A Note to Young Aspiring Authors

tumblr_inline_mo8wf0ZID41qz4rgpHave you ever thought of becoming an author? To be amongst the greats who have worked so diligently to get their works onto bookshelves? It’s something that many creative minds aspire to become, but never pursue do to barriers they put ahead of themselves. And if it’s not enough that adults have to deal with their own barriers, youth also have to deal with the barriers that adults put in their minds.

It took eight years to take my middle-grade novel, The Adventures of Nick and O-Zone: Protectors of the Universe, from a simple vision in my imagination to the reality I wanted it to be. As a youth writer, I had to face fears that I placed ahead of myself almost daily. Was my story good enough for print? Would my book sell? Or worse, would it be rejected? Then there were also the doubts that other fed to me- words of so-called wisdom such as “getting published is tough” and “you should focus on smaller goals.” I focused all my energy on the largest goals and still achieved my smaller goals- funny how that works.

People often ask me how many publisher’s rejected me before I was able to get into bookstores. The answer is always zero, because I never submitted my manuscript to a single traditional publisher. It’s not that I didn’t want to be traditionally published, it’s that I wasn’t interested in asking for my book to be published only to be told that I had to re-write it a certain way in order for it to be successful. I decided to go indie, and within months my book started popping up on the shelves at major bookstores next to the traditionally published books. I may not have signed a big publishing deal, but my book is now exposed to the masses and selling copies instead of sitting in my computer as an unpublished manuscript.

So what advice can I give to young, aspiring authors? Don’t get published for the money. Sure, it’s an amazing feat when someone pays you six-figures to write a book, but there are many ways that you can pay yourself to write. If you’re getting into it for the money, go get a master’s degree in literature, find a job that pays you to write, and hope that someday a publisher approaches you to write something bigger. However, if your dream is to be a published author, you need to put the money game aside and focus on writing a story that will stand out and show the world your deepest passion for literature. Once you have a solid manuscript to work with, follow your heart and take the path of least resistance to your goal.

Success is not measured by how much money you can make, it’s measured by the amount of people you positively impact through your work. If you’ve managed to publish your manuscript and make at least one reader smile, you’ve just become a successful author. And when that one smile turns to thousands, the money will flow in effortlessly.

Sci-fi Learning: Young Readers and the Environment

Environmentalism is a topic that has been fairly mainstream in world media for the past two decades. With technology progressing at an amazing rate, there’s no telling how far we might go in the next hundred years, and with that said, it’s important that we don’t turn a blind eye to the welfare of our planet. Now trust me when I say this isn’t one of those “go green” articles. I like helping the environment as much as anyone, but I also understand that you don’t have to change your entire lifestyle to make a difference.

Have you noticed that kids seem to be growing up so darn fast these days? I really think childhood development goes hand in hand with technology, because every time a new iPhone comes out I see younger and younger kids walking around with them. If the iPhone 5 is for ages 12 and up, the new iPhone 6 is for ages 8 and up! All joking aside, kids are learning about the world a lot quicker these days because the information is accessible, and that’s why we need to properly guide their young, open minds before they get clouded and confused by all the opinions of the World Wide Web.

So how can science fiction help steer young readers in the right direction? If there’s one topic that presents itself more often in sci-fi than high fantasy or any other genre of fiction, it’s the preservation of planetary environments. This is mostly due to the fact that sci-fi, in general, deals with futuristic civilizations with advanced technologies. As is apparent in today’s world, the advancement of human civilization is directly related to the arrival of new environmental concerns- stone-age people wouldn’t have a clue! Whether the work of science fiction portrays environmental concerns as something that was resolved (e.g., check out our new emission-free energy production devices!) or that leads directly to the apocalypse, it’s a good opportunity to introduce environmental topics to younger readers.

Now when I say this, I don’t mean that we have to push “save the world” on their young minds and brainwash them into buying electric cars at eighteen. Some may develop that mindset naturally, which is a perfectly acceptable outcome, but the goal of these topics and subtle lessons is to make them all a little more conscious about their decisions. In my latest science fiction series, The Adventures of Nick and O-Zone, the main characters deal with an alien civilization that has a blatant disregard for preserving planetary resources. Although that civilization is purely fictional, it isn’t far off from some of the energy corporations in our world that have the same disregard for planetary preservation.

