Let me introduce you to my new writer friend, 2016 Writers of the Future winner, J.W. Alden.
Stuart: Hi J.W.! Introduce yourself.
J.W.: Well, I’m a native Floridian who never got used to all that sun. I had my fair share of bike rides and backyard shenanigans, but for the most part I preferred to stay inside where the books and video games were. This probably fueled the overactive imagination that led to my eventual love of writing. Though if you had asked Little Kid Me what I’d be doing at 30, he’d probably guess by now I’d be the first professional wrestler chosen by NASA to become an astronaut. It turned out this was not a viable career path.
Stuart: Perhaps not, but it would make a smashing short story for Unidentified Funny Objects. So aside from an aversion to solar radiation, what got you into writing?
J.W.: My second grade teacher. I told her I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up and she asked me to write about it. I fell right into her trap.
About four years ago, I was driving a forklift in a warehouse. I worked the graveyard shift, then came home as the sun rose, and spent the morning writing. Then one night, as I was heading out the door, my wife stopped me and said, “When are you just going to be a writer?” I must have seemed perplexed, because she added, “Just quit your job. You don’t need it. You’re a writer.”
I realized both how incredibly lucky I was and how incredibly dumb I would be not to take her up on that offer.
Stuart: Indeed. When we were packing up to leave my year at WotF, we asked Tim Powers if he had any parting advice. “Yeah,” he said, “Marry into wealth.” How long have you been entering WotF?
J.W.: This was my second time entering the contest. The first time I entered, I was still a baby in the craft and received a well-deserved R. Being unaccustomed to rejection at the time, I became discouraged and didn’t enter again. After a few years of steady improvement and a handful of confidence-inspiring sales, I thought I ought to give it another shot. So, I vowed to buy all the anthologies, analyze the winning stories, and enter every quarter until I won or became ineligible. At the time, however, the current quarter’s deadline was coming up before I’d had a chance to enact this grand strategy. So I entered an older story to keep my promise of never missing a quarter. That story ended up taking 1st place, ruining all of my elaborate plans of engineering a winning story.
Stuart: Well it was an excellent strategy, and remains so. I still regularly read Hugo winners and such from current and ancient years for inspiration and tutleage. Star Trek or Star Wars?
J.W.: Oof. That’s a tough one.
On one hand, Jean Luc Picard was basically my TV-dad. Remember that scene in The Cable Guy where Jim Carrey laments, “I learned the facts of life from watching The Facts of Life! Oh, God!” Well, I developed my moral compass watching Captain Picard berate Wesley Crusher.
On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t be writing science fiction and fantasy today if not for Star Wars. In my favorite child photo, I’m holding a Return of the Jedi storybook at around five or six years old. Those movies instilled the first spark of wonder in me that made me fall in love with this genre. For this reason, if you held a lightsaber to my throat and made me choose, I’d have to go with Star Wars. Love them both, though.
Stuart: This is, of course, the correct answer. You have done well, young Padawan. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
J.W: I started out a pantser. Stephen King made it sound like the One True Way in On Writing. But as I grew in the craft over the years, it became clear that plotting works best for me.
For many writers, I know the first draft is the fun part, whereas revision is the part that feels like work. For me, it’s the opposite. When I’ve reached the revision stage, I feel I’ve done the heavy lifting. I lugged that big block of clay up onto my desk. Now I can mold it and shape it into something pretty. The blank page is far more intimidating. Outlining at the beginning of the process relieves a lot of the “WHAT NOW, WHAT NEXT” jitters the first draft used to bring. There’s no need to panic with my hand on the helm. The ship has a course.
I never feel handcuffed to my outlines, though. I allow room for discovery, especially when it comes to character. If I feel like the story wants to tug in a different direction, I let it.
Stuart: Man, you said a mouthful. Revision is awesome. It’s where you scrub the snot off your prose and let the miracles shine. I LOVE it! If you had a superpower, what would it be?
