Friday, March 16, 2018

#SuperShortScifiStory, Upcoming Publications, and More Stuff

News Item the First: I’m trying this new format where I add an extra space under each paragraph to divide everything up a little better. Just thought you should know that.

News Item the Second: For some reason, I now have a Twitter account. You may have seen it already; the handle is “@ultrasonnek”. Anyway, to give myself something to do with this form of social media, I’m starting a new hashtag: “#SuperShortScifiStory”; under this tag, I encourage everyone to post tweet-sized works of science fiction. I’ve done the first, and I also plan to contribute weekly. If you are so inclined, feel free to follow me at @ultrasonnek, and odds are I’ll be more than happy to return the favor. I’m looking for people to follow too.

News Item the Third: This is mostly a reminder, really; I’ve got a couple of science fiction short stories that are soon to be published. Sonder Midwest is coming out in April, and my story “Important Transmission” will be somewhere inside. It’s a flash fiction piece I had fun writing, and I hope it will entertain you as well. Next, my story for Daily Science Fiction is in their publication queue…but I’m not 100 percent sure when the story will get out there. If my last story with them indicates the norm, I will not know when the story will be published until it has already been published. Keep an eye out for it. Once again, signing up for Daily Science Fiction is free, and for that low price you get a short sci-fi story in your inbox every morning.

News Item the Fourth: Wait…dagnabbit, this is more of a review than a news item. At any rate, I recently bought the movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I’d seen it once before in theaters, and I’m hopeless when it comes to resisting good sci-fi.

But when I say “good sci-fi”, I’ve got to be honest—I didn’t buy Valerian for the movie’s story. To put it bluntly, it started out OK but then turned into Avatar; you know, a peaceful and unnaturally idyllic alien race is being persecuted by an old white military dude and the aliens need the heroes’ help to go back to living their unnaturally idyllic lives. I might write a more detailed review about all that later. But the reason I did buy Valerian was because 1) It’s got some of the best sci-fi settings I’ve ever seen, and 2) it included the Doghan Daguis, leathery-winged armadillo aliens who peddle information. Some may call them the Plot-Convenient Aliens, but never has helpful exposition been so much fun.

News Item the Fifth, and This Time I Swear It’s Actual News: Short of the #SuperShortScifiStory project, I’ve been taking a break from writing short stories. My most recent project is a field guide for my book project (although “Field Guide” is honestly not a perfectly accurate term). That’s right; I’m writing nonfiction about fiction, and it’s more fun than it really should be. I’ll probably get back into submitting soon…at some point…in the near future…but until then, publications can breathe a sigh of relief.

News Item the Sixth: There is no News Item the Sixth. I’m out of here.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Life in the Background

Some of you may be wondering, “What exactly does a science fiction writer do in his off hours?”
I personally cannot speak for all of us, but I can certainly tell you one of my favorite non-writing projects: making a background for my laptop.
I’m not content with stock images, to say the least. It’s hard to believe that Microsoft seldom considers its cyberpunk market when designing their interfaces. I suppose I could just go online to find and download a more suitable computational backdrop, but where’s the fun in that?
Good thing computer games come with screenshot capacities.
The whole point of video game design is to be interesting, after all, and I chose to take advantage of this. For a while, my favorite backgrounds came from Portal 2 and its related workshop mods. Here are a few examples: 

But then I came across the game Empyrion: Galactic Survival. For those of you unfamiliar and who did not follow the helpful link I provided, Empyrion is an in-development game that is something like a cross between Star Trek and Minecraft. Empyrion allows the players to build their own planetary and orbital bases, as well as vehicles of all sizes and capacities. For example, here’s a capitol vehicle that I built:

