Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Freak Filter

Part of being an assistant editor means reading slush. "Slush" is the pile of unsolicited story manuscripts publishers receive from hopeful authors. It's not a pretty name; it's not generally a glorious pursuit. Slush sits in the assistant editor's inbox, dribbling memetic juices all over your mind-space. It occasionally belches, but it doesn't need to. It makes its presence known through sheer virtual weight. That is, Slush is ever-present in your mind as something to do, something that will never get done, a taxing, burdensome, obese thing that drags at your thoughts and threatens your sanity.

But occasionally, you come up with some real gems. Lo'ihi Rising from issue 15, for example—drawn from the slush pile by diligent slush delver, Sara Ellis. Or The Absence of Stars—winner of the Washington Science Fiction Association Small Press Award, and also dredged up by Sara Ellis.

We've been trimming the slush pile recently at IGMS. It's looking almost svelte, now. While I'm taking a brief break from reading slush, I thought I'd compose this to let hopeful authors out there know what we, the assistant editors of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, hope to find as we push through the slush pile. Also, what we hope NOT to find.

Scott M. Roberts

I like fiction in which the protagonist is capable and active. Even if it's a tragic story of death, sadness, and woe, the protagonist should be out there either fighting against the Bad Stuff, or actively pushing more Bad Stuff to occur. I have little patience for protagonists whose only contribution to the story is to be sympathetic and abused.

Speaking of abuse—there's a definite limit to how much I can stomach. If you choose to make your protagonist a serial killer, you had better bring some major writing chops along with that axe and buzz saw. It takes pages of really excellent writing to make up for the bad karma of one explicit scene of violence.

I give stories about a page and a half. Within those 375 words, I look for a clear conflict; a sympathetic or engaging protagonist; and competent writing. It's a matter of economy: I'm looking for stories that engage my interest quickly because I don't have a lot of time.

I like experimental prose, to a point. The device must serve the story: if your story is clearer because of the experimental style, then I welcome it.

Much of what I see in the slush pile is grim, gritty, or grisly. Want to stand out in the slush? Be funny.

Bad dialog will get you rejected faster than just about any other element. I am looking for dialog that reveals character. Note that this is more than just indicating that a character is Southern by having them use the word 'y'all,' or by dropping the –g in gerunds. Writing in dialect, especially if the narrator is a participant in the culture that uses the dialect, is liable to get you rejected. Remember, British people don't think they have an accent, and Irish writers rarely write Irish characters as having a hunky brogue.

Eric James Stone

What I like to see: Stories that do a good job of examining X in the question "What if X?" Stories with likeable characters facing overwhelming odds and finding an unexpected way to succeed. Stories in which the protagonists are willing to sacrifice themselves (and sometimes must actually do so) for the good of others. Stories that are funny.

What I don't like to see: Stories with main characters who do not engage my interest. Stories that take too long to get to the main plot. Stories that go from Point A to Point B without any twists along the way. Stories that fizzle out instead of bang at the climax.

What kind of stories I pass on [to the Editor-in-Chief]: Stories that make me think about cool ideas I never thought of before. Stories with engaging characters doing interesting things. Stories that keep me reading all the way to the end because I want to know what happens next.

Sara Ellis

I like stories that surprise me. I don't mind if a cliché is used, if there is a neat twist. What makes your vampire/werewolf/sorcerer's apprentice/space colonists story different from all the others? I once got a mutinous murder on a spacecraft story (cliché), but told from the perspective of a sanitation robot (twist!). I like detail, that makes the character/world real to me.

I like caring about the point of view characters, even if they are flawed. Why are they flawed? I hate stock villains. Villains you can empathize with, even just partially, are always more effective. I also love the themes of sacrifice, honor, redemption, and breaking/questioning tradition. I am inexplicably partial to stories about robots, empathetic monsters, and adolescent boys going through tough times.

I love captivating first paragraphs, and dislike impotent last lines. For most short stories, you have two pages to capture my attention. Do not waste these on exposition. Do not throw away first paragraphs with exposition. I like being shown why or how a character is a certain way, as opposed to simply being told. I like natural, realistic dialogue that comes across as sincere, as opposed to being convenient to move the plot along. I do not mind stylized, snappy, or
humorous dialogue if it fits in with the story and is creative.

One of my biggest turn offs in a story is when female characters are only described physically, or always initially described physically just because they are women. Especially when this only goes as far as letting us know she has great breasts. I hate stock beautiful women in a story that are not fleshed out (ha!). Violence and exploitation of female characters that is not important to the core of the story is a big pet peeve. It usually comes off as lazy or, uh, exploitative.

I also do not like stories where it feels like important or clarifying information is being withheld so it will feel like a surprise or a twist later. Being confused makes me impatient. Another minor thing that pulls me out of a story is "shoutouts." Shout outs to favorite bands, television shows, writers, etc. that are not integral to the plot. It doesn't usually ruin a story, but it often pulls me right out.

I like stories that make me feel passionate about how it will all end.

--Scott M. Roberts, Asst. Editor

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Lo'ihi Rising" by Geoff Cole - IGMS issue 15

A Yeast-Free Recipe to Make Lo'ihi Rise

By Geoffrey W. Cole

In the first year after their children were born, the original inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands would pile their families into their canoes and sail to the volcanic coast of Hawaii, the Big Island, in order to perform a ritual that ensured their children would have a long and happy life.

