The Next Big Thing is an author interview series currently generating lots of buzz for its inside look into how writers, working in a variety of genres, create their best work. My special thanks to Toby Devens, who invited me to participate and provided the questions. You can see Toby’s interview about her book, Happy Any Day Now at: http://midlifepassions.blogspot.com/ .

And now, it’s my turn to be The Next Big Thing!

AlanSmall
1. What is the working title of your book?

My favorite among my five novels is “The Portal.”

2. What genre does your book fall under?

When I began writing “The Portal,” I thought I was writing a dystopian science fiction novel.  I was very angry at George W. Bush and the course on which he’d put our country after nine-eleven, and I had a terrible vision of what it might lead to a hundred years later.  As it turned out, I realized I’d written a futuristic story of undying love and determination.

3. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Lonely, misunderstood boy meets lonely misunderstood girl, loses her in a nation that’s crumbling around him, and spends the rest of his life trying to save her and it.

4. Where did the idea come from for the book?

“The Portal” was the coalescence of several ideas, all variations on the theme of loss and renewal.

A lonely child, intelligent and precocious, with thoughts and fears beyond his years, is misunderstood by everyone except a doting, cynical grandfather.  The desperate search for a soul-mate to fill the void left by his loss leads to a girl.  They bond in a way that only the very young can, and help each other escape the reality of their dismal existence.  When she disappears, Harry, the young protagonist fears that his very survival is at stake.

Harry’s situation is mirrored by everything around him.  His once-great nation has lost its way by failing to heed the lessons of history.  Despair has replaced hope, and honest hard work and initiative are losing out to greed and entropy.  The government, desperate to provide a symbol of hope, gambles the future on escape – a new Diaspora to the stars.

The overriding idea of “The Portal” is not doom and dissolution, however.  It’s about the power of love and determination to win out, and in the end it’s about believing in ourselves.

5. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Harry is difficult to imagine because he’d have to be played from age six to sixty-five.  Young Harry reminds me of Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting but the adult Harry is the embodiment of Jimmy Stewart, especially in his western films: that wonderfully soft-spoken, principled, unaggressive man who never ran from a fight when someone he cared about was threatened.

For Lorrie, Harry’s lost love, a young Ashley Judd would be perfect.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I self-published “The Portal” using the services of Bookbrewer.com

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript for The Portal?

About seven months, though the actual writing time was much less.  The Portal is an episodic story that covers specific time periods in Harry’s life.  The first draft of each episode was written fairly quickly, never taking more than a week, with periods of breath-catching in between.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

None that I can think of, but being a hopeless romantic, I’ve always loved the classic film “An Affair to Remember” and all of its reincarnations.  I often think of “The Portal” as what that basic story might look like if it were set in a future dystopian America.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

There was no single thing that inspired this book, though there were three very powerful influences.  The inspiration for Lorrie was an old friend who had experienced hardship similar to Lorrie’s in her early life, and like Lorrie, had to fight through abuse and adversity to survive.

Harry, I confess, especially in his early years is more than a little autobiographical, so much so that my sister had trouble getting through those chapters because of the poignant memories they evoked.

In addition to being a hopeless romantic, I am also unabashedly patriotic.  As I noted earlier, I hated what I saw happening to our country after nine-eleven, and I’m still not convinced we can avoid the future I described in The Portal.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I said at the outset that I started out writing a science fiction novel.  The idea of a Diaspora to the stars is not new, nor is the notion of getting there instantaneously through some type of wormhole mechanism.  Thus, the Portal, which is just such a gateway.

The other idea which drew me in, which is not one that’s commonly explored in fiction, is the possibility that an Earth-like planet circling another star, no matter how similar to Earth it seemed, might be ultimately toxic for humans.  The Portal has its own solution to this dilemma which redefines what we mean by Diaspora.

Coming Up On Next Big Thing! Cindy Young-Turner writes that by day she edits and does business development for international development projects. In her free time, she works on inspiring her characters to fight for change and justice in their imaginary worlds. Her published works include her fantasy novel, Thief of Hope, and a short prequel, Journey to Hope. Cindy will discuss Thief of Hope next Friday at http://www.cindyyoungturner.com/blog.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear questions or comments about my Next Big Thing! interview.

