Writing Experimental Science Fiction: Experimenting with Time, Space, and Trust

Writing Experimental Science Fiction: Experimenting with Time, Space, and Trust

Experimental fiction is pretty self-explanatory in theory…except when it is not, and that is where I’ve found myself as I’ve begun a short piece that is totally unlike my usual fair. In the world of self-publishing being able to categorize and understand the possible audience for your story is key to unlocking marketing practices that most benefit you. Outside of that world being able to explain you story whether to potential readers, to workshops, to agents, or to yourself can be incredibly important in coming to understand what your fiction gives in terms of knowledge, entertainment, or even just understanding how it’s experimental. So not knowing what to call your story can be a real kick in the nards. So how do we come to begin unlocking what your story is? We start with a story. I’ll use my current work as an example, not because I am the authority but because you need to understand where I’m coming from first.

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The core elements of fiction are plot, character, and point of view. Often, experimental fiction takes a radical approach to these. Ex: A story titled After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned by Dave Eggers utilizes first-person point of view, but the first-person point of view belongs to a dog!

I didn’t intend to write the story, but somehow it spilled out of me when I had been experimenting with Written Kitten a site you can type stories into and assign certain goal posts to reward you with images of kittens or puppies (and one scantily clad 3D rendering of a lady someone accidentally tagged into the photo album the site uses)

Three hours later I had written the key components of a story that blurred science fiction with fantasy, and engaged in metaphysical visionary fiction. At the time I didn’t know if the last genre existed for certain, but apparently it does. It has it’s own wiki page and everything. I don’t know exactly where this story came from but as we speak I’ve taken a break from editing my CampNaNo novel to work on this book by writing this post. How does this help me? Well it’s more like how this conversation can help you?

How do we begin understanding our experimental fiction in order to begin learning how to describe it?

I tend to look at stories as integrated parts.

The Heart (the characters)

The Brain (the plot)

The Muscle (the obstacles surrounding those things)

The Skin (The set dressing/mood)

All of these come together in unique ways to tell your story, and how you begin to understand how they fit makes a difference in continuing to write your story, improve through edits, and enticing people. It is what you put down and how those things come together that define your story best.

The Heart of my story, Mind and Frost, are Daniella and Kenda, two Mentalists in a world were those with telepathic and psychic powers are viewed as suspicious especially Kenda whose powers have caused incredible heartache in the past. Their desires are mutual in one respect because they desire to be together, but what that means and how are constrained by the muscle and brain of the book. This aspect of the heart gives it a sweeter and more romantic edge…but how Kenda and Daniella interact is what has pushed me away from categorizing the book as a straight romance.

51ljfrbb4dl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Now here is the critical part, and something I think people often forget in talking about genre, which is there are aspects of every genre in most fiction. People I know who say “I can’t stand romances” often still like romances in fiction, but they don’t like the manifestation of romance in the romance genre. A good friend of mine has told me he can’t stand science fiction books that lean towards the space opera genre, but he absolutely adores the use of technology and plot in The Windup Girl.    The story is certainly not a space opera, but it has many of the same elements from warring factions to questions of humanity and survival. Yet for him the differences make all the difference just within that genre, and separate the two. How you use an element like romance and how the relationship is conducted should be useful in determining what your story is.

In my story, Mind and Frost, the couple has many theoretical conversations about the nature of existence, as well as, their own semi-imprisoned state and relationship to their doctors/caretakers. This goes beyond what is normally within the romance genre that readers have come to expect.Even in terms of language their interactions differ in basic ways. What is real to them is something outside of what you and I have been taught to conceive of. Time itself is different for them as in their dreams capes they struggle to differentiate between present and past.

While I’ll be sure to highlight the love story as a key component of the book I’ll avoid using the word romance to describe what Mind and Frost is for kindle marketing purposes. However, the key nature of their relationship is what drives the book, so I may in this blog and elsewhere describe the book as “Metaphysical romance” or “Romantic Science Fantasy”.

