March 31, 2013

When Science Fiction Becomes Reality

One of the many reasons I like being a writer is that I get to create anything I want.  Anything.  There is no limit to your imagination.   And sometimes those "crazy fantasies" do come true, as in the following cases:
  • Jules Verne (1828-1905) predicted lunar travel in From Earth to the Moon (1865), and it became real in 1969.
  • Edward Bellamy (1850-1898) predicted the arrival of credit cards in Looking Backward (1888).  The first modern credit card was introduced in 1950.
  • H.G. Wells (1866-1946) wrote about Automatic sliding doors in When the Sleeper Wakes (1899).  Horton and Hewitt invented it in 1954.
  • Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967) had individualized news reports in his Ralph 124C 41+ (1925), whereas Google News went live in September 2002.
  • Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) had test tube babies (amongst many other things) in Brave New World (1932).  In 1978, the first test tube baby was born (England, 1978).
  • Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) had full-wall, flat-screen TVs in Fahrenheit 451 (1953).  The first LCD panels were shown in 1971, and by 2009, many LCD and plasma screens were available to the general public.
  • Douglas Adams (1952-2001) included electronic books in his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  And we've all heard of those with Amazon's kindle, the iPad, Barnes and Noble's Nook, etc.
So, my question is, when do I get to do some intergalactic traveling atop my unicorn robot?
Artist: ProjectKuraiOkami
 Source: I Used to Know That: Literature

March 25, 2013

Common Sense On Governments

"Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer."
~Thomas Payne, Common Sense

Interesting food for thought, right? 

March 24, 2013

From Martial Artist to Full-Time Writer - An Interview With Lorna Suzuki

I first "met" Lorna Suzuki on twitter, because we both shared two passions:  Bujinkan, and writing.  So I figured I'd introduce the rest of you guys to this very interesting person who's been very generous with her time to answer my 10-question interview.

A Little Bit About Lorna...

A fan of Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers, Lorna Suzuki quickly noticed that it was always the men who got to go off on great adventures and enjoy the camaraderie of a brotherhood, while the women were portrayed as the damsels-in-distress.
In writing the Imago fantasy series and shaping her female protagonist Nayla Treeborn, a warrior woman who is reluctantly accepted into this brotherhood, Lorna drew on her own experience as a woman in the once male-dominated fields of law enforcement and martial arts.
With 30 years' experience in martial arts, Lorna is a 5th degree black belt practitioner/instructor of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, a system incorporating 6 traditional samurai schools and 3 schools of ninjutsu (for anyone interested, it's really, really awesome and I highly recommend you check it out!).
When she is not writing fantasy or teaching martial arts, Lorna is a freelance scriptwriter out of Canada whose works include The Biography Channel and the TV series West Coast Adventures that is currently in syndication for an international audience.

A Warrior's Tale (Imago Chronicles: Book One)
Alessa (A): What inspired you to write this story, and how does Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu fit in?
Lorna (L):  I was inspired to write this fantasy series after teaching a martial arts seminar. After the session, the female students told me they never thought women could really fight until they saw me take on some very large male students. When I asked why they believed that, they said it was in their upbringing, culture, and in the books they read (where the women were always waiting to be rescued).
A quick trip to the bookstore revealed that many fantasy stories out there had female protagonists, but I had a real issue with most of them. There was an over-abundance of women who were only able to physically hold their own if they were imbued with supernatural or superhuman powers. Either that, or they were waiting to be rescued by the hero. I wanted my daughter to read about a woman that was able to do the rescuing, and do so without special powers; relying on her wits and years of training to overcome her foes, no matter how big.
I suppose this is where my 30 years of martial arts experience comes into play. My fellow martial artists, including my sensei, told me that my fight scenes are nicely grounded in reality. Some even recognize the techniques employed by the heroine, Nayla Treeborn.

A:  The Imago Chronicles is a 10-book long series, what kind of planning did you put into it?
L:  Initially, I had planned to write only one novel, three tops. As the fan base grew, so did the requests for the next adventure.  Even my attempts to end the series after writing the prequels
(Imago Prophecy and Legacy) and killing off a number of the main characters in book seven (The Broken Covenant) failed at drawing the series to a close--I still had many of my loyal readers asking for one more adventure.

