Tag Archives: literature

Finding Time to Write, Part 2: Selective Ignorance

Pen WritingIn ‘Finding Time to Write’, I offer methods that aspiring writers can use to free up time for their writing, or at least make the most of the time they have. In part one, I talked about having to actively make a choice to follow your passion.

Today’s topic: selective ignorance.

Do you have any idea how much time the average American spends online every week? The most recent studies indicate it’s somewhere between 23 and 27 hours.

That’s right. Roughly a full day per week. 1/7th of all available time. About 20% of all waking hours. And the numbers are even higher for young people.

Consider that for a minute. 20% of all waking hours are now spent on the internet. So how are those hours spent?

Well, the studies I took my numbers from counted texting as time spent online, so that’s part of it. But what about the rest? Social media is a big part of it. Checking Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus, Linked In, and more. Then there’s news, and not just traditional news. There’s business news, sports news, health news, science news, and entertainment news, including movie news, music news, and book news, not to mention all kinds of niche news available on all sorts of sites. Then there’s blogs, webcomics, humor sites, online magazines, internet radio, and fantasy sports. And then there’s the ever popular standby: idly surfing the web for hours on end with no intended purpose.

Which brings me to the topic of selective ignorance, or the active eschewal of useless information.

You see, I think part of the reason we spend so much time online is an underlying desire in all of us to feel informed. But there’s valuable knowledge and then there’s completely useless information.

Consider a random sampling of the sorts of information we all (me included, I’m as guilty as everyone else) spend chunks of our day amassing every day:

–       The opinions of a family member’s one-time friend on the validity of Obamacare

–       What a high school classmate you haven’t seen in a decade ate for breakfast

–       Random pictures of someone’s dog, or a dress, or homemade miniature cupcakes

–       Details on an injury suffered by a college football player for a school you never attended and don’t have any affiliation to

Does this ring true with you?

Let’s face it. Most of the information we accumulate on the internet is totally, absolutely, and completely useless. We don’t need it. We can just cut it out entirely and not miss out on anything important.

So if you’re a writer, or really anyone looking to free up more hours from a busy day, consider enacting a policy of selective ignorance. True, you won’t know what all of your friends and acquaintances are up to or who won last night’s game or what people are saying about the latest political snafu, but do you really need to know?

I think not.

*Editor’s note: I do acknowledge the irony of my encouraging you readers to spend less time on the internet via my online blog. Clearly, my blog is one of the few online sources of information you should prioritize, mostly due to my razor-sharp wit, my penchant for literary wizardry, and the sheer bodacity of my writing. 

Image credit: By Jonathan Reyes (jpaxonreyes) (CC BY-NC 2.0), via Flickr.

Better Know a Sub-Genre – Space Opera

In my introductory post, I wrote a lot about not only what genres of music and literature I like, but about what sub-genres I like within those genres. As the total wealth of human knowledge becomes immeasurably vast, we as humans have felt the need to sub-compartmentalize genres of fiction and music into smaller and smaller categories, until each one is so specific that it excludes 99.9% of the other stuff that’s out there.

I assume we do this to try and make ourselves feel cool and unique. Instead of being one of millions of people who read sci-fi, you become one of a few hundred people who are really into dying earth/planetary romances mixed with space westerns (I just made that amalgamation up by the way, but it wouldn’t surprise me if someone had written something along those lines). Suddenly, your passion is a niche that you can lord over your friends, making you seem infinitely cooler than them.

Of course, the problem is that there are so many sub-genres out there now that you might easily be confused by all the nomenclature. What in the world is Bangsian fantasy? Or sword and planet fiction? You need an expert to figure it all out for you.

Well, I’m your expert. Sort of, anyway. At the very least, I know how to use a search engine well enough to fake it.

First up: Space Opera!

Space Opera is a sub-genre of science fiction that emphasizes BIG conflicts and BIG adventures set in outer space, often in the far future, and usually between opponents that possess advanced technologies and powers. In addition, space operas often contain:

–       A focus on a singular, sympathetic main character

–       Elements of romance

–       Elements of mysticism and mythology (as opposed to hard technology)

–       Elements of heroism

–       An emphasis on drama (or even melodrama)

–       Plot elements of war and battle

–       An optimistic outlook and/or happy ending

The term ‘space opera’ was first coined in the 1940’s by a fanwriter by the name of Wilson Tucker as an insult towards stories that he described as “hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn, spaceship yarn[s].” The stories that he referred to first started showing up in the 20’s and 30’s following Hubble’s discoveries that hinted at the immeasurable vastness of our universe, which spurred fiction writers to start thinking beyond the confines of our own solar system. In fact, the first great space opera is sometimes accredited to E. E. “Doc” Smith, whose The Skylark of Space first appeared in the August 1928 edition of the pulp magazine, Amazing Stories.