In survival mode, your job is to struggle to gather enough resources to build these bases and vehicles, all while fending off alien hordes—then, when your creations are complete, YOU WREAK A BLAZING TRAIL OF DESTRUCTION ACROSS THE GALAXY, LEVELLING EVERY OUTPOST EVEN REMOTELY AFFILIATED WITH THE ALIENS WHO HARRIED YOU WHEN YOU WERE BUT A DEFENSELESS BEGINNER. YOU WILL MAKE THEM PAY! HA HA HA HA—
*ahem* At least, that’s my approach.
There is also a creative mode, in which you can build whatever you want regardless of resources. This mode was how I built my laptop background.
Oh, and one more thing: for my background, I wanted something a little more interesting than just one background. I was after a sci-fi-library aesthetic, but to make it even better I wanted the library to seemingly shift locations. When transitioning from one background to another, the only thing that would change would be the outside scenery. And I did it! This was the result:

This isn’t even the latest iteration of my background. My current “library” has balconies, more holographic stuff, and a classy asymmetrical design for a better outdoor view. Set the background slideshow to 10 seconds, and it gets really distracting.
So here is the simple process of creating a moving-sci-fi-library laptop background like mine, using screenshots from the game Empyrion: Galactic Survival:
1)      Set up a Creative game.
2)      Learn the finer points of Empyrion construction. You might want to experiment by building some vehicles and stuff first.
3)      Build the background building!
4)      In the ideal vantage point, be sure to build ONE SPECIFIC SPOT where your in-game character can wedge himself, like a sloping block in an otherwise smooth floor. This ensures you get the same shot every time.
5)      Paint and furnish the building to your preferences.
6)      Once everything looks a little less hideous, save the building blueprint in your in-game blueprints.
7)      Wedge yourself into that ONE SPECIFIC SPOT in your building.
8)      Focus your character’s HUD crosshairs on ONE SPECIFIC POINT across the room. Remember that point.
9)      Deactivate the HUD.
10)  Take the picture!
11)  Reactivate your HUD.
12)  Go into your blueprints and spawn one of those vehicles you built for practice, preferably one with a long-range warp drive. If you didn’t built a ship use one of the ship blueprints already there.
13)  Fly the ship to a new planet.
14)  Spawn your background building in the new picturesque location.
15)  Wedge your game character into that ONE SPECIFIC SPOT.
16)  Repeat steps 7-11.
17)  NOTE: If you spawn your building in space, be sure to attach a gravity generator or you won’t be able to wedge yourself into that O.S.S.
18)  Realize that your first effort didn’t look so hot. Repeat steps 1-17.
Complicated? You have no idea. I omitted a lot of the early fine-tuning trial and error to figure out what interior configuration was ideal for a background. When you couple that to the fact that I have a custom desktop to arrange around said background…
I like writing. It’s much easier in some ways.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

What Am I Doing In There?

Happy mid-February, all. This blog post is about something that I started thinking about when I really should have been doing homework and/or job searches. Namely,

When should I insert myself into my own writing?

It was so important that I thought it to myself in an Impact font, size 26. But we all have to return to Times New Roman size 14 at some point (or at least we SHOULD; Times New Roman is the font of life, pun intended). So let me give my three cents on the subject of an author inserting himself into his own writing. I’ll try to keep it brief.

[Sonnek’s Side Note: You might have noticed that I used what I call the Masculine Generic to refer to writers of both sexes; I did not say “…an author inserting his/herself into his/her own writing.” If anyone accuses me of sexism by simplification, I would like to point out that this usage of the masculine denies the male gender their own personal pronoun. For instance, when I say “womankind”, I am clearly referring to only women—but when I say “mankind”, it is more likely that I am referring to all humanity. We guys do not get our own collective and/or exclusive pronoun, people. It’s sad. And don’t even talk to me about “peoplekind.”]

So much for keeping it brief.

First, I exclude from discussion things like autobiographies and other works of nonfiction where that author is actually THERE. Obviously self-insertion is an acceptable necessity in those cases. I refer mostly to works of fiction that are not based on real life.

Well…OK, all good fiction is in some way based on real life and experience; that’s why it resonates with all of us. You know what I mean. Returning to the question, should the author insert his real-life character into these works of fiction?

My quick answer: Um…how do you avoid it?

