Friday, December 28, 2007
Here's a quick look at the TOC:
Cover story: "Silent As Dust," by James Maxey
"Unryhmed Couplets of The Universe" by Sharon Shinn
"The Braiding" by Pat Esden
"The Smell of The Earth" by Joan Savage
"After This Life" by Janna Silverstein
"Lost Soul" by Marie Brenan
and Part II (and the conclusion) of last issue's novelette:
"The Price of Love" by Alan Schoolcraft
And, as usual, new stories from Orson Scott Card and David Lubar.
And speaking of stories, let me mention a few points to the folks who already have or are thinking about submitting stories:
1) I'm heavily bought on fantasy of all kinds and long stories in both the SF and fantasy areas. My greatest need is for SF under 7,000 words. If you have something long or fantasy that you think is absolutely perfect for IGMS, go ahead and send it in; but know that your best chance of selling me something right now is with shorter SF.
2) I don't remember if I've mentioned this here before or not, but I am also now working as managing editor of a new nationally distributed women's magazine. It's a much better job for many reason than my old one (editing that regional business magazine, which, as you may recall, drove me insane at times). The first issue of that magazine is set to come out in April, but our publisher was recently invited by the NFL to come to Hawaii in February for the Pro Bowl and speak at a luncheon the NFL holds for the wives of the players. It's a fantastic opportunity, but it also means that we're all going to be working like crazy on putting together a smaller-sized sampler issue of our magazine for the publisher to take along with her. Basically that means my time for reading IGMS submissions is going to be severely limited until the end of January. Sorry; I hate making you wait as much as you hate waiting, but it's not everyday the NFL invites someone to speak and we have to make the most of this.
3) If I get a moment to write another of the "Five Things I've learned About Writing" before the next issue of IGMS comes out I will. If not, look for the "Stories Behind The Stories" in issue seven to start here as soon as the issue goes live, and then I'll get back to my "Five Things" when the SBTS have all run.
I hope everyone had a great holiday, whatever holiday it may be that you celebrate. Do make sure you catch the new issue of IGMS when it comes out. I don't say this lightly or often because I want you to take me seriously when I say it, but this is going to be one of the best overall issues we've ever had.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Metaphors, Similes, and Analogies, Oh My…
I was reading an article in National Geographic this past summer abut the intelligence of swarms. It talked about how any large group - everything from bugs to birds to a herd of buffalo - can take on an intelligence much greater than that of the individual components of the group – and how scientists are applying some of the principals of swarms to solve human problems. Included in that story was an example of a trucking company that had developed a computer model for routing its trucks based on algorithms inspired by the foraging behavior of Argentine ants, a species of ant known for laying trails by depositing pheromones.
Everybody get that? Let me repeat it: a trucking company developed a computer model for routing trucks based on algorithms inspired by the foraging behavior of Argentine ants, a species known for laying trails by depositing pheromones.
Okay, I like to pretend I’m a reasonably intelligent guy, but my first reaction was, “What…?”
But here’s the thing: In the next paragraph, the writer of that article gave me something I could sink my teeth into. He gave me an analogy. He said that what the ants (and therefore the trucking company) were doing was like when someone goes into the forest to collect berries. Over time a path is worn in the ground to the best places to find berries.
Now that I understood. Algorithms and ant pheromones? Not so much. Berries in the woods? Now you’re talking my language. And that’s kind of ironic, really, because, the language we’re talking about is pictures. Word pictures.
Writers (and speakers) are all trying to communicate a message, and to do so as clearly and effectively as possible. So what I want to talk about today is the power of metaphors, similes, and analogies. I’m not going to bore you with dictionary definitions of these terms, but the essence of all three is that they describe something by comparing it to something else.
There are a lot of ways to do this, and a lot of reasons to do this. You might be trying to describe something unusual – Argentine ants and their pheromones, for instance - so you compare it to something people are more familiar with. This helps them understand what you’re saying.
On the other hand, you might be talking about something very basic, like writing, and want to jazz it up. Writing in and of itself isn’t terribly hard; you’ve all been doing it since the first or second grade. But you want to make it more interesting, to catch people’s attention, so you might describe it using cooking terms. You might say that writing a story is like cooking a meal, and that if all you give people is meat and potatoes, they certainly won’t go hungry, but nobody’s going to rave about your cooking, either.
If you want to present a meal that really satisfies, you’ve got to spice it up a little. You’ve got to throw is some oregano, some thyme, maybe a little parsley on the side. Well, okay, skip the side of parsley. Nobody likes that stuff. Using parsley as a garnish is like using clichés in your writing. Don’t waste people’s time.
You also have to be careful not to get carried away. If you noticed, I got kind of carried away with my analogy here and it turned from using cooking to describe writing, into using writing to describe cooking. As with herbs and spices in good cooking, you want to make sure you don’t over-do it. A little salt makes everything taste better, too much and it overpowers the meal. Everything in moderation.
Another advantage of using metaphors, similes, and analogies is this: they help people remember your keys points. By using one of these comparative devices, you are subliminally telling people (by placing extra emphasis on it) what your most important points are. That helps to reinforce those points in their minds.
Let’s say you’re writing a magazine article about gardening, and you’re trying to describe the perfect soil to plant rosemary in. And say the perfect soil for planting rosemary is rich but pale and very dry. Well, that’s not terribly evocative. But if you say it needs to be rich, pale, and very dry – kind of like Bill Gates… Hopefully you’ll get a laugh. But more importantly, you’ve reinforced your point, and made it one people won’t forget.
