Dec 20, 2014

Dad talks about developing the MRI.

Abby interviews her father, a pioneer in the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). He talks about his thesis in bioelectrochemistry, publication in scientific journals, the Nobel Prize, cancer research, and the early days of Fonar Corporation.

Science Fiction has changed since the "Golden Age" dominated by American 1950s and 1960s authors, such as Heinlein and Asimov. Abby chats with her father, a scientist and inventor, about why he stopped reading SciFi.

Dec 14, 2014

Chat with my mom

Abby discusses creativity and her early novel writing experiences with her mother, who also has a creative background in arts, cartooning, and writing.

Dec 8, 2014

About my epic series

Abby Goldsmith describes her series of epic science fiction novels. The first novel will be available in late 2015 or early 2016. Five Torth novels are complete, and she's working on the final book.

AG Vlog Ep02 Transcript

Hi, my name is Abby Goldsmith. I'm going to talk about my series of novels. I've completed five, and I'm going to complete the 6th one this coming year. It's science fiction. Epic science fiction with telepaths versus slaves.

The telepaths are all networked together in a ... something like the internet on steroids, where popular opinion gets up-voted or voted on by the majority. And, uh, the majority rules.

They do have individual personalities, so it's not quite a hive mind. But the more popular, the more celebrity type people among them, are the ones in charge.

And they've conquered the galaxy. They've taken over hundreds of planets and alien civilizations. They have all the technology in the galaxy, all the resources. They own everything. They have just countless slaves. And they consider themselves a superior master race. Earth is their next target. So ...

My first novel in the series starts on Earth, with unsuspecting humans, and, um, one of them happens to be a telepath who, indeed, was left on Earth by these people by accident. Well, not by accident, but I don't want to get into that backstory.

Basically, he's one of them. He was raised among humans. He has human sympathies. He was raised by a foster family that he cares about.

And the telepaths come and abduct them all. They're considering enslaving Earth. They're definitely enslaving his friends and foster family, and they're going to execute one of his friends. And so he thinks he's gotta save them. And the only way to do that is to become--join--the telepaths and learn their ways, become one of them, and figure out some way to persuade them. Or if he can't persuade them, use his new authority as a telepath to save his friends.

What he doesn't ... what he realizes, or learns very quickly in Book 1, is that there's no privacy among telepaths. They are all networked together. Every thought he has is known, and the telepaths are very interested in him because he's something like a feral child, raised among these primitive humans. So he's under intense scrutiny all the time. He's got tens of thousands of people in this mental audience, in the back of his mind. He can't escape their attention. So he's got to figure out a way to subconsciously, or in some some way that the Torth (telepaths) aren't gonna notice, help his friends. But the problem looks insurmountable because they own everything. The telepaths own everything. They're called the Torth.

Meanwhile, his friends may have a trick or two up their sleeves that the Torth weren't expecting. I'm not going to get into it any more than that. Pitching is hard to do. The technology the Torth have is like, they've got cloaking devices and the Torth themselves, as telepaths, can, if you come with a range of them, they know what you're thinking. They can see through the eyes of other telepaths, and hear through their ears. They have instant communication.

So, hurt one telepath, and an army will descend upon you very quickly. That's how they operate.

Until now, in the present time in my series, slaves have not been able to rebel. They haven't been able to plan anything because the minute they do, they're sentenced to death. The few that do live in the wild, so to speak, are just terrified of telepaths. They know that if they're caught ... if a runaway slave is ever caught ... they're executed.

So anyway, then my heroes come along and start changing all of that. I do not want to give away much. But it's very much a series that's about what it means to be human, good versus evil, and a lot about privacy. A lot about group-think. Not group-think, but crowd-think. What happens when you have a society where there's no privacy and everything is ruled by a majority. Where popular opinion becomes law. The Torth are not evil. They are just in a society where individual thought is dangerous.

So yes, there are good Torth, there are bad Torth, and later in the series, some start switching sides, and I'm not going to get into that. But, ooh, I hope I'll be able to give a better pitch next time. Anyway.

