Monday, December 24, 2018


What inspires you when you write Science fiction?

I was invited this week to a local school to speak with an audience of teenage students about life as an author. I now have a greater appreciation for teachers. They do it all day every day. My talk was only an hour and forty minutes. There were about eighty kids who were there specifically because they were interested in writing.

It was a pure joy to talk to so many that were so interested in writing and specifically science fiction. I expected a lot of questions about the process of being an author. I expected questions on what it takes day in and day out, of being a full-time author.
The kids surprised me.

They wanted to know about science fiction specifically. Mostly they wanted to know about the added level of inspiration required to build the worlds, to create the future, to form the entire setting, in addition to all the challenges of merely writing a story.
Even though I cautioned them that writing was more about discipline than inspiration, they persisted in the desire to know where I found the seeds of motivation.

My list surprised me as much as them.

First and foremost on my list of things that inspire my writing of science fiction is real science. If I look closely, the real science is just as amazing as science fiction.

As an example, let’s look at gravity. 90% of people don’t understand gravity at all. People think that when astronauts are floating weightless in the International Space Station, it is because there is no gravity present. This is not true. There is lots of gravity. There is enough gravity to keep the ISS in orbit around the Earth, enough to keep the moon in orbit. They are only weightless because they are in freefall toward the Earth. They are falling straight toward the center of the Earth. They also happen to be traveling so fast that, as they fall, the curve of the Earth also falls away. Like a dropping elevator that never reaches the bottom. This is why they are weightless.

This is only one tiny example of inspiration from real science. Topics like Artificial Intelligence, robotics, computers, genetics, even sciences involving archeology, biology, and medicine. The topics are endless in Real Science.

Reading is another vast area of inspiration for me. I write what I love to read. I saw students that were big readers. They were the ones most interested in becoming writers. Reading is the single most important tool for writing.

Movies are also a huge inspiration for writing. Science fiction movies have always been a favorite of mine. No surprise there. We talked about the themes and plots of films like Forbidden Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Blade Runner, Star Wars and even modern Marvel Comics movies. The best movies are about relatable characters in extraordinary situations. The addition of the visual aspect of film was also discussed. A picture paints a 1,000 words, and a film paints 100,000.

Television is another inspiration. The long form of storytelling when it’s done well. We talked about the excellent TV series, The Expanse. We discussed how in addition to great plots, characters, and setting, it goes to great lengths to get the science right. I am a firm believer in bringing the science back into science fiction.

I even find a lot of inspiration in Art and Photography. A single image can set my imagination on fire. It is one of the reasons I find that covers of science fiction books are so important. When done right, at a glance they can begin to tell fantastic stories, ask impossible questions or hint at hidden secrets. They make the potential reader want to know more.

Music was also discussed as a source of inspiration. I confessed to them that I create playlists that set the tone for a book or a scene. For me, music can invoke an emotion, making it easier to write about topics like love and loss, even action adventure. Just queue up the right playlist for the chapter you are working on.

The final and maybe the most crucial insight these young people discussed is that everyday life is full of inspiration they can use. Even if they write science fiction.  Every one of my books includes simple aspects like coffee, bacon and good bourbon. Travel is good fuel for ideas. Experiencing different cultures and the challenges of everyday life.

I walked away full of inspiration from talking with kids I don’t even know.

Maybe our world has a chance for a better future…

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