So I’m currently working on what will most likely be the last book in the Imago series! I hope to have it finished before the first movie heads into full production later this year.
As for planning the series out, I can’t say I really planned anything. Each character has his/her own life, history, etc. In some ways, when I write, it is almost like recording their history and the defining moments in their lives that shaped them into the people they are.

A:  What is your favorite part or detail about your world, Imago?
L:  I think the best part is the ensemble cast of characters that make up the series. They are a loyal, tight-knit group, but their friendship doesn’t come without a great deal of struggle, for many are Alpha personalities. I think it’s the dynamics of their relationships, often troubled, strained and tested to the limits, that make Imago so interesting, even for me.

A:  What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of your heroine, Nayla Treeborn?
L:  My favorite aspect of Nayla is that, as much as she is physically and emotionally strong, she is also vulnerable and not above getting physically and emotionally broken. 
The least favorite aspect, I think, is that Nayla is flawed, which is a quality that makes her more interesting, but at the same time, it can be quite troubling. Her greatest flaw is that being half mortal and half Elf, she is denied by one race and shunned by the other, and this weighs heavily on her, especially in how she views her own self-worth. This treatment throughout her life has led her to believe that she is not worthy of being loved.  This also leads her to take incredible risks to prove her worth, and taking on suicide missions no other warriors would consider because she doesn’t place that much value on her own life.

A:  What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered when it comes to writing?
L:  I’ve yet to experience writer’s block, so I think the biggest challenge for me is not having enough hours in the day to write. Even though I’m one of the few authors I know who writes full-time, I always seem to be trying to squeeze in more time to write in between what life throws at me.

A:  Why did you decide to go the self-published route instead of traditional, and if you could go back, would you do anything differently?
L:  I’ve been offered book deals with traditional publishing companies, including an offer from Jessie Finkelstein who was an editor with Raincoast Books, publisher of the Harry Potter series in Canada. I know some authors dying for a traditional book deal thought I was crazy to turn down that offer, but when Ms. Finkelstein asked if I’d be willing to rewrite Imago for a YA audience, I just couldn’t do it. I already have some very loyal and devoted readers and they wouldn’t take well to me rewriting for the sake of a traditional book deal.
I’ve also had couple of literary agents in the past, but my experience with them left me feeling disheartened by the whole process. I even released my last agent, using an excellent entertainment lawyer, Kim Roberts (he also happens to be a producer with Sepia Films) to negotiate the film deal.

A:  A major movie production company has optioned the first three books of the Imago Chronicles.  Can you talk about the process involved in going from the printed page to the screen?
L:  Sure! I think getting a book made into a movie requires getting the attention of the film producers in the first place. In my case, I just happened to be doing an interview and martial arts demo on MTV. My book was used as a weapon and it stuck in the executive producer’s mind when she saw that interview.  She ended up buying my books and reading them. She loved the characters and the stories so much, she spent about 3 years trying to hunt me down to secure the movie rights, moving quickly when two other producers were circling around, voicing their own interest in this series.
I have some writers asking me why didn’t I write the screenplay myself and how can I possibly consider handing my ‘baby’ over to someone else. Well, I am a novelist and it takes a different kind of skill set to write compelling/entertaining screenplays, skills I am lacking in, unless it’s for a
TV series.

Also, I was not about to make my screenwriting debut by tackling a big-budget, major motion picture trilogy, not when investors were sinking millions of dollars into this project!  Instead, I was given the names of 5 A-list Oscar-winning and -nominated Hollywood screenwriters to choose from. Rather
than pick one of these writers, I recommended an award-winning Canadian writer, one whose works I was already familiar with his. I also knew he had read my series before and loved the characters and the story as much as the executive producer did. In the end, he was hired to write the first draft of the screenplay and he did an AWESOME job of it.

