Monday, November 24, 2008
During a work lunch some time ago, my co-workers and I were discussing the true value of wealth. No, this was not some sappy discussion of happiness versus bank accounts, family time versus promotions. We're lawyers. Rather, we were discussing what types of wealth would be most secure in the future.
Being the sole science fiction reader in the group, I suggested that if the proverbial subpoena ever hit the fan, bank accounts and stocks would become worthless, and the truly wealthy man would be the one who owned fenced land, canned goods, guns, and solar panels.
So I began constructing a story around a wealthy man who did plan for societal collapse--indeed, obsessed over it--diversifying accordingly. I gave him a past and a family, and decided to tell the story from the perspective of his teenage daughter, Rachel.
As I began writing though, it became Rachel's story. The father became less interesting to me than Rachel's own struggle to understand the risk of loss. So I went with that, and let the story take the tragic turns it needed to take.
For those interested in process, I wrote the first draft during a Clarion West workshop a couple years ago. I got some helpful feedback from classmates and that week's instructor (Nalo Hopkinson), and went through several revisions before reaching the version that Edmund bought. The biggest changes were switching from epistolary (journal) format to present tense, and eliminating several minor characters. Like most successful revisions, the story got shorter.
Thanks to all who read The Fort in Vermont. I'll have another (much lighter) story in IGMS sometime next year.
David's story, "The Fort In Vermont," is in issue 10 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, available now.
Monday, November 17, 2008
One day a few years ago, as I was driving home, I was thinking about the concept of titles that juxtaposed two things that do not seem to belong together. I decided to take something science-fictionish and match it with something fantasyish and came up with "The Robot Wizard." (Later I decided "Sorcerer" sounded better.)
So I had a title and nothing else. I let that title bang around in my brain for a year or two, and then -- while driving home again -- I thought, What if an exploratory robot with AI goes through a wormhole portal and ends up in a magical world? I recorded a voice memo on my PDA so I wouldn't forget that idea.
In 2007, I had the opportunity to go to the Odyssey Workshop (http://www.sff.net/odyssey/), an intensive six-week program focused on writing science fiction and fantasy. Since I would have several stories critiqued at the workshop, I decided to get a head start on writing a new story and that "The Robot Sorcerer" would be a good one to write. So, in the week before the workshop, I came up with the very basics of a plot and wrote 750 words to begin the story.
While at Odyssey, I met with Jeanne Cavelos, director of the program and writing teacher extraordinaire, to talk about trends in my writing she had noticed in my first few stories she had read. She suggested that I needed to focus more on developing characters who were integral to the plot, and that one way to do that was to figure out a character's greatest desire and greatest fear, and then have those two things in opposition at the climax of the story.
Until that discussion with Jean, I had never thought about the integration of plot and character in a systematic way. Generally, I came up with a plot and then came up with characters to plug into the plot. While I had written stories where the character and the plot fit together perfectly (such as "Tabloid Reporter to the Stars"), that was more accidental than purposeful.
In discussing what I planned to do with "The Robot Sorcerer," Jean told me I needed to figure out what the robot most desired and most feared. I realized that I would have to throw out the 750 words I had already written and start over. (If you want to see the original beginning, go here: http://ericjamesstone.com/writing/RobotSorcererOriginalBeginning.htm).
I decided what the robot feared most was losing its sentience. Because the robot's personhood was now a key component of the story, I decided I needed to tell the story in first person, rather than the omniscient narrator I had originally chosen. I also realized the story needed to start before the robot went through the wormhole and became sentient, in order to show the contrast. And that meant writing the first section in zeroth person -- from the point of view of an inanimate object that was not (yet) a person. (Yes, there actually is a zeroth person in some languages.)
I decided that the robot's greatest desire would be to save Bump. So I came up with a plot that would provide a climax in which the robot would have to choose between saving Bump and keeping its sentience. And then I wrote that story.
I want to give special thanks to Jeanne Cavelos, without whose advice the story would never have developed along the lines it did. I also want to thank Elizabeth Hand, an Odyssey guest lecturer who critiqued the first complete draft, and all my Odyssey classmates who gave me such great feedback on the story. And a final thank-you to my writing groups for their critiques.
Eric's story, "The Robot Sorcerer," is in issue 10 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, available now.
One of Eric James Stone's earliest memories is of seeing an Apollo moon-shot launch on television. That might explain his life-long fascination with astronomy and space travel. His father's collection of old science fiction ensured that Eric grew up on a full diet of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke.
