Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Getting Stuck, Reimagining, and Moving Forward

The African violet budding on my kitchen windowsill; these flowers, like my novel are growing but still hidden in their potential state.
A couple weekends ago, I attended a half-day novel workshop with Kij Johnson in San Antonio, and it was wonderful! Kij is a wellspring of writing knowledge. The format of the workshop was inspiring. After going over some general principles, each attendee presented a summary of our novel-in-progress, then described the problem or difficulty we were facing. Kij offered specific, actionable advice to each of us, then opened the conversation up so that we could all brainstorm solutions for each other.

Just hearing the breadth of problems that a dozen writers are wrestling with was weirdly inspiring. Maybe it was the simple affirmation that most of us (certainly everyone in that room) struggle with this complicated, wonderful, maddening thing called a novel.

Writing a novel is an endurance event. They are so much larger in scope than a short story and truly different in kind. Short stories can rely on, and often benefit from, leaving much unsaid, and encouraging the reader to discover the meaning on her own. Alternatively, you can aim directly at the target and that can work too. Novels, being longer, can be more meandering, more inclusive, more complex. After spending so much time writing short stories, I’m finding that a challenge.

I’m about a quarter of the way into my novel, Izzy Crow, which means I have now arrived at the very beginning of the dreaded middle. Many elements of the events that I so cavalierly put in the opening are now coming due. Because a novel is so much bigger, I feel like I’m learning to juggle or spin a dozen plates, and I can’t quite keep everything in the air yet.

After running my troubles through the patented Kij Johnson wringer, I can see that I will have to trash my beloved first scene (kill your darlings), but that decision allows me to re-envision the whole story in a way that suggests more layers. So, I’ll be throwing some words out and repurposing many more, but I believe I’ll have a deeper novel when I’m finished.


Kij Johnson teaches a two-week version of this workshop at the Gunn Center for Study of Science Fiction. If you’ve been working on a novel and are not sure how to proceed, I would highly recommend it. She’s taking applications right now!

In other business:

You can read my thoughts on the excellent Vestal Review at The Review Review.


Flash Fiction Online included my Diorama story included in their Annual Anthology along with over 30 other amazing flash fiction stories.

My story "Cattle Futures" is forthcoming in February at the lovely 99 Pine Street Literary Journal. I'm delighted that this story found such a lovely home. I will post a direct link as soon as it becomes available.



Thursday, January 7, 2016

Ecotones: Story by Story

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming 

This anthology, with my story, The Silva, is has been released into the wild. I just finished reading my contributor’s copy and found it to be an eclectic and excellent collection of stories.

An ecotone is a region of transition between two biological communities. This is the theme that binds the stories in this diverse anthology together. This is rich territory to explore and there is a little of everything here from high fantasy to hard science fiction. I love variety, so I truly enjoyed everything my TOC (table of contents) mates brought to the table. After reading Ecotones, I’m even more delighted to be a part of this anthology!

Here are my quick impressions of the stories in this collection.

Inundated by Jonathan Laidlow
I love this kind of story. Sea monsters and undines threaten a fishing village and the land beyond it. This story is filled with fantastic creatures, yet is grounded in a very recognizable world – our world. As floodwaters encroach a father searches for his daughter and his wife who isn’t entirely of his world. The relationship between the father, his estranged wife, and missing daughter are evocative and poignant.

The Green by Lauren Beukes
What if alien life got inside your suit, got inside your body? What if they devoured and repurposed your flesh while keeping you on your feet, turning you into a kind of green zombie? What if your corporate bosses saw an opportunity in this grim turn of events? This dark tale is told in the gritty voice of a low-level employee with very few choices available to her. Excellent.

Seeds by a Hurricane Torn by Daniel Ausema
Years after a hurricane devastates a coastal town, some people return to try to reclaim the area. The magic system is based on botany so gardening is magical, which I found delightful. When these characters try to reclaim the land they find that the sea may carry an undiscovered magic of its own. I loved how magic illuminated the border between these two divergent ecologies.

Green Man by P. J. Richards
Establishing a colony in an alien environment is difficult, not all attempts are successful. An elegiac story of a last survivor on a doomed mission and his final bid for a kind of survival. Like Beuke’s tale, this story illustrates the strength of this anthology’s theme by exploring what it might mean to interact with an alien biological environment

Stochasti-city by Tobias S. Buckell
This one is a reprint but new to me. A gritty but ultimately uplifting look at a future where large social uprisings can be hacked by new, integrated technologies. Set in a future Detroit that is both more decayed and somehow more vibrant than the one we have now. This one rollicks along following a likable deadbeat who finds his way into a new life.

