Marcy Kennedy

Star Trek Universal Translator Coming Soon?

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Image Credit: Natalia Pankova (www.freeimage.com)

Image Credit: Natalia Pankova (www.freeimage.com)

According to this article on Geek.com, we might not be that far away from a Star Trek-like universal translator.

On May 27th, 2014, Microsoft publicly demonstrated for the first time a new feature they’re developing for Skype called Skype Translator. This will allow Skype users to talk in their own language and for the listener to hear a real-time translation in their own language. So, if you needed to do business with someone in Germany, and you only spoke English, Skype Translator would make it possible for you to talk to each other.

This program is still in the early stages, so I’d imagine the translations it’s able to produce right now have about the same accuracy of Google Translate and that the speech interpreter needs to be “trained” to your voice in the same way Dragon speech-to-text software does. Despite all this, I can’t help but see how it’s brought us one step closer to the very cool universal translators that make possible communication between races in Star Trek.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to one day be able to travel without worrying about the language barrier thanks to an app on your cell phone?

What do you think? Would a universal translator be a good thing or a bad one? And do you think it will ever be refined to the point where it’s able to quickly and accurately translate speech for us?

My ebook Frozen: Two Suspenseful Short Stories is on sale for 99 cents over the summer.

Twisted sleepwalking.
A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag.
And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

Wondering what this blog is all about? On Tuesdays, I cover something science fiction or fantasy related. On Thursdays, I talk writing. I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Busy Writer’s Guides Come to Print

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Since my first Busy Writer’s Guide came out, I’ve gotten one question more than any other–are these available in print?

Now, for my two most popular Busy Writer’s Guides, the answer is yes.

How to Write Dialogue and Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction are now available in print. Click on the images below to buy your copy!

Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Write Dialogue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wondering what this blog is all about? On Tuesdays, I cover something science fiction or fantasy related. On Thursdays, I talk writing. I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Unbelievable Real Life: Arctic Aliens in Lapland, Finland

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Welcome back to my Unbelievable Real Life feature, where I showcase weird creatures and offbeat places on our planet that seem like they should belong in a fantasy or science fiction story. Today we’re going to the icy world of Lapland, Finland, to look at frozen alien worms.

I was generously granted permission from the photographer, Niccolo Bonfadini, to show you these images. If you want to see more of his spectacular photography, you can find it on his site at www.niccolobonfadini.com.

Lapland Arctic Sentinels Niccolo Bonfadini

Image Credit: Niccolo Bonfadini

 

Finnish Forest Niccolo Bonfadini

Image Credit: Niccolo Bonfadini

The first time I saw these pictures, they made me think of frozen versions of the sand worm in Beetlejuice.

It turns out these are actually trees. In Lapland, the temperatures drop as low as -40 in the dead of winter. Ice and snow encase the trees and create these frozen aliens.

If you saw these figures while traipsing across the snowy plains and you didn’t know what they were, would you be brave enough to go find out?

Wondering what this blog is all about? On Tuesdays, I cover something science fiction or fantasy related. On Thursdays, I talk writing. I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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6 Steps to a Professional Amazon Author Page

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

When you sign up for Kindle Direct Publishing to publish your book on Amazon, you’ll find almost everything you need from the menu at the top of the page. They make it easy for you to update your account information, add new books, and track your sales.

But one important piece of publishing on Amazon isn’t there—your author page.

Many authors make the mistake of leaving their page blank, but it’s a powerful tool for funneling readers to your social media sites where they can better connect with you and for letting them know about your books.

Today I’m going to walk you through where to set up your author page and what you should put on it.

Please join me at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University for the rest of this post about your Amazon Author Central page!

Janice Hardy's Fiction University

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. They’re now available in print!

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Do You Ever Feel Invisible?

Amazing Spier-Man 2By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

When I was in university, I watched a movie called Shall We Dance. The only thing I remember about it (other than that it starred Richard Gere) was a small clip where the main character’s wife is talking to the private investigator she hired to find out if her husband was cheating on her.

“Why do you think people get married?” she asked.

He makes a guess, but she shakes her head.

“It’s because we need a witness to our lives. There are a billion people on the planet. What does any one life mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything…The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things. All of it. All the time. Every day. You’re saying, ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.’”

At the time, that hit me hard. I was at a point in my life where I felt invisible and unimportant. Like if I didn’t exist at all, it wouldn’t matter. I was never suicidal. I put too precious a value on life, and I was happy to be alive. But I wanted to matter.

That clip meant enough to me that I own the movie even though I don’t think I’ve watched it since. It let me know I wasn’t the only one who sometimes felt that way.

