Category Archives: Writing

Introducing Kal’s Patreon

Hey everyone.  As of today, my Patreon page is online.  So what does that mean to you?  Well, any number of things.  If you like my content here and my books and stories, that’s another way for you to help me to make more of it.  Also, if you really want to be tuckerized (see your name appear in one of my books) then this is a chance to make sure that happens, those who become my patrons get their names on a list, and as I write, I’ll draw names directly off that list.

Also, if you like swag, I’m doing a giveaway for the first ten people to sign up.  That’s right, the first ten people get gifts.  These range from shirts to mugs to signed books.  I’m also going to do a monthly giveaway, one gift to my patrons each month.

Additionally, I’m going to post one of my unpublished short stories to the page tonight and, if we hit 20 patrons by the end of the month, I’ll add the full length unpublished novel The Eden Insurrection.  I also plan to add a variety of other content there, much of it exclusive to my patrons.

You can find my Patreon page below.

https://www.patreon.com/kalspriggs

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Kal’s October Forecast

Hey everyone, October is here!  I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, so here’s what you can expect:

I’m happy to announce that I plan to release the first book from my post-apocalyptic series, Dead Train: All Aboard.  This series follows the adventures of a group of survivors in a zombie apocalypse, who are travelling by train as they seek safety.  You can expect Dead Train: All Aboard on October 12th.

I’m currently mostly done with my latest work in progress, which is titled Lost Valor.  Lost Valor is the first book of the spin-off series Forsaken Valor, which is a spin-off of the Children of Valor series.  Those of you who read Valor’s Cost can probably guess the identity of the main character.  My goal is to finish it up and publish it 26 October.  I’m really excited to get this one out, because it’s a very different story-line and set of experiences from the Children of Valor series but just as action-packed.  I’m hoping you all will enjoy it just as much as I have writing it.

Finishing off the month, I’m putting the finishing touches on book three of the Rising Wolf series.  Yes, I’m finally getting back to Melanie and Fenris.  This third book closes out the initial story arc and brings their initial arc to a close.

What I’m working towards with all three of these series (Children of Valor, Forsaken Valor, and Rising Wolf) is to set the stage for the greater conflict that’s been brewing in the Periphery.  I hope to tie all three series to a close and then start a series I’m currently labeling The Colonial War, which will cover a greater conflict involving Drakkus, the Star Guard, Century and other systems.  That in turn sets the stage for more events yet to come.  Suffice it to say, there’s lots of exploding space-ships in the future of the Star Portal Universe.

Closing out October, I plan to start the second Argos book, the sequel to The Colchis Job, to be published with Chris Kennedy Publishing.  I expect to finish it sometime in November, so ideally you can expect it late November to early December.  After that, it’s the fifth book of the Children of Valor series and the second book of Forsaken Valor.  I’ve got a very full plate at the moment, but I also intend to get the seventh book of the Shadow Space Chronicles out as well as to finish the fourth book of the Eoriel Saga.

Did I mention I’ve got a lot on my plate?

 

Assistant Dog Watcher: Jobs of the Future

Humans evolve and grow and human ingenuity being what it is, we’re problem solvers and we’re always trying to find new ways to do things.  As a consequence, the things humans do to earn their pay have evolved and will continue to evolve.  Those who don’t agree, I invite to talk to their local thatchers and shepherds, and if you can’t find them, as your operator to put you through on your wall mounted phone.  I’ll be here, waiting.

Humor aside, the constant is that human jobs have diversified.  The vast majority of humanity used to live on subsistence farming (before that we were hunter-gathers).  Now we have artists, engineers, pet groomers, farmers, scientists, philosophers, and even those layabout writers.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there will always be the roughneck-type jobs like welding, pipelaying, machining… skilled labor is something that will be in demand, the artisans of our era will be around long into the future, because they often do unique problem solving of the type that computers often can’t.

What jobs are out there in the future?  I don’t think the jobs people do now will necessarily disappear, mind you, but I do think that many, especially the low-skill jobs, are going away.  Managerial positions will be there for as long as there are humans in employment (or robots, because robot workers still need direction).  The typical futuristic jobs in science fiction are ship-related (Captain, Navigator, Pilot, Engineer, etc), but there’s a variety of cyber-punk jobs like hackers, programmers, and information brokers.  These are projections, drawn from current events and times.

Most of these require skill, training, and knowledge.  There’s no entry level master-hacker positions posted on job-boards of the future… or if there are, I recommend thinking twice before showing up for your first day of work.  Those who sail the stars can begin training, too, but as what?  Apprentices?  Midshipmen?  Cadets?  What’s the pay like and who pays them?

