Meniscus: Karst Topography … cover art

I have completed the painting for the cover art of the fifth book in the Meniscus Series … Meniscus: Karst Topography!

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Here is a sequence showing my process in doing the painting:

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The painting ‘walking among the stars’ shows my character Kathryn as she navigates a holograph of the galaxy and finds the planet Meniscus.

When the Slain return from an excursion, they discover the women of the Village have been taken by a Dock-winder transport. They set out on a dangerous journey to Prell-nan to find the women, risking their lives in the dirty streets, sordid brothels and creepy buildings of Dock-winder-run Prell. They find Vicki, Madoline, Kathryn and Meghan, but where is Odymn?

The book launches October 15! Can’t wait!

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All by best,

Alexandra

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Writing Science Fiction: symbols

The use of symbols is a key element in creative writing.

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Symbols are settings, objects, characters or events containing layers of meaning. Beneath any literal meanings are figurative meanings that imbue the symbol with depth and significance. A common symbol encountered in literature is the ‘owl’. On one level, the owl is a feathered creature with big eyes and amazing head-turning capability; on another, figurative level, the owl is symbolic of wisdom.

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my only photo of an owl … snowy owl on the Grand Lake Meadows, December 2013

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Mention an object once and it’s a prop, sometimes with associations. Mention it twice and the reader remembers the first mention, loaded with its connotations and denotations. Mention it three times and the associations can scream, suggest elements of plot. The object has become a symbol.

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The use of symbols deepens meanings and helps the plot reverberate throughout the writing.

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In the book I am currently revising (Meniscus: Encounter with the Emenpod, publication date July, 2019) my male character Rist wears gloves when he is with other people. Mentioned once, they are part of his wardrobe. Mentioned twice, the gloves are associated with his inability to touch the woman he loves. Mentioned more often, those gloves are a symbol of his separation from anyone he cares about. Even when other characters wear gloves, the reader is reminded of this separation, and all the associated history.

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'hammock'
Rist, alone, wears no gloves

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When I wrote the first draft of this book, gloves had no role in the story. As often happens, the symbol, the wearing of gloves, solved a plot problem. Once I had added the gloves, their mention had strategic importance. I also realized that gloves had already been included in the plot, in an entirely unrelated way. Once the gloves became a symbol of one character’s separation from others, their further mention built on the idea of separation and lack of understanding between cultures.

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Scan_20180805.jpg

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Symbols operate like mini sub-plots throughout story.  These mini-plots echo the main plot, and, during the story, the objects change in a way that illuminates it.  The mini-plots also tend to occur in three ‘beats’, providing a beginning, middle and end.  For example, gloves are at first worn in every circumstance; when they are occasionally removed, risks are taken; later, when the gloves are removed forever, intimacy can grow between characters.

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To strengthen the use of symbols in my work, I use tables. Once I have decided which symbols will be important to my story, I build a table of symbols and note where the symbols are mentioned (the three beats) and what mini-plot is suggested. Gaps in the table suggest possible revisions.

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Object Symbol Key Occurrences

(Chapter Number)

Mini-plot
gloves separation 7 42 65 Rist must wear gloves to avoid transfer of elements of body chemistry to other people; removing the gloves represents a step in committing to Tagret.
bell home 4 29 63 the dinner bell is introduced in Meniscus: Karst Topography (September, 2018) as a symbol of missing loved ones. In Meniscus: Encounter with the Emenpod, bell ringing is the first warning the Village is in peril; later, the ring of the bell is a sign community members will return.
kettle family 5 33 58 the cooking kettle was introduced in Meniscus: South from Sintha and has accompanied my characters on their various adventures. When tragedy occurs, a search for the kettle is representative of a search for a missing child; when the kettle is found, there is hope for the restoration of family.

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Symbols seem to take on exaggerated importance in science fiction. Perhaps this is because of the association with fantasy where objects often have magical significance. Fantasy and science fiction plots often involve the ‘quest’ for a significant object. Although I am sure other story-telling includes powerful symbols (for example, the ‘car’ in The Great Gatsby, symbolic of wealth), science fiction and fantasy genres are particularly proud of theirs (for example, the ‘One Ring’ in Lord of the Rings). All the more reason to embed symbols with maximum significance and meaning.

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IMG318_crop (2016_12_30 00_28_35 UTC)

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All my best!

