My Learning Disability = My Superpower

Clay_In_Fourth_Grade

For those of you who didn’t know; I, author Clayton J. Callahan, am “learning disabled.”

At least, that’s what they called it when Jimmy Carter was president and I was in grade school. I spent most of my public education in “special education classes,” which usually meant I’d go to a small room behind the gym where Ms. Be-nice-to-the-slow-kids offered tailored programs in math or reading.

To be frank, I hated it.

I hated the label, I hated the separation from other kids, I hated being bullied for it, and I hated the fact that I needed any accommodation whatsoever. I never considered myself stupid, and I knew for a fact that in many ways I was smarter than the kids who picked on me. For instance, I have always been well spoken and good at reading social situations. I also had a knack for storytelling that made me a welcome “game master” at role playing games in my teens. But as to my math and spelling….well, I was always more than a bit behind in that stuff.

So, where am I now? Mr. Carter hasn’t been president for many of my reader’s lifetimes, and I haven’t walked into a public classroom since I got my bachelors at Miami of Ohio back in 1995. That’s right, I graduated from a university and it only took me five years (some classes needed to be taken more than once) to get my degree. I have since raised a family, served in Army Intelligence, worked as a deputy sheriff, taught public school and published three novels (with a fourth one on the way). Not bad for one of Ms. Be-nice-to-the-slow-kids students.

So why do I call my learning disability a superpower?

Because it forced me to keep learning! I’ve worked with “smart” people. By that I mean, folks who were told from an early age that they were smart and could expect good things to come. Not only are these people often arrogant jerks, but they have a very hard time improving themselves. When faced with failure, the “smart” people I am referring to just can’t handle it. They shift blame or make elaborate excuses instead of grappling with the real problem. They then try to pretend that the mistake never happened and continue to behave as they did before. People like me, however, never expected things to go perfectly and we react rather differently.

When things blow up in my face (and they do), I find it easy to take responsibility—because I expected to have problems all along. I then listen to criticism and change my behavior so that I am less likely to make the mistake again. Do I improve all at once? No, but I don’t expect to ether. I do however stay wary of my faults and improve by stages while I gain understanding about where I went wrong in the first place. I can then use my experience to help others. This makes me a pretty good teacher as I can clearly describe to a learner what problems they are likely to face and how to handle them.

I never let my learning disability stop me. I simply have too much to do before I die and don’t have the time to waste. I have talents and I am determined use them; even when that means facing my deficits head on.

People who read my books have sometimes pointed out a spelling error or two. “Thank you,” I say, “I’ll fix that in the second edition.” However, people have also told me they are impressed by how many good quality stories I’ve published in such a short time.

“How did you get as good as you are so fast,” they ask. I tell them, “I listened to the advice of every one who ever critiqued my work and fixed problems as I went.”

I never expected to be perfect. But I continue to learn and I continue to improve. That is my superpower!

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New Paperback on Amazon

Amazon is now offering my second novel; Crazy Liddy as a paperback for only $15.99! That’s five bucks cheaper than you’ll get it on Lulu. If you’re just not the e-book type and have been waiting to get your hands on a good SF adventure, I humbly recommend you check it out.2-crazy-liddy-510

What is Science Fiction Anyway?

Aspiring SF writer

I get asked this a lot. One person even asked me if it was a kind of religion (I think he once heard the term Jedi and figured that was all he had to know) .  At first, I was puzzled by the question. I mean, really…isn’t it obvious? Then I realized how little I know about football, and it made sense from there. For instance, I know there is such a thing as the NFL, but why are the rules different in college football, and why do the women in the Legends Football League wear bikinis?

So, for those who want to give a good answer to your football friends or to those new to the game; here’s what science fiction is all about:

A dictionary definition may read- Science Fiction (noun) -A form of fiction that draws imaginatively on scientific knowledge and speculation in its plot, setting, theme, etc. That definition is kinda’ flat so I’ll give you better.

The first science fiction novel is considered to be Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published in 1818. True, it’s considered horror by most folks, but because the monster was brought to life through science (not magic) it’s considered science fiction as well. Shelley was inspired to write her story-in part- because she heard that scientists in her day were running electric current through dead animals and watching the dead muscles twitch. Today, we now know why this happens and that simply running a current through a corpse will not re-animate it. But to the science fiction writer, what science can do is not as important as what it might do.

