Thursday, October 18, 2012

Red Bull, Marketing and the Future

Like millions of others, I followed the Red Bull Stratos Jump story last week. I didn't actually watch it live as I was online with Cat Rambo taking one of her fabulous classes. I definitely logged some time on their site pursuing this story. First, I'm going to say, Wow! Awesome. That was truly a death defying jump and it was thrilling and beautiful to see him safe on the ground after spinning around like a rag doll up there in the stratosphere.

A jump from orbit, Star Trek Style
Baumgartner's jump feels like the stuff of science fiction and in many ways it is. Red Bull definitely has a knack for spectacle and an ear for story. I would have liked it better if they hadn't tried to coat the whole adventure with a veneer of science that is so thin as to be nonexistent.

Stop by Bad Astronomy and check out Phil Plait's great post where he clarifies some of the science claims around the Red Bull Stratos jump and also refutes the meme that an energy drink now has a better space program than our nation. Amy Shira Teitel over on The Crux has some excellent thoughts about the hoopla around Baumgartner's jump along with some background about Joseph Kittinger's high altitude jumps in 1959 and 1960.
 "The Air Force needed a way to stabilize a pilot from a high altitude ejection, and Francis F. Beaupre had a sequential parachute that would do just that. Kittinger jumped from 102,800 feet in 1960 as part of Project Excelsior to prove that Beaupre’s parachute would work. It did, the Air Force had data and a healthy Kittinger as evidence, and the project ended. There was no live video of his jump. He was a Captain in the Air Force, and he jumped from 102,800 feet for Captain’s pay to complete a mission."  ~Amy Shira Teitel
Even though the Air Force and NASA aren't going anywhere, the jump, with it's pretenses to scientific and engineering advances reinforces the idea (delightful to some unnerving to others) that space exploration will now simply be handed over to corporations. Of course it's a little more nuanced than that. Several corporations are already collaborating with NASA to take the next steps into space, and I think that's a great thing. They're just not Red Bull. Red Bull isn't interested in space or even in high altitude ejection safety. Red Bull is interested in selling little cans of energy drink.

Of course science fiction has been imagining corporatist futures since, well, the beginnings of science fiction. The man v. society-as-megacorporation has been meat and potatoes for the genre for many years from Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books, to Dune, to one of my personal favorites Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Just about everybody's written something with an evil corporation: Gibson, Niven, Dick...James Cameron has made a career of it.
But it's not that Red Bull is a multi-billion dollar corporation that caught my eye. Their Stratos project did break new ground of course, and that ground was in marketing. Yahoo quoted @JMRooker's tweet: "Red Bull wins the internet for today." And it did. Within hours a Legos reenactment was posted, memes and Gifs proliferated like genetically modified crops. Janean Chun over at the Huffington Post says Red Bull Stratos May Change the Future of Marketing. Why buy commercial time when you can sell your product by making news.
"How do you cut through the clutter and do something unique? See your brand as a story. Go big, take risks. Your brand could be on the front page of global media if you do something unusual." ~Ben Sturner
How we consume media is changing by the minute and how products are advertised must change or their companies will relegated to the dust bin of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It's a sea change, and what's fascinating and a more than a little unnerving is this idea of big marketing stunts where the humans involved are simply a cog in the marketing machine. Sometimes the line between product and marketing gets a little fuzzy where the spectacle serves as a feedback loop for generating the income to undertake a big project. Like Mars One
Astronaut, colonist,  marketing tool or all of the above?
According to their website they will:
... take humanity to Mars in 2023, to establish the foundation of a permanent settlement from which we will prosper, learn, and grow. 
They will achieve this partly by making the whole endeavor a reality show. According to Wikipedia the show will involve astronaut selection by the public (audience) American Idol style and continue to follow the colonists' first years living on mars. Brilliant marketing plan or grim corporatist future? How much reality to you want in your fiction? 

Of course if it's going to play on the internet there will have to be cats.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Next Big Thing

 For the World is Hollow And I have Touched the Sky

Patrice Sarath tagged me to talk about my Next Big Thing. She is the author of the Gordath Wood series (Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and The Crow God's Girl) and the Jane Austin-inspired The Unexpected Miss Bennet. Her latest WIP is Bandit Girls.

It might be better to call it my FIRST Big Thing as (barring the Mayan Apocalypse), I am hereby publicly committing to writing a novel in 2013. 

10 questions about your Next Big Thing:

1. What is the title of your work in progress?
The Iron Tongue of Midnight (from A Midsummer Night's Dream) is a potential title. For now Inside Out is the working title. 

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
What I have so far has coalesced around a constellation of smaller obsessions ideas that consistently interest me. Influences include: the story of Proserpine and Hades, my misspent youth reading Carl Jung, and, you know, space.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
Science Fiction with likely some fantasy and/or slip-streamy elements.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in the movie?
That question is pretty far down the road for me to think about. If this novel did get optioned and the casting were up to me I'd like to put Sean Bean in a role where he expressly does NOT get killed. So, spoiler! When you are reading this novel and encounter a Sean Bean like character, you can proceed confident in the fact that he will definitely not die in some horribly tragic way.