So what of the brain and muscle? By the time we meet them they’re in love, but Kenda is in a medically induced coma and their doctor fears her interacting with his dreams will cause him to wake up in a traumatic and destructive way. This forms the Muscle, and this muscle can be flexed melodramatically with Daniella weeping over their being apart; dramatically with her screaming at their doctor to have a heart and free him; or as I’ve chosen to handle it with a dry cynicism on her part. Kenda, not accepting of his fate now that he’s found love and finally realizing regardless the stories he’d told about freedom were lies, ceases to expect much but remains hopeful towards something else. How the heart responds to the muscle is what drives the actions of the brain. Random nerves fire between all these organs and the brain regulates it all by giving structure and guidelines.

In my work I have begun using questions to help guide thematic development once I’m past chapter two, which ultimately helps me understand what I am writing. The questions themselves can sit beside the short explanations of the plot as quick ways to tell you what your book should be about.

images (3)In Mind and Frost the brain is concerned with the question of both “what will you do to be free, and can you be free while bound by the customs and norms around you?” and “Can you be devoted to someone or something and still claim to free?” More simplified the brain is Freedom with a capital F. It isn’t in the context of just love or just a relationship. Because the relationship merely functions as a way to better understand those questions, I won’t call it’s genre primarily romance. Instead this makes it drift towards speculative fiction.

For your story the brain may be concerned with coming of age in a hostile environment, “Can we live a good life and still say we want to change”, or the meaning of privacy. It could simply be that you have two factions warring over territory and what it means to survive. All of this comprises the brain as you tie each scene together, coincidentally it also drives the heart and develops it thus forcing the other muscles–barriers, obstacles, incentives, and wants– to move as well.

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cosmic coz 51 kba: The Left Hand of Darkness Protagonists

Dr. Cohen-Sloane, Kenda and Daniella’s doctor and perhaps antagonist, function in ways deeply tied to questions of both spiritual and scientific importance. He questions his ethics, and so do his patients. The world is turning on Mentalists and he is responding to it while still trying to preserving his life and late-wife’s work, which forces this couple to respond. The brain, questions of spirituality/love/freedom, happen in the context of that plot. They get the muscles moving.

Much of the story’s design evokes some of what I loved about Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness in that the science fiction elements are grounded not with marvelous wonder or trepidation, but with the practical eyes of people we would recognize in our lives. In fact Le Guin, somewhat of an experimental via speculative fiction, manages to provide insight in a society without true gender and uses elements of psychology and social understanding to create not just science fiction, but truly speculative and feminist science fiction. The brain of Left Hand is distinctive, challenging gender and cultural absolutism within the context of this complex and rich relationship that is in this conflict ridden world where trust is hard to come by. The government officials using Genly Air and Estraven as pawns in a greater game are muscles, pulling and constraining, as much as the differences arising out of the heart(the character’s backgrounds and existences) are.

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And let’s wrap it up with one of the hardest and easiest aspects of figuring out just what the hell you’re creating…the set dressing and mood, which make up the skin in this analogy. The skin is an organ, binding everything inside like a nice package. For literature, this isn’t just the cover, but time period, the world you’ve chosen, the class/ethnicity/etc of the world’s characters, and also the style you’ve chosen to write with. Very few true romances begin with the same set up as a grisly murder in a romance novel. You can easily experiment with that, but that’s the general rule of thumb. What sort of skin does your story have?

Are the characters prone to brooding and the atmosphere echoes that? Do scenes often feature cramped corridors or evoke a sense of being trapped? Do you go into detail describing cotton fields and hot southern Louisiana summer days in the year 1910? How you construct the world of your story and the type of world you construct work with all those other parts to more clearly define what your story is even if it is experimental or an unconventional book or unconventional short story.
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So often people will say that figuring out genre is the easiest thing in the world, but non-traditional or genre blurring stories don’t have it so easy. I’ve even been told by an experienced author that if a person doesn’t have a set genre they may as well put the book aside or publish it under an alternative pen name. Yet I think we can find a happy medium between saying “just experimental” and perhaps misnaming our book’s genres, but taking the time to dissect the body of our work. Ironically that may just give it the most life.

