When I tell people that The Assassin’s Cradle is science fiction, one of the most common reactions is, “Oh, I don’t like science fiction.”
My response is typically, “Well, it’s mostly the setting. The story is more of an adventure with elements of action, spy thriller, a touch of a love story, maybe even a little bit of mystery.”
So why do I persist with science fiction?
To me, science fiction is optimistic. Sure dystopian and flawed utopian science fiction stories are quite common, but all science fiction has one thing in common, the author created a story of how time has passed from the present to when their story takes place. For me, it was a great deal of fun creating the mythical foundation for the story. I can summarize The Assassin’s Cradle backstory like this: even though a universe controlled by galaxy-spanning conglomerates isn’t flawless, it is a mostly positive place to live.
Other than being able to create the future, why choose science fiction? Growing up, I was always a bit of a technology geek. I have always been interested in architecture and construction, and when I went to work for city government, I became interested in city planning as well. Space is the final frontier, and even though very little of The Assassin’s Cradle takes place in space, it creates a vast backdrop that expands everything’s scale.
What about technology excites me? Possibilities. One of the early fears of technological proliferation was the loss of privacy, and that is a real concern. Most cell phones have GPS locators, so your photos, videos, and posts can all contain your location when they’re made. Lost your kid? If their cell phone is turned on, you can find them. Sent a picture of your naughty bits to your ex’s new significant other? Police can track who sent it and from where. And don’t send your boss a sick email from the big game if you’re going to post a picture while reclining at the pool-side bar. Technology can be benefit or bane, and exploring those possibilities can be a lot of fun.
Architecture? Construction? City planning? Throw in geography and social engineering while we’re at it. The opportunity to create a whole new planet with continents and cities was so exciting I could hardly contain myself. I took time creating imaginary tectonic plates, continental drift, mountain ranges from volcanic and plate tectonic activity, valleys, plains, oceans, rivers, lakes. Incredible fun. Then I got to put cities onto this incredible planet, and grow them over time. Better still, I was able to put the places I created firmly into the story, creating mood and affecting the action, giving life to my static creations.
Living exclusively on Earth, the vastness of space is not much more than a concept to us. We can create mathematical representations and theorize that it is still expanding, but nothing can change how small and insignificant we are as individuals when placed in our proper context. How many people’s lives can you hope to influence in your lifetime? No matter how many it is, it is currently confined to this one planet (and its satellite to be precise). You could suggest that our influence extends throughout the solar system, but other than scattering a series of devices around, we’ve had no real impact off of our home. Science fiction gives my characters and you a first-hand (though fictional) understanding and ability to affect something much more expansive than we can currently. I find the idea a bit awe-inspiring and definitely compelling.
Ultimately, science fiction offers incredible story-telling possibilities. I don’t think it permits you to tell better stories. Compelling stories can exist in almost any genre, but science fiction gives me the ability to tap into areas of the imagination (both mine and yours) other genres do not.
This entry was posted in Author FAQ.
Where do I get my inspiration? The simple answer is: from everywhere and everything, but that answer is as complex as it is cryptic. Watch a movie, listen to a song, read a book, talk to someone, listen to someone, go someplace beautiful, go someplace desolate, go someplace disgusting, get scared, become ecstatic, do something exciting, or do something boring. In short live, because everything in life, everything you do, everything you see, every experience is something you can put into your stories. But putting all those experiences into your head won’t inspire you to write. It might just do the opposite, it might just cloud your mind with so many conflicting and disparate thoughts that you can’t see how those experiences, actions, and emotions fit into the story.
The Assassin’s Cradle takes place in a complex universe, and is just the first book in a larger story, so I needed to plan. But a plan is not that inspiring. In fact, the vast spaces between bones that form the outline/skeleton can seem intimidating and lifelessly static. Inertia. Not something that is normally considered inspiring, I certainly don’t think it is.
First, the little things. I spent most of my years working for other people as an analyst. In other words, I spent a lot of time looking for problems and ways to solve them. Something very simple in my everyday life reminded me of where I got one of my ideas. I was walking past a supermarket door, and even though I was walking parallel to the doors, they opened. In The Assassin’s Cradle, Idries notes how the building concierge opens the doors as he approaches. Okay, there is nothing special about it, but the idea came from my belief that door sensors should be more intelligent. The sensor should recognize whether you’re approaching or not. Simple, but recognizing a flaw or a mistake in something, whether it’s technology, a conversation, a relationship, a sporting event, a restaurant, or a piece of furniture, anything, can inspire you to write.
Now for the big things. To really get going on a chapter or section of the story, I like to have an internal sense of rhythm or flow, a feeling that I’m in concert with the thoughts, emotions, and actions of the scenes I will be writing. Just like approaching a paper or novel, I start with preparation. Preparation means going through the scenes I plan to write the night before. By getting them into my mind before I go to sleep, I can dream about them. Several questions I had while writing The Assassin’s Cradle were answered when I woke the next morning.
Once you’ve put the scenes and questions into your subconscious, it’s time to take your conscious mind out of the way. I do that through meditation, and I meditate by walking. I am very fortunate to live in a hilly area with houses, parkland, and natural areas. I have so many potential paths and trails that variety is never a problem, sunrise, sunset, shaded, exposed, everything is available. The rhythm of walking and the fact that I don’t need to engage conscious thought allows my subconscious to flourish. I’ll walk for about an hour to an hour and a half. It often takes about a half hour for the thoughts to start flowing, but I’ll run through scenes, conversations, and action sequences while walking. Most recently, I put together significant portions of the outline for The Assassin III while walking.
