Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Writing without borders - letting the muse do the typing.

While writing Socialite 1, I found that I enjoyed the process the most when I let the feeling of a scene take over.  Usually, after getting the kids either off to school or off to bed, I would sit at the computer and scan the excel spreadsheet on which I had each scene for each book described in a single sentence.  For example, one scene in the spreadsheet said: "Elle recites original poem during Jacob's English class".  That brief description allowed me to recall the whole scene as I had originally imagined it.  So as I was saying, I would sit at the computer and look over the scenes and eventually, one particular scene would begin to get my mind racing, developing the action, the dialogue, etc.  My fingers would get typing and a little while later the scene would be complete.  This process worked well, except during the scenes that were meant to contain music, or poetry.

The music and poetry scenes seemed to require a more organic approach.  Often I would look at one of the scenes and imagine how the action might develop, but without the central music or poem, I just couldn't get anywhere.  If I had a sense of how the song or poem would begin, I would go for a walk, usually to get a Starbucks' coffee, and arrive home with a complete scene ready to type into the computer.

In the case of the poetry scene mentioned above, I knew that I wanted Elle's poetry to be original - unlike anything that the reader had experienced (like the image of poetry above).  At the same time it had to be something that would allow for humour in the scene and enable the kids in the class to interact with Elle.  On one of my evening walks, the poem and poetry format came to me quickly and seemingly without effort.  It probably wouldn't have, if I had stressed about coming up with it while writing book 1.  Since I was writing all four books simultaneously, and out of order, it didn't matter to me that book 1 and book 2 had both been mostly complete when I finally was inspired to conceive of the "Hidden Word" format of Elle's poem.  I knew that scene was going to be in chapter two, but just left it incomplete until it came to me.

That scene is one of my favourites in book 1.  It is the first time that Jacob hears Elle speak, and only the second time that he and Elle interact  (earlier that day, Jacob's nose is smashed with a soccer ball, and Elle runs over and wipes the blood from his nose - without saying anything.)  The scene is also the second time that Elle modifies her voice to affect the behaviour of one of the other characters in the book.  Throughout the book series I play with causes of behaviour and the attribution or more frequently misattribution made by the characters for their own behaviour.  After this scene, Jacob can't get Elle out of his thoughts and attributes those persistent thoughts to a normal human interest of a boy for a girl, though the reader knows that there is a lot more going on that is not normal and not human.

Here is the entire scene:

