My name is Keith and I have spent the last four years crafting a compelling science fiction novel called EMPTY VESSELS. It is a "superhero" origin story based on the moral implications of gene editing (CRISPR technology) I am currently querying literary agents. Ask me anything!

Keith Cork
Jun 25, 2017

Writing isn't sexy.

A lot of sweat and tears (and copious amounts of blood) went into the creation of this tale. If you count conceptualizing and the number of false starts I had before I started this version, it's actually been 8 years in the making.

It all started when I read the Dexter series. (SPOILER ALERT) When the thing inside of Dexter becomes a supernatural creature, I laughed along with the rest of the readers, but I also wondered if that could be done right. 

This is my story. 

EMPTY VESSELS is a 147,000 word science fiction novel. It is the first book of a planned trilogy. I am currently seeking representation. 

I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing from Knox College. I graduated in 2008. I am a freelancer for hire, developing copy for small to medium-sized businesses to be used for their websites, blogs, print materials, etc. Bonus: Ask me anything you want about the Chicago Bulls.

Check out my Upwork profile to hire me and "feed the dream:"

Check out my blog which just went live!


What is the Vibe of this AMA? What is AMA Vibe?

This AMA has finished, no more comments and questions can be posted and votes submitted to those. Check other similar AMAs here or host your own AMA!

Conversation (81)

In three easy steps and under a minute you could be hosting your own AMA. Join our passionate community of AMA hosts and schedule your own AMA today.

Let's get started!

How much time does writing leave you for family time? You know, like visiting out of town friends and loved ones. 

Last edited @ Jun 25, 3:25PM EDT.
Jun 25, 3:10PM EDT2

Great question! Working 3-4 hours a day on a manuscript plus trying to make a living as a freelancer can be taxing, but I can still carve out time. The problem is that when I am really "into" the story, or on a roll, it's hard to pry myself away to even answer an instant message. Any small prick in the bubble could burst it and then I can't be as productive when I come back to working. So, I can sometimes come off as cold even to family members because I might ignore a message (unless it's important).


Jun 25, 3:48PM EDT2

Hey all, thanks for joining! 38 questions were asked beforehand, you can ask me something as you read through the replies! 

Jun 25, 2:12PM EDT1

What are some of the markets for sci-fi writers?

Jun 24, 4:41PM EDT0

I'm not quite clear what the question is, but there are a plethora of subgenres in sci-fi. A big one these days, probably too crowded, is the dystopian subgenre. This is where the future has become unpleasant, usually because of some natural disaster or emergence of an oppressive governing body. While I don't like to lump my book in with this giant pool, I have to be honest with myself and it probably belongs there.


Jun 25, 1:25PM EDT1

What is the meaning of a 'superhero origin story'?

Jun 24, 4:30PM EDT0

It's a narrative that explores how an individual develops "super" powers. Or, and specifically in my case, superior abilities. How they learn to control those powers is usually a big part of these stories, but I go even further back. It's kind of my thing. I like to see how the events before inform what happens next, so I'm going back to the very beginning, to see where the feelings of the MC develop so we can better understand what he does with his "powers."


Jun 25, 1:22PM EDT0

How do you choose the right literary agent?

Jun 23, 3:04AM EDT0

A literary agent sells your work, so they have to be excited about what you do. The best way to get to know they'll be excited by your book is to read what they post online, be it a blog, a website, or a manuscript wishlist. If they read and represent work along the lines of what you do, it's probably a good idea to reach out. 

But you don't choose the right literary agent, the agent chooses you. It's a buyer's market, so to speak, because each agent gets dozens if not hundreds of pitches a day. If you happen to be in the 1% of people who get a response, you better put on your game face and light some candles, because you only get one shot to make an impression. 


Jun 23, 8:59PM EDT0

How is steampunk related to science fiction?

Jun 22, 10:56PM EDT0

It's a stylized form of science fiction. For people who like old-timey things. That's from my understanding, not really an expert on it since it's not what I write. I've watched anime. It's neat to live there for a minute. Particularly, the outlandish inventions based on old science applied towards new technologies. 


Jun 23, 8:56PM EDT0

What are some tired cliches in science fiction writing?

Jun 22, 8:09PM EDT0

Robots trying to feel feelings, rebels taking on an evil empire, time travel that disrupts the present/future, AI turning on humanity, dystopian anything.

Cliches aren't necessarily bad, they just have to handle with care. In particular, the dystopian thing isn't a no-go for me. It's extremely important for us to talk about the possibility that one day our world may be unrecognizable and unpleasant to live on. But there's a lot of it out there.


Jun 23, 8:53PM EDT0

What are your favorite sci-fi TV shows, and why?

Jun 22, 10:43AM EDT1

At the moment I'm really into 3%, which is a great metaphor for the world we live in today, where the top few have everything while the majority suffers in squalor. If you haven't checked it out, it's a Netflix original, so snag someone's account info.

