Friday, September 18, 2015

Exploring Modern Mythology: Aliens are the New Gods

When writing fantasy and sci fi stories, writers often tap into the great and glorious world of time-honored mythology to anchor their books in the fantastic. I accessed this ancient well of story fodder in my first series, The Akasha Chronicles, steeped in Celtic mythology and lore. It was great fun to research ancient myths and legends and explore how they still speak to us in our modern world.

But when I set out to write a new science fiction series (H.A.L.F.), I decided to focus on modern myth, legend and lore by focusing on alien mythology and the government conspiracies related to it. When writing H.A.L.F., I assumed that the myths surrounding the Roswell crash event were true. What if a flying saucer crashed in the desert on a ranch near Roswell in 1947? What if the military did, in fact, recover not only crash debris but also alien bodies?

It’s against this “mythical” backdrop that H.A.L.F.: The Deep Beneath is set. I chose not to create wholly new myth, but to add my own spin to some of the now nearly universally known stories of alien encounters.

I’ve been fascinated with all things mythical, paranormal and supernatural since childhood. I read every book in my school’s small library in the “Supernatural” section. I think I read A Wrinkle in Time two or three times.

Roswell Crash, Roswell UFO Museum
It’s no surprise that as an adult I’m intrigued by alien mythology (and my own sighting of the “Phoenix Lights” in 1997 fueled this further). As I read books on the UFO phenomenon, MUFON newsletters, toured the Roswell museum, and watched every documentary I could find about ET’s and UFOs, the more fascinated I became with the idea that a new mythology has developed over the past seventy years or so. Aliens have become our new “gods”. The idea that we were created not by a divine being or merely by the process of natural selection, but that we exist due to ancient aliens meddling with the gene pool on Earth has grown from fringe thinking to reality for many people. This thinking has been popularized and perpetuated by writers such as Erich von Dรคniken (Chariots of the Gods), Zecharia Sitchin (The 12th Planet and other books), and by the show “Ancient Aliens” on the history channel.

Keeping with the idea that aliens have become our new “gods”, ETs almost always have “supernatural” powers of some kind. The idea that a being from out there – from the heavens – will descend to our plane, possess powers beyond our own and become a savior is a popular theme of legend and myth. The continued popularity of characters such as Superman and Thor (both aliens) attest to the idea that humans look to “out there” to help us solve our problems. We can’t seem to get enough of these humanoid characters that are relatable yet better than we are. They’re smarter, stronger, and have abilities we can only dream of. Perhaps these characters fulfill our wishes, dreams and desire to be bigger and better than ourselves. Or maybe it’s our fear of the dangers that plague our world – from natural disasters to war and terrorism – that fuels our unquenchable need for superheroes to descend from the heavens and help us out of this mess.

H.A.L.F.: The Deep Beneath, Audibook 
I had all of this in mind when writing The Deep Beneath. The story centers on a human main character, Erika Holt, and a human-alien hybrid character, H.A.L.F. 9 (aka Tex). In the first draft, Tex was a bit cute. He was more a mix of E.T. and Paul than like the murderous aliens in “Independence Day”. But as I got deeper into the project, I realized that a “cute” alien-human didn’t work. He was, after all, created (in my fictional world) to be a weapon. He’d been intentionally deprived of normal social interactions with humans and his education and access to information limited to what his creators deemed relevant. He needed to be more dangerous and less cute.

While reworking the character, I endowed Tex with telekinesis. It seemed a logical ability for him to have as he has far greater intelligence than a typical human (and a trait often linked to the greys which is where Tex’s alien DNA comes from). Tex has access to regions of his brain that most humans aren’t even aware they have. Tex has some other abilities but I’ll leave those as a surprise for the reader!

But I think the overarching reason that I write –and read – science fiction is to examine, through “alien” eyes, what it means to be human. Through alien characters, we can look at ourselves. Maybe this is what makes them so much fun to read, watch – and to write.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Writer Wednesday: Crafting an Antagonist that People Love to Hate

The work of developing characters is often the most fun part of writing for me. I’m learning who the people are that I’ll “work with” over the next several months. While it’s a lot of work (I often have several notebooks of character history, genealogy charts, and pivotal backstory scenes that never make it to the final work), it’s necessary and enjoyable to see the characters unfold before my eyes.

Generally, the protagonist and her motivation and goals come fairly quickly to me. Protagonist motivations and goals are often easily relatable – even noble.

But the antagonist is usually much more difficult. When creating a bad guy (or girl) character, it is harder than it may seem to craft a believable “baddy” without resorting to stereotypes or having the character seem like a caricature – a “stock” villain.

Additionally, antagonists are – by their nature – antagonistic to the goals of the protagonist. Goals that, as I’ve already mentioned, are usually relatable and even heroic. This push against the noble goal means that by definition the antagonist may be someone that isn’t very likable. The villain may even be downright frightening.

People often ask me if my characters are based on myself or people I know. The truth is that all characters are a combination of personalities and traits of people that I’ve met/known/observed as well as my own personality. It’s me plus all I’ve known in my life – which is another way of saying all the characters are me.

And it can be scary to delve into that part of yourself. To search within for the motivations/traits/goals/ambitions, etc. that are contrary to the noble and heroic person that we strive to be.

Helen Mirren as Commander Lilly Sturgis
When I first conceived of Commander Lillian Sturgis, the antagonist in H.A.L.F.: The Deep Beneath, she was more of a “stock” villain – the ubiquitous evil scientist. But with the help of my editors, I saw that she had the capacity to be so much more. And that the story demanded that she be more.

The problem was that I had not (at that time) worked on Sturgis’ backstory. I hadn’t taken the time to explore Commander Sturgis in the same way I had my main characters. When I went back and worked more on Commander Sturgis, I realized she had a pretty incredible story. She became more fleshed out. And when that happened, she became a larger part of not only The Deep Beneath but of the remaining books in the series.

By knowing who she is – not just what she does to move the plot along – I was able to sprinkle in actions/thoughts here and there to show more of her personality. At times we see Sturgis as a brilliant woman struggling to make her mark in a man’s world. At other times, we see her as downright creepy. Looking through Sturgis’ lens on the world, she certainly sees herself as heroic even if the main character thinks she’s a crazy bitch!

The antagonist is often the most difficult character to get a grip on, but it’s truly rewarding when I’m able to craft a villain that people love to hate. I hope readers love to hate Commander Sturgis as much as I do!

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