The last thing you want to remember is to make sure your metaphors and similes work with the subject matter you’re trying to describe. I remember one time a friend told me about someone who came to his writer’s group with a mystery story. And in this story the author had portrayed a particularly gruesome killing. He had the police at the crime scene trying to figure out ‘who done it,’ and suddenly the author describes the fingerprints the detective found like this: “Detective Spade studied the bloody print on the victim’s slashed throat and couldn’t help but notice how much the swirling pattern reminded him of the tiny whirlpool his toilet made when he flushed it.” That doesn’t add anything; in fact, it’s a terrible distraction. It’s counter-productive. You have to make sure your comparative descriptions fit with the tone of the subject matter.
Metaphors. Similes. Analogies. You can call them word pictures if that makes you happy. But I would say that more important than what you call them, or the differences between them, is remembering the power they have when used correctly. The power to clarify, the power to enliven, the power to reinforce. The power to make your writing really stand out – as if it were covered with Argentine ant pheromones.
Friday, December 14, 2007
If this situation sounds more familiar than it does bizarre, I know something about you: You are a baseball fan. Because the situation I just described is the way baseball is dealing with the issue of steroids, HGH, and other drugs banned by all reputable professional sports.
Now I know that most of the folks who read this blog are science fiction and fantasy fans (and/or writers), and baseball is probably the last thing you expect to hear about from me. But I'm interested in other things besides SF/F and baseball happens to be one of them. I'm a big baseball fan, and as such I'm thoroughly disgusted by the response (or lack thereof) from baseball clubs - and especially baseball players - to the Mitchell Report, which came out yesterday. Disgusted, but hardly surprised.
Those hypothetical bank employees I was talking about earlier are the baseball players of the past decade, and until someone (the commissioner, the owners, somebody) gets really - and I mean really - hammer-down, take-no-shit serious about this issue, it is not going to change. And in a further does of ugly reality, change is not going to occur until something hurts the owners or the players where they hurt the most - their bankbooks. And that will have to come from the fans, one ticket at a time. So the question I opened with - Would You Stop? - has as much to do with fan attendance of Major League Baseball games as it does to the players who are cheating to gain a competitive advantage. Because that's the only things that's going to make areal difference.
Are the fans or the players likely stop, or even cut back? I find it less likely than the bank robbery scenario I opened this blog entry with.
My (continued) condolences to true baseball fans.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled SF programming...
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Got this in the mail today; it's a sneak peek of the cover of the IGMS antho coming out next summer. It's like an early Christmas present, with the lone drawback that it makes me wish the actual book was coming out sooner. C'est la vie...
Friday, December 07, 2007
And the first dose of reality is this: publishing is a business. Notice, I didn't say writing is a business. Writing can be a business, but it can also be a lot of other things. That's why you need to know why you are writing. I'll come back to that in a minute.
Publishing, however, is always a business. And your short story or novel or essay or magazine article or whatever it is that you write is a bottle of ketchup to a publisher. It is a product to be marketed and moved and placed and, ultimately, consumed. And with writing, as with ketchup, the better quality the product, the better it is going to sell. So by all means, take all the time you need in order to create the highest quality piece of work you can. Baby that story, love it, agonize over its development.
And then send it out into the marketplace. Because unless you're going to spend your entire "career" writing for your Great Aunt Tilly, that is where your stories are going to have to go. And be prepared to deal with the accompanying realities of said harsh marketplace.
Now, I have a feeling at this point that you're struggling with a disconnect between the idea of stories going out into a harsh marketplace and the title of this post, "Write Because You Love To." Let me connect the dots for you as succinctly as possible, with a series of question and answers.
Do you need to produce the highest quality writing possible in order to get published? Of course.
Are you going to get rejected? Of course.
Are you going to put a lot of hours into writing, hours that could be spent with friends and family; watching TV or movies; hiking, biking, gardening, reading, or whatever else makes you happy? Of course (if you're serious).
Are you going to make a lot of money as a writer (even though you've make all these sacrifices)? Of course NOT.
And what one thing is going to see you through all of this? What one thing is going to ensure that you do produce the highest quality of writing you can? What one thing is going to make you get up tomorrow morning and do it all again? What one thing--
All right, enough already. I'm sure I've made my point.
The answer, of course, is Loving What You Do.
So hold on to that. It's what (I hope) got you started in the first place. The day you start writing only for the money, you're in trouble. I say "only" because there's nothing wrong with wanting to be paid for what you do. The epitome of success is getting paid for doing something you love. But you see, there's that word: Love. Getting paid for something you love requires the love.
And I've learned that you're much more likely to achieve it if you keep sight at all times on the reason you started writing in the first place.
I wish you nothing but success.
Friday, November 30, 2007
The topics I've decided to cover are:
Write Because You Love To
Metaphors, Similes, And Analogies, Oh My
The Devil Is In The Details
Always Say Yes
The Best Way To Learn To Write
I'm not promising that I'll deliver them in that order, as this is a rough draft of my plan. But then, isn't the real work of writing in the rewriting. Hmm, maybe that should be on my list, too.
Oh, great. Now you've got me thinking, and that never turns out well...
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I’m very pleased to announce that starting in January of 2008,
IGMS’s monthly book reviews will be written by Tobias S.
Buckell. Tobias is a Caribbean-born speculative fiction
writer and professional blogger who grew up in
Grenada, the , and the
British Virgin Islands
U.S.Virgin Islands. He has
published over 30 short stories in various magazines and
anthologies. His first two novels are out from Tor in book-
stores near you, and his third, Sly Mongoose, is due out in
2008. You can find him at www.TobiasBuckell.com.
Highly qualified, Tobias had previously written book reviews
for Kirkus and his grandmother on his father’s side. He
underwent a rigorous interview process, wherein I said, “Hey,
want to write some book reviews for us?” He replied with a
cagey, “Well…” I countered, saying, “We pay in fame, fortune,
and a player to be named later, but not much cash.” I knew I
had his attention. So we thumbwrestled for it (best of seven,
I took him in six tightly fought matches) and the rest is,
as they say, history.
