In Space, No One Can See You Hide The Evidence: Crimes In Space

Welcome to Part 12, my final WorldCon, CoNZealand panel write up.

The panelists for the titular panel were as follows: Trish Matson (as moderator), Valarie Valdes, Carl Fink, and Kat Clay.

The panel description was brief and to the point (since the title covered so much): The panel discusses SF mysteries set in space.

What Is Crime?

Where ever you find people, you find good people and you fine bad people. But, what makes certain people’s behavior qualify as ‘bad’? Well, there is typically an official and/or unofficial codification of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Hurting others, putting others at risk, or taking advantage of others to their detriment usually tops the list. These days, the law of your country and the society in which you find yourself defines what is and is not a crime.

In our own world, we see groups like Black Lives Matter protesting what they see as the law being excessively enforced against Black Americans — among others — without accountability. Additionally, we also see justice somehow coming down on the side with the most money more often than statistically it should.

In speculative fiction, though, we often set humanity in situations where, through ignorance, (willful or not), the humans or the aliens hurt one another. In the classic Orson Scott Card Ender’s Game series, the bugs had a hive mind and didn’t realize that killing individual bodies was ending the consciousness of another sentient being, forever, (give-or-take some sort of afterlife or reincarnation).

Crimes take place in all sorts of novels, but here are some of the major crime genres.

Types of Crime Novels

  1. Cozy mystery
  2. Thriller
  3. Suspense
  4. Private Eye
  5. Classic Detective – like ‘locked room’ mysteries
  6. Police Procedural
  7. Hard-Boiled
  8. Capers

Things To Think About When Writing About Crime in Speculative Fiction:

Three Things To Think About When Writing Laws

  1. Who is creating the laws?

    Very often in speculative fiction, and often in life, the people creating the laws do not expect them to be enforced on themselves or their families. They bring in their own prejudices and assumptions about “those-types-of-people”. Or, you have people making laws based on theory, who are out of touch with the realities of life and the deviousness of people.

    If you’re in a closed environment, like a generational ship, it would likely be the officer level crew making the laws – like the Captain and those working closely with the Captain.
  2. Who is enforcing the laws?

    We expect it to be brave people and/or artificial intelligences who follow the letter of the law with a compassionate, (but far from naive), interpretation. That’s not always the case. In some societies, bribes are so expected, they’re counted as business expenses. Often, people from a particular class or background end up in law enforcement. Those enforcing the laws see people on their worst day, or only the worst people, and it can jade them, so that they come to expect that from everyone. That sort of attitude can lead to them prioritizing their own over justice, or the law.

    On that generational ship, it would likely be the enlisted level crew enforcing the laws. Security has a lot of authority, but most of us know just how expendable ‘Red Shirts’ are on Star Trek: The Original Series.
  3. Who is being policed?

    We expect it to be everyone, equally, with none above the law. Historically, we have often seen poorer areas heavily policed and heavily punished in an attempt to cut down on crime, while better off areas were less heavily policed and their residents punished with a gentler touch. And we can’t forget that those with money can often make trouble with the law go away.

    In the States, it used to be that children getting in trouble in school would end up in suspension – in school or out. Now, cops are called in, charges filed, and jail is becoming common.

    Back to the generational ship example. Most of the policing would be of the passengers, but are there class distinctions there?
    Perhaps, there some who paid for a large suite for their families, while others bought just a bunk? Are there criminals assigned to the ship to work off their debts? What happens to the later generations? Do these roles become a caste system?

    Things to think about when creating your speculative world. Which leads us to a few other thoughts.

Two Things To Think About Regarding The Speculative Aspect

  1. What are the technical limitations?

    If we’re futuristic, do we have cameras? If we’re magic, can we cast a truth spell or seeing spell? With the tech level, for less advanced societies, don’t give them modern forensics. For more advanced societies, think about how far forensics has come in the last century!

    Play fair with the reader!

    If you’re writing a who-dunnit in space, you want to establish what the laws are and at least hint at what the technology is capable of. Mystery readers typically enjoy stories better if they can either work it out themselves in advance from the clues, without it being too blatant, or see it’s obvious in retrospect.

