A First Sci-Fi Novel for Young Adults

Balazs ZagoniLast year Balázs Zágoni of Koinonia publishing house in Romania was awarded MAI’s David Alexander Author Fund to complete his first science fiction novel for young adults. Until now Balázs has published nine children’s books, but he has always wanted to be a novelist. Sphere, his working title, describes a futuristic era of food and fuel shortages and severe climate change.

Vic, a 13-year old boy, lives with his father in a mushroom colony. He encounters a strange transparent being, a sphere, who saves his life and with whom he can communicate telepathically. Vic struggles to choose between the warnings of his family and the tempting benefits associated with his unique friendship. We interviewed Balázs about his journey writing sci-fi:

What have you found most challenging in writing science fiction?
I discovered after my second draft that a science-fiction novel needs similar research to a historic novel. Well, you cannot read the history behind a sci-fi novel—you have to write it! So I started to write the last 30 years in the history of this city and its colonies. Plus the back stories of Vic’s parents. I needed to write dozens of pages, even if they don’t go directly into the novel. That hopefully will create a much sharper picture of this imaginary world.

What lessons do you want young adults to take away?
I do not want to teach any kind of lessons! Sometimes even for me it is a question where the story goes. What interests me is situations in which we are tempted to convince ourselves that we are on the right track, while in fact we are not.

Vic has several intense inner dialogues during moments in which he has to make tough decisions. He must choose between his family’s seasoned advice and his own limited, personal experience. Which is reliable? Is the sphere a sort of friend and helper, a kind of savior, or a cunning enemy trying to seduce and enslave him?

What is your favorite science fiction book?
Recently I enjoyed very much Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but I enjoyed and learned a lot from Stephen Lawhead’s Bright Empire series too. Though they are not sci-fi, the Harry Potter books had a great impact on me also.

How have your cultural roots influenced your writing?
I grew up in Communist Romania until I was 13. Then the Iron Curtain fell. And I became a Christian when I was 19. These two things influenced me a lot. I am also an ethnic Hungarian living in Romania. So I am sensitive to issues where there is a majority and a minority, or where there are different cultures.

I was raised by my writer and journalist parents telling me, “As many languages you know, as many times you are a human being.” I speak three languages fluently. There is always another point of view, which seems very true for the other person’s life and cultural background.

When do you hope to have the book complete?
My son enjoyed it and gave the draft to two other friends. He keeps encouraging me and asking when it will be ready. I hope to have the final draft finished this year.

<Learn how Balázs started writing in our interview, “An Accidental Children’s Writer

God’s Best Plan: Stop writing!

Marcia Lee LaycockBy Marcia Lee Laycock, Canada

“Why don’t you ever have time for me?”

My heart stopped and I turned to my nine-year old daughter as she burst into tears. I gathered her in my arms and we talked. She had needed me when she came home from school that day, but I was glued to the computer screen, and had only given her a vague “uhuh” when she started to tell me what was on her heart.

A short time after that, a man stood up in a congregation and said, “What you are doing is good but your obsession with it is not.” I knew immediately God was speaking to me. I knew my writing had become an idol in my life. When I needed comfort, I wrote. When I was afraid, I wrote. When I was angry, I wrote. I went to my writing instead of my God.

So I prayed and God answered. Stop writing fiction. I didn’t like that answer but when I eventually gave in I asked God to please, please take away the stories that continually flowed through my head. He did. For over two years. I continued to write devotionals and articles for a local newspaper, but no fiction.

Then one day I was chatting with a woman about abortion. She asked, “Can you One Smooth Stone by Marcia Lee Laycockimagine what it would be like for someone to discover that his mother had tried to abort him?” I did imagine. A character began to take shape in my mind so vividly I knew God had released me to write his story. I prayed and then I wrote. That novel, One Smooth Stone, won the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award. And I wept, not just because of the award, but because of what God had taught me.

He taught me that if I am obedient to Him He will bless me in ways I could never have imagined. He taught me that a strong “no” may seem harsh but will always be given with loving intent. He taught me that He intends “to prosper (me) and not to harm (me)… to give (me) a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Father in heaven keep me close to you, so close that I will never again put an idol in the place that you should hold. Thank you that I can know your plans are always best. Amen.

Marcia Lee Laycock writes from Alberta Canada where she lives with her pastor/husband and two golden retrievers. Her three daughters are often fodder for her writing. She is a columnist with Novel Rocket and her devotionals are widely distributed. She also has three published novels and several ebooks available.

This article is an entry in the MAI devotional writing contest.

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Do you prefer paper? Check out our other practical resources in print format for publishing, writing and editing.

Photo above courtesy of Andrey Kravchenko

The Importance of Drafting

This post was used by permission of award-winning novelist T. Davis Bunn and originally published on his blog as “The Hardest Thing A Novelist Faces” on August 6, 2013.
During the creative process, there are going to be moments when you have explosions of bliss. For the Christian writer, this is a feeling of moving into the presence of God. ‘Self’ disappears and you become one with the idea you are constructing on the page.

And then there’s the next day.

