Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What do Aliens look like?

Science fiction has offered us a plethora of images of potential alien life.  They are all rooted, to some extent, in assumptions about differences in their evolutionary history as compared to humans.  Some of these images are bug like, some warrior like, while others look more like an average, hairless, baby faced human (like the image shown here.)  Most presume that aliens would share certain human-like characteristics like bipedalism (walk on two legs), bilateral symmetry (right and left sides are mirror images of each other), and a similar arrangement of the major body parts (head on top with eyes and mouth, long central torso etc.)  These add familiarity for the reader but lack a level of ingenuity that we expect in fiction.

In the Socialite 1 book series, the aliens, Ray, Grace and Elle Amis, were designed on their planet to look exactly like humans.  This was important for the story since they had to blend in and be accepted by the Liebe family if they were going to have a chance of completing their mission.  I did not even describe the Zozian species in any detail, except for a few general remarks.  For example, in Book 2: Mission to Mission, Elle and Jacob are walking through the forest near Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia and  Elle explains why she believes that we are never alone:

Jacob stumbled on a decayed piece of cedar, revealing a community of beetles, and isopods.  “Don’t step on them!” shrieked Elle.  She bent down and looked at the assortment of life.  “They have such a small circle of life, especially compared to these huge trees around us, that can live for hundreds of years.  Even compared to ourselves:  within a year these little ones are born, become adults, reproduce then die.  Although their circle of life is small, they deserve just as much respect as creatures with larger life cycles.”  They cautiously stepped over the crawling creatures.  “You see - even we aren’t alone out here.”
“Oh, is that what you meant.  What about in space?  That astronaut stuck up there on the space station - he’s alone.  There aren’t even any bacteria up there.” 
“He’s not alone, either,” argued Elle.  “He’s in constant communication with the people in Houston, who are trying to figure out a way to get him down.” 
“He could simply turn off his speakers, turn his back on Earth if he wanted.” 
“Even then, he would just be facing all the other inhabited planets in the universe,” said Elle.  She was skipping over a log as she spoke, pulling on Jacob’s arm, forcing him to skip as well. 
“You believe in alien’s, do you?” asked Jacob, sarcastically. 
“My dad does, that’s for sure,” said Elle.  “He says that life on other planets is a certainty.” 
“Really?  Do you mean, life like us?” 
“Now who’s being silly?  They aren’t like us...not exactly.  He told me that they have to look a lot different from us, because of different evolutionary histories, and different planetary conditions.” 
“It sounds like your dad has thought a lot about this.”  Jacob tried not to sound too skeptical, or else Elle might think he was judging her father’s sanity.  “I guess while you were growing up he had a lot of time to think about these things, thoroughly.” 
“Now you’re just being silly.”  She stopped, looked into Jacob’s eyes and asked, “is it so hard to imagine life beyond this atmosphere?  When you look at the stars at night, don’t you sometimes wonder if someone may be looking back at you?” 
“Yeah.  Sometimes.  I just never went the extra step that your father has in speculating on what they look like.” 
“Try it.” said Elle.

Elle is subtly trying to get Jacob to believe in the possibly of alien life, a necessity if he is to eventually accept that she is alien.  In the backstory to Socialite, the Zozian Diaries, Ray Amis is translating the diaries of previous Zozian explorers to Earth.  Ray's commentary is meant to allow humans to understand what Zozians are like and how they think.  I used this format so that I could periodically add details of Zozian physiology, sociology and psychology to that story.  For example, in Part 2, Ray explains why the Zozians used to call humans "animals with holes" by describing how Zozians look.  Keep watching for additions to the Zozian Diaries as I will add new parts to the story each week, explaining more about these aliens and their adventures.

Remember:  Book 1: Bees to Benny is still free at:

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

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Today's Inspiration: people in my life

I remember a scene from the comedy series "Kids in the Hall": a writer is struggling with his work when the image of Queen Elizabeth (Scott Thompson, of course) appears above his head advising him to "write what you know."  After all, when requiring advice we Canadians always turn to the Queen of England.  I'm not sure if I am remembering the scene correctly.  Regardless, the sentiment has value: writing what you know is good advice.  In developing characters for my stories, I often draw from the people that I know.  Often this takes shape as the character interacts in a particular scene of a story.

The characters in my books are never based on a single person, though some people may see themselves or someone they know in the actions or descriptions portrayed in a particular scene.   For example, the main character of Socialite,  fourteen year old Elle Amis, is an amalgamation of some of the most important people I know, my wife, and my kids.  I wrote her character description years ago for a very different story that I didn't finish.  When I decided to begin writing again, after my wife's passing,  I was reviewing some of my previous notes and became reacquainted with Elle and realized immediately that she was the femme fatale of my books.  I still find that her character drives the creation of her own scenes as I am writing.