Welcome, Tobias. We’ll be expecting freakishly great things
Monday, November 26, 2007
I now have a new laptop and a new external harddrive and have become, at least for the moment, the mayor of Backup Town. Hopefully I won't ever need to be prepared for such an event again, but in case I do I now have a 250 GB insurance policy.
Issue seven of IGMS will be out in about four weeks and I'm pretty excited. I think it's one of the best issues we've ever published. If the cover story, "Silent As Dust," by James Maxey doesn't end up in a bunch of Year's Best anthologies, there's something wrong with the anthologists of the world. It's a ghost story unlike any you've ever read before. We also have "Unrhymed Couplets of the Universe," by Sharon Shinn, author of the mega-popular series of books, The Alleluia Chronicles, as well as the conclusion of the novelette begun last issue, "The Price of Love," by Alan Schoolcraft. Add in "The Braiding," by Pat Esden, "The Smell of the Earth," by Joan Savage, "After This Life," by Janna Silverstein, and "Lost Soul," by Marie Brennan, and you've got one heck of a pile of great stories.
Speaking of James Maxey, James has been writing some excellent posts over on his blog, Whateverville, about things he's learned about writing over the years. If you're a writer, or even someone with an interest in the writing process, do yourself a favor and pop over there to check them out. When you're done reading them, you'll notice that James has tagged me to write a series of my own essays on the same subject. In a brief but all-to-common flash of insanity I accepted his challenge and plan to have the first one posted here on Side-Show Freaks by the end of this week. Tune in then for some of my wisdom for the ages (and whole lot of other fertilizer that smells suspiciously like cow manure...)
Monday, October 29, 2007
If you've submitted a story to IGMS that doesn't mean your story is lost, because we keep back-up copies of all stories on the managing editor's computer. But it does mean that some extra patience is going to be called for while I sort through them all, trying to remember which I rejected, which I haven't read yet, which I asked for rewrites on, etc etc.
Final drafts of the stories for the Winter Issue (number seven) had already been forwarded to the managing editor, so that issue will still come out on schedule, and I'm sure we have enough time before the Spring Issue (number eight) to get this all sorted out, so the delays should be limited to reply-times to writers who've submitted. My apologies to all affected.
I'll be up in Saratoga Springs, NY, for this year's World Fantasy Conference (that's this week, Nov. 1 - 4; I fly home on the 5th). Then I'll get back to sorting out this mess. Today's priority is getting though the thirteen finalists for Apex Digest's 3rd annual Halloween story contest, which are due back to editor Jason Sizemore by tomorrow (I think... Or was it Wed.?).
Thank God we have computers to simplify our lives...
Friday, October 19, 2007
Hurricane Katrina and the Weltangschauung
On Monday, August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit
All that week, every news program focused on relief efforts. What was wrong? Was the government doing enough? But people weren't content merely to watch TV talking heads report; they wanted to help. Universities nationwide offered free tuition to displaced students. It seemed every web site I saw had at least one link: "Click here to help Katrina victims!" By Thursday the general discussion group at Hatrack (sister site to this one in a way -- they're both Orson Scott Card's contributions) had three threads sharing places to donate.
Then, Sunday, the New York Times published an editorial by famous novelist Anne Rice, decrying
The world she described certainly wasn't one I'd been seeing. What kind of world would it be, if her perception were accurate? (This question led directly to my story "Great Mother, Great Father," in which people truly do turn their backs on the weak and the suffering, and are proud of it.)
Imagine a world in which the nation could look at a city in terrible trouble, shrug, and say, "Why should I care?" As John Lennon would say, it isn't hard to do. We all, I believe, have selective areas of compassion and disregard: abortion, the death penalty, or the suffering of animals. But these days, most of us at least pretend to care when an innocent and articulate adult is in jeopardy of life or limb. (Hypocritical, sometimes, but hypocrisy isn't the worst thing: At least it shows you have standards.)
It didn't have to be this way. Consider the Maya. In their religion, one of the marks of wisdom was cultivating indifference to the suffering of others (and, to be fair, to one's own). The ancient Maya might well have shrugged at reports of hurricane-caused deprivation. When you've stood by and watched people being ritually mutilated, it shouldn't be a problem to hear that people are at risk of thirst or rioting.
Consider also the imperial Japanese. Brutality to the weak was not simply human failing; it was custom. If their treatment of Chinese forced laborers is any indication, they wouldn't have seen a point in getting clean water to the Astrodome.
Finally, consider the Nazis. They did support benevolence to their own kind (that is, ethnic Germans), but cultivated brutality toward others as a virtue. They would have been happy to have Katrina save them the trouble of killing non-Aryans.
Rice's op-ed to the contrary, our civilization looks good by comparison. Admittedly people often don't live up to their beliefs. Even if your world view says "love all mankind," you still might ignore the suffering of others, or even inflict it, as history has shown. But it could be worse: our society could urge us to stifle our compassion, to instead stick it to the loser and torture the helpless. Too farfetched? Remember the Vikings. For that matter, remember fourth grade.
Did we just luck out?
In a way, if you believe in luck. The view of right and wrong that has spread itself over most of the world came from a tiny corner of the
We've made more progress since, and a good thing. But we made it by expanding and deepening this standard of humane treatment. Good thing we didn't expand and deepen the Assyrian view of the world. Then we wouldn't be angry about the Spanish Inquisition and witch-burning; we'd wonder why it had to stop just when it was getting good.
But in another sense, our current state of affairs wasn't luck at all. It's a fair bet that if a society condones some horrific practice (cannibalism, say, or sex with children), that society is a small tribe in a remote area. Something about such practices cause the societies that promote them not to prosper enough to spread themselves. By contrast, the world views that spread themselves and their societies the farthest have this in common: they accept the dignity of the individual. When people say, "All religions teach pretty much the same thing, so if we just adhered to that core..." I always want to say, "All the religions we think about today, you mean." There have been plenty of others.