Let me explain through an example: the ventriloquist comedian Jeff Dunham. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, one of his puppets is a hyperactive purplish-greenish…alien-muppet thing…named Peanut. That’s honestly my best description of it. He has another puppet named José Jalapeño on a Stick; that one is exactly what he sounds like, plus a sombrero.

Anyway, I forget which show this was (and I’m not going to Google it), but Dunham was holding both of these puppets at the same time, making them argue with each other—much to the delight of the audience. At one point in the act, Peanut turned to Jeff directly, accusing him of giving José all the good lines!

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” replied Jeff. “I’m just observing.”

After the laughter, Peanut said—in a slow, deliberate, loud whisper:


That’s one of my favorite Jeff Dunham moments ever. And it applies here.

We are authors. One way to poetically rephrase the noun is to call us ventriloquists in print. We are the ones speaking through the words on the page; there is no way to divorce yourself from the idea that you are generating. Once you are writing your characters, inside their heads as they move through the story, they are all parts of you in some way—that is how you can relate them convincingly and make them come to life.

I do actually recommend beginning writers to base characters upon their own personalities and those of people they know. The “training wheels” of Main Character Perspective is your own mindset; it’s the one you’re most familiar with and therefore can relate the most convincingly. As soon as you can relate motivations, struggles, and perspectives of the world through your eyes, you are better equipped to put on another head and show us a different angle. As weird as that sounds.

[Sonnek’s Side Note: Speaking of weirdness and personal perspective, I have a Twitter account now. You can find it on this site’s “Contact” page, or look for me at “@ultrasonnek”. I don’t really know what to do with the bloody thing, though. Maybe if I get a few more followers, I’ll do more stuff with it.]

Does all this mean that you should fear those who write about serial killers? No…not necessarily. Yes, a writer does have to internalize some of the murderous mindset in order to portray the villain—but knowing your enemy rarely turns one into the enemy. That would be a case of pretty messed-up priorities. At any rate, they know the enemy well enough to defeat him. That’s valuable knowledge. You can still shake Stephen King’s hand, but be careful about it.

HOWEVER—and this is a big however—I do not give license to wish-fulfillment. This is when your “avatar character” in the novel is only there to live out your dream life. It’s pretty easy to spot; if your readers are complaining about a lack of conflict, things going too easily for the Main Character, or other problems like this, odds are you have fallen into the Wish Fulfillment area where your story becomes your vicarious dream world. I’ve certainly done that on a few drafts. You may have read a few books like that, too (probably romance, if I had to guess).

How do you bail yourself out of this? No need to completely scrap the character. Instead, do a little bit of soul-searching. What are your deepest, most teeth-gnashing fears? What irritates you? What do you really consider an obstacle, whether they’re real-life struggles or problems in reaching personal goals? And—this is the big one—what are your character flaws? Oh, I’ll bet all that stuff is in there. You have been sticking to the you-template, after all. So dig those ugly details out, shine a light on them, and make them relevant to the story. Send in your basement monsters to complicate the plot. Then you’re on to something.

In summary? Making a personal appearance in your writing is unavoidable. Just make sure that you aren’t standing in front of the story. Now go out there and be a Story Ninja.

[Sonnek’s Final Side Note: You also might have noticed that I changed my blog title to “Parenthetical Statements.” If you did notice, good eyes. I found that this new title a) sums up my blog purpose—and writing style, since I use many parentheses—and b) “Parenthetical Statements” rolls off the tongue a little faster than “The Inexplicable Author Website of Benjamin Sonnek.” Don’t you think?]

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Fiction Advice that RHYMES

Hello and welcome, O blog reader dear.
What’s with this rhyming? Please do not fear.
Within my writing expanse I enjoy
To take something simple, and then I employ
My bizarre inclination to add rhythm and rhyme.
I thought I’d do it here. Prob’ly only this time.

So, whether or not my rhyming is nice,
You probably came here for some advice.
Today comes an issue that I will address
That has caused my peace some undue duress.
I touched on it once in my other Inkitt post;
And it’s their one trend that upsets me the most.
It appears so often in manuscripts
That every Inkitt visitor trips
Over the topic whenever they visit
This popular trend that one can’t help but see?

