Thursday, July 31, 2008

Countdown to Dreaming Creek

On the one hand I'm excited that the publication date of my novel is drawing near. On the other hand, I'm a bit sad to report that that the official release date has been moved back, from Sept. 28 to Oct. 28. On the other other hand (for those of you with three), I'm thrilled that it's going to be Oct. 28th instead of Dec. 28th, which is the date the publisher was talking about for a while. THAT would have sucked.

So the thing I'm waiting for at this point is the editor-in-chief's line edits and general notes so that I can see what she has to say and what work she still thinks the book needs. She said she would get that to me by the end of the coming weekend, so I'm checking my email every half hour in case it comes in any sooner. I'm sure by time Sunday arrives I'll be checking it every five minutes.

That's about all for now. More as further progress warrants.

Monday, July 28, 2008

"Red Road" by David Barr Kirtley

As we were departing Lunacon, my friend John Joseph Adams recommended a book to me, but cautioned me that the book contained talking animals, as if that might put me off. I replied automatically, “No, that’s cool. I like talking animals.” Later I thought back on that and realized that, hey, yeah, I /do/ like talking animals, and yet I’d never published a story that contained any talking animals. I started thinking it might be fun to write a story about some talking animals, but only if I could come up with some new angle — something sufficiently skewed and offbeat.

A few days later I remembered a conversation I’d had years ago with some of the other students at James Gunn’s writing workshop at the University of Kansas. In that conversation I’d made a joke along the lines of, “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if someone wrote an animal quest fantasy in
which … ?” Remembering that, I suddenly thought, “Hey, that’s not bad.” I had just come off a white-hot streak of writing successes, and I was in the mood for a challenge, such as taking a joke situation and trying to develop it into a narrative that contained as much emotional depth
and thematic significance as I could manage.

One other inspirational moment I remember: I had read a news article about a left-wing intellectual type who had recently been knighted in the UK. All this guy’s left-wing intellectual friends had chided him for accepting the honor and had pointed out that monarchy and titles and all that were basically against everything that this guy stood for, and the guy was kind of like, “Yeah, I know, I know. But come on, I’m a /knight/ now. How cool is that? How could I say no?” I kept thinking about that, and kept wondering what I might do in that situation, since I could easily sympathize with both sides.

I had a blast writing this story. It was enormous fun to be able to go back and write my own old-school fantasy complete with heroes and monsters and talking animals and a quest, just like the kind I read so many of when I was a kid, and I felt inspired to sneak in an unusually
high number of sly allusions and little in-jokes. My interest in politics and culture tends to show through no matter what I write, so I think the story also contains a lot of hidden depth. I also think I managed to bump my sentence-level writing up a notch with this piece.

I wrote the story during a summer in which I was living in a small apartment in South Central L.A. It was too hot for me to go out much during the day and too dangerous for me to venture out much at night, so I spent day after day alone in that apartment and got completely absorbed (probably too much so) in the fictional reality of the story. The moment at which I became really excited about the piece and knew for sure that I was going to go ahead and write it all down was when I dreamt up the sequence in which Francis battles the owl. But when it came time to write that scene, I just didn’t know how Francis could possibly stand a chance. I paced around and around, swinging an imaginary sword. In the corner of the room, looming over me, I pictured
a gigantic and sinister owl (the sweltering heat probably contributed to the near-hallucinatory intensity of this vision), and I would stare up at that monstrous owl and think, “Crap, how the hell am I going to kill this bleeping thing?”

I was really happy with how that part turned out. In fact, after I wrote that scene I couldn’t restrain myself from sending out a bulletin to all my Facebook friends announcing, “I just wrote the best sword-wielding mouse versus owl fight scene you’ll read all year!” Writing isn’t all
fun and games though, of course. For whatever reason I had a hell of a time describing the throne room. I worked for an entire day — eight hours or so — on that one stupid little paragraph, though that time included many hours spent online perusing photos of various real-world
throne rooms. I also found it challenging to work out exactly how the climactic scene was going to go down (even though that scene was something I’d planned from the beginning and was in fact the genesis of the whole piece). I spent several days wrestling with the logistics of
the thing until I finally hit upon the image of a spooky, mist-shrouded landscape, which instantly felt right and which immediately solved a lot of my problems.

I had a great deal of fun writing this story, and I really felt as though I were living through the events as I was writing them. I hope that some of that same experience comes through for people when they read it.