We shouldn't be complacent: horrible world views may die out, but it's not inevitable and not instantaneous. Human sacrifice lasted for a long time. Slavery lasted millennia after that. If Hitler had gotten the bomb, today mercy to strangers might be merely a quaint custom in areas the Nazis hadn't gotten around to colonizing yet.
So let's be grateful to the giants whose shoulders we stand on, and determine to be giants ourselves. Somebody has to. We might have another hurricane.
Monday, October 15, 2007
No matter what I end up writing about, it's a chance to do some fine-tuned research of the kind that uncovers story ideas. Many of the articles focus on a period of history that fascinates me: late nineteenth century
I discovered Jumbo as the result of one such assignment, for an encyclopedia of historical events: a brief essay on the acquisition of the Ringling Brothers Circus by Barnum & Bailey. The more I researched circus history, the more interesting the stories became, until one in particular pushed at me to become fiction as well. The majority of the details are modeled from the oddities of real life history: Jumbo's end is true to life, as well as the details of what happened afterward. Barnum's telegram is taken in its entirety from one he sent, and Matthew Scott did raise the elephant from the sickly infant he rescued from a Parisian zoo. The original title was taken from Barnum's billing for Jumbo: "the towering monarch of his race, whose like the world will never see again," which Edmund made me cut in half.
Feelings about the rights of circus animals cover a wide range, and I tend to fall on the liberal side of the fence, but here I've presented Jumbo as one of the characters because the story is primarily his. At the time I wrote it, I didn't think that writing from an elephant's pov was particularly daring – I'd just seen a friend's story from the pov of an intelligent weapon published and received well. I make no pretense of knowing how an elephant thinks, but research for the elephant part included
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
The story takes place in an alternate history that I’ve used elsewhere. In 1511, Henry VIII of
The first version of this story focused much more on the relationship between Crispin and Lucas. I’d written about half of it, and was finding it heavy going, when my computer’s hard disc crashed. This story and one other – which had already been accepted for publication – were the only items not backed up. Clearly Version One was never meant to see the light of day. By the time I stopped complaining and settled down to write Version Two, I’d seen ways of opening up the story so that it took a much wider view of what might have been taking place in seventeenth century Oxford.
The story touches on several areas that I find interesting: history, art, alchemy and theology. The
My main difficulty in writing Version Two was structural: where to begin, how to guide the reader through the various preliminaries – Crispin’s meeting with Stanford, his commission, his discovery of Stanford’s alchemy and meeting with Lucas – which had to be established before getting down to business with the Grand Inquisitor and the demon. The solution I came up with was to use the painting of the altarpiece as an introduction to the story and as punctuation throughout until the two time-lines come together at the death of Fr Alfonso. That enabled me to introduce danger at the very beginning and – I hope – make the reader curious about the reason for Stanford’s trial and its outcome.
The other thing I hoped to do as I wrote the story was to leave room for ambiguity. Is Lucas a demon, intent on destroying the good wherever he finds it? Did Crispin murder Fr Alfonso with his hatred channelled through the painting? Or was the death coincidental, no more than might be expected when an old man is placed under a lot of stress? Is Crispin a rather unstable young man with a vivid imagination? I’d like readers to make up their own minds.
When I wrote A Spear through the Heart I never intended it to have a sequel. But just recently I’ve started to wonder what Crispin was doing, starving in a garret in
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Edmund asked me to write a few words, an essay of sorts to let IGMS readers know what was going on in my head as I wrote The Price of Love, where I got my ideas, inspiration from… and I immediately panicked. Write about myself? Where I get my ideas? Heck, if I knew that, I’d set up a pail or some other large vessel to catch the steady drip-drip of ideas, and never turn a wrench at my day job again.
The genesis of this story is actually two stories that merged into one. One half came in the late summer of 2005. I had just finished what I hoped was the final rewrite of my second novel, Shifters, and I looked for a way to not lose my writing “steam.” I had always struggled with short stories, because my brain works so quickly when I get a new idea, that before I ever put pen to paper the little acorn has blossomed into the mighty oak of a novel.
I had just read a collection of science fiction short stories that I’d picked up at a local Dollar General for… yeah; you got me… a buck. It had some interesting things in it, by some famous authors, and some I’d never heard of. The theme of the collection though, is what inspired me to pick it up; fairy tales had inspired all of the stories.
What a marvelous idea, I thought. Surely, after getting an idea of how these writers did it, I could find a way to craft a decent short story. And since none of the stories contained within directly referenced Pinocchio, I would try my literary hand at reconfiguring that tale.
The other part of the story began not quite two years before, when I discovered that despite all my best intentions and better judgment, I had fallen in love with a woman (and she with me) whom I had been friends with for several months. Her situation at home closely paralleled that of Valerie Hinson in my story, and the relationship between her and I closely paralleled that of Valerie and Alvin. Unlike stories though, real life is much more complicated; there’s no author to magically whip up a deus ex machina to make everything okay and bring about a happy ending.
As we drew closer to what we both knew would be the logical parting of ways, I found I needed some kind of catharsis, some way convince my heart that level heads knew best, this time.
These two unrelated situations, coupled with that old writer’s maxim “Write what you know” collided like a supernova in my head. I worked through the loss of my best friend by trying to capture the spirit of what we had in this tale of becoming human, learning to live, to love, and learning what the true worth of love is. That it’s not always knowing when to hold on, but when to let go.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
It's never easy to talk about the genesis of an idea - especially
when you are working toward creating something of *scope* that
resonates with the reader while at the same time entertaining...
because that is what it is all about, after all. Forget longevity and
fame and all the rest, your reader chooses to lay down cash they
could have spent on beer or cigarettes, movies, a nice chair or a
latte down at the coffee shop, in other words anything that eats
disposable income. They make that choice, your words over some other
form of enjoyment, so it strikes me you owe it to them to make those
Okay, rant over.