Amazing Stories Aug1928By the early 40’s, the stories had become so repetitious and hackneyed that fans, such as Tucker, lumped them into a ‘space opera’ category to be summarily ignored. Of course, the type of story did not die, as writers like Poul Anderson and C. J. Cherryh continued to write them throughout the late 70’s. By this point, the term ‘space opera’ had grown beyond being a mere slushy insult and blossomed into its own genre.

Then in the late 70’s and early 80’s, space opera underwent a mini resurgence, not in literature, but in film, thanks to the release of Star Wars, which would go on to become one of the most successful movie franchises of all time.

Star Wars closely follows John Campbell’s monomyth, also known as the hero’s journey, which is something that I’ll go into at a later date. For now though, consider some of Star Wars’ thematic elements:

–       A focus on a sympathetic main character (Luke). ✓

–       Elements of romance (the Luke/Leia/Han Solo love triangle). ✓

–       Elements of mysticism (the Force). ✓

–       Elements of heroism (throughout). ✓

–       An emphasis on drama/melodrama (Luke. I am your father. … NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!). ✓

–       Plot elements of war and battle (the entire struggle between the Rebels and the Empire). ✓

–       A happy ending (the Rebels win). ✓

Star Wars is prototypical space opera, and its success launched a parade of other reasonably successful space opera films over the next few decades. Though space opera literature has perhaps never experienced quite the same popularity as it did in it’s very early days, it continues to have a solid following, and in my opinion, is poised for another resurgence.

Some notable space operas, other than those already mentioned, include:

–       The Buck Rodgers stories, first written by Philip Francis Nowlan

–       The Flash Gordon universe of fiction

–       Select novels from Iain M. Banks’ Culture series

–       The movie The Fifth Element (which amusingly enough features a scene with a real opera in space – well, on another planet really)

–       The Mass Effect series of video games

For those fantasy readers out there, I tend to think of space opera as the science fiction equivalent of epic fantasy. Both deal with big, epic stories, both focus around a powerful, sympathetic hero character, both often feature battles between forces depicted as good and evil, and both emphasize magic/mysticism over realism. If you like one, chances are you’ll like the other as well.

So, what do you all think? What are some of your favorite space opera stories? What important contributions did I miss? Duke it out in the comments.

Image credits: Featured image by Andre35822 (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Post image by Frank R. Paul [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

Forgotten Gems: Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

Yet another recurring segment here on this blog, Forgotten Gems will take a look at great speculative fiction books of years past and offer up thoughts on why they’re still worthy of a read.

In this inaugural post, I’ll look at one of the great classics of the fantasy genre: Lewis Carroll’s literary nonsense books, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Let’s see a quick show of hands: Who here is familiar with the story of Alice in Wonderland? Virtually everyone, I see. Alright then, let’s see another show of hands: Who has actually read the two novels? Ok, good, a fair smattering of hands, but far fewer than those who know the story.

For those who have gone through life somehow sheltered from any exposure to this classic work of literature, let me provide you with a quick synopsis. Published in 1865 by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll), Alice in Wonderland starts with young Alice following a white rabbit down a rabbit hole, only to be plunged into a nonsensical fantasy world populated by anthropomorphic animals of questionable mental faculties. Throughout the story, Alice makes numerous somewhat mad acquaintances, eats and drinks various foodstuffs that either grow or shrink her in size, and ultimately encounters the Queen of Hearts, who rules over the magical kingdom with an iron fist.

Even though many people have not read the books, they are familiar with them, I would think, primarily due to the classic 1951 Disney adaptation of the novels, which was actually a commercial flop at the time of release. Surprisingly, the movie follows Alice in Wonderland fairly accurately, omitting only a few scenes and adding in a few cherry-picked from Through The Looking Glass, most notably Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee’s rendition of the “Walrus and the Carpenter” and the inclusion of the poem, “The Jabberwocky.” In fact, the Disney movie has become so iconic that it seems like many subsequent reproductions of the works have been influenced to a greater extent by this movie than by the original novels themselves. For example, Alice’s dress is almost invariably depicted as blue, like in the video game American McGee’s Alice, despite not being mentioned by color in the original manuscript.