Thank you very much! I will be back next week.

Nov 30, 2014

Why Vlog?

An intro to SFF author Abby Goldsmith, and why she chose to talk to a camera despite feeling uncomfortable about it.

AG Vlog Ep01 Transcript

Hi, my name is Abby goldsmith. Welcome to my blog/podcast.

This is an experiment for me. I've never done anything like this before. I'm not entirely used to talking to a camera in the solitude of my house. It's a little bit awkward.

So you may be wondering why am I doing this. Well, I've thought about just blogging, and it's true I feel more comfortable typing at a computer than speaking to a camera, but a lot of authors do that. I like media. I like going on YouTube. I like podcasts; listening to them. And I figured, well, I'll give this a shot. I can talk for three minutes without a script, which is what I'm doing right now.

A new topic every week, that's my plan. And for me, this will be less work than a blog. A little bit more nerve-wracking ... well, quite a lot more nerve-wracking. But I would like to try to just reach people in different way.

I already have a YouTube show, Aspiring Writers, and I plan to continue that. I took it on a very long hiatus for about a year. I'm going to be starting that back up pretty soon, and I'm thinking this will just be a great supplement for my blog. I could talk about writing for hours and hours to friends. Anyone who knows me in person knows that I can go off on any topic. So I think I'll enjoy this, once I get a little more used to talking to a camera.

You may wonder: why am I even trying to market things at all? Well, I'm very new to marketing I would like to just write books; that's my main passion. However, after a lot of research, it seems like even debut authors that have a major publisher behind them tend to not get a very large marketing push from the publisher. So there's a lot of ... it looks to be, just from from many authors I've been following, whose careers I've been following, that marketing is something that we need to learn.

It's one thing to write a great book, it's quite another thing to reach people with it. So yeah, from what I've seen, all the indie authors I've seen become successful in the last two years, they're good at marketing. They may not be any more comfortable in front of a camera than I am. They've found ways to reach readers, and that's what I'm learning how to do.

So I'm probably going to be talking about some risky topics that I wouldn't even want to blog about. I'm thinking that talking about them, you can see my face and body language and tone, and maybe taking on some controversial topics this way will be are a little bit less "stirring up the pot" than doing it on a blog and the written word.

I'm already over time. I'm planning to keep each of these to three minutes and that's it. My topic today was simply "why I'm doing this." So hopefully that answers that question.

Feel free to reach me on social media. On Twitter I'm @Abbyland, and I'm on Pinterest. Of course you can just Google my name, Abby Goldsmith, and find me, and I'm on YouTube and everywhere else.

Thanks for joining me!

Nov 13, 2014

Dangerous cults

I've been reading a lot about cults lately. First I read Dear Leader and Escape from Camp 14, about the cult of Kim in North Korea. Then I read Prophet's Prey, about Warren Jeffs and his branch of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints. I've previously read The 19th Wife, about polygamy in early Mormonism. Now I'm finishing up Going Clear, a critical look at Scientology. I did online research and learned about the Order of the Solar Temple, which should be cited more often here in North America. And Eastern Lightning. And a whole bunch of other cults.

Years ago, I used to joke that I should start my own religion. I said, "I write science fiction. Wouldn't it be nice to have thousands of worshipers who sell my books for me?"

I was joking, of course. The only way to describe someone who fakes being a messiah is a con artist. And the only way to cement an unquestioning congregation is to do immoral things. It's not just a matter of telling a couple of lies. It entails a lifetime of false promises, threats, and backing up those threats. A fallible human can't have a live pipeline to the Truth without a team to confirm it. Over decades of working together closely and secretively, the team develops in-fighting. One member who defects with the cult's secrets can ruin everything. So they need to be bound by a web of threats.