Disagreements? Questions? Comments? I’d truly love to hear your thoughts below.!

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The Dancer’s Body

The Dancer’s Body

The Dancer’s body,

Is shaped by movement and desire,
Whether Skinny and swanlike,
Or fuller than the night’s sky and full,
Of stars,
The dancer is living movement captured,
In flesh,

The old dancer’s body,
Pinched and wrinkled like a well loved,
Muscle should be,
Never forgets its movements,
Their limbs still flow with the music,
Even as memory lapses into,
Glittering dust and atoms,

The dancer’s body,
When it is young is a hopping,
Jubilant thing,
It’s movements stronger than what any can sing,
Uncontained, svelt, large, spinning around,
Taking charge by simply being,
Round tummy or smooth,
Long or squat,
Comfortable with all movements,
Or just a few the body moves.

The body moves.

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Black men dancing, soaring like kings of the heavens.

 

The Bestiary and Life of SVX99: Part One

The Bestiary and Life of SVX99: Part One

Luna. That is what they named the colony on SVX99, a robust planet known for its silver and grey flora which were the diets of equally robust fauna. Instead of insects as Earthborn knew them there were these butterfly sized birds with wings with as many colors as the human eye could see. They’d nip the pollen from the plants with snouts, tongues, beaks, or suckers of all kinds and would drop them as they went. There were actual butterflies and moths, massive, but Dr. BJ Martinez had proved they were mamlian and at the time had theorized they were simply a bird varient. There were seven legged exceptionally tall creatures with silver backs and black legs, which were somewhere between the noble elk and the adorably goofy giraffe. They had a habit of trying to eat human tints, and ate these lavender bushes that seemed to grow everywhere from the mountains to the snowyplains far down south. I’d see all of them during my stay, and I intended to see many more, but there was one I was quite fond of.

My favorite was the Dalaxia, named for its discoverers Mia Dalan and Joon Xia, it resembled a moomin type creature. It’s medium sized hippo like body had large floppy ears on the side of its head and then another set of multi-directional hippo like ears on top. There round faces had many whiskers and their swatting tails were beaver like. They were the first creatures I saw, and though I’d been instructed to stay in the camp to merely document their habits before being escorted to Luna. Perhaps it was because we were the first ship in range, or perhaps it was because we’d brought food, but within 30 minutes the Dalaxia had begun inspecting the camp. They ate a whole canister of economy sized dried green beans, two sugar filled canisters, and one baby Dalaxia befriended Captain Edgar’s dog Maxine. The baby kept making these whimpering and honking noises until poor old Maxine had to indulge it and they ran around for what seemed to poor Maxine to be hours. The old girl kept looking back at me like “Are we done yet? This youngin is making grandma tired”. The sixty of us must have looked quite comical as we handled these creatures.

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Moomin

I could not put pen to paper, or pen to tablet of course…I was too busy laughing as Dalaxians began trying to sniff each of us, and mouth our hands. The beasts were almost unnaturally gentle, and reminded me of the seals make-a-wish took me to see before my miraculous recovery. The seals had surrounded me, and seemed to sense exactly the right amount of play I could endure. One simply decided to lay on my tummy, and another tried to share its frozen fish Popsicle with me. The handlers had laughed and said I must have a way about me. I didn’t know what that meant back then. Even on SVX99 I didn’t know.

Really I didn’t know why I was there, or why I had signed up for the four year long mission. There was no tragic backstory though plenty of my friends died on Earth, but that was to be expected. My first love died too. Maybe that’s tragic. We had the same problem, chronic asthma due to a degenerate environment. Earth’s atmosphere was too thick for our lungs and laden with fumes and particulates. As a little girl a breath for me felt like swallowing both cinnamon and broken shrapnel; lungs would be filled, corked, choked, and I’d imagine new holes forming, arteries being torn asunder. My chest would expand and I’d be ravaged by pain my childlike mind could not process. At 14 I still could not, and Dylan would sit in my room with me during my attacks and we’d be lost together. It was the best of the worst time. We weren’t the strong ones, and we couldn’t adapt. Maybe that was the sad or tragic part to some, but “that’s just been how its been” as my father would say.

