Tag Archives: Star Trek The Next Generation

Writers Can Shape The Future

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Words most often attributed to Spider-Man, these words have come to mind many times when I see certain movies or read certain novels.

You see, a storyteller does more than just entertain, even if that is their ultimate goal and nothing more.  More-so if you are a story teller writing for a high-visibility medium such as major motion pictures.  We inspire, we spark imagination, and we have the potential to shape the course of the future.

Image Source – https://chalcids.deviantart.com/

In fact, this is what makes science fiction such a popular genre.  It’s a perfect platform in which to explore current-day social and political themes in a malleable future, and the very best ones do so without being obvious about it.  Even Fantasy has this ability, as demonstrated by the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit novels, or more recently, The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, which a recent article claims explored World War 2 and The Cold War respectively.

Most writers don’t even consider the potential impact they might have on a single reader, or many readers, or entire generations of readers.  Through popular media, we can shape our very future, if ever so subtly.

Which is why I’ve been concerned about an upcoming major motion picture, Geostorm.  However, in thinking further about it today, I’ve considered the possibility that my initial skeptical attitude towards the message itmight send may have been unwarranted…

Geostorm – Creating Fear of Technology

The Terminator

It’s nothing new – sci-fi has often portrayed how technology could potentially cause our society greater harm.  Terminator is always the first example I think of, where an AI of our own creation overthrows humanity (a theme later revitalized by The Matrix, but there have been many more examples throughout the decades.)

Is AI something to be feared?

Is weather control technology something to be feared and avoided?

Geostorm

In Geostorm, the story revolves around global weather control technology that appears to go haywire and starts creating devastating storms all over the world.  As the story progresses, they discover that a single person has actually intentionally programmed this malfunction, for some political or even perhaps personal gain.

As I watched the very first preview, my initial thought was “great, something that could actually be beneficial to humanity and the world, and now people will be afraid of it, and the invention and deployment of such technology will probably be delayed as a result over the course of the next century.”

Popular media is good at that – using worst-case scenarios and playing on the fears of people to draw them into the movies.

However, there’s another aspect to this kind of movie that I’ve suddenly become aware of…

Setting Expectations of Responsibility

With great power comes great responsibility.  And lets face it, the ability to control the weather on a global scale would be an immense power.  It potentially could give a single entity the ability to affect global policy at their whim.

“I want you to follow my political agenda,” this person might say.

“We don’t want to, it opposes our fundamental beliefs,” a world leader might reply.

“Very well.  You’ll not see a single drop of rain until you accede to my demands.  Or maybe even constant floods.”

It’s frightening to think about.  But then, that’s why it’s important to have a system in place that does not permit a single entity to control such power.

And while some might see Geostorm as a story of why we should never ever invent weather control technology, others could see it as a cautionary story, one which suggests safety protocols must be made inherent to it.

Image Source – memory-alpha.wikia.com

The same can be said about Artificial Intelligence and any story that shows such an AI ruling or destroying humanity.  If you give something the ability to destroy you, and give it reason to, then it most likely will.  On the other hand, as Star Trek has explored many times, if you give something, such as an artificial life form, sentience…then how you treat it is as important as how you treat any others.

“What If…”

One of my favorite movies is the 2002 version of The Time Machine, and there is a line in the movie that I always strongly related to: “You’re a man haunted by those two most terrible words: What if?”

We as writers get to explore “What If” with every tale we tell.  What if weather control technology became a reality?  What if that technology was abused?

This is where our greatest power comes from.  Because when we explore “what if,” so do our readers.  And while we can write cautionary tales like The Terminator, we also have the power to write the opposite, like Star Trek.  We can show people the consequences of “What if it goes wrong” but we can also show people the amazing future in store for us if it goes right, if we make it right.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading,
-Jon Wasik

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Can A Writer Live Off Of Writing?

Hi everyone!

In just a couple of months, this blog, A Writer At Heart, turns 3!  I’m excited that I’ve kept this going for all of that time!  There’s been ups and downs, and I know I haven’t always been able to keep up on posts, but it’s been an enjoyable medium to write in.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but one of my goals that I wanted to work towards when I started writing this blog was that I was going to make a living off of writing within 2 years.  3 years later, I’m nowhere close to achieving that goal.