They walked inland to the field of hardened lava-rock where their parents had performed the same ritual when they were infants. Once settled in, they'd kneel beneath the hot sun and carve a hole in the porous. Then, they'd place the dried umbilical cord of their child in the hole, put a stone over the hole to keep the umbilical cord in place, and camp out for the night.

Above them, the active volcano Kilauea might spit smoke or lava, and sometimes mighty Mauna Loa would belch fire. It was a holy place, close to their gods. In the morning, if the umbilical cord was gone, their children could hope for a long and prosperous life.

My wife and I learned about this ritual during a trip to Hawaii & Maui in spring 2008. We were engaged at the time; she hoped to avoid planning a marriage by eloping on the islands, or as we liked to call it, getting Mauied. During the same visit to Volcanoes National Park, we learned that a new Hawaiian island was growing from the ocean floor southeast of Hawaii. In fifteen thousand to fifty thousand years, the seamount would rise above the waves to become a new island named Lo'ihi. I filed that tidbit of information away in the "oh so awesome what a great idea but it needs to ferment" drawer.

A few months after the tip, after my wife-to-be and I had settled back into our daily routine of work and lunch, and the warm sun of Hawaii seemed but a pleasant dream, I realized I needed to find a birthday present for my lovely fiancé. I opted for a story. Step one: it had to be a love story. Step two: I wanted to evoke our Hawaiian vacation. Step three: there was still a new island growing on the bottom of the Pacific. So I asked myself: what will happen when the new island is born? Real estate boom. The fact that my fiancé and I had been looking to buy a new home in Vancouver's hot pre-crash market helped fuel this speculation.

The world in which the story is set is loosely tied to a series of other short stories and novels I'm working on. For the setting, the history of the Big Island of Hawaii helped shape how the place looked in the future I imagined for it. Over the past couple hundred years, Hawaii has suffered more natural disasters than the average tropical paradise. Towns and villages and individuals have been wiped out by tsunamis, earthquakes, lava flows, ash fall, clouds of poisonous gas, mud slides, shark attacks, and bad shellfish.

Despite these disasters, the Hawaiian people (of all ethnicities) bounce back, re-build, and seem to live care-free lives despite the terror looming all around. My fiancé and I saw a grisly humour in these innumerable tragedies, so I wanted the future Hawaii to suffer her fair share of disasters.

I had a setting, I had an event around which the story would turn, all I needed was the lovers. Thank goodness the post-humans Fadid and Kabime (pronounced the Hawaiian way) came along. They received half the blessing that the ancient Hawaiians sought for their children in the rocks beneath Kilauea: Fadid and Kabime lived for a very long time. They lacked the other half of the Hawaiian blessing: they weren't happy.

How can love survive over decades, centuries, millennia? For my fiancé's birthday, I tried to answer those questions. And I speculated on the best way to cure sentient VDs.

Hey, it worked. She married me!

* * * *

"Lo'ihi Rising" by Geoff Cole is available now in issue 15 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show - issue 15 now available

IGMS issue 15 - November 2009


Body Language
by Mary Robinette Kowal
(amazing cover art by Howard Lyon)

Lo'ihi Rising
by Geoff Cole

Aim for The Stars
by Tom Pendergrass

Report of a Doubtful Creature
by Ian Creasy

Sweet As Honey
by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Orson Scott Card audio, reading
Tom Pendergrass's "Aim For The Stars"

Darell Schweitzer's Interviews with the Fantastic: Vernor Vinge

Tales For The Young and Unafraid
Get Out of Gym For Free, by David Lubar

continuing the serialization of OSC's collection of interlinked short stories with "Pagaent Wagon," from Folk of the Fringe

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Hunting Lodge" by Jon Crusoe, art by Walter Simon

by Jon Crusoe

When two members of a predator species meet, they follow a specific pattern of behavior in dealing with each other. Animal behaviorists have recorded this for years.

When members of two different predator species meet, unless one backs away, there’s usually a fight. And if both are evenly matched, it can mean mutual death.

The question arises as to what would happen if the two species were both intelligent as well as evenly matched. Hopefully, they would both realize that a fight might just mean the end – the total end – of both species.

Given that understanding (and a willingness on both sides to coexist), they would most likely see the need to establish mutually beneficial methods for dealing with each other.

One of these might be the need for a safety valve that allowed them to limit aggression toward each other. As they are both predators, the aggression would definitely be present.

One way would be to allow the more aggressive members of each race to fight in a specific place, with given rules and handicaps to allow a level playing field. With each combatant having an equal chance to kill the other, there would be less chance of the two races going to war than if one was to be simply killed by the other.

Another point is that many combat situations have become sports over the years. Karate, wrestling, the javelin, and others became sports. The Olympic biathlon that combines skiing and marksmanship came from ski troop training.

It would be an easy step for the safety valve that the two races employed to turn into an organized sport. Hunters from both races would flock to a place where they could hunt the most dangerous game they had ever faced.

Of course once that happened, there would be some who would object to the hunts and vilify the hunters. Some would do it for political reasons, some for racial reasons, and some would commit immoral acts because of their belief in a cause that they consider moral. In all of the above cases, it is a very small step from simple belief in a cause to outright fanaticism.