    If you make the twist something that wasn’t explained, the readers often feel cheated.

    And we all know, readers who feel cheated leave 1-star bashing reviews.

    If there are AIs (created beings with artificial intelligence), are they the criminal? The tool used to commit the crime? The detective? Is there a thing in their programming that’s preventing them from solving the crime?

    Some of the best speculative mysteries are when the world building sets up the ‘smoking gun’, where it’s only obvious in retrospect.
  2. Who are people?

    Can you create backups of people from their last transporter session. Or from clones? So, would killing a body still count as murder.

    And delving into this, are clones recognized as people? What about other species that we may or may not recognize as fully sentient? And should we enforce our morality and expectations on alien societies?

    PERSONAL NOTE: I will always believe that the moment a clone experiences life differently than the original, they are creating their own memories and are their own person, with all the rights that entails. Why yes, I’m a second-born identical twin, why do you ask?

All The Book Recommendations!

  • The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun (The Robot Series) – Isaac Asimov
  • Long Arm of Gil Hamilton – Larry Niven
  • Six Wakes – Mur Lafferty
  • Retrieval Artist Series – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  • All Systems Red (Murderbot) – Martha Wells
  • A Pale White In The Black – K. B. Wagers
  • A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine
  • Lord Darcy Series – Randall Garrett
  • The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia – Ursula Le Guin
  • An Unkindness of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon
  • Ethan of Athos – Lois Bujold
  • And Then There Were (N-One) [Uncanny Magazine] – Sarah Pinsker
  • Revelation Space – Alistair Reynolds
  • Deadly Litter – James White

What other things do you consider when you set a crime in space?

Do you have any favorite ‘crimes in space’ novels you’d like to recommend?

Author Spotlight: John Rosenman

  • a neurotic, sometimes impractical, imaginative, tennis-playing, speculative fiction writer.

Readers! Let’s give a good, hearty welcome to John Rosenman!

John is a retired English professor who has published two dozen books and 250+ stories in places such as Weird Tales, Whitley Strieber’s Aliens, Fangoria, Galaxy, Endless Apocalypse, The Age of Wonders, and the Hot Blood erotic horror series.

Two of his major themes are the endless, mind-stretching wonders of the universe and the limitless possibilities of transformation—sexual, cosmic, and otherwise.

John, thanks for agreeing to be here today. While most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

We had two female terrier-like dogs who I loved and I’d like another. One of them was crazy about the salt on my body and would methodically lick my legs and between my toes.

I’ve also been thinking about a cat.

A good dog is like nothing else.

What do you write? And how did you get started?

I love ideas and story concepts. In fact, I always have. When I was a small child I would say to my father, “Tell me a story,” and at night he would tell me one while I lay in bed. That perhaps more than anything else got me started.

As a small child I liked to sit with my girl friend (not girlfriend) and make up stories about drivers who passed us. “Ah, that one is the lady burglar!” As I grew up, I liked to create alien worlds, fascinating characters, mind-bending concepts. While I have written some realistic fiction, I’m usually more comfortable creating speculative fiction and tales of fantasy and horror.

I find myself always giving people motivations for what they do, even if I don’t know them, as well. And speculative fiction makes it a little harder for people to tell you ‘you got it wrong.’

I’ve heard a rumor that you’re a pantser, not a plotter. Is that true?

It is! I’ve tried doing an outline and character sketches, but it’s not for me. In general, I like to make it up as I go with only a cloudy destination in sight.

This NaNoWriMo, I’ve been doing more discovery writing than I’m comfortable with, but having a cloudy destination is a great thing, at least for me.

What do you like to read?

Science fiction and speculative fiction. Some horror and fantasy. Jack Reacher hard-nosed, action thrillers. Recently I read The Forgotten Child and Girl With a Pearl Earring. Actually, I read all kinds of genres and love to find unexpected jewels and bangles in all of them.