Despite that apparent failure, my attempt to achieve that goal is why I worked so hard and was able to self-publish 2 novels in 2 years, and finish writing The Orc War Campaigns within a year (even if barely).

I may not be raking in the cash, but I am so much more accomplished as a writer than ever before!

Still, I’ve wondered lately, is it even possible to make a living off of writing?  Can only the big names make it, the ones who make the top sellers lists and make millions?  Was it a lofty, unobtainable dream of mine?  Should I let that dream go?

The Market Has Changed

With this question in mind, I decided to do a little digging and research.  Just going to google and typing in the question “Can writers make a living off of writing” yields apparently mixed results, or so I thought at first…

There were a lot of articles that enthusiastically said “Yes!” and a lot that unequivocally said “NO!  It’s a pipe dream!”  Who was right?

But the content of the articles, as well as their dates, is what started getting me to wondering about it.  You see, most of the ones that said it was a one in a million occurrence for a writer to live off of writing were either, A: 7 years old or older, or B: were talking about traditional publication only.

The ones that said it was possible?  They pointed out the change in the market.  Everything began to change as the internet grew and took on new characteristics.  eBooks changed the market, because suddenly you didn’t have to do a huge print run.  Self-publishing was a rare and very risky thing, and cost a lot of money up-front before eBooks.

Furthermore, as things continue to evolve, print-on-demand suddenly is no longer prohibitively expensive, and in fact is at a point where it can compete with traditional print runs.

Suddenly there are all of these avenues, and just about anyone can get published with little or no up-front cost!

Does This Mean Lower-Quality?

I want to state something important before I continue: I am neither bashing nor supporting either method (traditional or self-publishing) above the other.  In fact, even being a self-published author, it is still my dream to get picked up by an agency and publishing house.

Having said that, I’ve been scoffed at by some traditionally published authors in the past.  They think of self-publishing as an evil, and the most common reason behind it: “Anyone can get published without even trying, so a lot of garbage makes it onto the bookshelves.”

I respectfully disagree, this is something that hasn’t changed.  Before the internet, eBooks, and Print-on-Demand, there were a lot of good books that were published, true…but there were also plenty of bad.  No, I’m not going to cite examples, but I’m willing to bet you can think of a few on your own.

Despite the risk publishers took doing print runs, and therefore despite how careful they were in who they published and the content of their publications, not everyone in the world agrees on what is a quality piece of work.  And many trade publishers followed the market.  One of the articles I found while researching this topic said it right: a lot of bad books were published for this reason, and a lot of quality books were overlooked for any number of reasons, such as not being right for the market at the time.

So now that it is easier than ever to self-publish, what does that mean?  It just means more of both – the good and the bad.  Lots more.

Market Saturation?

So is this bad, then?  Does this market saturation mean readers are more picky, because there’s too much, and therefore it is harder for all writers to live off of writing?

Strangely enough, it seems like the answer is no.  I’m not an expert, but I have a lot of theories as to why things are better than ever, rather than worse, and the biggest one is: audience.

If you get published by a trade publisher, your book goes out to stores.  Depending on how much your publisher likes your work, it may just be your local market, or it might be out to a handful of countries, depending on what international deals they have setup.

But now?  Well, I’ve had people from all over the world read my books!  I only know this because of how Kindle Direct Publishing tracks sales and royalty currencies.  I’ve seen Canadians, Australians, Brits, and a few others buy my eBooks and even some print copies.

Suddenly it’s not just specific locations.  It’s whoever has an internet connection and the means to the right kind of currency.  Suddenly there are billions of potential readers rather than millions.

On top of that, people who are voracious readers don’t have to worry about physical books taking up space or waiting for them to be delivered.  Most people I’ve talked to outside of friends and family have read my first book in a single sitting.

Voracious readers are, if you’ll pardon the pun, eating up the increased volume of works to be read!

The Bottom Line?

The bottom line is that it is possible to make a living off of writing, more than ever!  However…that does not change the fact that it requires hard work.  A LOT of hard work.  You don’t have to have that one best-seller anymore like you used to, but from what I’m reading, those who DO live off of it, write a great volume of stories.

And that is no guarantee, either.  That’s an important thing to remember about writing: it doesn’t matter how good you are, you are not guaranteed to succeed.  In fact, Picard once said it perfectly in Star Trek The Next Generation:

Image source – fanpop.com

“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.  That is not a weakness, that is life!”