If we subtlety introduce environmental topics to kids through fun works of fiction, we’ll slowly start to change the consciousness of our world for greater awareness in the future. In elementary school, Joanna Cole’s The Magic School Bus series taught me that recycling helps reduce waste. To this day, I still take the time to sort my cans and cardboard- don’t be lazy people! That’s my way of helping the environment, and kids will also know what’s right for them when the time comes. But don’t expect me to go out and buy an electric car- they just aren’t as fun without internal

Summer Reading – The Challenge of the New Millennium

Do you remember the first book that you truly enjoyed? The one that pulled you so far into its world that you forgot how to come home until you turned the final page? No matter how big or small, there’s always that one title that truly kicks off our love for reading. However, it takes some dedication to the first few pages before we can really get into a story, and that’s sometimes difficult for younger readers- especially during summer vacation.

With all the outdoor activities and video games available for kids today, it’s often difficult to get them to sit down for even a few minutes. This is understandable since they’ve usually just re-discovered their freedom from the classroom and have near-zero interest in reading a book for at least a few months. At that point the parent becomes the salesperson for the content of the book, and if the product can’t deliver within the first few pages, forget the rest of the series!

So what’s a good summer read for kids? It ultimately comes down to personal preference, but stories packed with action and adventure that stir the imagination are always a good starting point. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series is an excellent example, although its reading level is fairly advanced- I couldn’t get past the first chapter until I was sixteen- and might be a turn-off for the youngest. For the eight to twelve age group, I would suggest starting with a series like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson & The Olympians or Chronicles of Narnia to give them a story that will hook them in instantly. Once they get attached to the characters, it shouldn’t be difficult to get them to read at least an hour a day. If they really get hooked, the problem might be getting them outside for an hour!

With the amount of great books available for kids, it should be fairly easy to find great works of fiction that will keep them reading. The key is to make their first book a memorable experience so that they will always be looking for more. Something that they can share and discuss with their friends will also help them get into it, so keeping up with the current book trends is always a good idea.

A strong imagination can make reading as addictive as video games and can replace them altogether if properly introduced to young readers. You’ll know you hit the jackpot when your kids read for a few hours and then continue an alternate plot to the story with their friends at the park. Like with any great work of fiction, the adventure continues in the imagination!

Creating the Fictional Universe – Part 1: Establishing the Setting

It’s a big world out there. It looks even bigger when you have to learn everything there is to know about it. It can be fairly intimidating to open an encyclopedia and try and memorize everything from countries and politics to continents and oceans. Thankfully Google makes that task a little easier these days, but start adding planets, stars and galaxies to that lineup and you might as well just enroll in an undergraduate program at your local university.

So if it’s that much work to learn about the real world, how do authors keep up with their own fictional universes and talk about them like they’ve been studying the details for half a century? The key is creating a solid base for a fictional universe that pulls ideas from our non-fictional world and has room for plenty of expansion.

Over the next several weeks, I will be posting a special blog series that breaks down the structure behind a fictional universe. Although you can technically make up anything you want in a work of fiction, it gives much more value to the readers when they can place themselves in the story and understand what is going on around the characters. My preferred word for this type of information is “backstory”. Whether it has to do with your fictional universe’s history, geography, astronomy, or even social structures and politics, fans of your work are certain to ask “why” and attempt to discover the past, present, and future of your characters and the world around them. As the ultimate creator behind that universe, it’s your job to provide them with that information when they ask for it. If it doesn’t exist yet, make it up on the spot and give it to them in a way that makes perfect sense in your world. That’s the greatest part about fiction writing- the truth is synonymous to your own imagination. Who says pigs can’t fly? They can if you want them to!

This first step to creating a solid fictional universe is to determine the setting. Are your stories taking place in the past or distant future? Can your characters experience the real world (Earth) in some way, or are they off in a completely different realm? Build a base of operations in that setting to live and breathe with your potential characters- figuratively- and see the universe you’re creating from their point of view. Would the world make sense to your characters the way you’re planning it? If it does, it will likely make sense to your readers as well. For example, in my latest series, The Adventures of Nick and O-Zone, I opted for a blend of fact and fiction to give my characters the opportunity to have real world experiences on Earth, as well as play in a fictional part of the universe- one foot in, one foot out. Establishing a solid base setting will not only establish your genre, but also give you a great starting point from which you can infinitely expand.