Alexandra

(a.k.a.Jane)

World-building: Myth and Mystery

I think sentient creatures need a system of belief. So when I write about them in my science-fiction, I include ‘belief system’ as a world-building parameter.

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The Humans in my stories have all been ‘taken’ from Earth to serve as slaves on the alien planet Meniscus. When they come to Meniscus, their freedom is ripped from them. Freedom to come and go, freedom to associate with other Humans, freedom of religion – all are lost.

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As Humans survive on Meniscus, they sequester their existing beliefs, perhaps practicing them in private. They also encounter, and sometimes absorb, the myths, creation stories and beliefs of the alien species on Meniscus.

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All the alien species on plant Meniscus, Dock-winders, Gel-heads and Argenops, have stories of The Separation, a time when geological processes caused development of The Fault, a barrier to communication between the gentle Argenops and the self-serving Dock-winders.

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The Fault.jpg

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There are also stories of ancient peoples and evidence of their work. The Emenpod, also known as The Builders, built the stairs at the small water-climb in Meniscus: Winter at the Water-climb and the find-a-way stairs in Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill. These ‘beings’ are so mysterious, they have been elevated to the level of ‘god’. The Emenpod will be at least partly revealed in Book Seven of the Series, Meniscus: Encounter with the Emenpod. But will they be gods or another alien life-form?

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stairs at water-climb

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At least two ‘gods’ enter the belief systems of the planet. De-al, Water-weld, is credited with making unruly water stay on Meniscus. Amblyn, God of Fire, figures into the belief systems of the Argenops who practice daily ‘arm homage’ to him. And what do the Dock-winders think of these gods? In the next book, Book Five in the Series, Meniscus: Karst Topography, to be released in September, my readers will get a tour through a Dock-winder museum where their reverence for their gods will be put on display.

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As we get to know the Human characters on Meniscus, and as they start to feel comfortable in their new-found freedom, we will catch glimpses of the beliefs they once practiced on Earth.

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One of my favourite new characters is Aisha, taken from from Tamil Nadu on Earth. How will she honour her beliefs and help others in their struggle to cope with life so far from her home? Meet her in Book Five Meniscus: Karst Topography and again in Book Six, Meniscus: Oral Traditions.

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Creating believable, well rounded characters means giving them multi-faceted backgrounds. In the next book you read, consider the author’s approach to the belief system of his/her characters.

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All my best,

Alexandra

(a.k.a. Jane)

Writing a science fiction series: building recurring ideas from book to book

I like to view Series as one longer story, told in parts. Although each book may have its own story and character arcs, there is continuity between books. Books in the series may share characters, settings, world view, spiritual beliefs, mythologies, principles of chemistry, biology and physics and so on.

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Books in a series may also build, from book to book, on ideas not explored fully in earlier books.

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Examples from my own books about adventures on the planet Meniscus include the story of Belnar’s missing tooth.

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'Belnar' paperback

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Belnar is a Slain, a genetically modified Human. Like other Slain, Belnar has exceptional endurance and strength, has unusual physical features such as nictitating eyelids, and uses electricity for protection and weaponry. Belnar also has a personality different from other Slain – he is brash, a joker, self-serving, irreverent and aggressive. In an encounter with another Slain, Belnar loses his front incisor. A small physical defect causes him to have pronunciation problems but he uses the defect to advantage, mostly to make himself seem more charming.

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Although not critical to any particular story, Belnar’s tooth (or lack of tooth) recurs, story after story.

Crossing The Churn – Odymn finds Belnar’s tooth in a packet of Daniel’s contract trophies

'a trophy for every contract'

South from Sintha – Odymn and Daniel release Belnar from the island where he is a captive and the story of the tooth’s loss is described

Winter by the Water-climb – mentioned as a physical feature

The Village at Themble Hill – the missing tooth and the whistle in his speech help Belnar make friends with an alien child

Karst Topography – Belnar gets a dental implant in Prell to make Vicki like him

Encounter with the Emenpod – Belnar gets in a fight with another Slain and loses his brand new tooth

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'the Slains battle'

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A small idea, the story of a tooth, but recurring ideas serve a few purposes in a book series:

  1. The missing tooth is a symbol of Belnar’s edgy personality,
  2. The missing tooth is a metaphor for recurring problems that never seem to be resolved
  3. Readers familiar with the series watch for recurring ideas and feel an ‘insider’ connection
  4. Later stories in the series may seize on a well-developed idea with ‘history’ and use such an idea as a plot focus.