During ’12 Balticon, I participated in a panelin where the panelists discussed how to effectively write a trilogy. I wish I’d had the frame of mind to ask them how they would proceed to end their sagas, as I find the subject to be a potentially fascinating, yet polarizing topic…at least between the writers and their readers. This is especially true when the story’s ending turns out to be a disappointment.

Imagine being engaged in a story and its characters, a story that spanned numerous books, only to have it conclude with a horrible ending. That after countless hours of reading, you’re rewarded with an ending that discarded or disrespected all that you had come to know of the story. I’m not talking about an unhappy ending, but an incomplete or bizarre one.

One of us recently wrote a post of how distraught she was of Katniss’ actions at the end of The Hunger Games trilogy. I suffered a similar experience with another book series that ended in such a ludicrous manner that it made me ask myself if the series’ existence had a point. This is not how authors should reward their loyal readers.

Examples are not just with written fiction. St. Elsewhere, an eighties sitcom, is notorious for its absurd ending of having the whole show be only the product of an autistic boy. Try imagining that as the ending of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. For a recent example, Bioware, the creator of the videogame series Mass Effect, received so much negative backlash for the ending in Mass Effect 3 that they had to re-script the ending through a DLC (down-loadable-content) patch.

There’s a reason why I’m focusing on a series ending instead of a single novel. It’s one thing for you to be disappointed by a stand-alone novel ending, but when you involve yourself in a series, the hurt is ten times more, because you invest so much time with the story and characters. The flip side of this is that the authors and creators also have invested as much time in their work, if not longer. Their emotions are probably just as charged as the reader is and the authors saw the ending as the only way to end their series. Our dilemma is this: should we as writers and creators follow our creativity and vision to its foregone conclusion or should we instead adhere to our readers’ or fans’ expectations?

As a writer, I feel that my work should follow its own path. But I also believe that if my readers are willing to take the time to read my stories, then I have a responsibility to make sure my ending is complete and respectable. It won’t satisfy everybody, but there’s less of a chance of hearing a huge outcry from the readers.

If any reader or writers want to share their opinions on the subject, please comment below. Thank you for reading.

Rodney

The other day, an eleven-year-old boy I teach asked me if I thought the next President should raise taxes. He’s a very smart kid with an agile mind, and he’d obviously been troubled by the debates and political ads he’d seen. He sensed that something was wrong, but couldn’t put his finger on what it was.

I offered him two answers. The simpler one was that Presidents don’t have either the authority or the power to tax. Our constitution grants those exclusively to the Congress, and as we’ve all seen during the last decade, a Congress that is determined to thwart a President’s tax policies can do so with impunity, at least until the next election.

But the more important answer was that he was asking the wrong question. In fact, the entire political debate on taxes is essentially fraudulent. I actually said, “Any candidate who pledges to raise or lower taxes is lying and attempting to misdirect the attention of a gullible public.”

Why? Because you can’t govern by arbitrarily setting the level of taxation. The questions of how the tax burden should be distributed and which loopholes should be closed are valid, but the overall amount of revenue needed by the government is the tail of the dog, not the dog. A responsible government first sets its priorities on what it will provide to its citizens. That debate must precede all others.

Only after we’ve clearly defined what each citizen’s birthright consists of and how much we’re willing to spend on our military should we ask what all that will cost. Then, if there’s not enough money for everything on our wish list, we can either re-assess our priorities or determine that we need to raise more revenue to pay for it. It’s really pretty simple, and it’s what we all do as families.

So, please, no more talk of taxes. We should be debating whether the right to basic health care and an education comes with being an American, and how we can most effectively defend ourselves from those who want to kill us. In the process, we might just figure out that it’s time to stop using oil, but only then does it makes sense to address how much we’re willing to contribute to make all that happen.

On the eleventh anniversary of nine-eleven, a number of events occurred.  An apparently well-planned attack on our consulate in Bengazi resulted in the deaths of four Americans including our ambassador to Libya.  At the same time, radical Muslims attacked our embassies and military outposts in thirteen countries, with varying degrees of violence, and the now infamous YouTube video ridiculing the prophet Mohammed went viral throughout the Internet.

