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First Monday Mentoring August 2016 – What writing gifts will you share with your readers?

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring, when I answer your questions about the writing craft and look at the realities of being a writer.

This month’s blog was inspired by two things – meeting a new baby in my adopted family, and some exciting reprints of my books. How do they go together? Well, the books are my babies, the legacy I’ll leave to the future, not least through the ongoing collection of my literary papers by the State Library of New South Wales.

Amelia baby 2

Meeting my gorgeous new rent-a-grandkid

Seeing my older books reprinted and in new languages – the latest being Chinese and Lithuanian  – tell me my stories still resonate with readers decades on. What will your books leave? Will you have written them or kept them in your mind or computer, unshared, all that inspiration lost forever? Because make no mistake, when you write, you inspire others. You show them how the world might be instead of how it truly is.

Given how bad things are in parts of the world right now, any shred of inspiration is badly needed. Despite being so often belittled, romance novels play a key role. My first, Love’s Greatest Gamble (1982), dealt with the aftermath of a family member having PTSD. It wasn’t known by that name then and the effects even less understood. You came back from a war and got on with it, burying your struggles in alcohol or – in the case of my heroine’s late husband – gambling. She was left to deal with the fallout and the huge debts left to a powerful man.

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My novels have also dealt with miscarriage, adoption, self-image, eating disorders, and a very current issue, domestic violence. The book, Man Shy, was challenging to write while keeping  a balance between the issue and the love story. At one point, I almost gave up but my editor encouraged me to continue, and the book has been reprinted in any number of languages.

If you want to write about  a serious problem, you must take it seriously. Before writing about the heroine’s miscarriage, I researched widely and interviewed  friends who’d had the experience, in order to deal respectfully with what – to the mother – is the loss of their child. No trite dismissals or assurances it was “for the best” and “you can always have another.” One of my friends remembered her son’s would-have-been birthday for the rest of her life.

Another favourite is Man and Wife, where the heroine is a corporate maven ridiculed in the media for her clothing choices. No man goes through this. Furious, my heroine hired a man to be her “wife” and give her the same domestic back-up most businessmen enjoy. This connected with readers on so many levels, most telling me they needed a wife themselves. That he turned out to be her industrial rival made the story more fun, but the undercurrent of gender inequality in the corporate world lingers today. Man and Wife came out in 1984.

I’ve been published in book form for 40 years. One of my personal inspirations, Star Trek, debuted on American television 50 years ago this month. Why has that show endured when so many others have vanished without trace? Again, I believe it’s the inspiration the show provided. Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, one of my writing mentors, dared to explore racial equality, gender roles, the morality of war, and many other issues – all in the guise of a science fiction show. The pre-CGI effects, cardboard sets and rubber-suited monsters were the best that 1960s television could do. But it was the careful thought behind the scripts (not all, but a significant number) that has kept the show relevant for half a century.

 

Every writer is asked where we get ideas. It occurs to me now that they may be asking about the substance behind the boy-meets-girl story. On August 9, I’ll explore this question via a Masterclass at the Canberra Writers’ Centre on how to blend our real-life experiences with fiction.  Click here for details. Only on writing this blog, do I see I’ve been doing this my whole career. My own struggles with weight, constantly moving house and being the new kid on the block and the like, form a subtext to much of my fiction.

My beacons science-fiction series published earlier this year by Momentum (Pan Macmillan) are new-kid-on-the block stories, except in the guise of aliens with strange powers, living among us. I didn’t set out to write that issue and only see it now, with hindsight. As it should be. Using stories to bludgeon readers over the head with issues doesn’t work. Instead, you take real people as your characters, figure out what they’re struggling with in their lives, and write that story. How they overcome their struggles is your plot, the inspiration being a by-product of their journey. The readers will “get it” as mine have for the last 40 years. As Star Trek fans like me have been “getting it” for 50 years.

Beacon Starfound3

What of yourself do you or will you give to your readers? I believe it’s why we need to tell stories, and why readers soak them up. We all need inspiration. If it’s not out there, maybe it’s inside you, waiting to be shared.

What do you think? What books have inspired you? What do you want to share? Your thoughts are welcome in the comment box below. They’re monitored to avoid spam, but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing and inspiring others,

Valerie

Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series out now!
Beacon Starfound OUT NOW
Beacon Earthbound OUT NOW
Beacon Continuum OUT NOW
Beacon Homeworld OUT NOW

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First Monday Mentoring for March 2015 – what passions drive your writing?

