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Some fiction really is fantastic

At a meeting of the Science Fiction Writers Collective, (L-R) Paul Hanson and Bill Branley listen to Daniel Monk’s scene for a writing exercise practicing showing vs. telling.   - JULIE BUSCH photo
At a meeting of the Science Fiction Writers Collective, (L-R) Paul Hanson and Bill Branley listen to Daniel Monk’s scene for a writing exercise practicing showing vs. telling.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

A local writers collective explores the bounds of possibility with science fiction.

Intergalactic diplomat extraordinaire David Ventax is called on again to exercise his tact.

“How did he manage to affect a species like the Gugell?” he asks.

“Well,” responds Ultrav, “he ate one of them.”

So is the stage set in “Surgical Diplomacy” by islander Daniel Monk, one of 14 short stories in “Obliquity” to be released on March 23. The stories span the magical, science fiction and fantastic.

Authors will read from their stories at 7:30 p.m. that day at Eagle Harbor Book Co. The volume is the second produced by Bainbridge Island’s Science Fiction Writers Collective, following a self-published 2004 collection, “Off the Ecliptic.”

The writers collective has been around since early 1999, meeting twice a month for supportive critiques, friendly advice on polishing stories and an instant audience for works in progress.

Some of the writers bring professional backgrounds in science, precision optical devices, computer modeling and networking, while others are still in high school. Several have been published, but all are intent on improving their craft among understanding peers.

“It gives you the freedom to try anything,” Verne Wade said. “We’re not afraid of ‘wasting our time’ in trying new things.”

For some, the genre itself gives the writer latitude to explore.

“All fiction is basically fantasy,” Vicki Saunders said, “but the borders of science fiction are farther. It’s that freedom of restraint to go anywhere and look at anything.”

The tales in “Obliquity” cover diverse ground.

In “Asylum,” a girl’s divine healing powers call her out of a coma; a tribe that may not possess material objects more than 24 hours faces a conundrum in “Genesis at Raradon”; an enchanting multi-layered tale unfolds from a novel in “Afternoon of the World”; and an orphan takes a magical journey to find his parents in “Lodestone.”

The beginnings of the stories are as humble as a meeting on a park bench or fantastic as worm-hole travel.

Paul Hanson, who manages Eagle Harbor Book Co., is the host as far as where the group gathers, but no more a leader than any other member during critiques and meetings.

Although the grammatical corrections can be severe and “all their red marks (on a draft) make us weep blood,” Patti Lewis laughs, comments on story content are gentle.

“I think in fiction writing, critiquing is an important part of the process. Does the story succeed? Does it resonate? It’s more about the craft and you need to join a group for that,” Bill Branley said.

“It’s not that we’re hugely expert. Most of us are more wannabes than be’s,” Saunders said. “Together though, I think we make stronger writing. If only one person is hammering at something, maybe it’s their quirk, but if everyone does, then you know there’s something wrong.”

“Everyone brings something to the table,” Hanson added, whether it’s grammatical correctness or noting inconsistencies in the tale.

Lewis, who joins the group twice a month from Bremerton, comes to get critiques on books she has in the works.

And it helps that the group is not her family, she adds, as “one of the things I get is confirmation that I’m a writer.”

Hanson also gets motivated by the peer pressure of knowing he has to email a draft to the group for a certain meeting. He hadn’t written for five years before the group formed.

Wade says the stories themselves are rarely changed as a result of critiques, but what is useful is comments on grammar, plot, wording or voice – so that all the characters don’t sound alike.

And all the writers are frequently guilty of using too many adjectives and adverbs, he adds.

“Small changes can have a big effect,” Wade said. Sometimes a word just “doesn’t seem to suit” and finding the right one can make a big difference.

As a critique begins, “(the comments are) tentative the first 15 minutes and then people start making suggestions and it flows. It’s just ideas flying back and forth,” Wade said, “and the writer selects what suits.”

* * * * *

The outer limits

Selections from “Obliquity,” a fiction collection by members of the island’s Science Fiction Writers Collective, will be read 7:30 p.m. March 23 at Eagle Harbor Book Co. Authors reading include Frank E. Anderson, Bill Branley, Nancy Lou Canyon, Lorenz Eber, Kaleena Fraga, Paul Hanson and Nick Heinlein. Information: 842-5332.

The Science Fiction Writers Collective meets the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at Eagle Harbor Book Co. Contact sfwc8@comcast.net or Paul Hanson at Eagle Harbor Books, 842-5332, for more information.

Community Events, April 2014

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