Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Christine Amsden has been writing science fiction and fantasy for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a condition that effects the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams.

Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. They have two children, Drake and Celeste.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Christine! Have you always been a fan of science fiction?

Oh yes! The first story I ever wrote, at the age of seven or eight, involved Cabbage Patch Dollars going to Mars. I liked aliens, the future, magic, witches, and anything strange or unusual. As a teenager, I had a crush on Wesley Crusher. My favorite books were A Wrinkle in Time and The Chronicles of Narnia.

When did you decide you wanted to become a novelist?

This was never something I decided, it’s just a part of me, something I have to do. I could no more not write than not breathe, and novels are my natural style. I like to spend time with stories, getting to know them, and so while I have written and read a few short stories here and then, I vastly prefer novels.

Tell us about your novel, The Immortality Virus.

The Immortality Virus is a far-future science fiction novel that asks: “What if the entire human race stopped aging?” It takes place in 2450, four centuries after The Change (when humans stopped aging), and tells the story of a blacklisted P.I. named Grace who is hired to find the man who caused The Change – if he’s still alive. There’s action, mystery, and a sprinkling of romance to help brighten the darkness of an otherwise dystopian novel.

What was your inspiration for it?

The Immortality Virus didn’t come to me in a burst of inspiration. I started out with the idea that I wanted to write a science fiction novel (I had just finished a paranormal novel and wanted to try something a little different), and then started doing a random search on Wikipedia. The search led me to the article on DNA, which helped me recall something I’d read about a genetic source for aging, which led me to more articles, and after about a week of reading and researching, it all came together in my mind: Someone released a virus that altered the human genome in such a way that we no longer aged.

After that, things came together fairly quickly. I got into characters (which is where I usually start, to be honest), world building, and I wrote an exploratory draft. Grace came to life as I started writing, as if she had always been inside of me and we were just waiting to be introduced.

How did you create the dystopian world in your story?

It all started with a what if: What if the entire human race stopped aging? I didn’t set out to write a dystopian novel, although I clearly realize that is what I did, but rather to consider the actual consequences of something that we (the human race) has always wanted. How long have we searched for the Fountain of Youth, both literally and figuratively? The current popularity of vampire novels is, I think, largely about the draw of immortality. And maybe it would be exciting, to be one among many, watching history move, but what if it were all of us? Would history even move very quickly, without the natural momentum of birth, growth, and death?

After that, I went back and outlined a social and political history, focusing on the Unitd States, from the time of The Change (in about 2050) to the time of the novel (2450). Much of this did not end up in the book, but having the information clear in my mind helped me to realize the world of the story.

What makes your protagonist special?

Grace is a strong woman – touch, determined, and smart – but inside, she’s vulnerable. She often sees the world through a cynnic’s eyes, and yet she stops to help those in need, grumbling the entire time. She truly cares, but is afraid there’s really no such thing as love, especially when forever is truly put to the test.

What is your greatest challenge when writing science fiction?

My greatest challenge changes as I grow as a writer. When I wrote The Immortality Virus, my greatest challenge was action sequences. I spent many hours with my husband, coreographing them with him, and acting them out, to aid in the believability. (My husband being well-versed in marshall arts.) The experience helped me a lot, though, and I now feel much more confident writing those same scenes.

What is your writing and editing process like?

So far, it has been different for each book I have written. I’m not sure if I learn something each time, or if I just have to mix it up to keep things interesting.

Lately, I’ve decided that the trick to writing is to listen to that voice inside my head telling me something isn’t right and not just bash my way through a story that isn’t working. Writer’s block means something is wrong, and if I stop to fix it, I have much better success.

Editing is difficult for me, especially because I have to blow up my screen to a hugely large font so I can catch those obnoxious errors the word processor missed. I take it slowly, one chapter at a time, going through twice for content, once for style, and once for grammar and spelling. With all but the first content run, I put all the chapter numbers in a hat and pick them out one at a time, to help me keep things interesting.

How long did it take you, from idea to final draft, to complete the novel?

