Monday, August 30, 2010

Mystery of Miranda—David A. Simons

Like most science fiction fans, I'm fascinated by exploration. Unmapped islands, hidden caves, lost continents, and of course, uncharted class M planets. I decided to write a story about a man obsessed with exploration, living in a near future where there was little available to explore.

I worked out the setting and the plot quickly. The story would mystery of miranda take place on Miranda, a mysterious, fractured moon in the outer solar system. My narrator--the explorer--would rappel down a deep canyon, with several contrarian companions. A mystery would build about the canyon's nature, which would be solved at the bottom. I figured I was ready to write, and that the story would go smoothly.

I wasn't, and it didn't. This story was a major struggle for me. I nearly abandoned it several times, including after submission.

In the first draft, there was no Shelley. The narrator's foil was a scientist named de Marco, who argued with Lance about the purpose of exploration. The story was pedantic, and Lance's decision at the end seemed petty, rather than resonant or cathartic. I trashed it and started over.

In v2, I replaced de Marco with Shelley, the ex girlfriend, hoping to give Lance more internal conflict. The second draft was better, but I still did not have a feel for the narrator's voice, and hisimage actions still felt forced. I sent the draft to some of my Clarion West classmates and a few others for critiques. All of them told me the story had some good elements (mainly the setting), but they weren't buying the character's decisions, and suggested various revisions. Radical revisions.

At this point, I was tired of the story and anxious to move on to something new. So I convinced myself that the good outweighed the flaws, patched it up a bit, added more symbolic imagery (always a bad sign), and sent it off.

In March, I got an email from Edmund saying that one of his assistant editors had recommended the story, and that he was interested in publishing it, but felt that the main character's motivation needed more development. (Well, if you've ever received comments from Edmund, they were a bit more colorful than that. For example, in his redline, he wrote: "Why Why Why is Lance so blessedly obsessed with being first???")

I re-read the story with fresh eyes. I not only agreed with Edmund, I was embarrassed that I'd let the story out the door. I could see clearly now that I'd committed a cardinal Scribner's sin--I'd let idea and outline dictate the action, rather than conflict and character.

image Edmund waited patiently for several months while I reworked the story. I made Lance's relationship with Shelley the focus, rather than the subplot. I added all of the back-story from Mars, tightened the pacing, and gave the minor characters (Wil and Catherine) a bit more to do and say. I also completely rewrote the dialogue and the ending.

Does the story work now? I hope it does for some. As a writer, I learned a valuable lesson: don't force a story. No doubt, I'll re-learn that lesson over and over again.

--David A. Simons

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sideshow Arcade: Arkham Horror

Summer has ended.  Not the season, of course, but the frantic days of vacation and adventure.  Stow the tents; cover the grill.  Take out a second mortgage to purchase school supplies for the rising generation of Einsteins, Shakespeares, and Churchills.  A return to school means a return to a schedule.  For me and my friends, a schedule means that we can reliably forsake homes and loved ones one night a month, abscond to a darkened basement and satisfy our craving for…board games.

Arkham Horror is on of my current favorites.  Not for the faint of heart, it finds its inspiration in the Cthulhu mythos of HP Lovecraft and his literary descendants.  It is a cooperative game of investigation, and otherworldly terror—you and your teammates play a group of intrepid investigators, bent on uncovering the dark creature behind ongoing weirdly happenings in the town of Arkham, Mass. 

It’s a bit like an role-playing game in that players choose characters with different abilities.  One character may be a sharp 84px-MichaelMcGlenMarker shooting mob boss; another a mentally resilient nun.  Victory over the forces of darkness doesn’t increase your stats, but you can use the victories to purchase limited upgrades for your character.  While it is constrained by typical boardgame considerations  (play is fairly linear, and there’s not a lot of incentive to deviate or innovate), it succeeds in setting a frantic pace for survival.  Within the first few rounds, even novice players get the feeling that this ain’t no Chutes-n-Ladders.  Maybe if the Ladders led to a dark forest lair, inhabited by Shubb-Niggurath, Goat of a Thousand Young.   Or if the chutes dropped you into Hibbs roadhouse, where the thugs may be as more than unwelcoming…they may be downright BACK predatory.  Monsters are generated quickly, and the locales in Arkham are decidedly non-urbane.  The overall goal of the game is to keep the Ancient Horror that slumbers beneath, above, or within Arkham asleep; failing that, it is to defeat the Abomination when it awakens. 

Gameplay is complex at first.  I’m afraid to say that it took me a couple gaming sessions to really understand the game.  The payoff, in my opinion is worth it.  Each game turn is divided into phases, which each player takes his turn with.  There are 5 phases which can be tiresome until the process is understood by all the players.  Once learned, the flow becomes much more natural.  There are a billion little pieces to keep track of; one wonders if the manufacturers owns stock in Cardboards-R-Us.

Another ding against the game: its manual qualifies as a tome.  The art is nice, and it’s written clearly and well, but there’s no escaping the fact that its a manuscript.  It can be daunting for new players.  I highly suggest that when you start out, get the PDF of the rules and keep a laptop nearby so that you can search for rules more quickly.