I’m right there with you! Speculative fiction of all sorts is my jam. But a wide variety can only broaden you as a reader and a writer.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Write what you know.

I usually write about what I don’t know. Imaginary worlds, alien species. They come from my imagination. Sometimes I do research to flesh out and make real things I know little about, like driving through Wyoming and Denver and being a crab fisherman in the Chesapeake Bay. Thank God for Google!

Imaginary worlds are my home, too.

Although, my grandpa was actually a crabber for a couple years, my aunt and uncles helped him out. But yes! Grounding the fantastic with things drawn from this world can really help flesh out a story and give it a realism that is hard to duplicate.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Find a beta reader

Find a really good beta reader and/or a really good writers’ critique group. Both are so important. Thanks to my writers’ group, I’ve polished and sold dozens of short stories and novels. Today, I have a friend who critiques all my stuff online. We trade back and forth, helping each other out.

One-hundred percent. Having writer friends who get it, who support you, and who push you to greatness is irreplaceable.

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

Here goes. My Inspector of the Cross sci-adventure series now numbers six books, with the latest, Crash having just been released. The first five novels are Inspector of the Cross, Kingdom of the Jax, Defender of the Flame, Conqueror of the Stars, and Skyburst.

The first three novels are now available as a boxset under the title Starfighter Chronicles.

Thanks to suspended animation, Turtan is over 3500 years old and travels on freeze ships to distant worlds. His mission is to investigate weapons that will help humanity turn the tide against their ancient nemesis…the Cenknife. Vicious aliens, the Cenknife seek to conquer the universe and enslave humanity. And only one man can save them!

A Senseless Act of Beauty
FREE with Kindle Unlimited and available on Audio

Imagine the 1950’s Sci-Fi movie Forbidden Planet with 1000 new wonders. Can Aaron, a Nigerian scientist, solve the glorious mysteries of Viridis and avoid destruction for both him and his crew?

Beyond Those Distant Stars
FREE with Kindle Unlimited AND Audio

Alien invaders have all but destroyed humanity. Stella McMasters, a retired naval officer, yearns to get in the war but knows she’ll never get a chance. Then amazing things start to happen, after an incident in which she nearly loses her life.

Check John Rosenman out across the web!

Website | Amazon

Counting My Blessings

In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday in the States, I’m taking a break before my final WorldCon CoNZealand write-up to give thanks for all my blessings.

20 Things I Am Grateful For In 2020

While 2020 had been a pretty rough year for most of us, I know that many of you have had it far rougher than I have. My heart goes out to all of you whose lives have been touched by the pandemic — with illness, lost jobs, isolation, election anxiety, or more. Meanwhile, my life changed far less than I imagined it would.

My days have been filled with my dayjob and my nights with my writing. Plus? A LOT of online conventions needing staff.

I’ve been going to the grocery store every month and a half, with the occasional farmers market trip, and not much else outside of my household. I’ve attended three very small, outside gatherings spread across five months. Then, two weeks ago, I topped off my groceries and gas tank, in preparation for the holiday and stayed completely alone until this afternoon.

And so it was that I found myself near in tears of relief as I drove down to visit my mother for Thanksgiving, counting my blessings.

So, in no particular order, here are some of my blessings:

  1. I have a mother who’s been staying isolated and healthy
  2. My mother is within driving distance
  3. I have a job
  4. I can work from home
  5. I have a home that I can comfortably work from
  6. I live in a quiet, safe neighborhood
  7. My health
  8. I have a family and friends who love and support me
  9. I get the Thanksgiving and Year End holidays off from work
  10. I’ve managed to keep my obligations light so that I can keep up with NaNoWriMo
  11. I finally got to meet my newest puppy brother, who was born at the start of the pandemic! [french bulldog]
  12. I have a writer father who understands my dayjob and writing complaints and triumphs
  13. My blog and vlog are having their best year yet
  14. Very few of my friends and family have been impacted directly by the pandemic or job losses *knocks on wood*
  15. My supportive twin sister is my perfect alpha reader
  16. High speed internet — making my job and virtual cons possible
  17. The wonderful and supportive writing communities I’ve found – Write by The Rails and Spilled Ink, locally. My local NaNo writers. The AuthorTube tribe — especially Sarah, who lets me join her stream, and Sako, usually joins my weekly write-in stream, the PitchWars community, the Insecure Writer’s Group, the Sub-it-club and… Um. I’ll stop there or I could be here all night.
  18. My wonderful critique partners and beta readers who have donated their time to help me improve. Especially Ashley Cass – The Book Babe!
  19. Getting to eat food my mom cooked, tomorrow!
  20. Did I mention getting to see my puppy brothers? Charlie, the maybe 9-month-old french bulldog, and Buttons, the 11-year-old papillion.