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Who knows the future of Belnar’s missing tooth? At this point in the writing of the series, it remains an idea rife with possibilities.

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If you are writing a series, do you introduce recurring ideas to serve story-building purposes?

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All my best,

Alexandra

Picking a character name

At the launch of my new book Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill a member of the audience asked “How does a writer choose character names?”

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Although the question could apply to any genre, my answer was specific to my science fiction writing. I think of a name fairly quickly and, unless there is a compelling reason to reject the name, I usually keep it. Once I have written a bit of action and dialogue, done a character sketch and drawn my character portrait, I cannot change the name or I experience a sort of writer/character dissociation.

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'Eu-hom' Nov 11 2016 (2016_12_30 00_28_35 UTC)
The Slain … his name, Daniel, is not known until Book 2

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Some of my characters have ordinary names — Daniel, Vicki, Kathryn. I  choose the names of characters from cultures-not-my-own by looking at lists of popular names for specific years in the country of origin. My Asian character Ning and my Indian character Aisha got their names in this way.

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Aisha paperback.jpg

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I also have alien characters and put lots of thought into these names. My Argenops (gentle furry folk) have names like Wen-le-gone, Gar-le-gnoss and Ban-le-kin. The Gel-heads (transparent green humanoids) tend to have names beginning with ‘W’ — Waglan, Wenda and Wrall. Dock-winders have complex names of no particular pattern — Dressor, Bar’ma, Garg and Don’est. Human characters with Gel-head names (Sen-eth, Fell-eth) have an ‘-eth’ added to the name since ‘eth’ is the alien word for Earth.

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The book I am writing at present has a character with an odd name — Rist. The name is a shortened form of Tristan, but Rist suits him. I did not want to ‘mystic’ him by calling him Rhyst. However, his name means some phrases are unlikely to be written — “Rist’s wrist” or even “Rist’s hand”.

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Rist paperback.jpg

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I have a few thoughts on choosing names that may help other writers:

  1. Try to choose names scattered through the alphabet. I once read a book with a Mary, a Marie, a Michael and a Mark. I referred back to the front of the book so much, the cover fell off. The ultimate similar-name novel has to be Wuthering Heights — Cathy and Catherine left me too confused to really love the book.
  2. If you select a strange name for a character, make it pronounceable and try to have it make sense to the reader. For example, my main female character is called Odymn. She explains to the Slain that her father named her for the rare earth metal Neodymium because it was the colour of her hair (red). This will help the reader remember a strange name.'Odymn'.jpg
  3. Hesitate before naming a character after a well-known character in another story. When I named a new character Tagret, I considered if it was too close to the Game of Thrones character Ygritt or the Harry Potter character Hagrid. I would not call a character Luke (Skywalker) or Leia.Tagret paperback2018.jpg
  4. Consider the meaning of the name. Some readers are attuned to this. Many common names have a biblical origin and an associated story. My Slain’s name is Daniel and the image of a good man in a den of lions comes to mind when I see his name. Darth Vader’, which means ‘dark father’ in German, was an obvious spoiler for the reveal that Darth is Luke’s father.
  5. Think before naming a character after someone you know well. I named a minor character in my stories after a friend I like well. However I wonder if my friend may feel uncomfortable about this. At least, the character I named Zachary is a good guy, through and through!

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Character names matter. My favourite book is by Daphne Du Maurier. Strange that in a book called Rebecca, the main female character is not named (Rebecca is the name of Max De Winter’s first wife). In the book, the main character’s husband says,

You have a very lovely and unusual name.

My father was a lovely and unusual man.

A point among many to make me love this book!

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I hope you have fun naming your characters and find helpful ideas in the thoughts above!

My best always,

Alexandra

series complications – time-lines

I have published four books in my science fiction series Meniscus. The fifth book (Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill) will be released on April 14, 2018. I have four other books in DRAFT. Keeping them straight has become a bit of a nightmare!

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'Odymn falls' final
in ‘The Town at Themble Hill’, Odymn breaks her leg … not a happy time for a girl who loves to run in the Themble Woods …

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The planet Meniscus, with its interesting landscape and biology, suggests many possible adventures. A while ago, I began to think about a ‘spin-off’ featuring the stories of different main characters. I also wanted to include characters from the first books, to give them more background and a better chance to ‘speak’.