Homo Panthera by Andrew Leon Hudson
The introduction to this story says that it is “part of a larger evolutionary science fiction project.” While it does feel like part of a larger whole, it also succeeds as a complete story in itself. This one is military SciFi with an environmental edge. The story is told by a contractor tasked with guarding one of the last panthers from poachers. The world is richly drawn and full of detail, which makes the story feel immediate and relevant to today.

The First Feast by Victor Espinosa
This one is classic high fantasy and a sweet boy-meets-girl story. It starts out as a young elf’s first encounter with humans at an annual feast where these two different races mingle. This one also feels like it might be part of something larger, but the story comes to a satisfying conclusion. The ecotone here is in the realm of magic, which illustrates how different cultures view the natural world around them.

Compatibility by Ken Liu
This brief story hilariously explores some of the problems that labor-saving and companion technologies may present in the not so distant future. Anyone who has had computer compatibility issues will relate.

Not a Problem by Matthew Hughes
Another short, humorous piece about the dangers of relying on others to fix your problems. The twist ending though not terribly surprising, is funny. The strength of the voice, and hubris of the narrator, carry this piece.

The Pattern Box by Christina Klarenbeek
The crew of a long-range colony ship wakes up to find themselves off course and headed for a crash landing on an unknown planet. Told from both the point of view of the alien life form that witnesses their arrival, and the frightened, disoriented colonists, this is an intriguing first contact story. I could definitely spend more time in this world with these characters.

A Theft of Flowers by Stephen Palmer
Intrigue in a market that is not only on the border between desert and jungle, but between the virtual and the real world. A diverse cast of human and non-human characters add layers of meaning to this life and death story of economic survival.

The Grass is Greener on the Other Side by Igor Ljubuncic
This one has a lot going for it, a false utopia/dystopia setting, a young boy who wants to carry on his family’s military tradition, and a girl from the wrong side of the biodome. The interior narration from the protagonist is balanced with the action of the story to make this a compelling read.

Paolo, Friend Paolo by Kurt Hunt
A mad industrialist tries to harness an alien object, but it’s his longtime assistant who comes to better understand the alien identity that almost certainly will change life on earth. Full of big ideas viewed through the humane sensibilities of the narrator, this is an excellent story to close out the anthology.


There you have it. If these look like the kinds of stories you might enjoy, go pick yourself up a copy of Ecotones!

Monday, December 7, 2015

"Naturally, she turned Mike into a dog."


My story, "Naturally," is now live for your reading enjoyment at NewMyths.com. And yes, it is about a rather creative solution to a difficult relationship.


I tinkered with this one for a long time and am delighted that it found a home at NewMyths. Be sure to stick around are read the rest of the amazing stories in issue 33 and beyond!

This seems to be my month for dog stories. Sometimes it just works out that way.


Friday, December 4, 2015

End of the year Potpourri: Rocking the Writers of the Future, Izzy Crow, and Surviving December



 

Izzy Crow

I’m currently writing Chapter 11, as soon as I finish, I’ll be taking a some time to reoutline. I love outlining. I need to outline, but my outline is not a static document. The first draft is full of discoveries and course corrections – everything is fluid. So, at about the 25 percent point, I’m going to take a step back and look at the big picture again and redraw my map a bit. I still don’t think I’ll have it outlined all the way to the end, but that’s okay. Maps of undiscovered territory are always a bit sketchy.


 
After skipping a few quarters, I sent a story to Writers ofthe Future this fall and it received a Silver Honorable Mention, which is the category just below Semifinalist! Essentially, this story made the top 50. I am quite jazzed and have already sent this story off to a pro market. Hopefully I’ll have publication news for it before too long.


The last story I sent to WOTF, by the way, was Futile theWinds, which garnered an Honorable Mention and was published in Interzone.



December is a tough month to write through, what with the crushing amount of errands and non-negotiable family obligations joyful Christmas shopping, decorating, and precious family time.*

Returning to my outline will be a relief from pushing the narrative forward on my novel. Seriously, a novel is an endurance event. In the afterglow of my WOTF success, my December writing assignment is to rewrite a novelette that I’ve been tinkering with and send it off to the contest. I just keep repeating to myself, “write a little every day to keep the holiday insanity away.”

 

* Precious family time is the one part I unironically love. That and time to knit.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Daniel Ausema and the Meaning of Place in Fiction

Meadow to forest to pond, ecotones are everywhere.
Today, Daniel Ausema, contributing author in Ecotones is here to talk about his story of place in SFFWorld.com’s fourth anthology.

The first time I heard the word Ecotone, it was for the literary magazine of that name. I didn't know its meaning, only that the journal's tagline was "a journal of place." Place to me is vital, both in real life and fiction, especially the natural surroundings—whether that's the deciduous woods and glacial lakes where I grew up or the mountains outside my door today. When we moved here I cared more for the view of those mountains and the prevalence of hiking, biking, and running trails than I did about the quality of restaurants and nightlife.