I first dreamed up the idea in the summer of 2006, at which point I wrote a novella-length story that I always knew needed to be a novel. I spent most of the next year working on other projects, including the promotion of my debut novel, Touch of Fate, then I picked it back up in the summer of 2007. I wrote a full draft that summer, then once again, worked on other things until August of 2008, when I finally wrote the last draft. This was something of a summer project because I was involved with a summer critique group for a while. All together, if I carve out the times I set it aside to work on other things, I probably spent 9-12 months on it, but as you can see, the math isn’t all that simple. 🙂

What advice would you give to aspiring SF authors?

Writers write! (For more details, visit my blog. I have weekly tips for writers there.)

Thanks, Christine!

Thank you for having me!

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Today on The Dark Phantom I have a wonderful guest post by Mark H. Phillips, author of The Resqueth Revolution. To promote his science fiction book, Phillips is touring the blogosphere this March. This post pertains to the second part of his article. To read the first part, visit Write First, Clean Later.

How to Write Exciting Action Scenes – Part 2 of 2

Today we continue our discussion with the second rule of action writing: do your research and make sure the details are convincing. Do you know the difference between a roundhouse and a spinning back fist? What’s the difference between a side snap kick and a hook kick? How does one use a kubotan or a manriki-charlottegusari? How much different does the recoil feel between a 9 mm Luger and a Smith & Weston .500 caliber revolver? While personal experience is the best research, you can absorb a wealth of convincing detail from the Internet, gun and sports magazines, watching action films, reading action novels, and watching real mayhem such as martial arts, boxing, and even pro wrestling.

This brings us to our third and last rule. For those of you out there who have been spared the awful curse of testosterone poisoning or for those of you who have fully absorbed the civilizing influences of culture, writing action scenes may mean deliberately and meticulously pondering feelings that you will find repellent in the extreme. It seems, to many of us, both counterintuitive and morally wrong that our audience desperately craves to know what it’s like to slam the edge of your foot hard enough into someone’s kneecap for it to snap. Why would anyone, except a psychopath, revel in the opponent’s screams as his shattered leg folds beneath him? The third rule of action writing, at least writing about violent confrontations, is that you must open yourself to bloodlust. I doubt anyone can write consistently arousing pornography who feels no arousal when they write. I doubt anyone can write consistently convincing villains unless they have opened themselves, at least temporarily, to truly evil thoughts and feelings. You can compose jazz without feeling much of anything, but only those who have felt deep, dark anguish and pain have ever written quality blues. I doubt anyone can write consistently exciting action scenes involving violent confrontation without feeling bloodlust.

Without opening yourself to your inner bloodlust you still may be able to write convincing chase scenes or fights against natural disasters, but writing about violence, including violent action, requires being open to bloodlust. This is true, even if your first person protagonist explicitly rejects the bloodlust within her, feeling appalled at the carnage she reluctantly must mete out. You, the writer, had to dwell on the carnage and your reader will lap up the details of it with relish. Many of you cannot watch boxing, nor understand the avid fascination of its fans. But if you were going to hire someone to write about a boxing match, wouldn’t you hire an expert who was both literate and an avid fan?

While writing action, remember the three rules. Imagine you are witnessing the action in real life or a movie and try to capture every necessary detail. Slow everything down so your reader has the time to become caught up in those details, while making your prose as “ripped” ands lean as possible. Do your research so the details are either accurate or convincing. And with violent confrontational action, access your suppressed bloodlust. If you can’t become excited by the action you are writing, I doubt your reader will either. Learn to like action. Come over to the Dark Side.

Here is an action scene from the next entry in the Eva Baum detective series, The Golden Key, written with my brilliant co-author and lovely wife Charlotte Phillips. I’ve actually considerably condensed and simplified it, eliminating about half the protagonists/antagonists. In the finished work, this fight with a prefight setup and postfight wrap up constitutes an entire chapter.