The invasion of our embassies and the murder of our people violate international law and standards of conduct recognized by every civilized nation.  They were premeditated acts of war designed to commemorate nine-eleven, and it is my hope that the perpetrators meet the same end as Osama Bin Laden, only far more quickly and in the clear light of day.

But let us not confuse the other events that have swept the world with deliberate acts of terrorism like the attacks in Libya and Afghanistan.  It’s time to address accountability.

Our courts have ruled that the right to free speech is not unlimited.  Beyond not being able to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, we may not spew hate with the clear intent to create mayhem and riot.  People obsessed with bigotry and hate do not have the right to jeopardize the lives of our citizens and the interests of our country.  I believe posting that despicable video on YouTube with the clear intent of causing worldwide chaos qualifies as a hate crime.

I’m reminded that in the sixties and seventies, Americans who engaged in peaceful, law-abiding demonstrations against the Vietnam War were relentlessly hounded by the FBI.  As a defense contractor with the highest security clearance, working in the Pentagon to protect the United States from the Soviet Union, it was made clear to me that exercising my right to free speech could destroy my career and expose me to prosecution.

Back then, people who disagreed with the government were accused of being un-American and hating our country.  Today, anyone who suggests that everything about America is not perfect is attacked as being an apologist.  Are we that petty?  Are we so small that we cannot acknowledge the imperfect elements of our society?  Does it weaken us to admit that free speech can expose our warts as well as our greatness?

The filmmakers and the bigoted minister that enabled their trash to go viral on YouTube did so with the clear, irresponsible intent of fomenting hatred.  Holding them accountable before the world ought to be seen as a sign of strength.  Where is federal law enforcement now?  Will they act with their former zeal to prosecute the hatemongers?

As for the radicals who hate us to compensate for their own shortcomings, they will always be there, but we do not have to make ourselves appear petty and hateful to everyone else.

Growing up as a Jew in post-World War II America, I experienced bigotry and hatred every day and lived with the constant reminder of millions of my people murdered while most of the world stood by.  My Catholic friends heard their Pope constantly reviled by the same bigots.  But we didn’t kill and burn every time an ignorant fool opened his mouth.  Even during our worst period of racial unrest, the people who behaved badly were reacting not to words, but to rape and murder.

To the demonstrators who hate America and burn our embassies, I say, “Grow up!  If you want the respect of the rest of the world, earn it.”  And to the billion or more Muslims who wish to live in peace, I say, “Don’t sit by while the worst elements of your society burn and kill.  In the end, they hurt you more than they hurt us.”

Linda Rondeau, a Trestle Press author runs a blog for seniors call Geezer Guys and Gals. Since I am one, I’ve started posting there. My first, “What Makes a Successful Marriage?” appeared on August 31st at http://geezerguysandgals.blogspot.com…

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Are you one of the half-million Americans who know what happened on August 26, 1965?

At 5:00 pm eastern time, with our involvement in Vietnam growing at an alarming rate, President Lyndon Johnson announced that every man eligible for the draft lottery who was unmarried at the end of that day would have a draft status of 1-A. Not coincidentally, my wife and I were married four hours later. About a quarter million other couples did the same thing.

Last Sunday was our forty-seventh anniversary, in case you were wondering.

You might ask whether that was a good reason to get married, and you wouldn’t be the only one. Some people were still asking on August 26, 2000. A lot of statistics were generated in honor of the new millennium, among which were the results of a study done by one of the major news networks. I wish I could remember which one, but then, there are a lot of things I wish I could remember.

A producer who was also married on that day convinced the network to let her put together a special report. She contacted over a thousand couples on what would have been their thirty-fifth anniversaries to find out how things had worked out. The network gave her a full hour of airtime.

There are many ways to measure success in marriage, or lack of it. The most obvious is the divorce rate, but people also look at the health and longevity of both spouses, their standard of living, how many children they have, how well they do in school, and so on. I’d be the first to admit that you can’t measure the quality of a marriage with statistics, but nonetheless, the results of the study were startling.

By every measure available, couples married on August 26, 1965 have had happier, healthier, longer marriages than other Americans, despite the fact that during the period 1975-1990, the divorce rate in the United States was higher than at any other time in our history.

