Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Here's my ArmadilloCon37 Schedule

I'm looking forward to a fun weekend. Look at all these amazing panelists and cool topics. I'm going to have to bring my A game!

The Armadillocon Writers' Workshop
Friday 9:00-4:00 p.m.

The Work of James Morrow
Friday 9:00-10:00 p.m., Ballroom D 
Christopher Brown, Claude Lalumiere*, N. J. Moore, Rebecca Schwarz, Jacob Weisman
Our panelists explore the humor, breadth, and impact of our Special Guest's writings.

How Would Discovery of Alien Life Affect Us?
Saturday 7:00-8:00 p.m., Ballroom F
Aaron de Orive, William Ledbetter, K. B. Rylander, Patrice Sarath, Rebecca Schwarz, Amy Sisson, Barbara Ann Wright
Do we run scared, work things out in the spirit of peaceful cooperation, or accept our new alien overlords?

SF as a Survival Guide
Saturday 10:00-11:00 p.m., Ballroom D
P. J. Hoover, Juan Manuel Perez*, Lawrence Person, Rebecca Schwarz, Lee Thomas
OK, you've read about dozens of apocalypses. How are you going to use that to survive?

Short Fiction You Should Have Read Last Year
Sunday 1:00-2:00 p.m., Southpark A
Eugene Fischer, K. B. Rylander, Amy Sisson*, Nate Southard, Rebecca Schwarz
Our panelists discuss short fiction from the last year that you need to know about.

Sunday 2:00-2:30p.m., Conference Center
Rebecca Schwarz
I'll be reading The Nephelai's Song, and one other story.

Check out the full schedule here!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Writing Workshop Survival Guide

A week from today, writers from far and wide will be gathering in Austin for The Armadillocon Writers’ Workshop. I’m excited to take my place among the pros this year. This is my hometown con. I have been a student of this workshop for several years and have learned a lot about the craft and art of writing from the wide range of professional writers that make this workshop so special.

I know workshops can be a daunting proposition. Since I started writing seriously, I’ve gone beyond the Writers’ Workshop. I attend my local in-person critique group and participate in online critique communities. These activities have both improved my writing, and thickened my skin a bit when it comes to presenting a brand new piece of writing to a group of people who I’ve implicitly and explicitly tasked with finding its faults.

It’s hard, after investing so much in a story, to hear about all the ways its not working yet. It’s like finding out my beautiful baby is a Frankenstein’s monster after all. (But fear not, after some excisions, new body parts, and some clever suturing, my readers might just see a thing of beauty after all. And with luck, they’ll love it as much as I did when I struggled to create it.)

Workshopping is not for everyone, but you’ll never know if a workshop or critique group is valuable to your process until you try it, so here are some thoughts to get you through the experience. Many workshops (including Armadillocon) use the Milford method of critique, or at least the essence of it, which is:

“The author whose work is being critiqued has to sit in silence through the first part in which each participant in turn is allowed an uninterrupted four minutes to deliver their critique. Then the author gets an uninterrupted right to reply. Following that a general discussion ensues.” 

I believe that the single most important reason that this method works so well is that it forces you to:

No speaking up while receiving your critique. This is more than just good manners, it is a crucial skill that every writer should hone. You may feel like you, or your work, is on trial. You are not. It is not. When people are engaged in a debate or a conversation they tend to spend the time when the other person is talking formulating a response. When you are thinking about what you are going to say, you are not listening. Regardless of the stated rules of any particular workshop or critique group, practice not only shutting your mouth, which will give you the appearance of polite propriety, but also opening your mind so you can really hear. This is hard, I think because it is hard for us to truly receive anything, say nothing of critical notes on a piece of our own writing.

Your group is a collection of writers trying to improve their craft, but it’s important to remember that you are all readers, too. Listen for the ways these readers go astray, look for patterns. Is everyone getting hung up on a certain detail, wondering what a character looked like, or how the knight’s horse got from the stable to the field? More than once I’ve been rewarded for really listening. Even the person who is entirely off base regarding what I am trying to accomplish with a particular story, will often have valuable insights embedded in their feedback, little gems that I would have missed if I wasn’t giving that person my full attention.