Jules Vern and HG Wells took up Shelley’s banner in the late 1800s and marched on. Trips to the moon, voyages under the sea, and powered flights through the air were all penned in books long before they were ever accomplished in fact. Does this make science fiction a predictive tool for seeing the future? No. But it can point like an arrow in the direction mankind is already headed. And, perhaps, it can even warn us to get off a path before it’s too late (as Gorge Orwell’s 1984 did for us back in 1948).

True, not all science fiction is created equal. Much of it is simply written for fun and entertainment. I posit that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that; because science fiction is also an ascetic. Do you like stories with sailing ships or starships? Do you enjoy a scene where the hero rushes in with a broadsword or a blaster?

At some point it’s just a matter of taste. I never cared much for football. Not because there’s anything wrong with football. It just doesn’t appeal to me personally. I enjoy science fiction because it forces you to exercise your imagination into the possible and see the world through the eyes of tomorrow. I also like starships and blasters…a lot.

Free on Amazon

From October 9th to 14th, Beer Today, Gone Tomorrow will be offered for free on Amazon. It’s the short story that inspired my latest novel so, please enjoy a free beer on me!

Amazon cover immage
In space, no one can hear you burp. And that’s good, when your smuggling beer past the despotic Isis Regime. Lucky Jack Galloway has been getting away with this lucrative crime for a long time now. His secret? Never get involved in anyone else’s…
AMAZON.COM

Conspiracy Theroies = Bad Science Fiction

  • Alex Jones, asshole

    Okay, so I write science fiction. I try to come up with fantastic yet plausible futures to say something insightful or funny about the human condition. It’s a thing that’s made me some money and folks often enjoy my stories. Unfortunately, these days I am frequently exposed to fiction that is designed to cost folks money…and nobody seems to enjoy it.

    These stories might make good science fiction, but instead are custom designed fear…not entertainment. A popular version of this genera involves the 133 secret underground bases scattered across the country, where “the government” is staging forces for our enslavement. The plan is to first give us health care and then eliminate the dollar to put the US on the One World Currency. Next, the government (I suppose they mean the federal government but they seldom name a department) will take away our guns. Once the populous is disarmed, UN forces will invade to round up all dissidents and put us in concentration camps run by FEMA. In this Dark Age, our only hope for freedom will be the right wing militia groups who will wage heroic guerrilla war against the New World Order.

    Seriously, as science fiction goes, this could be a good story (black helicopters and all). Unfortunately, nobody is finding it entertaining or insightful. They are finding it terrifying. Folks are stockpiling guns and ammunition for the day they “know” will come. After all, they herd it on Alex Jones Infowars or maybe on Glenn Beck’s radio show, and those guys have never been wrong about anything…right?

    Sadly, it’s not just yahoos that are taking this sick fantasy seriously. Political leaders from state to the federal level are going off halfcocked on all manner of nutty conspiracy theories. They re-re-investigate Bengasi, deny climate change, block any real discussion on gun policy and prevent immigration reform; all the while justifying their failure to solve problems with some crackpot conspiracy theory.

    The real problem is not the New World Order or any other imagined boogieman. The problem is our new inability to reason with each other. We simply can’t seem to have intelligent discussions about how to solve our real problems in this fantasy-laden environment. Every new idea put forth is a leap down that “slippery slope” that ends in fascist-communism (whatever that would look like, I don’t know). This means as our imaginary problems grow, our real problems fester– a perfect lose-lose for the whole country.

    Nobody can predict the future. As a science fiction writer I’m just guessing and having fun with “what-ifs.” Anybody who tells you they know the future is lying to you, plain and simple. Instead of gorging ourselves at the troth of paranoia, let’s work together to solve the real problems we face NOW.

    Then let the fear mongers die a natural death from lack of attention.

