An alternate reality

Why do some people doubt objective reality?

One explanation I’ve heard says this: It is possible to believe that everything in the world works through human structures. Human beings control everything. If you complain to the right people, problems get solved. If problems do not get solved, a conspiracy is refusing to solve them for its own advantage.

In this worldview, external forces are under human control, and they should respond to us, not vice versa. This includes, for example, viruses, the cold math of vote counting, and the changing climate. “We only need to complain forcefully enough to the correct people and make them listen. Then they will make things be the way we think they should be. We have the right not just to hold our individual beliefs but to have them accepted and acted on as truth.

In science fiction, however, external forces tend to drive our stories. We can’t control the universe, no matter how much we don’t like it. We are mere human beings — but if we understand what’s actually happening, we can respond effectively. The genre encourages a grounding in reality, which gives it strength.

The “pitch” to sell your speculative novel

So you’ve written a novel and you’re ready to sell it. First, celebrate that you’ve written a novel and you’re ready to sell it! That was a lot of hard work.

Next, you’ll need to write a “pitch”: a brief summary to intrigue and excite potential agents, editors, and readers. Is this hard? Yes. Everything about writing is hard. But here are some approaches that may make it less painful. Your goal is to show what’s special and different about your story and your writing.

(Some of these approaches may also help when you’re thinking about writing a novel. What story do you want to tell? Screenwriters sometimes use a log line, which defines the theme of the project, as both a writing aid and a sales pitch.)

Some possible approaches:

• Plot summary, the most common pitch: “A hired assassin earns parole – to another universe full of worse criminals than herself. She must kill or be killed, win the favor of the ‘boss,’ and all the while try to find her way home to the people she loves.”

• A question. One or two works best: “What if there were ghosts in every single house?”

• Connection to the agent or publisher: “Because you love supernatural romances…”

• Comparison with other works: “The racoon from Guardians of the Galaxy travels to 1984.”

• A very short excerpt if (and only if) it grabs the reader, sounds unique, and stands alone. Editors love unique, authoritative voices.

• A trope with a twist: “This novel is about an evil emperor’s grand wizard – but magic doesn’t really work in this world. Everyone just thinks it does.”

• Something relevant about you, if applicable. For example, with military fiction: “I’ve served in the armies of two different countries, and…”

• A unique, fresh, compelling setting or concept: “Mars is terraformed using time travel.”

• A fascinating character: “An old man runs a bar for leprechauns. He hates leprechauns.”

• The emotional journey of the characters within the events of the plot. Make sure the pitch anchors the journey to the events: “A princess learns humility when…”

• The protagonist’s choices, and the results of the choice taken. This is one way to approach a plot summary.

• The antagonist’s daring gambit and the protagonist’s reaction, another way to approach the plot summary.

• The reason for the novel’s title, if it leads into the plot and characters.

Based on my presentation for a workshop at the 2018 StoryStudio Chicago Writers Festival.

Novel news!


Interference: The sequel to Semiosis is now available as a trade paperback, available through all major outlets and local bookstores. Links here. It’s still available as an audiobook, ebook, and hardcover.

Semiosis: The French translation is now available as an audiobook.

Immunity Index: My next novel will be released on May 4, 2021. You can learn more and pre-order it through links here.

Burning Fennel and Usurpation: I’ve just signed a contract with Tor for two more books. That’s the good news. However, the pandemic has affected publishing, including the ability to print books, so these won’t hit the bookstore shelves for a while — but they’re on their way.

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Review: “Imagine Wanting Only This” by Kristen Radtke

Imagine Wanting Only ThisImagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this graphic memoir as a gift, read it in one sitting, and came away unsatisfied. The author, a young woman, tells of her search for permanence, but no matter where she goes, she can’t find it. Still, she asks vital questions along the way, and she probes the depth of her sorrow over the loss of her beloved uncle and the losses that other people have suffered. She visits a variety of ruins, learns of a possible distant relative who survived the Peshtigo Fire, and considers the costs to people when their livelihoods end.
During her trips, she assembles a wide range of fascinating facts and observations. The art and questions are haunting and seem to lead to some sort of journey’s end. A number of passages could stand strong as excerpts. Although she is empty, she takes a lot of ideas and items (including some that she shouldn’t) with the intent of doing something with them.
And she never does. The story ends with a series of questions, such as: “Who knows what will be significant when we have all moved on to whatever is waiting or not waiting?” She has no answer. Despite all the amazing things she’s seen and learned, she has assembled nothing from her experiences and has not changed and grown. She was callow and glum when she started, and she stays that way.

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