Where Babies Come From #6

As usual, spoilers ahead. 

Neither Homeward Bound nor On the Edge of Living are particularly plot-filled stories and I’ll group them under the same banner in terms of intent. Both of them are short stories focused on the small guy affected by the Event, showing how normal life has been irreparably altered by the cataclysm.

The premise of Blackout is that all of the stories happen either during or long after the Event, an apocalyptic disaster that shut off every electrical device on the planet, shutting down the global energy infrastructure and annihilating communities in a flash. With electricity disappearing, things like running water, general stores and most businesses start shutting down. Motorised transport becomes defunct, most commodities become useless or so hopelessly expensive to create that they disappear in a matter of months. Old supermarkets like the one Jack finds himself in in On the Edge of Living become free-for-all buffets provided the contents haven’t rotted away yet.

The already-great gulf between the rich and poor in Cape Town was something I decided to focus on in Homeward Bound, the situation exacerbated by the disaster. With poverty and homelessness being an ever-present in the new shattered world, it deserved some attention. The emphasis, though, was on the people struggling to survive, one of the main themes of my works of fiction being man’s determination to succeed.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.

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Where Babies Come From #5

As usual, spoilers ahead. 

I really enjoyed writing Outed. It gave me a chance to do a quieter local story with more ‘regular’ people being the focus. Eventually I was going to have to give in to the stereotype about South African fiction and tackle discrimination so this is the story where that happens. I’m not mature enough to sensitively tackle racism and segregation, so I didn’t focus on that sort of prejudice. Instead, I wrote an allegory on coming out, hence the title. I’ve never had that sort of experience, so this particular story took a fair amount of research to pull off.

The X-Men series of comics have taken the route of comparing having to grapple with superpowers to having to come out for years. I didn’t quite do the same thing, but the more well-written comics are certainly a point of inspiration for me. Between offhand comments from other people to outright spouting of hatred, I aimed to capture the universal sort of distrust and disdain closeted people fear. I, of course, do not claim to have captured or have fully understood the feeling. I can only guess at what that feels like and I have absolutely no intention of speaking above those voices.

This story is the first in the anthology with a female protagonist. I’d experimented with writing from a woman’s perspective a couple of times before this and I found, to absolutely no one’s shock, that it’s practically identical to writing from a man’s perspective. Funny that…

The protagonist, Maddie, is the first person I really show experimenting with their telekinetic abilities and this has important ramifications on the rest of the series. Between using small sparks to light candles and bigger crackles to intimidate hecklers, Maddie trivialises telekinesis which, at this point, humanity has very little understanding about. By the climax, her abilities are well-established, making the feat of containing a house blaze much more ‘believable’. This is, of course, nothing special compared to stunts pulled off by later characters, but more on that when I get to Angel Apocalypse.

With the addition of brain-hemorrhages and nerve damage, there are faux-biological side-effects for overuse of telekinetic abilities, referred to as burning out in my internal planning. I wanted this story to follow the tone, or hardness, of science-fiction the other stories have while teasing the reader with a bit of grand telekinetic action.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.

Where Babies Come From #4

As usual, spoilers ahead. Also, since starting this little series of posts, sales have gone up significantly. Thanks, guys, I appreciate that a lot. 

Capacity for Atrocity represents me going to my roots as a writer: writing fast-paced, intense action scenes and trying my best to portray something cool. As I said in #1 of this series, I really like mecha and this story follows a random group of mecha pilots in Donetsk. Why Donetsk? I wanted another exotic location and I was out of ideas. I went to watch some football and I was met with a Europa League match between Manchester United and Zorya Luhansk. The commentator starting speaking about one of my favourite players, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and how he used to play for Shakhtar Donetsk. I wanted a snowy place in any case, so a large city in Ukraine worked nicely.

This story was much less of a test for my descriptive skills than many of the others, being more of an action story than the others. I wanted to make the reader feel the sort of unfamiliar intensity and power the characters would see from pre-Event weaponry. In the context of the narrative, these mech suits are almost legendary machines and are certainly much more powerful than anything else at the military’s disposal. I aimed for a melancholy feeling of a lost era as the mecha fight but with the sort of energy and intensity that justifies even hardened professionals cracking under pressure.

