Category Archives: Commentary

Scifaiku: A Poet’s Journey

Scifaiku - Crush - by Wendy Van Camp
One Friday afternoon, I was sitting on a bench at a local science fiction convention with little to do for the next few hours. I learned that there was to be a workshop on how to write scifaiku poetry put on by the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

I had never heard of scifaiku before and was intrigued by the idea. I ended up attending the seminar and this decision changed my views on poetry. As it turned out, I was the only student at the workshop along with a couple of magazine editors that published this form of poetry. The instructor taught how to brainstorm ideas for your poems and the elements that were needed for proper scifaiku. I not only became hooked on the poetry form, but I ended up publishing the poem I wrote in that workshop several months later.

Defining Scifaiku

Scifaiku is minimal in execution and elegant, similar to haiku. It is distinctive since it contains the human insight, use of technology and vision of the future that is natural in science fiction, but delivers it in three short poignant lines. The form is inspired by the principles of haiku, but it deviates due to its science fiction theme. The standard length of a poem is seventeen syllables.

While traditional haiku has three lines of five syllables, then seven, and then five again, scifaiku does not need to follow this structure. The structure is merely a guideline in Scifaiku and the poet can write more than seventeen syllables if they wish. This is due to science fiction having technical terms that make the shortness of traditional haiku difficult.

How to write Scifaiku

Scifaiku contains certain theme elements, much like haiku does. In traditional haiku, the poems are about nature. In scifaiku, the poems are about science fiction. Each poem needs to evoke a science fiction premise along with its own observation of that idea. For instance, you might include a technological word like space, laser, nebula, biofeedback, or teleport. Technical words often can be long and have many syllables, but this is allowed in scifaiku.

In traditional haiku, a word is included to indicate the season or time this poem is taking place in. I was taught in the workshop to also include this element in the scifaiku poem. It is not a requirement, but I am finding that including it makes my poems stronger. I tend to not use seasonal words, but I do like to use words that give a sense of the time.

Haiku and scifaiku both involve creating a sense of a single moment in time and space. You need to discover that tiny moment and the feelings that it invokes within yourself. Scifaiku is about creating a tiny bubble in the universe that makes one consider the human condition.

Scifaiku - "Cold"

Brainstorming Techniques

When I am ready to create a limited series of scifaiku poems, I take out a notebook and create three columns. One column is where I write down ideas of science fiction concepts I might want to compose poems. The second column I list moments of time. The final column is where I write down ideas of feelings that could be evoked. From these lists I begin to mix and match the three concepts to create different scifaiku poems. I pick the three best to create a sequence to send to magazines. Each of the three scifaiku poems can stand on their own as singles, but together they touch on a theme that unites them. These clusters of poems are what end up publishing. Scifaiku is such a short form of poetry that most magazines appreciate having a couple of them together to flesh out a single presentation page.

Authors of Scifaiku

  • One of the earliest published poems in this form was Karen Anderson’s “Six Haiku” from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1962.
  • Terry Pratchett used scifaiku as a chapter epigram in one of his early novels, “The Dark Side of the Sun” in 1976.
  • Robert Frazier published “Haiku for the L5” in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine(1979) and also “Haiku for the Space Shuttle” (1980)
  • The most extensive use of scifaiku in science fiction is by David Brin in his “Uplift Universe” and in his novel “The Postman”. In “Uplift”, the dolphin characters speak a haiku-like language called Trinary and he has characters quoting and writing haiku in the story. In “The Postman”, Brin used scifaiku as chapter epigrams.


Where to Submit Scifaiku

I tend to write scifaiku in a small series when I prepare them to be submitted to magazines. Each of the poems is related via subject matter and work together, but also can stand separately. Each series is three to five poems in length. This gives the magazine a little more to bulk out on the page since scifaiku is such a short form. Most science fiction magazines do accept poetry submissions, but not all will accept scifaiku due to its brief format. You should read the magazines you wish to submit to and learn their publishing guidelines before sending in your work.

Awards for Scifaiku

There are few awards for scifaiku. It is a rare form of science fiction inspired poetry and often will not be eligible for recognition in regular poetry awards. However, The Science Fiction Poetry Association gives out a “Dwarf Star Award” for the best short length speculative poem each year which does include Scifaiku. The nominees for the award are published in their annual anthology, Dwarf Stars. Joining the Science Fiction Poetry Association allows you to nominate and vote for the award in addition to giving you a copy of the anthology.