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring for March.

As most of the world knows by now, the American actor, Leonard Nimoy, died on Friday. By early Saturday morning Australian time, the hashtag #RIPLeonardNimoy was one of the top trending topics on Twitter and Facebook, and his likeness dominated the world media on and offline.

Even if you aren’t a Star Trek fan, you probably recognized him as Mr. Spock, the logical, pointed-eared Vulcan from Star Trek’s original series which premiered in the 1960s. After Trek, Nimoy starred in series including Mission Impossible and In Search of, and was also a notable stage performer, director, poet, photographer, philanthropist and family man.

Nimoy's last live convention appearance. Photo by Maria Jose Tenuto, used with thanks.

Nimoy’s last live convention appearance. Photo by Maria Jose Tenuto, used with thanks.

I knew him only slightly from my long involvement with the show when I helped organize conventions for fans, fund-raising to bring people from the show to Australia. Some, I’m still friends with today.

Writing eventually took me away from active fandom but my passion for Star Trek remained part of my life in many ways.

When I set up Australia’s first conference on romance writing, I brought Susan Sackett out to talk about the US market. The author of many Hollywood-related books, she co-wrote episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation and worked with Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, for many years.

A younger me with Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry

A younger me with Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry

I considered Gene Roddenberry one of my writing mentors. The technique he used to create the character of Mr. Spock is one I still use and share with the writers I mentor. Gene said he drew a line down the centre of a page, writing his questions for Spock on the left-hand side and the character’s “answers” on the right.

He said the answers may seem forced at first, but if you persevere, the character starts speaking back to you, often surprising you with insights you didn’t know were lurking deep in your subconscious.

When I talked with him about writing for Star Trek, Gene recommended creating my own characters and their universe rather than limiting my options to Paramount Studio’s requirements. It was many years before I fully took this advice, creating my alien Beacons and a series of books starting with Birthright (Corvallis Press, USA).
Even then, Star Trek hovered around the Beacons, challenging me to create my own technology and “world” – not easy considering Trek has a fifty-year head start, showcasing technology which was unheard-of back then, but is commonplace today.

Technology was far from Star Trek’s only appeal for me. At heart I value the show’s inclusiveness and sense of wonder. The stories seek to understand and celebrate our differences, shown most clearly in the character of Mr. Spock. The message is – whoever you are is OK; women can be anything; alienness is to be understood not feared. I’m glad to say that we Trekkies appreciate this spirit even more 50 years on.

Previously I’ve blogged here about how William Shatner, Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, inspires my personal and professional life with his energy, enthusiasm and resilience into his eighties.

In my non-fiction book, The Idea Factory, (Allen & Unwin, Australia), I quote Leonard Nimoy on what he called the “goodies box” that actors – and I believe, writers – all have.

“You come into town with your box of goodies…that is you, and you start to use it and sell it and eventually the box of goodies gets used up, and then you must go back to something else to fill up the box with new goodies.”
Nimoy was describing the need for creative people to soak up input from as many sources as possible. Also called absorption trips, they can range from travelling, reading and watching movies, to meeting people outside your normal circle, whatever gives you fresh material to write about.

What is your passion? What fills your creative goodies box? Is it Star Trek or something completely different? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. They’re moderated to avoid spam, but if you want your comment to appear right away, click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone else.

Vale Leonard Nimoy. And as Spock might say, live long and prosper in your creative work.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You
At http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html

First Monday Mentoring for November – 3 spooky things characters do that smart writers allow

It’s First Monday again, when I open this blog to your thoughts and questions to do with any aspect of writing and publishing. With Halloween just over and even the Australian shops still full of treat-sized chocolate and witchy products, I’m looking at our characters, the weird things they do to us – and why it’s okay.

1. Characters spring surprises

Long ago, I learned that a good character takes on a life of their own. I’ll do all the preparatory work, know their hair and eye colour, and what they want from life. Then I’ll be writing a draft and that same character will quietly let drop that they have a sister, a pet dog or an unusual hobby I didn’t know about.

Experience has shown me that this is part of my mind telling me what the story will need later on. The sibling or the hobby will turn out to be a vital part of that character’s story. I leave it in place with a side notation to check it again at the editing stage, and keep writing. Almost always, that detail will be essential to the story development.