Despite taking creative writing classes in the 1980s, Eric did not begin seriously writing fiction until 2002. In 2003 he attended Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp. Since then, he has sold stories to the Writers of the Future Contest, Analog, and Intergalactic Medicine Show.
Eric lives in Utah. His website can be found at www.ericjamesstone.com
Friday, November 14, 2008
In March of this year, I taught a workshop on revision with Orson Scott Card at Southern Virginia Univeristy (Edmund Schubert and Jacob Black were also there). I gave out a handout that had a list of “before” and “after” paragraphs from novels I had published. I was determined to show the embarrassing truth about how bad my first drafts are, and how an editor’s suggestions could make them better. I expected everyone to wince along with me when I read the first drafts and then to feel immense relief when I read the revised versions.
Strangely enough, there was occasionally argument about which of the two drafts was actually better. Scott stepped in at one point and insisted that he thought either draft could work; it was just a question of what effect the author (me) wanted on the reader. In fact, after reading one particular first draft paragraph, Scott suggested he would be glad to read any “first drafts” of stories I might write, for IGMS.
In the spirit of a challenge, I wrote up twelve short story ideas in the airport on the way home. I wrote only the first line at first, and then, as time stretched on and on, a couple of paragraphs. I was trying to figure out which ones would be appropriate to send to IGMS. In the end, I went home and that month wrote up 15 different short stories, most of them based around the premise of “12 Magical Apprentices,” for a possible book idea that I might one day sell to someone somewhere, because I write for YA and the whole idea of a magical apprentice seemed like one that might sell there.
I sent off the first of these stories, one that had been inspired by my twelve year old daughter’s obsessive memorization of digits of pi, to Edmund for IGMS. Some of the elements of this obsession include her printing out thousands of digits of pi and then hanging the printed papers in her bedroom, her volunteering to recite digits of pi to anyone who is willing to listen for several minutes, and having a “pi” party when my youngest son turned “pi” years old (my husband calculated this exactly) where we served, of course, pie: chocolate and coconut cream. My daughter is also very musically talented, and I once had a math teacher who was an incredible violinist and who claimed that the skills involved in making music were essentially the same as those in math: patterns repeated and twisted over and over again. I thought that this might become part of the story, but I was wrong.
After all the stories were written, I was surprised at myself, that I had been able to write so many coherent stories in what was essentially one draft. I did not plan out any of the stories in advance. For “Pi,” I knew that the magic would be about pi, and that there would be a young protagonist involved, and that perfect circles would be better than imperfect ones for magic. Other than that, I didn’t have any preconceived notions about the shape of the story. It seemed to shape itself. Some of the others did the same; some did not and these last I am not sure that I know how to fix. Maybe more of this “cycle” of stories about magical apprentices will appear in IGMS in coming issues.
But I will admit that “Pi” was not sold on a first draft. In fact, it needed a good edit, which Edmund helped me to do. He pointed out a problem in the ending of the story, and when I reread it, I saw that I actually had to fix it by subtly changing the whole story, not just the ending. Then he bought it.
Mette's story, "Pi," is in issue 10 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, available now.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
1) The publisher of Dreaming Creek was already listing my novel on their website for $1 less than cover price ($14.95 instead of $15.95). Now they are also having a sale, with all books (e-book and print books) being offered during the month of November at 35% off. That makes DC only $9.72 + S&H! Details at the publisher's website.
2) We're just about ready to publish the next issue of InterGalactic Medicine Show. That means I can start running essays by the authors in issue ten instead of running my mouth about my novel. The upcoming authors and their stories are:
Dave Farland - How Sweetly The Dragon Dreams
Mette Ivie Harrison - Pi
Ami Chopine - The Tile Setters
Marie Brennan - A Heretic by Degrees
Eric James Stone - The Robot Sorcerer
David Simons - The Fort In Vermont
and part one of Greg Siewert's novelette - The Absence of Stars
You'll also find new stories by David Lubar, and an interview with Harry Turtledove by Darrell Schweitzer
So tune in here soon for the Story Behind the Stories, and to InterGalactic Medicine Show for, well... the stories
Sunday, November 09, 2008
And a good time was had by all (especially me)...
...at my first official reading and signing of Dreaming Creek.
I did my best to forge my own signature (is that possible?). Well, I did my best to make it legible, anyway...
My thanks to the fine folks at Givens Books in Lynchburg, VA, for their help making this great night possible. Also, many thanks to everyone who came out and made me feel like the king of the world (at least for a few hours).
