Tuesday, December 31, 2013

At the Old Folks Home at the End of the World, by John P. Murphy

Like many avid readers, I harbor some small secret desire to live forever. Maybe not forever-forever, but enough time to get through at-the-old-folks-homethat growing stack of books on my bedside table, y'know? And my Amazon wishlist. And maybe catch up on Doctor Who, and... Look, long story short, I always kind of identified with those fantasy villains who are, shall we say, in it for the long run.

Feeling that kinship, I started to wonder at some point how many immortality seekers in a given fantasy world might have succeeded. Statistically, some of them had to, right? And what happened to them? I figure, under all the skull fortresses and forbidden tomes and dramatic armor, deep down they're really just people like me with too many good books on their bedside tables. So what would I do?

I had all that in the back of my brain at the start of the yearly Weekend Warrior flash fiction contest in the Codex writers group. One of the weeks, I got the prompt, what if everyone in the world had the same super power? I thought about immortality, and realized that even if only a handful of people had it, eventually they would be everyone. I remembered the character Ed the Undyingat-the-old-folks-home from the online game Kingdom of Loathing, and then a friend of mine's father-in-law who retired from business only to start fights in his homeowners' association, and it all kinda clicked. The story came together quickly as a series of mental images of people thrown together by virtue of being the only ones left, lonely and bored and ornery and just sort of making do. As I jotted them down, I liked the effect, and with some polishing and going back-and-forth about a few passages, I wound up with something very close to this end result.

I guess "At the Old Folks Home at the End of the World" is at its heart a "be careful what you wish for" story. Even so, I think some of Old Folks aren't yet all that sorry. As they might say, it beats the alternative.

--John P. Murphy

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Sturdy Bookshelves of Pawel Olizewski, by Ferrett Steinmetz

The Sturdy Bookshelves Of Pawel Olizewski is a unique story in my pantheon, mainly because I live-wrote every single draft of it live, to raise funds for the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop.

Now, let me explain what Clarion is to me; at age 38, I’d been writing for twenty years, and despite four novels, at least a hundred short stories, and some poetry that’s just as soon well forgotten, I had only published three stories in very small venues. My total writing revenue was just over $15 – which, at less than a dollar a year, not promising.

Then I got accepted into the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, a six-week intensive where the best writers in sci-fi train you to be better. And I learned exactly how terrible I was. Which was traumatic but a good thing. And since graduating in 2008, I’ve sold twenty-five short stories, many to markets where (like this one) I’d read for years and am now proud to be a part of.

(In 2012, I even got nominated for the Nebula, which still feels like a weird dream I’m going to wake up from any day now.)

So every spring, I live-write stories to raise funds for my alma mater in a closed community called “The Clarion Echo,” which you can only get access to by donating $5. I write, post what I wrote - and then more importantly I explain what I liked and what I didn’t like about my work. Basically, I’m critiquing my own prose, explaining all the shortfalls I’m going to have to fix on the next draft.

Except that the Sturdy Bookshelves story was written entirely for Clarion Echo. I didn’t plan it that way, but over the three years, every spring I went back to that story and said, “Well, time to rewrite it,” and so I did. So if you feel like donating $5 and emailing me at theferrett@theferrett.com, you can get access to the archives and literally see this whole story come together, with about 4,000 additional words of commentary.

Which isn’t a pitch. I’m just saying, is all.

The hardest thing to get about this story was, weirdly enough, the voice. Because the initial draft was 2,800 words, very tight, and almost character-free – more like a news report than a story, focusing on Pawel. I soon realized a tale with no character arc is really hard to do unless you’re Ted Chiang, and so I wrote a 5,000-word version of this which focused on the Nameless Narrator (or, as I took to calling him, the NN) but lost a lot of the oddball details that people found compelling. It felt bloated, and the NN really isn’t interesting enough to carry the tale.

Yet I loved the internal arc of this – and why wouldn’t I? If you think about it, the tale is really about me spending twenty pre-Clarion years writing and making the same old mistakes over and over again, hoping like heck that I’d somehow ignite my inner spark. Yet I struggled to find a narrative tone that matched. People loved this one, asking about it more than any other Clarion Echo story that I’ve written – “Did you finish it? Did that one sell?” – but I didn’t feel I’d really nailed it.