After all this reading, I've come to realize that starting a cult is much more difficult than it appears. Even if we leave aside morality, there's decades of very dedicated work involved. Cult leaders have specific personal traits in common. Those traits include megalomaniacal ambition, and ignoring family in favor of work. Running the cult is their life. We hear about cult leaders who are middle-aged or older because it takes decades for a cult to grow to a degree where news media picks up on it. Even leaders who inherit a cult, such as Kim Jong Il and Warren Jeffs, worked behind the scenes for decades in order to wrest power away from competitors and cement their absolute authority. (Kim Jong Un is an exceptionally young leader, but there is doubt that his authority is absolute.)

People quibble about how to define a cult, and indeed, the definition is fuzzy. The Raelians and the Unification Church are considered cults, but over the decades, they've proved to be mostly harmless. It should be noted that they're spread out and don't have an isolation policy. Some religions have a prophet/Pope, or several such prophets--but mainstream religious sects don't have a leader with absolute authority. The dangerous cults all seem to have a leader whom members can never question or challenge. Members who try to quit are punished, and secrecy is enforced in order to hide crimes. That's the sort of cult I'm talking about in this article.

Many mainstream religions incorporate guilt and atonement, but dangerous cults take this to an extreme. Members are encouraged to atone for the slightest infraction, as often as possible, and remain in a constant state of guilt. Studies on sociology confirm a human instinct: Guilt and shame are crucial to resolving conflict in a healthy society or relationship. If one partner feels no remorse while the other partner always takes the blame, the relationship turns abusive. Religious cults replicate an abusive relationship on a massive scale. The leaders of the cult feel no remorse while the larger membership is constantly atoning.

Cult founders seem to share traits in common. Some of those traits are no surprise: Minor criminal charges prior to starting the cult, narcissism, a history of mental illness, and a history of making grand claims. I was surprised by other traits that kept showing up among these infamous men. Most cult leaders have a history of multiple sex partners or wives, and a great many children. They claim to value family and marriage as holy, yet neglect their own families. They marry underage girls. They have one long-term wife or partner who enables their tycoon lifestyle and whose support is vital. You might expect a cult founder to have been abused as a child, but many seem to come from stable or privileged homes. They downplay their parents and sometimes banish them from their lives. They were mediocre students who had trouble making friends or dating when they were young. They tend to be writers or painters, on top of being spiritual philosophers. No matter how much sex, material assets, or worshipers they gain, they grow increasingly hard to appease. They demand impossible projects and punish faithful members on a whim. Outsiders describe them as pathetic and sullen, while worshipers describe them as grandfatherly or jovial. They're distrustful of everyone and are often described as paranoid.

I wonder if they're on a quest for people who respect them without enabling their sociopathic behavior. Many cult founders seem to have been disparaged by teachers or classmates when they were kids. Typical cult founders seem to have malignant narcissism; they might grow up believing that teachers and classmates were too stupid or self-absorbed to recognize a true genius. The future cult founder gains respect when he makes grandiose claims, such as "I heard God talking to me." Untroubled by a sense of morality, he spends decades honing his ability to make grandiose claims. His burgeoning confidence allows him to attract friends. But he's troubled by his own lack of morality. He observe morality in friends and know something is amiss. So he explores spirituality. After decades of soul-searching, he's convinced that he has gained True Wisdom and he alone has the One True Answer. He believes he's figured out how to be happy and moral. His certainty draws people on a similar spiritual quest. Surrounded by awe-struck sycophants, his immoral nature and predatory instincts leads to temptation. He caves into temptation and commits a crime--child molestation or adultery--and rationalizes it by assuming it's what God wants. After all, he's already established his own wisdom. Now he has a perfect excuse to avoid feeling guilt or remorse. So he does it again. And again. Inwardly, he's terrified that his congregation will call him out and accuse him of being a criminal, but the congregation is taken in by every lie and excuse. So the 'messiah' loses respect for his congregation and grows bolder.

There's my unofficial criminal profile of a cult founder. I'll use it in a future novel! My fictional cult leader will be female, like they almost never are, but what the hey.