The next day, you go back and re-read what you write yesterday, looking for a cheap high. You want to feel those energies again.

When you start to re-read, you’ll notice a thread that’s dangling… an imperfection. And so you drop this; you change that. All of a sudden, the beautiful tapestry you put together yesterday is gone. It’s dead. It’s just words on the page. You’ve lost the ability to use the momentum of yesterday to begin work on a new empty page.

Many beginning novelists fear that their draft is doing to require changes, and so they start making the changes as they write.

Don’t do this.

What you’ll find is that you’ll feel compelled to change it again and again. Instead, finish theYoung Girl typing by -Marcus- Freedigital photos story. If possible, I urge you to not even re-read your work until you finish your first draft.

The hardest thing you will face as an artist is the empty page. But you will never establish your “voice” through re-writing. It comes through first drafting.

The importance of drafting

Too often, an author mistakes their early book for their profession. It’s not the same. You need to be establishing the discipline of regular output, not just in terms of pages, but in terms of stories. You need to be able to see yourself as growing, through the story, into the next story – into becoming a commercial writer.

A successful novelist has to be convinced that this is a great book and that what you are doing is what you should be working on now, and that you are the person to write this story. This drives you through the first draft.

The second draft is all about doubt. You question everything. I suggest approaching the second draft from the standpoint of developing your creative concept into a product. These two need to be separate entities.

You write the story and it’s your baby until you hit the climax.

Then you set it aside… you divorce yourself from the project, preferably by starting your next book. And then you do the re-drafting. Until you have identified yourself with the next story, you should not begin the re-drafting. What you’ll discover is that re-drafting is more of a refining process than a drastic alteration.

How I draft stories

During the first draft, I write in blocks of about 40 pages. I make constant notes at the beginning of each of these blocks. By the time I’ve finished writing a story, I will have as many as 10 pages of notes for a 40-page segment. In my notes, I write out, in dialogue form, actual passages I’m thinking of inserting, but I won’t try to find where those passages should go in the story. I won’t look at anything until I’ve finished the story.

If I’m thinking of making a big change, such as deleting a character, I will make a note that indicates at which block the character no longer exists. But I will not take the character out during the first drafting process.

The result is not just a heightened flow; I’m able to maintain the sense of confidence in my storytelling ability through that first-drafting process.

I can doubt the story and myself when I start the second draft. But not during the first draft.

What about you?

What technique works best for you when drafting a story?

Photo above courtesy Free digital photos

How I Learned to Create Realistic Dialogue

This post was used by permission of author T. Davis Bunn and originally published on his blog as “Readers Ask: What was the most valuable advice you received as an unpublished writer” on March 12, 2013.

I finished seven books before my first was accepted for publication. I made my first presentation to a New York agent with the third novel. She thoroughly disliked everything about my work. Her letter was one page long, and was perhaps the most painful set of words I have ever been forced to confront.

The most telling of her criticisms was, “your characters are one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs and your dialogue is flat.”

The worst thing about her comments was, I knew she was right.

I ditched novel four, which by then was almost completed. And I knew it was basically just more of the same. I then spent three weeks trying to decide whether to ditch the writing gig entirely. Remember, I was running a consulting group and struggling every day to make time for the writing. And after three and a half years, this was the result?  My family wanted me to quit, I was exhausted most of the time, I hadn’t been on a date in over a year. This was a life?

But there was nothing else I wanted to do with my life. That was the only answer I had. Everything else paled in comparison to the thirst, the desperate longing to write, and the compelling agonizing joy that came from meeting the empty page.

If I was going to continue, I had to change. I had to improve. I had to break out of this rut and grow. But how?  I was living in Germany. I had no contact with any writers’ group. The books on writing that I studied didn’t say much about how to survive a savaging from a NY agent. So I improvised.

I began taking a pocket recorder into every contact with other people outside of business. Coffee with friends, dinners, family, sports, everything. For a month I recorded everything I heard, then went home and wrote it all out. The exercise defined boring. I truly loathed the experience.

But by the end of that month, I owned those people. I could take a kindly grandmother and turn her into an assassin, and make it work, because I had her individual traits and the revelations she made in her conversation, mostly unconscious.

From there I began working on point of view from the standpoint of revealing both the viewer and the outside world, something I identified in the writers I most admired. Little one-paragraph sketches developed into longer pieces, as the characters began to take on tasks. Action and tension became real because they were developed from the inside out.

Four weeks into this grueling exercise, I woke up in the middle of the night from a dream where I heard an old man’s voice telling me a story. I got up and wrote it out, four and a half single-spaced pages. Nothing but dialogue. Two men and one woman. The story still holds me. When I finished, just before dawn, I knew I could leave that exercise behind. The lesson was not learned. It was mine.

Space-break for a fast forward ten years:  My breakout novel The Great Divide was released by Doubleday.

The NY Post had this to say:  “Bunn’s excellent characters reveal a strong good-vs-evil story. His dialogue is racehorse fast. That’s some feat.”

I agree.

Have you ever felt like giving up on your writing? What compelled you to continue?