Read "Red Road" in issue 9 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, available now

To learn more about Dave, visit his website at:

Monday, July 21, 2008

"No Viviremos Como Presos" by Brad Beaulieu

While I was attending Viable Paradise, a one-week writing workshop held on Martha's Vineyard, Patrick Nielsen Hayden had the students write a scene in which we argued a position we would normally argue against. I had a particularly tough time with this, and it became clear why after Patrick said something that was rather obvious once he'd said it: that you're on to something if you find the writing of a particular position difficult. I don't even recall the exact nature of the scene (something to do with corporate greed, as I recall, though I was arguing for the greedy corporation) but the exercise has always stuck with me, because the point of it was to show you that you can really make an argument exciting if both sides have compelling arguments. And it's not just arguments; this goes to the heart of conflict. It's easy (not to mention uninteresting) to set up a conflict where one side is clearly in the right. Its much more gripping if the author can set up the conflicts so that there are no easy answers. To make the antagonist sympathetic in his own right can turn him from a cardboard cutout of evil into a complex character that the reader actually sympathizes with while they do dastardly things.

When I started writing "No Viviremos Como Presos," I had a clear position in mind: that a border wall was a Bad Thing, and from this position Sandro's character began to form. But, bearing the previous exercise in mind, I certainly didn't want it to become didactic. In the words of Tim Powers: I didn't want to "say" anything. I just wanted it to be, for it to exist, and for the reader to take away what they would. This is the place from which Miguel's character sprang. I note now, though it was not conscious at the time, that there is no antagonist in the conventional sense. Clearly the U.S. Government is the bad guy, but it acts the landscape of this painting, not the subject. Miguel turned into a lens, so to speak, something through which the reader could view these things with a fairly unbiased viewpoint. That is his job, after all, to take pictures and to present them and allow the viewer to make up their minds about them. Sure, he can flavor them if he chooses to, but his professional integrity steers him away from such urges.

It was interesting, then, to see what happened to Miguel as he stood by and documented this tragedy. He never did take as much of a stand as Sandro wanted him to, and perhaps in the end Miguel regrets that. By the end of the story he certainly feels punished by the paths that fate led him down, though whether that changes him in the end, I don't know. I'll leave that up to you to decide...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Blood and Water" by Alethea Kontis

Vampire Mermaid


"You're a writer? Okay, tell me a story."

Yeah -- my eyes just rolled too. I've gotten this my whole life. I've heard it from friends and teachers. I got it from relatives who expected me to entertain their bored children. I even got it once from a computer tech support guy when I was waiting for the server at my Waldenbooks to reboot.

What the heck? Come on. I've never said, "You're an accountant? Okay, do my taxes" or "You're a dancer? Go on, let's see a jig."

Eventually, I learned to keep some pat stories on hand, shoved in a special mental folder I saved for just those occasions. There's a love story about my Thea Maritza who ran from the Turks as they ethnically cleansed Smyrna…or the one about how my grandfather turned pirate during the Nazi occupation of Greece. Quality stuff at the drop of a hat.

'Cause it's just not that easy for me.

I was born a genius and an actress. I grew up on stage. I've done my share of improv (and your share, and his share, and a bit of that lady's over there). I was surrounded by seriously hyperintelligent geeks in all my classes and was expected to hold my own with a biting wit and a wealth of trivial knowledge. You want a perfect comeback, a great conversationalist, or a frustrating debate partner? I'm your girl.

But I just can't tell stories at the drop of a hat. I can tell you about my sister's latest catastrophe or the funny thing that happened to me on the way to work…but if it's fiction you want I need something. I need a seed from which to grow the flax -- otherwise it's like trying to weave a tapestry out of dandelion fluff on a windy day.

It doesn't have to be big, either. Heck, sometimes it only takes two words.

"Blood and Water" started from such a seed: I was in Charleston one Memorial Day weekend, staying at my friend Brandi's house. I had brought in the little chunky notebook I keep in my car for when inspiration strikes and I don't have a junkmail envelope or Starbucks receipt or roofing flyer handy.

Brandi was flipping through it when she suddenly got a strange look on her face.
What's a 'vampire mermaid'?" she asked.

I took the book from her curiously. Sure enough there they were, just two words, two random thoughts at two completely different times that I just happened to scribble on the same page in close proximity. But it was a good question. What was a vampire mermaid? How would that work?