J.W: I wish I could stop time. I’ve always been a slow writer. Pausing the clock would solve so many problems. Not only would my productivity soar, but I’d never again feel guilty for spending too much time on the internet. Or playing video games. Or anything I want with no temporal consequences! I could have sickening amounts of fun all day and still pump stories out like there’s no tomorrow (because there would be no tomorrow until I commanded). I could be a literary machine. I could write ten novels a year. Come to think of it, this must be how Brandon Sanderson does it, right? He stops time? Yes, that must be it.
Stuart: Clearly. And boyish good looks. Tell us about your winning story
J.W: My story is called “The Sun Falls Apart.” It’s about a boy named Caleb who has never seen the sun. Boarded windows and a fortified door have kept the outside world a mystery his entire life. The only way out is passing the strange tests his parents conduct on him–tests that require Caleb to grasp at a power he doesn’t understand.
I wrote the earliest draft at Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2013. The pressure cooker environment of Odyssey forced me to produce a complete story on a tighter deadline than I’d ever experienced before (though the 24 hour challenge at the Writers of the Future workshop has since blown that out of the water), and I found myself turning toward this old story nugget that had been rattling around in my head for years.
After Odyssey, I came home burned out creatively, as is common for writers who go through intensive workshops. I needed time to digest all the knowledge swimming around in my skull before I could return to those stories. The draft that would become my 1st Place story languished in a cardboard box for a long time before I finally fished it out into the daylight. With the help of the feedback I’d gathered at Odyssey, I hammered that first draft into one of my favorite stories. I’m beyond delighted that it found its home with Writers of the Future.
Stuart: Nothing is more precious to the writer than unvarnished feedback. So what’s you’re favorite genre?
J.W: Another tough one!
Earlier, I mentioned Star Wars instilling my first love for SFF, and it’s true. But looking back, Wizard’s Hall by Jane Yolen is the book that made me love reading. It kickstarted a hunger for the written word that has never let up, and I think part of me will always associate that feeling with fantasy. I gobbled up all the science fiction I could get my hands on as well, and I still love both genres. But fantasy brings me a sense of freedom that I don’t always associate with science fiction. I feel like it gives my imagination a wider playground.
As such, my own work has leaned further toward the fantasy side of things as I’ve developed my writerly powers. The scifi stories I write tend to be on the softer side, often to the point of feeling like fantasy with science fictional trappings. I think it comes back to that sense of freedom. With science fiction, the author has a certain responsibility to the reader to keep accurate science at the heart of things, especially as you climb higher on the hardness scale. You have to play by the rules. Not that this isn’t true of fantasy as well, but with fantasy you get to decide what those rules are. With science fiction, I control the plot, the characters, their lives. With fantasy, this control extends even deeper, all the way to the very fabric of the universe they live in. I’m not just a storyteller; I’m a god. And it feels pretty good to be a god. Maybe not as good as a pro wrestling astronaut, but pretty damn good.
Stuart: Agreed. I started out with hard scifi. I still love it, but the more I write, the more I realize the story’s the thing. So now that you’re back from tinsletown, was the best part of the workshop?
J.W.: The big art unveil. It’s always awesome when you talk to a reader who really got your story, but it’s something else entirely when they take that understanding and make art of their own.
Stuart: Yeah, that still makes me smile. So what’s next?
J.W.: I want to keep the momentum going. I have a couple of stories in the oven awaiting revision, including the one I wrote at the workshop. Hopefully I can keep making sales and getting my name out there. I’m also looking to make the transition from short stories to novels this year. I’m excited (and a little terrified) at the prospect of traversing this unfamiliar length.
Stuart: Well I can’t wait, and remember, we’re family now.
I was recently asked about this pair of images, suggested by moon hoaximonkians that the whole Apollo program was one big load of bull, as real and Donald Trump’s hair:
“The flags in these two shots are suspiciously similar…These side-by-side comparisons reveal the startling fact that BOTH flags are billowing positively towards the camera…blah blah, blah.”
Originally, I suspected these had been modified as is often the case with hoax monkeys, who either twist things to fit their narrative or simply don’t bother to go find decent quality source material open which to base their flights of fancy. After all, the image on the left was used in a well-known composite called “Flag and Earth,” created in 2003 by Ricardo Salamé Páez.