Orbiting Secrets, a Scifaiku poem illustration

Last Word

Scifaiku is a poetry form that I’ve grown very fond of. It is my hope that more people will begin to write it and that it will flourish as an art form. From a single seminar on a lazy Friday afternoon, I have been transformed into a poet of sorts and my life has become all the better for it.

Comparing 3 Alphasmart Digital Typewriters

An Alphasmart is a digital typewriter that was designed to help teach keyboarding to grade school children in the public school system. The Alphasmart has a full-sized keyboard, is portable, lightweight and built to take a beating. It has no internet connection. It stores the keystrokes the student makes in file buffers that can later be uploaded either to a computer via a cable or to a central unit in a classroom setting. Since the children can not access the internet, they learn to write without distraction and pick up keyboarding speed with ease.

The last few years, the Alphasmart has been phased out of the school systems in favor of tablets and chromebooks (a limited laptop). Many of these tough old alphasmarts now flood eBay for a low price. For $20, you can have a self-contained writing machine with a full-sized keyboard and a small screen interface that will not get between you and your writing. I personally use an Alphasmart Neo as my drafting machine of choice, but I started out on an Alphasmart 3000 and found it more than up to the task of writing a novel.

There are three main model types of Alphasmart to choose from. Which one is right for you may not be readily apparent. Below I am going to make a comparison of the three models going over their strengths and weaknesses. I know writers that use any of these three models, so once you know the differences, you should be able to determine which is the right one for you.

Alphasmart Neo and Samsonite Shuttle Case

Alphasmart Neo

The Neo is known for the sharp lettering on its LED screen and can be seen in bright sunlight when you write outside. The lines that are shown are adjustable via the alphasmart manager program. It ranges from 4 to 7 lines. I have mine set at 5 lines because I like the text to be a little larger.

You will need a book light to use with your Neo when writing at night. I always bring my Mightybrite dual music stand light with me to the coffeehouse when I write with it.

The Neo has eight compartments for your writing, each will hold approximately twenty-five pages of text. The Neo comes with a built-in thesaurus, dictionary, and word count feature. Having an instant word count on the go has been a real asset to me during Nanowrimo when keeping track of your word count is critical to keeping up the pace of your drafting.

Battery life on the Neo is fantastic. It takes 3 AA batteries and this will keep your Neo running for 700 hours. I change out mine once a year and my machine is ready for instant writing at any time. I never need to hunt for an outlet when I’m out writing in coffeehouses and I can take my Neo to the park or into my backyard for outside writing.

There is no internet connection for the Neo. This makes it an excellent non-distraction machine to use for your writing. I do bring my smartphone with me when I write so in the event I do need to look up something on the internet on the fly, I can do so, but the extra effort this takes usually keeps me from doing the act. I view this as a positive thing.

Alphasmart Dana

Alphasmart Dana

When new writers are looking over the Alphasmart line, many gravitate to the Dana. It has a slot for an SD card, has a word processor, and a larger screen to see your work. However, there are problems associated with the Dana that you need to be aware of.

First off, the palm based word processor that you can use with the Dana is no longer supported. Even if you found a free download of the program, the license keys are gone. If you have a license key from the past, you can use the word processor, but if you are a new user, you are out of luck. You can upload any palm based software into the Dana and find it compatible, but frankly, if that is your goal, I think you are better off with an inexpensive laptop or tablet. The Dana does not have the ability to save every keystroke the way the Neo does, it stores the data on the SD card. There will be times when you will lose all your text.

The screen on the Dana is larger, but it is fainter and harder to see the text. Some people have gone as far as remove the over screen on their machines in order to make the screen more readable, but this is difficult to accomplish if you don’t have the technical skills.

Like the Neo, the Dana does have the standard simple word processor, dictionary, thesaurus, and word count features. However, it does not have the battery life. Your Dana will last only a few hours on a charge, similar to a laptop.

Alphasmart 3000

Alphasmart 3000

My first Alphasmart was the 3000. It has a solid, full-sized keyboard with a good feel. My typing speed is fast on the machine and the screen has sharp, crisp lettering. The standard eight files in the AS3T only hold around 8 pages each, so when writing on it, I recommend “sending” your data to your computer each night and freeing up your space when you can. It is good to get into this habit anyway so that you store your data in a safe place. While the AS3T is a rugged machine that stores every keystroke, I feel better seeing my work in my Scrivener program on my desktop.