The desolate ruins of Donetsk are little more than a microcosm of the global situation. As a Blank Zone, it’s an abandoned area that civilians are pretty banned from entering. I allude to Blank Zones having mutagenic monsters, rogue Lordframes and dormant weapons like virus bombs and untriggered nuclear devices. I intend to set more stories in the Blank Zones, so giving the reader a taste here won’t hurt.

In the end, I wanted Capacity for Atrocity to be cool and intense, showing off both my standpoint on warfare and my technical abilities.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.

Where Babies Come From #3

The Bloodbringer is actually one of my older short stories, one I posted a couple of years ago on this blog. I received positive feedback on it and, with some tweaking, it was ready for the anthology.

With this story, I wanted to capture the fear of a recovering post-apocalyptic world full of new and terrifying entities and what better lens to shoot the world through than the eyes of a child? I focused on the desolation left behind by the Event and how people adapted to it. References to TV shows and series gave way to dog-eared novels. Having the story take place in the dead of night added to the sinister mood. I know I’m not the only one who was scared of shadows in the night as a child.

Gangsters are rather a large problem here in Cape Town, to put it very mildly. That made putting organised criminals in the limelight as my villains very easy. The fear factor didn’t come from them. I modeled the ghoul in the story on deep fears of mine: lurking murderers, impossibly strong monsters and silent shades. I never explained what the ghoul was and I don’t plan to. Fear of the unknown is another deep fear of mine.

The Bloodbringer was the first story that involved large chunks of descriptive text and represents an important marker for me. It was my first shot an atmospheric piece and I think I did a decent job.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.

Where Babies Come From #2

As usual, spoilers ahead. Get a copy of Blackout or give me a shout if you want a free copy.
We’re going into the more meaty stories now, with Panic being first. I wanted to go to a foreign location for the epicenter of the apocalypse. Doing one of the cosmopolitan European cities would have been a cheap way out and there are enough end-of-the-world stories set in the US, so I didn’t need to add any more. I thought Nigeria, being Africa’s largest economy at this point, would be interesting place in which to set my story.

Most of my stories, novel including, happen long after the Event hits, so I felt obliged to write one at the point of impact. The whole thing is described as horrific, world-ending but very distant in the main narrative, turning Panic into something more visceral and more real. It gave my descriptive skills a bit of challenge in keeping the reader’s attention with a single character, no dialogue and an entire city going to hell. No one in the subsequent stories quite knows what happened, so giving the reader something extra seemed good.

The apocalypse introducing the power of telekinesis was always on the cards, with the end of Panic showcasing my unique take on magic system in science-fiction settings. With telekinesis being a magnetism-like force, I have a somewhat scientific sounding system that’s quite fun to play with. I really enjoy the sense of scale, destruction and power that telekinesis brings to a story, so I wanted to have that as a resource in my novel and in Panic, you get to see where that comes from. Mutagens introducing superpowers are something I’ve seen in some of my favourite pieces of fiction and I took it upon myself to deal with the concept very differently.

Thanks for reading and have a nice day.

Where Babies Come From #1

I like to share things with the world. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have attempted writing books and publishing them. I really do enjoy pouring my emotions onto the page/keyboard and hopefully eliciting the same sort of feelings in my readers. What does spawning literary ideas and writing fiction have to do with babies? Creative juices, my friend!

Anyway, I thought I’d start sharing the inspirations for the various things I write. I released Blackout last month, so I’ve got license to harp on about it for a little bit longer. I’m going to start with the two shortest pieces in Blackout, to ease myself into this. Fair warning, there may be spoilers ahead.

The Event
The Event is as general as general gets. It sets up the world in the mind of the reader, making a general picture before the other short stories make up wrinkles in the tapestry. The post-apocalyptic setting is one that I rather enjoy when it’s done well and done with some sort of variation. The generic ‘cataclysm that turns humanity into scavengers and vagrants’ has been done to death, so I thought I’d do something different and jump forward fifty years to see some semblance of bouncing back. Having learned about market economies in EMS in Grade 9, I found the concept interesting and decided to implement a form of it in my series.