One of my favourite minor characters in Socialite is Mrs. Therese Austen.  She is an older woman, who lives a few doors down the street from the main characters, and is often seen walking her little dog Bixby.  She was partly inspired by my sister-in-law's mother, who talked very softly and had a way of making you feel like you were the most important person in the world.  In the books, Mrs. Austen treats Jacob in exactly this way: to her, Jacob Liebe is the most important person in the world.  When I was writing the description of Mrs. Austen the image that kept coming to mind was one of the Queen mum in a green cloche hat - I couldn't resist how exquisitely Canadian it felt to describe her as I saw her in my head.  I liked the character so much that I decided in the early stages of preparing Socialite 1 that she would play a major role in the ending of this series, as you will see when you read Book 4: Unless Rules.

None of the characters in my books are exact replications of people I know.   Instead, I tend to see a scene play out in my head, and imagine how the emotions or reactions should be described.  In the process a memory of someone acting similarly will come to mind, and often that imagined person is someone I know.  Sometimes, the process happens in reverse: I'll remember how someone handled a particular situation in a clever or unusual way and make a note to use that memory at a later time.  The ordinariness of everyday life is often interrupted by one of these brilliant, living vignettes - unfortunately we tend to forget them all too quickly.  When looking for inspiration as I'm writing, I kick myself sometimes for not heeding the advice given in another Kids in the Hall, Scott Thompson skit: speaking as the character Buddy Cole he ends a comedic monologue with:
"It all reminds me of something that Moliere once said to Guy de Maupassant at a cafe in Vienna... That's nice. You should write it down."
Here is a small scene with Mrs. Austen meeting Ray Amis for the first time from S1B2: Mission to Mission.  After fourteen years of seclusion in his house, all the while watching and learning about his neighbours by watching projections from the many cameras that his daughter's chauffeur, Morse, had installed around the neighbourhood, Ray Amis is finally going for his first walk outside just after dawn.  He doesn't get far before his peaceful solitude in interrupted by Mrs. Austen and Bixby.

He was alone in his thoughts as he walked past the sleepy houses lining Homedale Street.  As he reached the end of the block, he noticed an old woman walking her dog coming toward him.  He recognized her as Mrs. Therèse Austen.  “Good Morning,” he offered, smiling cordially. 
“Where’s your dog?” she kindly asked.
“My...what makes you think I have a dog?” he asked puzzled. 
“No one comes out at this time without a dog,” she reasoned.  “Here you are, so what happened to your dog?  Did he get off his leash?”  Ray looked curiously at her.  He had seen her many times on the AmisVision screens, walking her dog to and from her house.  His curiosity had prompted him to ask Morse to install additional cameras along her route, so that he could learn more about this strange behavior.  For hours, some days, he would watch her slowly walking, sometimes to the grocery store, sometimes to the diner, but usually, just casually walking in circles, cleaning up after her pet.  She always wore the same lime-green coat, with a matching Cloche hat.  She was also constantly talking to her dog.   
“I have no dog, nor have I ever felt the compulsion to subject a creature of this planet to subservience or confinement,” he confessed. 
“No dog.  Well, that is new.  And you live close by?” she continued, undaunted by issues of animal slavery. 
“I live at the yellow house down there,” he said, pointing down the street, no longer afraid of being identified by his neighbours. 
“You mean the house across from Jacob’s?” 
“Yes.  Are you one of Jacob’s friends?” asked Ray. 
“Oh ye-e-es.  I am,” she said, enthusiastically.  “Ever since he was a little boy.  I used to watch him sometimes when his mom would go shopping.  A wonderful, kind, intelligent boy.  Are you a friend, too?” 
“My daughter is.” 
“I hope she’s pretty.  Is she pretty?  I was hoping that Jacob would meet a pretty girl.” 
“I am her father, of course, so my opinion may seem biased.” 
“Are you new here?” she asked, moving on to another subject without completing the previous one. 
“No,” said Ray.  He was becoming tense due to his lack of control of the conversation and the inquisitional verbal delivery of his neighbor.  He didn’t want to be rude during his first, real conversation with an outsider, so he answered, “I’ve lived here for many years.” 
“You don’t walk much.  I’ve never seen you.  I guess you drive instead.” 
“No, I don’t drive.  As it happens, this is the first time that I’ve taken a walk around here.” 
“You don’t have a car and you don’t walk, how do you get around?” she asked, looking concerned and confused. 
“I have a car, but it’s just for my daughter.  She has a driver who takes her places,”  explained Ray, trying to direct the discussion in a new direction. 
“You don’t go with her?” she asked, still confused. 
“No, I don’t go with her.” 
“Poor girl, all alone.  Well not quite alone, now that she has Jacob.  Then, how do you get around?” Mrs. Austen repeated. 
“I must confess that I don’t want to seem rude by avoiding or refusing to answer your benign question.  I absolutely don’t condone dishonesty.  So, perhaps we should conclude our discussion for now and continue some other time on a different subject.” 
“Perhaps you could borrow someone else’s dog for your walks,” suggested Mrs. Austen. 
“Why would I want to do that?” returned Ray. 
“Then we could talk about our dogs,”  said Mrs. Austen plainly, without a hint of sarcasm in her voice.     
“You are very astute.  I look forward to speaking with you again some time,” said Ray.

