Today we bring back one of our favorite guest bloggers, Cindy McCraw Dircks. We first met Cindy about three years ago and it has been a pleasure to watch her journey from first draft to newly agented writer. It’s extra special for Robin since she was an early beta reader on the very project that landed Cindy her agent. She also has the distinction of being the writer with the most interesting resume we have ever read. (See below)
Please welcome Cindy.
I love sci-fi. As a daughter of diehard Trekkies from Mississippi, I’ve always held Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk on par with Elvis. The only thing I love as much as sci-fi (and Elvis) is the act of writing and reading all kinds of books. Recently I signed with an agent to champion my first novel, and that first novel (no surprise here!) involves aliens from another galaxy. Still, writing a sci-fi book was scary for me. I mean, where to begin when there are so many things in the universe to write about?
So, based on my experience, here are some select tips for writing sci-fi:
1. Define Your Setting: Tatooine Or Closer To Home?
First off, kudos to those who can create their own world from scratch. No greater feat known to man! But personally speaking (and despite my secret wish to be a Jedi) I’d rather not create my own world. My favorite movies from my childhood, teenhood and young-adulthood were: ET, STARMAN, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and STAR TREK 4 (You know—the one where Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, et al, time travel back to 1984 Earth to save our planet by saving whales?). Just last night while watching TV and riding the exercise bike in the basement, l swelled with pride when Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith saved humans from total annihilation in INDEPENDENCE DAY.
I recall these particular sci-fi movies because they brought space to me. To modern day Earth. These movies created situations in which regular everyday people are forced to deal with the extraordinary. So, earth-bound space movie faves in mind, I set about writing Wayne and Emmy Learn to Breathe, in which an agoraphobic Mississippi-boy who won’t leave home falls for a rebellious girl from another galaxy.
2. Love Movies As Much As I Obviously Do? Then Act Like You’re Writing One!
A well-established agent once explained this to me during her Writers Digest Webinar. Easy visualization is key especially in sci-fi and thrillers. Sci-fi books, albeit all books, are more rich with detail than even the best sci-fi movie could ever be. But a 120 page script has the same story arc as an 800 page epic, just obviously more compact.
3. If On Earth—Where On Earth?
I’m from Hattiesburg, MS, and to my knowledge, no one has ever written about an alien hanging out there before. Sure, there are fewer buildings to blow up than there are in NYC. Or at least way fewer big ones. In my story a teen alien girl steals her parent’s pod and crash lands on a Mississippi pine-tree farm. Since she breathes only carbon dioxide, and she’s surrounded by fresh air, she’s instantly in big trouble.
4. Decide Your Brand Of Sci-fi, Hard or Soft?
I personally veer towards hard sci-fi, meaning I like technical accuracy as much as possible. I think what helps make sci-fi accessible is embedding it in reality. That takes research. I based everything that happens in my book on fact or scientifically accepted theory, thus hard sci-fi. I read articles by Stephen Hawking regarding wormholes. I read papers written on Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world-wide-web. I researched Michio Kaku (American futurist and theoretical physicist), who made interstellar travel seem so possible and even read up on Newton’s laws of relativity so that I knew what high school lessons could tie into what was happening to my main character. And go ahead. Ask me anything about sources of carbon dioxide! I know them all…
5. What Does Your Alien Look Like? And Why?
Anatomy! Folks always want to know what makes an alien different. What makes them tick. Why do their eyelids open and close that way? For my story to work, my alien, Emmy, needed to blend in and look human. I put almost all of Emmy’s differences on the inside, and absolutely everything different about her factors into my plot. Emmy crash-lands near the farm of my protagonist, Wayne, who thinks she’s pretty hot–even though Emmy’s an alien. One day when this book gets made into a movie (dare to dream), the studio will save butt-loads on make up.
6. Okay! Done With Your Completed Sci-Fi Masterpiece? Now Find Those Professionals Who Will Totally Love It, Too!
I attended many beneficial and informative conferences once I completed my first draft of my first book (NY & NJ SCBWI, Writers Digest, Women Who Write, etc.) and met a cast of seasoned professionals who never held back on describing their slush piles–from too few of one genre to too much of another. I familiarized myself with agents and editors on Twitter, scanned Publisher’s Marketplace on a daily basis, and checked out more publishing blogs than you could shake a tribble at. Eventually, all this field work paid off for me. Thus, it couldn’t be more important to find, research and target those who are specifically looking for your work.
Although popular genres tend to run in cycles, aliens never go out of style. At least not yet. Humans have been interested in space and science in one form or another for centuries. Life on other planets remains an immediate possibility, and resonates with readers who press Star Trek-style-handhelds to their ears like they’re begging to be beamed up! I cherish the thought that we’re not alone, and agree wholeheartedly with this quote from Carl Sagan’s CONTACT:
“The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”
The truth is out there, but until we find that truth, let’s fictionalize it!
Cindy McCraw Dircks began her publishing and media career as a “go-for” at Playboy Enterprises and peaked as a production coordinator at Sesame Workshop. She took a hiatus to raise three fantastic children, who are now her biggest story critics. Cindy was selected to participate in the #publishyoself program with the Children’s Media Association and was featured in their collaborative Middle Grade ebook released in April 2015. Now, she’s repped by Sarah Crowe at Harvey Klinger and is focused on her fourth YA novel (a modern day retelling of a total classic), and looking to meet that perfect editor one day. Connect with Cindy on Twitter at @mcdircks, on Goodreads, Linkedin or her website: www.cindymccrawdircks.com.