It's the theme of the “Alpha Wolf” story. Bear with me.
Most fantasy stories today seem to involve
A werewolf hierarchy, which will revolve
Around wolfish romance—“Alphas” finding a “mate”,
Et cetera, et cetera. So why do I hate it when
Someone brings up this whole “Alpha Wolf” tryst?
Simply because it…well, doesn’t exist.

This Alpha Wolf theory we find so attractive
Was based on a study of wolves that were captive.
Within their confines, the wolves form a structure
Where one holds authority over another.
When Schenkel and Mech made these observations,
We were too quick to apply it to human relations.
“If a human’s aggressive, it’s his wolf tendencies
To act as an alpha o’er all that he sees.
And in his love life—” Well, that’s where I’ll drop it,
But many books take it up from where I stop it.

Between captive and wild, though, there is a difference
That seems, in our fictions, not to have its due deference.
Now, when this research was applied to the wild,
It was found the relation was “parent” and “child.”
The old Alpha structure is a family tree,
With two parents exercising authority
Over their younger children. When the parent dies,
Their offspring—with his family—goes on the rise.
The wolfish leadership is not an instinct
For one type of wolf who will make others sink,
But rather a sign of a family head,
Who loses the throne only after he’s dead.

In your writing, this “Alpha Wolf” myth don’t misuse
For I’ll only see characters with daddy issues.
If you’re writing a romance, please do shun the dance
Of feebly, and falsely, excused “dominance.”
In real life, an “Alpha” is kind of a jerk.
So instead, a more human-like romance should work.

Anyway, thank you for visiting this blog.
I know it’s not easy, trying to slog
Through these endless couplets composed just for you
Only one or two days before they were due.
Have fun with your writing! Okay, now I’m done.
(But I’m not gonna lie…this rhyming was fun.)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

What Not To Do When Submitting a Short Story (even though it worked out for me)

WARNING: The following story may contain some mixed messages.
I begin today’s lesson with an announcement. The great sci-fi forum known as Daily Science Fiction has agreed to publish another of my short stories! Those of you with scary good memories may remember “Cognito, Ergo Sum”, my first story with them—actually my first professional publication ever—that came out in September of 2016 (P.S. it is a short story, so if you finish it quickly and want to read more there’s always my Published Works page). Anyway, I liked the publication and its community so much that I thought I’d try to put another of my stars into the DSF galaxy. Which leads me to the first warning I’d like to give you all.
1)      Do not over-submit to one publication.
DSF had rejected me once before they took “Cognito, Ergo Sum.” Between that story and the one they’ve currently accepted, I made…(checks records)…yes, seven more attempts, and they weren’t shabby attempts if I do say so myself. For me, that is a lot of tries, and I’m certain that some writers have produced a bulk of flash-fictions for a machine-gun-style submission process; as soon as one story gets rejected, they fire right back with another one. Even though I’ve used a similar process a time or two, I’m not really a fan of such a method—I don’t know how attentive editors are to authors’ names, but I don’t want to run the risk of becoming “That One Writer” who makes the staff roll their eyes at your latest shenanigan in their inbox. Seven rejections is probably pretty mild, but it still felt like a lot. I decided to take a different angle with Number Eight—which leads to caution Number Two.
2)      Do not base your story on the publication’s rejection letter.
They say to write what you know. I knew a lot about the DSF rejection form letter. Therefore, my latest 500-ish-word effort, “The DSF Rejection Ceremony”, was a brief probably-fictional account of what happens every time a short story is rejected. It wasn’t anything bitter or vindictive; in fact, it was dramatic to the point of comical, not blaming the editors for the disappointing form letter that the writers receive and acknowledging how difficult it must be to reject so much work so frequently. At any rate, it was fun to write, and I kind of figured that the poor DSF editorial staff would get a kick out of it. Heck, rejecting the story would be rather appropriate.
Then, in mid-November of last year, I got an email from DSF. As was my custom, I flinched when I saw it in my inbox.
Contrary to my expectations, it was a brief letter personally written (I assume) by the editors Jonathan and Michele themselves. This was the entire missive:


I love this. I doubt we'll publish it, will have to ponder, but it does feed my narcissism quite nicely! Well done.

