Friday, May 20, 2022


 Of Research and Developmental Tool Requirements, Part 1:

Surprise #2: Research Overwhelm 

This is the fourth of fifteen posts dealing with surprising things I learned in the course of writing a science fiction series.

The eye-openers I had while writing my sci-fi series will be presented in two parts. This week we'll deal with the research overwhelm while Part 2, coming next week, will cover my underwhelm with the developmental tools I found available.

The second surprise I had in learning how to write in the science fiction genre was the sheer amount of research required. In advance of writing a word of my Arrow of Time Chronicles, I spent the entire summer of 2018 doing massive amounts of research, some of it the Standard Operative Procedure stuff I mentioned in my post last week. Talk about overload. These items I researched were all things I wanted to mention in the first book of the series as they came up, thus setting down the SOPs in my unique galaxy. Basically, I wanted them to be planted deeply there so I wouldn't need to dwell on any of that in future volumes. I filled five medium binders and one enormous one with everything "foundational" I would need to write the series.

In terms of research, that summer in 2018 was only the beginning of what was required. I call that my advance research stage. During that time, I accomplished only the establishment of the SOP foundational aspects of my series. For each outline that preceding the written draft of what eventually became the four books in the series (originally, I intended it to be a trilogy), enormous amounts of research were a necessity. There were times I worried the research would take over so much I'd never get to the point of actually writing the story itself.

Book 1 started the process of outlining the story scene by scene, and, while I outlined, I also performed all the necessary research each scene required. Let me tell you, it was intense. Seriously, things authors never have to think about to write a book set in modern, uncomplicated times came up all throughout outlining and writing these novels. Here's a taste of some of the countless considerations I had to come up with plausible explanations for--and somehow make talking about them brief:

            How do you take a shower on a space ship, and how often? Is every day allowed or are there limitations because of resources, etc.

            If something's wrong on a space ship, is there a human resources department you can complain to?

            When constructing a space habitation, where do you get the building materials?

            For one of the cultures (which is what I called the alien races), I decided to make the way they measure time a little different, considering the unique orbital and tidal functions of their planet. So this became the standard in all the books:

A revolution is 1 year (i.e., 80 revolutions is 80 years).

A tide cycle is 12 hours, two tide cycles is 24 hours, half a tide cycle is 6 hours.

A spin is also a way to reference one day's time.

An age can refer to an undefined but "long" amount of time.

Believe me, trying to remember to write a "spin" instead of a "day" whenever characters in that culture spoke could have presented quite a consistency issue if I wasn't diligent.

Those are some of the less "major" items I had to come up with plausible, brief explanations for, but if you can imagine nearly scene I outlined had endless little questions like this that needed to be answered before I could continue to tell my tale. These are the things that helped me understand the world I was building into each and every installment (and, don't be surprised, but I filled binders and binders with this stuff I cataloged so they were easy to grab if I needed to look something up while I was working).

In any case, the continuous research I had to do for this series felt utterly bottomless from start to finish. But those little questions I was forced to think about, design a creative solution for, and present in intriguing brevity are the very things that gave the series stories such vibrant flair and color.

In Part 2 of this article coming up next week, we'll talk about my underwhelm with the developmental tools available to write science fiction.

Happy writing!

Based on 
Writing the Overarching Series (or How I Sent a Clumsy Girl into Outer Space): 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection by Karen S. Wiesner (release date TBA)

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 140 titles and 16 series, including the romantic science fiction series, ARROW OF TIME CHRONICLES