However, good quality scans are available at Apollo 11 Image Library. Neither is from the Data Acquisition Camera. Both are from magazine 40, loaded into the Hasselblad used for the first EVA. The image on the left is cropped from magazine shot 5905. The one on the left is cropped and blown up from shot 5885.
If the images appear similar, it’s because they are pictures of the same flag photographed from opposite vantage points. For analysis, NASA compiled this map of all features, equipment, and photos taken at the Apollo 11 landing site:
So the images are real, just carefully cropped and manipulated from low quality source and presented with a false claim that they are impossibly “billowing” in the wrong directions. How this is any sort of hoax claim is hard to imagine. After all, someone would have to go to a lot of trouble to MAKE this happen, it’s not like a flag would be very likely to “billow” identically in two different directions in two different shots on its own.
In fact, the flag is not billowing at all. It’s hanging motionless from a metal rod. The rod is too short for the flag so that the fabric can be gathered like a curtain, to sort of simulate waving, but w the moon, they found the end retained the curl from having spent months packed tightly inside a narrow plastic tube. There may also be static electricity at play, this being nylon in a perfectly dry environment.
But okay, it’s a silly claim, but let’s take a look.
First the right image. This is the highest resolution available for this image, blown up to match the size of the left image, and I defy anyone to definitively determine whether any of the folds are towards or away from the camera. The only thing clear in this fuzzy frame is that the flag is fairly opaque. It’s hard to tell from this frame, but we know from the log and from the other picture that the curl near the end of the strips is not a simple bend or roll but is bunched, so it makes sense that it will cast a similar shadow on both sides (it is is similar, but not identical).
Now the left image. Here it’s quite clear that this is not a flag billowing in the breeze but is creased and crumpled cloth. The “billow” indeed appears to project toward the camera on both sides–it isn’t a billow, it’s a gather or bunch.: The shadow is similar but not identical on each side, and what should be the upper left corner (the little flap protruding a third of the way from the bottom, clearly is on the side facing the camera. Going back, the same protrusion is clearly behind the flag in the right image.
And the more you compare the images, considering the stripes are pointing almost directly into the sun, you can see that we are looking at mirror faces of the same, non-moving flag. The fold in the lower stripes in the left image covers one star that remains visible in the right image. A fold at the bottom of the “billow” in the right image is covered in the left. Looking at the ripples where the stars attach to the the rod, the ripples occur in precisely the same spot in each frame, but the prominently lit star in the upper right of the left image is hidden in shadow in the right–the ripples are reversed as they should be.
So like everything put forth by the hoax monkeys, close analysis of good source material only counters the claim.
Forget the conspiracies. Get some intentional fiction free from C Stuart Hardwick
- No stars in pictures ( )
- Flags waving (held by wire)
- Apollo 11 flag “ ” (it was curled from long storage)
- No blast crater under the LEM (early engine cutoff was to prevent cratering)
- Dust around the lander. Or something.
- Non-parallel shadows. (The moon has terrain)
- Seemingly identical backgrounds. (when kilometers away)
- Lander unable to balance itself on a rocket. (Like Surveyor and Lunakod did? Like space-X did–YESTERDAY–with six times the gravity and cross winds?)
- Lunar trainer impossible to fly. (It was not, except when it broke).
- No flames from lunar launch. (small UDMH engine in a vacuum)
- Herky-jerky movement of LEM (in low frame rate engineering camera films)
- No RCS plumes (in same footage with shutter speed less than thruster duration)
- Astronauts footage shot in slow-motion (demonstrably not so)
- Why was every picture perfect? (Because NASA didn’t put the crappy ones in Life—but they are on the website)
- Missing crosshairs in photos (because LIGHT)
- The deadly radiation of space (is not deadly for a mere camping trip)
Every single assertion made by these hoaxicanians only demonstrates their own ignorance of physics, optics, basic science, basic math, how to keep a secret (tell only two people–then kill them), how rockets work, how air works, how inertia works, the effects of radiation on the human body, how static charge affects objects, the state of electronics in the 1960s, how TV works, gravity–and EVERY OTHER SINGLE THING.