The other half of the cult equation--the faithful congregation--should not be ignored or excused. Adults who join a cult of their own free will are enablers. It's easy to see them as victims, since they often give away all their worldly possessions and endure torture. Some cults commit mass suicide, or force members into labor camps or terrible living conditions that lead to death. But it should not be forgotten that faithful members will give away their own children to be raped by a cult leader, believing it will lead salvation. They're desperate for someone they trust to control their lives and make all their important decisions--because deep down, they don't trust themselves.

A rare cult member will break away when pushed to an extreme. For instance, a pregnant Scientologist left when her punishment led to her baby nearly dying from lack of care. A polygamist Fundamentalist Mormon left when his wife and children were reassigned to someone else. North Koreans risk their lives to escape starvation and death camps. Yet the overwhelming majority of cult members will put up with all this and more. They'll become a living bomb, or feed toxic Kool-Aid to their kids, if their cult leader demands it.

The victims are the world governments--taxpaying citizens--who unwittingly or unwillingly support a cult. Most cults have a pool of eager slave labor, so wealth is easy for them. They have systematic approaches to any legal trouble they run into. They're more like governments than corporations; founded on ideology and protected by a militia. They win in courts, they win welfare aid, and sometimes they win sympathy from the general population by owning the news station or selling propaganda. They're more powerful than most organized crime rings, and more of a resource drain on the nations that shelter them.

Children raised in a cult should also be considered victims. Everyone deserves basic human rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Children in cults don't get the latter two. Little girls in cults tend to be married before they're old enough to know what sex is. If they try to escape, they're kidnapped, and their family is threatened with bankruptcy, ostracism, or torture. Child brides are basically slaves. Boys in cults tend to be forced into child labor, which is also a form of slavery. They're not given a choice. They cannot grow up to fulfill their human potential to pursue happiness. Liberty is a foreign concept to them.

Religious tolerance is an important principle, necessary for freedom; the basic human right of liberty. I'm all for allowing Wiccans to call the four corners. Satanists can have their private nude rituals with consenting adults. But basic human rights must take priority over religious status. If a religious organization kills or enslaves its members, or anyone else, then it ought to lose its status as a protected entity, and be considered hostile and criminal.

Cults rarely cross the murder line, although some indirectly kill members through neglect or mistreatment. If legal action against cults is to succeed, it should probably focus on enslavement: child brides, child labor, and unpaid adult laborers. Basic human rights violations should prove that the organization does not deserve legal protection.

Oct 3, 2014

Soon: Four Chilling Tales ~ horror stories

If you're in the mood for Halloween, I'd love to get reviews on this anthology, which includes four authors and my illustrations.

Ghosts, cannibals, perverts, freaks ... they might be in your neighborhood. Even under your own roof. They're definitely in this collection of four tales of contemporary horror by acclaimed authors James Maxey, Abby Goldsmith, Rebecca Roland, and Sarah Kelderman. Learn what horrors lurk just beyond your field of vision.  Horrors that will reveal themselves ... Soon. 

SOON: Four Chilling Tales

On Amazon
On Goodreads

Sep 30, 2014

Under the Dome season 2 finale

I don't watch a lot of TV, and lazy writing on series is half the reason why.  I was laughing in agreement with this review on about the season finale of Under the Dome.  This show is like a dumbed down version of Lost.  Not that Lost was all that brilliant, but at least it took itself somewhat seriously for the first three seasons.  The characters remained consistent that long.

As I watched the season finale of season 2 of Under the Dome, I couldn't help but reflect on how many characters have become a) murderers, b) melodramatic jerks, or c) murderous melodramatic jerks.

In the finale episode:  The high school science teacher (murderous melodramatic jerk) went ahead and murdered/euthanized the prophet-artist (melodramatic somewhat nice person), then got murdered by the used car salesman sheriff (murderous melodramatic jerk), who also punched his hermit brother (murderer), then went on to shoot a nice hoarder in an attempt to murder the lead female (melodramatic jerk), and then got shot by his sometimes-evil-sometimes-sweet son (murderous melodramatic jerk).  Got all that straight?  It's like some kind of weird nonsensical soap opera.