I think PMCs are a pretty cool concept narratively. Having the protagonist tied to actual professional killers masquerading as a national military, itself mocked as a bunch of paid murderers, makes for some fun moral exploration, especially when applied to an entire society invested in the idea of war being necessary for their daily bread.

Titans of Another Time
I’m a huge nerd about certain science fiction concepts. Humanoid war machines are one such concept. Having watched such things as Gundam, Gurren Lagann, Code Geass and more recently mainstream blockbusters that feature mecha, I find the things pretty cool and decided to put my own spin on things. Because copyrights and trademarks are things that exist, I ended up having to make my own name for my humanoid tanks. I’m not the best with names but Lordframe sounded cool, so I stuck with that.

I really enjoy drawing mecha as well, so I’ve a wide variety of things to describe and fiddle with. Maybe I’ll upload those some day when I feel more confident about them. There’s a sense of grandeur and scale with humanoid war machines that I think is awesome and I couldn’t really do anything but include them in my stories.

Thank you for reading and have a nice day.

Writing Young

Being a young author is difficult. You’ve got to juggle school, stupid teenage stuff and get a quality product out as well as having to deal with actually get your novel off the ground. There are bits that your peers have no real grasping of when you’re in this situation and that can be hard. My 18th birthday is coming up is a few months, so at least most of this nonsense will be behind me. But until then, I have to deal with…

1. International Tax Regulations. None of the online publishing firms/services/whatevers allow you to sign-up as a legitimate taxpayer without asking you to go through some sort of gate. Invariably that gate requires you to be of 18 years or older. Be it PayPal, Payoneer, Amazon itself or the IRS in general, they’ll either require the age limit or information from the physical bank itself… which is a little difficult to obtain while one cannot drive.

2. Accessibility. This is another big one. Being a no-name person is made no less difficult by my current place in society. At the moment, my audience consists of the followers of this blog and one or two of my two hundred colleagues in the same grade as me who I dare to advertise in front of. Naturally, I’m slightly unhappy with that, but at least that can be fixed with old-fashioned hard work.

3. Stresses and Stupidity. Now, I’m not trying to say that working, adult people have no stress or stupidity (frankly, I’ve seen enough of both), but the stereotypical difficulty of being a teenager hits me full force sometimes. I’ve had more problems, funnily enough, with maths than I have with plot points or poignant scenes and I’ve spent more time awake at night thinking about girls I’ll never talk to than actually putting in time for writing. And when I do put in time for writing, I start flunking tests.

4. Self-Deprecation. Sometimes (read: all of the time), I make fun of myself to cope, most of the time in a joking tone. Sometimes I believe I’m not good enough, sometimes I know I’m not. There are all sorts of mental blocks and other rubbish strewn about in my head, but this makes me neither unique nor pitiable. It’s a barrier and every success story involves the breaking of barriers.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day!

Struggles

Being a professional writer isn’t easy. Even I know that and I’m not even on the professional side of things yet. It takes a special mindset to be a writer for any given length of time and it takes a lot of sacrifice and hard work.

1. Commitment. I only know this in terms of full-length novels, but the fact is that forcing oneself to sit down every day and write is tough. And that’s what it takes to make something out of the ordinary. It takes months and years of consistent work and toil to create something one is happen with and months after that to make it serviceable.

2. Sacrifice. I’ve missed out on homework and marks to try and keep my head in the writing game. I’ve missed out on personal relaxation time, put myself under a great deal of stress and fought through headaches and sickness to get just a page done. Sometimes I don’t even manage a page but as I mentioned above, I try to be consistent in putting work down. And that takes a lot away from the rest of my life.

3. Frustration. Sometimes I can’t think because my head is so full of crappy ideas that make no sense. Sometimes my head is empty. Nothing hurts a writer more than being unable to write. One has to force oneself to work with nothing and still pump something out at the end of the day. Sometimes one just stares at the page or screen for an hour, reading what has been written down, and scraps all of it. It happens to the best of us and it sucks.

That said, it’s all to our benefit in the end. It’s hard work but it pays off… eventually. Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.