Just as class was beginning, Matt, sitting right behind Jacob, jabbed his sunglasses - a permanent accessory propped on top of his bald head - into Jacob’s side and whispered, “Hey loverboy, look!  Your personal nurse just walked in.”
Mr. Estlin, who taught both English nine and ten, motioned for Elle to wait in the corner.  He was tall, about six foot five inches and looked very thin in his tight blue jeans, tan corduroy shirt, and pencil thin black tie that barely reached the middle of his belly.  His frizzy, permed, long, brown hair made him look at least five inches taller.  
“Alright!  Let’s quiet down,” he began.  He had a commanding voice that, combined with his physical appearance, ensured cooperation; the class quickly became quiet.  “I gave all of my classes a poetry assignment in the first week of school and promised a prize for the best composition.  Not everyone took the contest seriously,” at this a few students, including Jacob, laughed, “but a few of you handed in some excellent work.  Unfortunately there could only be one winner, and I am sorry to say that none of my grade tens could compete with the amazing poem that was written by this grade nine student, Elle Amis.  I can now reveal the prize, as it is something that will benefit all of you.  As the winner, Elle has won the opportunity to read her poem in front of both of my classes, so that we can all applaud her work of art.”  Some of the class groaned, others laughed, but most of them were just happy to have lost the competition.  
Jacob felt a little sad for Elle.  As he saw it, she had both won and lost.  He felt like Elle was being cheated somehow.  He spoke up, “Mr. Estlin, don’t you think that since Elle is new to the school you might give her something like a pen, or a book instead.”  
Matt, misinterpreting Jacob’s intentions added, “Yeah, spare us the torture, please!”  The class erupted in laughter.  
Jacob felt embarrassed that he may have just made things worse for Elle.  He tried to clarify, “I just think that it’s probably a little embarrassing for her to be forced into standing in front of a class of strangers, you know, in the limelight.”
Mr. Estlin considered this request for a moment then turned to Elle and said, “do you feel uncomfortable in this situation, Elle?  If you would rather not present your poem, I could read it instead.”
Elle looked at the faces of the students in front of her, smiled and in a sweet, confident voice answered, “I’m fine.”
“There you have it, Mr. Liebe.  She’s fine.  Let’s give her the floor, everyone,” said Mr. Estlin.  “First, I should explain the type of poem she has created, as we haven’t covered this particular style yet.  She created her poem in the newest poetic format called ‘hidden word’ created and popularized by our country’s current poet laureate, Aladar Roch.  In ‘hidden word’ poems, the last word in each stanza is omitted; yes, that’s right, it’s just left out.  The text of each stanza is cleverly constructed to suggest the identity of that final missing word.  I think it would be fun if we all shout out the first word that comes to mind as Elle pauses at the end of every fourth line where the hidden word is located.  Let’s see if Elle was successful in getting us all to think of the same thing.  Her poem is titled Cicada.  You can begin whenever you are ready, Elle.”
Elle stood at the front of the class, looking poised and confident.  She didn’t look directly at Jacob, though he was now staring at her.  She flicked her long hair over her shoulder and began to read her winning composition.  Most of the students in the class appeared bored - it was poetry after all.  She read slowly and loudly:
Buried I hid
   Eight years then five
   You thought I was dead
   In truth, barely ________
Elle paused, and a few kids in the front shouted “Alive.”  Matt yelled, “Sex!”  The students looked at him and he whispered, “he said to say the first thing that came to mind.”  A few students laughed, but not Jacob.  
Elle waited a few seconds for the class to become quiet again, then continued,
Escaping the tragic
   Avoiding the sin
   As if by magic
   I shed my _______
Elle paused again, and this time most of the class shouted, “Skin.”  Mr. Estlin cast a smile at Elle, though she didn’t see it.  She continued to stare at the class and concluded with,
This voice will assist
   So love I can bring
   No lover resists
   Whenever I ______
“Sing!” the whole class shouted in unison.  
Mr. Estlin looked very pleased.  “Great job, Elle.  It worked perfectly.  How about we give a round of applause to our poet!”
The students clapped, and the boys cheered loudly, as boys will always do for a beautiful girl.  When the cheering reached a peak she spoke up in the most imploring and sweet voice, “you are just so nice. I can’t thank you enough for being so gracious.  I beg one favour, though.  Could I please recite a very short poem written by my favorite author?  It is very short and I am sure you will like it.  Please?”  This last word echoed in the class room for a few seconds before the boys broke out even louder than before in thunderous cheers.  
Mr. Estlin was proud of the enthusiasm in his class.  He asked, “who is the author?”
She replied, “E.E. Cummings.” 
“Oh what a treat!  We would love to hear one of his classic poems.”  
She waited for silence, then began, “I carry your heart with me” with a different voice than she used for her earlier poem.  This voice was deeper, almost husky, and sexy.  The atmosphere became cave quiet as her voice bounced off the classroom walls.  
For Jacob, it seemed that each word took a few seconds to cross the gap from her mouth to his ears.  Her eyes moved around the room, but her voice, destined to find him, seemed to get lost in a search for the most worthy listener, eventually choosing Jacob.  
When she spoke the line, “here is the deepest secret nobody knows,” he hung onto those words wanting nothing more than to know what her secret was.  Then he was rewarded with the answer as she slowly, purposefully whispered, “I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)”.  He started to feel embarrassed as the tears welled up in his eyes and had to pretend to sneeze so he could bring a tissue to his face.  
Remember:  book 1 is free at most ebook retail sites, so download it today.  I would love to hear your comments as well, so if you have time, enter a review of the book at the store where you got the book.  Or simply leave a comment right here on this blog.  