This weekend, when my husband and I went to watch The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the same message was there—that the world is full of people who feel invisible, and unimportant, and unwanted.

The main villain in the movie, Max Dillon (Electro), is the epitome of an invisible man. His plans for the power grid were used without giving him credit. Few people remember his name, and those who do treat him like dirt rather than like a human being who deserves respect.

Harry Osborne and Peter Parker both feel like their parents threw them away and valued other things more highly than their own children.

And even Aunt Mae feels like she wasn’t enough. She feels like despite all she’s done for Peter and how much she loves him, he still pines for his parents.

I walked away from the movie with a few thoughts I couldn’t shake.

Be nice to everyone. Yes, Max/Electro took the kindness shown him to the extent of becoming a crazy Spiderman super-fan, but for most people, your small act of kindness, even if it’s just saying hello and remembering their name, might be what gets them through the day.

You’re making a bigger difference than you think. When Aunt Mae finally confesses to Peter how she felt, he tells her she shouldn’t think that way. She was enough. We won’t always see the positive effect we’re having in the world and on those around us, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t.

You’re not alone. Most people have gone through a time when they felt invisible or insignificant. It doesn’t mean you are. Press on and this too shall pass.

What matters most is how you deal with your feelings. There are good and bad ways to cope when we feel invisible. Both Harry Osborne and Max/Electro chose the wrong path. Aunt Mae and Peter chose the right path. Aunt Mae talked with a loved one about it, and Peter tried to give other people hope.

What do you think? Have you ever felt invisible? What got you through?

Wondering what this blog is all about? On Tuesdays, I cover something science fiction or fantasy related. On Thursdays, I talk writing. I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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A Crash Course in Thriller Sub-Genres

Thriller Genres

Image Credit: Dave Dyet

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

We’re now moving away from speculative fiction in our examination of genres. This week I’m delving into thrillers, and in two weeks (after my regular monthly post at Fiction University) I’ll be looking at mysteries.

What Makes a Thriller? What’s the Difference Between a Mystery, a Suspense, and a Thriller?

Just like with the speculative fiction genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, before I can talk about thrillers, I need to go over how thrillers are different from mysteries and suspense.

A mystery is meant to be a puzzle. We don’t know who the “bad guy” is at the beginning. The reader discovers things along with the main character. The biggest difference between a mystery and a suspense or a thriller is that, in the latter two, the reader often has knowledge about the “bad guy” that the main character doesn’t.

In thrillers, we know who the “bad guy” is from the beginning. Whereas mystery readers want to figure out the who, thriller readers want to figure out the how. How is our hero going to stop the bad guy in time? In a mystery, the sleuth’s life usually isn’t in jeopardy. In a thriller, the hero’s life almost always hangs in the balance at many points during the story. Thrillers are action-packed.

The best explanation of suspense I’ve ever heard came from Alfred Hitchcock. He said suspense is “a state of waiting for something to happen.” The example he gave was of a couple eating in a restaurant and a bomb goes off. If we had no forewarning, it’s surprise. If we watched the villain planting the bomb and then page after page agonized over whether the couple was going to get out of the restaurant in time, whether the bomb was actually going to go off, or whether someone would discover the bomb in time to stop it, you have suspense.

There are two main differences between suspense and thrillers. The first is that, unlike thrillers, a suspense doesn’t need to be action-packed. There’s tension and danger, but not necessarily a lot of physical daring do (like car chases). But the biggest difference between suspense and thrillers is the scope. Thrillers tend to have big picture consequences. If the protagonist doesn’t succeed, terrorists will unleash a devastating biological weapon on North America or the world will be thrown into World War III. Suspense novels tend to have more intimate consequences. If the protagonist fails in a suspense, she might die, but the world will otherwise continue as it always has.

Is there overlap between these genres? Of course! If you’ve learned nothing so far from these posts, I hope you’ve learned that genres aren’t a straightjacket. They’re more like maps. (In fact, many a psychological or legal thriller would be better called a psychological suspense or a legal suspense.)

If you’re a thriller writer, you might want to consider joining (or in some way becoming involved with) International Thriller Writers or the Crime Writers of Canada.

Defining Thriller Sub-Genres

Espionage – Also called spy fiction, espionage is the land of the CIA, assassins, secret agents, and James Bond. If you’re writing something like Robert Ludlum’s Bourne books or you want to be the next John La Carre or Alan Furst, you’re probably working on an espionage novel. They’re often set during World War II or the Cold War, but that focus may now be shifting to more modern settings as well.