And then there are random monarch butterflies, glowing purple rocks, random dome weirdness, tunnels that lead to mysterious cliffs, some kind of evil corporation/government with an unknown agenda, a suck-hole in the woods, and a time traveling dead teenage girl (melodramatic jerk) who beckons people towards mysterious light.

The show is falling apart under the strain of not making any sense.

I don't know if they'll renew it for a third season, but I can't see how the writers (assuming the show has writers) can possibly salvage any hint of a coherent story.  If this was a novel, I would have stopped reading.  The show bears very little resemblance to the Stephen King novel.
And yet I kept watching.  Some of the characters have good chemistry together.  Some of the actors are really great at hamming it up, despite their role's lack of consistency.  Big Jim and Junior are fun.  Their characters have so much potential.

Aug 29, 2014

Treating the Book 1 Beginning Problem

I thought I was finally ready to submit Book 1.  It turns out I wasn't.

The good news is, I finally understand why the beginning of Book 1 has been such a problem.  It's not the prose.  It's not the main character, per se.  It's not bad luck, or a hatred of telepaths, or anything arcane.  It's jaded reader expectations.  Jaded readers see a child-genius-orphan-telepath-wheelchair-user, and expect a bland character who cruises through life with ease and saves the day.  They're expecting him to turn into Artemis Fowl + Professor X.  Or, as another writer put it:  How do you imply that there's more to a character than there seems at first, without giving the whole game away?

I've written myself into a corner on this one.  The character doesn't follow the tropes, but if I tell you that, it gives the whole game away.  His trope attributes are all vital to the story.  There's simply no way to change this character without ruining the story--and no way to introduce him without turning off jaded literary agents.  He is what he is.

But knowing is half the battle.

I spent the last decade wondering why I couldn't get the beginning right, no matter what I did.  Now I'm able to zero in on the root of the problem.  I might never be able to fully 'fix' it, or make it palatable to a jaded reader who expects the worst ... but I can treat the symptoms.  I finally have the correct diagnosis.  After so many years of wondering why the first chapters never worked magic on readers while the rest of the book did, this is a huge relief.

I wanted to start querying agents in March.  Now it looks like it will be September or later.  I wish it hadn't taken me a decade of start+stop frustration to figure out the root of this problem.  But, as the slaves in my series say, knowledge is worth a bit of pain.

My treatment plan is as follows:

1) Add a prologue from the point of view of the only person on Earth who knows that the main character is not what he appears to be.  Prologues are out of vogue and this is a minor antagonist, but it seems necessary, given the problem.  Her POV can explain quite a lot.

I wanted to let the reader discover the main character's true nature along with him ... but a jaded reader assumes they already know the main character's true nature.  This prologue will give them a more accurate estimation.

2) Have a character comment on one of the tropes.  This proves that I didn't include the trait subconsciously or out of ignorance.

3) Make everything else in the first chapters as un-trope-like as possible.  I'm focusing on having other characters act in unexpected-yet-still-believable ways.

4) Re-purpose my query letter to emphasize the main character's failure to save the day.  This is extremely tricky, since query letters are supposed to making the main character sound heroic.  I need to make him sound heroic, yet emphasize the fact that he's not the hero they expect.  Urrrrgh.

Here's my August 2014 query pitch:
Thomas never lets anyone take advantage of him.  As a 12-year-old with spinal muscular atrophy, he relies on caretakers ... yet dominates adults because he knows their secrets.  No one else has his powers.  Or so it seems.  
When other telepaths invade Thomas's mind, ripping into his embarrassing secrets and peering through his eyes, he's amazed that his powers are commonplace.  Trillions of telepaths like him rule the galaxy.  They transport Thomas to an alien metropolis where his most indulgent fantasies are actualized through advanced technology.  Here Thomas is normal--but everyone who isn't a telepath gets brutally enslaved.  Elite telepaths will kill Thomas in a nanosecond if he aids slaves such as his foster family and friends.  Or if he reverts to 'savage' emotions, such as compassion.  Unable to outwit or deceive his brethren, Thomas begins to suppress his emotions and give up.  
His desperate friends must prove that slaves are superior to the master race of telepaths.  They must convince Thomas to challenge his own conceits ... before he becomes just another brilliant, depraved slave-master.  The freedom of the universe is at stake.

