dystopian

Behind the Scenes: Sara Litchfield and How Genetically-Engineered Triplets Became Night Butterflies

Welcome to 2015! I’m excited to be able to start the new year with a guest post from dystopian author Sara Litchfield. Sara and I share the belief in the power and importance of hope, one of the main themes in her debut novel, and when I read her book, I was impressed by how different the voices of her first person narrators sound from each other. I’m glad she agreed to come share some of the inspiration for her book.

So before I hand this blog over to Sara, let me tell you a little bit about her.

This is Sara :)

This is Sara 🙂

Born in the English midlands, Sara earned a Masters in Theology at the University of Cambridge before becoming a reluctant big-four accountant in London. She is now recovering in the southern hemisphere where she devotes herself to all things words and wonderful from her base in Middle Earth (sometimes known as New Zealand). She blogs on happiness and hope at www.rightinkonthewall.com, which is also home to her editing business and publishing division, RIW Press – all aim to make the right mark on the wall of the world.

Take it away, Sara!

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Since the release of my debut novel, The Night Butterflies, I’ve been asked several times how this work of dystopian fiction came by its title.

I tell the story of how the moths came to the window while I was writing, tapping to come in and touch the light but reaching into my story instead. I mention how the phrase stayed with me, brooding and beautiful, after I heard it voiced as the succinct explanation of a ‘moth’ given to a French-Canadian asking for a definition. How it loitered in my subconscious until the themes of change and evolution emerged in my novel and it presented itself as the title.

In my novel, the moths referred to as the night butterflies are the shadow of their colorful cousins but, remarkably, they’re the only creatures to have survived the nuclear war that has ended the world without becoming poisonous themselves. The scientists left in the ruins of an English university town have worked for years to understand how this is possible, in the hope they can come to survive without the Anti-Poison they’ve created to keep their people alive. Part of Project Eden, dedicated to the survival of the community, involves breeding the next generation and attempting to make them hardier to life’s dark, lethal conditions. The nightmare result is a batch of triplets, violent and cruel, who keep their mothers living between constant fear and drug-induced escape.

It seems to be a matter for debate, but I read that the reason some insects are attracted to light is that they have an internal navigation system and use the moon to guide themselves by keeping it at a constant angle. It’s a behavior called transverse orientation, but artificial light sources affect it adversely – keeping a bulb at a constant angle can send them into an obsessive spiral, sometimes to their death.

The desperation of the night butterflies to reach the light embodies both the struggle of the children to change and that of the remaining people to find hope, however futile the quest might be, given the world they are left with. But they fight to emerge from the chrysalis imposed upon them by the regime in control; they fight for a chance at a life of love and light and hope, despite their circumstances.

Wells called hope ‘the essential solvent without which there’s no digesting life’. The inspiration behind The Night Butterflies is the absolute necessity to seek out color amidst shadow, light amidst darkness, and hope amidst horror. It’s a message that seems more important than ever as the news reports atrocity after atrocity, and the fearful idea of society sliding into oblivion, despite the lessons of history and literature, becomes ever more a future possible.

You can connect with Sara on her website, on Facebook, on Twitter, on Goodreads, and on Pinterest!

The Night ButterfliesAbout The Night Butterflies

It is always dark. Warmer than it should be. The sun is a dull glower of reproach, only sometimes visible through the fallout. A once-majestic university town is crumbled, ashen and divided. The Men have made their home the Facility, where they develop the medication to combat the radiation that would otherwise kill those left alive. Another day at school for Teacher. Another morning of bullying and torment from a batch of doll-like triplets more violent and unbalanced by the day. They are the nightmare product of Project Eden, the operation devised by Leader for the survival of the community, seeded in the Mothers without their consent. Teacher has hope. She has a secret. When it is uncovered by Jimmy-1, a triplet who might be different, what will it mean for his future and hers? Not just another dystopian novel. New author Sara Litchfield explores what it means to be a child, a mother and a monster in a chilling world devoid of comfort.

Get a copy of The Night Butterflies on Amazon!

What cataclysmic event do you think would be most likely to happen to the world, and what would be humanity’s biggest challenge in terms of survival once it did?

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A Crash Course in Science Fiction Sub-Genres

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

We’re into the third episode of my exploration of genres, and today we’re going to look at science fiction. (I’m currently planning to also cover suspense/thrillers, mystery, romance, and horror. If there are any other genres you’d like me to delve into or you have any other questions about genres, please let me know in the comments.) Keep in mind as we go through these posts together that the lines aren’t immovable, and they aren’t always perfectly clear. Some books cross genres. What I’m trying to do here is bring a little more clarity to a particularly murky area.

