What is my experience writing and publishing a science fiction book?
Overall I’d say that writing a science fiction book is hard and getting it published even harder.
I’ve been trying to write a fiction book ever since Elementary School. I have a notebook filled with the beginnings of countless stories where I’d draw up the characters often siblings who were also orphans, give them all names and ages, and start off the story with some dialogue that would generally fizzle out after about five pages or so when I realized nothing interesting was happening. As I grew older my stories grew longer, but I’d get mired up somewhere in the middle of the story, having lost sight of the end. Also these stories were handwritten so if I wanted to make changes, it was a big ordeal.
With the advance of computers, programs like Microsoft WORD, interesting contests like nanowrimo and Amazon Breakthrough Novel award, I was able to make a key breakthrough – to be able to navigate that tricky middle section to the end of a story. The first time that happened to me was not that long ago, November of 2010… my first nanowrimo. But, I quickly learned that just because I’d finished an actual story didn’t mean it was ready to be published thanks to the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award where I found out upon getting to their second round that my dialogue was stilted and my plot was cliché. Sigh. So I read a lot of books about writing, I went to writing workshops such as Uncle Orson’s Bootcamp (that would be the Orson Scott Card, author of Ender’s Game and many other fantastic novels) and the Southeastern Writer Association (where I managed to get second place for novel in 2013). I also hired an editor (same guy who used to edit Stephen King novels) to look over a draft of what would be Project Paranormal.
Most importantly I joined a writer group here at Chowan where I had my stuff read by someone who would later publish my first book and be interested in publishing more, Dr. Matt Fullerty, then creative fiction professor. I also got great comments and ideas from Dr. Greg Taylor, Dr. Bryan Herek, Dean Lawson, and Hugh Davis. Because of them encouraging me to future it up, I came up with the concept of a Pan Limbic Utilization Gadget – basically a device that enhances learning and memory, allows a person to experience virtual flying and other game-like applications, and connect to the internet 100 years into the future.
Thanks to Matt, I was able to polish my rough draft into a publishable unit. He encouraged me to cut characters while making a master list of the remaining characters, write chapter summaries, end the book sooner than planned, and literally cut away stuff that didn’t advance the plot. When I was finished (took about five months of concentrated effort), I had a book that Matt was interested in publishing. I also got the attention of a separate publisher, Deron Douglass of Double Dragon ebooks, but I signed Matt’s contract in January 2015 and Project Paranormal was released October 21, 2015 via Amazon and other online sources. Matt’s press is a small independent press called Parkgate Press. He doesn’t have a lot of authors or books available through his press, but he’s attentive to suggestions and has been wonderful to work with so far. I toyed with the idea of self-publishing (which is easy now), but decided a first book needs a press behind it for others to take notice of a new author.
What drew me to sci fi?
Ever since second grade when Mrs. Tolliver would spend a short period of time each week showing us a cool science trick like drawing an egg into a bottle using heat, I knew that I was meant to be a scientist. During second grade, I made my dad buy me my first science book from our favorite book store: Pic-A-Book in Spartanburg, S.C. I still have the book today: The World of Stars and Planets: over 80 full-color pictures in dictionary form for easy reference published in 1968 by B.P.C. Publishing Limited. It was marked down to 85 cents from $2.95. Of course it’s hopelessly out of date today. For instance, Pluto was still a planet, but that was the start of me expanding my knowledge about science. The first science fiction book I read was The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron first published in 1954 by Little, Brown and Company. I remember discovering the book in my elementary school library during third grade. The library was brand new then and so much larger than the old library that was in a cramped closet-like space. I almost remember exactly where I found the book, about eye level to me in the left back corner of the library. I remember being drawn in by the strange scientist who weighed hardly anything and was able to entice two boys to build a spaceship to travel to a nearby planet. I remember how lucky it was that the chicken they brought with them helped solve a crises faced by the strange inhabitants of Planet Basidium. Ever since then, I’ve not been able to read enough science fiction.
Actually I’m more of a science fiction writer than YA. I do wind up having POV characters who are teenaged or younger so I understand that my book is not only a science fiction book, but could also be labeled YA or even middle grade as my main protagonist, Jeremy Cay, turns 13 in chapter one. For some reason I have less trouble crawling inside the brain of a young person than I do a more seasoned adult. It also allows more growth for the character as they have more maturing to do. In Project Paranormal I have three POV characters: Lucifer Black (a man of indeterminate age from the future – the bad guy), Jeremy Cay (who turns 13 in chapter one – the main protagonist), and Mary (Jeremy’s 8 year old sister who has genius math ability and is obsessed with finding a way to get to a distant planet in another universe).
Does writing help with my classes/ becoming a better teacher?
Absolutely yes! Writing outside my area keeps me young and helps me better understand what might trip up my students. Getting my stuff work-shopped in various ways and running chapters through a program called autocrit gives me a better awareness of my silly writing hang ups. I can use what I’ve learned to help others. For instance, it’s easy to have too many passive words in a sentence when writing a first draft. Good writing equals cutting out excessive words like adjectives, adverbs, and changing passive verbs (e.g. I was running as fast as I could) to active verbs (I sprinted).
It is the year 2063. Jeremy wants a Pan Limbic Universal Gadget (PLUG) in the worst way. How else can he compete with his plugged-in peers and become a famous astrophysicist when he grows up? But his parents have other ideas, including a secret genetic project which promises to unlock paranormal traits in their children as they enter puberty. A project which might explain the large number of near fatal accidents Jeremy has survived since infancy. A project easily invaded by evil forces. Project Paranormal is a mixture of time travel, an immortal evil spirit, and politics.