But that’s okay. If it will make the world a better place and my blog a busier nexus of nerd-dom, I’m prepared to refute every single claim by any hoaxicanian anywhere, no matter how daft or ditsy–if that’s what you all would like.
But first, what think ye of this quick and dirty stab? Does this do it in a nutshell? Want more? Have a few dozen more assertions to add to my list (I’ve heard some doozies)? Let me know. The more the merrier.
Moon hoax wackadoos have long complained that we couldn’t have gone to the moon because there are no stars in the pictures. It all had to have been shot on a sound stage. By idiots. Too stupid to think of the stars.
Right. Actually, prominent stars in the Apollo picture would have been suspicious. As anyone who’s ever played around with a camera at night can tell you, stars are only a little brighter than moon hoaxers. We went to the moon in the daytime. When you set a camera’s exposure to capture shiny spacecraft and smiling ‘nauts posing on a gleaming lunar surface, the stars kinds fade away. They ARE there, though, if you look for them.
As always, skepticism is healthy, paranoid delusion, less so. Have your own favorite example of moon hoaxican tripping over their own brains? Leave a comment and share.
Increasingly, I am asked by aspiring writers of various levels how they can improve their writing. This is a sufficiently common question, that warrants a sufficiently long answer, that I’ve decided to post the answer here for future reference.
How to improve your writing:
Join a critique group. No matter your skill level, the hardest thing for any writer to learn is to see through the eyes of readers. No writing book, course, or lecture can take the place of real live feedback from disinteres’.ted strangers looking at your work. Your local writers guild probably has a list of local groups in your area, or if you prefer, there are now many good online critique services. In addition, most good critique sites offer a host of forums and resources that can be invaluable to you.
I have tried and can recommend www.CritiqueCircle.com and www.Scribophile.com, both of which have free options. Critters is also a reputable service, though I found it less conducive to building relationships with critiquers and other writers. I can’t personally recommend Wattpad or Amazon’s WriteOn, as they seem to me too focused on the superficial, and I fear they may be designed to feed the fantasy of the aspirant more than to instill the skills of the serious writer.
Do not reply to critiquers to explain, justify, defend, or argue. Just say thanks move on. Learn to see the truth beneath the comment, even when the comment is wrong.
Read like a writer. Read a lot, especially award-winning work in and beyond your genre. Study these tales as instructional samples. Look at formatting and punctuation, especially dialogue and dialog attribution. Move on to pacing, tone, word use.
Some writing gurus advise reading bad prose in order to learn by counterexample. That’s a terrible idea. Humans learn by imitation, and until you have found your voice, you will tend to sound like whoever you just read, be it Tolstoy’s translator or Edward Bulwer-Lytton. You can, however, learn a great deal by studying the masters from an earlier age and cringing over their self-indulgences. Nathaniel Hawthorn, for example, had a knack for saying something wonderfully, then saying it again (wonderfully) and then again (also wonderfully). This isn’t the nineteenth century. We can’t get away with that anymore, but if we can just come up with one “wonderfully” at a time, we’re good.
Stop tying to impress. Beginning writers invariably overwrite. They fluff up their prose with fresh ten-gallon words and flowery description. They invert standard sentence order incessantly. They use metaphors that leave readers head scratching, and they use metaphors entirely too much. They try too hard to be philosophical, to pull at the heart, to be dark and obscure and literary. Knock it off. Relax. Tell a good story. Make it clear. The rest will come with practice.
Look for the “Telling Detail.” Beginners, lacking confidence, often bury their story under the weight of unnecessary and often repetitive detail. Learn to recognize the one or two key details—in a setting, character, conversation, etc.—that implies everything else the reader needs to know. Better to give one bit of description that implies character and mood, say, than to spell out all three in long winded prose.
Master the basics. Become an expert on grammar, usage, punctuation, manuscript formatting, and vocabulary. As a writer, you will often break the rules, but you can only do so confidently and cogently if you know what they are in the first place. And by the way, many of the rules you were likely taught in elementary school are simply wrong. Often, they were contrived to steer students away from common sources of confusion. Learn those sources and avoid them—and learn when to ignore those sorts of rules.