This is where "what you know" comes in. As writers, once inspired, we proceed to ask ourselves this barrage of myriad questions. We then answer those questions based on what we know. If you happen to know a lot of trivial junk, you can come up with some pretty interesting scenarios.

My brain clicked into overdrive, following the logic. A mermaid lives in the ocean: check. Vampires need blood: check. Why would a mermaid need blood? What's under the ocean that needs blood? I mentally went back to college, my short-lived days of being a marine chemist with dreams of open waters and deep-sea submersibles.

I had been obsessed with the hydrothermal vents, in the deepest ocean where the tectonic plates meet and form fissures. Nobody ever thought there would be anything living that far down…and oh, how wrong they were. In 1979 the infamous ALVIN scoped it out and discovered entire colonies of organisms living off the toxic chemicals spewing out from the vents. There were snails, shrimp, crabs, octopuses…even giant oysters and seven-foot-tall red-plumed white tube worms with complete vascular systems.

Oh, yes…these folks don't need sunlight, but they do need blood.


With that problem solved, I went back to the mermaid part. Now, I'm not claiming to be the Fairy Tale Queen of the Universe, but I know my way around a bit of Grimm and Andersen (and Zipes and Bettelheim). When I was ten, my grandmother gifted me with a humongous volume of unexpurgated fairy tales -- thank goodness my mother never got her hands on it. Sleeping Beauty's name was "Briar Rose," Rapunzel got knocked up, and Cinderella's sisters cut off pieces of their feet to squeeze into that glass slipper. I read "The Little Match Girl" and "The Little Mermaid" and cried like my heart was breaking.

And then I'd read them again.

If the only version of "The Little Mermaid" you know is Disney, then you are seriously missing out. It's a beautiful tale. But I'll warn you right now: the sea witch cuts out the mermaid's tongue. The prince marries the wrong woman. The mermaid eventually drowns herself in her desolation, becoming foam on the waves. And every girl remembers how excruciatingly painful the mermaid's transformation, so darkly was it painted.

Pain, darkness, love story: check.

The rest of the questions were just details. How does a being who has lived beneath the waves her whole life describe a candle when she has never seen fire? What does splitting her tail feel like if she's never been cut by a knife? What is walking to a woman who has never experience land? How would she be able to spot a predator? How would she learn all these things…quickly?

And -- most importantly -- who would rescue her from the middle of nowhere post-transformation?

Well, that part was easy. Write what I know.

Pirates: check.

"Blood and Water" is now available in issue 9 of IGMS.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Franken-Facts by Matt Rotundo

Readers of this blog have already seen my "story behind the story" essay about "The Frankenstein Diaries." Edmund told me that since part two is coming out in issue nine of IGMS, I could blather on a bit longer, if I wanted.

I'm a writer, folks. I'm not one to turn down an opportunity to blather. So without further ado, allow me to present a few tidbits--some amusing, some interesting--that I like to call Fun "Frankenstein" Facts.

(Warning: Some spoilers follow.)

  • "The Frankenstein Diaries" marks my third qualifying sale for SFWA, and is also the story that would have officially disqualified me from the Writers of the Future contest. At Dragon*Con last year, Edmund told me that he delights in ruining people's WotF eligibility. Unfortunately for him, I became a WotF winner in March of this year, right before the story was published. Got it in just under the wire. (And I'm thrilled about the WotF win, by the way.)

  • "Frankenstein" is the second story of mine with a connection to Orson Scott Card. The first was "Hitting the Skids in Pixeltown," which won a Phobos Award in 2002. Scott was one of the judges in that contest, and one of the editors of the subsequent anthology in which the story appeared, also called Hitting the Skids in Pixeltown. If you see Scott, please tell him I said thanks, and I'm not stalking him. Honest.

  • Paul Griffin's birthday in the story is the same as mine--June 2nd.

  • Paul is the name of my oldest nephew. He does not have snake tattoo on his face.

  • Although I was of course familiar with the novel Frankenstein, I hadn't read it until I got into the research phase of this story. A friend gave me an annotated version of the book as a Christmas present, which I found quite fascinating. Did you know the novel was originally published anonymously? Some of the early reviews were quite amusing, speculating about what kind of disturbed mind could come up with such a concept. I suppose some people still wonder that today.