AiW 2Despite being a classic, however, Alice in Wonderland doesn’t seem to be a part of many school curriculums. I’m not an educator, but I can come up with a few reasons why that might be the case. For one thing, the book doesn’t really seem to make any moral statements. Not that the book doesn’t encourage thought, which I would argue it certainly does with it’s liberal use of mathematical symbolism and logic puzzle-style dialog, but Alice in Wonderland doesn’t try to make any overt moral or political statements. Also, I can image educators are hesitant to teach Alice in Wonderland because it is a children’s novel that breaks many of the rules of the English language. At the age level when the book might be taught in schools, I would assume that teachers are more concerned with making sure their students know how to use language properly than showing them how to play with it whimsically.

So why is Alice in Wonderland worthy of your read? Well for one thing, it’s one of the original works of children’s fantasy, predating J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, and Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows by about 30-40 years. Its imagery has influenced countless artists over the past 150 years, and spawned numerous derivative works. Despite being a children’s novel, it’s well regarded by mathematicians and logicians because of its numerically-oriented themes. And on top of all that, it’s short, clocking in at about 27,000 words, which would take the average reader about 2 hours to read. (Through the Looking Glass clocks in at about 30,000 words).

Last but not least, because it was written so very long ago, Alice in Wonderland is in the public domain, meaning that it’s 100% free to read! You can find it on numerous spots throughout the web, or you can download a free e-book via amazon here. Similarly, Through The Looking Glass is also freely available. Even better, all the original images illustrated by John Tenniel are also in the public domain, meaning you can find them in e-books, and I can display them on my website to my heart’s content without having to worry about copyright issues.

So what do you think? Did you read Alice in Wonderland as a child, or as an adult, or not at all? What are some of your favorite parts of the books?

Image credits: John Tenniel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Finding Time to Write, Part 1: Choosing your Passion

Ballpoint Pen MacroLots of people want to be writers. Lots. But very few people actually bother to write anything, other than e-mails and work reports and boring things like that. Does that mean that writing is hard? Well, no, of course not. Anyone who is literate can do it. But it does take desire, effort, and, very importantly, time.

Most people who have tried to write fiction have heard of Heinlein’s rules to writing. Robert Heinlein was a famous science fiction author, and one of my personal favorites, who willingly shared his rules on writing with others way back in the 1940’s. You can search the internet and find these rules, but the first is the most telling.

Rule #1: You must write.

It seems simple, but it isn’t, for a number of reasons. Maybe you don’t feel like you have any ideas. Maybe you’re scared to try something new. Maybe you’re more of a dreamer than a do-er. But time always seems to be an important factor.

Let’s face it: it takes time to write. And time is something that none of us ever seem to have enough of. As such, it’s the primary excuse people who wish they were writers use to excuse themselves for not writing. Is it really the main thing keeping people from pursuing their dreams? I doubt it. But it’s a great excuse.

In my case, I have a full time job. I have a family, including a small child (as any parent can attest, children are a time black hole). And I have numerous interests, including reading, playing video games, watching sports, and exercising, and yet still I find time to write, both this blog and fiction. So how do I do it?

Part 1: Choosing your Passion

When I first decided I wanted to be a writer (and yes, even unpublished writers are writers), I somehow thought I would be able to squeeze my writing into my already cramped schedule while still doing everything else I had already been doing.

I soon realized that this train of thought was, quite simply, ludicrous. My day was already completely full of stuff – all kinds of stuff. But that doesn’t mean my day was full of stuff that was really important to me.

And that’s the key. You have to figure out what’s really important in your life, and prioritize. To me, my family is the most important part of my life. I won’t skimp on time spent with family. My job is also important, for obvious financial reasons. That means that time spent writing had to come from the remaining pool of time I spent on everything else.

So, I prioritized. I spent less time watching TV. Less time playing video games. Less time aimlessly surfing the web. Less time watching sports (my resolve is constantly tested during college football season). I still exercise twice a week, as my health is important, and I still read, as it’s important for any writer to read prolifically. But most of my extra time now goes towards writing.

I think the main point here is that you have to actively CHOOSE to do something you are passionate about over doing other things that you are indifferent about. If you truly are passionate about a topic, you can and will find time to squeeze it into your schedule, and if you find that you simply can’t make time for something you think you are passionate about, then perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your passions.

In upcoming posts, I’ll go more into detail about other ways to free up time for writing.

Image credit: By Dennis Gnad, published under the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation, via Wikimedia Commons.