2018 reflections

I started book two of the Inline series (still a working title). I redid the whole thing because of some advice on outlining that caused me kind of ‘writing paralysis’. I couldn’t follow the outline or the world building and it felt like I was doubling my effort, because I had little actual writing done and I couldn’t be in my main character’s head anymore.

I re-thought the dystopian series in terms of avoiding the all-black-all-white foundation of most dystopias. Yes, the series starts in a very dystopian place, the Labyrinth, in a system that aims to create a one-dimensional workforce, but then with this second book, I want to make that world more ‘real’ than ‘dystopian’, where it has its good sides and bad ones, just like the world we live in today.

I changed my writing habits to be more flexible. So when it’s time to write, I work on the ongoing project in hand, but if it’s hard, for whatever reason, to find the good writing flow for that project, I would simply switch to another project and write on.

So now, when it’s time to write fiction, I write, regardless of which project has the priority. I know it’s not ideal but it works for me.

I don’t count my words. I used to do that in a spreadsheet. But found it distracting. It made me feel like I was racing against myself. For the time being, I prefer to focus on keeping the writing habit, in particular, during the busiest times of the year.

That wasn’t easy though…

I didn’t write as much as I hoped, not only because I didn’t have the time, but also because I had doubts about the reception of my stories. The doubts that cross the minds of all writers, even someone as Marcel Proust had such doubts at the apogee of his career, that is not to say that I am a great writer, but…

I asked myself, quite recently, why do I write? The simple answer was because I have stories to tell and I love writing.

I asked myself a second question, do I want others to read what I write?

The answer was not simple because, yes, I certainly want people to read my stories but it’s scary. You’re putting yourself out there. And it’s also scary because what I would write next will be affected by the kind of reception my previous writings have had received.

It’s something I have to deal with. I have to develop a professional writer’s mentality, which is unlike someone writing as a hobby or self-expression. That is part of my plans for 2019.

I finally came to the conclusion that yes, I want to leave a legacy of books and I hope people will find them useful or entertaining. But what if this doesn’t happen the way I see it, I will continue writing.

Some of what I write will remain private, but I primarily write for the public.

In 2018, I practically stopped my critiquing activities. I used the time slots for writing, which was good. I had learned a lot through critiquing, but I decided in 2018 that it was time to stop.

I found out that when you keep a project for a long time, the whole plot changes in your mind and other newer plots interfere with the old one. So one of my 2019 resolutions is to finish as many open projects as I can.

I learned the hard way that perfection should be taken with moderation. Writing the perfect story is a myth. But writing good stories is possible, and I am aiming now for what is possible.

I attended a few writer events, which was most enjoyable. I love reading events because I love seeing the author and the book together. Even if I’m not familiar with the book, it’s a good thing to listen to the author talking about his/her book and getting to know that link between the writer and the text.

In one of the events, the writer was a big name. She was answering the audience’s questions. It was informative on the local writing scene. At that event, I realized that I was tired from introducing myself as an ‘unpublished’ writer. I didn’t mention the one short story that had been published in an anthology, because, frankly, although it was an achievement on its own, it didn’t advance my writing career much.

There was a majority of female writers in that event. The guest writer talked about traditional publishing and, although she insisted that it was the only way to put our books to the world, I learned a lot from her and the audience’s engagement as well.

I finally got to organize my Stories folder. I’m pretty much happy with the result. But I’m still hesitant to delete the many backup files that I have in store.

I started this blog, hesitantly, I admit. I am not doing much about the layout and visuals just yet, simply because I want to be consistent with the content creation first then go ahead and improve the visuals. It’s how I compartmentalize my tasks.

2018, in general, was a year of demystification. I stopped following writing advice that didn’t work for me. It’s helpful to learn from other writers and see what works and what doesn’t but unless you have a first-hand experience, your knowledge will remain abstract. It’s also helpful to know what’s going on in the fast changing publishing world, both traditional and independent.

I was sorry to see the end of Createspace. I thought Amazon was going to just change the name but it is not the same as it used to be. Kindle direct publishing has made some changes too. Some of which are in favor of authorship, such as the little Word add-on that you can use to format your book for Kindle but the print on demand is not as optimal as it used to be in the Createspace era. So at this point, where I’m saying farewell to 2018, I thank it for the wisdom it brought me and hope that 2019 will be for me the year of the writer.

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Future of languages in speculative fiction

When we write speculative fiction, we presume that people will keep on talking in languages as we do today. Sometimes, the story lies in the near future, so there’s no need to change how the characters talk or even the little cultural connotations embedded within the language, presuming they will always mean the same. We don’t need to presume something would disrupt the language system in that near future.

But in stories, where the future is either distant or non definitive, the languages might actually be archaic in the form known to us today.
Talking takes a lot of effort and consumes energy, that might be saved by a natural process of a less energy consuming and less demanding system unlike the system of symbols, rules and syntaxes imposed by the languages of today.