And it’s a hard balance to get. Because the NN is boring, but the story cannot be. And so in writing this you have to walk this high-wire act where the prose is snappy enough to pull you along and get you invested, but not so snappy that you could never believe that the NN was once a nebbish. Eventually, I realized that I had to err more on the side of “quirky prose and weird characters,” pulling Agnes out as a major character to counterbalance the NN, and making her oddball enough that she could tug us past a little dullness, and making the dullness not part of the prose but part of the way other people react to the NN.

For me, the secret of Clarion is revising. Like Pawel, I was making the same bookcase over and over again with each story I wrote, never learning, just sort of doubling down. What Clarion taught me was to dismantle my bookshelves, break them up and make new things out of them. If you could see all the revisions, you’d see how radically this story changed, rotating around the central heart of it.

And I hope, if you’re wandering around like Pawel, like me, some day you’ll realize how to rearrange that workshop to produce an entirely different kind of magic.

--Ferrett Steinmetz

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Once More to Kitty Hawk, by Greg Kurzawa

"Once More to Kitty Hawk" began as a simple "what if?" What if people once-more-to-kitty-hawkdidn't really die? What if they simply faded out of this existence, leaking their selves and their memories into the world around them? Its original title was "Transitions," and in the earliest draft it was a young couple suffering the transitioning of the fellow. Right away I thought that was too maudlin, so I rewrote it as a father/son relationship. Upon reflection, I don't think that made it any less tragic.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I shed a tear or two while writing it.

I've only been to Kitty Hawk once, but I remember enjoying it.  I'd very much like to go back someday.

--Greg Kurzawa

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Saltwater Wife, by K.C. Norton

"The Saltwater Wife" has its origins in the selkie legends, wherein the-saltwater-wifecertain seals could turn into beautiful women. Men could 'catch' these inhumanly beautiful creatures by stealing their sealskins, and thereby trapping them in their (did I mention incredibly beautiful?) human forms.

I wanted to tell a story in which some of these women retain their agency, but I also wanted to tell a story about being human. This isn't a story about some battle of the sexes; it's a story about personas. In my experience, we are all pretending on some level. I'm not saying that it's a bad thing, just that it gets complicated. I don't like to tell stories about Strong Female Characters. I like to tell stories about human nature. Even if my characters aren't always, you know, technically human. Thus, selkies and shifting identities were in. Sexy fish-ladies were right out.

One final note: In reality, eels and groupers do hunt together. They're one of the few common inter-species hunting pairs found in nature. The eel swims into tiny crevices to flush out prey; the grouper snaps up the victim, leaving some nibbles for the eel. They're an insanely efficient hunting team. Is this a metaphor? Perhaps.

--K.C. Norton

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013

IGMS Issue 34 & 35 now on Kindle and Nook, etc.

The ebook version of the last two issues are now ready.

If you have a subscription, just go to your account page and select the version you'd like delivered.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

IGMS Issue 36 cover teaser

Couldn't resist (not that anybody said I really ought to)...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Almost Ready: IGMS Issue 36

Coming soon: Issue 36 of IGMS, my favorite number for any issue we’ve ever published.

Our cover story this issue is "Escape from the Andromedan Empire” by Ian Creasy. “Escape” is a smart SF extrapolation of the current digital piracy landscape, projecting the theft of not just an author’s work, but of authors themselves—in a digital sort of way.
"The Saltwater Wife," by K.C. Norton continues the theme of very personal kinds of theft, except this time the story is dressed up in the garb of fantasy (both literally and figuratively) and explores not just the theft itself, but questions of identity.

John Murphy’s "At the Old Folks Home at the End of the World" takes a brief but deft look at the pros and cons, the light and the dark, of mortality, but turning it inside-down and upside-out.

In "Once More to Kitty Hawk," Greg Kurzawa also explores the theme of end–of–life, but in a quieter way, fading to almost nothing…

"The Light Crusader's Dark Deserts" is a rollicking adventure through the lands of many kinds of death, right up to the point where the protagonist has to sit down to dinner with his deceased wife and child, which answers several necessary but unpleasant questions.

We also have several bonuses for you this issue. First is an audio production of "At the Old Folks Home at the End of the World," read by none other than Orson Scott Card. We’re always tickled when we can get Uncle Orson reading our stories.