You will hear multiple opinions on your story. This is a great opportunity to compare your intention, your vision, to what others are actually receiving when they read it. Until telepathy becomes a reality, what you are trying to communicate with a story, and what your reader gets will never be the same thing.

Be kind to yourself. In the heat of creation I’m investing myself in the story, sometimes the drafts come easy, sometimes they come hard. Either way, I’m often riding high when I finish. Sometimes, I’m even convinced that this piece is pretty damn good; sometimes it is, sometimes not so much. It can be hard to tell when I’m still so close to it.

More than once I’ve gone in to my crit group thinking I’ll just get their stamp of approval, they’ll catch a couple typos, and I’ll be sending it to editors tomorrow. It hurts to find out that my story isn’t quite working yet, that there are confusions and problems that still need to be solved. That it will take more time and hard work before this story will become all that it can be.

If you are pushing yourself you will have some brilliant successes, but more often you will fall down, will write something that has moments of brilliance but is also deeply flawed – this is a good thing. Achieving excellence is a long hard road, but that’s the road you’re on, right? Be kind to yourself. Catch your breath. Set your story aside for a few days. When you pick it up again, read all the positive comments first; fluff up your ego a bit before taking the next step.

With most groups, you will be sent home with half a dozen copies of your manuscript riddled with notes, some of which will agree, others will directly contradict each other. This is the tricky part. You want to keep your ego somewhat intact, but there’s no point in workshopping a story if you’re not going to consider any of the advice. At the same time, it is important not to rank everyone else’s opinion over your own. As a writer, one of your greatest assets is your voice, and I think the quickest ways to destroy your unique voice is to try to implement every note given. You have to assess all these notes and opinions and decide what to take.

Before going through the notes, I believe the best thing you can do is sit down and really think about what you’re trying to accomplish with this particular story. What is your goal with this piece? If the first draft is about figuring out how to write it, this draft is about the Why. Why did you tell this particular story in this particular mode? I will usually work this out in my journal. Once I have the Why of the story, I can better see which comments to use and which to disregard.

Reading other people’s stories critically is one of the best exercises by which writers can learn their craft. When critiquing, I read for comprehension, plot and flow, marking the manuscript as I go. I note places where I’m confused, phrases that seem out of the idiom for the setting or characters. I write questions that pop into my head as I’m reading.

Afterwards, I think about the story as a whole and make a guess at what the writer is trying to accomplish with this particular piece. When I give feedback, I usually say, this is what I think you’re trying to do here and these are the things that worked/didn’t work – for me. Using phrases like “I think” and “for me” are not capitulations or ways to soften the blows of a critique – it’s an acknowledgement that I am one reader. The things that bother me may not bother the next person.

Be kind to others. Receiving critical comments on something that I worked very hard on, something that I may still have deep emotional ties to is hard. So when giving feedback I want to be kind. It is not kind to refrain from pointing out the weak spots in a manuscript because you don’t want to upset a fellow writer. On the other hand it is not kind to shred someone else’s work in the name of artistic perfection.

In a regular critique group, you will get to know your fellow crit mates and may be able to be more frank in your feedback. But often you may find yourself in a group – like The Armadillocon Writers’ Workshop – where you are meeting your workshop mates in person for the first time at the critique session. In either situation is always a good practice to find the positives of any given piece. I like to lead off with a couple specific examples of things I enjoyed. In the middle I’ll bring up the elements that were problematic, confusions, and anything that pulled me out of the story. After talking about the weaknesses, I like to finish on a high note with my impression of what the strengths are for the piece in particular or aspects of the writing that are working well in general.

And with those thoughts, I wish you happy writing, happy workshopping, and happy revising!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

This and That, Far and Wide

My Story The Nephelai's Song is up at SF Comet, but here's the catch. It is currently exclusively in Chinese! Every month SF Comet invites five authors to write a story to a specific theme. They are then posted and readers vote to pick their favorite. I was invited to write a story for June. The theme was "Echo from the Future."