So what should you do?

It all boils down to one thing: do you love to write?  Is it your passion?  Your calling?

If you can answer yes to that, then my advice is the same advice I’m giving myself: don’t give up.  Don’t stop.  Keep going.  Never stop.

Believe.

The Power of Fictional Role Models – Make It So!

Hi everyone!

I have this somewhat vague memory in my head from I think 1st or 2nd grade, where we were supposed to write down who one of our favorite role models was, and why.  Then we were to stand up and tell the class what we wrote down.

Image Source - comicvine.com
Image Source – comicvine.com

I remember feeling very excited to make my presentation, and I was one of the first to give mine.  Who was my role model?  A fictional character.  In that specific case, Superman, because I had just watched the 2nd Superman movie (Christopher Reeves, yeah!)

And everyone laughed.  It was heartbreaking.  So I sat down, and I listened to the rest, wondering why they laughed.  I noticed that no one else presented fictional characters.  They all gave real people, either family members or historical figures.

For a long time after that, I had it in my head that it was wrong to look up to ‘fictional characters’ as role models.  I stopped admitting that to anyone for a long time.

I don’t remember when I realized it, but one day I came to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with looking up to a fictional character as a role model.  Are they real?  Perhaps not.  Yet characters exist in our hearts just the same as real people do.

And they can make exceptional role models.

Certainly this is not to downplay the power of people in our every day lives, as we grow up, turn into adults, and even for the rest of our lives.  As I noted in my first novel, my parents are very much the reason I am the good man I am today.

But they weren’t alone.  They weren’t the only people to shape who and what I was to become.

The Formative Years – Jean-Luc Picard

Image source - fanpop.com
Image source – fanpop.com

For those who know me in person, I doubt it comes as any surprise that one of the greatest influences in my life has been Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek The Next Generation.  I grew up with TNG, literally.  As a kid, I never got to watch TNG every week, but the older I got, the more I tried to watch it.

There are definitely interesting parallels in my life, in who I am.  And yet…there are definite differences.  I love reading and literature in general, as Picard did.  Yet I can’t stand Shakespeare.  I’ve been in several leadership roles throughout my career and I do well in them, but I am not the kind of leader who keeps myself removed, distant.  I don’t have or want children, but unlike Picard, I love kids and am great with them!

I also often wonder if I’ll end up perpetually single as he was, as I continue struggle to find someone to complement my life.  But I never had a wild-streak when I was a teenager.

Image Source - memory-alpha.wikia.com
Image Source – memory-alpha.wikia.com

I’ll also never forget how Picard always stood up for the rights of others, the freedoms of others.  The best example I always think of was when Data’s rights as a sentient, self-determining individual were put into question, and Picard defended those rights with such incredible passion!  The same for when a half-human, half-Romulan crew member was accused of espionage.

Plus there is Picard’s love of art, music, literature, archeology, history…  The intrinsic importance of each of these in every person’s life has stayed with me, and I wonder just how much my appreciation for them stems from seeing the importance he placed on them.

That isn’t to say I’ve tried to emulate him.  I never have, I could never be that kind of person.  But I really don’t believe it is a coincidence that many of what I consider to be the best parts of who I am bear similarities :)

The Responsibility of Writers – Characters to Look Up To

Seeing this in my own life, as well as in the life of many others, I’ve come to realize what this means for me as a writer, and perhaps what other writers should always keep in the back of their minds (in my humble opinion, any way :) )

Image Source - imdb.com
Image Source – imdb.com

Fiction holds an incredible power in the minds and hearts of humanity, especially young people.  And they are looking for good role models to look up to.  Just look at the insane popularity of the Marvel franchise.  (Granted that’s also because us adults who grew up with the comics are loving it :D  heheh.)

And for each writer out there, whether a novel writer or a script writer, we have the power to influence the minds of many.  For some, our exposure to the world is limited (at least, right now.)  But at any moment, that novel or short story or screenplay you wrote could explode in popularity, and all of the characters could become a part of our very culture.

So please, be careful.  You never know the impact your protagonist could have on an individual’s life.

Not to say we don’t want to put flaws in our characters.  We all have flaws, ALL of us.  And a flawless character is boring to write and read.  But how you present that flaw, how the character deals with it, the impact it has on the world and the characters around them…that makes all the difference.

Thanks for reading!  :)
-Jon Wasik