So, about eighteen months ago I was on a nine hour drive back
from a convention knowing I needed to come up with an original back-
ground for this fantasy novel I wanted to write. I always thought it would
be interesting to look at fantasy land where the hero hadn't crossed
over in time to save the day - where he had refused the call to
action and instead stayed home to grow old. What would have happened
then to this fabled land of elves and dwarves and pretty maids?
Nothing good, that's for sure... so that was the starting point, a
world gone to hell because it's chosen one decided it wasn't worth
the effort of saving them. Lee and I (my co-editor on Elemental for
Tor) back and forthed ideas, having a blast simply creating. That's
one of the drawbacks of doing stuff like Dr Who and Warhammer and all
these other IPs, you get to exercise your writing muscles but your
creativity ones begin to fester. The drive disappeared in a flurry of
world building and by the end of it we'd essentially mapped out an
entire world, elements of its past and future, and of the fall.
Then like all good ideas it got to sit on a shelf for the best part
of a year, building into something more.
I wrote the first Thera story back in April, for Solaris' Book
of Fantasy (The Song Her Heart Sang - It's a love story) and then a
linked one for Meadowhawk Press' Touched By Wonder. When Ed asked
me to do something for IMGS I knew I wanted to do something in Thera,
giving one of the legends some life. Most stories tend to be written
in coffee shops, this one was written on the plane to
, in Croatia and on a balcony in Markashka during a hurricane. Little Dubrovnik
Bosnia(Mostar) and snuck into the story in the Dubrovnik
architecture - which is always something I find difficult to do - I
tend to just want to say it's a house, it's a place, it's a big shiny
ball... and leave it at that, but surrounded by so many amazing
constructs I knew I had to do the visual aspect justice this time.
Late next year there's a mosaic novel coming out, The Machineries
of Silence (Bad Moon Books) which will piece together more of the
legends of Thera while I work on the first novel.
All that remains is to thank Ed for his work on the piece, and my
co-pilot on that long drive without whom the world would cease to be.
Friday, September 28, 2007
When I’m writing a story, especially one set in an alternate world, I try to spend a good deal of time in determining the lay of the land: the cultures in play, their histories, their attitudes toward one another. This helps me to focus on what I really want to write about: the characters. In other words, I wasn’t so interested in exploring the conflict between the two peoples as I was individuals within the scope of that larger conflict. Well, wait... That’s not completely accurate. I like to create a world in which there is conflict present, and then I like focusing on characters so that you see how individuals can affect the society at large, and vice versa.
Many of my stories are written with the intention of capturing the flavor of a certain era while adding a twist of some sort, and this is how Desert truly began. I chose the milieu first and played with it until I had the speculative elements that felt right to me. The flavor in “How Peacefully the Desert Sleeps” is, of course, life along the American Frontier. I have strong interest in the Native American life and the way in which it was tragically altered by the introduction of the frontiersmen and their irrepressible thirst for land. Like in American history, the natives in Desert are being pushed ever harder by the pioneers, but they have a weapon the Native Americans did not: the dejda. The tribesmen, over the centuries, had used the dejda as little more than a domesticated animal, largely unaware of its ability to gain consciousness. Without them, the tribesman would have already gone the way of the Native Americans and eventually succumbed to the pressure of the pioneers, but the beetles gave them a distinct advantage that allowed them to create a stalemate along the frontier.
Kallie’s character was the first one that came to me, and she came fairly easily. I liked the notion of taking someone from the more powerful society, the settlers, and placing them in a situation where they were almost completely dependent upon the tribesmen’s generosity. Once I realized that the dejda provided not only protection but also the powers of healing, Kallie’s ailment came soon after, and her character started to form more fully from there.
I had known from the start that Kallie would be the main character, and that she would be the catalyst that would help propel the dejda into consciousness. What I didn’t know was what would happen when this came to pass. I had thought that the Ohokwa Queen, Wattoha, would be the primary foil to Kallie. But as the story unfolded Nilawi demanded more and more attention. Eventually Nilawi and Kallie became two polar opposites. Nilawi came to represent the status quo, the passing of the torch from mother to daughter with the dejda in the same role as they’ve always been, while Kallie represented a new and terrible possibility.
Paheka, much like Nilawi, demanded more page time as the story played itself out. At first, she was simply a crazy old medicine woman, but I realized later that she was acting as an extension of the old dejda queen. She mutated from a character who provided flavor to the primary catalyst for change in the story: the voice, essentially, of the dejda as they struggled to make sense of their expanding awareness that Kallie had triggered within them.
Bradley P. Beaulieu
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Recently I stopped working as executive editor of the regional business magazine that had driven me so nuts over the last year and started working as managing editor of a new national women's business magazine. It was a small step backwards in the title department, but a monumental step forward in the paycheck department, so it was not a tough decision.
It's a new magazine, so I put an ad on Craig's List looking for resumes and writing samples from experienced writers. I was supposed to pick out the top candidates, and then the magazine's whole team would get together and decide who to assign what articles to. The ad was very specific in saying we wanted experienced writers for a business magazine, and that candidates should send their resume and up to three links and/or published clips. No surprise that the resumes came in fast and furious, but what did surprise me were some of the following:
1. A long poem in lieu of a cover letter. Excuse me, a long, cheesy poem in lieu of a cover letter. Obviously I have nothing against poems, I posted one in my last entry. But there are times when this kind of thing is appropriate and then time when writers send long cheesy poems to people looking for business writers. I'll let you do the math.
2. A resume where the first item listed was Organic Wedding Cake Stylist. Made me think of a Vegas-style lounge singer, but with baked goods. And now, for your entertainment, the organic cake stylings of...