Second, we have an additional audio production, “The Sturdy Bookcases of Pawel Oliszewski,” written by Ferrett Steinmetz and performed by Philip Powell. “Sturdy Bookcases” is a sneaky story that repeatedly asks the simple but compelling question, “Are you interested now?” There’s only one way to know what it all means: Read the story. Or else listen to it. You decide. “Are you interested now?”

And be sure not to miss Darrell Schweitzer’s InterGalactic Interview with author John Hemry, who you may know better by his nom de plume, Jack Campbell. 

Plus the next installment of our newest feature, an article by our regular movie-reviewer, Chris Bellamy. Be sure to check out his next At The Movies, Extended Cut.

Issue 36, chock full o’ goodness, as befits the issue featuring my favorite number. ;-)

Edmund R. Schubert
Editor, Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Tangible Progress, by Edmund R. Schubert

For several years now I’ve been turning over in my mind an idea: a mythical race of people who trace their origins back to ancient Rome tangible-progressand even beyond, to Rome’s founding legend of Romulus and Remus. These people are werewolf hunters, cursed by the Roman gods. Under this curse they will find their tangibility waxing and waning with the moon, until they have hunted and killed every last werewolf. That is the big idea. I think it has the potential to be a series of novels.

Of course, a series of novels will take years to write, and I wanted (needed, really) to start smaller, exploring these people and their lives, so I’ve begun writing several short stories set at different points in time. “Tangible Progress” is the first of these. I’m also working on one set in modern New York City, with some subtle but not unimportant difference. We’ll see which, if any of them, strike a chord with readers.

Regardless of the specifics, I also knew I wanted to start with the people, the Rem’n, but without the added baggage of werewolves. Werewolves are everywhere and, frankly, of limited interest to me. We’ve all seen plenty of werewolves during recent years, along with plenty of vampires and zombies. Even the first idea I had for writing about these people that was big enough to be a novel was actually set after the last werewolf had been killed. It seems odd, I know, even extreme, but I was fascinated by the idea of a werewolf-hunting people far more so that by the werewolves themselves.

As for Gabrielle and the gang in “Tangible Progress,” it took many tangible-progressdrafts and help from several people (including but not limited to key input from Brad Beaulieu, Faith Hunter, and Scott Roberts) to get to a final draft. It was also balancing act of weaving in the necessary information about this race of werewolf hunters (that readers had never seen or heard of before), along with an actual story with a narrative arc and characters with their own agendas. Whether I’ve succeeded in that or not is up to the reader, but without Faith, Scott, and Brad’s help, this first story would only have been worse, not better.

I chose to set the story during the Great Depression because in addition to taking the werewolves out of the story, I also wanted to take the technology out of the story. I’m not sure that I can fully articulate why I wanted to do that, only that my instinct was to focus things as much as possible on people and nothing else. I suspect, however, that the time period is one I will revisit, regardless of which aspects of the mythology I am creating I choose to keep and which I choose to jettison. 1938 in particular is a year that intrigues me. So much happened that year, from the first Superman comic book and H.G. Wells radio “War of the Worlds” broadcast hoax, to Hitler’s invasion of Poland and the beginning of World War II.

tangible-progressAs for the individual characters in “Tangible Progress,” I hadn’t originally intended to revisit them after I started finished this particular short story, but having now spent time with the Rem’n children Gabrielle and Dianna and Celia, as well as her parents, tribal elders, and the some of the humans they encounter, I can easily see their story expanded and continued (though their story in IGMS is entirely self-contained). I particularly like Gabrielle’s independence of thought, even as she recognizes in the end her dependence on the Rem’n around her.

On a much broader note, I also feel compelled to mention that although I am the editor of IGMS, I have not and never have, selected my own work for inclusion in the magazine. I’m not delusional enough to claim that my role here doesn’t play a part in getting published in our digital pages, but any time I have a story that I’d like to see published, it goes first to our managing editor, who them passes it along to Uncle Orson. I’m comfortable saying that if he didn’t think that the story was good enough, he would at least send me some notes and say “Fix this up before you embarrass us all.” ;-)

So that’s the story behind my story. I’m hoping there will be many more, but first and foremost, I hope you enjoy this one all by itself. It has quite a load to carry, bearing the weight of this writer’s hopes and dreams for many future projects.

