Posts Tagged With: tips

Jeffrey A. Carver talks to Sci Fi Bookshelf about Sunborn

Jeffrey A. Carver was a 2001 Nebula finalist, and is famed not only as the author of the Star Rigger books and the Chaos Chronicles series, but also for writing the Battlestar Galactica novelization.  His latest science fiction novel, Sunborn, has just hit the shelves.  He took a break from writing about heady concepts like noncorporeal symbiotes and sentient stars to give Sci Fi Bookshelf a peek into his unique universe. 

Sci Fi  For those readers who are new to the Chaos Chronicles series, do you think Sunborn is easy to pick up?  Or would you recommend starting at the beginning of the series?

Jeffrey A. Carver:  I did my best to make Sunborn accessible to readers new to The Chaos Chronicles.  That said, it’s always best to start a series at the beginning if you can—especially since the reader is plunged into the middle of an ongoing galactic adventure.  For readers new to the series, I put all three of the preceding books, starting with Neptune Crossing, into ebook format for free download from my website.  Just visit and download the format of your choice!

SFB:  Is it hard to write a series of this complexity and keep it fresh?

JAC:  Yah.  There was a long delay between books 3 and 4 because I took time out to write Eternity’s End between the two, and that book took a very long time to write.  Coming back after six or so years away was hard.  Also, I keep trying to set myself new challenges with each new book, and sometimes I find myself wondering, “What have I gotten myself into?”  The chaos theme of the series closely mirrors my state of mind at times.

SFB:  Are you planning any future Chaos Chronicles books?

JAC:  I’m currently working on book 5, The Reefs of Time, which takes up where Sunborn left off.  (Note: Sunborn is a complete story, set within the larger framework.  It doesn’t end with a cliffhanger, but rather with suggestions of what may come next.)  My plan is for 6 Chaos books altogether.

SFB:  A lot of readers may know you from Battlestar Galactica.  Do you feel that writing in the Galactica saga had any impact on the style of your latest work?

JAC:  It’s more that writing BSG was a welcome change of pace, and a chance to play in someone else’s playground for a while.  It posed different storytelling challenges, and allowed me to take a deep breath, while still writing the book quickly, as the publisher demanded.

SFB:  Do you have a favorite Battlestar Galactica character?

JAC:  I suppose Starbuck.  The web comic Sheldon said it best, when the kid in the comic got a bunch of BSG action figures for Christmas.  Each came with a list of 10 reasons why he or she was conflicted and would never find true happiness.  Starbuck came with a list of 30.  Besides, what’s not to like about Katie Sackoff?  Although, now that I think about it… Six is pretty amazing, too.  :)   Actually, besides the obvious attraction of Six, Tricia Helfer proved herself to be an astoundingly good actor by the end.  It’s been fun to watch where the various actors from BSG have wound up since the end of the series.

SFB:  But the real question is, did the studio send you any cool BSG toys?

JAC:  Well, they sent me a DVD of the miniseries, and production DVDs of Season 1, because they were already well into Season 1 when I wrote the book.   No working Vipers, alas.  I would have liked one of those.

SFB:  Any advice for aspiring science fiction writers today?

JAC:  Read a lot, and write a lot.  Take a good workshop.  See my Advice to Aspiring Writers page at: — and for that matter, my free online writing course at: .   Also, my blog at: is a good place to see what I’m up to.

SFB:  Jeff, thank you so much for your time!

JAC:  You’re very welcome.

Links for science fiction author Jeffrey A. Carver:
Science Fiction Worlds at
Pushing a Snake at
Write Science Fiction at

Available now from these and other fine book sellers:
Better World Books
Powell’s Books

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Sci Fi Bookshelf interview: Harry Connolly on Child of Fire

Harry Connolly is making waves with his debut novel Child of Fire, the start of a new urban fantasy series that mixes explosive action with magic.  Harry was kind enough to share some insights with Sci Fi Bookshelf about dark heroes, inspiration and the fatal mistake made by most aspiring writers.

Sci Fi Bookshelf: For someone who hasn’t picked up Child of Fire yet, how would you describe it?