    Clayton J. Callahan

     

L. Ron Hubbard, Evil, Evil Science Fiction Genius…of Marketing

Evil Genious of Marketing

When the great authors of science fiction are discussed by hard core SF fans, certain names are almost always mentioned. Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, CJ Cheryth, Andre Norton, Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clark rise to the top like bubbles in a glass of fine Champaign. They are the bright luminaries of the art, who’s work is never out of print because they contributed something truly fresh and insightful into the world. Many of them started in “the pulps.” Cheaply produced, short story magazines that were popular from the mid 1920s to about the early 1950s. In these little gems, one can see the beginnings of  a writer’s greatness to come. These early stories were often more about  intriguing situation than characters,  but they still managed to build our understanding of what science fiction can do. For instance, All You Zombies by Heinlein was a break through in time travel fiction as great as HG Wells’ book, The Time Machine.

Alas, for today’s writer, the pulps are gone. Now we live in an age of digital fiction where everyone can become an author…and so everyone does. Now, some pulp authors were clearly better than others, but at least they all had to pass through the hands of a professional editor. These “gatekeepers” could insist that the science fiction they paid for met some kind of minimal standard. But the gatekeepers are now mostly gone, and it’s pure chaos out there. Self published authors are a dime a dozen, and many produce books that use a great cover to hid the terrible prose within. The challenge for the reader then is to find an author who’s work stands out from all the crap  in the market today.

Since the reader can’t go to the pulps anymore to sample their choice of authors, writers are encouraged to “build a platform” to reach the reader. By this, it is meant that the writer should start a blog, a facebook page, a twitter account, anything that will spread the word and create a fan base. This kind of marketing would have boggled the minds of the early masters, who  needed only to concentrate on writing good fiction and let nature take its course. But one man was a pioneer in this field. True, he was a poor writer, condemned to forever toil over pulp stories that were barely acceptable to the editors of the time. But as the pulp age grew to a close in the late 1950s (and his livelihood dried up) his true genius bloomed. There was no facebook or twitter in his day, but that didn’t stop him from successfully creating a platform that would create a large and fanatically devoted fan base; he started a religion. Or, as he sometimes called it, “an alternative to psychiatry.”

Through Scientology, he created a flock of mentally vulnerable people (who probably would have sought psychiatric help if not for his luring) and convinced them to spread the word for him. Only after the creation of his religion did L. Ron Hubbard become a best selling author, not of mere short sorties mind you but of books! As the 1950s became the 60s, he finally had a platform sufficient to push his lack-luster talent into the wide world of slick publication.

What are the results of his evil little marketing ploy?

Well, years after his death his books are still in print, but only his religious zealots speak well of them. I’ve been going to SF conventions since 1985, and not once have I ever heard his name mentioned. By this I mean not at all, even when bad writers are discussed–his name has never come up in my presence. Critics ether deride or ignore his work, and classes in SF literature forget his existence completely…unless the class is being taught by a Scientologist.

My name is small in the world of science fiction authors, and it may never be big (who can tell?). If my work spreads far and wide, I want it to be because it actually makes people happy when they read it. I do blog and facebook, as well as buy the occasional magazine ad, but I will never stoop so low as to abuse and manipulate vulnerable people into thinking I’m some kind of messiah just to sell my books.

Perhaps I’m no genius…but nether am I evil.

A Shout-Out To Star Pilot’s Lament

 

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While I was in Iraq in 2011, my daughter sent me a CD by a guy I had never heard of.  Kielen King is a Portland, Oregon based artist who specializes in science fiction hip hop music.  Yep, SciFi hip-hop.
To be honest I didn’t expect to be impressed.  My musical tastes fossilized around 1982, but anything my daughter would bother to send 3,000 miles I was definitely going to listen to. I was, and remain, impressed.  Kielen King has a clear voice and a knack for storytelling.  His smooth, jazzy melodies tell an exciting tale of a space bounty hunter on the chase.

If Star Run ever has a sound track, this guy ought to write it.  “One warp drive, two force pistols and a weapons bay full of pissed off missiles.  You better leave now or kiss that ship good by, ’cause I’m here to help you die…”Awesome stuff.  If an old curmudgeon like me likes it, the younger audience he is aiming for should love it.

I highly recommend you go to his site on our LINKS page, and check out Star Pilot’s Lament.