Monday, February 28, 2011

Tangent Online Recommended Reading

Tangent Online reviews science fiction, fantasy and horror short stories.  They’ve posted their recommended reading list from 2010, and a number of IGMS stories made the grade:

  • “Sparrowjunk” by Margit Schmitt (IGMS #17)
  • “Sister Jasmine Brings the Pain” by Von Carr (IGMS #17)
  • “Frankie and Johnny, and Nellie Bly” by Richard Wolkomir (IGMS #17)
  • “Right Before Your Very Eyes” by Matthew S. Rotundo (IGMS #19)
  • “The Mystery of Miranda” by David A. Simons (IGMS #18)

Congratulations, authors!

--Scott M. Roberts

Assistant Editor, IGMS

Ratoncito’s Last Tooth- Mike Hill

Ratoncito's Last Tooth began, like many kernels of a story, by two distinct ideas or experiences intersecting at once. In this case, I had just gone through an episode with my dentist involving a Ratoncitos Last Tooth - smallx tooth extraction which, although not especially traumatic left me weak for the rest of the day. This began the idea but I needed character and setting and felt that a humble beginning was right. I had just been reading about the poverty and conditions of the barrios near the large cosmopolitan areas of South America and had also heard about El Camino del Muerte in Bolivia. Thus a setting was ready and the character came and whispered in my ear, his life story. The crucible that caused the story to be written was Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp 2007 which I can only liken to a communal barn-raising; a group of people come together, prepared and willing to work under the practiced hand of the master, and accomplish in a few days what might take an individual months or years to realize.

In this story in particular I felt that brevity was needed and chose every word that moved it along; if it didn't ultimately contribute, I chose to cut or omit. And credit where credit is due; my father is also a published writer, my younger brother in his short life was the critical mirror for my imagination and my wife and best friend who urged, encouraged and supported me; thank you. Now onto the next project...

--Mike Hill

Sunday, February 27, 2011

What’s Your Science Doing in My Fantasy?

The following is an actual transcript between myself (Scott M. Roberts) and Eric James Stone, one of the other assistant editors at InterGalactic Medicine Show:

graveroberts: None of the InterGalactic Award winners were fantasy.

eviljerkfacestone: LOL

graveroberts: What?

eviljerkfacestone: watching kittens on youtube. One just fell in a blender

graveroberts: You are sick.

eviljerkfacestone: there are no dragons in real life.

graveroberts: Once again: what?

eviljerkfacestone: Trinity County, CA has dragons. dragons == fantasy.

eviljerfacestone: LOLOLOLOLOL! ROFLMAO! in the toilet! Round and round!

graveroberts: You are sick.

Sifting through this macabre and disturbing conversation, I gleaned this: some individuals believe that including creatures typically viewed as fantasy creatures (werewolves, vampires, dragons, trolls, editors with a soul, etc.) necessarily transforms the story to fantasy.

I’m afraid I disagree.

For me, a fantasy—even a contemporary fantasy—necessarily relies on some sort of mystery, or miraculous impossibility, underpinning its setting. The dragons in Trinity County, CA are not mystical; they’re examined, controlled, and catalogued like bugs in an entomologist’s office.

Which is not to say it isn’t a good story; genre aside, it’s a GREAT story. Let’s get that out of the way right now: the genre a story is in—or not in—doesn’t matter in the least to its quality. I’m comfortable with genre bending. Bend away, my writerly amigos! But don’t ask me to call your Astro-Zeppelin Galactic Ranger series, with Tolkienesque elves and Martinesque undead anything but a fantasy. Despite its being set 22,000 years in the future, in space.

Here are some great genre-bending stories:

The Dragons of Spring-place, Robert Reed

Monster Hunters International (series), Larry Correia

The Dragon Age (series), James Maxey

--Scott M. Roberts

Asst. Editor, InterGalactic Medicine Show

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

InterGalactic Awards—FREE STORIES

Psst.  Hey.  Looking for some fun?  Yeah.  You know what I mean, don’t you.  Look, I’m not going to lie, this stuff is primo.  Pure, like.  And I am the only guy with this sort of deal out on the street, the only working man this side of Xanadu. 

Tell you what: I’ll give you four of ‘em.  Four is your magic number, oh yeah.    Four soul-expanding, universe-changing, life-altering, brain-blending stories.  For the price of NONE.

Did you get that?  Am I talking loud enough?

Free.  Stories.