Author Spotlight: Lauren Sevier

  • a YA author who splits her time working full-time in Cardiology, writing, filming YouTube videos, and being a proud wife and mother.

Readers! Let’s give a good, hearty welcome to Lauren Sevier!

Lauren Sevier is a proud Ravenclaw and YA author who helps mend broken hearts and runs after her wild little boy.

Hailing from the deep south, she writes with as much spice as she cooks with and collects antique tea cups, good books, and great friends.

Lauren, thanks for agreeing to be here today. While most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

Well, I have two dogs one is a red-haired Border Collie named Lily (yes, after Lily Potter) who is as beautiful as she is neurotic, and a pint-sized criminal aptly named Bandit who is too smart for his own good and dramatic to boot. They’ve both been with us through really hard times, we got Bandit before going through infertility treatment and Lily was purchased as a support animal for my husband after his first hip replacement surgery.

So, even though I could say a dragon or mermaid or gryphon or some other cutesy answer… the fictional doesn’t compare with reality. They’re warm and funny and frustrating, and have beaten away sorrow and loneliness during hardships with a relentlessness that only dogs possess. They’re family and since having our son that’s been made more clear to us than ever, as he is now a favorite partner in mischief.

A loyal dog is worth its weight in gold. I’m so happy they’ve been such a bright spot in your life.

What do you write?

My debut is a YA Fantasy novel, the first in a 7-book series, but I’ve dabbled in YA sci-fi, YA dystopian, and am starting a few projects that would be considered Adult fiction or NA fiction. I started writing as most of us do in childhood or more aptly, adolescence. Silly stories, about batman’s daughter or a girl who lives in an enchanted forest. I think I wanted to imagine a world in which being different than everyone else made you special and not weird.

Growing up I had a hard time, I had flaming red hair (hence the childhood nickname of ketchup head) and too much imagination for my peers. Even among my family members, I was considered odd, preferring to stay inside and read instead of going shopping or to social events. As someone so hyper-active and extroverted it seemed a contradiction and people couldn’t seem to figure me out. As I grew older that transformed into writing song lyrics on my front porch swing and reading classic literature and poetry. For years I had the impossible dream of writing a novel of my own. Admitting it, even to myself, would have opened up my fragile hope to ridicule and criticism, the same kind that had devastated me for my entire adolescence.

In fact, it wasn’t until I met my former writing partner that I even dared to dream about it. She introduced me to fan-fiction first, a toe in the water, a pressure-free environment in which to explore and experiment with my writing. Then, during one of the hardest moments of my life, she gave me a writing prompt to get my mind off of the world around me for a little while. Two days later I emailed her a completely original non-fan fiction first chapter and it blew her away. Neither of us knew I had that kind of passion and talent. Ever since then, I’ve been completely unable to turn it off, much to my husband’s chagrin. (He can’t seem to keep up with all the stories I have working at a given time, LOL).

I was just sharing notes on a panel from former fanfiction writers talking about all of the skills it gives writers — whether they play in their own worlds or continue with shared universes. I’m thrilled it’s a path that worked for you and that you’ve found the strength to put your works out there for others to read. It can feel like sharing your soul and waiting for judgment.

What do you like to read?