-Edmund R. Schubert

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Sweetness of Bitter, by Beth Cato

A story may die but from the ashes a far better tale may emerge.
In its first incarnation, "The Sweetness of Bitter" told much the same story. It featured the same characters, with the same names. I sent it out to a few magazines and it garnered higher tier rejections. I knew there was something special about the story, but it obviously wasn't quite there yet.

Therefore, I submitted it for group critique at the Cascade Writers the-sweetness-of-bitterWorkshop--where it was eviscerated. I have received hundreds of critiques and given as many, but this was my first time enduring it all in person. Mind you, my fellow writers had plenty of nice things to say about it, too, but I left feeling dizzy and overwhelmed at the depth of the experience.

I returned home and stared at the stack of marked-up manuscripts. I was at an absolute loss at how to start revising. So, I didn't.
I started from scratch. Blank document. As I went, I copied in bits of the old story. The process endowed me with an epic migraine. At a few points, I was so frustrated that I cried. I debated trunking the story entirely. "Maybe I'm not good enough to do this idea justice," I thought. I could bury it on my hard drive for a few years, maybe return to it someday.

Maybe. That was the key word. Deep down, I knew that if I set this story aside, I'd never pick it up again.

I sent the story for more critiques. I tweaked it more. I judged it as ready to submit.

My old story, like the phoenix, had been incinerated by critiques and born anew. I retitled it in a way that not only described the story, but the frustrating process of its evolution--and the end result, as you see here on Intergalactic Medicine Show.

It's worth enduring the bitter to get that sweetness.

--Beth Cato

Friday, October 04, 2013

Working on Wet Work—by Matthew S. Rotundo

Some days, I feel like I'm in control of my writing.  On others, the muse lets me know who's the boss.  Such was the case with "Wet Work:  A Tale of the Unseen."wet-work

It started innocently enough.  I'm a member of Codex, an online writing group, and every year, we have a Halloween story contest.  Strictly for fun, you understand.  You get a seed from another member, and you're supposed to use it in a spooky story.

For "Wet Work," my seed consisted of a couple of photographs from Ireland--one of a castle gate, complete with portcullis, and the other of an abandoned factory.  The two pictures were taken from the same spot, at a crossroads.

So I embarked on a story involving a castle (later a Long Island mansion) in a contemporary setting, and some sinister doings within.  I originally conceived of it as a darkly satirical version of The Apprentice, with contestants vying to work for a powerful demon instead of Donald Trump.  I know, right?  The jokes just write themselves.  Hilarious.

But the muse had other plans, as she often does.  She's funny that way.  For one thing, "Wet Work" became much heavier on the dark than on the satire.  In fact, it's one of the nastiest pieces in my repertoire.  What that says about me is an exercise I leave to the reader.

For another thing, the story decided it wanted to be a novel. 
Which, you know, can be a problem for a short story contest. 
What can I say?  Something about the Unseen and their evil machinations drew me.  The muse visited me with a flash of inspiration, in which I saw not only a much longer story, but a series, and maybe even a career.

"Hold your horses, there," I said to the muse.  "We're getting a bit ahead of ourselves, aren't we?"

She agreed that we were--not that it mattered.  The tale of Ellie wet-workGibson's encounter with Dontur kept trying to swell, and I kept wrestling with it to keep it at a reasonable length.  I finally managed it, as you can see, but the muse was not satisfied.  The story would not let go of my imagination.

So shortly after completing it, I expanded it into a novel.  Like you do.

Book #2 in the series wants to be written, but I'm holding off for the time being.  We'll see what kind of reception the short story gets first.  Call it proof of concept.  Who knows?  If the readers enjoy it, and if the publishing gods are good, you may one day get to read what happened to Ellie after that fateful Halloween night.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I hear the boss calling.  Time to get back to work.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Last Resort—Michael Greenhut

last-resortI wouldn't call the origin of Last Resort all that special.  I'd wanted to explore the classic imaginative trait of people "hearing the ocean" when they put seashells against their ears.  What if they really were hearing some other ocean in some other dimension, and could even communicate using the shell?   Initially, I drafted a story where a husband and wife were separated, and the husband could only listen to the wife (without communicating) until the end, during a storm.  I felt some crucial tension was missing from that, so I flipped the concept around and made the man and woman enemies.   The rest of the story and back story (a corporate engineer paying the price for a catastrophe he participated in, reflecting on lost innocence, etc.) just came out of the blue.