I love The Twilight Zone. That's really my cup of tea because it gives you little snippets of American life and twists it, making it an important cautionary tale. It's cheesy, sometimes, but I love the cheese just as much as the important implications.

BUT MOSTLY BLACK MIRROR. Seriously, everyone should always be thinking about and watching Black MIrror. My gosh, it's harrowing and salient and I can't get enough of it.

If you can't tell, there's a clear pattern here. The show has to say something about our potential future in the short term. I gravitate towards those types of shows. 


Jun 23, 8:47PM EDT0

What are some of the worst movie adaptations of sci-fi?

Jun 22, 6:42AM EDT1

I think there have been a lot of bad superhero movies in the past 10 years or so, like Van Helsing or Elektra or Catwoman or The Spirit. 

The Hollow Man that stars Kevin Bacon was a travesty of a film that did H.G. Wells no justice. I Am Legend was great for the first half, then it went completely Hollywood and I lost all interest. I, Robot was a failure too, to a lesser extent for me personally. I still enjoyed it, but I don't know why we can't get more movies that make us think rather than give us explosions. Sure, I love explosions as much as the next guy, but not every movie needs it. 

I still like Will Smith very much. He's great in everything he does (except Hancock). Not a knock on him at all. I hope he continues to release 800 movies a year.


Jun 23, 8:40PM EDT0

Who are your own favorite superhero characters, and why?

Jun 21, 8:02PM EDT1

Let's go, bub!

Wolverine, because he plays it so cool until you make him angry. His backstory is full of interesting and terrifying details, all of which feels like it could be real at some point. He's a living weapon, and he hates it. That's an interesting moral quandry. 

In that same vein, the recent renditions of Batman has caught the attention of everyone. The philosophical question about whether or not what he does is really a great thing or the result of a certain pyschosis from the trauma of watching his parents die.

Really, any character that has a tragic backstory but makes the most of it. 


Jun 23, 8:23PM EDT0

Who are your favorite modern writers of science fiction?

Jun 21, 11:50AM EDT1

This is probably going to reflect poorly on me, but I don't read a ton of modern science fiction. I prefer the old stuff. I mean, I'd love to read more of it, but currently there are 12 books on my nightstand (I just counted.)

I read Ernest Cline's Ready Player One and found it a fantastic bit of fun. I'm currently reading the Wild Cards series and I'm on book 3. One of my favorite books is The Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku, but it's not really fiction... if you know the book, you'll know what I mean. 

Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen is next on my sci-fi list, but I've got to finish this Wild Cards book, then I have Political Order and Political Decay by Francis Fukuyama, then in honor of Denis Johnson I want to re-read a few of his books. My favorite in college was Jesus' Son, but Tree of Smoke was so fucking fantastic when I read it 3-4 years ago, I feel I have to give it another spin.

When it comes to modern stuff, I generally give the big works a look, like The Hunger Games and stuff like that. I didn't like The Hunger Games sorry to say. Too commercial and juvenile for my tastes. 

I need to read Gaiman. 


Jun 23, 8:11PM EDT0

What are the challenges of creating characters in sci-fi stories?

Jun 21, 9:08AM EDT0

I don't think it's specific to science fiction, but the greatest challenge is to make your character's believable. You have to toe the line between pigeon-holing the characteristics of your characters to fit the need of your story and giving too many details about the depth of their character. You want to convince the reader that this person does or can exist, but you don't want to lose sight of the story to do so. Instead, you want that information to come about naturally.

So, you give characters quirks that they come back to, and ideally you model them after people you know or think you know. If you tether a character to someone you know pretty well, you can always answer questions about that character, like "do they have green eyes?" or "would they wear their hair up or down?" But it's important to make them more than just someone you know. They're going to go through quite an adventure, after all, so they'll need certain skills or inclinations that may not be consistent to the real person they're modeled on. 


Jun 23, 7:51PM EDT0

What is a standard fee for a literary agent?

Jun 20, 7:15PM EDT0

"Generally speaking, literary agents take 15% of your total income from the first sale of your book before taxes. For example, if you receive a $10,000 advance on the first sale of the book to a major publisher, your literary agent will take a commission of $1,500. If you make any royalties beyond your advance, your agent will receive 15% of those royalties.

Some literary agents have been known to contract higher or lower commissions, but 15% is currently the standard rate."


Now, if you're asking about my personal experience. This is generally what I've come across, but some don't have their payment structures listed on their site. I'm not at that stage quiet yet as I've yet to get a real "bite" on my work. 


Last edited @ Jun 25, 1:19PM EDT.
Jun 23, 7:46PM EDT0

How do you handle criticism of your writing?

Jun 20, 5:43PM EDT0

I am trained in accepting criticism (though my wife may tell you different). That is one aspect of my writing that was helped exponentially by my education at Knox College. The workshop experience requires you to be absolutely silent as you listen to others critique your work, so that's what I do. I stay silent, I listen, then I give it time. I don't always make changes that are suggested because ultimately it's my work, but I have to take into account the likes and dislikes of my potential readers.