The desktop manager does not have a word count feature in the AS3T. It only has a simple word processor, dictionary, and thesaurus.

The AS3T uses three AA batteries and has the same 700 hours of run time as the Neo. You pop your batteries in once a year and then don’t worry about it. The AS3T is a little more square and longer than the Neo and I find it harder to perch on my lap, but if you have a tabletop to write on, you should be fine. The AS3T also will need a book lamp to light up the keys and screen when writing at night or in a dim coffeehouse.

Rating the Three Alphasmarts

Of the three machines, I feel that the Neo is the best choice for an author. The keyboard is the most ergonomic, the screen is the sharpest and easiest to read and it holds more data. The word count feature is a real plus too. Being able to turn on the machine and start writing in around two seconds is a real plus.

My second choice is the Alphasmart 3000. While it doesn’t store as much data as the Neo and the keyboard is slightly less comfortable, it is a solid and dependable machine. I own one as a backup and will not part with it.

Finally, I feel that I should give a word of warning about the Dana. While I do know of people that own and prefer them, I feel that due to their age and that much of their palm OS software is difficult to come by, makes the Dana a poor choice. Spare yourself the headache and look at the Neo or AS3T.

Text-To-Speech (TTL) as Editing Aid for Writers

As authors, hearing your manuscript read out-loud is an important step in the editing process. By listening to your text, minor glitches in your writing stand out and are more easily corrected. While many of us do read our work ourselves, it is often better when someone else reads your work so that you can focus your attention on errors and making a note of them on your manuscript.

Personally, this is one of the reasons I like to read my work at critique groups. It allows me to not only gauge the response to my work on other people, but I also get the benefit of the read. However, there are times when a critique group is not available or when you wish to listen to long passages of your manuscript. For those times, I recommend a text-to-speech program.

A Text-to-Speech program converts your typed text into speech. Most of the programs do not have natural sounding human voices, but there is some inflection built in to many of the programs. While they would not serve to convert your website into a quality podcast, for simple readings they are acceptable.

I am reviewing a couple of programs that I have tried and use here in my home office. None of the program companies have asked for my review or are connected to me in anyway other than I being a consumer of their product.

Dragon Naturally Speaking
Ranges from $99 to $199

I gained my copy of Dragon from my husband, who has used this program for years to transcribe his dictation for work. If you suffer from carpel tunnel and need a program to transcribe your writing, this would be my number one choice. It also works well as a text-to-speech reader, although the voice is not the most natural. One tip with working with Dragon is to purchase a better quality microphone. I bought my husband a podcast quality microphone to use at the office and he reported that the dictation quality greatly improved.

Natural Reader
Free with paid upgrades

This is the text-to-speech reader that has been taking my critique groups by storm. I’ve had this program recommended to me by many people. When I tried it myself, I found it comfortable to use and the voices have enough variety to be fun. For instance, I had my steampunk novel read in a British accent.

The voices have a slight electronic quality, but the inflection is natural and the choice of accents is useful. You can have American, British accents, or have your text read to you in other languages. I am not sure how accurate the translations are since I do not use the program for this use. Of all the programs I am reviewing in this article, I feel the voices in Natural Reader are the best.

If you decide to upgrade to a paid version, features such as better voices, converting your text to an audio file and being able to transfer your recorded readings to alternate devices such as an iphone, ipad or android device become possible. This makes your editing sessions easier to take with you on the go. It might be possible to convert blog posts or your text into podcasts for soundcloud or itunes. It is not as good as hiring a voice actor, but if you are self conscience about reading your work for recording, this might be a good alternative.

Word Talk

This text-to-speech program is somewhat more limited than others because it interfaces only with Microsoft Word, but it is compatible with Word 97 through Word 2013. If you write in Word and want a program that is customized to that platform, this might be a good choice for you to try. The program creates a button in your word toolbar and highlights the text as it is read. You can also record the speech as a .wav or .mp3 for use in your portable music player.

Read the Words
Free with paid upgrades

This is an online TTS program that can generate a clear audio file from almost any sort of typed material. You cut and paste your file into the online text box or upload a Word, PDF, Text or HTML document. Evidently, you can also enter a web address or RSS feed and the program will read that as well. I confess that I have not used it in that capacity, but it sounds interesting. The resulting recordings that the program makes can then be downloaded to your computer or portable music player. You could even embed the file into a website.