A:  Not only are you a mother, but you worked full time while writing your series, as well.  What’s your secret to being so productive?
L:  Thanks to the option fee I received from the movie deal, I was able to quit my day job in 2011. Strangely enough, between writing full time, reviewing the screenplay for the movie, consulting with the producer, conceptual artist and screenwriter, my days are very full.
It made me wonder how I managed to work full time, raise a young daughter, and still found the energy to write after she was asleep (which entailed working into the wee hours of the morning only to wake up a few hours later to head off to my day job).
When it comes right down to it, I try very hard to manage my time. I try to keep a writing schedule of Monday to Friday, with the hours between 7:30 am and 2:30 pm devoted to writing. The rest of my hours and the weekends are reserved for friends and family.

A:  What’s the one tip you would give beginning writers?
L:  I’m always reluctant to give any kind of writing tip. I can only share my own personal experiences and what has worked for me…
My advice would be, if you cannot hire a professional editor, try and find a critique group, and have your work read by others who will be unbiased and honest, giving constructive criticism where needed. While the story might make sense to you in your head, others might not follow along or have trouble understanding what you mean. Have your critique group look for grammatical errors, holes in the plot, spelling mistakes, etc.
I also recommend that, with the final draft, you should separate yourself from the manuscript for a month or longer. When you are ready to proofread, do not read off your computer screen. Print out each page and read each word aloud. Not only will you catch mistakes your eyes will gloss over, you will get a better sense of flow when you read it this way.

The Magic Crystal
 (The Dream Merchant Saga: Book One)

A:  Finally, what’s currently on your table for the near future?
L:  The race is on to finish the final installment of the Imago series. I’d like to have it done before we head into full movie production later this year, as I’ve been hired as a creative consultant and I’m sure that will eat up a lot of my time. When I do have time to write again, I’d like to start on the fourth novel in The Dream Merchant Saga, a YA fantasy series I co-write with my daughter, Nia. She has become quite the writing powerhouse in her own right, and I’m constantly in awe of her natural writing talent, so this is something we are both looking forward to!

Needless to say, I can't wait to see that movie in theaters!  I'll keep you posted on its release date.

March 16, 2013

About Acknowledgments

Searching on ideas for my own page, I fell on this little charming Acknowledgment page in Nelson DeMille’s Wild Fire.  For those of you who know me, I’m sure you’ll see why this tickled my fancy:

“There is a new trend among authors to thank every famous people for inspiration, non-existent assistance, and/or some casual reference to the author’s work.  Authors do this to pump themselves up.  So, on the off chance that this is helpful, I wish to thank the following people: the Emperor of Japan and the Queen of England for promoting literacy; William S. Cohen, former secretary of defense, for dropping me a note saying he liked my books, as did his boss, Bill Clinton; Bruce Willis, who called me one day and said, “Hey, you’re a good writer”; Albert Einstein, who inspired me to write about nuclear weapons; General George Armstrong Custer, whose brashness at the Little Bighorn taught me a lesson on judgment; Mikhail Gorbachev, whose courageous actions indirectly led to my books being translated into Russian; Don DeLillo and Joan Didion, whose books are always before and after mine on bookshelves, and whose names always appear before and after mine in almanacs and many lists of American writers—thanks for being there, guys; Julius Caesar [oh, man, this is a good one!], for showing the world that illiterate barbarians can be beaten; Paris Hilton, whose family hotel chain carries my books in their gift shops; and last but not least, Albert II, King of the Belgians, who once waved to me in Brussels as the Royal Procession moved from the Palace to the Parliament Building, screwing up traffic for half an hour, thereby forcing me to kill time by thinking of a great plot to dethrone the King of the Belgians.
There are many more people I could thank, but time, space, and modesty compel me to stop here.”

Not exactly what I was searching for, yet at the same time exactly that.  Love it!

March 11, 2013

The World’s Most Mysterious Manuscript

The Voynich manuscript, named after the man who purchased it in 1912, dates back to the 15th or 16thcentury.

The book contains about 240 pages (though it appears some might be missing) of information on plants and herbs, their possible medical uses, some recipes, as well as diagrams that relate to biology, astronomy and cosmology.