Mature Fiction vs Adult Fiction

When I was younger, I didn’t quite understand that adding random gore, nudity and swearing did not in fact make a story more mature. I’d always been under the impression that dark, cynical fiction equals good fiction. Naturally, this is not the case.

Darkness and grittiness are just flavours for fiction, not different dishes, and not everyone enjoys the same flavours. The fact that a story is as dark as one starless night does not make it good by default, despite what you may hear. Though some people, indeed quite a few people, are attracted to dark/grimdark fiction, it’s not really what people are there for. It’s really the same thing that attracts people to all fiction: substance, the dish itself if I may continue the food metaphor.

Adding the above things willy-nilly makes Adult Fiction, a markedly different thing to mature fiction. Adult Fiction (not that kind) is simply fiction which is inaccessible to younger audiences. Not useless, not by any means, but certainly more niche than most writers look to be. And it’s easy to mock this sort of fiction as being ‘edgy’.

Mature Fiction, on  the other hand, contains mature subject matter, ie substance, and deals with it in a mature way. That is to say it is well handled and well crafted. It does not necessarily have to be down in the dumps or even of negative tone and mood. That’s a stylistic or atmospheric choice. Mature Fiction generally has depth and weight to it that makes it last longer and hit harder than Adult Fiction. It certainly can be gritty and bloody, but it does not have to be. For that reason, it can be accessed by whoever cares to consume it.

Fiction is what it is, whatever that may mean to you. Making it last is difficult but not impossible.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.

World Building- Literally the Ground Up

Reaching towards the sky higher than any of the buildings in the city by at least a half, the highway was a road as wide as a bus was long and held up in the heavens by ivory-white ribs made of steel and concrete. These gigantic struts were each covered by a mesh and striped with alternating bands of fungus and moss, each of these poles dipping into an evergreen valley filled with plant life. The road itself was encased in a cage of glass and metal supports creating a kilometres long tube reminiscent of a huge train. Even though some panels of glass had fallen out and chunks of the ribs had broken down, the titanic construction was in remarkable condition. A lammergeier flew just under the road itself, giving another indicator of its spectacular height. A ray of sunlight through the clouds cut through the glass and refracted over the sparkling tree tops.

New science-fiction authors generally have quite a task ahead of themselves. They have to create a whole new world for the readers to explore and this world is by definition different from the one we inhabit. So how can a sci-fi guy face and tackle this daunting task of moulding a world? Note that this advice can apply to any sort of world-building.

1. Create the image of the world. This step is vitally important to any piece of writing and world creation is not an exception. Create it as a full entity in and of itself before diving into your novel. You never know; perhaps the geyser field far away from the current or even eventual storyline could prove useful later.

2. Use the atmosphere and social perception. The 21st Century on Planet Earth within the Sol System of the Milky Way Galaxy is a place where most people are quite idealistic and optimistic. Generally, in my experience anyway, people believe that they can do things that matter and change their own circumstances. There are of course exceptions. Your world doesn’t have to be this way. It could be an extremely nihilistic existence wherever your world is, where the idealistic protagonist is repeated and brutally put down. It could be a world where the common man would be filthy rich by today’s standards and animal rights are abused for the entertainment of the masses. A world can be anything you want it to be as long as you…

3. Describe effectively. Make sure to include everything you need, nothing more and nothing less. What may seem like a mundane detail that you could quickly gloss over could be the hook that draws a reader into the novel, into its atmosphere (sometimes literally). Categorise the things that are different to the world that you know and write them down. They need not be the most extreme things. Subtlety sometimes aids believability. Think of any novel or film with an underground of any sort, be it criminal activity or an entire society. It could be something as simple as underground dogfights with dangerous performance drugs to something as extreme as the gladiatorial combat of genetically-engineered fighting beasts played in front of thousands.

4. Make the inclusion of the world’s details meaningful. All of these details mean nothing if they are deposited in gigantic info-dumps. The best way to include these sorts of things is in plot and in relevance to characters. The dog pits are a far-off tidbit of information until John, who is stricken with melancholy after creating the drug, appears on the scene or until Lucy mentions the pits as something she’s seen very often in the streets. That kind of weaving makes the world seem real rather than characters and the world being separate chunks in the space of your novel.The most important thing to do is to connect everything believably.