The Page a Day Writers Group

One Thing Right, by Dani Kollin

Posted on: April 16, 2010

Eytan & Dani Kollin

Dani Kollin and his brother Eytan are the authors of the sci-fi smash, The Unincorporated Man and its sequel, The Unincorporated War (releasing May 11, 2011). The Kollin Bros. are also finalists for this year’s Prometheus Awards (for the best pro-freedom novel of 2009):

The Unincorporated Man by Dani and Eytan Kollin (Tor): “…explores the idea that education and personal development could be funded by allowing investors to take a share of one’s future income. The story takes a strong position that liberty is important and worth fighting for, and the characters spend their time pushing for different conceptions of what freedom is.”

So it’s only fitting that these freedom fighters got published their own way, defying the industry’s conventional tropes and forging their own brilliant path. Here, guest blogger Dani, shares his insight on the  process:

We didn’t have an agent,  at least not someone who’d ever agented before. We submitted our story with the wrong typeface, leading, and font size. We even had the temerity to keep David Hartwell, one of the most respected and famous editors in the business waiting (or at least our pretend agent did). We didn’t purposely break all those rules it’s just that we hadn’t bothered reading them. Why? Because we were writing blind and never thought for a moment there were any rules that mattered other than to write something compelling. We may have been naive but in this instance it turns out that we were right.

Barring all the typos, screwing up all the POV’s (general rule we didn’t know: only one POV per scene, please), and everything else about that first submitted manuscript that marked us as newbies, the one thing we got right was the idea. At the risk of boring you I humbly submit a paraphrased Philip K. Dick quote as to what makes an idea stand out – specifically with regards to science fiction–but certainly applicable across the board: Science fiction is “not merely a story set in the future, and it’s not merely a story featuring high technology… It entails a fictitious world that comes out of our world, the one we know: This world must be different from the given one in at least one way… sufficient to give rise to events that could not occur in our society…There must be a coherent idea involved in this dislocation…so that as a result a new society is generated in the author’s mind, transferred to paper, and from paper it occurs as a convulsive shock in the reader’s mind, the shock of dysrecognition. In good science fiction, the conceptual dislocation—the new idea, in other words—must be intellectually stimulating to the reader so that it sets off a chain-reaction of ramification–ideas in the mind of the reader; it so-to-speak unlocks the reader’s mind so that that mind, like the author’s, begins to create.” (Philip K. Dick, Letter, 1981, Reader, 41-42, xiii-xiv).

My brother and I may not have known much about the minutiae when we started writing The Unincorporated Man (and it certainly would’ve been easy to get lost there) but we instinctively knew that we’d better damn well do more than create cool or fantastical characters and place them into a cool or fantastical world. Every SF editor in NYC has a stack of unread manuscripts on their desk with WELL WRITTEN – BEAUTIFULLY DESCRIBED worlds but a dearth of raisons d’etre for those worlds. It’s a tall order, but it’s not magic. Ask yourself: is what you’re creating enabling your reader to create too? If all it is is your own imaginary world described then perhaps it needs something more. What that “more” is I couldn’t say. What I can say is this: get that one thing right and feel free to screw the rest up to your heart’s content (don’t tell my editor I said that). Because by piquing the editor’s curiosity you’ll have accomplished something extraordinary : you’ll have set off the “chain reaction of ramification ideas” that will separate your story from the rest. You’ll have accomplished the one right thing and I can promise you this: it won’t be a long wait from there.

Visit them at TheUnincorporatedMan.com.

2 Responses to "One Thing Right, by Dani Kollin"

About ten years ago, I was in a read and critique group with a, gasp, a sci-fi writer. Wait a minute. I signed up to be with real writers. But soon I had to eat my words. I was gobsmacked by the way this writer, like all sci-fi writers, had to create a world as you put it that comes from our world. In other words, one that we identify with but also transports us. And honestly, isn’t that the job of all writers is to transport readers? Thanks for sharing.

This is a fantastic kernel of wisdom: to strive to create something that inspires your readers to create. Maybe that’s why there’s nothing more motivating than reading work that soars with life and immerses me in a place I’ve never seen, but that feels tangible.

So enjoy hearing about what worked for you- and a sense of humor is a survival skill, too- thanks for the chuckles!

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The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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