Medical Thriller – Your POV character in a medical thriller is going to be employed in the medical field (e.g., a doctor, a medical examiner) or be closely tied to a hospital setting. This type of thriller is a race to uncover or fix a deadly medical situation–organ black markets, an out-of-control virus, patients falling in mysterious comas, etc.

Psychological Thriller – These are battles of the mind and the wits. They’re often dark and focus more on emotional trauma to the characters than physical trauma. Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris and Along Came a Spider by James Patterson would both be categorized as psychological thrillers.

Legal Thriller – Similar to medical thrillers, the POV character in a legal thriller is an attorney. The story centers around a legal dilemma or courtroom drama. John Grisham’s name is almost synonymous with legal thrillers.

Historical Thriller – If you set your thriller prior to around 1960, you’re likely going to fall into the historical thriller sub-genre. Readers of this sub-genre expect historical accuracy and engaging details as well as a fast-paced read. Good historical thrillers can be especially challenging to write due to the need to evoke a rich historical atmosphere without slowing down the story.

Techno Thriller – The most powerful technology of today has fallen into the wrong hands, and it’s up to your main character to get it back or destroy it. Ever read a Tom Clancy book? Then you’ve read a techno thriller.

Military Thriller – Military thrillers have a lot in common with techno thrillers, but instead of focusing on technology, they focus on military objectives. Your main character in a military thriller is likely to be a member of the military (no shock there). Bob Mayer’s Green Beret series is an example of military thrillers. Both techno thrillers and military thrillers are often global in their scope.

Supernatural Thriller – Supernatural thrillers blend the expected fast-moving suspense plot with some paranormal or other worldly element. Your main character might be a psychic or see ghosts.

Thrillers are my second love (after speculative fiction). What’s your favorite genre? Do you ever read outside of it?

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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Five Important Lessons About Love From Disney’s Frozen

Disney's FrozenBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

As Disney’s Frozen starts, we meet two sisters who love each other. Eldest sister Elsa has magical powers that allow her to create snow and freeze things, and younger sister Anna is always begging her to build a snowman. During one of their play sessions, Elsa accidentally injures Anna.

From that moment on, Elsa isolates herself from Anna and from everyone, even after their parents die. When Elsa finally loses control and sends the kingdom into eternal winter, Anna sets out on a quest to bring her home and help her.

It’s a visually beautiful movie with amazing music, but what impressed me most were the five important lessons about love I found inside.

I can’t write this post without at least a couple of spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the movie and would be bothered by knowing what happens before you do, then I recommend you just read the bolded points.

#1 – You can’t fall in love in a day.

Anna is extremely lonely. Since the death of her parents, she’s been locked in the castle. Her older sister, Elsa, won’t allow people in, but Elsa also refuses to spend time with Anna.

When the gates are finally thrown open for Elsa’s coronation, it’s no surprise that Anna “falls in love” with the first handsome man in her age bracket that she meets (and he just happens to be a prince as well). She thinks it’s love, but she finds out in the end that it wasn’t. He didn’t love her, and she didn’t really love him either.

Many things can be mistaken for love—loneliness, pity, need, attraction, lust. When we say it was love at first sight, it was usually one of those at first sight and real love grew out of it over time.  

I loved this lesson because it reminds us that for love to be real and lasting it has to be accompanied by knowledge of the person’s personality and character. Love is about the other person. It’s not about something in us.

#2 – Everyone is a fixer upper.

When Anna’s heart is accidentally frozen by Elsa, Kristoff (the ice merchant helping Anaa find Elsa) takes Anna back to his family, thinking they can save her because of their magical powers. His family tries to match-make, and breaks out into a song about how everyone is a fixer upper.

I loved this lesson because it’s an important counterpoint to the warning against love at first sight. It’s just as dangerous to wait for the “perfect” person. There’s no such thing. Everyone has flaws. Usually big ones. In a good relationship, we work on improving ourselves together. And, sometimes, we just have to overlook the annoying parts of our partner because the good in them far outweighs the bad.

#3 – Love means letting others help you.

One of the big mistakes Elsa makes in the movie is shutting Anna out. Anna loves her and would do anything to help her. Many of the problems of the movie could have been avoided had Elsa let Anna in.

Elsa kept Anna at a distance because she was afraid of hurting her, but also out of a stubborn independence.

I know not everyone will agree with my view on this, but I loved this lesson because I believe that a good romantic relationship is a partnership. You make the important decisions together. You don’t keep secrets. You have to let go of some of your independence and allow the other person to help you when you need it. When they need it, you help them.

#4 – Love means making sacrifices.