And when that belief does turn fanatical, people tend to begin dying. It is too easy for the fanatic to decide that some deaths are justifiable when working for The Cause.

Would some humans act this way? Absolutely. Would members of another race? Very possibly. The point is that we would have no way of knowing until we met another intelligent predator species.

This is one of the reasons that humans are one of the races involved in the story. We ground-dwelling, hairless apes are the only intelligent predator that we know of.

Another reason that humans were chosen (and more important to a starving author) is that humans will be paying for this story.

As to the choice of bears as the other race, bears are like humans in that they are primarily solitary hunters. Other predators could have been chosen, but most species tend to hunt in pairs or in packs.

Another factor is the ferocity of bears. Forget the 1950’s touchy-feely “nature” films from a mouse-loving studio. Bears are not cuddly, loving, and playful in the wild. Anyone who has ever seen a half-ton bear attacking with teeth that can be inches in length and slashing with claws longer than an adult person’s fingers is not going to want to get closer than effective rifle range.

Now imagine that this bear is intelligent and stalking its human prey. The human with the rifle might not even know that the bear is anywhere near until it breaks from cover in full charge. Unless the person with the rifle is very fast and very accurate, the bear will be the one to take home the trophy that day.

So if we bald apes ever get off this rock we call Earth in earnest, and we do make it to the stars, we just might encounter another predatory species. They might even look like bears.

And if we survive the initial contact and manage to open up a dialogue, we might find that we have more in common with them than initially thought. If that happens, there might someday be members of two races drinking together in a hunting lodge on the night before they try to kill each other.

* * * *

"Hunting Lodge" by Jon Crusoe is available now in issue 14 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show

Monday, November 09, 2009

Winning the WSFA Small Press Award - by Greg Siewert

I found out I was a finalist for the WSFA small press award over the summer, but I didn’t hear that I’d won until two weeks before the ceremony. I’d made the decision not to go simply because I live in California and Washington D.C. is on the other side of the country. I’m a winemaker and when I got the call from Edmund Schubert, the editor for "InterGalactic Medicine Show," I was working for a consulting client who has a micro-winery; he makes Sauvignon Blanc in his converted car port. "I was wondering if you could write something else for me" Edmund said. I didn’t know what he meant and I figured he was talking about a bio or something. Then he told me it was an acceptance speech. I couldn’t believe it.

The journey of "The Absence of Stars" was a weird one. The request for a re-write came long after I’d submitted it and I’d totally forgotten I had anything in submission. It was also a time when I wasn’t very focused on writing. I’m sure any aspiring writer can sympathize with the notion that finding time to write is sometimes the hardest part of the craft. "The Absence of Stars" is a long story, which took me half a year to write. I made the usual circuit of magazine submissions and then put it on the shelf, what else can you do? To find out that the story still had life, and that it was being considered by a magazine owned by Orson Scott Card, was really exciting.

I made it through the re-write process and they accepted it. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that if I’m writing 6 months from now, that encouragement out of the blue had a lot to do with it.

The nomination, and then later finding out I was a finalist, was a very gratifying thing. Banging away at something at home can be a pretty isolated experience. There’s no more difficult task than critiquing your own writing, and when you’re in the heat of creating something, how do you know it’s any good? To know that someone read your story and liked it, is a big deal.

I consider myself a "young" writer, but I mean that not in a chronological sense, (turning 36 canned that for me) but in terms of how much I’ve written. I had this idea, as I started writing science fiction, that I wanted to do my "version" of some familiar science fiction sub-genres. My story "God Loves the Infantry" got third place in the "Writer’s of the Future" Contest and represented my take on the "post-apocalypse urban hell-scape" as I envisioned it taking place in California. My unpublished novella "Boneman" was my take on the popular "demon escapes from hell" story. In my version, the demon is the protagonist and is strongly influenced by the super-hero genre. Anyway, this is all to explain that one of the most well-tread topics in science fiction is the "object is heading toward Earth" story. I knew I wanted to write one, and that was: "The Absence of Stars."

I had a few goals in writing this story that I felt would make it my own. First, the idea that the object(s) could be a hailstorm of black holes seemed really exciting. Second, I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t devote a single word to the consideration of who was and was not worthy of being evacuated. I’m not sure why I find that conversation so annoying and boring but I do. Third, the Earth doesn’t survive. So sad. Not the first story to take this approach but it was important to me. Finally, I’m an amateur physics buff and I wanted to use the story to explore some ideas and air out some opinions of mine about what relativity really means in terms of space exploration.

When I found out I won, I decided to make the trip and I have a confession to make; Capclave was my first science fiction convention. My friends Craig and Mary Beth live in D.C. and I decided that when it comes to writing, life doesn’t always give you a lot of opportunities so you should make the most of any that come along. I didn’t tell anybody that I’d won, not even my family or Craig and Mary Beth. I did this partially because I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone, and partially because I thought it would be more fun to keep my friends in suspense!

Capclave was great. It was really oriented toward writers. Every hour they had seminars in the different rooms of the hotel. I saw one seminar about the future of the space program and also saw an interview with the Guest of Honor; Harry Turtledove.