5. What is a brief synopsis of the book?
After a failed mutiny, a generation ship continues on to its unknown destination while the mutineers eke out a tenuous existence on the hull. No one has tried to reenter the sealed ship until our hero (yet to be named) begins to have strange dreams, which she believes comes from one of the sleepers inside.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I look forward to shopping it around to agencies. After that, who knows.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I know I can't write fast enough to draft it in the 30 days of NaNoWriMo. I recently bought The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt and may use that as a template for my first draft. I am currently researching and world building and will start drafting New Year's Day. With drafting and revisions, I hope to have something presentable by the end of the year.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?
I can't compare it to other books yet, so instead here are some novels I love:

By way of preliminary research, here's a quick list of novels with generation and/or sleeper ships that I hope to peruse before the end of the year:
  • Orphans of the Sky by Heinlein
  • The Book of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe
  • Across the Universe by Beth Rivas
  • Ship of Fools by Richard P. Russo
  • The Dream Millennium by James White
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I am fascinated with the borders people create both in the so called "real world" world and within our own hearts and minds. I'm looking forward to combining the deep outside of interstellar space exploration with the deep inside of our human subconscious.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
I'm looking forward to the challenge of writing a dream v. reality story and hope that it will be one of the more interesting aspects of the book.

Here are my picks for the next Next Big Thing - check out their answers!

Friday, October 5, 2012


Vladimir Nabokov's Draft of Lolita

Over at Quoria under Unusual Work Habits of Famous Writers there's a picture of a box of index cards, an example of just one way to work. I've been thinking about how I write as I continue to learn my craft and try to make my writing process more efficient. From old fashioned to new fangled, there are a million ways to get your ideas down on paper or onto a glowing screen and out into the world.

I don't usually start from plot, but I don't exactly start from character either. Usually a situation or a concept piques my interest and I have to grow that into a story. Here's what I've learned about my own process for capturing and growing ideas.

I read around a lot, both fiction and nonfiction. Most of my ideas come from a bit of news or a story element that suggests an interesting situation or even just a tone or emotion that I want to explore.

AKA the "idea bin." I have an actual journal that I keep close when I'm sitting on the couch and need to jot down an idea. I also try to practice FREEWRITING daily, sometimes I write without stopping on a story I'm currently working on, sometimes I do a random writing exercise, and sometimes I just vent.

Every couple weeks I try to read through what I've written, which is a fruitful exercise in itself. I also add to the hand-written index that I build in the back of the book so that I can access all those random notes and quotes and ideas that are scattered throughout the pages.

I then do a little research to flesh out the world and solve any practical/scientific questions that are part of the story. I try to limit this initial research to one day (not a solid day but whatever I can get to in a 24-hour period). This keeps my research from becoming a procrastination station.

I never used to do this, but I've started to write up a quick bio for the main character or characters. I use Nancy Kress' "Mini-Bio" (general) and "Emotional Mini-Bio for Key Characters." Sometimes I do this before I start to draft, other times I stop and do these bios after I've started building the plot. This not only helps me to create dimensional characters but also often sharpens the conflict and in one case entirely changed the direction of a story I'd been stuck on. Chuck Wendig tells it in 25 of my Personal Rules for Writing and Telling Stories:
"Plot is Soylent Green. Plot is made of people."
Yes it is.
Sometimes I draft by hand in my journal as this seems to give me more freedom to suck. I tell myself that I'm going to fix-it-up when I type it in anyway, so it doesn't matter that I'm flailing around trying to figure this thing out. Other times I just sit down and start banging away at the keyboard.

At this point I usually only have a rough idea of where things are going plotwise. I don't consider myself a seat-of-the-pants writer, but I'm not the outliner that I used to be. I've discovered that what I like to do best is outline as I go. I've been doing this more now that I have Scriviner on my laptop. If I'm in my journal I just keep a wide margin for outliney notes. For this reason, I think my next journal is going to be a larger format.

This is hard for me because I need to rein in my urge to tidy and nit-pick and force myself to read through my draft for the big picture. I try to fix glaring errors and plot holes, moving thing around and adding and excising whole chunks of texts, before cleaning up any mechanical and grammar issues. At this point I've usually got something that's ready to show to a critique group.

Okay, saying "first" and "second" revision isn't all that accurate as I often fit revising in here and there throughout the day and so the process is more of a spread out kind of tinkering that I group under those terms. After getting a critique I go through the story one more time to fix anything that other people caught or to incorporate any awesome ideas that might have come up during the session. I also go through sentence by sentence for grammar and style.

Off you go into the world, little story...