You can see the story in Chinese here. But don't worry, if you don't happen to read Chinese the story will be posted on their English language web page later this summer.

I've also opined about a couple of excellent summer short reads over at SF Signal's Mind Meld. I picked Sleep Donation by Karen Russell and The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin. I am among several great writers, each of whom suggest short stand-alone novels. I'll definitely be adding some of these books to my beach bag.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Comicpalooza 2015 and the Texas Flood

Part of being a good panelist is being a good listener. Here, K. J. Russell and I listen to K. S. O'Neill's opinions about the topic of our panel: Is Hard Science Fiction Dead? Everyone on the panel agreed that it is most definitely NOT dead. While this sort of hand-wringing title/topic can be annoying in articles and blog posts, it generated a fruitful conversation. We discussed how labels like "hard science fiction" can be difficult to pin down when they are used in ever-evolving book marketing strategies. Individual readers also have different tolerances for the amount of actual science in what they might call hard scifi. To see what I mean, check out TV Tropes' Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness

I tend to be pretty forgiving as far as what I can enjoy when reading science fiction. Whenever a writer is extrapolating from known facts there is going to be a parting of the ways between reality and what he or she imagines, and that's the fun of science fiction, right? As long as you tell me a good story and don't break any promises as far as scientific rigor, I'm along for the ride. A great contemporary example of a book that promises and delivers a scientifically faithful tale is Andy Weir's The Martian. Another excellent example is Nancy Kress' Beggars in Spain, which is about what would happen to our society if we could make one tiny genetic change in some people.

Science itself is a big tent, some readers tend to think of hard science fiction in terms of what I would call engineering fiction, but I tend to seek out and enjoy books that feature biology, and yes, even the social sciences, which uses math-intensive game theory to hypothesize and test ideas about human behavior.

I'll write up my other panels more thoroughly soon. I'll just note that I also moderated the panel Discussing Dystopias with Raymond Feist, and got to sit next to the lovely Diana Dru Botsford on the panel, Star Trek: Evolution of a Franchise. She's written and produced for both Star Trek and Stargate SG -1 and had all sorts of amusing tales and fascinating insights.
I got to chat with Steve Bein, traveller, philosopher, and writer, and I  had a chance to spend some time with the lovely Stina Leicht, who will be this year's Toastmaster at Armadillocon. Go to her site to read about her latest projects and adventures (including getting back to Austin from Comicpalooza)!

By returning home Sunday evening instead of Monday, I dodged a bullet - and by bullet I mean the torrential rains and flooding that hit Central Texas on Monday.
Stevie Ray Vaughan walks on water during the 2015 Memorial Day Texas Flood

Thursday, May 7, 2015

My Panel Schedule for Houston’s Comicpalooza, May 22 – 25

My first time at Houston’s Comicpalooza and I’m going to be on a few panels. This comic con just started a few years ago at an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, but has been growing by leaps and bounds. Their attendance last year was over 32 thousand! I’m super excited to check out the scene.

They have cosplay and gaming and comics and movie and TV events. This year they also have a brand new literature and writing track. So, if you’re going to be around Houston, TX for Memorial Day weekend, consider checking it out.

Here’s the link to the complete list of panels.

And here are the panels I’ll be on:

Discussing Dystopias: Fiction and Film
Friday, May 22 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
Room 25 – 352C

What is it about the dreary futures of works such as The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Handmaid's Tale that captures our imagination? Come join the discussion on the popularity of dystopian novels and films.

Is Hard Science Fiction Dead?
Sunday, May 24 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm
Room 03 – 350B

Has the hard science fiction of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke gone the way of the dinosaur? Have modern physics; computer science and artificial intelligence become too difficult to predict for speculative authors? Which contemporary writers offer the best hope for the future of hard science fiction?

K. S. O'Neill, Rachael Acks, Rebecca Schwarz, K. J. Russell, and E. L. Russell

Star Trek: Evolution of a Sci-fi Franchise
Sunday, May 24 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Room 03 – 350B

How did a low-rated series from the 1960s become a sci-fi phenomenon with countless spinoffs? And what is it about Star Trek that accounts for its enormous popularity? Join the discussion as our panel shares their insights, favorite episodes and films.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop is just around the corner!

