Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Rights and Wrongs, by Brian K. Lowe

Sometimes when you speculate about the near future, events will overtake your story and render it irrelevant. So if you're going to write a story about the near future, write it fast.

"Rights and Wrongs," on the other hand, took five years. It startedrights-and-wrongs 9000 feet high in the New Mexico mountains, at the 2008 Taos Toolbox workshop, where Walter Jon Williams gave me some of the most valuable advice I've ever gotten: "Write what you care about."

What did I care about? I cared about being a writer. Why else was I spending two weeks at a ski lodge so high in the air it took two days before I could walk to my car in the parking lot? But stories about writers are a dime a dozen, so what else did I care about?

In 2008, the War on Terror was everywhere. Enemy combatants were being locked up for years without charges. Rumor was that the government might try to do the same with American citizens, shelving habeas corpus for the duration. And once the government can imprison you for anything, leaving you to rot without charges, democracy is dead.

Of course, it didn't happen, but that was my thinking when I sat down the next day and penned the first line of what you eventually read (or will read). When I was done, I had a story about an attorney for a shape-changing alien who might be a terrorist who had been given a sham trial and was about to be dragged off to be shot and/or rights-and-wrongsdissected. In desperation, he switches bodies with his lawyer and tries to escape. But the lawyer manages to alert the guards to the switch, and the alien is killed attempting to escape. The lawyer comes out okay, but feels bad about the whole thing.

   The story bombed. Sure it did--it was depressing with a capital D. But even then, it received just enough positive comments for me to try revamping it. I re-wrote the escape scene. Still depressing, I changed the ending to a courtroom drama with a 2000-word explanation by an anthropologist about how the alien wasn't responsible for his own actions because he was driven solely by biology. Very science fiction. Very dull. But the esteemed editor of this magazine, showing the kind of faith that moves mountains, thought he saw something in the story. All I had to do was re-write a small part--as in, the entire second half.

It took two years of re-visiting the story every few months, beating my head against a wall, before I finally realized that to re-write the second half, I had to re-write the first half, too. I started almost from scratch, filling in some characters, re-engineering the plot, struggling to find a way to present what I cared about without making judgments and without being boring. And I did.

       But the important thing isn't how I came to write this story. It's that this near-future story took me five years to write, and unfortunately, it's still relevant.

--Brian K. Lowe

Monday, April 14, 2014

Camila Fernandes wins the Second Hydra Competition

With three female finalists and over one hundred and fifty entries, the second edition improves upon the success of the first...

Once again, the judges of the Hydra Competition received stories published by Brazilian authors during the last two calendar years (2011 and 2012) and chose three finalists to send to author Orson Scott Card, who defined the winner. This time around, the chosen tale was “The Other Bank of the River” by Camila Fernandes, announced last weekend during the Fantastic Literature Odyssey III, an annual convention held in Porto Alegre. The story will be published in both text and audio by Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show.

The winning story was first published in Camila’s single-author collection Reino das Névoas (“Misty Kingdom”) by Brazilian publisher Tarja. Camila is a writer, editor, and illustrator. She has published stories in many Brazilian anthologies, but “The Other Bank of the River” will be her first publication in English.

In second place came “Sun of the Heart” by Roberta Spindler, first published in the Solarpunk anthology by Editora Draco. Roberta is a publicist and audiovisual editor. She has written since her teen years, and along with many published short stories, co-wrote the novel  Contos de Meigan (“Stories of Meigan”).

The third place story, “Mary G.” by Nikelen Witter, was first published in the Autores Fantásticos (“Fantastic Authors”) anthology by Editora Argonautas. Nikelen Witter is a writer and history professor. She has published many short stories and one YA novel, Territórios Invisíveis (“Invisible Territories”).

IGMS editor Edmund R. Schubert writes: “I was greatly looking forward to this year’s contest—many thanks to Christopher Kastensmidt for translating all three finalists so I could read them as well (Orson is fluent in Portuguese but I am not)—and the quality and variety of ideas was a treat. It’s a privilege for IGMS to be involved in this partnership, to showcase the best of speculative Brazilian short stories, and we all send our heartiest congratulations to the winner, Camila Fernandes, as well as the other finalists, Roberta Spindler, and Nikelen Witter.”

Tiago Castro, competition organizer writes: “Brazilian speculative literature is making great strides in quality, diversity, and discovering new authors. This second edition brought us a pleasant surprise, with three female finalists. I’m glad to have been able to participate and organize this important prize for Brazilian fantastic literature.”