2. Characters talk to you
A fully realised character will have their own thoughts on their world. How do you find this out? By asking them.
I learned this method from Gene Roddenberry, creator of the Star Trek universe. He took a sheet of paper – it doesn’t work as well on a screen – and drew a vertical line down the middle, creating two blank columns. On the left-hand one he wrote a question he wanted to ask the character, then wrote the character’s answer in the right-hand column.

At first this will feel forced and you’ll be aware of playing both roles, but if you persist over however many pages it takes, a spooky thing happens. The character starts to answer in their own voice, giving you insights that you hadn’t considered. Or more accurately, weren’t aware of knowing.

This process isn’t metaphysical. It’s your own subconscious revealing itself through the character, but it feels as if you really are in touch with this person, and you’ll find out far more than their physical description. Sometimes “their” insights will astonish you.

Gene Roddenberry said he used this process to create the logical Vulcan, Mr. Spock, so it’s definitely worth a try.

One caveat – writing is hard work. It’s common for a minor character to insist that you write their story as well, and you may start to imagine a series featuring all these people. Whether or not this ever happens doesn’t matter. The competing ideas are your brain’s way of dodging the work ahead. Make notes on whatever comes up, then finish the current book.

funny-pictures-cat-dont-tell-me

3. Characters know what they want
Woe betide the author who doesn’t listen. You’ll end up with cardboard-cut-out people who do your bidding but have no life of their own.

In my Beacons science-fiction series, my three main characters are all aliens living on Earth. Elaine Lovell is a Watcher who can see whatever she chooses, wherever it may be. Her day job is media psychic. Garrett Luken is the beacon’s Listener, a former US Air Force pilot, now a best-selling sci-fi writer. Adam Desai is the team’s Messenger, a scientific genius who doesn’t know his alien history until he meets the other two.

My romantic side wanted them all partnered by series end. Elaine was the easiest, and found herself a Hawai’ian multimillionaire. Adam could only ever love the capable governor Shana Akers, who is more than his match mentally and physically.

My problem child was Garrett, gorgeous, talented and single. In three books and two novellas, I tried matching him with several other characters and he’d have none of them. Naturally, the only woman he fell for was the one I’d considered the least likely.

No spoilers, but when Garrett did let this person into his life, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of her. He knew who he wanted; I just had to take notes.

There it is, three spooky ways your characters will – like Pinocchio – become real, if you let them. Now it’s over to you to share your experiences.

Comments are moderated to avoid spam, but if you want your post to appear right away, click on “sign me up” to subscribe. I don’t share your details with anyone. How do you develop characters? Do they talk back to you? How does it affect your writing?

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
See the new cover of Valerie’s Beacons book, Birthright, at http://tinyurl.com/mxtmbx6

Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer in You

at http://valerieparv.com/course.html

First Monday Mentoring for March – 5 ways William Shatner inspires my writing life

It’s First Monday time again, when I open this blog to your questions about writing. They can be on creative, craft or business matters. Today’s question has to do with who I regard as my mentors? There are quite a few, writers, philosophers, motivational psychologists. But today I want to talk about one role model in particular, and the reasons why he is such an inspiration, probably not the ones you expect.

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I’ve been a Star Trek fan as long as the shows have been around. My collection of original series books numbers in the hundreds. Dozens more sit on my Kindle. Once upon a time, when I helped to organize Star Trek conventions in Australia, I had enough Star Trek memorabilia to stock a store. Some of my earliest fiction, now living among their collection of my literary papers at the State Library of NSW, was set in the Star Trek universe, and I number its creator, Gene Roddenberry, among my writing mentors.

But my greatest inspiration comes from actor and director, William Shatner. Not only because of his iconic portrayal of Captain James Kirk, but because Shatner himself is such a powerhouse of energy and enthusiasm that it’s dizzying trying to keep up with everything he’s doing.

From his memorable portrayals of Kirk to Boston Legal’s Denny Crane, his career spans Emmy-award winning roles, directing, writing many books, winning international horse riding events, charity fund-raising on a grand scale, even crowd-funding his own watch design late last year. Did I mention he’s doing all this and more at age eighty-two?

Still that same killer smile.

Still that same killer smile.

Here are 5 ways he inspires my writing life:

1. PASSION
Everything William Shatner does is fueled by this powerhouse ingredient. It’s obvious that he lives every day with passion for whatever he undertakes. Whether it be breeding Dobermans, riding American Saddlebred horses, writing or directing movies, he puts his whole being into the task, and the passion shines through.