My life was one of millions, and only significant in my sudden recovery from both the slow cancer discovered shortly after my asthma was diagnosed as terminal. I was just a glorified documentarian really; good at drawing, describing, and with some training in both anthropology and biology. Yet it didn’t take training to figure out the Dalaxians enjoyed head pats and side tummy rubs.

I stood in the center of a ring of sniffing snorting Dalaxians, trying to make sure snot didn’t get on my face as one unceremoniously sniffed my hair.

“Aren’t you friendly?” I laughed.

“They are very curious creatures,” Captain Edgar said, giving a large old Dalaxia a solid head pat. The Dalaxia had a large scar across its front leg, rather odd sense they had no known predators and we certainly didn’t intend on becoming any. “They’ve been watching the camp and colony every time I come back.”

The Dalaxia sniffing my head suddenly dragged its long tongue up my cheek, leaving sweet sticky saliva, and I shuddered. It must have been one of the ones to eat a sugar canister. Three small babies popped up from between their mother’s legs and began sniffing my knees and hands before I could wipe off the stickiness. I suspect the big Dalaxia who’d licked me used that act to signal I was ok because the youngsters began to gently butt my thighs.

“They want you to play with them,” Captain Edgar said.

“Do they now? Do they do this with everyone?”

“No, but they do it with people who meet their exacting standards like Maxine” He pointed to his dog, barking and yapping as an adolescent Dalaxian began to head butt the other before rolling onto the ground submissively at Maxine. Maxine licked its face and the Dalaxian licked back. MAxine’s tail wagged and the Dalaxian’s did the same.

“How can they speak the same language when they’re galaxies apart in development?”

“I suppose because they’re a lot better than we are. We can barely understand our selves let alone each other,” Captain edgar suddenly pulled a handful of edamame from his vest pocket and fed the Dalaxian. “I met this fellow when he was just a young bull trying to impress the ladies. He stole a whole canister and rolled it to lady after lady. The first simply wasn’t interested-”

“The second was probably insulted,” I said,  patting the Dalaxians heads softly one after another, as though I were learning to play bongos. “No girl wants another’s bouquet. It’s like being an after thought…though personally for dinner I’d make an exception”

Part One End.

I love old descriptions of creatures and places. It’s a required taste, but its so exciting and adventurous even in the meticulous detail. I think I’ll try painting some of these scenes or at least drawing some doodles for next time. Also I love hippos…they’re great.

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How to Love a Man.

How to Love a Man.

How to Love a Man,
I do not know,
But I know how I try,
So let me try to help you,

You love a man,
When he’s too busy to check his phone,
By reminding yourself he just fell into the zone,
That you’re just looking for,
Or to make,
A show,
And the feeling of suffocation,
Gives you a youthful rosy glow,
When he feels like it,

You love a man,
By patching up his pride,
With patience,
By keeping hope alive,
Swallow your frustration,
And wait for that pin to drop,
Because he’ll either destroy himself within,
Or pop.

You love a man,
Why?
Why do you love a man?
Because he’ll drive you mad,
Hell make your rhyming scheme turn bad,
He’ll make you need and want and more,
And always he could go out the door,
You’ll wrap each other in insecurities,
And you’ll think of hanging from a tree,
He’ll say stop,
And you’ll say go,
And then he’ll treat you like a ho,
And then you’ll like it,
Yes, you’ll see,
When he holds you close or lets you be,
You’ll want to stop and do not know,
Where the hell you’ll fucking go,
When he doesn’t treat you like a ho,
When he makes room for you,

And tries to show he likes you, loves, you
“Don’t you know?”
He’s crazy about you and you’ll go
“Love me slow,”
And, yes, he’ll do it.
Yes I know,
I’ve lived it twice,
I’ve been let go,
And you’ll like it, patience or no,
And you’ll take whatever to go with the flow,
And just so you know
That is how you love a modern man,
With your time,
With your hands,
With your mind,
With all that makes you good and kind…
And then you’ll love a man.