  • Digital picture frames--which we see in the scene where Paul rips the portrait of Steven off the wall--were not on the market, so far as I know, when I wrote "The Frankenstein Diaries." I just made them up as a bit of futuristic tech. By the time the story came out, they were no longer futuristic; they already existed. Nonetheless, I think somebody owes me a royalty.

  • For the scene in which Marie tells John she wants a divorce, I visualized my own kitchen as the setting.

  • My research into dyslexia almost derailed the story. I had it in the back of my mind that the disorder was genetic. But my research told me otherwise, that although dyslexia tends to run in families, there is no proof yet of a genetic component. On the other hand, a genetic component hasn't been ruled out yet, either--so I went ahead with it. Science may one day close that loophole, at which point, "The Frankenstein Diaries" will become hopelessly dated. Such is the nature of science fiction.

  • Incidentally, everything Dr. Aiken says about the ability of children to hide the symptoms of dyslexia came from my research.

  • IGMS has a "PG-13" editorial policy. I knew this when I submitted "Frankenstein." The original draft contained some rough language that I suspected wouldn't meet the PG-13 standard, and I was right. I was asked to make a few changes. Most of them were easy, but one proved troublesome. It occurred during Paul's final confrontation with John. In the scene as originally written, an angry Paul deliberately provokes his father with what I figured was a pretty typical teenage ploy--dropping the f-bomb. I needed to change it, but I had a hard time figuring out what else he could say that would push John over the edge. Finally, I hit upon it: Paul says of his dead brother, "He was stupid. He deserved to die." It occurred to me that this was an order of magnitude more awful, more unforgiveable, than the vilest profanity he could have uttered. There's a writing lesson in that, somewhere.

  • My wife didn't care for an earlier draft of this story. She found the character of John Griffin unlikeable. She was right, of course. I worked on that in the rewrite--which was difficult, because John is profoundly messed up, even if he doesn't realize it. I confess that I wonder what readers will think of him in this version. I'll be at the Omaha Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival, July 11-13th, and at WorldCon in Denver, August 6th-10th. If you find yourself at either event, maybe you could look me up and let me know your opinion. And if you absolutely loved the story, make sure you say it loudly enough for my wife to hear.

With that, I think I've blathered long enough. Hope you enjoyed these Fun "Frankenstein" Facts. Feel free to use them to impress your friends at parties.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

"Cassie's Story" by David B. Coe

Different authors tend to write to different lengths. Some specialize in short fiction; others feel more comfortable writing novels. Throughout my career, I've fallen into that latter category. At the same time, I’ve always admired -- even envied -- those writers who could create a seamless and complete narrative in the span of 8,000 words rather than 80,000 words.

Back in October, while in upstate New York for World Fantasy Convention, I met with my editor at Tor Books, who encouraged me to write more short fiction. He thought it would help me further hone my craft, and he believed that publishing more short stories would help me reach a broader audience. I appreciated the advice, but I wasn’t at all certain that I could simply will myself to start finding short story ideas. After all, I was a novelist -- that was my preferred length of work.

I had driven up to New York from my home in Tennessee and so, of course, I needed to drive back home. And during the first part of that drive, right there on the New York State Thruway, I suddenly found myself writing “Cassie’s Story” in my head.

The character of Cassie came to me first. And actually my first image of her was as a prisoner in jail garb, sitting in an interrogation room smoking a cigarette. I knew that at one point she had it all: brains, looks, a great career, a husband she loved. I knew as well that she had lost everything, and that she had been driven to this state by a power she possessed but couldn’t control. (You'll have to read the story if you want to know more.)

But the more the story developed in my head, the more I came to realize that while Cassie was the focus of the narrative, this was Eric’s story. He was the one who had to grapple with implications of what she had done and in doing so he also had to acknowledge his own indirect complicity in her crimes. His emotional process in the story parallels that of the reader, and in many ways, he’s the more dynamic character.

By the time I pulled into my driveway in Tennessee, the story was basically complete. I just had to transpose it from my head to the computer screen. Or so I thought.

The editorial process on “Cassie’s Story” was more involved than I had anticipated, perhaps in part because I had written so much of it in my head. There were elements of the story that needed to be moved forward in the narrative, others that needed to be tightened, and still others that needed further explanation. Fortunately, I was able to draw upon the wisdom and insight of Edmund as I reworked the story. With Ed’s help I was able to realize the full potential of that idea I first encountered on the thruway. I hope you enjoy the final product.