3. A resume in a font that - I swear to God - when I first opened it I thought it was Egyptian hieroglyphics. My eyeballs almost turned themselves inside out trying to read this thing (which I spent all of three seconds doing to satisfy my curiosity, then deleted it and moved on as quickly as possible.)
4. The unimaginable volume of respondents who e-mailed me links to 20, 30, 40 or more clips. Think about it: if the ad says send up to three clips and someone sends 50, how much faith does that inspire in me with regard to their ability to follow basic directions?
5. On the flipside of that same issue, don't tell me to Goggle your name and search for articles. Your assurances that I will find many quality samples are wasted, because I'm not going to do it. Instead, I'm going to open a new e-mail and look at the writing samples of someone WHO CAN FOLLOW DIRECTIONS. Anybody detecting a pattern here?
6. A writing sample that was the first 150 pages of a book about a serial killer in Mexico. I guess I shouldn't complain; technically it is just one sample. On the other hand I'm afraid to even think about the implications that might come with this submission.
I could add more, but I've still got nearly 200 more resumes and probably 700 to 800 writing samples to wade through and I really need to get back to it. Kind of makes me wish I were reading IGMS story submissions. Oh well, that's next week...
(BTW, speaking of this week, issue six of IGMS should be out any day now, so check back here soon for essays from the authors of the new issues' stories.)
Monday, September 24, 2007
Got this a week or so ago, submitted via the IGMS Contact Page.
I enjoyed the poem at the end so much that I had to share.
Topic: Letters to the Editor
Comments: Dear Mr. Schubert,
Thank you for visiting Ann Crispin's writing workshop at
Dragon*Con. (I was in the second row on Sunday.) Your
comments were helpful, and I appreciate your taking the
time to be there. Hope you enjoyed the Con and had safe
travels. Here's a limerick especially for you:
Tiny Things (for Ed)
They creep, wiggle, mutate, and may
Blind you with pain, stab and slay,
Rogue monsters enraged?
No, just words on the page
After reading a million a day
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Well anyway, next April ('08) Dave is holding a Novel Writing Workshop. There are a lot of great things about it, and (for me anyway) one big negative, which is that it is being held in Utah. This automatically makes it a pretty expensive proposition, once you factor in air and car and hotel etc., but for a lot of reasons I've decided to bite the bullet and attend. As I've already said, I need to take some serious steps to get back on track with my own writing. I've already traded a few e-mails with Dave and made the necessary arrangements, so I'm definitely going.
There are a few slots left (not many), so I thought I'd put it out there in case anyone else was interested. It's looks pretty intense and comprehensive. It's also only one week long, which is as much time as I can carve out of my schedule, so that's a plus. Also it's specifically about novels, as opposed to Clarion and Odyssey and even OSC's Boot Camp, which are about short stories. Novels are very different creatures from short stories and the novel is something I've not specifically studied yet. I'm excited about going.
If anyone wants more details, check out this page on Dave's website:
Friday, September 14, 2007
So even though my to-do list for the next few days includes writing an essay for a friend's forthcoming book, an article for the local newspaper, a proposal to OSC for something I want to do at IGMS (ooh, mysterious), my letter from the editor for the next issue of IGMS, my announcement to IGMS readers that Darrell Schweitzer is going to be writing regular author interviews for IGMS starting with issue six (hey, Darrell; welcome to the Medicine Show), and a few other similar odds and ends (to say nothing of the fact that I'm already several weeks late on delivering edits on my novel to my new publisher)...
...what was I talking about?
Oh, right. I'm shutting my computer down. Walking away. Got a date with a fine woman; see you on Monday.
Unless she makes me a better offer...
Friday, September 07, 2007
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
I also hung out a bit with an old friend, James Maxey. James' story "Silent As Dust" will appear in issue 7 of IGMS, more than likely as the cover story. It's an exceptional story - not that that is any surprise to folks familiar with James' writing; he is an immensely talented writer and his new novel, Bitterwood, is getting talked about and reviewed well everywhere. For details about the book check out John Joseph Adams recent write-up on SciFi Wire:
Speaking of Solaris Books (the publisher's of Bitterwood), I enjoyed meeting Mark Newton and Christian ___(?), two editors of that line, as well as Gail Martin, one of their other authors, whose novel, The Summoner, is doing tremendously well, too. Interestingly enough, James, Gail, and I all live in North Carolina. There are quite a lot of writers in NC. I wonder why that is.
I spent some time with an old Boot Camp buddy (Orson Scott Card's Boot Camp, not the Army's), Gray Rinehart. Gray is working for Baen now and I sat in on talk he gave to A.C. Crispin's advanced writing class. He's a natural and I enjoyed listening to him. And he lives in NC, too. Hmm...
Speaking of various editors, I was on a couple of panels about editing, which was something new at DragonCon (at least in my experience). Usually those panels are mostly populated with writers, but the two editing-related panels were very well attended - pretty much filled the room. I hope DragonCon noticed the strong attendance and keeps doing them.
After one of those panels I hung out a bit with Claire Eddy and Paul Stevens, two editors at Tor. Claire and I had a good time because we are both Mets fans and talked as much baseball as anything else.
And speaking of baseball (it's just one segue after another here), I also snuck off to Turner Field on Sunday and saw the Mets beat the Braves. Given how many times the Braves have beaten the Mets in previous years, it was glorious to finally get a little payback. I met an amazing woman at the game, but that's an entire blog entry unto itself, so I'll save that tale for next time.
And - of course - I spend as much time as possible with one of my favorite people in the world, Alethea Kontis. If you've ever met Alethea, you know what I mean; everybody loves Lee and she's the queen of every con she goes to. We played hooky Monday morning and explored Atlanta's new aquarium. But that's a picture show for yet another day...