Harry Connolly: I call it a dark supernatural crime novel about a guy forced to help a powerful, dangerous sorcerer hunt down and kill someone even worse.

SFB: The main character is a convicted felon.  Was it hard to write a story from that perspective, and make him a hero the reader could root for?

HC: It wasn’t hard to write a character from that perspective, once I’d done a little research.  The important thing is that, however compromised he might be, the people he’s up against are even worse.  That’s a general rule for anti-heroes–not that I consider my protagonist, Ray Lilly, an anti-hero.  I’m just saying.

SFB: What inspired you to write Child of Fire?  Was it a particular experience or idea?

HC: I read and loved Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest and spent weeks figuring out how to adapt that feeling, of one man pitted against an entire community, to a story with supernatural elements in it.  It wasn’t as easy as “The Crime Lord Is A Vampire!”–fantasy elements have to be restricted in specific ways to make a mystery plot really work, and vice versa.

SFB: Can you tell us anything about the follow-up book, Game of Cages?

HC: Sure.  It’s darker than Child of Fire and has a touch of tragedy to it.  Ray is press ganged into an emergency job for the Twenty Palace Society.  He has to investigate an auction for a supernatural predator in a remote corner of the state.  Once he arrives, though, he discovers that things are much worse than he expected, and he has to deal with several very dangerous threats.

SFB: What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

HC: Probably The Galton Case by Ross Macdonald.  Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker is also terrific, and so are the first two volumes of Joe Hill’s Locke and Key.

SFB: Do you have any advice for new writers trying to break into the market today?

HC: My advice is simple: Writers should treat every rejection as though it was their own fault.  Even if it’s not true (and it isn’t always true–sometimes rejection is about the buyer having a similar story in inventory, or a deep hatred of some story element, like cannibalism) assume that it is.  The reason I say this is that the biggest stumbling block to most writers is the book they write.  It is on the writer to improve, to change, to strive.  As soon as a writer starts thinking “They just don’t understand me” or “NY publishing only wants best-sellers” or “Editors only want to publish their friends” or any of the other ways people push blame onto others, they lose the power to reach their own goals.  Actually, they give that power away to figments of their imagination.  Keep the responsibility for your success for yourself, the good parts and the bad.

SFB:  Harry, thank you for your time!

HC: Thanks so much.

Child of Fire
Harry Connolly
Mass Market Paperback
Del Rey (September 29, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-0345508898
Available from Powell’s Books

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Sci Fi Bookshelf interviews Walter Jon Williams on This Is Not a Game

This Is Not a Game is not just a cool title, but a cool near-future novel from acclaimed science fiction writer Walter Jon Williams, who has been nominated for every major SF award, including the Hugo and the Nebula Award. He was kind enough to dish the latest to Sci Fi Bookshelf:

Sci Fi Bookshelf: What inspired you to set This Is Not a Game in the near future, rather than doing something farther out, say, a century from now?

Walter Jon Williams:
A few years back, Sean Stewart and Maureen McHugh hired me to help them write an alternate reality game called Last Call Poker. I was so taken by this state-of-the-moment electronic art form that I determined to take this bleeding-edge phenomenon and turn it into ink on dead paper.

Cuz that’s what I do, man.

There are a number of reasons why TINAG isn’t set farther into the future. First, there is my suspicion that in a few decades, alternate reality gaming will be indistinguishable from advertising, and about as interesting. But more importantly, the novel is about the intersection of common reality and the enhanced alternative reality of online gaming, and about how one can crawl unnoticed into the other. In order for that to be an interesting reading experience, the baseline reality of the novel has to be recognizable for the reader. If it’s a made-up future interacting with a made-up gaming environment, it’s entirely detached from our world, and the whole point of the experience is compromised.

SFB: Among other things, you’re noted for your groundbreaking contributions to the cyberpunk movement in years past. Do you see near-future thrillers like this one as being the current definition of cyberpunk?

I see the tropes of cyberpunk all over the map these days. While This Is Not a Game does in fact feature a number of these elements, I’m inclined to think that true cyberpunk requires a more radical brand of extrapolation.

Is there any truth to the rumor of a sequel to This Is Not a Game?