In the final moment before her heart freezes solid, Anna has a choice to make. Run to Kristoff for true love’s kiss and save herself or throw herself between Elsa and the evil prince’s sword. Because she loves Elsa, she sacrifices herself to save her sister.

A lot of times, love is sacrifice. Love is compromise. You give up something you want to make the person you love happy. And rather than that making you unhappy or resentful, their happiness should fill you with joy. In a good relationship, they will also take their turn sacrificing for you.

#5 – Love for your family is just as important as romantic love.

Anna needed an act of true love to thaw her heart and save her. Since it was a Disney movie, you’d expect it to be a kiss, like in Snow White.

But it wasn’t.

It was Anna’s act of sacrifice, trying to save Elsa, that thawed her heart.

The importance of familial or friendship love is an often untaught lesson. We need more in our lives than just a spouse. We need friends and family to love and be loved by as well. That love is equally important.

I’d love to hear what you think. Did you see the same lessons? Do you agree or disagree with the messages in the movie?

Wondering what this blog is all about? On Tuesdays, I cover something science fiction or fantasy related. On Thursdays, I talk writing. I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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How Movie Trailers Would Go If They Were Completely Honest

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

My husband sent me a link to a YouTube channel called Screen Junkies. Once that sucked up at least 30 minutes of my life, I knew I had to share it with all of you. This channel takes big name movies and spoofs on them to create a video of how a trailer for the movie would look if the creators were being “honest.” I don’t agree with everything they pick fun at, but many of them made me laugh out loud. 

Here’s a sample of my favorites.

The first one is for Thor.

Here’s Gravity.

Not to be left off the list is Man of Steel.

And Iron Man 3.

And no list would be complete without Independence Day.

Okay, I need to walk away before this channel eats me alive again. I could pretty much link the whole channel.

What did you think? Are these awesome or what?

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.

Wondering what this blog is all about? On Tuesdays, I cover something science fiction or fantasy related. On Thursdays, I talk writing. I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Do You Trust Too Easily?

Captain America The Winter Soldier'By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Are you someone who trusts people from the start until they give you a reason not to? Or are you someone who feels trust should be earned?

This is one of those ongoing discussions between my husband and me, and it was brought up again by our date night to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s a movie almost entirely about trust.

As the movie opens, Captain America is sent on a mission to rescue S.H.I.E.L.D. hostages from a hijacked ship. Nastasha Romanoff (Black Widow) is part of the team that goes with him. But what he doesn’t know is her mission is different from his. She’s been sent to recover the S.H.I.E.L.D. information stored on the ship’s computers, not to save the hostages.

Their divided purpose endangers the entire mission and almost gets them killed.

Captain America storms into the office of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s director, Nick Fury. He wants to know how he’s supposed to achieve his missions if he can’t trust the people he’s working with.

Fury points to his missing eye and says, “Trust got me this.”

Two very different men with very different views on trust. Captain America sees trust as a necessary ingredient for success because, as a soldier, he had to trust the men he was fighting beside. Fury sees trust as something that can get you killed.

The question of who they can trust and who they can’t weaves through the entire story as they discover that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been massively infiltrated by the enemy. People they thought they could trust turn on them and people who they were at first unsure about turn out to be allies. Both men have to give a little in their stance, learning to trust less and trust more.

As my husband and I came out of the movie, I realized that there are very few people in my life that I trust 100%. My husband has more people he trusts, but he’s also been burned more often when people betrayed him.

Trust is one of those funny things—we always think our way of approaching it is best. I’d love to hear from both sides though.

Do you have a lot of people you trust? Are you someone who trusts easily or are you slow to trust? And do you think that’s the best way, or do both sides need to come a little more toward the middle?

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.

Wondering what this blog is all about? On Tuesdays, I cover something science fiction or fantasy related. On Thursdays, I talk writing. The schedule only changes for special events. I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Three Quick Tips to Help Your Print Books Look Professional

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Many self-publishers stress out about formatting their ebooks (my post Understanding Your Ebook Formatting Options explains your choices), but they assume putting together the print book files will be easy. After all, we’re writers because we love books. We’ve read thousands of them over our lifetime. We know how they should look, right?

Wrong.

When we were reading all those books, we probably weren’t paying much attention to the layout, but there are definitely right and wrong ways to format the print version of our book if we want to look professional.

Today I’m over at Fiction University, the blog of the lovely Janice Hardy, talking about three areas where we authors often make mistakes when it comes to print formatting, so that you’ll know what to do when the time comes to create a print version of your book.

To read Three Quick Tips to Help Your Print Books Look Professional, click here!