What is Science Fiction?

Science Fiction Genres

Image Credit: Fred Fokkelman

A week ago in our discussion of fantasy sub-genres, I touched just lightly on the difference between science fiction and fantasy. I suggested the difference was one of possibility. Fantasy is always set in the realm of the impossible. Science fiction, on the other hand, is based in what we either wish or fear the future might bring.

Science fiction looks toward the future and asks what might be possible–technological and cultural changes, space travel, alien races, and yes, sometimes even parallel universes and time travel.

Please notice that I said possible. Something can be possible while still being highly improbable. It’s highly improbable that we’ll ever be able to travel faster than light or that we’ll ever establish colonies on alien planets. But it’s not impossible because we don’t know everything there is to know about natural laws, future technological advances, and life outside our solar system.

Science fiction takes what we’re only just beginning to think of or wonder about and extrapolates from it. More than any other genre, science fiction asks you to suspend your disbelief and ask what if. Part of what makes science fiction great, and what many who’ve never read scifi fail to realize, is the way it often explores questions of morality and identity and forces us to really consider what the future might be like if we follow certain paths.

Star Trek fans will also be happy to tell you about the influence science fiction and science fiction writers have on the present. The man who invented the first cell phone got his inspiration from Star Trek tri-corders and comm badges. And automatic doors appeared in Star Trek before they ever made their way into stores all around the world.

Defining Science Fiction Sub-Genres

Cyberpunk – Cyberpunk plots (if you couldn’t guess from the name) revolve around computers, artificial intelligence, cyberspace, virtual reality, hackers, mega-corporations, or some combination of those elements. Rather than being set far in the future, they’re usually set in the near future. These books are often dark and focus on the dangers of technology.

Steampunk – Steampunk plots often take place in Victorian England or another real-world setting (though Lindsey Buroker has had success with her Emperor’s Edge series, which is steampunk set in a secondary universe). They combine the technology of the time with future technology as the people of that era imagined it would be (rather than how it really turned out). Not surprisingly H. G. Wells and Jules Verne are the grandfathers of this genre. Steampunk can be a lot of fun if you don’t take yourself too seriously. (There’s also some argument about whether steampunk should be classified as science fiction or fantasy. In the end, it comes down to the content of the individual book. For example, because Lindsey Buroker sets her steampunk in a secondary world, they’re technically fantasy, not science fiction.)

Dystopian/Utopian – These novels look at the extremes that our world might one day come to, either good or bad. The Road by Cormac McCarthy and I Am Legend by Richard Matheson typify the dystopian sub-genre. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a YA example. Dystopian also goes by the name Apocalyptic.

Time Travel – As the name implies, time travel novels take you either forward or backward in time. Before you object that this should be fantasy rather than science fiction because time travel isn’t possible, keep in mind what sets science fiction and fantasy apart. This is science fiction because the writers are working on the assumption that at some point in the future scientists might invent technology that would allow us to travel through time. If they can make the technology sound believable, then it falls firmly into the science fiction realm. (If you’re sent back in time because of magic, you’re back in the fantasy genre. Clear as cement, right?)

Military Science Fiction – Nations, planets, or races are at war in military SF, and the focus is often on the technology and military protocol and procedures of the combatants. Consequently, these stories end up being told through the POV of one (or more) of the soldiers involved. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein is one of the early landmark works of military SF. Shard of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold, Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber, and Old Man’s War by John Scalzi are other examples.

Space Opera – Although this term can have a derogatory tone to it, this is another SF genre that’s a lot of fun if you let yourself just sit back and enjoy. These novels are set on distant planets and focus more on the adventure than on the science.

The fraternal twin sister of space opera is Space Westerns like the television series Firefly. They take the fist-fighting, gun-fighting, and themes of westerns and set them in outer space.

Hard Science Fiction – So named because it takes current knowledge of the “hard” sciences of mathematics, chemistry, physics, or biology and speculates on where they might lead in the future, this is the sub-genre of science fiction where accuracy and attention to detail make or break your story. Most of the successful hard SF writers work (or have worked) in one of the hard-science fields.

Soft Science Fiction – Soft SF takes its what if from the “soft” sciences like psychology, sociology, or anthropology. The lines between hard SF, soft SF, and dystopian SF can blur at times, but a good rule of thumb is that dystopian often deals with an end-of-the-world type scenario where a catastrophe has happened, while soft SF looks at what would happen if certain soft-science theories were taken to their extremes or logical conclusions.

People often have strong opinions either pro or con science fiction? Do you love it? Hate it? Which sub-genre best fits your book?

