Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My Accidental Dystopia (Guest Post)

J. Grace Pennington is one of my favorite science fiction authors, and today she's visiting my blog to talk about how she ended up writing Implant, her newest novel.

What makes a story a story?

Students of the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum will recognize that question as the phrase that starts the introduction of every lesson on every DVD of the course.   And the memory of those simple words is intertwined with the writing process of my latest novel Implant, because I wrote the book to go along with the curriculum.

In doing so, I actually broke several of the rules.  I held to their formula, I eliminated many (though not all) adverbs, and I used the archetypes set forth, but I also wrote sci-fi (not recommended), wrote in third person (discouraged) and gave Gordon two mentors instead of one (a no-no).  I’m a free spirit like that.  They’re more like guidelines than actual rules.

I wrote sci-fi because it’s what I do (try not to think of Geico commercials here).  I didn’t, however, intend to write dystopia.  At the time, I hadn’t even heard the word.  I’d heard vague whispers of The Hunger Games (book, this was before the movie came out).  My dad had mentioned 1984 and Logan’s Run and other sci-fi worlds gone bad, but the young adult dystopia craze was only just budding.  You could still go into a Half-Price Books without being smacked in the face by Divergent, Matched, Uglies, The Maze Runner, The Program, The Lunar Chronicles, Shatter Me, etc., etc., etc.

Yet I somehow ended up writing a young adult dystopia.

It was an accident of sorts.  My first spark of an idea was just about two men who respected each other and each hated everything the other stood for.  My second idea was about a world where governmental healthcare turned deadly (yes, this was when Obamacare first came on the scene) and my third idea was to use the standard sci-fi trope where there’s only one person in the world who doesn’t have the technology that’s ruining everything.  And getting such a person in such a world really ought to involve time travel, a la Star Trek: The Voyage Home.  So I was really just combining a bunch of my favorite things--complex relationships, medicine, sci-fi.  No apocalypse, no factions, no love triangles.  And yet somehow, a dystopia popped out.

I have only read a small fraction of the current popular titles in that genre, but I’ve noticed a lot of them seem to suffer from copycatitis.  There are good stories out there, but a lot of them fall flat and seem suspiciously like all the other stories.  They seem divided into two distinct categories; those who said “I have a story to tell,” and those who said, “This is popular, I’ll try to do this.”  Of course, I don’t truly know the authors’ minds.  That’s just how it seems.  There’s nothing wrong with writing something popular, if you really have a story inside you that fits that mold.  But it’s most fun if, like me, you find your book’s niche by accident, spilling your words and then realizing they have a very particular shape.  Taking what’s inside of you and letting it twist and turn into pixilated emotion and plot and character and something that makes your reader feel something that changes their world a little bit.

That’s what makes a story a story.

J. Grace Pennington has been reading stories as long as she can remember, and writing them almost as long. She is also a prolific medical transcriptionist, amateur musician, chocolate eater, daughter, sister, friend, and laundry folder. She lives in Texas, and if she was part of the Implant society, her role in the rebellion would probably be monitoring current events and correspondence in the computer center. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook, check out her website, or buy Implant on Amazon.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Movie Review: Appleseed

The Story: In the near future, a woman is fighting in earth’s ruins during a war that has nearly destroyed the world. Just as she is about to die, she is rescued by mysterious soldiers who take her to a protected city that seems to be a utopia. But underneath the surface of this peaceful place, evil is lurking in many forms, and her toughest battle yet is about to begin.

My Thoughts: One of the things that sets Appleseed apart from most science fiction films is that it truly feels like it deals with two extraordinarily complex subjects in an insightful and not gimmicky or heavy-handed way. Mankind’s propensity for violence and the idea of a biologically engineered version of humanity are both thought-provokingly explored throughout the story.

As interesting as serious treatments of those subjects are, it wouldn’t mean much if the story was weak. The plot, however, is deftly-handed, aside from feeling a bit rushed in some places, and is filled with believable characters. Holding it all together is the unique animation, which combines computer and traditional animation in a way that for the most part looks spectacular. I highly recommend this movie.

Content Overview: Rated R for violence, but the only R-level instance is when a man’s head is bloodily crushed during a battle. All the other violence is on a PG-13 level. There’s some mild foul language. Much of a woman’s body is seen while she’s nude in a life support machine, but critical parts of her are covered. There are a few non-explicit sexual references.