I dragged myself off the pavement and stood. I staggered as the asphalt below me seemed to roll and tilt wildly. The boy who had thrown the heavy chunk of curb laughed as he emerged from the hedge on my right. His voice was a cruel growl. “For such a little bitch she can take a hit.”

The two who had faced me originally congratulated him on his throw. They were the St. Thomas jocks I had fingered for the police as the gay basher source of the threats to Chaps. A wave of nausea and pain washed through me leaving me shivering in a cold sweat. I knew the night breeze was cool, but it felt warm on my skin. I spit out a mouthful of blood along with some fragments of teeth.

The largest boy, Unibrow, slapped his baseball bat against the palm of his other hand while his comrades moved to surround me. Despite my nausea I slowly turned to watch the others. Slackjaw held an ax handle like a samurai sword. Good posture; perhaps some martial arts training? He looked the most nervous of the bunch, glancing constantly to Unibrow for moral support and directions. Mouthbreather, the one who had clocked me with the chunk of curb now had a crowbar in each meaty hand and was nearly skipping in place, rolling his shoulders, trying to stay loose but also jacked up on something.

I centered myself, controlling my breath, lowering my body into a horse stance. I flicked the catch on the ‘jewelry’ wrapped around my right forearm. The weighted ball fell into my palm as the 10-foot steel chain of the manriki-gusari unwound. I made sure that its inner slipknot loop was tight around my wrist. With my left hand I pulled the kubotan free from the string around my neck. Grasped firmly in my left fist, its fat blunt steel spike projected below the base of my fist and the two thinner spikes projected between my clenched fingers.

By the time they charged I had entered the zone Sensei was always talking about. No time for thought or fear—just act. I threw the ball sidearm, letting the chain unwind, practically sensing Unibrow’s nose pulling the ball towards it. I heard bone shatter and saw blood fly as Unibrow staggered back. The bat fell to the pavement as his hands clawed at his face.

I jerked the chain back and caught the ball high in my left hand, rising instinctively into a cat stance. With the loops of chain pulled taught between my hands I blocked Slackjaw’s downward slash, diverting his rush to my right and throwing him off balance. When he extended his right leg forward to keep himself from falling I slammed the edge of my right foot into the side of his knee. There was a wet popping as his knee folded sideways, followed by a hideous high-pitched scream. The scream cut off instantly as I whipped the weight and loops of chain against the side of his head.

I rolled behind Slackjaw’s crumpled form, then slid left, trying to put Slackjaw between me and Mouthbreather. Mouthbreather chose to leap over his fallen comrade. He stretched himself into a half-moon, feet trailing, with both crowbars far over and behind his head, pelvis and belly thrust forward. I planted my right foot and threw my whole body towards him. My left foot locked into place under my forward knee in a classic deep front stance. I channeled all my forward momentum into my left arm, twisting it as it lashed out. The thin spikes of the kubotan tore through the flesh just above where Mouthbreather’s left leg met his torso. Steel met pelvic bone just as my arm locked into place. I was unmovable. I felt the pelvic bone shatter as he folded around my fist. The crowbars went flying to clatter down the street. His left knee just brushed my left cheek. He fell mewling onto Slackjaw.

Unibrow had found his bat and returned to the fray. I backed him up with short-loop figure eights, and then pirouetted to extend the last loop low. The chain wrapped his feet together. I jerked hard and sent him to the pavement. The back of his head bounced off the pavement with a dull thump.

Do you have any questions about writing action scenes that have not been answered? Use the comments link below to ask and I’ll do my best to provide an answer.


BIO: Mark H. Phillips grew up in central Illinois reading the classics—especially Greek mythology, James Bond novels and lots and lots of Batman comics. He is a graduate of both the University of Illinois mark(BA—Philosophy) and Northwestern University (MA—Philosophy). Mark currently lives in Houston with his wife, Charlotte. He teaches pre-calculus and political philosophy at Bellaire High School. Mark has been a member of Houston’s The Final Twist Writers for two years.