Christopher Kastensmidt, contest founder and translator of this year’s stories, says: “I’d like to thank InterGalactic Medicine Show, the participating authors, the judges, and this year’s organizer: Tiago Castro. Brazilian speculative literature is rarely seen outside the country’s borders, so every chance we have to make that literature available to readers of other cultures is a huge victory for our community.”

The Hydra Competition is a partnership between Brazilian website Universo Insônia, Christopher Kastensmidt’s Elephant and Macaw Banner, and Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, seeking to expose Brazilian fantastic literature to the English-speaking world.  This edition also counted on the participation of Brazilian judges Claudia Fusco (Nerdices - Superinteressante) and Daniel Borba (Além das Estrelas).

About Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show
Founded by multiple-award winning author Orson Scott Card, and edited for the past eight years by Edmund R. Schubert, IGMS is an award-winning bimonthly online magazine publishing illustrated science fiction and fantasy short stories, audio stories, interviews, reviews, and more. Authors range from established pros like Peter Beagle and David Farland to first-time authors making their professional debut.  IGMS can be found at www.intergalacticmedicineshow.com.

About The Elephant and Macaw Banner
The Elephant and Macaw Banner is a fantasy series set in sixteenth-century Brazil.  The stories tell the adventures of Gerard van Oost and Oludara, an unlikely pair of heroes who meet in Salvador.  News, artwork, and in-depth explanations of historical and cultural references from the series can be found at the website www.eamb.org.

About Universo Insônia
The site Universo Insônia (Insomnia Universe) publishes articles, news, and reviews on fantastic literature, cinema, comics, TV series, cartoons, and fantasy pop culture in general.  The site’s principal objective is publicizing and supporting professionals in the area of Brazilian fantasy culture.  The site also contains content about traditional and international productions.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Sound of Death, by Gareth D Jones

The Sound of Death started life as a 600 word story in response to a the-sound-of-deathflash fiction challenge – basically just the opening scene of this alien murder mystery. Right from the start I wanted the cause of death and the scene of the crime to be as non-human as possible. As I started expanding the story I realised this principle had to apply to the whole society, their social interactions and motivations. It was soon clear that everything I had learned from watching several seasons of CSI was also useless. I needed to invent entirely new forensic procedures and investigative methodology.

I found Inspector Ek-Lo-Don to be the most interesting character I have written, not only because of who and what he is, but because I was forced to give far more thought to him than I usually would to a human character. The story only briefly scratches the surface of his society – which is just as well because when I was writing it I wasn’t the-sound-of-deathentirely sure what might be below that surface. Since completing The Sound of Death I have been back and analysed the story and put together detailed notes on every aspect of Ek-Lo-Don’s world as revealed so far. It’s all too easy when you’re creating a new world to get carried away and lose track of what you’ve already established.

I’m currently writing a second, longer, Ek-Lo-Don story that explores many more aspects of his world, and a third story is biding its time to be written too. Hopefully you’ll find it as intriguing as I have.

--Gareth D. Jones

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

High-Tech Fairies and the Pandora Perplexity, by Alex Shvartsman

It started on Twitter.

My friend Sylvia Wrigley posted something along the lines of “I’m high-tech-faerieshaving a difficult time explaining Cthulhu to Grandma.”

To which I responded by saying that “Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma” would make a great short story title.

Sylvia was kind enough to let me have it, and I came up with a family-run magical pawn shop (loosely inspired by the History Channel’s Pawn Stars), and named the protagonist Sylvia, as a thank-you to my friend for inspiring the idea.

The resulting story was one of the funniest I have written, and I was very proud that it became my first short story to be published in IGMS (you can read it in issue #33). This story has since gone on to receive some great reviews, and was even included in Tangent Online’s Recommended Reading List for 2013, with the maximum possible rating of three stars.

I had so much fun playing in the magic pawn shop sandbox, that I knew I would have to come back to this setting and characters, again and again. In the first story, Cthulhu trapped in a snowglobe-like high-tech-faeriespocket dimension was brought into the pawn shop. So I got to thinking, what other interesting items might show up at its doorstep? Excalibur? Holy Grail? A mint Alf action figure, still in original packaging? The Pandora’s Box was definitely on the short list, and that’s what I went with.

Of course, I wanted the title to be as over-the-top as “Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma,” which is how I came up with “High-Tech Fairies and the Pandora Perplexity.” It sounds like an episode of the Big Bang Theory which, to my mind, is a good thing. I was especially pleased with the play on words – in addition to its popular meaning (bewilderment), perplexity is also a mathematical term, dealing with the probability of distribution. Which sort of makes sense for this story – you’ll know why once you read it.