My friend Craig joined me for the ceremony and--still not having been told that I won--he was terribly excited and surprised at the result. It was really fun accepting the award and taking photos with the other finalists. After, Edmund was kind enough to show me one of the parties in the hotel and I had a fantastic time. I met a bunch of interesting and creative people and It’s a neat feeling to be around people you share a common passion with.

It was quite a bit of travel for such a short stay, but I have no regrets. Like I said earlier, writing is a craft that doesn’t always provide you with much encouragement, and it’s important to take advantage of any positive feedback that you get. Whatever keeps us writing!


Sunday, November 01, 2009

Welcome to Two New IGMS Assistant Editors

I'm very excited to announce the addition of two new assistant editors to the IGMS staff. My goal is to significantly improve the speed of the response times for all submissions, as well as increase our online/social networking presence. I also realized over this past summer (as I was recovering from surgery on my left shoulder) that things could get out of control pretty quickly, and with a second surgery coming up in a few weeks I wanted to make sure the magazine would keep moving forward even if I wasn't.

Toward that end, I have hired Scott Roberts for one of the assistant editor positions. His primary responsibilities will be setting up and maintaining an IGMS Facebook page, maintaining the IGMS blog, being active in the IGMS forum, and of course reading some of the submissions. Scott is a Writer's of the Future winner, having attended their workshop and been published in their annual anthology. He is also a graduate of Uncle Orson's Literary Boot Camp and has been published twice in our magazine (as well as the IGMS anthology released last year by Tor).

Assistant editor number two is Eric James Stone. If you read IGMS, you should know his name, becase his stories appear practically in every other issue. Eric is also a Writer's of the Future winner, also a graduate of OSC's Literary Boot Camp, and a graduate of the Odessey Writing Workshop as well. In addition to his IGMS publishing credits, he has also been published in various anthologies and multiple times in Analog. Eric will be taking on a healthy portion of the IGMS submissions.

I'm very excited to have both of these high quality people to work with. It's something I've wanted to put in place for quite a while now, and when I finally got the green light, I knew right away who my first choices would be. Now I've got them both, and I couldn't be happier.

Congrats, Scott and Eric, and welcome to the Show!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Free IGMS Reading

Another hearty congratulations to Greg Siewert, whose story, "The Absence of Stars" won this year's WSFA award for Best Story of 2008. "The Absence of Stars" is a novelette that was published in two parts, in issues 10 and 11.

Also, congratulations to James Maxey, whose story "Silent As Dust" from issue 7 was one of the other finalists for this year's award. James' story was also selected for inclusion in The Year's Best Fantasy and Science Fiction 2009 edited by Rich Horton.

To celebrate, IGMS is making both of these stories free for everyone to read until the end of 2009. Dive in and enjoy! Just go to the IGMS homepage, click on the announcement at the top of that page, and get reading.

Monday, October 19, 2009

IGMS Story Wins WSFA Award for Best Short Story of 2008

Congratulations (again) to James Maxey, who got an Honorable Mention at the WSFA Small Press Awards for his story "Silent As Dust," and an extra-large congratulations to Greg Siewert, who was the winner for "The Absence of Stars - Part One." There was an ongoing humorous bit after the award was handed out, when people kept asking Greg when he was going to write part two. I say humorous, because the story was already complete; I sent the whole thing in to the committee when I nominated it. But because part one was published in the last issue of 2008 (the year being considered for the award) and part two was published in the first issue of 2009, the award was officially given to part one. After a while (a very short while, to tell the truth) we got tired of explaining it and started having fun with people, making silly stuff up. Greg was a great guy and it was a pleasure to meet him in person.

Personally, I was particularly happy with the win (even if all I got was a certificate, when last year they gave the author AND the editor an engraved crystal thingamabob for their efforts). Partly it was because John Joseph Adams had two stories nominated from an anthology he edited, and IGMS had two stories nominated, so we made up more than half of the finalists between us and had been ribbing each other on and off throughout the convention about who was and wasn't going to win. But mostly I was happy because it was the first outright win for an IGMS story. We've had stories nominated for awards before, but this was the first time one of my authors went home with some hardware (and a nice check, too). So a great big thanks to Greg for getting IGMS over that hump and into the winner's circle.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

CapClave 2009

Heading up to Rockville, MD for CapClave; Oct. 16 - 18. It's a great literary SF convention -- no games, no costumes, no TV or movie stuff; just authors, editors, publishers, and the occasional agent. Also home of the WSFA's small press award ceremony, for which there are two IGMS stories on the list of finalists for best short story of 2008. For full convention details, see the CapClave website.

My own schedule is as follows:

Capclave 2009

Fri 7pm Plaza ‐ Alternate Dogcatchers

Participants: Jim Freund (m), Harry Turtledove, Tom Doyle, Michael Flynn, Edmund Schubert

What makes a good alternate history work and bad ones fail? What points of depature do you change?

How do you build a good alternate history? What alt histories aren't done that we would like to see?

