Friday, December 9, 2011

More about Noah Zarc and D. Robert Pease


 
Last week, I shared with you how much I enjoyed reading Noah Zarc by D. Robert Pease. The story is hopeful in spite of the fact that it takes place after the Cataclysm, an event that forces humans to live on hot, dry Mars or indoors on uninhabitable Venus. Set in the future after an environmental apocalypse, author Pease could have written a story of despair. Instead he chose to de-emphasize dystopian features in favor of optimism. I asked Mr. Pease why, and he offers the answer below:

At its core, Noah Zarc is about family and the lengths people will go to protect the ones they love. Also, I really wanted a story that was just plain fun to read. The thing I absolutely love about writing is the act of discovery. Sure I go into a story with a plan of some kind. Where to start, and where I want to end up, but the things I learn along the way are what excite me. I always like to think I'm not really the writer of the book, I'm just its first reader. There are literally dozens of times I had no idea the story was going to go in the direction it does. The dystopian elements came to light after I started exploring Noah's universe, and started asking questions about how mankind ended up where they were (on Mars and Venus) and what exactly happened to the animals. Ultimately I had to learn why humans were not allowed to settle on Earth anymore.

My plan is to write three Noah Zarc stories. Book two, called Noah Zarc: Cataclysm focuses more on what happened to cause the events that wiped out life on Earth. Then book three (un-named) will focus more on the dystopian aspect of the solar system.

As to the environmental side of things, in the end I hope Noah Zarc will get kids to think a little about balance. There can be extreme points of view, even today, about how to care for the environment, but I think we need to be able to meet in the middle for the good of animal-kind and mankind both
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I echo Mr. Pease with regard to discovery. This blog began by making that very point. The act of writing allows us to uncover, explore, and discover. Whether you write novels, diary entries, a gratitude journal, or a things-to-do list, the principle remains the same. Writing helps you access knowledge and see anew. So join Mr. Pease, please, and write.

I would also like to draw a lesson from Mr. Pease’s reply. Noah Zarc has some elements of a polemic in that controversial topics such as caring for the environment and animal welfare are threads of the narrative, but what redeems the novel and saves it from a dull lesson is balance. The villain of the tale, Haon, presents an argument for the sovereignty of humans to live in the most habitable place, Earth, even if animals must be eliminated, and his argument, once heard in its entirety, has some logic. On the other hand, the Zarc family dedicates itself to preserving animal species and returning them to Earth in the belief that all species have worth. By presenting two sides of the argument, Mr. Pease allows readers to draw their own truths rather than receive Mr. Pease’s delivered Truth.

Similarly, opposing points of view about hunting feature in the novel. Bloodletting and taking life for sheer sport are set against hunting for nourishment and warmth. What redeems this controversy is the humility with which the hunters take life while the sportsman seems calloused.

Indeed, Mr. Pease makes great use of juxtaposition (first explained in a March 18, 2011 post). Not only does he set two points of view side by side for the reader’s consideration, he sets the familiar against the unfamiliar in surprising and delightful ways. For example, Noah Zarc lives in the future when machines provide food; yet Noah’s favorite food, eaten three times daily, is PB & J. Yes, peanut butter and jelly. Such juxtaposition makes Noah seem to be one of us, not a guy in a space suit.

Noah is also physically challenged. His legs don’t work. He moves about in a very advanced wheel chair, the magchair, just one of many neat technologies that make life and time travel possible. Noah’s father invents the Triple B’s, a device that lets people understand and use languages other than their own. Space ships, large and small, allow the Zarcs to move about the universe and even travel back and forth in time. Still, Noah lives with a disability, reminding us that the past is not that different from the present. As Noah says, “Everyone enters this world with some kind of handicap . . . . Whether it’s the place they live, the family they’re born into, or the weakness of their legs. No one has a perfect life.” Again, Mr. Pease juxtaposes the future we don’t know against the present we know, making the unfamiliar future very familiar to us while offering a positive way to think about physical challenges and differences.

I also asked Mr. Pease if he had any advice or could offer guidelines to writers. I think you’ll like his answer:

First of all, I shudder at the word "guidelines". Not that there aren't rules of good grammar, and certain accepted tools for interesting story telling, I just mean first we need to have fun just trying things out. That said, I think with science fiction, or any other genre for that matter, the most important thing I've learned is the concept of tension. Giving every chapter, every page, every scene all the way down to every sentence as much tension as possible. You want your reader to not be able to put the book down. If you read your writing and have no problem setting it aside, then you still have work to do. I can't tell you how many books I've read where it just doesn't seem like anything happens. If your characters are just sitting around talking then maybe it's time to blow something up (hey I'm a guy, that's what I like). But seriously, you don't have to blow things up all the time, but you have to always move the story forward. If a scene isn't moving forward, then cut it.