In Part 2, we’ll touch on the subject of geography and mapping.

Reaching For the Stars

Have you ever taken the time to stare into the night sky and actually feel into it? It’s at that moment that you come to realize that all those shimmering stars that are thousands of light-years away are actually stories of the past- ones that have been coming and going for millions of years. What else is out there to discover? Only time will tell.

In the last hundred years, humanity’s great leaps in technology have allowed us to go from contemplating the mysteries of outer space to actually exploring it. Will our technology soon allow us to go beyond what we ever thought would be possible? Very likely, so long as the realm of science fiction stays alive and strong.

In order for a new technology to be developed, it must first be birthed as an idea in someone’s imagination. Therefore, a scientific fact must first live in science fiction. Take Hergé’s 1953 publication of the color comic book The Adventures of Tintin: Destination Moon. The storyline was centered on Tintin- the same Tintin from the 2011 blockbuster- joining a space program and being a part of the first successful manned space flight- a feat that would only be accomplished in science fact nearly a decade later. Furthermore, his 1954 publication of the sequel, The Adventures of Tintin: Explorers on the Moon, was fifteen years ahead of the Apollo I moon landing. Although today we would consider those stories purely action and adventure, back in the early 1950’s, they were entirely science fiction.

Tintin’s lunar experience was only one of the many stories that contributed to my love for sci-fi adventure. Others included novels from the popular Star Wars and Star Trek franchises, as well as the Dune series by Frank Herbert, which I find to be amazingly detailed and expansive. I always had an affinity for the night sky, and those novels allowed me to explore the possibilities of an infinite universe. It was at that point that the ideas started flowing at that my creativity flourished. I drew inspiration from those universes and decided to create my own, which is now the home of my latest children’s novel series, The Adventures of Nick and O-Zone.

I can always appreciate an epic adventure with sword-wielding wizards and fire-breathing dragons, but I never pass on the opportunity to read a stimulating science fiction adventure. Sci-fi authors continue to take the genre to new imaginary heights and I am proud to be a part of such a fantastic group of literary artists that dare to jump two feet into the unknown depths of the universe.

The Power of Imagination

We can all admit that throughout our childhood we consistently surrendered to daydreaming- that time and space where nothing else seemed to matter but what was going on in our imagination. Our parents and teachers would tell us to “come back down to earth”, where we would have to resume a boring existence solving math problems and eating our veggies. It was our daily- scratch that- hourly dose of pure fiction that was an all-inclusive vacation to our favorite laboratory, beach, or distant star system.

Then came our teenage years, a point in our lives when we were introduced to harsh adult realities such as time and money. Where did those time machines and treasure chests full of gold run off to? A sad decade indeed. My first taste of adult reality came on my sixteenth birthday when I received an electric tooth brush from my parents. It was a thoughtful gift, but it wasn’t like the toys and games I was used to receiving. There wasn’t a Ferrari in the driveway either, and that’s when I was also told it was time to let go fiction and start facing fact. I almost let it go completely, but something stirred inside me and told me it wasn’t the end of fiction.

That’s when I picked up my trusty pen and paper- you caught me, it was a keyboard- and started putting my leftover fragments of imagination into powerful words on a page. I developed my own universe where humans co-existed with robots and aliens and travel to distant galaxies could be accomplished in seconds instead of light years. This fictional universe was not just a place I used to develop my writing skills, but also a place where my inner child could be free to play and create outside the confines of the real world.

As a fiction writer, that inner child is the catalyst that causes your creativity to explode and catapult you to another universe where all things that you write about do exist- just like daydreaming back in the day. Tolkien, Rowling, and Jacques- all exceptional authors who would probably admit that they never lost touch with that inner child while writing their amazing works. Sadly, many people chose to let go of their inner child and sunder the connection to the fictional universes they’ve created. Fortunately, that connection is never fully severed, and those universes can be revisited when the inner child finally returns.

Power is in the imagination, and that’s what we need to remind the children that will be building our future on this planet- they need to know that it’s okay to dream and embrace fiction. After all, everything has to be fiction before it becomes fact. Reading my latest children’s fiction novel, The Adventures of Nick and O-Zone: Protectors of the Universe, some would tell me that the idea of a twelve-year-old boy traveling across the universe is entertaining but unrealistic. A thousand years ago, they would have said the same thing about a man walking on the moon.