For me the formula is simple: think about what I want to write the night before, then walk for about an hour the next morning and I’m ready to write.
This entry was posted in Author FAQ.
My approach to writing is simple: I try to put you into the mind of my characters, behind their eyes, and allow you to see the world from their perspective.
The Assassin’s Cradle is written in first-person and gives you very little information from outside of Idries’s awareness. I give you just enough of a glimpse behind closed doors to let you know that there are complex machinations taking place elsewhere. The intent is to make you as oblivious to what is happening as Idries is. I want your lack of knowledge to be organic, not like a poorly written mystery where the hero hides their secret knowledge until the end after the author has taken you on a wild chase following false leads.
Certainly, I could have given you much more knowledge about the ongoing plots and intrigue, but I felt it would have taken away from the more up-close and personal journey Idries is on. When he misses the forest for the trees, I want you to take the parallel path with him. I want you to be as surprised by his lack of situational awareness as he is. When Idries says, “Crap!” I want you to feel it as profoundly as he does, and if you’ve already recognized something Idries missed, I want you to chuckle when he finally catches on.
As a reader, I often second-guess the decisions characters make in the stories I read, I question their reactions, supplant their emotions with my own. For me, that says I have put myself into the story. Eventually, if the character is consistently written, I will adopt their emotions and reactions and no longer question their decisions. I hope to accomplish the same thing in my writing. I want you to understand my characters, but I can’t expect you to understand them as well as I do. If I do my job well enough, I leave just enough mystery behind that you want to know more about them.
Speaking of characters, The Assassin’s Cradle introduces a concept of conglomerate empires, which I call empirates. In preparing to write, I developed profiles for the empirates involved in the story, giving them the kind of history and personality normally reserved for characters. Then there are the locations. I drew a map of Ganoten, created continents that went through tectonic shifts, designed ocean currents, planned weather patterns, mountain ranges, fertile plains, deserts, forests, lakes, the whole thing. I created stories for each city, giving them character, a climate, a demographic mix, an ambiance. In both cases, I wanted there to be substance behind the mechanical function. Neither the empirates nor the locations are supposed to be window dressing. I want them to exist in all four dimensions (the normal three and time).
Everyone notices different things about their surrounding, and readers are the same. I believe in offering my readers food for their imaginations. I try to make the characters and the environments memorable. At the same time, I try to present the elements in a visceral way to involve you and plant seeds in your mind that will grow as the story progresses. If I create a believable context, you’ll fill in the blanks from your own experience, from your imagination.
I can still see the paths and courtyards aligned between the grids of blocky towers in Protol City, the lake canals below the mist-shrouded temple in Depung Tso, and the winding, sand-colored streets and alleys of Oscalla. Hopefully, the people who have finished The Assassin’s Cradle still can too. That’s how I approach writing. When Idries wakes up in his bed after passing out from exhaustion, confused and disoriented, I hope you wonder what happened just like he does.
It was a joy for me to join the characters as they traverse the story I sketched out for them. They gave me numerous surprises along the way. I hope you get a least a little of that joy and surprise as you read The Assassin’s Cradle.
This entry was posted in Author FAQ.
Writer’s Block is not something I am intimately familiar with. I might have been in school, but those days are long behind me.
Outside of it being a fearful condition that drags on for months and years, there are times when I sit at the page and wonder what to write, where to start, something, anything, nothing.
All I can tell you, is what I do when it happens. I don’t do these in a particular order or time of day. I just do what I’m inspired to do, and failing that, I do something.
Walk. That’s right, I go for a walk, usually for about an hour, sometimes more, much more. And when I walk, I talk, usually out loud. Sometimes I sing. Walking is the best thing for me when I don’t know what to do. When everything is stuck, I just get up off my sexy bum and move my legs, soak up the scenery, get the blood flowing. If I’m out there long enough, whatever was stuck in my brain, holding everything else back, gets unstuck, and if it doesn’t, it gets things moving, and a walk the next day does the trick. For me, walking is meditative.
Write. That’s right, I write. Any blocks I’ve noticed are usually caused by a lack of vision, I can’t see the road ahead, and it can happen on a micro or macro scale. If I don’t know how to handle a particular conversation, which can get tricky if one or more of the participants have entered the conversation with an agenda, I spitball the ideas on my notepad. I write an outline of how I see events unfolding. That works for just about anything: action sequence, training, suspense, thoughts, interactions. Everything has a flow to it, and that flow can be interrupted, it has peaks and valleys, twists and turns, intersections, branches. The options can become daunting, leading to analysis paralysis. Writing it on the page can clear it up. Reading what I’ve written can expose the stupid and the brilliant (and everything in between). Sometimes hearing it out loud galvanizes my thinking. Other times saying it to someone else can clear it up, or they can see what I can’t see, even if they’re too kind to say anything (I watch their face: if they start looking around, I’m not holding their attention; if their brow and nose wrinkle, it stinks; if they look at me like I’ve lost my mind, I probably have; and if they look confused, so is my thinking.).
To date, every time I’ve had an issue, these two techniques have gotten me past a delay.
This entry was posted in Author FAQ.
This is an easy question for my first blog post.
The answer is: I am currently working on the first draft of the sequel to The Assassin’s Cradle.
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