First up: ‘Ghost of a Girl Who Never Lived', by Keffy Kehrli.  Look, ghost of a girl smallest the title itself is enough to make your brain turn in on itself to be sucked down a wormhole of wonder.  Am I right?  Yes, yes I am.  But there’s a lot more to this story than just the title.  I mean, there are like…words and things inside it.  Clones.  Defective clones.  Ethical conundrums, even.  Old houses, little brothers, mothers, fathers, hope, desperation, and death.  Maybe death.  I don’t want to spoil it for you.  Does death even exist if you can just copy all your memories to a clone?  Like I said, man—wormhole of wonder.

Speaking of transhumanism—wait, what were we talking about?  I’m sure that we were talking about the Singularity—the point inthe-american which human intelligence is conferred on machines of bits and bytes and nanotechnology.  Or transferred there.  Sure of it.  Because that’s what Bruce Worden’s The American is about, and why wouldn’t I talk about that?  I would.  I am.  Even though it talks about a Polish farmgirl experiencing the event of trans-Atlantic transhumanism.  Poland?  I mean, who talks about Poland?    Apparently, only really good science fiction does.  You think you’re going to find stories of this quality in those high-brow, literary elitist fop mags?    Uh-uh.  This kind of primo, mind-affecting, soul-blasting fiction can only be found here.  I am your man, baby!  Rawr.

Now, listen.  Don’t let the next title confuse you.  Stay with me and Illustration - Sister Jasmine [final - small] you’ll love it.  Promise.  In Sister Jasmine Brings the Pain, I want to assure you that no pain is actually wrought upon you personally.  Naw, this medicine man doesn’t sell that sort of concoction.  Author Von Carr promises a rip-roaring cavalcade of excitement and thrills, but the only pain that gets brought is directed against zombies, robots, triffids, and cellularly controlled psychic slaves, in the wasteland that is the world after the event of all possible apocalypses.  Go on—take a peek.  Feast your eyes.  Transcendental.  I am not kidding.

You’ve heard of this next one.  I’m going to say four words:  Peter. trinity-county-CA_small Beagle.  Trinity County, CA.  You see how generous I am?  I threw in a word for free.  Free love, all day long, right here at my booth of lies and truth.  Or at least as long as it takes you to read these four stories.  You might not want to wait long—there are dragons about.  That’s what I hear, anyway.  Dragons crawling through the woods, raised by unethical dragon tamers.  You be careful—this story might give you some ideas about how to survive in such a world.  What’s it going to hurt?  Nothing, that’s what.  Might just save your life.

Hey.  Beautiful.  You want to thank me, I’ll tell you want to do.  Send some of your little friends my way.  Preach and proselytize, that’s how it goes.  Spread some kind rumors my way, you know what I’m saying?  I’m always right here, generous guy that I am.  Here to help, that’s me. 

Tell ‘em to mind the dragons, though.

Scott M. Roberts

Assistant Editor, IGMS

Monday, February 21, 2011

Steven R. Stewart—Go Home and Be With Your Families

The day before my eighth grade graduation, I found out my best friend John and his brother Daniel had been hit by a semi and killed on their way home from the arcade. My parents came into my room very early in the morning and told me, standing on either side of my bed--in my memory, they look like doctors bent over an operating table--and I can remember pulling my blanket over my head and staying under it for a long time. I thought about John, about sitting under a tree with him and proofreading the love letters he had written to a girl he liked. I thought about all the dirty jokes I had heard him tell, and about the times we had knelt together at the altar during church camp. I thought about how he had been here, and now he was just gone. Just like that.

I didn't come out from under that blanket the same. Death became a real thing to me that day, and in a way, I have carried it with me ever since. If I waste a day watching TV instead of getting my writing done, percentages pop into my head, and I start making guesses about how much of my life I am likely to waste if I keep going at the current rate. I kiss my wife goodnight and think, "We've been together seven years. If we live to have our fiftieth anniversary, that means we only have forty-three years left. Forty-three Christmases and summers and tax returns." Following this line of thinking to its logical conclusion can drive you nuts. Even if human kind escapes earth before our sun expands and bakes us all to death, eventually the Milky Way will collide with Andromeda. The whole universe will expand to the point that it tears itself apart. (The joke's on you, vampires. Immortal my ass.) How is a guy supposed to cope with that?

