the series – this new representation of its style and content – is like a re-introduction. Like updating your profile, or putting on a new shirt, or using a new word to describe yourself. Sometimes it’s an improvement, sometimes it’s a detraction, and sometimes it is just different. But, each time, it is an evolution.

I’m so proud of this evolution of Divided Elements – it’s like the visual has caught up to the original vision of this series, that it speaks more honestly to its character. And I’m so pleased to share it with you. To re-introduce you to this world that I have loved crafting (and will continue to craft).

So, here they are – the re-imagined cover of Resistance (Divided Elements #1 and the new cover for Rebellion (Divided Elements #2). Both books are available now for purchase and, if you want to stay up to date with the progress on Book 3 and gain access to exclusive offers and content, you can sign up to my ‘author updates’.

Divided Elements - Book 1 and 2

 

LIKED THIS? WANT MORE?

Discover the Divided Elements series now with award-winning Resistance (Divided Elements #1) and just-released Rebellion (Divided Elements #2). Available as paperback or ebook on your favourite device. Just click to start reading!

Divided Elements - Award-winning speculative fiction

The dirty ‘M’ word – Marketing

Writing and Editing a Sequel – Lessons of an Indie Author

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

It’s been almost five months since my last blog post. In previous years that would have been a bad sign – an indication that I was distancing myself from my writing. Not this time. The last five months have been an absolute mission in getting this novel finished. And, with the last beta readers expected to send through their reactions in the next week, I’m ready to send Rebellion (Divided Elements #2) off to my editor.

This time – in between ‘finishing’ a book and releasing it to the world – is always strange. As an indie author, it’s where I transition from the creative aspects of the job to the management and marketing parts. Both are equally challenging and rewarding in part, and both are obviously necessary for maximising the chances of your book doing well. But, because they are so different, I find myself in a kind of breathing space between the end of one and the start of the other. Which gives me the perfect opportunity to reflect on what I have just accomplished (and what I am about to embark on) and share that reflection with you.

Is writing/editing a second book really that different from writing/editing your first book?

 

Hell yeah. It is radically different. Or, at least it was for me.

It doesn’t help that I have a mild case of sophomore syndrome (that is in a constant state of flux the closer I get to publication date).

It’s weird – it reminds me of my early twenties. I was never richer than when I was in my early twenties. I’ve never been poorer, but my disposable income has kind of stagnated. I earn more money, but whereas in my twenties I was buying cheap wine and tequila and eating $6 chinese noodles for dinner, now I’m buying better wines and better tequila and treating myself to tasting menus at nicer restaurants. My income has increased, but so has my taste.

Same with my books – I had more creative freedom with my first book (and more naivete and misplaced enthusiasm) but less skill. With my second book, I’ve started with more experience, lessons learned and skill, but less freedom and room for error.

The time frames have also been wildly different. I wrote Resistance (Divided Elements #1) in three years and took a year to edit it and bring it to publication. In comparison I wrote Rebellion (Divided Elements #2) in just under a year and took six months to edit it.

As I wrote in a recent tweet – I feel like my first book taught me how to write and complete a story (before Resistance I had started and never finished a lot of stories and screenplays) and my second book has taught me how to craft and refine a story. What I didn’t mention (hey, I was limited to 280 characters) is that in between learning how to write a story and how to craft a story, I learned a lot about my style. As a story engineer, as a writer, as an editor.

green-chameleon-21532

So what did I learn?

Some key take away lessons for me:

  • My approach to story structure holds up under pressure. I used it both as a plotting tool for Rebellion and as a diagnostic tool when editing. I attribute my faster writing and editing time to it. It’s also the reason that, while a lot changed from draft 1 to draft 6, the key turning points didn’t.
  • Writing a second book almost locks you in to a commitment to your writing. Your first book you can pass off as the lovestruck murmurings of youthful naivete – a summer fling, a chance to tick something off your bucket list. Write a second book and you’re effectively saying to yourself, “this isn’t playtime anymore, I’m an author now.”
  • I still have things I need to get better at, but I know them now. And, as GI Joe said, “knowing is half the battle.” Knowing them means I can fix them. And I’m lucky to have a great support network of thoughtful and incisive critique partners, enthusiastic beta readers, and high-quality editors to both point out areas of improvement and help me beat them into submission.

In a word:

 

As a story engineer, I am: curious

As a writer, I am: searching

As an editor, I am: a perfectionist

 

What about you? How would you describe yourself as a story engineer, writer, and/or editor? Let me know in the comments and let’s all check back in a year’s time to see what’s changed 🙂

 

Image courtesy of Green Chameleon via Unsplash
Writing and Editing a Sequel – Lessons of an Indie Author