Fri 8:30pm Twinbrook ‐ Reading: Edmund Schubert

Sat 12am RandolphWriters Workshop

Participants: Allen Wold (m), Davey Beauchamp, Edmund Schubert

Allen Wold and friends will help you become a better writer. Bring paper and a writing implement. All

else will be explained at the beginning of the session

Sat 1pm RandolphWriters Workshop

Participants: Allen Wold (m), Davey Beauchamp, Edmund Schubert

(part 2 of writers workshop)

Sat 3pm Montrose ‐ Save the Magazines!

Participants: Edmund Schubert (m), Scott Andrews, C. Alen Loewen, Karen Newton, George Scithers,

Shelia Williams

What can be done to save the magazines? Asimov's circulation, once 100,000 is down to 17,000 F&SF

even fewer. Is it worth saving? Are magazines doomed? Can Internet save the magazines? What will

replace them?

Book signing schedule


10am Harry Turtledove and Shelia Williams

11am Ed Lerner and Michael Flynn

12pm Andrew Fox and C. Alan Loewan

1pm Dan Danvers and Michael Swanwick

2pm Mindy Klasky, A.C. Crispin, and James Morrow

3pm Alan Smale, Eric Choi, and James Maxey

4pm Lawrence Watt Evans, Catherine Asaro and Donald Walcott (after their concert)

5pm Diane Arrelle, Dr. Lawrence Schoen, and Edmund Schubert

Sat 9pm Plaza ‐ Small Press Award

Participants: WSFA and the nominees

Who will win the annual WSFA small press award? Come and see. Celebrate with cake.

Sun 11am Plaza ‐ Paranormal Versus Urban Fantasy

Participants: Scott Andrews (m), Catherine Asaro, Karen Newton, Edmund Schubert, Jean‐Marie Ward,

Diane Weinstein

Is paranormal romance just another name for urban fantasy? If not, what is the distinction? How do

writers determine the right balance between paranormal and romance? Is it just classic boy meets girl or

does a paranormal being make it different.

Sun 2pm Randolphh ‐ Online Fiction

Participants: Brenda Clough (m), Diane Arrelle, Edmund Schubert, J.J. Smith, Sean Wallace

Is the fiction published in online magazines different from that in the print magazines and if so, how?

What online fiction sources are the best? How do readers and writers find out about online sources?

Friday, October 02, 2009

Pretidigitation - by Philip Powell - IGMS issue 14 audio

Prestidigitation - A Tale of Stolen Fingers

Written by Philip Powell

Illustration by Tom Barker

Performed by Philip Powell, Tommy Trull, Melanie Wallace, Jim McKeny, Billy Christiansen, Tom Barker

Verse bored me. It was my dirty little secret. E-Gads! My snobby friends would have shunned me. By randomly quoting snippets of Moliere I avoided their suspicion. But internally, verse made my eyes roll.

Until, I read "Le Bete" by David Hirson, wonderful play written in the late 80's that had rhyming verse. What was different? It was a modern playwright who had written something for a modern audience. I had been fooled all those years when reading Shakespeare or similar. I thought it was the verse that I didn't care for. But come to find out, the problem was all the anachonistic language. It got in the way of my comprehending the text. Once I actually understood what was being said, verse and I became fast friends.

This piece started out as a script for a NYC 24 hour film contest. The story had to be about a clown, at a party…oh…and it had to be in rhyming verse. So, I ripped out a few verses…but we ultimately went in a different direction. There it sat on my desktop for two years. Until a tag line hit me out of the blue one day. “A tale of stolen fingers” I mused “who would have to the most to lose if his fingers were stolen?” A magician I suppose. Hmmm..that sounds a bit like that piece I started a few years back.” The rhyming verse was already in place so I just went with it.

I learned a lot during the process. The confines were good, as I had to think very carefully about what I was doing. Every word was precious. I had 12 syllables per line, all of their accents had to hit the beat, it had to rhyme…oh, and manage to be funny. Prose never seemed so liberating.

* * * *

Prestidigitation - A Tale of Stolen Fingers

Written by Philip Powell

Performed by Philip Powell, Tommy Trull, Melanie Wallace, Jim McKeny, Billy Christiansen, Tom Barker

is available now in issue 14 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

“For Want of Chocolate” - by J.F. Lewis - IGMS issue 14


Something is terribly wrong with Edmund. It’s a well known fact that I can’t sell a short story to save my life. Well. Known. Fact! And then Edmund goes and buys “For Want of Chocolate” putting me in this weird place where I have to stop saying that I’ve never sold a short story. Flat out cruelty. That’s what it is. And from a certain point of view cruelty is what the short story is all about.

Usually, I’m not a short story guy. Write a novel? Oh, yeah. For a short story, though, an idea has to explode into my head fully formed… and in general, I have to finish the thing in a week or it transforms into a novel. Take “For Want of Chocolate.” FWoC started as a blog post about how the vampires in my Void City series can’t eat and how that has driven them to participate in a sort of voyeuristic eating where they make humans dine on what they, the vampires, crave but cannot have. At the end of the post, I asked readers what food they’d miss the most if they became a vampire. Chocolate won hands down… which, given that I don’t really like chocolate, intrigued me.

Around the same time, I was invited to do a reading (I won’t say where) and *after* I accepted, the person in charge asked if I would please make sure to keep it clean. We’ve since laughed about it, but it seemed like a very odd (almost cruel) request at the time. My first novel, Staked, was the only book I had out, and to be frank, the main character is a veteran who runs a strip club and his language is… peppery at best. So, the week before the reading, I wrote the first draft of “For Want of Chocolate” as a vehicle for introducing the way my vampires work, with a fair dose of the humor folks have come (hopefully) to expect from the novels, but without the colorful expletives.