On Black Cops in America: From a Daughter

On Black Cops in America: From a Daughter

In light of recent events I wanted to take the time to talk about my father, a former police officer, and a black man in the United States of America. Over and over again I hear the same resistance, and the same arguments. I hear blanket attacks on cops, reflecting passion and the same blanket offenses. To me these are understandable reactions, but there is one question that cuts through both in many ways…”What are the experiences of black cops, of black men who work public safety as more than just a bouncer?”. Another way of wording this question: “Does being a cop protect you from other cops?”. When these officers take off their uniforms do they get treated like other black folk do? I’ve known an officer of the law since I was born, and that officer taught me repeatedly that no matter what people will see your skin color before they see anything else about you. Black folk have to prove a world educated in anti-blackness wrong, so we work twice as hard to get just as far and do everything everyone says we should do. Some of us grow up to work in law enforcement, the military,  public service…but when has that stopped us from getting killed or injured? When has that stopped people from assuming the worst of black people and fearful of black bodies?

I don’t know, but I do know this…my father was a black man before he every put on a badge and that badge didn’t change his color.

People talk about cops like somehow being one erases blackness, and while there obviously some very vocal cops who think that way (of all colors) my siblings and I were taught how wrong that was by watching and listening to our father. He was a cop from 1972 to 1990, worked contracted security (Nascar tracks and other places), he worked for the county sheriff from the late 90s to the earlier 2000s, and now he works security for the federal government. That’s 45 years of combined security and safety work from D.C to North Carolina and back. He always liked to have two things on the car…a sticker indicating he was a retired police officer and a free mason symbol. My dad is one of those guys who loves repping his teams so to speak. He still has an old Cowboys jacket we got him for Christmas over a decade ago because of it (and sentiment). But one day not too long ago, soon after he got his new truck, he told me that the reason he always had those emblems on our cars was that he was a black man in America.

No one was going to stop and ask if he was a “safe black man”, no one was going to assume he had his gun because he was a former officer, no one was going to assume he had a gun because he was a lawful citizen, and even as a member of the NRA my father knew they wouldn’t do shit for a black man whose rights were infringed. After all he knew his history. He knew what pushed gun laws and reeled in the NRA was black people with guns stating they had a right to defend themselves, and defend themselves from injustices committed under white supremacy. He knew the internal racism of police departments, of which black. latinx, and other minority officers thought they could join the old boys club by being just as or harder on blacks and latinxs. He’s seen other retired and active cops be yelled at by white officers while trying to assist potentially different situations. He’s been stopped between NC and D.C, and god knows where else and questioned about why he needs a gun by white officers who have literally refused to accept he was an officer in another state or D.C.

He knows being a black police officer will not protect him, or afford him the immediate response of kinship other lighter officers may receive. He was a black man in America long before he was cop, and very few officers raised in a racist society taught by an institution dripping in current and historical racism will automatically assume he is someone who protected the public. These days they may see an older black man, and maybe his age will protect him, but that’s if they look at his face. These days they may see the patches on his favorite vest and see he has some ties to law enforcement, but they have to get close enough to see it. These days my dad knows that his smart and sarcastic son and his bright anxiety filled daughter are too old to automatically get a sympathy (not empathy) from an accosting officer from dropping “Oh my father was a cop” in conversation.

Over my relatively short life I learned all sorts of things from my father both good and bad, both things he meant to teach and not. He’s mellowed in his old age. The man who once said don’t bring a white boy home, smiles warmly at my white boyfriend and enjoys taking the both of us out to eat (If you’re reading I could go for a steak soon by the way, daddy, or an Eddie Leonard’s fish sandwich in the near future). He tells us about the supreme court justices and judges he protects. Nothing much just that they are nice and funny people. We talk about the news and politics a lot more these days. He can’t stand that Sheriff Clark, and says most black officers he’s known can’t either. Every time his face comes on the TV “I can’t stand him” or sometimes “That Tomming asshole”. It usually makes me laugh cause he’ll stop talking and get this sour look on his face, and even interrupt our other conversation. Now sometimes he’s even nice and listens to him talk to reporters, essentially say all black people but him are liars(including other black officers with differing opinions), and that asking for justice reform means you hate cops because apparently demanding them to be accountable is too much. Daddy will roll his eyes, say “Please” while rolling his eyes, grab the remote, and usually turns it something else. Sometimes QVC, but more often the History Channel.