WJW: Yes. The sequel is titled Deep State, and I finished it a few days ago. In the first book, Dagmar was caught by surprise as reality and the gaming world began to cross one another. In the second book, she attempts to achieve this deliberately.

There will also be a third book, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet.

SFB: Stepping back a bit to Metropolitan and City on Fire, do you think there’s an untapped audience out there for science fiction powered by fantastic elements?

WJW: I hear from readers all the time, but publishers aren’t exactly beating down my door about it. In these contracting economic times — which for publishers has been the last 15 years — they are buying much more conservatively. I think it’s a strategic error, but then it’s not my money on the line.

SFB: Do you have any advice for aspiring science fiction writers today?

Network. It’ll save you a lot of time and wasted effort. When I began, I was so isolated that I practically had to invent the novel on my own.

I also advise workshops, at least if you’re the kind of writer who can take face-to-face criticism without exploding. I run a workshop myself, aimed primarily at the novel. For further information, check out

This Is Not a Game
Walter Jon Williams
January 2010

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Encouragement is like chocolate. You want just enough to look forward to, but not so much it’s unhealthy. Right?

So if someone tells you that you’re doing a great job, maybe you really are. Or maybe they’re just hoping you’ll smile and go away so they can sneak into your office and eat your chocolates. You never know.

It can be tough to really know whether you’re doing a good job. Whatever your everyday occupation, be it writing books, managing finances or wrestling alligators, objective feedback can be tough to find. (Well, okay, if you’re doing a bad job at wrestling alligators, you’ll know.)

But there is one thing you can empirically measure: progress. When you set written goals for yourself, then you can check them off as you accomplish them. It feels good, making that little check mark. If you’ve ever added something to a to-do list just so you could cross it off, then you know what I mean. We all need a little encouragement every day.

I plan out my books using three-by-five index cards, one card for each scene. The entire book is laid out on a pair of giant cork boards on the wall above my desk, each card pinned down in sequential order. After I write each scene, I get out a fat magic marker and draw a giant check mark across the card. Every day, there’s another check mark on the wall. Little by little, the book gets done. When things get tough, that check mark at the end of the scene helps keep me going. (That, and a stash of chocolate. Shh.)

So, did you do anything to encourage yourself today? Give it a shot. Break down a big task into bite-size pieces, focus on one at a time, and then check each one off with a flourish. Trust me, you’ll feel good. Each success will give you a little more momentum, more energy, and you’ll get things done faster and easier.

Which leaves you more time to enjoy that chocolate!

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Being a fictional hero is a pretty dangerous occupation. You could get shot at, chased, imprisoned, stranded in the wilderness — and that might be just in the first chapter. When heroes die in a story, it affects us. (Or should, anyway, if the writing is well done.) It reminds us of our own mortality, of the fragility of life, and puts into sharp perspective the accomplishments and mistakes in our own lives.

But when real-life heroes die, it can affect us in profound ways.

I don’t have any words, really, to describe the loss of Blake Snyder, the wonderfully talented “Save the Cat!” guy. After years of enthusiastically demystifying the writing process and encouraging writers all over the world, he passed away unexpectedly a few days ago.

His work had such an influence on me, I had fixed in my mind the idea that I would contact him after signing my first book contract and say, “Thanks for all the inspiration!” Of course, I felt kind of silly saying that before I’d actually sold a book, so I never emailed him. I now wish, selfishly, that I had. I wish I had stepped out of my comfort zone and made contact with the man who irreverently redefined every genre under the sun with titles like “Dude with a Problem” and “Golden Fleece” and made writing (for me and a lot of people) fun again.

Maybe what I can take from this is that it’s okay to reach out to our real-life heroes, even when we feel we’re not ready. Make that connection. Seize the day.

Save the cat.

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Writing with the Black Warrior

While I’m not a complete Luddite, I don’t usually write on a computer. There are times when a fleeting bit dialogue or description is looping through your mind, wrenching your emotions, and you need to get those ideas down on paper fast. Before they’re gone.

And that’s where pencils come in. In a pinch, anything will do. But if you have the opportunity to properly stock your writing space beforehand, you’ll want something better than those cheap, harsh yellow writing sticks forced on you as a school kid.