Obviously, the story became more than that… the characters became real and made their own choices and decisions, which is what I’m always shooting for when I write.

Haley, the main character in “For Want of Chocolate” is a newly turned vampire coming to the realization that she can’t eat chocolate anymore. Having her realize that simple fact while standing in front of a Godiva store is my little jab at the chocolate lovers out there and an attempt to awaken in chocolate lovers that craving which never completely goes away. The first time I read the story, people went out and bought chocolate. The second time I read it (at a convention) it was as part of a group reading and two of my fellow authors threatened to kill me if I ever again read the story in their presence when no chocolate was available… threats which made me glow inside, because that is exactly the reaction I wanted. Could the guy who doesn’t really like chocolate make people who do like it crave it? It worked on Edmund. Hopefully, it will work on you, too… and if all works as planned, you won’t have any chocolate at hand either.


If you enjoy “For Want of Chocolate,” you can check out more tales of Void City in Staked and its sequel ReVamped. A third book in the series and a proposal for a fourth are on my editor’s desk, so hopefully you won’t have long to wait for those either. If I have my way, Haley will have her own novel eventually too, in which the lack of chocolate will be the least of her worries.

* * * *

"For Want of Chocolate" by J.F. Lewis is available now in issue 14 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Shadow of Turning" by Joan Savage - IGMS, issue 14

I was stuck in a short story I was working on; so much so that I decided I needed to leave it for a while, give it a break. But it was the same with everything I had on the go. I’d open a file, stare at a story and the story would stare back, but that was it. I was stuck.

A change, I decided, was in order. I needed something new to work on, just for an afternoon, but I didn’t have any ideas for new projects either. Having been recently introduced to the concept of random plot generators I thought, I’ll have some fun, fool around, and then get back to work. So I found a website with a random plot generator and this is what it gave me: “The theme of this story: allegorical action. The main character: focused pedlar. The start of the story: reconciliation. The end of the story: revelation.”

Allegorical action didn’t interest me but reconciliation and revelation are loaded words, rich with connotations. The pedlar came easily—I’m fascinated by vagrant lifestyles and their hardships, and a suffering character always intrigues me. For reconciliation I grabbed the first thought that came to hand: the pedlar had an estranged son.

I began to write as the pedlar walked up to his son’s hut; a snake happened to slither past, just minding its own business and not intending to be part of any story at all. Then father met son and the pedlar began to speak backwards.

I was shocked.

Stories, I know, come from our subconscious, which always knows what it’s doing, but I often wish it would let the rest of my brain in on the process.

I wrote through to the end of their dialogue but then, because I really didn’t know what I was doing, the story stopped. I had had my fun and went back to my other projects. But there was something about the pedlar that intrigued me, something that kept me thinking about him and mulling over his story. He was a character I wanted to spend more time with.

So, after many months, I pulled the story out again and this time sat down in earnest to find out why the pedlar was looking for his son, why he was cursed, and why snakes kept turning up when I kept trying to get rid of them. The result is “Shadow of Turning.”

* * * *

"Shadow of Turning" by Joan Savage is available now in issue 14 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show

Monday, September 21, 2009

"On Horizon's Shores" - by Aliette deBodard

"On Horizon's Shores" actually started as an earth-based story. I wanted to write something in the future, in a world where global warming had made the sea levels rise drastically, and where the depleted stocks of petrol were replaced with fuel culled from huge algae fields.

I ran into a snag at the research stage, though.

It turns out that the Earth is incredibly hard to flood: even supposing that both ice caps melt, the global sea level rise would be a few dozen meters--not really a spectacular flood, but more a gnawing-away of the coastlines. To be fair, it would still have meant catastrophes (there are, naturally, a lot of cities on the seashores), but nothing on the scale I wanted for the story. I brainstormed it a bit with my boyfriend, who doubles as my science consultant, but couldn't find any way to flood Earth that would feel realistic to me.

So I moved the story in space: the sea became that of another planet, and the protagonists expatriate Earthmen. Because I still wanted them to have been influenced by the sea-level rise, I had Thi Loan come from one of the flooded regions (the Mekong Delta, which is very low-altitude and would be one of the first massive tracts of land to go), and her husband Alex come from one of the safer areas--thus making him unable to understand in a visceral way the trauma of losing your home.

The aliens came from another story I had been sitting on for a while, one about language and how different physiologies would have different ways of expressing themselves. We use our vocal chords because that's the most practical way of communicating we have, but what if we could use some other signals, like the colours of our ruffs, or pheromones? That would imply a radically different way of thinking--in fact, it would make translation (already a chancy exercise from one human language to another) impossibly hard. In order to translate, you'd have to become the aliens.

The idea spoke a lot to me, as I'm always fascinated by people who have to stand on a boundary of some kind--most probably because as a half-French, half-Vietnamese who writes in English, I'm already standing on a lot of boundaries myself.

And, of course, you'll have spotted the trouble by now: I'd been piling up a lot of things in this story (and that's not even counting the galactic background, which has India spearheading the space race and Asia gradually ascending to take the place of the Western World).

