Why I’m Writing Sci-Fi

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In the past decade or so, I’ve written and performed a good amount of comedy. So it might come as a surprise that my latest work is a dark blend of horror and science-fiction. Sure, there’s humor in Scavengers, my second book, but for the most part it’s a “tale of terror beyond the stars.”

So what prompted the switch?

My first book, American Saviors, was a labor of love. It was based on characters I created in high school for a series of teleplays. The original idea was to shoot those scripts with whatever video camera we could drum up (digital shooting and editing not being as convenient back then). That didn’t quite work out due to the technical limitations of not owning a quality camera, knowing how to shoot a movie, and many other reasons.

Instead we did an amalgam of two scripts as a stage play during my junior year of high school. I got a bunch of my friends together, actors and non-actors alike, to perform parts I’d written for them in an old-timey radio show style production. It was a lot of fun, and I will always fondly remember standing onstage with my closest friends as we received a standing ovation from an appreciative crowd.

In college I got into a writing program and had hopes of turning my old superhero stories into a dark, cynical real-world satire, but I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. I focused more on the dark and cynical than on the ‘having something to say’ part. I think if you could pinpoint a main criticism of the resulting novel, American Saviors, you would say that it’s a meandering tale pieced together from many disparate ideas.

I didn’t start working on American Saviors diligently until last year, when I wrote an extensive outline. The plotting of the outline was enough for two novels, but I was blinded by inexperience and enthusiasm. I wanted to write a big epic jaw-dropping tale, the great American novel. And while I still think ambition is swell and writers should shoot for the stars, I don’t think it was wise to focus so closely on the outline.

The novel lacks coherency because the characters’ motivations are muddy. Readers aren’t quite sure why characters behave the way they do. It’s hard to be a compulsive reader of something that seems unbelievable. Maybe someday I can go back and work with these characters again, writing from the characters’s point-of-view as opposed to strictly following an outline. My old scripts weren’t plotted any further than the basic premises, the loglines, if you will. This novel was so tightly plotted that when a character’s motivation came into question, the structure wasn’t flexible enough to survive a logical fix. It was rigid yet faulty.

There are dark sci-fi components in American Saviors. A mad scientist devises the perfect son, then becomes disappointed with the result. He ends up abusing the boy, and the boy runs away. The kid starts a new life as a petty thug, and then through a series of bizarre events, becomes the antagonist. (Again, I recognize now how circuitous this all is!)

There were too many targets in my satire, and because I was pulling from myself rather than research, my satiric jabs lost impact. I didn’t have enough evidence to back up my assertions, just the sort of emphatic self-confidence that a drunk uncle has on Thanksgiving.

And yet I’m still very proud of American Saviors.

If I hadn’t written the book, it would have stayed lodged in my brain like an immovable object. It was very important to me to write the book for my own sake, to take all of the feelings and jokes and commentary I’d kept balled up inside me and unleash them, even if that meant alienating readers or creating something only I would enjoy.

While on jury duty in Los Angeles, I read Stephen King’s On Writing. That book does a good job of motivating writers to write cleanly and clearly and just get the thing done. In the book King specifically states how muddied his stories get when he writes from an outline rather than writing directly from the point-of-view of the characters.

At that point I had about 100 pages or so left to write of Saviors, and if you actually make it that far in the book, you’ll notice a sharp change in the way it reads. My writing improves to the point where it suddenly feels like a different book. Everything that I’ve read suggests that this process of slowly improving over the course of a project is totally normal.

So in the end, I’m proud of what I accomplished, that I actually got it done, and that I have proof of the fact that I improved as a writer.

And because of that, I wanted to do a tribute to Stephen King and try my hand at horror. I wrote a short story about a girl who gets stuck in an elevator with a casting director after bombing an audition. You can read that here. But I had another short story in mind, about a father and son who were scavengers in space, raiders, like Rey in the new Star Wars, who basically pried apart old ship parts, ore, whatever they could get their hands on, and sold it to make a semi-honest living.

About 500 pages later, I’m still writing that “short” story.

I always loved science-fiction since I first saw Star Wars. I always enjoyed the way that science-fiction could poke fun at reality by exaggerating its tropes. Fantasy has that same power, but with science fiction you have the power to imagine what might actually be out there in the universe somewhere, rather than what never was. I wanted to write an homage to Alien as well, one of my other favorite science-fiction films.

So the result is Scavengers, my second bookin which Wiley, a gruff addiction-driven scavenger, teaches his son Yaw what it means to survive in the dark parts of the galaxy. In the first chapter, Wiley and Yaw stumble upon a strange bounty, a bundle of gemstones wrapped up in a black substance that changes shape and texture. In spite of Yaw’s protests, Wiley decides to haul both the gems and the substance onboard, hoping to placate his addictions with the payout.

Scavengers is the story of a father and son at odds with one another as their personal traumas threaten to tear each other apart. The strange black substance is only part of the problem. Their inability to communicate, to keep from deceiving one another for personal gain, is the wedge that causes a fatal divide between them. As they head for the large city on a satellite in the center of the galaxy, they pick up a few workmen who know more than they let on about the terror that awaits them.

If you’d like to give it a shot, I am posting sections of the rough draft chapter by chapter on Mondays and Fridays on Wattpad, a website for sharing writing. Some people are really enjoying it already!

Science-fiction is fun, but after writing something so dark, I’ll probably shake things up a bit next time. I’m thinking of writing a family-friendly fantasy tale, along the lines of Harry Potter…

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