2. ENERGY
When he was in his early seventies, he starred in the Star Trek movie, Generations, working horrendously long days in arduous desert conditions, filming the death of his best-known character, a huge milestone for any actor. In an interview, he was asked how he kept going. He said he simply told himself he wasn’t tired. I took that to heart and whenever I feel pushed to the limit, I tell myself I’m not tired, and the energy flows back.

3. SENSE OF WONDER
Shatner is never afraid to try new things, to experiment, to grow. Far too many people stop growing and learning in their teens. He has explored every kind of acting, written a wide variety of books, spoken to huge convention audiences in countries around the world, been a spokesperson for NASA, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And still he’s developing new ideas and new projects.

As the saying goes, growing old is unavoidable, but growing up is optional.

4. LOVE OF LIFE
Shatner has had dark times, recorded in his various memoirs, beyond anything most of us have to deal with. But he has always picked himself up and gone back to living life to the full, setting a shining example for the rest of us.

5. RESILIENCE
For a writer, this ingredient is key. As with acting, writing involves putting yourself and your work out there, dealing with rejection and finding the will to keep on going. William Shatner has endured pretty well every tragedy that life can throw at a person, while still wringing the most out of every day.
These qualities are not exclusive to a Hollywood legend. They are available to each of us, every day of our lives. How many of these qualities do you make sure you have? If you’d like your comment to appear right away, please click on “sign me up” at right, to subscribe. I don’t share your email with anyone else.

Valerie

About the author
Valerie Parv is one of Australia’s most successful writers with more than 29 million books sold in 26 languages. She is the only Australian author honored with a Pioneer of Romance Award from RT Book Reviews, New York. With a lifelong interest in space exploration, she counts meeting Neil Armstrong as a personal high point. She loves connecting with readers via her website valerieparv.com @ValerieParv on Twitter and on Facebook. She is represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd tategal@bigpond.net.au

Why we need a National Year of Reading more than a Year of Writing

“Nearly half the population struggles without the literacy skills to meet the most basic demands of everyday life and work. There are 46% of Australians who can’t read newspapers; follow a recipe; make sense of timetables, or understand the instructions on a medicine bottle.”

This sobering quote comes from the website devoted to the 2012 National Year of Reading officially launched on February 14. The website is here http://www.love2read.org.au/about-us.cfm

I am proud to be a Friend of the National Year of Reading and will do as much as I can to promote all forms of reading for everybody including promoting the cause of reading at workshops, during my tenure as Established Writer in Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writing Centre in Perth, and in regional NSW through our library network and local writing groups.

But why a Year of Reading? Why not a Year of Writing?

Unless we have readers, writers have no one to write for. I believe writing – like all communication – needs a sender and a receiver. Until the writing (the message) is received/read by a reader, the transaction isn’t complete. The reader doesn’t have to receive the message exactly as the writer sends it. They are free to add their own interpretation to the words. For me, that makes the process much richer. But to have the words disappearing into the ether like a shout echoing down an empty valley, would feel like my job is only half done.

Among the goals which the National Year of Reading has identified are three key ones:

  • For all Australians to understand the benefits of reading as a life skill and a catalyst for well-being;
  • To promote a reading culture in every home; and
  • To establish an aspirational goal for families, of parents and caregivers sharing books with their children every day

I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where reading was taken for granted. Reading was never seen as idle or wasted time. It was our entertainment. It was also education but we didn’t know that then. Reading was just fun.  Among my earliest memories are my father reading to my older sister and me in our cots, his inventive voices bringing the stories to life. Later when we moved to Australia, to a town without television (I know, shock! horror!) he read aloud the story of Sam Small, the Flying Yorkshireman, in the dialect of his youth. Unless you’re born to it, Yorkshire dialect is almost incomprehensible on paper. Read aloud it made perfect sense. Many years later in an astonishing coincidence my writer friend, Susan Sackett, told me that her boss, Gene Roddenberry, creator of the Star Trek universe, was adapting The Flying Yorkshireman as a film script. I wish I’d kept Susan’s letters from that time because this detail is never mentioned in his official biographies.

Reading has many different appeals.

So we grew up with a reading culture and learned a life skill that added to our well-being. Two of the boxes ticked. If I can help to pass that joy along to families and caregivers who haven’t grown up with reading as an everyday activity, I’ll help tick the third box, and be a true friend of the National Year of Reading.

Did you grow up in a reading culture? What can you do to share that pleasure among your circle? How can you help spread the message of the National Year of Reading 2012?

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

 

 

 

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