There’s presumably job opportunities for the less-skilled, too, and those with lower ambitions.    Most minimum wage jobs now are positions where someone can build up some basic skills and move on to bigger and brighter things.  Other than a post-scarcity society, everyone has to earn their ration packets and their single bed habitation pod, right?  The problem being, when I think of masses of unskilled labor in a futuristic setting, it’s rarely in a good connotation.  Labor that’s dirty, dangerous, and unpleasant is the norm in futuristic settings, often when humans are seen as cheaper and more expendable than robots.

So what’s an unskilled person to do?  It’s a question I struggle with when I world-build.  Robots can do things with massive efficiency.  they’re always on, they don’t have holidays or breaks, you do the maintenance and they work… and the maintainers are skilled labor.  We’ve begun moving a lot of the menial jobs towards that route.  Janitorial robots don’t steal, they don’t get drunk and fail to show up for work.  Computer kiosks allow restaurants to cut down on wait staff and minimize their overhead.  There will be some of these jobs in the future, but they’re likely to be fewer in number and rather more selective (possibly even highly technical).

What’s a fresh out of school space-boy to do, then?  Technical schooling is obviously going to take priority, there’s always going to be a need for those who can design, build, and maintain machines.  Military service is an option, too.  And there’s always positions in customer service and human relations, after all, someone has to manage both employees and customers.  There’s still a need for farmers, doctors, nurses, lawyers (shudder), politicians (sigh), and all the rest, too.

Where’s the growth?  What are the new fields that will erupt?  Sort of like Information Technology has, which has then split out into a dozen or more fields ranging from Information Security (who make information harder to access) to the polar opposite, Knowledge Management (who make information easier to access).

This is one of many questions I tangle with as an author.  My futures, tellingly, still have many of the jobs and job descriptions that they have now.  There are still archaeologists, historians, and entertainers, because we’re still human.  We still have problems to solve and we’re willing to pay (employ) people to solve those problems for us.

What Is Success?

Many writers and would-be writers aspire to be successful authors, with on-track careers, big publishing gigs, and the much-discussed “NYT Bestseller” attached to their names.  But when you come down to it,  how do you measure that?

The obvious one, the one that most people can wrap their heads around, is fame.  Most people can name famous authors in the genre of choice, reeling off names like George RR Martin, JRR Tolkien, Michael Crichton, and Tom Clancy.  These are people who have sold millions of books… they have movie (or TV) franchises.  They’re famous, that means success, right?

But then again, Phillip K. Dick has a ton of movies based upon his books and short stories (even several remakes).  His life, if you look him up, isn’t what most would consider “successful.”

As for the vaunted NYT Bestseller, there’s been multiple times that people have scammed it, with the latest example being just last year (link).  When you dig into what it involves, too, you see that the stamp represents sales in a very specific, very small part of the US.

Amazon bestsellers, you say?  Amazon’s algorithms have been fooled before (link).  I’ve earned the status the hard way, selling actual books in the genre they’re meant for, but there’s plenty who haven’t and lots of them are eager to sell new authors books, lectures, and videos on how to be a bestseller.

So these two metrics, fame/notoriety and the Bestselling category may not be the best method of determining success.  What is?  Total sales?  Depending on your genre, a few dozen sales a day may be very good, whereas for some others, upwards of two hundred purchases a day is normal.  The advent of Kindle Unlimited has changed things a bit, too, where power-readers treat Amazon like their library.  Some authors see practically no sales at all in their genres but they see thousands (or tens of thousands) of page reads a day.

The answer there seems to be money.  In fact, American society often judges success by money.  That guy has a nice car, he must be successful.  That person has a big house, they must be successful.  But I have to ask, is money why you’re writing?  I mean, there’s lots of easier ways to go about making money.  You can avoid the crippling self-doubt and the long hours of forcing words out and go into something far more lucrative and more likely to actually make you rich.  Larry Correia’s has a fantastic post on the different levels of authors based upon their “success.”  His is focused mostly on money and fame, too, which I can’t fault.  But the number of authors who make enough from writing to support their families, much less buy a McMansion is relatively low.

I know a lot of authors.  By a lot, I mean I personally know a couple hundred and I’ve met and interacted with thousands.  I’ve seen quite a few who get into indie publishing very excited and enthusiastic about this one book they wrote… and one year later, I don’t see them at conventions anymore or when I do, they’re sitting in the crowd, not up on a panel (which is fine, mind you, I sit in the crowd, sometimes, because I like listening in on what some people have to say).   But a lot of people massively underestimate the sheer work involved in self-publishing.  They underestimate the grind of getting out the next book, and the next.  And they fall behind.