I have participated in the wonderful ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop for several years, last year I volunteered, and this year I’ll be sitting on the other side of the table as a pro! I’m so excited to be giving back to the Workshop, as it has been a staple of my progress as a writer.

ArmadilloCon has always been a writers’ convention, and through the years both the con and the workshop have hosted a variety of excellent writers. I’ve personally benefited from the advice and wisdom of writers such as, Paolo Bacigalupi, Lou Anders, Cat Rambo, Ian McDonald, and StinaLeicht. This year’s workshop pros will include Ken Liu and James Morrow, and Marshall Ryan Maresca.

But, the Workshop isn’t just about the big names. The pros contributing their time to the workshop represent today’s diversity in writing and publishing. These are men and women writing across a variety of styles, formats and genres. There are writers who are traditionally published, and writers who successfully self-publish, and everything in between.

The all-day workshop costs $79.50, which includes lunch and a full (3-day) Con membership.  The ratio of pros to workshop attendees is excellent (usually two pros per three to five attendees), so it’s a true small-group workshop experience.

The workshop isn’t only about collecting critiques on your brilliant work of genius. It’s participatory. Once you sign up and turn in your piece you will be placed in a group of fellow workshop attendees and receive your group-mates brilliant works of genius to read and critique.

If you are new to workshopping, learning to assess someone else’s work is an excellent way to develop your own writing. I’ve learned at least as much from putting together a coherent, constructive critique of someone else’s work as getting feedback on my own . Putting together your thoughts about your workshop mates stories can also take the edge off waiting to hear how your own piece went over. In the end you’ll go home with written and verbal critiques by the other writers in your group along with critiques by at least two of the attending workshop pros.

I enjoy group critiques. I regularly participate in online and in-person critique groups, but it is not for everyone. Some people do better with, say, a single beta reader, some people do just fine without any critique of their works-in-progress at all. The ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop is a great way to experience a group critique situation at a fraction of the cost of some of the big genre workshops like Viable Paradise, Odyssey, or Clarion.

So, dust off that story that isn’t quite working or get cracking on something brand new. The deadline to submit a short story or first chapter is June 15. The maximum word count is 5,000 words firm (i.e. they mean it). Go here to check out the specifics.

The Writers’ Workshop will be on Friday July 24th, ArmadilloCon 37 runs from July 24th through the 26th

Watch for my next post: Workshop Survival Guide…

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Already the ides of April! And it’s National poetry month

See more blackout poetry here!
I love poetry, and this year I’ve started writing it again. Perhaps you’ll see some of it on this very blog one day. While I tinker around reacquainting myself with verse and rhyme, here are some poetry resources, because this month isn’t over yet!

Of course you can read some actual books, 
like IRL. Here are the ones I’m working on.


WATCH: Pixels

To find poetry readings, see if there is a local or regional poetry organization where you live. Check out your local college English department, and of course, your local brick-and-mortar bookstores.
If you want to try something more casual, check out a poetry slam. These events often take place in bars. These are a friendly competition where poets read or recite their own original works and are judged by the audience. Energetic and emotional, these are often poems of protest, but anything goes. The form has its detractors (mostly among poets, natch), but I find them vital and fun and think it’s definitely a form worth checking out. Find a listing of poetry slam events here.


If you’re feeling flush, check out the gorgeous Elegy for a Dead World game, available for both PC and Mac. I haven’t tried it yet, so here’s a review.

  • Complete a poetry madlib over at Language is a Virus
  • Or check out this often hilarious Haiku generator
  • To play IRL, buy some actual fridge magnets for your actual fridge buy multiple sets. Leave poetic messages for spouses, children and siblings…
  • Ohmygosh! There’s a SciFi magnet


  • Check out these poetry prompts on Tumblr.
  • Every April, NaPoWriMo hosts a poetry writing challenge and celebration. Join with other intrepid poets to write a poem a day for a whole month.