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
"The Night of Falling Stars," by Steven Savile
"The Towering Monarch of His Mighty Race," by Cat Rambo
"A Spear Through The Heart," by Cherith Baldry
"How Peacefully The Desert Sleeps," By Brad Beaulieu
"Great Mother, Great Father," by Will Briggs
"In The Beginning Nothing Lasts," by Mike Strahan
"The Price of Love," by Alan Schoolcraft
So that you know, "The Price of Love" is a 16,000 word novella that will be published in two parts. Part two will appear in issue seven. Issue six will have a cover date of October, 2007, but should be on-line some time during the last week of September. It will also include two new stories by David Lubar, as well as a new Ender Universe story by our own Orson Scott Card, who just got home from teaching his annual Literary Boot Camp.
As for DragonCon, I'll leave for Atlanta as soon as I can on Friday. I'm in the final stages of editing a business book and that needs to be done before I can leave. My first panel (something about editing SF) isn't until 7pm Friday night, so I could leave here as late as noon and still get there in time (it's about a 6 hour drive from Greensboro, NC). The pocket program is available now on the DragonCon website, if you want to check it out and plan your days. http://dragoncon.org/index.php
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Third Annual Apex Digest Halloween Short Fiction Contest
* Theme: Post-Apocalypse
* Deadline: October 15th, 11:59 p.m. EST
* Word Count: 2,500 words or less
* Submission Address: email@example.com
* Entry Fee: Free!
$100, plus Winning story published in Apex Digest issue thirteen and an invite to the Apex 2008 featured writers' anthology. One year subscription to Apex Digest. Signed hardcover copies of Aegris Somnia, HebrewPunk, Temple: Incarnations, and Grim Trixter
(not too shabby for a contest with no entry fee)
Full contest details at:
Apex announcement of judges:
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
The following is the opening to a story that I think I am about to abandon. I like the opening very much, but every thing else I write after it doesn't work the way I want it to, which is why I think it's time to lay this piece to rest. But as I said, I do like the opening, so here it is. Poke it as you see fit...
A Little Trouble DyingWaiting for the last contaminants of the plague to pass, I had sat in my underground shelter, surrounded by 55-gallon drums of distilled water and mountains of canned vegetables with peeling paper labels. I scribbled the days and weeks on the wall with a piece of chalk like a prisoner marking time in solitary.
And that, I frequently thought during those miserable years, was exactly what I was. A prisoner. Except I hadn’t been forced into my underground shelter by the state for crimes against society; I had gone down there alone, voluntarily, to escape death.
If only I had known quite how thoroughly I would accomplish my goal…
You see, until yesterday I hadn’t laid eyes on another living being in two-hundred-fourteen years, six months, and three days.
I was having a little trouble dying.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’m not crazy. I may have become a little obsessed with counting things, but you try spending 3,264 days alone in an underground shelter – no matter how well-stocked it is with books, games, CDs and DVDs - and see if you don’t come out obsessed with something.
And I think it’s important you know I never intended to go into that shelter alone. Despite being told repeatedly what a paranoid fool I was for building the shelter in the first place, I was a social person, quick with a joke and even quicker to laugh at the jokes of others. I loved being around people.
But when I told my co-workers at the lab I thought the N6HV3 virus was about to explode across the planet, none of them grasped the urgency of the situation. And when I told family and friends the same thing, I got the same response.
Reduced from logic to cajoling, then pleading, I finally had no choice but to go into the shelter alone.
Six weeks later they were all pounding on the double-paned, bullet proof window next to the entrance, their eyes bleeding and their flesh flaking from their bodies in great gray chunks. By then letting anyone in, even my sister and her infant daughter, was no longer an option. All that was left to do was talk – and sometimes cry – along with them through the intercom until they died on my doorstep.
I hated every one of them for making me watch them die like that. Hated them with a passion.
A lot of people died on my doorstep. That’s when the counting started; I counted family and friends as they died a few hermetically sealed inches away. I could feel myself age with the passing of each one.
Several centuries later, I’m still in the habit of counting things - but I haven’t aged since.
And I only hate them a little…
Friday, August 10, 2007
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
A group of us - James Maxey, Althea Kontis, Gray Rinehart, Alex Wilson, Ada Brown, and I - had great fun during the lunch break. We spent in inordinate amount of time playing with a grumpy, foot-tall, cast iron garden gnome Alethea brought from Tennessee and a Chicken Dance Elmo that Ada brought. There are photographs - some suitable for public viewing, some not. I'll have to review them closely and get back to you.
Dinner was more of the same, except that we added Stephen Mark Rainey, Alexandra Sokoloff and a few other folks to the madness. By the end of dinner we had the gnome dressed up in a black napkin and wielding a butter knife menacingly, dubbing him Obi-Wan-KenGnombi.
Rumor has it there were other panels and reading s and such, but the gnome wouldn't let me go. I told you he's grumpy cuss...
(BTW, for those of you who don't know the lunatics named above, James Maxey's second novel Bitterwood is out now and receiving fantastic reviews; Alethea Kontis is a book buyer for Ingram and author of several books of her own including the new Dark Hunter Companion with Sherrilyn Kenyon; Gray is the new slushmaster for Baen books, Alex and Ada have published short fiction in such venues as Asimov's and IGMS; Mark Rainey is the author of too many horror novels to count and former editor of the magazine Deathrealm; and Ms. Sokoloff is a former screenwriter turned novelist whose books are published by St. Martins. So yes, the people appearing on panels and talking to you so seriously about panel-stuff are out in public playing with gnomes and Elmo dolls, and no, there was absolutely no alcohol involved. You should see them when there's booze. On the other hand, maybe you shouldn't...)
Thursday, August 02, 2007
11am panel on Heroes and Villains; 1pm panel Religion and Spirituality in SF. That last one should be a lively affair. Lots of friends coming to this one, so only having two panels just leaves more time for catching up with folks.