I intend to keep writing funny magic pawn shop stories, so this hopefully will not be the last you’ve heard of Sylvia.

--Alex Shvartsman

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Underwater Restorations, by Jeffrey A. Ballard

“Underwater Restorations” was born out my love of all things underwater-restorationsunderwater.  As a kid, I used to spend hours snorkeling in Keuka Lake in upstate New York, until I was blue and my father had to pull me out for safety.  I often wished that our house was underwater and imagined how much fun it would be to snorkel and dive down into it—of course, I wasn’t a homeowner then, and now it isn’t something I would wish at all.

Right before I wrote “Underwater Restorations,” I had been attempting to write literary fiction and came to the decision that it wasn’t for me.  Undeterred from giving up writing, I thought back to all the stories I loved to read and movies I enjoyed to watch as a kid, which were all Science Fiction and Fantasy.  And there waiting for me after the genre shift, was the childhood desire to go snorkeling through an underwater house.  These two came together seamlessly and produced “Underwater Restorations.”

Writing “Underwater Restorations” was an easier experience than some I’ve had, and whole lot of fun—which was my intent in writing it: to just have fun.  It is my hope that the reader enjoyed in some of that fun and I plan to come back to Isa, Puo, and Winn sometime in the near future and see what they’ve been up to in my absence.

--Jeffrey A. Ballard

Monday, February 10, 2014

Into the Desolation, by Catherine Wells

There are stories that come to you complete, and there are stories that you have no idea are there until they play themselves out. "Into the Desolation" was definitely one of the latter.

I started off in third person past tense, as I usually do, and I thought the story was going to be all about the Imogene character and her adventures in the Time Wastes. Gus was just a tool, a point-of-view for the reader to see Imogene. But then his voice began to take over, and I realized the story would be better told with his vocabulary and rhythm, and that was first person present tense. I'm not a fan of present-tense stories, but for Gus, it just worked.

I still thought getting into the Time Wastes would be just the first part of the story, and then something would happen. But as I went about motivating Gus to go--as I remembered what it was like to grow up in a small town and imagined how it would feel if a smart kid like Gus stayed--I realized he was subconsciously aching for Imogene to convince him to go. He was a blister waiting to be popped. But I honestly didn't realize what the trigger would be until she asked him, "What makes you think I want to come back?"

I have a friend who lost a child. I've seen how that pain continues to haunt her. But what binds Imogene is the what frees Gus. I wonder what adventures they will have together in the Time Wastes? And how will they grow?

--Catherine Wells

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Seven Tips to Enjoy Your Time in the Unreal Forest- Van Aaron Hughes

“Seven Tips to Enjoy Your Time in the Unreal Forest” is my most seven-tips-to-enjoy-your-timeautobiographical story so far. Like my character Jordan Hudson, I grew up on Mercer Island, Washington, I went to North Mercer Junior High, and I waited for the school bus at a little clearing surrounded by a dense curtain of fog. My memories of that time and place inspired this tale, but just to be clear, all the characters in the story are made up. I never had a brother; my father is not the rat-bastard depicted here (sorry, Dad!); and if you happen to know a gorgeous woman named Traci who went to North Mercer in the late 70s, I never made out with her, much as I would have liked to.

Oddly enough, the key to getting this story to come together was the title. I outlined the whole piece and started writing, even though I feared the story was too episodic and missing something at the end to give the reader a sense of resolution. Also, I didn’t have a title.

Looking for something to seize on for a title, I researched fog and stumbled across this passage from T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” which I had read years ago and long since forgotten:

Unreal City,

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

I had not thought death had undone so many.

I proceeded to rip off T.S. Eliot shamelessly. The opening line of my seven-tips-to-enjoy-your-timestory is paraphrased from this passage, there are several other allusions to “The Waste Land,” and most importantly, Eliot gave me the idea that the unreal forest was a place the dead might reappear. I added that near the end, hoping it would create the feeling of resolution the story had been lacking.

Continuing to lean on Eliot, I made my working title “The Unreal Forest.” But somehow I wasn’t satisfied with that. I started thinking about how to embellish it, and hit upon the idea of adding to the title the concept of “tips,” pointers that the narrator is giving to someone else who encounters a similar “unreal” location. I liked the title better with that addition, and it prompted me to divide the story into seven specific tips, hopefully turning the episodic nature of the narrative into a strength. I’d love to hear what people think!

--Van Aaron Hughes