 - Jonathan & Michele, Daily Science Fiction

After—yes, I keep bringing this up—seven straight rejections, this new communication seemed to be a fresh chance at salvation, even though they said they doubted its chances. But a chance was a chance, so I did the third thing that you really shouldn’t do when submitting:
3)      Do not reply to rejection letters.
A lot of publications make it clear that they do not want anyone complaining back to them if one of their stories is not accepted. As a rule, it is a good idea to not address an editor unless they ask for it. But in this case, I judged that A) this wasn’t really a rejection letter, as they implied there was still a chance, and B) this was a personal letter—so there was a better probability that they’d actually read a reply. So I replied. It was basically a list of reasons why it would be a great idea to publish “The DSF Rejection Ceremony.” I kept it polite (if sometimes humorous—I believe it does people good to laugh at emails), tried to keep everything short, and made it clear that—accepted or rejected—I appreciated their time and the opportunity they presented.
I don’t know whether or not it was read. All I know is that, a few days after Christmas, I got another email from DSF. After my customary flinch, I read it.
I have the good fortune of knowing what their form acceptance letter looks like, so this new message appeared to me like an old friend. Well…it wasn’t completely a form letter. At the bottom there was an added postscript:
“We understand that we are being mocked, and yet we are amused.”
That is one of the highest compliments to my writing that I have ever received.
In conclusion, keep an eye out for “The DSF Rejection Ceremony” in the relatively near future—if it’s not on my Published Works page already—and please please please don’t do anything I did when submitting your own short stories. In my humble opinion, the story above is evidence that divine intervention has a sense of humor.

P.S. After I wrote the first draft of this post, the new publication Sonder Midwest replied to one of my queries—they’ve accepted another sci-fi/comedy short story of mine! It’s been a pretty good month here.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2018 Inkitt Review