Mark, who has been writing stories and political tracts for as long as he can remember, submitted his first stories to a magazine editor when he was twelve years old. That editor’s kind and encouraging response fueled the fire that was already burning.

Previous publications include the mystery novel Hacksaw, First in the Eva Baum Detective Series and an Eva Baum short story in A Death in Texas (an anthology). Mark is currently working on the second Eva Baum novel and a short story for an anthology titled A Box of Texas Chocolates.


The Resqueth Revolution blog tour continues tomorrow at Book Talk Corner (www.booktalkcorner.today.com) where Mayra Calvini interviews Mark. If you enjoyed the article on writing action scenes, you may want to check out Mark’s article on violence in fiction and film on March 24 at Brain Cells and Bubble Wrap (http://vivianzabel.blogspot.com/). See Char’s Book Reviews and Writing News (http://charsbookreviews.blogspot.com/) blog for the full tour schedule and information on how you can win an autographed copy of The Resqueth Revloution.

Followers of the 2009 Resqueth Revolution blog tour will have two opportunities to win.
1) Everyone who leaves a comment on the tour will receive one drawing entry per comment per blog site. Two entries will be drawn at random and the winners will receive their very own, signed copy of The Resqueth Revolution.
2) Everyone who answers all quiz questions correctly will be enterred into a drawing for the grand prize – a signed copy of The Resqueth Revolution, a Resqueth pen, magnet and calendar, and a signed copy of Hacksaw, First in the Eva Baum Detective Series.

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Dan Ronco's latest novel is a suspenseful techno-thriller filled with adventure, romance and greed. A former successful engineer and businessman, he used his knowledge and experience to craft Unholy Domain, a story that delves into controversial, provocative themes like the ethics of genetic engineering, the question of what limit to put on technology, and the reconciling of religion and science. The novel also focuses on the relationship between a father and a son. With issues of such magnitude, Unholy Domain promises to be a thrilling, entertaining read. Ronco was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time to answer my questions.

Thanks for being here today. Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

Born into a tough neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey, I learned powerful lessons about family, friendship and violence. My escape was fiction, and I spent many hours reading in the local library. Nurturing a passion for technology, I went on to gain a BS in Chemical Engineering from NJIT. Not enough challenge. Always fascinated by new technologies, I was awarded a full fellowship at Columbia University and gained a MS in Nuclear Engineering. Although I designed submarine nuclear reactors for three years, I discovered I enjoyed software development more than reactor design, so I changed career direction and achieved a second MS; this one in Computer Science from RPI.

Fascinated by virtually all areas of software development, my expertise grew to include coding, design, project management, quality improvement and finally, general management. My niche was software consulting and my team assisted many large corporations and governmental organizations. Always looking for the latest challenge, I built and managed several consulting practices. I'm especially proud of two accomplishments – assisting AT&T greatly improve the quality of the first commercial UNIX release and helping Microsoft to create a world class consulting organization. Positions held during my consulting years included Senior Principal with an international accounting/consulting firm, President, Software Technology Management Inc. and General Manager with Microsoft.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

Eight years ago I decided to leave consulting and concentrate on a long held desire to write fiction. A successful engineer and businessman, I had the breadth of experience to understand and synthesize rapidly evolving strands of technology. It became clear that fundamental change would turn our society upside down within the next few decades. Humans will have to adapt rapidly to gain the advantages of these changing social and technological innovations. Indeed, we will have to adapt rapidly just to survive.

I scoped out a trilogy of novels to expose three oncoming challenges; computer viruses enhanced with artificial intelligence (set in 2012), the oncoming clash between religion and technology concerning what it means to be human (2022), and the beginnings of the integration of human and artificial intelligence into a network entity (2032). Each novel is written as a thriller – packed with adventure, sex, greed and romance – as well as realistic science and technology. The three leading characters – Dianne Morgan, a female mega-billionaire obsessed with power; Ray Brown, her onetime lover and a brilliant software architect; and David Brown, Ray’s genetically gifted son – are fascinating and all too human.