George R.R. Martin is the Guest of Honor and I'm very much looking forward to him. I know he's best known as a fantasist, but his horror novel Fevre Dream, about vampires on the Mississippi River in the mid-19th century, is one of my all time favorites.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
The month of July saw the publication of two anthologies with short stories of mine. The first is the anthology "Crypto-Critters II," a cryptozoology-themed antho published by Padwolf, which has my story "Lair of The Ice Rat." "Lair" is about a group of prisoners who escape from a Siberian gulag in the 1930's only to find unexpected perils in the frozen tundra.
Also out this month is the anthology "From The Asylum: Year 3," which reprints my story "About Time." "About Time" is a tongue-in-cheek time travel yarn (a flash-fiction piece) originally published on the "From The Asylum" website back in October of 2005. The antho is available (among other places) here:
Friday, July 27, 2007
By Jason Sanford
I began writing "Rumspringa" after a visit to
, Holmes County, Ohio
which contains the largest concentration of Amish settlements in the world
and is only a short drive from where I live. While there, I realized
how many misconceptions we English-what the Amish call outsiders to their
order-have about Amish society. I also began wondering what Amish
society would be like in the future. Hence the story.
There are a number of stereotypes and misconceptions about the Amish in
the popular imagination. First, the Amish do not consider technology
evil, as many people think. Instead, certain types of technology are
seen as harming the Amish separation from the world, a separation the
Amish base on Biblical teachings. Certain technology is also seen as
promoting vanity and causing dissension within the Amish community. Anyone
who has ever watched their children pick TV over playing outside on a
beautiful summer day can easily appreciate the Amish worldview on all
There are also different groups of Amish, each with different beliefs
about how much technology to accept into their lives. When most people
think of the Amish, the picture in their mind is of the Old Order Amish.
This group shuns most modern technology, wears the "traditional" Amish
dress, drives the traditional horse-pulled buggies, and so on.
However, other Amish groups exist, including the New Order Amish, the Beachy
Amish, and others, all of whom follow different Ordnung or rules of
living. For example, the New Order Amish allow the use of electricity and
mechanical tractors. Some Amish groups are also receptive to solar power
arrays and kerosene-powered refrigerators. The Mennonites, who are not
Amish but are descended from the same Anabaptist tradition, follow a
similar pattern. Their most conservative groups prohibit a vast amount
of modern technology, while their more liberal groups have no special
dress requirements and little or no restrictions on technology use.
An interesting fact about the Amish is that they are one of the
fastest-growing ethnic groups in the
(although most Amish would United States
claim they are not an ethnic group, but a religious order). The Amish
are known for settling new lands both within the
and United States
around the world-lands which are opening up as more and more English abandon
farmlands for large cities and suburbs.
Many people today see the Amish as an antiquated group, doomed to
disappear in the relentless pace of technological progress. I would argue
that the exact opposite will happen. As technology pushes more and more
of us English into lifestyles which are more and more removed from the
land, groups like the Amish will fill that void. And like they have done
in centuries past, the Amish will continue to adapt and thrive in the
years to come.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
"Original Audrey" - by Tammy Brown
I had some story ideas floating around in my head, but I didn’t have any idea as to how I could possibly write an entire story in a few days. Then, late one night, when I was trying to write a story that involved cloning, my mind started wandering. What if cloning really were possible? Would people clone their dead family members, themselves, who? It was at that point that I ran into a news story of the paparazzi going too far, and suddenly I knew what would happen.
The next step was to figure out who they would clone. It would be happening in the future, so it had to be someone with huge star power. Then the first line of the story, “Elvis Presley watched Audrey Hepburn eat her breakfast in front of the Tiffany’s window in the Caesar’s Palace Mall.” came into my head, and the rest wrote itself… almost.
Remember how I said that I had never finished a story before? It turned out I didn’t know how to, not effectively anyway. I worked at it most of the night, and finally, sleep deprived, I slapped on a very generic happy ending and turned the story in for critique.
The story received very high praise from almost everyone in the class, including OSC. At one point, he even guaranteed that with some small revisions it would one day be published, thus inflating my fragile writer’s ego for all time.
After boot camp, I immediately sent the story into F&SF, and it was almost as immediately rejected. The truth was that even though most people who read my story liked it well enough, it was ultimately unsatisfying. The slapped on ending didn’t provide any resolution or closure. I knew it, but I couldn’t seem to fix it.
Over the years since then, every time my writing skills would improve, I’d pull out the story and try a new ending. Each time, it got closer to what I wanted it to be, but it wasn’t quite there. Finally, after IGMS was announced, I dusted it off one more time and sent it in. Quite a while later, I got a response from Edmund saying that he liked the story, up until about page 14 and that the ending “felt like you had simply gotten tired of writing and thrown them together for the proverbial happy ending without any clues as to how either of them changed, grew, and developed into their new, true selves. It was rushed and incomplete.” Yikes! Yet, he also said that if I could fix these problems, he would consider including me in a future issue of IGMS.
He had called me on the carpet, and he was right. At the end of the story, even I as the writer, wasn’t sure about this couple. Had either of them changed? What would their future hold? If as the author, I didn’t know, how could I expect the reader to understand? So I sat down and gave myself an ultimatum, find the climax, find the resolution, or else. By now, I knew Audrey and Elvis like two intimate friends. I knew that Audrey need to break down her perfect façade, and that Elvis needed to be the person who did it. Then, as my mind began wandering, I saw Audrey, losing control in a dish of ice cream. I saw her face covered with tears and whipped topping and I saw Elvis, falling in love, for good.
The moral of the story? I should let my mind wander more often. That‘s when my ideas seem to come. In fact, while writing this essay, my mind started wandering again. I’ve started thinking about Audrey, and Elvis’s future. And you know what? I don’t think their story is over. In fact, I can guarantee that there are many adventures in store for them yet.