The last thing you want to worry about is a brittle tip, bad grip or useless eraser jerking you out of the writing flow. You need a good pencil. One that will work unobtrusively and professionally with you, enabling you to get those words down as smoothly and quickly as possible. You need a tool you can depend on.

In my humble opinion, that tool is the Mirado Black Warrior. Without question.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not the sort of pencil connoisseur to use pretentious French words (whoops — too late) and imply that using the ideal writing utensil is some kind of transcendental experience. Writing is writing, regardless of how the words get onto the paper. But I always keep coming back to these slick black pencils.

And now I know why. Here’s the first online pencil review I’ve ever found, and it might just be the last, but every word rings true:

Personally, I’d never say a Mirado Black Warrior pencil “smells heavenly.” But, now that I think about it… (sniff, sniff) Wow, that does smell good.

So do yourself a favor. Next time you’re stocking up on office supplies (“back to school” is quite possibly my favorite time of year), get yourself a pack of Mirado Black Warrior pencils. If they don’t do anything for you, pass them along to the first budding author or sketch artist you meet. You’ll have a friend for life.

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Getting Things Done

Most of the writers I know feel completely swamped. Between marketing, networking and a hundred other demands on your schedule (not to mention trying to actually live your life), there’s not a lot of time left to actually write. And it seems that the more ambitious we are, the more things we want to get done, the less we actually do. It’s like some kind of cosmic joke.

I’m a list person. Over the years, I’ve made lists and even lists of lists, cramming my pockets full of scraps of paper until they reach critical mass. Either I throw the whole thing out, or else my pockets will explode in a blast of ink-stained confetti. Useful, right?

Then I upgraded to the yellow sticky-note method. I’m sure you’ve tried this. A note here or there. It’s fun. And then a note about a note. And a few notes about errands and phone calls. And then those notes you wrote while you were out. Pretty soon, it’s like some kind of mutant yellow kudzu has sprouted across your home, and scientists in plastic HazMat suits are hosing you down, trying to contain the outbreak.

So that didn’t work out.

I was going to try an electronic organizer, but I knew that the tools weren’t the problem. It was the method. A new computerized gizmo wouldn’t necessarily help. (And besides, at the rate I was going, I’d end up in a bad made-for-TV kind of scene with scowling guys in blue fatigues yelling into radios: “Cut the red wire! RED WIRE!”)

So I did the only rational thing. I read a book.

And then I read a few more. In all, I’m pretty sure I read twelve books on organizing. It might have been thirteen. And I’ll tell you what, there are a lot of methods out there. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert, but here are my three favorite books:

Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern
Organized for Success by Stephanie Winston
Getting Things Done by David Allen

That last book had the most impact on my to-do list. Although it’s a little Office-Space-ish, it’s a very usable tool for getting your schedule organized and, well, getting things done. Here’s my favorite tip: Understand that things on your to-do list are either actions (e.g. Outline warehouse scene) or projects that take several actions (e.g. Finish rough draft).

Actions and projects actually belong on separate lists. That was the hardest lesson for me to learn. Much as I want to finish that rough draft, it’s actually a series of steps: outline the warehouse scene, figure out how to best wrap up Joe’s story arc, etc. If I write “Finish rough draft” on my list right below “Get milk and eggs,” guess which one will get done?

Right. And the whole time I’m standing there in the dairy aisle, kicking myself, wondering: “Why the heck am I not finishing that manuscript?” The answer is that “Finish rough draft” is not an action. It’s a project with a half-dozen (or more) individual actions that all have to be done in order for “Finish rough draft” to get crossed off my list.

Now, had I instead written “Outline warehouse scene” on my list, I’d be standing there in the dairy aisle with a film clip running back and forth through my head, working out who does what and when. So instead of feeling like running to the grocery store was a terrible waste of time and I can never get anything done, I’d feel supercharged, energized, brimming with ideas. Not to mention one step closer to finishing the book. So then, when I got home, ready to write, there would be only one thing I could say to myself:

“Dang. Forgot the eggs.”

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