It's important not to overreact, which is a very human response to receiving feedback. Especially negative feedback. Instead, give it space. Understand that feedback is meant to be considered, not an indicitment on your work or, heaven forbid, on you personally. It's a suggestion, a feeling, and you should treat it thusly.

That said, I still have work to do on letting others be a part of my creative process. It's an ongoing thing.


Jun 23, 7:42PM EDT0

What story do you consider a model of great science fiction?

Jun 20, 3:06PM EDT1

I'm going to take this question as "what's your favorite science fiction story?" Because, look, whoever came up with "there's no one way to skin a cat" was right. There are techniques that work and then there's your way and your job as a writer is to figure out how to marry the two. This is what we commonly call "originality." So, I don't use any one story as a model because I'm not trying to copy someone's prior success.

But my favorite science fiction story is probably "The Wedding Album" by David Marusek. Since it was technically published as a novella first, I get to pick a second, which would be "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Bradbury. So painfully beautiful, so full of duty. Ugh. 

Honorable Mentions: Brave New World was the first serious science fiction I read and I love to read it every 4-5 years. All Philip K. Dick is great in my eyes. Also, I liked 1984  before it was cool. 


Last edited @ Jun 20, 11:27PM EDT.
Jun 20, 5:01PM EDT0

Are you more of a Star Trek or Star Wars fan?

Jun 20, 1:01PM EDT0

I feel like it's kind of obvious from previous responses, but Star Wars. 

But let me say that I love the new movies in both universes that are coming out. I see them all.


Jun 20, 5:02PM EDT0

What are some of the best movies based on sci-fi works?

Jun 20, 5:20AM EDT1

Let me say, first, anyone who is reading this that hasn't watched Westworld needs to go find it right now. Absolutely gripping and I'm excited to see where it goes from here. 

But you asked about movies. The first one that comes to mind immediately is A Scanner Darkly based on the work of the same name by Philip K. Dick. It offers the kind of surreal, drug-induced mania that I can only hope to convey. The animation, so clearly conveying the loss of identity, still haunts my memories. 

A Clockwork Orange also based on a work of the same name, this one by Anthony Burgess, is also up there. So incredibly uncomfortable and violent, but with purpose. It makes a bold and lasting statement and it does it while violating the viewers, and that's intriguing to me. 


Jun 20, 5:17PM EDT0

Who do you turn to for feedback as a writer?

Jun 20, 4:17AM EDT0

Anyone, really. I love to hear about myself. I've gotten feedback from my wife, my best friend, my grandma, people I have hired, friends of my wife. You name it, if I know someone and they want to read and give me feedback, I'm open to it. 

Too often, authors lose sight of how important it is to get someone to actually read your writing. I wanted to make this something that was accessible to everyone because, to me, writing is an important vehicle through which we can explore social and political norms in a relatively "safe" setting of the hypothetical. It is a light ask, making us question but not rubbing it in our face. If we dislike something, we dislike that character, and no one gets hurt. 

Change in the real world takes a lot more than that soft ask, but in fiction we can find validation for our beliefs or we can find an agreeable challenge that might make us question our beliefs. No one else is reading that book, no one else is commenting. The author wrote it and left it for you to take it however you choose to see it, so your choice to change your mind or keep on truckin' is entirely an individual/introspective choice when you're reading a book. You can change your mind and no one knows but those lifeless pages. 


Last edited @ Jun 20, 5:21PM EDT.
Jun 20, 5:21PM EDT0

Who are your favorite classic sci-fi writers, and why?

Jun 20, 3:30AM EDT1

Bradbury, becuase he worked so fucking hard and produced so much and did it so right. Vonnegut because he transcends and transforms and takes ownership of the genre.

Orwell, Huxley, Asminov, because they laid the groundwork for a genre that I love to mess with.

I love them all. How can I not? Their success makes it possible for you and me to talk without me having to explain what it is I am passionate about. They gave it a name. I am forever in debt. 


Last edited @ Jun 20, 5:27PM EDT.
Jun 20, 5:27PM EDT0

How much scientific research goes into your sci-fi writing?

Jun 20, 12:58AM EDT0

A lot, but it might not look like you'd imagine. Like I've said, I'm more into the social and moral implications of new tech rather than how it works. As such, I don't come across many scientific research papers and read them cover to cover. I have, and I typically read the excerpt or go find someone to dumb it down for me.

No, for me, it's more about my subscription to Scientific American and daily listening to podcasts. I take those as starting off points and when I decide I want to learn more about something, I hit the webz. 

But I'm infinitely more interested in the fact that they had to set up an ethics counsel for a new tech rather than the specific series of chemical reactions. 


Jun 20, 5:34PM EDT0
About #AuthorsAMA

Welcome to #AuthorsAMA, an AMA Event channel for authors and their important work sharing their knowledge with others.

The #AuthorsAMA channel is owned and operated by AMAfeed, LLC.

Top Contributor
Marisa Donnelly