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Time Travel as a Curse

If you've read Audrey Niffenegger's THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, you know it's a highly unusual approach to time travel. In fact, I haven't come across any other science-fiction or fantasy novel quite like it. Henry, the traveler, bounces through time uncontrollably and at random. Most often, he lands in moments related to his own life, but not always. Visiting points in the past and future in no particular order, he arrives at each destination disoriented, nauseated, and naked, for he doesn't take anything along on the temporal jaunts. Even tooth fillings, since they aren't technically part of his body, don't stay with him. He has multiple encounters with his wife, Clare, in the past (from his viewpoint on his timeline, after they're married) when she's between the ages of six and eighteen. On one visit, he tells her which dates he will appear on, and she writes them down. Later, when the two of them meet earlier in his timeline (for him at that age, the first time), she gives him the written list, which thereby becomes the source of his knowledge of their predicted meetings. So how does this list exist? As Clare says, it's a mysterious "Mobius" loop. Similarly, Henry appears to his younger self when child-Henry makes his first time leap, into a museum. Adult-Henry knows he'll need to teach child-Henry the rules of time travel because he remembers a friendly stranger doing that for him when he experienced his first leap.

HBO is airing a new series based on the book, starting last weekend. Judging from the first episode, it's going to follow the novel closely. The book's chapters have helpful headings that state the year and how old each character is on his or her timeline in that encounter. The TV program, likewise, has captions at the beginning of each scene to indicate the ages of Henry and Clare at that point. Otherwise, viewers could get hopelessly lost.

I've never encountered another story that portrays time travel as a disability rather than a superpower (although TV Tropes mentions a few). Henry has no way of knowing whether he'll bounce back to his point of origin within minutes or remain stranded for days or more. He has to steal to survive. He frequently gets beaten up, in addition to the hazards of bad weather and the risk of landing in the middle of a street or railroad track. Small wonder that, at the age of twenty, the first occasion in his timeline when he meets Clare, he's a bit of a self-centered jerk. It takes her love, reinforced by her knowledge of the man he will become, to transform him. One of the saddest features of the novel consists of the multiple miscarriages Clare suffers because her unborn babies inherit Henry's mutant gene and spontaneously time-leap out of her womb. Another inevitable source of sorrow for Henry is knowing when he'll die and keeping that information a secret from her.

Unlike some fictional chrononauts, Henry has no problem being in the same time slot more than once. He can and often does meet other versions of himself. In Dean Koontz's LIGHTING, the Germans who come forward from World War II into the present can't jump into a moment where they already exist, a restriction that plays a critical part in the novel's climax. Connie Willis's Oxford-based time travelers (in DOOMSDAY BOOK, TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG, etc.) have the same limitation. Whatever force controls the space-time continuum won't allow them to overlap themselves, just as it prevents them from getting too close to any critical historical events they might alter. For Henry, on the other hand, there's no worry about altering the past. Whatever he does in any moment he travels to is simply what he has already done. As in Robert Heinlein's THE DOOR INTO SUMMER, whose protagonist also has the ability to have two of himself in the same spatio-temporal location, anything you "change" in another time period doesn't really change the outcome but causes it to happen the way it was/is supposed to all along. While THE DOOR INTO SUMMER ends happily, with the narrator using a time machine to bring about the optimal conclusion, Heinlein's "All You Zombies—", in which every major character is the same person, whose life endlessly loops upon itself, concludes with a cry of existential despair.

The more one thinks about it, the more this aspect of Henry's time travel seems like a reason for despair. If his life is locked into a preset pattern dependent on events he has already experienced, whether in the past or in the future, what happens to free will? Yet Niffenegger manages to conclude the story on a note of love and fulfillment rather than futility.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Call Me Inaccessible...

As I craft my title for this week, a Frank Sinatra song is playing earworm in my head.

Back in 2012, I participated in a lengthy exchange of emails with Jim Fructerman of about his organization taking print books and converting them into braille, or otherwise making them accessible to book lovers with reading disabilities. With hindsight, I should probably have put up a link on my two websites... at least to the version of Insufficient Mating Material that Benetech put out in accessible form. I'm pretty sure that I made an audio recording (freely available) of Mating Net, but I am not sure how easy it would be for a listener to find it.

Do authors really need to worry about complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act? It's something about which I've rather buried my head in metaphorical sand. Does it make a difference whether or not an author sells books from her website?