Again, the voices in this are good, but not human. You can tell the difference. While I would not use this for a podcast of my work, as an editing aid it is perfectly acceptable.


Powertalk is not a simple reader as most of the above programs are, it is an integrated text-to-speech application that coordinates with MS powerpoint or any presentation. You download and install PowerTalk and then run it with your presentation. It reads all the text in your powerpoint presentation include any hidden text you have inserted into the slides.

The voices are the standard ones provided with Windows 7, Vista and XP. As authors we often do presentations at various clubs or speaking engagements and I love this program to go with my powerpoint. Of the programs to use for editing, I would call this one the least useful, but for presentations it is definitely one to check out.

Broad Universe Reads at Westercon68

The West Coast Science Fantasy Conference aka Westercon is a regional science fiction and fantasy convention geared toward fans, musicians, writers, and filmmakers of the genre. It is typically a four-day event that is traditionally held during the Independence Day holiday weekend. The location rotates to a new city each year, chosen somewhere in the United States west of the 104th meridian line. The guests of honor are chosen from professionals who live in the Westercon region.

TownCntryResort rosesThis year, Westercon was held in San Diego, CA at the Town and Country Resort in conjunction with two local conventions, Conjecture (a science fiction and fantasy literary convention) and ConChord (a filk singers convention). It is a lovely hotel filled with bright blue swimming pools, blooming roses, and garden settings.

This was my first time at a regional literary convention. The size and scope of it was bigger than I had expected. I was registered as a panelist for the first time and I participated in two events. The first event was a lecture on Author Platform, based on the methods that I use to promote No Wasted Ink. My lecture was well attended and I found the give and take of questions during the lecture to be interesting. I hope that my information was of help to my fellow authors.

Broad Universe Reading at Westercon68 (2015)My second event was a panel that I created to feature the local authors of Broad Universe, a writing guild where I am a member. Broad Universe is an international non-profit writer’s guild that promotes women writers and editors in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative genres. It began as a panel discussion at WisCon back in 2000 and has grown into a large volunteer-run group that attends various conventions and conferences to promote the member’s books. One of the more popular activities of the group are known as “rapid fire readings” which feature group readings by the authors in convention panels or as a salon reading in the evening. Broad Universe also offers access to Net Gallery, occasionally have tables where member’s can sell their books at science fiction conventions and is a great place for authors to network via their email list, Facebook group or Twitter.

Our panel was given a great time in the convention on Friday afternoon. Our Broad Universe readers were Jude-Marie Green, Barbara Clark, Wendy Van Camp, Elizabeth Watasin, and Shauna Roberts. I was surprised by the turnout of listeners, many were women that sat and knitted as they listened to our stories. Having my own handmade jewelry in the art show at Westercon, I was gratified to see the support from fellow artisans. There were also a scattering of men and women who were typical convention attendees that came out of curiosity to experience new authors.

After our hour-long panel, we proceeded downstairs to the dealer room where a pair of tables were set up for authors to autograph their books. It was not set up for our group alone, but all the authors had a place on the schedule, including the big name authors that attended the convention. All of us sold and autographs books that afternoon.

Westercon68 Autographing (2015) Jude-Marie Green, Barbara Clark, Wendy Van Camp.Westercon68 Autographing 2 (2015) Elizabeth Watasin, Shauna Roberts

Authors Top Photo: Jude-Marie Green, Barbara Clark, Wendy Van Camp
Authors Bottom Photo: Elizabeth Watasin, Shauna Roberts

For the writers and fans of science fiction, literary conventions are a great place to learn more about the genre, meet famous authors in person, network with your fellow fans, authors, filmmakers, or to explore your wild side by costuming.

Primer for Building Your Author Platform

author platformAs a writer, it is hard to know where to start when building your author platform. What to include, what numbers to shoot for in traffic, when to start working on it, and how it all connects can be bewildering. Before I started to build my own platform, I went to several lectures by successful authors and asked what they were doing to promote themselves and their books and what sort of numbers they had when they started to have successful sales.

It Starts With Your Blog

First, the time to start working on your author platform is now. Do not wait until you have a finished novel ready to upload onto Amazon. These venues will make your book available to sell, but they will do little to market your novel except to list it in their catalogs. Allow yourself at least a full year before your first work is complete to start getting your platform onto the internet.