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including How to Write Dialogue and Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction.

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Divergent: Do You Know Where You Belong?

Divergent by Veronica RothBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Did you know what you wanted to do with your entire life when you were only sixteen? What if you’d been forced to choose and could never change your decision?

That’s part of the dilemma faced by Beatrice (who later calls herself Tris) in Divergent.

The society in Divergent is divided into four factions—Abnagation (the selfless helpers), Amity (the peaceful, happy farmers), Candor (the honest, justice-seeking law-makers), Dauntless (the brave guardians), and Erudite (the intellectual researchers and scientists). In their sixteenth year, teens undergo testing to see where their aptitude lies, and then they must choose the faction that will become their new family. Faction over blood. And there’s no turning back unless you want to live factionless, a homeless, hungry outcast.

The leadership insists that factions maintain order and protect their society, and so they ruthlessly hunt down divergents—people who don’t fit into a single faction. Tris is a divergent. When it comes time to choose, she doesn’t have the guidance the aptitude test is supposed to provide.

Such a society sounds awful to our freedom-loving ears (though my husband and I did have some fun on the ride home from the movie trying to decide which faction we’d fit best in), but it’s not really so far off. How many of us were uncertain of what we wanted to do with our lives when we had to pick a major in university or a program of study in college? How many people end up in a different career from the one they went to school for? How many people stay trapped in a job they hate, that they selected when they were too young to know who they really were?

Last September, my husband went back to school. He’d already worked as a government contractor in the U.S. and an editor in Canada. Now he’s going through to be a paralegal.

When he originally went to university fresh out of high school, he thought he knew where his career path would lead. He’s had the freedom to change course, but not everyone does.

In fact, I think more people don’t have that freedom than do. Family commitments. Financial commitments. And when they reach a time in their life when they could change course, they feel like it’s too late to start over. (It never is, by the way. Just take a look at Debra Eve’s blog about late bloomers.)

But all this got me thinking—would we have fewer people changing course or feeling trapped if we didn’t ask young adults to choose their path so early in life? Are you someone who changed course? Was it difficult? I’d love to know what influenced your decision.

And for fun, what faction would you be in the Divergent world?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen. Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

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How to Keep Strong Female Characters Likeable

A few weeks ago, I asked “What Do We Mean by Strong Female Characters?” and argued that a female character doesn’t have to deny traditionally feminine qualities to be strong.

But what if you need to write a physically strong woman with few of those traditionally feminine qualities?

Sometimes a story does call for this type of female character. In the novel I’m working on with my co-writer, Lisa Hall-Wilson, our main female character is an Amazon. She’s been raised to hate men and to see all signs of femininity as weakness. If we allow her too many feminine qualities (at least in the beginning), we’ll undermine the believability of her society and her character.

Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games is a great example of this as well, as is Kara “Starbuck” Thrace in Battlestar Galactica.

Katniss doesn’t want children. She’s more at home in the woods hunting than she is helping her mother nurse others. And she’s placed into a situation where it’s kill or be killed.

Starbuck is a fighter pilot who needs to be tough in order to get respect and survive. Her commander assigns her emotionally grueling tasks like interrogating (i.e., torturing) prisoners and assassinating a dangerous superior officer.

So how do you make sure this type of female character is still likeable?

Unfortunately, most of us can’t relate to this type of woman. She’s not like us. She’s not like our mothers or our best friends or our significant others. And when we feel like we have nothing in common with someone, it makes them difficult to like. If your reader doesn’t like your main character at all, that spells death for your story.

As writers, we have to do a little extra work to give that common ground if we’re creating a strong female character who denies traditional feminine qualities.

Answer the question “What made her this way?”

When Katniss’ father died in a mining accident, her mother sunk into a deep depression. Katniss had to feed and care for herself and her younger sister. She had to be the “man of the house.” She didn’t really have a choice. Her world dictated how she feels about motherhood as well. Why would she want to have children when they could be reaped for the Games and killed?

The writers of Battlestar Galactica also recognized the need to explain how Starbuck became so hard. We get glimpses of Starbuck’s abusive mother, one who told her daughter that she was weak and a failure, and who beat Starbuck so often that she came to believe pain was a way of life.

In showing how Katniss and Starbuck became who they are, the writers allowed us to sympathize with them, even pity them. And as the old English proverb says, “Pity is akin to love.”

NOTE: I’ve had to remove the rest of this post because it’s now a part of my book Strong Female Characters: A Busy Writer’s Guide. You can buy a copy at Amazon, Amazon.ca, Kobo, or Smashwords. They’ll be available in more places soon!

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