Legal blogger Stuart K. Tubis of the law firm Jeffer Mangels Butler and Mitchell LLP explains the recently issued guidelines from the Department of Justice concerning website accessibility as it applies to state and local governments and businesses.

A copy of the Guidance document can be found here.

As Stuart K. Tubis explains:

"In the Guidance, the DOJ clarifies once again that the ADA applies to websites: “the Department’s longstanding interpretation of the general nondiscrimination and effective communication provisions applies to web accessibility.”

The Guidance also provides some examples of website accessibility barriers, including poor color contrast, lack of text alternatives for images, lack of labels for forms, and mouse-only navigation design.”

Lexology link: 
Original link: 

Unfortunately, as I see it, the DOJ may clarify that the ADA applies to websites, and it may give some examples of "barriers" that might offend, but it does not appear to set out whether or not single member LLCs and self publishing authors count as "businesses", or what exactly we minnows in the great writing pool might need to do to avoid falling foul of the ADA.

Another JMBM legal blogger, Martin H, Orlick, shares a great deal more information about ADA cases, and a horror story or two about alleged "serial plaintiffs" who are accused of filing thousands of ADA suits against small businesses including those owned by immigrants and minorities, with the apparent aim of exacting an average of $10,000 per business in settlements.

Legal bloggers Amy L. Bess and Mindy M. Wong of the international law firm Vedder Price offer five quick tips to help protect oneself from ADA-related litigation. They also lay out some disquieting statutory minimum fines for persons deemed to have violated the ADA.

Lexology link:
Original .pdf: 

Anyone who is a business entity, and who maintains a website should study the tips and discuss the issues with ones webmistress or webmaster... or weblover. Maybe, one should also discuss it with ones insurance agent or broker.

There is also a "bonus tip" which I think is a very good idea. It involves adding a "clickwrap agreement" to your website. They explain and give an example.

On an unhappier note, the always edifying, Angela Hoy of WritersWeekly shares a compelling blog by Emily Thompson: Three Common Reasons Why Freelancers Get Sued...

For those not on MUSO's radar (they are a British-based piracy-fighting company), MUSO has released a study of the most pirated films this month. Apparently, movie piracy is up 42.5% compared with a year ago. Of all things, "Sonic The Hedgehog" seems to be one of the most pirated movies of all, which might tell you something about parenting.

They don't try to explain why, but might there be a relationship between the losses of subscribers seen by legal streaming services and the increase in piracy?

Piracy is not a "victimless crime". Some subscription services cut off the "credits" after the big names have scrolled, but in all likelyhood, anyone on the credits, down to the key grips, boom assistants, and drivers rely at least in part on the royalties for their livelihoods.

I wonder whether pirate sites comply with the ADA, and if not, why not?

All the best

Rowena Cherry 

EPIC Award winner, Friend of ePublishing for Crazy Tuesday

Friday, May 13, 2022


 Surprise #1: Of Not Having to Reinvent the Wheel For Everything

This is the third of fifteen posts dealing with surprising things I learned in the course of writing a science fiction series.

In the first part of this series, I mentioned that one of the fundamentals I was told about the "right way" to write science fiction was by adhering to what seemed to be to be the cardinal rule of the genre: That all science fiction stories have to include a concept of legitimate science or technology that can somehow be applied to fictional theories or ideas that could become future realities. Without fail, every single writing manual and article I read about how to write science fiction included this regulation. This is in the same vein as "write what you know" but of course is it really necessary or even ideal for a writer to limit himself in such a way? [Read Margaret L. Carter's February 10, 2022 post about just this if you want a unique look at this theory:]

I don't dispute that scientific and technologic realism are important so much as I wonder how much it can be bent. We are writing fiction, after all. In his Biographia Literaria, William Coleridge coined the phrase "suspension of disbelief". In this "poetic faith" state of mind, readers voluntarily ignore obvious untruths and fantastic elements in order to enjoy the story unfolding before them. So, if an author can legitimately make readers believe something that's impossible in the real world is actually happening in the fictional story, anything goes, right?