PEACEMAKER, my first novel, was released in August, 2004 with outstanding feedback by critics, authors, and most importantly, by customers. My next novel, UNHOLY DOMAIN, was released April 2, 2008 by Kunati Books, with an excellent response. The final novel of the trilogy, tentatively entitled TOMORROW’S CHILDREN, should be released next year.

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

UNHOLY DOMAIN delivers all the excitement of a great thriller while also delving into provocative themes: the bioethics of genetic engineering, the question of what limit (if any) should be placed on technology, the problem of reconciling faith in God and respect for his creation with the technological promises of artificial intelligence, and the age-old issue of family ties and the loyalty of a son to his father. How could anyone not be inspired by issues of such magnitude?

UNHOLY DOMAIN features David Brown, a brilliant but troubled young man raised in the dark shadow of his long-dead father, a software genius who unleashed a computer virus that murdered more than a million innocents. When David receives a decade-old email that indicates his father may have been framed, he plunges into a gut-wrenching race with the real killers to discover the truth about his father … and himself. As David tracks through his father's startling history, he stumbles into a war between the Domain, a secret society of technologists, and the Army of God, a murderous cult with a sacred mission to curtail the spread of technology and roll civilization back to a simpler era. Hunted by killers from both organizations, David unravels his father’s secrets, comes to terms with his own life, and then falls in love with a woman from his father’s past.

Did your book require a lot of research?

My novels are set in the near future, so it’s my responsibility to bring the reader into a world that is realistic, compelling and consistent with existing trends in science and culture. My stories exist at the point advanced technologies threaten our institutions, beliefs and even our survival.

As a result, I read constantly in subjects such as artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, robotics and other advanced technologies. I have a passion for technology, so reading isn’t a chore, it’s a gift. I am equally fascinated by human values and culture, such as economics, politics and religion. Searching for stress points, I attempt to project current technologies and trends two or three decades into the future. UNHOLY DOMAIN, for example, explores the potential for conflict between religious fundamentalists and scientists on the leading edge of artificial intelligence.

What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?

I have been in a critique group for seven years, and it has been a positive experience. The five of us meet once a week and we each read our most recent compositions, usually about ten pages. Each reviewer provides feedback describing good and bad aspects of the writing. We offer advice with the intent of helping the author; nobody shows off. The author considers the feedback and decides what, if anything, should be modified.

Actually it’s more than just a critique group. Our coach and group leader begins each session with a twenty minute discussion of a writing topic. While the coach leads the discussion, we all participate. I’d have to say we are many things: a critique group, a workshop, and a gathering of friends.

The secret of our success is compatibility and talent. We keep the group small and invite an occasional new member only if she gets along well with the existing members. It is also important that her writing skills are at a reasonably good level. Bringing a novice into the group wouldn’t be fair to anyone.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

One of the biggest mistakes I made with PEACEMAKER, my first novel, was to not check out the publisher thoroughly. When he called me, I was thrilled, and it seemed that everything was working out. Wrong. The publisher was a nice guy, he was very enthusiastic about my novel and we seemed to hit it off. However, he had a couple of problems: he had been in business less than a year and really didn't know much about book marketing; and he was underfunded, so he couldn't hire talented, experienced professionals. As a result, his business went underwater and all his authors were left scrambling. That's why I had to become the publisher for PeaceMaker, which consumed a great deal of my time.

So the lesson is to not become dreamy-eyed when a publisher offers to pick up your book. Treat it like making an investment. Check out the size, experience, financial resources, number of employees, references from other authors, bookstores that carry his works, etc. Better to walk away than sign up with someone who doesn't have a good track record. I checked out Kunati carefully, and they have been an excellent publisher for UNHOLY DOMAIN.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Yes, please stop by www.danronco.com to say hello, read an excerpt of UNHOLY DOMAIN, read my blog or view the incredible trailer for the book. And there’s much more: the complete PEACEMAKER novel, cool videos, book reviews and articles by guest authors. If you enjoy science fiction or technology thrillers, this is a great place to visit.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

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