I have a busy schedule, so reading is a luxury and also an essential part of honing my craft. So, I have to constantly multi-task (via audiobooks) and prioritize by being really selective with my reading. I read pretty extensively in my genre which is currently YA fantasy, but I also read craft books, self-help books, books for research, and occasionally a romance novel to let off some mental steam (i’m a hopeless romantic and love the happily ever afters).

I hear the busy schedule, and am jealous of people who can absorb stories through audio books. I’ve gotten better with short stories, but for longer stuff, I need a long drive or I need a longer commute. YA fantasy is my first writing love, too. And bring on the quick-reading romances that you know are going to end on a happy note.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Write Every Day.

Write every day. I can’t tell you how much I hate seeing people perpetuate this advice to the point that it is considered a professional standard. Not only is it unrealistic, I think for some individuals it could be really unhealthy. Between my full-time job in Cardiology, traveling for work, being a mother to a toddler, a wife to a husband with an incurable auto-immune disease, and my writing goals… writing every day isn’t only impossible, it’s unhealthy.

This is such a widely accepted piece of advice that people are normally taken aback by how strongly I feel about it. Writing, like any artistic endeavor is a creative pursuit and you can’t draw on a well that is empty. Taking breaks from writing and recharging yourself is so necessary to keep yourself healthy and productive.

I would amend the advice to say instead, ‘Work every day.’ There are so many things you can do that can help further your writing journey other than writing; reading, research, learning about publishing trends, working on your marketing plan (for self-publishing) or query letter (for traditional), building your social media platforms, and so much more! Things that can take away that pressure to perform that can leave you feeling weak or drained. Or, as Bilbo Baggins once put it, “like butter scraped over too much bread.”.

Best thing about writing advice is you only have to take the bits that work for you. I can manage writing everyday for NaNoWriMo, but the rest of the year, I have a pace that’s a bit more realistic for my life. And reading definitely reminds me why I want to do this in the first place.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Write like it matters, and it will.

Libba Bray

Libba Bray is one of my favorite authors and she once said “Write like it matters, and it will.” This is something I say to myself like a motto when I have to push through deadlines or find inspiration when I’ve hit a wall. What is the point of writing this? I ask myself, constantly. Does this matter to me? If it does, WHY does it matter to me? Because if it doesn’t matter to me, if it doesn’t make me feel anything: passion, horror, sorrow, vindication, whatever it may be then my readers won’t have the same experience.

My motivation behind publishing isn’t to make a ton of money, or become famous, it’s to connect with other people. To hopefully touch them or inspire them, to make them feel something, to help them escape the mundane or downright awful. I want my writing to matter to my readers in the same ways it has always mattered to me. I can only hope that one day it will.

That’s so encouraging. I know my dream is that someone I don’t know, that didn’t get the book from someone I know, finds out who I am and tells me it’s their favorite story.

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

Songs Of Autumn

What if your entire life you knew the exact day you were going to die?

Magick in the Kingdom of Aegis has almost run out. When that happens, the seasons will stop changing, the tides will cease to turn, and the sun will no longer be able to rise and set. The only way to save the lives of her people is if Liz agrees to be a blood sacrifice in a brutal ceremony that will take her life.

The problem is, Liz isn’t ready to go.

With the help of a mischievous wanna-be soldier, Matioch Steele, Liz dares to take her fate into her own hands. Defying a blood-thirsty sorcerer, her desperate flight teaches her how to truly live while Mat finds out what’s worth dying for. Each other.

Love, Death, Magick, and Mystery come together to weave one girl’s epic tale of self-discovery.

Her song will echo within us all.

Check Lauren Sevier out across the web!

Website | Instagram | Twitter |Goodreads | Amazon | Youtube

Writing For Young Adults

Welcome to Part 11, the penultimate of my WorldCon, CoNZealand panel write ups.

The panelists for the titular panel were: A.j. Ponder (as moderator), Katya de Becerra, Darie Little Badger, and Joe Struss. The panel description was as follows:

Does writing for young adults differ from other writing? In what ways?  How do writers approach it? What are some examples — from classics and from the panelists own work?