Humans evolved from chaotic sounds, to meaningful ones, to drawing, to telling stories and recording history, to talking, to writing and so on. There’s nothing that says they’ll stop evolving.

I know that telepathy was introduced as one way of evolving to a sort of muted communication. I think we’ll get there but we won’t stop making sounds, it’s an important means of self expression and a creative one as well.

I always have the dilemma of how to make my futuristic characters talk. Are they going to use the same salutations or the same cultural references as we do today? What kind of humor would be common among them, including all the other elements of popular culture?

I was talking once to a colleague of mine and I told her that I think, one hundred years from now, humans won’t be talking the way we do today. Probably not even write the way we did today, unless they stop evolving for one reason or another. Hopefully, they won’t.

I told her that they will produce sounds in a more sophisticated manner and will convey their thoughts in a condensed way.

Robots or artificial intelligence will play a role. In some of my stories, I have them but what I have more is the next generation of humans who are going to be ‘enhanced’ in a way to be, let’s say, more efficient.

In fact, I am fascinated by this idea, but in regards of the language part, the technology of communication and the involvement of robots in humans daily lives will force languages to change.

I envision a variety of languages that is in mid way between mathematical formulas (since mathematics along with physics create the massive rules of this universe and probably other universes as well) and the creative part of languages of today.

I would be so thrilled to read a novel or a story written in one of these languages.

I firmly believe that humans (homo sapiens that is) will always be programmed to respond to storytelling.

9 reasons why some people hate dystopias

Last week, I was listening to Books and Authors podcast and one of the co-hostesses mentioned 1984 by George Orwell. She was saying that she didn’t like dystopias but that Orwell’s 1984 was read, back in the day, as a literary fiction, which is true. Although the term ‘dystopia’ was coined by John Stuart Mill in 1868, it became vastly used only in the past few decades.

So why don’t people like dystopias?

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Basically, dystopias say that we’re doomed to fail in the future. Something in our ways is going to put us in regression. The Handmaid tale (the original book published in 1985) opens up to a collapsing US. In one of the initial scenes, the female protagonist goes to the bank to find out that she no longer has access to her bank account and that she no longer has a job, as jobs and earning a living will only be for men from now on. Although the plot doesn’t really give us the best answer as to how this came to be, it shows a world of women’s oppression built on the ruins of one the strongest democracies in the world today. People get to question the sustainability of such a democracy and the fate of the Bill of rights that guarantees gender equality.

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Another reason maybe the ease with which the regime in some dystopias are toppled in fiction. In many dystopias, it takes one person to pose the right questions at the right moment or undergo an inciting incident that triggers a series of events leading the hero to the Achilles’ heel of the system. Some people don’t simply like such plots, as in Oryx and Crake, where the novel ends with a wiping-off almost all of the human race and emergence of the man-made race.

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Another good reason may be an ominous feeling to it. Some dystopias show our realities in a distorted way, which is something some people hate to see. A perfect example for this would be the futuristic Chinese dystopian novels. I read one of them and have others on my TBR list, like The Waste Tide by Chen Qiufan. (Here is an interview with the author on his writings and views as a Chinese science-fiction writer).
I like stories that investigate the future of technology and how we will deal with it. I have that theme in one of my science fiction stories, one that had started as a short story, became a novella and now, hopefully, will become a novel. It’s one of my very few writing projects that had undergone several rewrites.

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A good portion of dystopias magnify human flaws and render them too visible to their audience. Some people don’t like that magnification and prefer to remain optimistic about the human condition and our ability to sustain ourselves as a species.

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Dystopias show brutality in a blunt way and there is violence on and off scene. Some people are disturbed by that. I personally prefer to be spared the gory details, but I don’t mind reading about harsh dystopian futures. Some readers prefer to have faith that humanity will be able to eradicate violence altogether from its future. That can also apply to readers of dystopia. In fact, by showing that in literature, it can be taken as a way to show warning signs and to learn from bad models, not to pursue them. Again, it depends on how a reader perceives the book.

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Dystopia, although might mingle with other subgenres that depict supernatural beings of all kinds, such as urban fantasy and science-fantasy, still show, on its own, humanoid forms that might scare some people away from reading those books. In Species Technica (2002), a novel by the Belgian writer, Gilbert Hottois, humans change their skin, change what makes them homo sapiens and become a hybrid of humans and animals in that technological scientific experiment that crosses many lines. The purpose here in that novel was to conquer human fragilities and death.

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Different social structures and disappearance or severe alterations to family unit deter many readers from dystopias. They don’t like the socio-economic setting. My Dystopia, Inline, shows such a disruption. The system in the Labyrinth is not based on any family structure. Men and women have sex, not for pleasure or to seek short or long term relationships, but it’s mandatory as a way to control them and to be consistent with a socio-economical system based on conditioning human behavior to perpetuate work servitude. There are no friendships either, except whatever people will randomly come in contact with, in terms of emotions and feelings, which will defy the system’s imposing conditioning.