There are a lot of reasons people marry. We like to think that most people marry for love, but the reality is that people also marry for money and security, because of an unintended pregnancy, or because they’re tired of being alone. Many marriages are arranged and others are simply for convenience. But conventional wisdom has always maintained that the decision to marry should never be impulsive.
How, then, can we explain why marriages triggered by an event like the President’s speech that day were so successful? There’s no doubt that the sample size was significant.

When the people presenting the results were asked, they said they didn’t really know. They talked about how difficult it is to have a successful marriage, and how important it is that couples be compatible before they embark on a life together. We tend to think of compatibility in terms of age, religion, race, income status, education level, attractiveness, and similarity of likes and dislikes.

I have my own theory. I think the success of the quarter million couples who impulsively married on August 26, 1965 demonstrates that opposition to a politically unpopular war and a desire to avoid life in a snake-infested jungle halfway around the world is as good a basis for a successful marriage as any other.

By the way, I’d have married her anyway, and I’m very glad I did.

 Linda Rondeau’s dystopian novel, America II will soon be released by Trestle Press, http://www.trestlepresspublishing.com/. She recently posted an article, “What is Dystopian Literature?” which I found particularly interesting, because I recently published a dystopian novel, The Portal, http://www.amazon.com/The-Portal-eboo…
Linda and I have different views of Dystopia, but that’s what makes the discussion interesting. Here’s what Linda had to say.
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When I set out to write the America II trilogy, I wasn’t thinking in terms of a genre, especially not a genre within a genre. Sci-fi-speculative-futuristic-political-thriller-dystopian and all those labels were something I hadn’t anticipated. I merely entertained the idea: If societal trends that exist today continue full speed ahead, what would the world look like in 2073?Then someone reviewed my book and called it dystopian. Someone else said it reminded them a little of Hunger Games, a book I hadn’t even read. I’ve heard other writers refer to their book in the same manner. So I did some research, and sure enough, America II falls within the definition of Dystopian Literature, although, it really is vastly different than Hunger Games, though it does contain some of the elements commonly seen in Dystopian books.With the onset of the wildly popular The Hunger Games, dystopian literature is now the fastest growing preference in young adult fiction. Some experts argue the reason is because today’s young people are disaffected with today’s culture. They see little hope on the horizon.Such was the climate of George Orwell’s 1984, written in 1948, a poignant story of a totalitarian government, a few years following the end of World War II. People were frightened of the growth of communism as well as the advent of the Atomic bomb. Hysteria and fear were rampant. World War II vets, returning from their service, could not get jobs.C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, written post World War II, also explores this loss of hope in the world as it is an allegory of the fall of mankind. Narnia was once Utopia (The Garden of Eden) but became Dystopia, ruled by an evil Snow Queen.

With a stagnant economy, housing crunch, and wide unemployment, not just in America but world-wide, I wonder if we have not grown into another aura of paranoia regarding our future. Hence, the resurgent popularity of Dystopian topics.

Dystopia is derived from the Ancient Greek and means a bad place. By definition, Dystopia is the opposite of Utopia which is a derivative of the Greek word meaning place and sounds like the English homophone (eutopia) which is derived from the Greek to mean good or well. In combination then, Utopia, has come to mean a good place. Utopia is often thought of as Heaven on earth, paradise today, where the world lives in peace and no one dies of hunger. Where there is no such thing as crime. In the classic, The Time Machine, a scientist creeps into the future to see if the world can cure its ills. He stumbles upon a seeming Utopia until he realizes human beings are being raised as food for underground monsters.

According to Wikipedia, Dystopian literature has these in common: idea of a society, generally of a speculative future, characterized by negative, anti-utopian elements, varying from environmental to political and social issues.

Most Dystopian themes will characterize society as oppressive or totalitarian. While the world seems dark and unappealing to the reader, the minor characters or society sees nothing wrong with the way things are. There is generally a character or characters that is dissatisfied and wants things to change. Therein is the conflict, the character pitted against society, like Don Quixote, flailing his sword at windmills.

Other classic dystopian literature includes: Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, and The Iron Heel. Unlike most Dystopian themes, and more like Chronicles of Narnia, America II: The Reformation offers hope for an improved society. It also reminds the reader of God’s continued interest and involvement in the affairs of His creation.