My final criticism of the game is this: the build-up to the Ancient One’s awakening is tough.  I mean, this is a game with the ability to make you worry about its outcome.  It’s emotionally perilous, even, and so successful.  You’ve been playing this character for an hour or two; you’re invested in his or her success, but the game is a beast.  Monsters and bad guys patrol the streets, and you’ve only barely scraped by with your health and sanity in check.  Then comes the Big Bad; you’ve failed in your attempt to keep it asleep, to safeguard reality from the onslaught of Cthulhu or Hastur, or Nyarlanthotep… the only thing to do is to mount a desperate attempt to beat back its influence.  Paltry hope!  Deadly foe!

Except…not.  To date, the Big Bad has been pathetically easy for my group to beat.  The rest of the game is a gauntlet; the Ancient One is a cakewalk by comparison.

Those things said, it’s still a successful implementation.  I’ll also note that there are a number of house rules and help available on the internet to mitigate all these problems.

So what are you waiting for?  Arkham and her horrors await…

--Scott M. Roberts

Fnagh! Eo waghet!  Cthulhu p’nang ano!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sideshow Links: August 25, 2010

Minneapolis Will Pay Zombies: Oh, crap. The lawyers are working for the undead. The possibilities are gut-wrenching.

Coca-cola camouflage: This outfit may work against drunk men intent on harassing you. I question its utility against anyone else. Especially zombies.

Mural: The Game: An interesting experiment in physics and art. Mona Lisa go splodey! Perhaps the one sure-fire way to distract zombies in their march toward city hall: they love to slowly take off her skull and put it back, and take it off again…

The Truth About Bacon: Well…the truth as I’d like it to be. I wonder if brains taste like bacon to a zombie?

--Scott M. Roberts

Asst. Shambler

Monday, August 23, 2010

How About It, Roomie?

Every time I'm reminded of this story I feel like it's a requirement to have a poster slapped on my chest disclaiming that I'm not a roomie psychopath. But you do have to delve a bit into insanity to be a successful writer. When I began writing "How about it, Roomie?" I had a few roommates in the past and from what I'd experienced as well as others I had previously joked with, roommates can be disastrous. But it couldn't be all that bad. Roommates come and go. It could be worse. Then I thought, "It could be MUCH worse." You never look at a roommate and think they're completely bananas after the first meeting. Then they begin walking around in their underwear. In "How about it, Roomie?" I thought that the subtle interview maybe wasn't so subtle this time around. How would it be if your interview went horribly wrong. I mean horribly!

In the first draft I had it so that the interviewee was already in power and that the interviewer no longer had a choice in the matter, being tied up - so the question "How about it?" was rhetorical. My inspiration came from looking at movies like Psycho and chuckling under my breath. From enjoying Zombie movies because zombies are not scary, but silly. I think that's how this story was written. Let's be afraid of the dark truths of reality - but laugh a little while doing it. But, when you look at it - roommates are crazy, but never this bad. Read it however you like, gain whatever message you see in this short tale of strange. I hope you enjoy it. After all, who doesn't enjoy a bit of twisted dark humor every now and again?

--Chase Guymon

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Anatomy of Melancholyanisaurus…

(There’s no such thing as a Melancholyanisaurus)

However, this article on dinosaur anatomy and all the cool details paleontologists are learning was soo freaking cool I had to share it. 

Claws, Jaws, and Spikes: The Science of the Dinosaur Arsenal

Not just words…but pictures! 

Dinosaurs, the science of defending oneself, an examination of precise meat-eating techniques…It’s like Man Day at!

--Scott M. Roberts

Asst. Stegosaurus

Monday, August 16, 2010

Adam Colston—The Quanta of Art

The Quanta of Art was first imagined during the security-check at Bristol Airport, prior to boarding a flight to Turkey last year. I don’t think it was the act of shoe-removal or the uncomfortably intimate pat-down by a large, humorless guy that triggered the quanta of art idea, but the x-ray devices and the scanners themselves.
I am not asserting, by the way, that particles leaked from these devices, then crashed into the soggy grey mush inside my skull and fired the appropriate neurons -- et voila -- The Quanta of Art was born.

No -- it was simpler than that.

As I bent down to re-tie my shoelaces, a character occurred to me: a guy who’d had radical surgery to implant all manner of weird and wonderful technology on and himself--scanners, etc. He looked horrific, but he’d be someone we’d pity, not fear.

So, he was a beast…so what about a beauty? Why did he do this to himself ? As a matter of fact, who is telling the story and why? Questions, questions and more questions hit me as I stood and grabbed my freshly irradiated stuff from the x-ray machines conveyor belt…

As I sat in the departure lounge, and later on the plane, I typed up a simplified version of the story and sent it to my buddy, Frank. By the end of my week in Turkey, the story had been enhanced, layered, motivations defined and the ending completed.

I subbed the story to the Writers of the Future contest, but it was removed from consideration when I won the previous quarter. I was later told by the judge, K.D. Wentworth, that she’d loved the story and had selected it as a finalist before getting the message to pull it.