Six Top Lesson From Winning Writers Of the Future
This is an offer from C Stuart Hardwick, not an advertiser. Your email will never be spammed or sold.
- Zen Comma – David Bowman
- On Writing Well – William Zinsser
- A Writer’s Reference – Diana Hacker
- The Hodges Harbrace Handbook
- Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Browne & King
Do not for a moment think you can rely on a grammar checker, or tools like Grammarly or Autocrit/Procrit. These can be helpful learning aids. They flag what they think are errors, and you research to decide whether they are right or not. Once you master the basics, you’ll find these tools are no longer almost ever right, and then you don’t need them any more.
Don’t accept shortcuts. The late Christopher Hitchens was fond of saying he reckoned “everyone has one book in him….and in the great majority of cases, that’s just where it should remain.” If you want to write as a hobby, that’s fine. It’s great therapy, a sort of thematic extended diary. No one wants to see that, but that’s okay. Meanwhile, there are frankly more aspiring writers than the world has need of. A great many spend an inordinate amount of time complaining that their chosen pariahs (agents, editors, purchasers, publishers, name-brand bookstoors, the public, “gatekeepers,” etc. are conspiring to keep their voice from being heard. Well this is nonsense. All those people make money by getting great works into the public’s hands. They want you to be great. And for many writers today, the greatest threat to eventual greatness is the impatient unwillingness to invest in their craft. Don’t be one of the whiners.You have little control of luck and taste, so focus on what you do control, attitude and industry.
Which leads me too…if you are really serious about writing…
Write a million critiqued words. No kidding. Ten long novels worth of your best effort, edited and polished, critiqued and revised, and most of it tossed in the forever file. That’s what it takes.
Dave Farland, first reader and lead judge for the Writers of the Future contest talks about “confident writing” as the ineffable divide between professional quality work and “not there yet.” I can’t explain what Dave means by “confident writing” any better than he can, but I understand it perfectly. Read sparkling pro-quality stories until you see it, and then you know what you’re shooting for.
What do you think? Have a good resource I should add? Want to suggest another tip? Leave a comment and let me know.
Yesterday, I posted about my adventurous emergency wifi replacement. Today, the last puzzle piece fell in place.
You might recall that I write at a treadmill desk. You might even recall–if you’re a stalker of some sort–that I don’t use the wifi on the Dell Inspirion All-in-One computer mounted to the treadmill. The Qualcomm Atheros AR9485 wireless network adapter in this machine is universally reviled and, when packed inside the radio-noise infested confines of the All-In-One computer, it’s utter garbage.
Seriously, Dell. What were you thinking?
So, for the last couple of years since I set this puppy up, I’ve had it connected via Cat5 Ethernet cable to my old Linksys WRT-G wireless router, running an opensource firmware that lets me use it as a wireless repeater. That works well except that there is something wrong with the Linksys WRT-G, and not just with mine. Something causes it to drop connections and loose its DNS mind several times a week. This was why I replaces it as my wifi router to start with, and to my amazement, the firmware overhaul had no effect whatever on the problem. So..a week ago I got fed up with the frequent rebooting and ordered myself a new Amped REC15A Wireless AC range extender:
I choose this little dude for one simple reason: it has a cat5 connection. It’s also handy that it plugs right into the wall, so no shelf space is needed. The extender is simplicity itself. You plug it in, tell it how to connect to your network, and it broadcasts its own dual-band wireless ac networks that more distance devices can connect to. Nice, if you need that.
I turned the extended wireless off. All I want is the cat5 cable connection to my treadmill workstation. Done.
So here are the results on my new network:
using the Dell’s crappy built-in wifi through the new Netgear 4X AC router: 0.15Mbps
using the Dell All-in-one through the WRT-G as a repeater: 5.8Mbps
using the Dell’s built-in wifi through the Amped extender wifi network: 5.8 Mbps
using Cat5 cable through the Amped as repeater: 28.8 Mbps average
And using my little chromebook running xubuntu over the Netgear’s AC wifi? Up to 56Mbps!
Apparently, Netgear routers work on sorcery. My cable connection is only 10Mbps.
So that’s sorted, then.