When the time came to actually write an opening, I was juggling too many balls. The first attempt in media res left my first reader hopelessly baffled (I could tell by the number of question marks he left in the margins of the draft); the second attempt was good old-fashioned infodumping, several pages' worth of it. Fortunately, Edmund is a dab hand with the prose scissors: he cut away just the right amount of the opening, and devoted some of his awesome editing skills to the rest of my story until it all flowed much more smoothly.

* * * *

"On Horizon's Shores" by Aliette deBodard is available now in issue 14 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show

To learn more about the author, visit her website at:

Friday, September 18, 2009

now available - IGMS, Issue 14

IGMS - Issue 14

On Horizon's Shores - by Aliette deBodard

Judgment of Sword and Souls - by Saladin Ahmed

Shadow of Turning - by Joan Savage

For Want of Chocolate - by J.F. Lewis

Hunting Lodge - by Jon Crusoe

Bonus Audio - Prestidigitation - by Philip Powell, adapted by Tom Barker

continuing the serialization of OSC's collection of interlinked short stories with "Fringe," from Folk of the Fringe

and Darrell Schweitzer's interview with Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson about their latest release in the Dune saga

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

2009 WSFA Small Press Award – Two IGMS Finalists

Here's a nice bit of news I just got:

WSFA Small Press Award – Finalists for 2009

The Washington Science Fiction Association is pleased to announce the finalists for the 2009 WSFA Small Press Award for Short Fiction. The WSFA is based in Washington DC and covers the capitol, as well as the greater Baltimore MD metro area.

The award honors the efforts of small press publishers in providing a critical venue for short fiction in the area of speculative fiction. The award showcases the best original short fiction (up to 17,500 words) published by small presses in the previous year (2008). An unusual feature of the selection process is that all voting is done with the identity of the author (and publisher) hidden so that the final choice is based solely on the quality of the story.

The winner is chosen by the members of the Washington Science Fiction Association ( and will be presented at their annual convention, Capclave (, held this year on October 16-18th in Rockville, Maryland.

Listed alphabetically (by story title), the seven finalists are:

“Drinking Problem” by K.D. Wentworth, published in Seeds of Change, edited by John Joseph Adams, Prime Books (August, 2008).

“Hard Rain at the Fortean Café” by Lavie Tidhar, published in issue 14 of Aeon Speculative Fiction Magazine, edited by Bridget McKenna.

“His Last Arrow” by Christopher Sequeira, published in Gaslight Grimoire: Fantastic Tales of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Jeff Campbell and Charles Prepolec, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, (October, 2008).

“Silent as Dust” by James Maxey, published in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, edited by Edmund R. Schubert, Hatrack Publishing (January, 2008).

“Spider the Artist” by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, published in Seeds of Change, edited by John Joseph Adams, Prime Books (August, 2008)

“The Absence of Stars: Part 1” by Greg Siewert, published in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, edited by Edmund R. Schubert, Hatrack Publishing (December, 2008).

“The Toy Car” by Luisa Maria Garcia Velasco, (translated from Spanish by Ian Watson) published in April 2008 edition of Aberrant Dreams, edited by Joseph W. Dickerson.

Two for IGMS is, of course, great news, but the thing I like most about this particular award is that it really is about the story. With the judges not knowing who the author is or what publication it appeared in, there's nothing left but the story. That's the way it ought to be...

Friday, September 04, 2009

"The Hologram Bride" - by Jackie Gamber

Picture This…

By Jackie Gamber

What makes a woman consider spending the rest of her life with a man she’s never met? What makes a man think a woman could be happy with that kind of situation? Arranged marriage is a concept as old as time, and despite cultural advancements, it still goes on today, even in the U.S.

The particular germ that grew Hologram Bride for me as a writer came when I learned of the “Picture Bride” unions between Asian women and Japanese sugar plantation workers in Hawaii between 1908 and 1924. Because of immigration laws, marriages were arranged strictly by photographs. Can you imagine? They say a picture paints a thousand words, but for me, it’s still not enough of an introduction for a lifetime relationship.

But if one can define success of these unions by their population impact, then Picture Bride marriages were successful, indeed. By 1930, over 100,000 offspring were birthed. Now…if, say, in a future world setting, that sort of number meant the difference between the life of a culture and the death of it, or perhaps even a planet…could a union-by-hologram be a viable answer?

And that’s how I met Karla Jean Tremont, a strong-willed main character who finds the concept of interplanetary breeding “disgusting”; yet she’s forced there by a lack of options. And on the other side of things, there’s Ragin Dar’el, her husband-to-be and native to the planet Reisas, who has his own concerns about the arrangement.

Reisas has its complicated history of political and social ups and downs, and is in the throes of trying to recover from devastating failures. I attempted to do away with the “Star Trek” version of a planet, where all citizens wear the same haircut, buy from the same tailor, and hold the same sort of technology-based occupation. Rather, Reisas is technologically advanced, but has become aware of the harm that technology has caused. As a result, it’s a curious mixture of the primitive and advanced. And its citizens are intelligent, educated, sensitive—in varying degrees.