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We know now that we perceive our physical attributes in a way that shifts us towards a perfection our bodies are not made for. It’s one of my favorite themes, although it might be a turnoff for some readers/viewers, as, for them, it might be like looking in the mirror and see how bad we would become. In that movie by Bruce Willis, Surrogates (2009), people replace themselves with robots. In search of beauty and perfection, they choose to remain imprisoned indoor and send robots to fulfill their roles in life and work. They do this to eliminate risks and dodge dangers. But it’s also about the isolation of members of society from one another. The movie shows us a glimpse of what we would do to avoid facing the world, by actively choosing to be replaced by perfect-looking robots.

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The ninth reason can be as simple as ‘it’s been overdone’. The tropes in the YA subgenre might be really overdone: the young hero or heroine who shakes the dystopian system, the desperate love affair and the harsh isolated world. The literary scene is oversaturated with YA dystopias. One of the main premises of Dystopia is to shock. If there are too many of them, the shock/awe effect will be diluted.

Finally, I think these reasons can also be read as 9 reasons why people like dystopias, if you take people’s tastes into consideration.

Now, I’d like to hear from you. Do you like dystopias, if not, why? Did you find the reasons why you dislike them in the post? In your opinion, are there other reasons?

Inline, my dystopia

I love dystopias. I like reading them and love the ones in which the protagonist fights his/her way out of them.

Margaret Atwood’s worlds had been my favorite for a long time. Her The year of the flood fascinated me. I rarely read a book twice, but I did with this one. I think what I loved most was how Toby, one of the main characters, was fighting her way out of a barren world without doing harm.

Writers create dystopias, knowing that there is a safe distance between their dystopias and the real world. Dystopias give us a chance to project our fears, anticipations and cautions. And, most importantly, pose our questions on where we’re going as a species. Dystopias are a way to talk about our worst nightmares and, if we choose happy endings, it means that we’d overcome the nightmare.

In the dystopian series that I am currently writing, Inline (a working title), there is a distortion of values. Right and wrong are different from what we universally agree upon. This is one of the main aspects that makes a dystopia earn its title.

In general, a dystopia starts as a utopia, at least, within its intrinsic dynamics. It promises its inhabitants of well-being, or a definitive answer to their problems. In Inline, there is that, the false promise of idealism, if you will. But what happens is a deviation from the initial promise, which turns it into a space of distress, oppression and suffering to the majority of its inhabitants.

In Inline, I have different settings, they come to life from the start, i.e. from book one, but I am still building them. In the series, it’s not only about bad places, as there are a few “normal” and, even, “good” places. So the distortion of values might not apply to all the settings there.

I am writing book two now and the story is unfolding to its full complexity. I let my characters show how much they like or dislike the place they live in, how they cope with its laws and rules and how they defeat or disrupt the systems or accept them, believe in them and live within them.

Writing dystopias is not easy. As a writer, sometimes, you’re afraid you’re bringing bad omen to our world, by saying that the future won’t bring us hope. Sometimes, you’re excited, because you’re showing human resilience and courage in a dysfunctional future world. Other times, you remind yourself that one of the roles of literature is to expand the scope of our questions beyond the present time. And, maybe, this is why people like to read dystopias.

This blog, writing and life

I have had blogging on my mind ever since I had my first desktop, back in the day. Throughout the years, I have been an active blog reader on and off. My major blogging window now is WordPress. I had tried a couple of times to have a blog there but then I didn’t have a solid three-dimensional plan, still hasn’t but I have a goal now.

I would like to express my writer self in a less formal way, connect to the world and have a home online.

Here, I will talk about my writing journey, its complications and its achievements, my characters, my books, how they interconnect with life, books I read, movies and videos I watch and people I meet.

Now, what kind of stories am I going to talk about?

For now, I will stick to my science-fiction stories. Yes, that means that I have other genres, but I’m not going to explore them here. Not yet, anyway. Some of my stories have a dystopian nature, others pose questions about how our lives are affected by technology in ways we might not be prepared for. I would like, though, to say that my stories are not depicted in black and white, I like to explore all nuances and I think that real life transpires these nuances.

So if you’re into science-fiction, dystopia and some deep questions on humanity, then stick around.

I am also going to talk about my characters. How they come to life, what are their aspirations, struggles and goals. I’ll talk about some of the inspiration behind them, how they would start from something I heard or read, a person I conversed with, something I witnessed or even a mishmash of a human pulp that had been brewing in my head.

I am going to talk about settings that inspired my stories. I talk pictures of places. My visual recording has shifted throughout the years and I definitely think of writing when I take pictures now, either as an inspiration or as a photo for a cover.

I am also going to talk about science and fiction, whether it’s about one or the other or both.

I also plan to share excerpts, deleted scenes and short stories, as special bonuses published on the blog for a certain period of time.

I think it’s safe to presume that the initial plan for this blog is open to change and develop as this blog takes a more mature form.

So, I’m pretty excited to launch it and to warmly welcome all readers.