"Go Home, and Be With Your Families" is my attempt to answer that question for myself. On the surface, the story is about Herb's inability to commit, his depression, his alcoholism (seriously, he's drinking in almost every scene), his struggle to be what he needs to be for his daughter, and (oh yeah) alien television. But the biggest issue is death, how to deal with it, and how to live in spite of its looming presence. The answer I kept coming back to was deceptively simple: Live. Just live. Be a human. Make some babies with a girl (or guy) that you love, get your genetics out there for what it's worth, and be with those babies and that girl (or guy) for however much time you get. Let go of the cosmic significance of everything (it’s still okay to ponder this every now and then, but don’t obsess) and let things be what they are, right down in your little everyday world with the people you love. And when bad shit happens (and it will), steel yourself and take the hit. It will never feel good, but after a while you'll learn to take a punch. Writing helps with that, I've found.

One last thing: I hope you'll all give Herb the benefit of the doubt. The guy is kind of sensitive, and probably more talented than he is smart. Sometimes it takes guys like that a while to figure things out.

--Steven R. Stewart

Friday, February 18, 2011

Post Human

In his story Mortal Gods, Orson Scott Card postulates a race of aliens whose physiology allows an individual to essentially live forever. Reproduction is accomplished by some sort of cellular division, and RNA carries memories of the original organism to the new creature. Because the individual is replicated so effectively, loss of an individual does not seem to be feared within the alien society.

However, because the aliens do not experience death, they are not equipped with mythology the way that human cultures are. No mythology seems to mean no religion, at least as we understand religion; it also means no artwork. The aliens’ viewpoint is one of the most startling and original of any that I’ve read on the subject of the effects of immortality: death engenders creativity.

There is something about our impermanence that drives humanity to paint and build and sing and write—not just functional structures, and not merely aesthetically pleasing songs. Something in us strives to make a lasting mark, to imprint ourselves on the shifting cosmic tide.

If we remove death, what happens to that impulse? While other speculative cognoscenti might say that the advent of a truly self-aware computer program is the demarcation of post-humanity, for me, it’s the moment when humanity defeats death once and for all. At that moment, those who choose (or are forced, or whatever) to partake of the death-reneging technology can no longer be considered to be human. Whatever else, there is an essential component in death that all humanity currently shares. Not being capable—or opting out of—dying puts up an irrevocable barrier between humans and post-humans. Of course that barrier, and the friction it might generate, is the fodder for countless science-fiction, fantasy, and horror stories.

None of which we would have, I submit, if we’d been immortal beings capable of passing our memories through RNA… :)

--Scott M. Roberts

Asst. Editor, IGMS

Monday, February 14, 2011

InterGalactic Medicine Show - Issue 21

Available now, at IGMS...

First, our cover story: “Brutal Interlude” by Wayne Wightman. Reality TV was never so intrusive, never so scary, never so thoroughly put in its place. I dare you to look away, if you can.

Next, fan-favorite Cat Rambo brings us "A Frame of Mother-of-Pearl,” a fantasy tale about life and death, magic and family, and the way they can all come together to make life difficult.

Then Steve Stewart makes his debut with “Go Home, and Be With Your Families,” a tale of an alien civilization long gone and its powerful effect on one man here on earth.

"The Devil’s Rematch," by regular IGMS columnist Spencer Ellsworth, is a dark look at one small southern town, and how it doesn’t take the Devil to bring out the worst in people, nor the best.

Finally we have Mike Hill's "Ratoncito’s Last Tooth," an Orson Picks story (selected by Uncle Orson himself) about the life strongest man in the world. It’s a man’s entire life in under 3,000 words and it will have you brushing and flossing for the rest of your life.

Well, not quite ‘finally,’ because we also have an Orson Picks for our audio bonus this issue: “Breakout” is the tale of an astronomy professor who finds haven in the strangest of places. I forget who wrote it, but it’s read beautifully by Stuart Jaffe, of “The Eclectic Review” podcast fame. Okay, I wrote it, but you shouldn’t hold that against poor Stuart.

Then in the interview department, Darrell Schweitzer is at it again, this time interviewing a personal favorite of mine, Patricia McKillip. Her Riddle-Master of Hed trilogy was my introduction to fantasy, but as Darrell’s interview shows, she’s done so much more than just that.

Plus, subscribers voted for their favorite stories appearing in IGMS during 2010, and the winners of the IGMS Reader Awards (who all get cash awards) aren’t the only winners; all the winning stories are free for all to read for as long as issue 21 is live. Go and tell all your friends that the winners are...

...going to be announced in the issue. Come by to check who they are.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Uncle Orson's Writing Class and Literary Boot Camp 2011

August 8-9, 2011
9:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Uncle Orson's Writing Class
This seminar is open to novice and experienced writers alike -- college-aged and older. Students in Uncle Orson's Writing class take part in two days of discussions, lectures, and idea sessions, right along with participants in the Literary Boot Camp.