There’s a saying that when it comes to jumping out of perfectly good planes, the second jump is the hardest.  The first time, you have no idea what’s going to happen, no frame of reference.  The second time, standing in the doorway, you know exactly what it’s like, the rush and exhilaration… but also the understanding of what you’re doing and the lizard brain kicks in.  Lots of people freeze in the doorway, unable to move.

The same thing happens to aspiring authors.  They may have hit publish that first time, or even the second and third, in a rush of “this one will be great!”  Writing that first book is hard.  Writing the second or third one is just as hard, but a lot of aspiring authors have gone that distance.  Writing that fourth book after the first one or two didn’t land a movie deal or pay the mortgage… or sometimes it didn’t even buy the bottle of wine to drink while you hit refresh on your Amazon page while you wait for reviews/sales.  It’s hard.  It’s brutally hard to get back to writing when it feels like all your dreams have shriveled and everyone has rejected you.

How authors feel after a book launch sinks…

Success is the person who keeps on writing after that.  Success is the author who gets on the never-ending treadmill and churns out a novel regardless.  That person is a successful author, because that writer puts words on page, day in and day out.  It’s part of being a professional author.  There’s lots of “good” writers, some of them are best-sellers with tv-shows and movies, who can’t do that.  And sometimes, getting up the strength to put even a single word on the page is a herculean fight.

Success is never giving up.  If you’re still writing, if you haven’t stopped, you’re successful.  Now go out there and write your next book.

Taking a Knee

No, this isn’t about spoiled rich idiots kneeling for the national anthem, I’m using the term in the military sense, in that when you’re dealing with a lot of sh– stuff, you have to just take a knee and catch your breath.

My father-in-law passed away last week, after losing a 2 year struggle with cancer.  Combined with the new job I’m working, some health issues of my dad, and some other things, I’m behind on writing, behind on editing, and generally, needing to get my bearings.

So I’m taking a knee, for a bit.  I need to be there for my wife and I need to have the emotional and mental time that my family needs right now.  I’ve still got blog posts scheduled, I’m still writing, I’m still editing, I’m still here, but I need to focus on my family just now.

Unfortunately, that means that Valor’s Cost is going to be delayed.  I just don’t have the time to get the edits done before the 31st, as much as I wanted to get it done.  The nature of the story is such that I really want to deliver the best story to my readers, and I can’t do that without being able to devote more time and effort to it than I’ve had.  Valor’s Cost will come out in September, date to be determined (hopefully by the 14th, but let’s see how life goes, right?).

 

Worldbuilding in SF Part 3: Those Little Details

Wordbuilding is an important tool for any writer, particularly for science fiction.  It adds depth to a book, it helps to develop character backgrounds, and it provides a pallate on which to paint your story.  In Part 1 (link), I talked about the foundations of building your universe.  In Part 2 (link) I talked about building worlds and star systems.  Here in Part 3, I’m going to talk about those little details that really contribute to the story.

Where Does It Come From?

One of the questions I find myself asking as I read a book is where things come from.  Who made the flying car, was it a fully automated factory or the hand-crafted work of a mad-genius inventor?  All the “stuff” that your characters use and interact with has to come from somewhere, whether it’s the weapons they use to mow down the bad guys, the starship they use to travel from one world to another, or the hand-distilled gasoline they use to roam the wastelands.  As an author, knowing who made it and how the character acquired it can be important.  Maybe that ship was made by a renegade faction and they want it back, or the fuel is a rare and precious resource that people will kill over.  These are world-building elements that can tie directly into plot points for your story.  Knowing where it was made, who made it, and how it got to the characters hands can give you a lot of material to work with in your story.

Who Are The Big Players?

Knowing who the big players are in the universe is a key part of worldbuilding and crosses over into plotting out your novel.  Knowing that the antagonist for the main character in your first novel is the henchman of a greater villain that your characters will have to fight further on down the line is a perfect example.  Knowing that the ally of a player is the child of a world leader sets up some potential help or conflicts of interest down the road.  Putting names in your book isn’t necessary, but it does add some depth.  Knowing how those people interact and whether or not they get along also adds some depth and can help you to write your story.  The main characters getting caught up in familial disputes is part of the driving element of my Children of Valor series, and its something that most people can easily relate to, in that family can often be as much a hindrance as help.