And last but not least, a super-sized thanks to Dena Harris, who drove over two hours to help me with the workshop before the signing. They don't make friends much better than that...
Friday, November 07, 2008
In the mean time -- just to keep you entertained -- here are the two shortest stories I ever wrote, both exactly 69 words long. They were written for a now-defunct magazine called NFG, which used to have a contest every issue to see who could write the best story in exactly sixty-nine words. I wrote two, and they were published in August of 2004 and July of 2005 respectively.
A Mid-Winter's Hydro-Engineering Project
"By my calculations, the structural integrity of this thing has become seriously compromised," Billy said.
Freddie glanced at him. "Naturally. The cohesiveness of any crystalline-based structure with a mass-to-weight ratio like this is going to be suspect."
Watching from inside the house, their mother shook her head as the boy's four-foot snowball collapsed under its own weight.
She looked at her husband and sighed. "They grow up so fast."
A Solid Deal
Constantino eyed the devil. "We're agreed?"
"Absolutely," said Lucifer. "I get my usual fee; you get this enchanted pouch of gemstones. As long as you hold it, it will never possess less than twenty perfect gems and I guarantee you'll hold it for over 2,000 years."
Constantino grinned, accepting Lucifer's handshake. "I'm going to be the richest man in Italy."
The devil smirked. "Or at least Pompeii."
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
-- Wrote a blurb for a friend's book
-- Finished answering one set of questions that had been emailed to me for an interview
-- Started answering another set of questions for an interview
-- Traded several emails with Gavin Grant about IGMS stories for his half of the Year's Best Fantasy & Horror (fantasy)
-- Traded several emails with Ellen Datlow about her half of the Year's Best Fantasy & Horror (horror)
-- Traded several emails with Peter Beagle's agent about a story Peter is writing for IGMS
-- Started my Letter From The Editor for the next issue of IGMS (which will be out in about ten days)
There's no fiction-writing on that list, but I still did a lot of typing. It was kind of cool...
The first thing on today's to-do list? Voting. Check. Did that already. How about you?
Monday, November 03, 2008
Professor Maass flung the machine against the wall. “Enough,” he roared. “I quit! I quit, I quit, I quit!”
“But professor...” his assistant said, watching pieces of shattered electronics skitter across the room like luminous cockroaches, “you’ve proven that time travel is possible, at least theoretically. You can’t give up on building a working time machine now. You just can’t.”
“No, Oliver” replied Maass, shaking his head. “It’s just not meant to be. As if the whole project were cursed from the day I conceived it.”
Oliver’s eyes grew as wide and white as ping-pong balls. “I’ve spent twenty-five years working on this project -– devoted my entire career to you. Because I believed in you.” He took a step toward the professor. “You can’t do this to me -- ”
The professor pivoted away from Oliver and gesticulated wildly at the giant blackboard behind them. “Look, damn you. Look! Every time I think we’ve got the calculations right, we find a pair of numbers transposed, or an exponential notation off by a single digit.”
Suddenly sullen, Professor Maass knelt among the ruins of his time machine, picking up a tiny fragment. He cradled it like a clump of dirt he was about to throw into a freshly dug grave. “Every time I think we’ve got the wiring right, some connection works itself loose, or a chip goes in upside-down, or the laser’s lens gets a smudge on it.
“No, time travel may be theoretically possible, but it’s not practical. Mankind is just not capable of getting that many fine details perfectly aligned.”
The professor clenched his fist around the broken piece of his dream, squeezing it until it cut his palm. Blood dripped from his hand.
Ever so softly, he said, “I quit.”
“But -- ”
Screaming, Professor Maass turned on his assistant. “Didn’t you hear me?!” he howled. His bloody fist, still clutching the broken piece of hardware, pummeled Oliver’s head and shoulders. “I said it’s over. Over! Done!”
The professor’s screaming and pounding continued relentlessly, until the blood wasn’t just coming from his cut hand anymore, it was coming from his assistant’s face and neck and scalp.
“Done, done, done...”
* * *
“You see,” said the first Timeguardian, pointing to the holographic display of Professor Maass’s breakdown. “This is why we had to intervene. They’re just not ready to handle time travel yet.”
"Too violent?" asked the second Guardian.
"Good grief, no," replied the first. "If you'd been jerked around for twenty-five years by people from the future, you'd have a breakdown and beat the hell out of somebody, too. The problem is that they’re technologically advanced enough, but don’t pay sufficient attention. You can't allow people to hop around the time continuum if they're not paying attention, and after all of this time, Maass really should have figured out what we were doing to him and his equipment…”