Happy 2018, everyone! Believe it or not, I am going to hold true to my New Year’s resolution to be a more useful blogger—and I will start by giving my personal appraisal of the manuscript reviewing site Inkitt.
If you are a writer with social media, odds are you have seen the ads for this “Reader-Powered Book Publisher” that basically offers to publish your manuscript if it is popular enough. It looks like a boon for both readers and writers:
·         If you are a reader, you have unlimited access to manuscripts across all genres, and you can leave feedback for the author to help their stories improve.
·         If you are a writer, you have a shot at being published! Inkitt already has a decent list of published books, some of which are Amazon bestsellers. They also work with the chosen authors to create and market their book.
·         It is free.
Naturally, this site appeared to be worth my time; I gave my manuscript “Stormlock: Activation” a spot in the online library. Here is how the whole novel-contest works:
1)      You can write your manuscript on the site or upload an already-written one from your computer.
2)      Readers find and read your manuscript—even if it is just an unfinished work-in-progress. From there, they can “like” the story; give it star-based ratings on plot, writing style, and grammar; and leave comments to the author and other readers about what they thought about the book (which is helpful for those writers asking “Why did you rate my plot so low?”).
3)      Inkitt measures how engaged the readers are. According to the site, their algorithm measures “over 1200 reading behaviors” to tell if your work is a real page-turner. On the author’s Analytics page, they can track how many chapter reads they have and watch a progress bar that tells them how much data has been collected by the algorithm. Once the bar is full, Inkitt will consider your work for publication.
And so, we reach the billion-dollar question: IS IT WORTH IT?
Well, dear reader, after a good long while in the Inkitt system, I can tell you that it is worth it…for some people. It’s not for everybody. From my observations, this is the author type that is ideal for Inkitt competition:
·         You’re a patient author. I uploaded “Stormlock Activation” about last spring or so…and I’m still waiting for my progress bar to fill. There was one time that it was almost all the way full—but then something changed on the website that cut my progress in half for some reason. If you urgently want your books published, Inkitt may not be for you.
·         You’re an author who writes about fantasy, drama, romance, vampires, werewolves, or alphas—preferably all of the above at the same time. If I see one more Inkitt book about someone being “mated” to a vampire/werewolf/mystical creature, I’m going to start a one-man cyberattack. On the site’s front page—where the “trending” stories hang out—I swear there is ALWAYS a story about a pack of werewolves that evidently takes mating habits and alpha males very seriously (actually, according to “Adam Ruins Everything”, a true alpha wolf is actually a wolf who is a father, but that’s a problem for another day). Sci-fi has a fighting chance, but usually when it’s in conjunction with the descriptors above. Looking at Inkitt’s top 20 right now…half of them are romance while one-fifth are sci-fi—and one of those is a romance/sci-fi. So if your style does not fit the list, Inkitt might not be for you.
·         You’re an author who can promote themselves out the wazoo. If you’re not willing to spam Inkitt’s group chats with advertisements for your manuscript, you will likely be overlooked. Your best chance is to be part of a supportive writing community outside of Inkitt already; that way you’ll have a bunch of people who are ready to give your book some hype. From what I’ve seen, the most-noticed advertisements on Inkitt are “book swaps”, basically one writer saying to the community, “Hey, I’ll read and review your book if you do the same for mine.” Which leads me to my next qualification…
·         You’re an author who can read quickly and on a computer screen. If your only hope is promotion through book-swapping, then you’d better get ready to do a bunch of reading on an electronic device, be it your computer or phone. I’m not really a speed-reader nor an electronic reader, so that does not sit well with me. Okay, I did once read The Martian on my phone, but that was a d*** good book.
·         You’re a not-too-critical reader. Books are one of my few generators of emotion. If something is off or stupid—like bad grammar, clunky dialogue, and dumb plot points—it throws me in a rage that takes me so far out of the story that I may never return. Yes, Inkitt has a lot of good stuff, but there is always that manuscript that leaves you wondering if the author, you know, reads books. It stinks if you’ve agreed to review such a work in a book swap; you don’t want to give the author the needed righteous criticism lest your own book suffers in his hands. OCD people may have a hard time in Inkitt.
·         You are an author who wants a manuscript review. At the end of it all, this is Inkitt’s biggest payoff. Inkitt is a community of readers, not relatives or real-life buddies. They (ideally) have no idea who you are—they can read your work and give an honest reader’s opinion. I’ve had nine reviews of “Stormlock: Activation” and they seriously helped me recognize some of the manuscript’s problem areas. They also helped me notice some of my strengths (when one reader says your intro is too short and the other says it’s too long, I say you’ve hit the sweet spot). This is what makes Inkitt worth the trouble, in my opinion. It makes your day so much better when you can open your notifications and see something like this:
This is a book of professional quality. Every aspect of the book, from grammar to world building, is well done. the mash up between fantasy and scy fi, maze runner and dedective story is very original. and i found the main characters very well done. my only point of criticism is that i would have liked rhe book to be a bit more fleshed out in the beginning, to make the setting richer. but thats just my personal opinion. the author is very talented and his work deserves to be published!
-       - timlapiere
Am I tooting my own horn? Maybe a little.
I hope this post has helped you. If you do end up joining Inkitt, though, don’t bother looking for my manuscript; it’s too out-of-date by now and I’m planning to ride out the progress bar.
I’m seeing if I can find an agent.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Why the Grinch Didn't Steal Christmas

Merry Christmas, Loyal Readers! As a thank-you for being such loyal readers, I thought I’d share with you one of my more beloved holiday traditions.
Namely, making comic-strip parodies of Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
I’ve been drawing Lab Rules for a while now, and consequently I have quite a few of these Grinch-themed comics. The majority of them are below; clicking on one should bring it to full size (if you’re using a smartphone, you might have to zoom in a little). These are the Grinch parodies from earlier years—if you want to see the ones I’ve made for this year…tune in to Lab Rules next week. They should start to go up then. If nothing else, these cartoons should make clear the reason that I am a writer: I can’t draw to save my life.
So pardon my poor handwriting/sketching/coloring skills.

Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!