In writing, I'm often told that my stories have a strong sense of place, that people feel present within the imagined confines of the story. Even when that setting is surreal or out of the ordinary, readers sense that care I have for the physical surroundings. One of the joys of reading fiction of any kind is being brought to an unfamiliar place (or seeing a familiar one made new); one of the joys of writing speculative fiction especially is conjuring such a place out of words.

So when the anthology's theme was announced, I liked it even before I'd read the explanation. An anthology about place, an anthology of stories that take note of and celebrate their settings and the physical world around them? Sign me up.

Then I read the definition of ecotone and the full explanation of the theme and found it to be different: not about place per se but about those border zones where one real or metaphorical place blends into another. If anything, this made me like the idea even better.

First, there's a long tradition in fantasy and folktales that the border between regions is important. Dawn and dusk, the shoreline, the cusp of adulthood, the edge of the forest, the turning of the year. These are key places (and times) where magic often seeps through.

The more I thought about this, the more I began to see all the possibilities. Borders are everywhere, literal and metaphorical places and times that bleed into each other. Those ecotonal zones are such a powerful place for a story to take place. I might even be tempted to say that at some level they become a key part of Story to make it real.

Add to that the ecological aspect. I grew up in a family that placed a high value on science and the natural world. We traveled to scenic places and even at home noticed the details of nature. My older brothers ended up with degrees related to ecology and biology, one as a teacher and the other as a park ranger. And I have been both involved in various environmental education settings.

So the theme of the anthology is a great fit for my interests, and add to that the keynote writers: I didn't know the full list of great writers who would be in the anthology, but I knew it'd be a great lineup. The chance to join such a group of excellent writers was one I couldn't pass up.


Want to read Daniel’s story of a special magical place? Want 13 other great, ecotoned stories from professional and amateur writers from around the globe?

Enter to win a $10 Amazon gift card by posting a link to this post on Twitter or Facebook. Remember to use the hashtag #Ecotone and come back here to let us know you promoted our anthology (provide link). The winner will be contacted via the email address used to comment. And we’ll announce the winner at the end of the blog tour (December 5th, 2015) on SFFWorld.com’s main site.

If you are curious, check out what other contributors have to say on this Ecotour check out the links below:

Friday, November 6, 2015

Check Out the Ecotones Kickstarter






The anthology will be published digitally in December. Donating now to the kickstarter is a great way to get your copy at rock bottom prices. Any amount you donate will show your love and support to all the writers who participated in this anthology.

The Silva isn't the first story with ecological themes that I've written and I'm sure it won't be the last. I am delighted that it found such a wonderful home. I can't wait to read the other stories in this book.

It has been a pleasure working with the editor Andrew Leon Hudson, and I have no doubt that he's put together a top notch anthology. This is SFFWorld's fourth anthology, each with a different theme. If their site is anything to go by, it's a good guess that they are all worth reading. If you have a little extra dough to throw at the kickstarter you can add the previous anthologies to your reading list.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Novel Progress and Other Irons



The Novel
I’ve been working my way through the first draft of what I’m calling my first novel. I have written a couple other long – um – things that, while technically novels, well, let’s just leave them in the drawer filed under “experience.”

Izzy Crow is the working title and the name of the protagonist. Here’s the proto logline: 
Freed from a powerful spell after centuries, a fairy tale princess must learn to live in the modern world.

I have a lot of irons in the fire, so I’ve set what I hope is a reasonable goal of completing a chapter a week. I’ve added a word count progress bar to the sidebar in order to keep myself accountable to y’all. 

Other Irons
I’m about halfway through the University of Iowa’s How Writer’sWrite Fiction mooc and really enjoying the experience. The syllabus is well thought out and the lectures have been useful and thought provoking. While I have not spent a lot of time on the teaching team discussion boards there are plenty of opportunities to interact with both teachers and students

The writing assignments are thoughtful and challenging enough to have me stretching my writerly muscles. It’s genre friendly but literary over genre, which for me who writes in both, is a refreshing change, and just the thing I needed to shake up my writing.

The feedback/critique element is a bit hit or miss, but I expected this. (All of the feedback on the writing assignments is student on student. The teaching team is in place to support the lecture discussion threads.) This is a "massive" and "open" course, so there are all kinds of people participating for all kinds of reasons and at all levels of ability.

I think what I am enjoying the most is connecting with writers from all over the world. I hope to not only generate some material that will be converted into complete short stories over the next few weeks, but also to form some budding friendships with other writers who I would have otherwise never met.







My story, The Silva, will be appearing in Ecotones, SFFWorld's  fourth annual anthology.

The table of contents has been announced, and boy howdy am I in some amazing company: Ken Liu, Tobias Buckell, and Lauren Beukes!

The kickstarter for this anthology will be debuting next week, so you’ll be hearing more about it and all the great stories within soon!