Uncle Orson's Writing Class and Literary Boot Camp is for writers of any kind of fiction, and even valuable for screenwriters and playwrights.

Sheraton Greensboro Hotel at Four Seasons
Joseph S. Koury Convention Center
3121 High Point Road
Greensboro, NC 27407
Phone: 800-242-6556

(Information on discounted guest room rates at the Sheraton will be posted later.)

August 8-13, 2011

Literary Boot Camp
Literary Boot Camp is open only to writers -- college-aged and older -- who are serious about professional level work. Following the two-day Writing Class, the Boot Camp writers go on with four intense days of creating and critiquing new stories developed at the beginning of the week - all under the leadership of noted author Orson Scott Card.

Enrollment for each Literary Boot Camp is limited to no more than 14 participants and is by application only. Those who wish to attend must register with a $175 deposit and submit the FIRST FULL PAGE ONLY (250-300 words) of a short story. Prompt application is advised. Tuition does not include housing or meals. The deadline for submitting writing samples is May 27, 2011; you will be notified whether or not you have been accepted by June 3, 2011. The remaining balance of $550 will be due by July 1, 2011. Those not accepted to Boot Camp will have the choice of either applying their $175 deposit to the two-day Writing Class or having their deposit refunded.

Sheraton Greensboro Hotel at Four Seasons
Joseph S. Koury Convention Center
3121 High Point Road
Greensboro, NC 27407
Phone: 800-242-6556

(Information on discounted guest room rates at the Sheraton will be posted later.)

Note to Boot Camp Participants: You must bring a laptop computer with you to Boot Camp.

If you don't own one, please make arrangements to buy, rent, or borrow one that is running a recent version of Windows or Mac OS. Printers will be available.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

How To Write Magical Words: Chapter One

Following this little intro is the first chapter of a recent book of which I am contributing editor (meaning I got to abuse all the other writers and still have the fun of being in the book with them. Truly, the best of all possible worlds). How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion is a distillation of three years worth of how-to writing advice from the blog, Magical Words. Although I’ve only been working with the Magical Words crew (Faith Hunter, David B. Coe, Misty Massey, A.J. Hartley, Stuart Jaffe, and C.E. Murphy (who is on an extended hiatus at the moment) for a little over seven months now, I’ve been watching them since the beginning because I always thought that their blog was a great idea, extremely well executed.

First off, the blog is filled with advice about the craft of writing, offered from multiple perspectives. Over the years I’ve read plenty of books about writing and one thing that always struck me about the vast majority of them was that it was one writer, saying THIS is the way you do it. Problem is, there are as many ways to DO IT as there are writers. Obviously some ways are more effective than others, but this is writing, people, not religion. There is no ONE TRUE WAY to be a writer. And Magical Words acknowledged that. Heck, they played with it and made it fun. I respected that tremendously.

The other thing I believe Magical Words has done well since the very beginning is that they give comprehensive and honest business information. As much as writers are artists creating whole worlds in their minds, there comes a point when writers have to take off their artist hats and put on their business-person hats. If you have any thoughts about getting published, the business side of things can not be ignored any more than the craft side.

My own involvement with Magical Words came late one night in June of 2010. I was having drinks with the MW gang (minus Catie, who lives in Ireland) at a convention in Charlotte NC, when I said the fateful words, “You guys have already written a lot of great stuff about writing. You should collect it all together and put a book out.” Someone—David Coe, if memory serves—replied (a little too quickly, I thought), “We’ve considered that, but we need an editor to put it together.” Before you could say ‘Buy me another beer, Batman,’ I was not just editing a book, I was a regular contributor to the blog.

Building a book from three years worth of blog posts was more challenging than I ever would have anticipated, but it was educational and exciting and fun, too. We were able to find a small-press publisher (Bella Rosa Books, who have a number of award-winning titles to their credit) who not only gave us total control of what the book looked like and how it was put together, but was able to get it into print much quicker than any big NY house would have been able to do. We went from concept to finished product in under six months. Six months. If you know anything about the publishing business, you know that doesn’t happen often. Yet despite the speed with which we put it all together, it’s still a book I’m very proud of, which is why I want to share it with you today.

So, without further adieu (which translates from the French to mean “babbling on my part”), I give you the first chapter from How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion.

They’re Not Rules, They’re Price Tags

Edmund R. Schubert

Never write in second person.

Always start with a powerful first line.

Never change POVs in the middle of a scene.

Eschew adjectives. And adverbs.

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah . . .

How To Write Magical Words is devoted to helping people write better, and there’s a lot of great advice to be found here.