In the modern publishing industry, YA is a booming and, for now, a seemingly ever growing market. Despite the huge variety found within the category, there are two unifying requirements:

  1. The age of the point-of-view (POV) character needs to be young adult themselves, typically sixteen to maybe nineteen.
  2. The story must address issues that are important to young adults – such as coming of age, starting their independent lives, and establishing their own identities.

    While these themes can be explored in adult literature, those characters are often dealing with the aftermath of the decisions they made as young adults and the shape of the lives those decisions created.

Why is all the best literature YA and what makes it so great?

Obviously, we can’t list all the reasons, but here are some of the ones that easily sprang to mind for the panelists.

  1. YA literature is targeted toward teens as they’re growing and changing, and can be a formative part of their growth.
  2. YA literature is often about characters who are transitioning from childhood to adulthood, and that sort of growth makes for good stories. Stories are almost always about change.
  3. It has a great source of variety and diversity.
  4. There is a lot of space for experimentation in YA, with the genre expectations less strict
    • Graphic novels
    • Horror stories within a story
    • Epistolary – which is more texting than letters and newspaper clippings these days.
  5. Books can help model ways of handling things teens are going through, in a way that’s removed enough to not be traumatic, nor preachy. They can help with topical matters, trauma, depression, anxiety, and more.
  6. Dystopian YA shows that you can stand up to huge systems and make a difference — it’s an empowering message

What are the limits on cursing, sex, gore, violence, etc within YA?

It’s continually evolving. It used to be, you couldn’t use the ‘f’ word. And then you could use it once.

For the rest? It can be there, as long as it’s there for a story reason, not just for shock value, titulation, or gore’s sake. Consider your audience and write it in a meaningful way.

Mistakes To Be Wary Of

Of course, with writing, if you do it well enough, nothing is truly a mistake. But, these are things you may want to avoid:

  1. Chasing trends – the market fluxuates and your story may come after the enthusiasm has died down, especially if you’re being traditionally published, a process that can take years.
  2. Giving up too soon – publishing is a hard business, but perseverance can take you a long way. Maybe your road to success is your fifth manuscript, or your 200th agent query, or your twelth re-write, or self-publishing. But, you’ll never know if you give up.
  3. Not reaching out and hanging out with better writershaving a supportive group of writers you can call on is so helpful during the process. Having good friends who are better writers can only push you to reach their levels.
  4. Not being open to constructive criticism
    • CAVEAT – Constructive criticism from people you trust. BEFORE the work is published. After it’s published, it’s no use to you and will only make you second guess yourself.
    • There is very little to glean from negative reviews, unless you have structural or sensitivity issues. It’s best just to not read reviews. Or have a friend only forward the ones they think you need to see.
  5. Not writing things you enjoy or not using a voice that works for you and/or the story
  6. Not reading widelywhile you shouldn’t chase trends, you should know the shape of your market, and reading outside your genre just broadens you.
  7. Not doing your teen research – A lot of writers these days have teens magically loving 80s music and pop references. While there are some teens who do, they’re not the norm, and the trend is a bit overdone these days. Also, you have writers ignoring technology. If you’re doing a contemporary story, pay attention to the apps teens are using, how they’re using them, current slang, and more. These things become outdated quickly.
  8. Overdoing the angsty teen stereotype – Okay, this one wasn’t in the panel, but I skipped that phase, myself. (Right, Mom?) And when done poorly, it makes it hard to connect to the whiny main character.

YA stories these days run the gamut of genres and intensity, just like the true lives of teens themselves.

If you’re writing for teens, just be careful. With the popularity of YA books amongst adults, more and more YA books have main characters that teens often claim sound like adults. Keep the teen perspective in mind and write for the intended audience — or age your character up and just do an adult novel.

Do you enjoy YA novels? What are your favorites?

Have you written a YA novel? What did you find to be your biggest struggles?

P.S. Over on my podcast, this week’s episode is : How To Write? You Do You!

There are more ways to write a novel than there are writers — and what worked last time, may not work this time. In this episode, I talk about all the advice out there — and ways you can use and adapt them to work for you.