The base of your platform is your blog. It is the first item in your platform that you should finish. Consider it your home base on the internet, the one place that you wish to funnel all the other aspects of your marketing to. Your website should contain the following elements: a biography with a photo of yourself, a list of clips that you’ve published or links to where your work can be purchased and finally, articles, story samples and other posts of interest. Whenever possible, give a hotlink to your published work so that potential readers can get an idea of your style of writing.

Through the blog, the readers get to know you as a writer and person, creating a better connection between you. On my blog, I write articles about the craft of writing, book reviews of science fiction, fantasy and classic novels that have inspired me as a writer and do short essays about subjects I enjoy commentating upon. Since I’m a science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction writer, I interview other authors in these genre. By coming to read about an author with similar work to mine, it gets my blog in their mind, and it tends to interest the readers to stick around for other posts. Hopefully, that interest will extend toward purchasing one of my stories on Amazon.

This is the base. This is the one basic thing that every writer should have. Not a static author page. Not a simple online portfolio, but a WordPress blog where you can interact with your readership and showcase your work. I recommend WordPress over other blog platforms because it is free to use and free to host when you first start. The only option you should pay for is your domain name and attach it to your blog. Later on, when you are more established, you can move your WordPress blog to a hosted account and acquire more bells and whistles for you platform, but when you are in the first year, your traffic will be low enough that it will not warrant the expenditure.

Reach Out and Touch Your Readers

Once your blog is in place, you need to reach out and market it. To do so, you need the following: A Facebook page devoted to you as a writer, a twitter account, and a google+ account. All of these accounts should be focused on you as a writer. You are building your name as your brand, attempting to make it recognizable, not selling a single book or story.

First open up your Facebook page. Mine is called No Wasted Ink on Facebook, the same as my website. WordPress can be set to automatically post a link to any blog post I create to this page, so promoting my blog on Facebook is no additional work on my part. However, do not use your Facebook page as a place for your links alone, you need to make it interesting for your potential book customers to learn more about you as an author. I like to make small posts about what I am doing as a writer on mine. I write about the writing gatherings I attend, seminars that I go to or simply quotes from famous people that I like. I keep the subject focused on writing. I recommend using a Facebook page to make your reader contacts over having them as Facebook friends. You are limited to 5000 friends on your personal Facebook account, but you can have unlimited numbers of followers on a page.

Second, open up a twitter account that you will devote to your writing career. It should not be an account to make personal comments on. Keep all interactions on this account about writing, either answering tweets from followers or passing on tweets about writing that you find interesting. If you write in a specific genre, tweets related to that genre are also appropriate. Link your Facebook page so that all your Facebook posts are tweeted to your twitter account. It is also possible to set your WordPress blog to tweet each of your posts directly to twitter. Set up a chain so that both services are tweeted automatically.

Third, join Google+. This network is growing larger every day and the more people that are in your circles the better. WordPress will automatically post a link to your blog posts there and I recommend you take advantage of this feature. Just as you did on your Facebook page, leave comments about writing, related genre commentary and other posts related to your writing.

What Numbers Should I Have Before My First Novel Goes On Sale?

You should have the following base numbers in each area before you consider putting your first book on sale:

Facebook Page: 500 followers
Twitter: 10,000 followers
Wordpress: 500 followers
Google+: 500 followers

As you see, building your author platform takes a great deal of work. Writing and maintaining your blog is a part-time job. You will be marketing your work almost every day. Try to not let it overwhelm you. I check my blog, Facebook, google+ and twitter twice a day. Once in the morning and once in the evening.

Is all the work worth it?

I feel that putting your name as an author out is important, even if you do not have a book to offer yet. The readers will see your writing samples on your blog and get to know you. When your first book comes out, you might not be swamped with readers wanting to buy your book, but I suspect you will have far more than had you done nothing.

When I launched my first ebook The Curate’s Brother: A Jane Austen Variation of Persuasion, I did not have a marketing plan in place for my first ebook. I published a blog post announcing its launch and asked a few of my writing friends if they would be kind enough to interview me on their blogs. I also asked if I could join in a live reading series in my area and was accepted. I was astonished by the number of sales I had in the first three months after my book launch. It was not a blockbuster, but it was far more of a return than if I had published the story in an anthology or magazine. I credit these sales to my budding author platform and consistent blogging.

These steps are only the beginning in creating your author platform. However, before you publish your first ebook, this is enough to get started and to become comfortable with promoting yourself as a writer. Once you publish, there are more things that you can do to get the word out about your writing, but as they say, that is story for another time.