Aug 2, 2014

Subverting tropes: a hard sell

I like to subvert tropes. I take traits that readers have seen too many times before--a gentle giant, for instance--and turn that character into something unexpected. Readers figure that a gentle giant will be misunderstood, considered a monster when he really isn't. The reader rolls their eyes ... until the plot takes an unexpected turn, and the gentle giant gains dangerous berserker tendencies that get innocent bystanders killed. Now the reader must reexamine their assumptions and wonder if he really is a monster, despite his depiction as kind and gentle.

The main character in my novel (Book 1 of the epic series) is front-loaded with tropes. He's a child genius. In a wheelchair. With telepathy. Mistrusting readers are rolling their eyes, thinking they've seen this before, in Artemis Fowl and Ender Wiggin and Professor X. Such readers assume that he's going to save the world (or his friends, or whatever) with his genius and telepathic abilities. They'd go on assuming that ... until he doesn't. About 30% into the novel, the story takes an unexpected twist, causing the reader to reexamine their assumptions about geniuses and telepaths and disabled protagonists. His strengths are being a child and being disabled; his weaknesses are being a genius and being telepathic. It's the opposite of what audiences are trained to expect.

I should have expected that this would be a hard sell. Holy cow. I'm running into a roadblock where industry professionals see the trope, assume that's all it is, and stop reading before the trope gets subverted.*

One beta reader suggested that I plant hints of trope subversion in the first chapter or two. I'm not sure that's feasible, since the beauty of trope subversion is setting up reader expectations before blowing them to smithereens.

Has anyone else run into this problem when subverting tropes? Have you found a way around it?

* The first chapter has other red flags for industry readers, but the trope assumption seems to be one of two 'kill switch' factors.  The other major red flag is the protagonist's young age, which industry professionals consider wrong for YA crossover or adult markets, A Game of Thrones and Ender's Game notwithstanding.

May 22, 2014

Writing Goals and the Odyssey Writing Workshop

In a discussion on Goodreads, author Susan Shell Winston asked if I'd started writing my epic science fiction series before attending the Odyssey Writing Workshop, and if the workshop changed my ideas about it.

Great question!  Yes.  I wrote the original drafts of Book 1 and Book 2 before I'd ever heard of Odyssey, and before I learned proper grammar. I just wanted to tell a good story. Despite excited beta reader reactions, my amateur manuscript gathered a solid wall of rejections from agents and publishers.  So I went to Odyssey in hopes of networking enough to get my manuscript read.  Plus, I was a fan of that year's writer in residence, George R.R. Martin.

During Odyssey, I learned so much, I added two new goals. I would: a) scrap those novel drafts and do a complete rewrite from scratch, and b) hone my short story craft and aim for at least one pro sale, since that credit might catch a literary agent's attention.

It took a few years, but I've accomplished both those goals.  Sadly, I'm still working towards my original goal of getting a literary agent or major publisher to read the manuscript of Book 1--the rewritten 2x version.  This ongoing quest has led me to co-found novelist groups, complete additional novels in my series, and gain a lot more practice at storytelling and writing.  At this point in my life, I feel capable of either accomplishing what I set out to do, or indie publishing a complete six-book series that will appeal to a broad range of readers.

Apr 10, 2014

Online Housekeeping

I updated my website, adding a section for my short stories, and a Goodreads widget to my book reviews. I also joined Wattpad. I'm preparing for a major round of novel submissions, so I'm forcing myself to work on the dreaded query letter. More to come soon ...