When an author goes into writing science fiction, there are a lot of "Standard Operating Procedure" facts that have to be established and explained about this time period and their unique world or universe--in a way that readers are able to suspend belief and just go with it, regardless of how implausible in our current world and time. For example, if your characters travel through space on a regular basis, you usually have to explain how they're doing it.

Luckily, many amazing authors have already written about fascinating concepts based on scientific principles and existing and experimental technology, such as using wormholes, folds in the fabric of space, or some other creative explanation that provides the means of skipping, folding or warping space to allow jumps across great distances--all that do factor in the theory of relativity, time dilation, and interstellar travel. I call these "established knowns", and they provided one of the first surprises I received when I started writing science fiction. Namely that I could use these "established knowns" because they're basically plausible explanations that are already accepted by the majority of science fiction readers who devour extremely popular science fiction books, movies, and television series like Star Trek, Star Wars, Mass Effect, and The Expanse. Cool! I needed to hear the good news that there can be some shortcuts in this complicated undertaking. But keep in mind that most writers don't want to and shouldn't use them verbatim. That would be copying and could lead to all kinds of moral and legal issues. However, simply basing your tech and world principles on established knowns is allowed. You have to find a way to creatively adapt established knowns to make them unique to your story and series.

Since my series was set in the not-to-distant future, I really did have to have an explanation for how Humans got their technology to travel through space. I creatively used some established knowns to explain their space travel and communications, as well as coming up with realistic, futuristic orbital habitations, credible revelations about dark energy and matter, and legitimate reasons for what might force Humans to leave Earth to explore and find homes in space or on other planets. All of these were treated as Standard Operating Procedures for my series. Rather than reinventing the wheel for all of these things, I laid down my foundations as simply and believably as I could based on creatively adapted established knowns.

The surprise that I didn't have to reinvent the wheel for every single scientific and technical aspect was certainly one of the most welcome I had. It saves so much time and energy to utilize the concept of established knowns. I realized almost from the start that forcing myself to come up with brand new, exciting and extra creative ideas to explain the "SOP" of my series would have been overwhelming not only for me as the author (having to figure all this out when I'm most definitely not a scientist of any kind in the real world!), but also overwhelming for the readers who would have to hear endless and overly complex and potentially boring explanations about how everything worked from A-Z here in my particular galaxy. I've found over the years that the science fiction stories I like following the **least** are the ones that spend way too much time trying to explain to me the Standard Operating Procedures for their universe. I don't think I'm that different from other sci-fi readers: In a fiction book or series, I want to be impressed by the creativeness of the story, not scientific theories.

In Arrow of Time, the space travel and communication SOPs weren't exactly the same as for any other series, and I think that's important because, to me, just saying my characters have warp drive, like in Star Trek, felt like cheating. What I did was figure out what's been done already and what's plausible, and, from there, I played around with the concepts until they fit my series and made sense in it. Creatively utilizing established knowns, I could put my SOPs in place as briefly and intriguingly as possible and then I could roll out my story.

Another reason for not reinventing the wheel for every little aspect of your science fiction story is that these things you labor to create can easily become focal points. If that's what you intended, great. But if it's not, you went to a lot of elaborate trouble to develop and explain them yet they're not factoring greatly into the storyline somehow. That doesn't make sense and could be frustrating for readers. In my series, those SOP aspects weren't majorly important. I wanted them to be legitimate and credible, but I didn't want them to call more attention to themselves than was necessary. All I wanted was for the "poetic belief" to kick in for readers so I could move forward with the storytelling.

Over the course of the next two weeks, we'll talk about research and developmental tools in writing science fiction.

Happy writing!