Next, it went to straight to InterGalactic Medicine Show and my thanks to Eric and Edmund for enjoying enough to pick it from the slush.



Tuesday, August 10, 2010

IGMS #18 Preview

Intergalactic Medicine Show #18 is LIVE, featuring the following stories:

trinity-county-CA_small Peter S. Beagle returns to IGMS with a rip-roaring tale of two dragon control officers in Trinity County, CA.

Be prepared to get surreal in Willam T. Vandemark’s  forcing coin_smallForcing Coin. What’s life without a little mystery, the protagonist asks.


Stultifying, comes the answer from another story on the opposite end of the genre spectrum. Every square inch of old Earth is mystery of miranda_small known, measured, mapped—but there’s a great big solar system out there, if Lance can just get there. Places to go, mysteries to see—and none more startling than David Simon’s The Mystery of Miranda.


quanta of art_small Change your venue, change your mind (literally) with British author Adam Colston’s The Quanta of Art. Ah, modern art! You might be skeptical at first—the story’s hapless gallery owner, Mr. Whistler is. But, like I said…you’ll change your mind once you behold Violix’s latest work. Careful not to stare too long…

roomie_small Think you’ve got roommate troubles? Could be worse. Could be much, much worse, according to Chase Guymon’s How about it, Roomie?


And finally, someone named Orson Scott Card considers eye for eye 2_small bioelectrical energy, family ties, love, Biblical-style vengeance, religion, race, and bad makeup in part two of Eye for Eye.


All this plus interviews, audio recordings, fantastic artwork, and more in Intergalactic Medicine Show #18!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Now Live at the InterGalactic Medicine Show - IGMS Issue 18

Issue 18 - August 2010

Trinity County, CA - by Peter S. Beagle (100-mile-an-hour fun dragon story)
The Mystery of Miranda - by David Simons (planetary exploration)
The Quanta of Art - by Adam Colston (art is life (or vice versa))
Forcing Coin - by William T. Vandemark (too strange, you'll just have to read it for yourself)
How About It Roomie - by Chase Guyman (one of Orson's writing students at SVU, where the boss occasionally teaches)
Part Two of Orson Scott Card's novella, An Eye For An Eye
Forcing Coin is also our audio story for the month

Darrell Schweitzer interviews Richard Lupoff
...and a guest editorial by Mark Van Name, whose novel was just released and the profits from the hardcover go to support a very worthwhile charity

Thursday, August 05, 2010

By The Numbers—A Brief Look at IGMS Submissions

I thought this might be interesting to some people. 

Some disclaimers:

1) I am one of four assistant editors in IGMS.  (Sara and Eric’s numbers are likely to be MUCH higher)

2) I don’t keep track of their numbers.

3) Edmund Schubert is a slave-driving werewolf vampire android.  The arithmetic he employs is unrecognizable to anyone in this dimension.  I urge you, on peril of your sanity, to not consider it.

A sample of 386 submissions reveals the following:

64 submissions passed to the slavering, hairy, fanged robot.

161 submissions recommended for form rejection

187 submissions recommended for personal rejection

NOW.  Of those 64 accepted:

21 were Science Fiction

1 was horror

23 were Fantasy

19 untracked

“Untracked” because I wasn’t keeping details when I started slushing.  I paid dearly for my lack of diligence; those months in Edmund Schubert’s Asylum/Salt Mine for the Clinically Non-Precognizant have taught me a valuable lesson. 

Let’s assume that the genre percentages remain the same for those 19.  My math gives me +9 stories for science fiction, +10 stories for Fantasy, and +1 story for Horror. 

“AHA!” you cry.  “Witness the failure of the American educational system!  YOU HAVE ADDED A STORY, YOU FIEND!”

I’m rounding up for simplicity’s sake.  The real numbers are something like 8.7 for SF, 9.6 for F, and .95 for H.  I guarantee you—if I get .5 of a story, I am not going to pass it along to Edmund.  Nossir.  Like I said, I’ve learned my lesson.

So, it’s about a half-n-half split between science fiction and fantasy, with Horror looking really underrepresented.  Which disturbed me at first, because I write things that a lot of people might call horror.  But looking back at my list of submissions…I don’t think that I’ve read lots of Horror in the slush pile.  There have been zombies; there have been ghosts.  But horror is more than monsters; it’s a sense of dread or foreboding that prevails through the story.  Dread or threat is the principal emotion in horror writing, in my opinion; which is why Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot can be classified as Horror,  but his collaboration with Peter Straub, Talisman, cannot.  (And we shan’t mention Black House.)  A lot of the stories I read that others might call Horror (because of the m-m-m-monsters) I call contemporary fantasy. 

I’m sure I’ve offended someone with my crass generalizations.  And my math.  I’ve probably offended Steven King and Peter Straub.  I invite you all to slander me on the IGMS forums.  Go ahead.  I can take it.  I’ve been to a Salt Mine/Asylum run by Edmund Schubert.  There’s no horror like that horror, lemmetellewe.

--Scott M. Roberts

Assistant Editor, IGMS