Here are the links:  

Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=ntt_athr_dp_sr_1?_encoding=UTF8&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=Martin%20Renaud

Apple iPad, Ipod, Iphone: http://itunes.apple.com/ca/artist/martin-renaud/id477163464?mt=11

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Socialite Inventions: the challenge of doing scifi while "keeping it real"

Science fiction has a long history of introducing readers to fantastic, creative technology.  Sometimes the technology is a novel amalgamation of contemporary materials, as in H.G. Wells "The Time Machine."  At other times it comes out of extrapolation from real science to create an advanced, though for the reader, plausible, device or craft, like ray guns or warp-traveling cruisers.  While developing Socialite, I needed to create two distinct levels of technology.  The technology used on Earth had to seem just a few years advanced of current society.  The technology of the Aliens had to be extraordinary, yet at the same time, easily concealed from the people on Earth.  Creating these two types of techs was the most enjoyable part of writing the series (and continues to be as I work on Socialite II).

Socialite is set in the not-too-distant future, so most of the technology on Earth was created to be a slight advancement of the tools around today.  The main internet tool, the Socialite network, though designed by the alien Ray Amis, is incrementally superior in form and function to Google, Facebook etc.  It enables secure and private one stop computing for social and business communications.  Most of its advanced functionality comes out of the universal adoption of the tool by governments and businesses around the world.  I drew on my experience in designing security software to create the "RiddlePass" authentication layer of Socialite that is described in Book 2: Mission to Mission.

Many of the other tools, including the Amis home security system, cell phone enhancements, collapsible tablet computers and button cameras, were developed to appear as logical extensions of current tech.  For example, in Book 3: To Humanize, teenager Matt Low is given a gift from his dad: a pair of sunglasses with a camera imbedded in the glabella area (between the eyes) and the ability to snap a photo or video of whatever you are looking at, and wirelessly have it sent to a nearby cellphone.  The glasses in the photo (above) were recently developed, and Google has been reported to be working on their own version.

Also shown in the photo above is a currently available version of another of the gifts Matt received from his dad, Stroop clothes.  I didn't realize when I wrote Book 2 that these clothes exist, but I am not surprised since the Stroop effect has been investigated by psychologists since the mid 1930s.  The Stroop clothes that Matt received were gaudy and unwearable by a teenage boy in North America. (E.g., bright baby blue pants with the word "white" printed all over them.)  Like the "Wonders of the world" halloween costume that Matt's dad gave to Matt in Book 1, these two gifts symbolized the distance between Matt and his parents.  The glasses in Book 3 symbolized a bridging of the distance: Matt and his friends thought they were really cool.

The most advanced types of technology described in Socialite are their ship and their "siloplasts".  Their ship is named after the author Jonathan Swift (it's description and the reason for it's name I will leave for readers to discover.)  The siloplasts are the bridge between current and future tech.  They are miniature semi-autonomous robots that have a kind of symbiotic relationship with their carriers/hosts.  Described as micro tech, rather than nano tech, siloplasts are both the aliens' greatest and worst technological achievement.  In Book 2, Ray describes them as an extension of the metal organic framework technology that enables car engines to consume water instead of fossil fuels.  This technology allowed me to include a lot of speculation on evolution, adaptation and memory (pet interests of mine after studying Biology and Evolutionary Psych for years).

Dreaming up plausible extensions of current tech and feasible versions of new tech has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of creating the Socialite series.  I hope that readers have as much fun reading the books as I had writing them.  Here are the links to download my books.  The first book "Bees to Benny" is still free - and please remember to post a review at the site where you got the book - I know that time is precious for all of us, so every review or comment is greatly appreciated.

Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=ntt_athr_dp_sr_1?_encoding=UTF8&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=Martin%20Renaud

Apple iPad, Ipod, Iphone: http://itunes.apple.com/ca/artist/martin-renaud/id477163464?mt=11

Kobo: http://www.kobobooks.com/search/search.html?q=Martin+Renaud+Socialite