Based on Writing the Overarching Series (or How I Sent a Clumsy Girl into Outer Space): 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection by Karen S. Wiesner (release date TBA)

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 140 titles and 16 series, including the romantic science fiction series, ARROW OF TIME CHRONICLES

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Writing to the Future

Cory Doctorow's latest LOCUS column, on writing nonfiction pieces that will still be relevant by the time they're published:

Six Weeks Is a Long Time

The time lag that may undercut the applicability of a written work, according to him, seems to be getting shorter. Circumstances can always truly change overnight or in an instant, of course. Consider the difference between September 10, 2001, and September 11 of that year. Yet it may seem odd to define an essay meant to be read a month and a half after it's written as "futuristic thinking." The near future, however, is still the future. As C. S. Lewis's senior demon says in THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, all human beings constantly travel into the future at the rate of sixty minutes per hour.

I once read a story about a time-viewing machine that allows the user to look into the future. The culture-transformative feature of this device is that it has no lower limit on how short a time span it can look ahead. And apparently (if I remember correctly) one can view events in other places, not just where one happens to be personally located. Suppose you peer ten seconds into the future? You're effectively spying on people's actions in the present, in real time. (On second thought, it may have been a past-viewing device. Same principle applies.)

Doctorow wrote this month's article in the midst of a new, highly contagious COVID variant and the imminent invasion of Ukraine, addressing us "in the distant, six-week future" from his moment in the past when "the odds of nuclear Armageddon [seemed] higher than they’ve been for decades." He greets his future audience thus: "I bear glad tidings. Only six weeks ago, you, me and most everyone else we knew couldn’t imagine getting through these next six weeks. If you’re reading these words, you did the unimaginable. Six weeks and six weeks and six weeks, we eat the elephant of the unimaginable one bite at a time."

We're familiar with the question of what message we'd like to send to our past selves. There's a country song about writing a letter to "me at seventeen." But what message might you want to send to your future self? Unlike speaking to one's past self, this we can actually do. Are there important events or thoughts you might want to write down as reminders in case you've forgotten them a month, a year, or decades from now? What would you like to record as an important reminder for the citizens of your city, your country, or the world next month, next year, a decade from now, or generations later? People often do the latter with physical "time capsules." Would the things you choose to highlight turn out to be important to those future audiences or not?

Isaac Asimov wrote at least one essay predicting future technological and social advances, and surely he wasn't the only SF author to do that. Some of his predictions have come true; many haven't. An essay like that could be considered a message to future generations.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Kick Back

The prevailing theme on the copyright-related legal blogs this last week dealt with recent DOJ guidance for website owners.  More of that, maybe, next time. Meanwhile, and more urgently, there are three free events this coming Wednesday, May 11th, and another event on May 16th.

If you are an author or an aspiring author, but not yet a member of the (membership is free), or of (membership costs around $135 pa)  or of (membership around $100 pa) you might not have heard about the creators conference.

From 11.00 to 12.30 am ET, a distinguished panel discusses the shocking (to some) details of how authors, artists, designers, songwriters, photographers, illustrators, composers and more are beguiled into working for free, or even paying in order to work for others.

The second panel runs from 1.30 to 3.00 pm ET and discusses some of the dirtiest tricks in contracts, including how "work for hire" wording can strip one of ones copyright, and lock one into a bad deal.

The third panel is between 4.00 and 5.30 pm Eastern, and reveals some of the ways that infringers steal works, and companies engage in "rights grabs"... and how to fight back to keep what is yours.

The CopyrightAlliance is hosting a webinar on May 16th from 2pm to 3.15 pm Eastern, in conjunction with Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts, and the American Society of Media Photographers to explain how the Copyright Claims Board works to resolve certain copyright disputes.


Something one can do, if so inclined, is to support the SMART Act that was introduced by Senators Thom Tillis and Patrick Leahy in March of this year.

One show support, for instance, by writing a note to your own senator, or to the sponsoring senators, or following some of the ideas here.

All the best,