One piece of advice I would give for writing young adult fiction, is to make sure your point of view is authentic. If the POV is from a kid, it has to sound like a kid. My first draft of Noah Zarc sounded like an adult was narrating it. Sure when Noah spoke he sounded like a kid, but that's only part of it. Especially since Noah Zarc is written in first person, every aspect of the story except dialogue spoken by adults, should sound like a kid would say it.

Finally, my biggest piece of advice is seek outside help. Get readers, people you know will be honest and have some experience writing, to critique your stories. And if you are considering self-publishing, and can at all afford it, hire an editor. No matter how good you are, an editor can and will help you make your book better. I'm not talking someone to catch your typos and grammar mistakes, although that's important. I mean someone who can help you with overall story questions. Does the overall arc work? Are the characters well developed. Does the end satisfy? All the big-picture questions. I went through three rounds of this with an editor, before I got down to proof editing for typos. I can't recommend this more strongly.

Sound, solid, useful advice! I would underscore one point: Mr. Pease never allows his story to bog down in scientific inventions and new technologies. The future world in which Noah’s story is possible is never more important than the characters and the action. Adventure and excitement dominate, and as I’ve said before about this book, those make for a good read.

Reading Challenge:

If you haven’t already read Noah Zarc, what are you waiting for? You’ll enjoy D. Robert Pease’s book.

Writing Challenge:

“. . . I think with science fiction, or any other genre for that matter, the most important thing I've learned is the concept of tension. Giving every chapter, every page, every scene all the way down to every sentence as much tension as possible” (D. Robert Pease).

Find the tension (conflict, juxtaposition, antonyms, contramyms) in one of your sentences. Rewrite, if necessary, to add tension.

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics):

Whereas Mr. Pease says experimentation and story-telling are extremely important, he acknowledges that grammar is also important. In his own words:

·       Not that there aren't rules of good grammar, and certain accepted tools for interesting story telling, I just mean first we need to have fun just trying things out.
·       No matter how good you are, an editor can and will help you make your book better. I'm not talking someone to catch your typos and grammar mistakes, although that's important.

So, dear reader, don’t skip the last portion of each post. Write, write, and write, but try to avoid grammar mistakes without a very, very, very, very good reason.

Blog Tour Notes

Noah Zarc:
Mammoth TroubleOVERVIEW
Noah lives for piloting spaceships through time, dodging killer robots and saving Earth's animals from extinction.
Life couldn't be better.
But the twelve-year-old time traveler learns it could be a whole lot worse. His mom is kidnapped and taken to Mars; his dad is stranded in the Ice Age; and Noah is attacked at every turn by a foe bent on destroying Earth... for the second time.
Get your copy today by visiting Amazon.com (available in paperback or as an eBook) or the online retailer of your choice (more links below).
CASH PRIZES
Guess what? You could win a $50 Amazon gift card as part of this special blog tour. That’s right! Just leave a comment below saying something about the post you just read, and you’ll be entered into the raffle. I could win $50 too by having the most comments. So tell your friends to stop by and comment on this post too!
GIVEAWAY
Win 1 of 5 copies of the paperback version of Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble by entering the giveaway on GoodReads.
D. Robert PeaseTHE AUTHOR
D. Robert Pease has been interested in creating worlds since childhood. From building in the sandbox behind his house, to drawing fantastical worlds with paper and pencil, there has hardly been a time he hasn't been off on some adventure in his mind, to the dismay of parents and teachers alike. Also, since the moment he could read, books have consumed vast swaths of his life. From The Mouse and the Motorcycle, to The Lord of the Rings, worlds just beyond reality have called to him like Homer's Sirens. It's not surprising then he chose to write stories of his own. Each filled with worlds just beyond reach, but close enough we can all catch a glimpse of ourselves in the characters.
Discover ways to connect with the author by visiting his site at www.drobertpease.com
BOOK TRAILER

THANK YOU! for visiting. And don't forget to comment below for that chance to win the $50 Amazon gift card. And of course head on over to your favorite online book store and buy a copy of Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble, for you or for the kids in your life.
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