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To weave the stories together, I realised I would need to create a time-line for my books. This would help me to situate the new characters in time and avoid character collisions. I did not want characters who were supposed to be in Prell to show up in Sintha. I did not want dead characters to live after their demise.

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The time-line shows the books in the series, the number of days covered in each book, the seasons and the years. The first eight books are consecutive, flowing from one to the other.

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time line

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In my next book, I want to introduce some of the Human recruits to the Village at Themble Hill and tell about them when they were still captives of the Gel-heads. So I knew the next book would start before the end of book Four and continue until the beginning of Book Six when Don’est’s continuous, banshee scream splits the air of the Themble.

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'Don'est'paperback
Why is Don’est screaming? You’ll have to wait until Book Six, ‘Meniscus: Encounter with the Emenpod’, to find out!

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Plotting the time-lines helped me know what characters I could include, the seasonal components of the setting and how to merge the stories.  It also suggested to me that I should re-number Meniscus Six, Seven and Eight to better reflect the time-line.

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time line 2

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If you are writing a series, I suggest you add time-lines to your process. Think of your story in terms of time. Determine how many days pass during the story. Plot the sequence of your stories with respect to one-another. This will help you to avoid inconsistencies and incongruencies.  It will also help you be accurate if your setting has a seasonal component.

If you are dealing with time-travel, causality and paradoxes, considering time-lines is essential!

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Hope this helps you with the writing of your series!

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All my best,

Alexandra

 

 

building a character for science fiction

When I first began to write my books about the planet Meniscus, I had my main male character firmly in my mind. I knew I wanted a character who would be strong and attractive, but one who would be very quiet. I wanted his motivations to be difficult to understand. And, I wanted him to look like this:

'Eu-hom' Nov 11 2016 (2016_12_30 00_28_35 UTC)

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The idea for my book came from a piece of writing I did in 1990.  The protagonist was a biologist, responsible for cataloguing plant species on an alien planet. One of the characters she encounters is Niober, a genetically-modified human, part man, part energy.

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Scan_20170731 (5).jpg

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When I returned to the writing in the fall of 2016, the name of the biologist (Odymn) and the modified human were all that I kept of that early writing (oh and the last line about being Odymn’s lover and friend). Niober’s name and the planet Kara and the energy beings all went to the bin.

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When I started writing in November 2016 and drew the image above, I was still calling my character ‘Eu-hom’, a very terrible name. That went to the bin as well.

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If I look at other books in the category science-fiction/romance, most covers have an image of a broad-shouldered, bare-chested man wooing a woman with long flowing hair. I immediately did Odymn’s hair up in a braid and covered the Slain’s chest in armour.

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The genetic manipulation idea gives me a lot of scope for making the Slain a bit strange. What really helped was providing some background for the process of genetic manipulation, in the description of another character in my book, Garg, a Doc-winder (tall, long neck, ruthless) (see here to learn more about Dock-winders):

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Garg – A Dock-winder; Head Geneticist at the Human Property Grow-up Facility in Sintha; most of the 49 tattoos on his neck were earned for Human genetic innovations, including energy armour, the nictitating eyelid, metabolic slow-down, thermal-imaging night vision, smooth-muscle vibration and disarticulating thumb and forefinger.

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The Slain’s motivation continues to be a bit of mystery in my books. When he is first introduced, he is a trader in sentient beings, kind but single-minded (take the Human from Point A to Point B). He is the product of his background, brought to Meniscus from Earth when he was eight years old and genetically manipulated to become ‘the Slain’.

I think of him, without home or family, invincible and independent, roaming back and forth across the woodlands and deserts of Meniscus, taking life as it comes his way. And, as a writer, it is easy to decide what he would do in any particular circumstance.

And then, one day, he intercepts a young woman, fleeing from a slear-snake.

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Meniscus Crossing The Churn cover painting (2)

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So, there you have him. The Slain.  A trader in sentient beings. A shrewd negotiator who is sparing with words. Fit, strong, silent in conversation. Not very flexible. A little calculating. Bare-chested except for his armour (and in winter when he wears a tunic). Critical of Odymn’s impulsive nature. Hard to figure.

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All the best,

Alexandra