All four books in the Socialite series are available at:

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

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Zozian Diaries - a new beginning for Socialite

I have a ton of ideas for expanding the Socialite series into the future.  Currently I am working on the second set of books which will be called Socialite II: Duality (those of you who have finished Socialite 1 will understand the significance of the title.)  I have also sketched out many of the scenes for Socialite III and Socialite IV.  All of these series follow the timeline set in the original series, and gradually move into the future following the lives of Elle Amis and Jacob Liebe.  When I started to conceive of their story, my initial notes had the story beginning many years before the arrival of Ray and Grace Amis on Earth.  I scrapped the idea of including the stories of the early Zozian explores from Socialite 1, and did not want the next three series to fall backward in time either.  Instead, I decided to develop these stories separately as the Zozian Diaries.

The Zozian Diaries cover the voyage that preceded the Amis' journey.  In Socialite 1: Book 3, Grace and Ray described the importance of that expedition to the Zozian people.  Here is a brief section of that scene:

        "Our people have been traveling here every couple of centuries since we discovered your planet, oh, about eight hundred years ago.  Back then, our people were amazingly creative and vibrant, scientifically and artistically.  They had solved many of the challenges that currently affect your planet: energy shortages, poverty, food shortages.  Health care, disease and longevity, were the only major hurdles left to conquer.   Our first expeditions brought back plants, insects and various other samples.  Samples from other planets proved useless to us.  The compatibility of the genetic material on Earth with our own, however, led to the development of the first siloplasts.  These technological wonders, enabled us to combine small DNA sequences with our own.  Within a hundred years of that discovery, we had cured most diseases on our planet and increased life expectancy by about twenty years.  So you see, your planet and ours are already parts of a greater whole.” “Your people?” said Tim with skepticism and a little fear.  He and Mandy, silently communicated with a glance at each other, their agreement that Ray must be delusional. “Well, as I told you before,” Ray continued, undaunted,  “the people of Zozia Lee, look a lot different from you and me.  When I was a child, I felt like a stranger, an outsider.  We all did.  In fact, that was one of the conditions of the experiment, to ensure that we would be more comfortable and content when we reached our new home.  Blood samples brought back on the very last expedition, the same expedition that brought the ‘great book’ to us, enabled our scientists to reconstruct a human-like genome - part human, part zozian.  Mistakes were made, frightfully ugly mistakes, and they were treated with utmost sympathy and compassion.  As was I, and the forty or so others who survived in the later stages of the experiment.  That’s right, Grace and I were part of that same experiment that produced Benny.  We were the successes, the ones from whom two would be chosen for the most ambitious expedition attempted.  As you can attest, we look, and talk and, well, in many ways, behave like humans.  So, for the first time, a Zozian explorer would be able to interact, and to live with the human population.  Grace and I were chosen.”
I am developing the diaries as a translated version of the original diaries written by the explorers of the expedition that prepared the way for the Amis' mission.  The translation is being conducted by Ray Amis.  He will add notes throughout the text to help explain unusual or unclear comments made by the explorers.  These diaries will cover the discoveries and inadvertent interactions of those explorers with humans in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  I am presenting these diaries as a web log.  Each week I will add a few days or key events to the log.  Readers can follow along with the adventure weekly, as I am making this freely available on the website listed below.  In part 1, the explores have arrived and are watching Earth from the vantage point of the moon (hence the picture above.)  Eventually they will make their way onto the planet.  I hope that you enjoy this new addition to the Socialite story.

Click on this link:  Zozian Diaries

Click on a link below to get the first set of books:  (Book 1: Bees to Benny is still free at each location)
And please leave a comment or review of the books once you have read them.

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