It’s funny to remember that daddy used to be one of those rare creatures, the illusive black republican, a phase my mother still groans about. I can remember that phase too and it was eerily adjacent to his bolo tie and cowboy hat phase. Even then he couldn’t stand officers like Clark, blacks who didn’t just have an opinion(that’s their right), but who silenced other officers and repeatedly were paraded by white higher ups like a willing praised poodle. Why? Because they always claimed there were no problems, that the police needed uncritical support, and that if other blacks just “did right” things would change.

These officers of color say they integrated and flew right, when really they just assimilated, and began believing they were special snowflakes while other blacks were brainwashed and ignorant. They keep their mouths shut when they see injustice, or don’t see the injustice at all because they believe they’re cops first. Hell some of them believe with their white wives/husbands, their pats on the back, and their willingness to readily agree with white officers that their uniform is the only protection they need out in the world. After all they assimilated into white culture, and feel successful under white supremacy. They have their opinions, and consider every other black officer is uninformed. That is their right(and a dangerous one), but when they come out of the side of their mouths and begin to say that all police officers everywhere leave racism at the door? When they say that in light of internal emails, texts and more from fellow officers cracking jokes about black people, our black former president and first family, and about other black officers? No, they say, nothing is wrong. All those racists disappeared when they came along. Much like all those grinning white folk you see in lynching pictures they vanished and turned off every racist comment, belief, conversation and lesson. They’re not anyone’s superiors, teachers, parents, friends, and family. No, to Sheriff Clark and his ilk police officers are without racism or justified in it. So holding cops to a higher standard to ensure they protect everybody isn’t needed, and cops protect all other cops no matter what because racism doesn’t affect justice. We know this isn’t the case, a fact reinforced by the Philando Castile verdict by that officer’s non-sensical words. Justice isn’t and has never been colorblind. Justice isn’t and has never ignored ethnicity. Justice isn’t and has never ignored gender, sexuality, or plain old personality. I wish that was the case, but unlike these officers of color and white officers my family, my play-uncles, play-aunties, friends, etc. can’t afford to pretend it does. Maybe if you get on TV every time your superiors need a cop-friendly brown face you can, but I don’t know many cops like that.

To my father and to me when they say that nothing is wrong in light of entire police departments all over this country being 70% to 90% white with an exceedingly disproportionate arrest rate for blacks and latinx, when crime rates are so deeply skewed because of an inability to pay bail, when again and again black people young and old are murdered regardless of whether they listen to an officer, employ their right to bare arms, or are a cop themselves…they are choosing to believe that they are exceptional black people because they have done everything right, because they disagree, because they’re cops and no cop ever threatens, harasses, or shoots black cops without cause right?

Tell that to the officer shot in St. Louis.

In April 2015 I went to protest in Baltimore in a march I’m 90% certain you didn’t see because it was one of the many peaceful marches in 2015 where reporters stood around looking irritated by how peaceful it was. I chanted for reform in police departments, that black lives mattered, told people that I wondered about having kids because I didn’t know if I could take it if they were as dark as me and they came into a path of a officer whose first instinct was to assume they were dangerous criminals. I marched because I believe in justice and because I care about the black community. I marched because I love black officers, and know their lives and jobs would be better without entrenched racisms. Citizens who want change and believe in the better natures of their people, while still knowing the worst, get involved anyway they can in changing society.

I didn’t tell my parents about the protest. They’d worry, and when they found out…they were more than surprised to say the least. Despite that daddy was proud because he spent years telling his children that black lives did matter and that we couldn’t trust the world to see it. We had to make the world see it. We had to be willing to fight, to be both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and learn the lesson he taught us without ever having to say it:

You’re black long before you are ever anything else.