The manuscript first appears in history as the property of Emperor Rudolf II (16th century) who paid a pretty coin for it.  From there, it can be traced to a botanical garden master, followed by an alchemist, a rector (after which the manuscript was lost for about 200 years), and finally to a Jesuit order, before Mr. Voynich purchased it.

But what makes it so intriguing is that:
1.       Most of the plants depicted in it (113 of them) are unknown.
2.       The writing (in glyphs) is unreadable—that is, either it’s a completely new language we’ve never heard of, or it’s in a cipher that’s yet to be cracked.

Questions about the manuscript abound, not all related to its content.  Was it copied from another source or the product of a paranoid and possibly psychotic mind?  If the former, is the information contained therein the remains of an ancient civilization (it could perhaps be the writing used at the time of the Tower of Babel)?  Or maybe something less far-fetched, like the gift of some alien hitchhiker?  Or is it all a hoax?

No one knows… and that's one mystery that might never be solved.

For anyone interested, this wonder can now be found at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (I’d love to take a look in there, wouldn’t you?).


March 8, 2013

Roald Dahl On Writing For Children

"I'm probably more pleased with my children's books than with my adult short stories.  Children's books are harder to write.  It's tougher to keep a child interested, because a child doesn't have the concentration of an adult.  A child knows the television is in the next room.  It's tough to hold a child, but it's a lovely thing to try to do."
~Roald Dahl

Frankly, in our day and age, I feel this is relevant to just about anybody now, not just children... :/

March 5, 2013

Fairy Tales' Dark Secrets

Truth be told, I've always been a Disney fan (at least of all the classic animated features), but being a fan of the Grimm's brothers, of Hans Chrisian Anderson, and other similar tales, I know the gory secrets the "Man Hiding Behind the Smiling Mouse" has kept hidden.

--Disclaimer:  Gruesomeness Below, Not for the Faint of Heart!--

In the original Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf cut up the grandmother into pieces and collected her blood in a cup.  When Little Red Riding Hood arrived, she was understandably hungry and thirsty.  I'm sure you know what happened next.  Not only that, but when she got tired, the wolf told her to undress and jump into his bed (where he'd dressed up as the grandmother, that was correct).

When the evil Queen in Snow White made the hunter kill the fair princess, the kind-hearted man gave her instead the heart of a deer... which the queen promptly gobbled up.  After a few tries at killing Snow White and failing, the Queen finally got caught and as punishment... had to dance while wearing red-hot iron shoes.

In Cinderella, the mean step-sisters actually cut off parts of their feet to try to fit the shoe (one her big toe, the other her heel).  And the prince wasn't smart enough to see it till some kind forest creature told him to check his bride-to-be's bleeding foot.  But one must learn not to fool with a prince (even an idiotic one), because they either get their eyes pecked out by birds in one version, or they get killed off in the other.

In The Little Mermaid, the prince is already about to marry a girl (who he mistakenly thinks is the one who saved him) when the Little Mermaid trades her fishtail for a pair of legs  (which hurt like she's being stabbed by hundreds of knives every time she walks).  Her sisters then trade in their long locks of hair to the Sea Witch in exchange for a last chance to get their sister back.  That chance comes in the form of a knife which the Little Mermaid must use to stab her prince's heart.  Unable to do so, she throws herself off the boat (on which the happy prince and his new bride are leaving to go on their honeymoon), and her body dissolves into sea foam.

In the less well-known tale of Rumpelstiltskin, the cunning little man who'd thought he could cheat the queen out of her first-born finds out he's lost his bet.  Super angry, he stomps his foot on the ground until it collapses under him.  When he tries to pull himself out afterward, he ends up ripping himself up in two.

So things aren't so bright and cheery in those stories (you should hear some of the nursery rhymes of the time). One of the reasons for that is that life back in those days wasn't as cozy as we have it now.  Kids were privy to the harshness of reality from birth.  For example, they often had new moms, as their own either died of sickness or in childbirth (evil stepmother stories, anyone?).  Besides, these tales weren't only for kids, as they used to be told to all those present around the fire at the end of a long day of hard work.

That's all for today, folks!