And it’s all negotiable.

Seriously. There isn’t a bit of writing advice here that someone, somewhere (probably multiple someones and multitudinous somewheres) hasn’t broken, and broken really damn well.

So should you listen to what Faith and David and A.J. and Misty and Stuart and Catie have to say about writing? Of course you should. They’ve been doing this for a long time; they know what they’re talking about.

Well, then what the heck are you talking about, Edmund?

That would be a logical question.

What I’m talking about is this: I’m replying to a certain question before it’s even asked, a question I hear all the time. The minute any writing conversation turns in the direction of “rules” or “guidelines” or even just plain old “advice,” it inevitably crops up.

That question is: “Yeah, but what about ____x____?”

Because yes, there are exceptions to every rule. In fact, those exceptions are usually exceptional. People hold them up as shining examples of why the rules don’t apply. They do so wrongly, but that doesn’t stop them from doing it.

That’s why I want you to stop thinking of them as “rules” and start thinking of them as “price tags.” Even the rules of grammar and punctuation. They are all price tags.

Why price tags? Because there is a price to be paid for breaking the rules. If the gain outweighs the loss, then it’s worth doing. If not . . .

Let’s start with the rules of grammar and punctuation; they seem to be the most immutable. You want to break those rules? Generally, the price you pay is a lack of clarity and, as a result, a lack understanding. There’s a great book that came out several years ago called Eats Shoots and Leaves that talked about the importance of punctuation. Just punctuation. That subject alone filled an entire book. But look at the difference one little comma (or the lack thereof) makes in the title. If you say “eats shoots and leaves” without the comma, you’re talking about a panda’s diet. What do they eat? Bamboo shoots and leaves. But add one little comma so that it reads, “eats, shoots and leaves,” now you’re talking about a mafia hit-man who sits down in a restaurant, eats his dinner, kills the guy at the next table, and then walks out. A panda bear and a mafia hit man—and all that differentiates the two is one single comma.

There simply aren’t a lot of good reasons to mess with punctuation. Period. But grammar is a little more flexible. Look at the second sentence in this paragraph, the paragraph you’re reading right now. That’s really not a sentence, is it? “Period.” There’s no verb, there are no independent or dependent clauses; it’s just one word, sitting there, all alone. It’s—gasp—a sentence fragment. And doggone it, it’s not the first one that’s been used in this piece.

What price did I pay? Not much of one, because there was no loss of clarity. I knew when, where, and how to use them. What benefit did I gain? That fragment carries extra emphasis. It makes it perfectly clear that I think there are very, very, very few reasons to mess with punctuation. And that’s what fragments do best: narrow the focus down so as to emphasize a point. But you still have to be careful to construct. Them properly. Because the sloppy. Unintentional use of sentence fragments only causes confusion (see my previous sentence-fragment mess, right before this sentence; yes, that was intentional. But it was still ugly.).

Here’s a different example, one that comes up frequently when we’re talking about writing: don’t write in the present tense, or, heaven forbid, the future tense. Has it been done? Of course. Should it be done? Well, that’s really up to you. As always, there’s a price to pay.

In this case, because past tense is the tense used in the vast majority of writing today (especially if you disregard “literary writing,” which accounts for two-thirds of the uses of other tenses), unless present or future tenses are used seamlessly, it’s going to jump out at the reader. Look at me, it screams. I am writing in the present tense. I am going to be writing in the future tense. If that’s the effect you want—if it serves your story somehow—then by all means, go for it. Some writers can do so in a way that’s unobtrusive, so you hardly notice it’s being done. But here’s the thing: most readers want to be swept up in a story and carried away by it. They want to be immersed in the world they’re reading about to such a degree that they forget about the real one they’re living in. That can not happen if the writing is calling attention to itself. Using tenses that scream “look at me” are not going to allow that to happen. Again: “Can it be done” is not the question you should be asking yourself. “Should it be done” is the question.

I could go on about this at length, but I’m sure by now you see my point. The bottom line is that the rules are there for a reason. And it’s not to say you can never, ever, ever do ____x____. It’s to say that if you do _____x_____, make sure you know why you’re not supposed to do it. Make sure you understand the price tag that comes with doing it. Make sure that you understand that even though great writing breaks a lot of rules, no one breaks the rules effectively without thoroughly understanding them.

Once you really, truly understand the rules, then by all means, go ahead and break them. Break them into a million shining pieces that people will hold up and bask in the glory of.

Break them so well that you’re the one that people are talking about when they come up to me at my next convention or workshop and say, “Yeah, but what about ____x____?”