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After I read the first two chapters of Game of Thrones I felt overwhelmed by the number of characters and wondered if I’d ever be able to slog through the whole book. I’m so glad I kept going because I loved it. Game of Thrones reminded me why I enjoy reading epic fantasy. I loved the world building, the politics, the scheming, and even the grimness of it all. Some people might think it’s too grim or too violent, but it felt very real to me. I like some reality in my fantasy. I liked that all of the characters were shades of gray and there really weren’t any heroes, just people trying to do the right thing and stay alive. Or trying to gain power/stay in power by any means necessary. And yes, this is a very grim story. Bad things happen to good people, and sometimes very bad things happen to good people. Even Ned Stark, who is probably the most honorable character in the book, finds his honor tested at every turn.

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the multiple points of view, but they worked for me and added to the breadth of the story. The reader gets insight into characters on all sides of the game of thrones, adding more layers to the plot.

It’s not a book for everyone. It’s crude, there’s a lot of sex, and there is a lot of graphic violence. Not exactly my thing, but the story and the characters sucked me in and didn’t let go. I also thought Martin wrote some strong female characters (always a plus for me) who are just as conflicted or in some cases as twisted as the male characters. Plus there is a potentially kick-ass tomboy with a sword and a wisecracking dwarf who steals the show every time his chapter comes around and is probably one of the sharpest characters in the book. Add in some cool direwolves and zombie-like creatures. And dragons. What’s not to love? I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

View all my reviews

I began writing “Element 42″  thirteen years ago.  In the intervening years I’ve revised it, boiled it, chopped and fried it, but I never changed the basic story, which was the one I always wanted to tell.  It’s still long, but it’s lean and meaty.  All the fat’s gone.  It’s still enough to fill a trilogy, almost 900 pages, but Trestle Press convinced me that I should join the current trend of serialization.  So instead of three novels, it’s being released as 25-30 episodic ebooks.  The first one appeared on August 20, 2012.

“Element 42″ is about Earth’s first encounter with extraterrestrial intelligence.  It’s about beings who think and communicate very differently from us.  You’ll meet the Guardians, a highly ethical species who view themselves as Masters of the Galaxy, though they are senescent and genetically trapped in a downward spiral of racial paranoia.   You’ll also meet the Luugs, who are just humanoid enough to remind us of ourselves, and who embody many human-like qualities, only exaggerated.  And finally you’ll meet the lovable, introspective Kraalig-Veys who,  having evolved on a planet perpetually shrouded in dense clouds and had no idea there was an entire universe up there,  were forced to turn inward

“Element 42″ is also about the ultimate search for the meaning of life and the reason humans exist on Earth.  Are we the prized creation of an omnipotent deity?  Do we have a special destiny?  Maybe.

The first volume, The Stranger, is available for Kindle, http://www.amazon.com/Element-42-Volume-Stranger-ebook/dp/B008ZUT3TG/ref=sr_1_7?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1345489376&sr=1-7&keywords=zendell, and Nook, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/element-42-volume-1-the-stranger-alan-zendell/1112558789?ean=2940014886987,

My most recent encounter with a computer virus has been going on since July 26th – yes, that’s almost a month – and we’re still not finished repairing the damage.   But one good thing has come out of it, which I’d like to share.

Watching McAfee and Microsoft work on my computer remotely for countless hours introduced me to ESET.  It’s Microsoft’s tool of choice for cleaning a computer of viruses and other infections when only the best will do.  It’s free and it’s thorough, and it runs on the internet.  Just click on the link and run it.

After McAfee scanned and cleaned my computer three times, Microsoft ran ESET, and it found and removed 28 infections that McAfee  missed.  My Microsoft friend in India recommends that everyone run ESET at least twice a month.

One reason ESET is more effective than McAfee or Norton is that you’re most likely to be infected by a virus that has just been released before a fix has been found.  The advantage of an online virus scanner like ESET is that it’s updated continuously when new infections are discovered, so there’s no delay, and no need to update a security system stored on your computer.  Personally, I’m keeping my Verizon/McAfee Security System, but I will run ESET regularly to supplement it.

All the authors at Trestle Press regularly post on Giovanni Gelati’s GelatisScoop blog.  This one went up on August 3rd: http://gelatisscoop.blogspot.com/2012/08/writing-truth-by-alan-zendell-do-you.html .

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The Portal
Thief of Hope
Critical Focus by Alan Zendell

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