Putting It All Together

At this point, you’ve gone from the big questions all the way down to the characters that fill your universe.  Hopefully you have a good grasp on how it all ties together.  That’s all great news, but right now you don’t have a novel, you have a setting.  Putting it all together, making things happen, requires characters.

Creating interesting and dynamic characters is much easier when you draw them from the backgrounds of the worlds they live in.  A renegade heir to a corporate empire who has forsaken his family’s ill-gotten gains can be all the more real when you know that his parent’s company utilizes the equivalent of slave labor in their factories.  The never-do-well mercenary with a heart of gold makes for a more dynamic and realistic character when you know that he once served in the military and was a decorated war-hero, before everything went south.

Your setting, the world you built, comes to life with characters.  They bring with them all their experiences, all their background, and they are the paintbrushes with which you tell your story.   Remember, also, that you’re here to tell a story, not to show every detail of the world you created.  Sprinkle in those details throughout, but treat them like spices when you cook, a little bit can go a long way.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to check out my other posts on world-building.  I’ve got one on Steampunk and one on Fantasy.

 

Worldbuilding in Science Fiction: Part 2 Worlds Upon Worlds

Worldbuilding Part 2: Worlds Upon Worlds

It may seem a little backwards, but my second post on world-building is actually going to talk about worlds.  (See the first post here)  While geography / celestial cartography is important, I don’t think it’s the foundation of building your universe in SF.  Why is that?  Well, you need to know how easy or hard it is to get there through technology, know how people will react when they do get there through culture, and who the players are by knowing the people.

The rest, as to what’s actually there?  That’s going to influence those things in return, but it’s still not quite as central.  The earlier post was about preparing the conditions to tell the story you want.  This one is more focused on developing the actual setting.

Worlds

Writing science fiction gives an author an amazing set of possibilities.  As writers, we can explore distant worlds that can be whatever we think up.  Those can be desolate waste-lands like Tatooine or thriving paradise planets and everything in between.

This is all about determining the setting and this is where a lot of the Science Fiction greats did things really, really right.  Frank Herbert’s Dune is a book where the planet itself is a character, which at various times tries to kill or save the people in the story.  On Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the Moonis every bit as central to the story as anyone else.

Whether your worlds are arid, airless rocks or a lush tropical planets, you need to determine what your story needs.  A survival story set on a paradise planet might not be nearly so interesting as one on a world where literally everything is trying to kill you.  The Martian is a great example of a science fiction survival story where the writer makes the planet’s conditions central to his story.

If course, the conditions of the planet may tie into other things…

Star Systems

The system’s star or stars can be a huge element of a planet’s habitability.  The movie Pitch Black explored this in a pretty interesting fashion, creating a star system where a planet existed in continued light… right up until it got dark for a very long time.

Asteroids, comets, moons, other planets, all these can be important to your story.  Maybe the system has not just one but two or three inhabitable planets, maybe they’re claimed by different nations, maybe one of those worlds is undergoing a cataclysm of some kind.  The Dragonriders of Pern series had a rogue planet that brought terror with it’s return every few hundred years.   David Weber’s Honor Harrington series has a set of wormholes that made Manticore an economic powerhouse due to their central positioning for trade.

The physical world and setting is going to directly impact your characters.  Society, technology, and people will indirectly shape them, but the physical world is what they’ll see, taste, touch, hear, and feel.  If a planet is a garbage world, does it smell?  Do people from there lack a sense of smell because it has been burned out?

Beliefs and Themes

Lastly, we come to one of the non-physical elements of setting: beliefs.  This is a product of the physical and societal elements and it in turn shapes both.  What do the various cultures and sub-cultures believe in?

Has humanity spread out with a manifest destiny?  Do they shove aside non-Earth life, terraforming worlds in their own image?  Or is there a fundamentalist religion that has taken over a culture, instilling them with a reverence of all life, prohibiting violence for any reason?  Has faith in science driven a group to pursue all manner of otherwise unethical experiments, delving into human modification and genetic engineering upon their prisoners?  You decide, you shape it based upon the history and setting you’ve built, and then decide what you need to tell the story you want to tell.

Conclusion

While developing the technology level, cultures, and people of your setting was the foundation, this is like the basement.  This is the structure that supports your book. It’s there, its visible and the characters will interact with it all the time.  Building stuff here gives you the tangibles that readers will notice and that will ground them in the worlds.  Fill out these details for the story you want to tell.  Next week, we’ll tie it all together in Part 3!