In fact, it may be Karla herself, a centuries-forward human, who is the least evolved here. She’s young and stubborn, and her ignorance of foreign culture makes her seem downright rude. She’s too willing to believe in stereotypes, too quick to judge…and yet her anger gives her an edge she’s certainly going to need.

In Hologram Bride, Karla lands on Reisas against her will; the last thing on her mind is becoming a solution to a planet’s survival. But in the end, she may just be the one for the job.


"Hologram Bride - Part 2" by Jackie Gamber is available now in issue 13 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show. Part 1 appears in issue 12.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

"Beautiful Winter" - by Eugie Foster

My second story to appear in IGMS, "Beautiful Winter" is another fairy-tale re-imagining like "Beauty's Folly," this one inspired from the Russian "Morozko" tale (also known as "Father Winter" or "Jack Frost"). The parallel in titles is totally unintentional, I swear, although I now have an urge to write a story with a multiword title (longer than two, at least) that doesn't contain any variation on "beauty." Maybe something like "Dueling Ray Guns among the Unsightly Denizens of Betelgeuse V." Odds are it'd probably still end up as a fairy tale.

Jumping on the rich literary bandwagon of stories personifying winter — from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" and C.S. Lewis's White Witch to the Japanese Yuki-onna and Norse Vetr — "Beautiful Winter" is one of several stories I've written which have as a central character winter anthropomorphized. It's a primal, visceral desire, very human, to control or otherwise understand that which is inexplicable and arbitrary: death and nature, both exemplified by winter. And I suspect my subconscious is trying to work through my unresolved issues with the cold.

I grew up in the Midwest, where the winters are long, bitter, and brutal. I moved to the South in part because I hate northern winters: the miserable, muscle-clenching stiffness; scraping windshields and shoveling driveways while blasted by subzero squalls; and hurrying over icy sidewalks, scourged between the contrary spurs of "must get inside before my face freezes off" and "must not slip on the ice, break both legs, and die of hypothermia."

But I remember one winter night as I was rushing home from the bus station, head down and shoulders hunched — both to shield myself from the gale and to watch for treacherous patches of black ice — when suddenly the wind died. I glanced up and was treated to a sight so indescribably lovely that I came to a standstill, my painfully numb fingers and toes forgotten. The park was awash in moonlight, the silver light glittering from frosted evergreen trees and spangled snow. I'm not sure how long I stood there, awestruck. And when the wind picked up and I resumed my trek home, my steps were leisurely instead of hurried. I remember craning my neck to admire icicles adorning branches like jewels and snow blanketing the world beneath a layer of soft, forgiving white.

So while I really, really hate winter, there's a part of me which is fascinated by it, in love with its cool splendor and innate dichotomy — the cruel and pitiless cold married with exquisite snowscapes, sparkling, silent, and achingly beautiful. Still, I never want to have to endure a Midwestern winter again.

For folks curious about my other winter-inspired stories:

  • "The Snow Woman's Daughter" is a retelling of the Japanese Yuki-onna snow woman folktale, originally published in the Feb. 2007 issue of Cricket, podcast in Escape Pod in Sept. 2007, and reprinted in my short story collection, Returning My Sister's Face: And Other Far Eastern Tales of Whimsy and Malice (Norilana Books, 2009).
  • "Honor is a Game Mortals Play" is my second treatment of the Japanese Yuki-onna folktale, originally published in the anthology Heroes in Training (DAW Books, 2007) and reprinted in my short story collection, Returning My Sister's Face. Yuki-onna is one of my favorite stories, and I didn't feel like I'd gotten it fully out of my system with "The Snow Woman's Daughter." Actually, I still don't feel like I'm done with it. Maybe a novel?
  • "The Reign of the Wintergod" was written in reaction to the Andrea Yeats case, originally published in the horror anthology The Asylum Volume 3: The Quiet Ward (Prime Books, 2003) and then podcast in Pseudopod in April, 2009.

* * * *

"Beautiful Winter" by Eugie Foster is available now in issue 13 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Command Transfer" by Darren Egget - IGMS issue 13

Once in a while a writers group I associate with holds a Weekend Warrior contest. For five weekends in a row participants are given a story seed and have Saturday and Sunday to write a piece of flash fiction that's then turned in to the group and judged. I'd completed the first three weeks of the competition, but on the fourth weekend I was booked solid. I decided the best way to deal with the stress was to just skip the contest that weekend. So when the story seeds went out that Saturday morning, I glanced over them, but didn't think much about it.

Apparently no one told my subconscious.

An hour before the contest deadline, inspiration struck. I knew exactly who the protagonist was. I knew his situation and how he would deal with it. I couldn't choke off the idea -- it demanded to be written. So I booted up the laptop and jotted off the first draft of Command Transfer.

It did surprisingly well in the competition. Some of the comments I received, however, told me that the story was too long at 750 words; if I could trim it to 500 words, they said, I might really have something.

Keeping that criticism in mind, when I sat down to write the second draft I naturally wrote a two-thousand word story instead. Yes, it was longer, but it felt tighter. Extra background and detail added a lot to the character and the setting. I was much happier with it.

I'm absolutely thrilled that this little story, the one that twice refused to stay bottled up, is now my first pro-market publication.

* * * *

"Command Transfer" by Darren Egget is available now in issue 13 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show