--Michael Greenhut

Friday, September 20, 2013

Almost Ready: Issue 35 of IGMS

Coming really soon...
 Issue 35 of IGMS, which represents the 8th anniversary of our magazine. Eight years, wow. Maybe the idea of internet-based publishing just might catch on after all…

Our cover story this issue is "Tangible Progress" by Ed Schubert. No, not me; a different Ed Schubert. Really. Well… okay, it’s by me. But you have to promise not to tell Uncle Orson. ;-) Anyway… “Tangible Progress” is the story of a young girl in the process of discovering that there is much more to life with a tribe of werewolf-hunters than merely hunting werewolves. 

In "Southside Gods," author Sarah Grey introduces us to plumbers and air-conditioning repairmen and other potent deities. (I’d tell you more but then this intro would be longer than the story.) (Further proof that great things do come in little packages…)

"Wet Work: A Tale of the Unseen" is the Halloween centerpiece for this issue. It’s a tale of the idle rich, reality show contestants, zombies, and other mindless things that populate this dark but humorous post-apocalyptic world created by regular contributor Matt Rotundo. Guest-starring the devil, this one truly has something for everybody.

"Last Resort," by Michael Greenhut, is an argument for the redeemable nature of all people (except possible teenagers), set in a parallel-reality prison-world that only looks like paradise on the surface.
And not quite last, but very far from least, is "The Sweetness of Bitter," by Beth Cato. An SF tale in a very different post-apocalyptic world, “Sweetness” shows the very human results of a mother struggling to recalibrate the failing nanites in her daughter’s simulacrum. 

As a bonus for Halloween dessert, S. Boyd Taylor brings us this issue’s Tale for the Young and Unafraid (a feature normally penned by David Lubar). Everything you need to know about “The Elder Thing and the Puddle People” comes directly from the story: “It came with the green feet that had eyes and mouths, and with the yellow, rubbery outerskin, and with the lace and the glitter -- oh, the horrible, horrible glitter.” 

And be sure not to miss our InterGalactic interview with New York Times Best-Selling author Faith Hunter, who is so busy these days with novels and compendiums and games and anthologies that I honestly don’t know where she came up with time to do the interview. 

Plus the next installment of our newest feature, an article by our regular movie-reviewer, Chris Bellamy. Be sure to check out his second piece, "Beautiful Demise: Why I Will Be More Than Happy If and When 3D Finally Goes Away.”

Edmund R. Schubert
Editor, Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show

Monday, August 19, 2013

What the Sea Refuses, by Brian Dolton

One of the things that I always counsel aspiring writers is that this is no business to be in if you're one of those people who likes instant gratification.

I now have the perfect example of that.

I started getting serious about writing fiction around 2005. No, that'swhat-the-sea-refuses not quite true; I had been serious about writing it for at least twelve years before that. But I started getting serious about letting other people read it around 2005. I started getting serious about thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could get paid for letting other people read it.

So in October 2005 I sent out my very first ever submission, to a new market that had just been announced - Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. The story was a short piece called "The Box Of Beautiful Things", featuring a pseudo-Chinese conjuror named Yi Qin.

To my amazed delight, the following June, it was accepted, and published shortly thereafter. The fact that I had sold to a professional magazine right out of the gate was not something I had ever expected. But I had already started sending out a few other stories. In May 2006 I submitted two other stories featuring the same character. One - "The Man Who Was Never Afraid" - went to Abyss and Apex, the other was called "What The Sea Refuses" and went to Black Gate.

They were accepted, too. That meant I had sold three of my first six what-the-sea-refusessubmissions. It has, of course, become harder and harder ever since, but that's another story. I was lucky; I hit the right markets with the right stories and it gave me the confidence (I am not, by nature, a self-confident person) to keep going even through long, lean spells of rejection after rejection after rejection.

But: back to that Black Gate sale. Black Gate was a beautiful magazine; great production values, and its emphasis on "adventure fantasy" seemed to match perfectly with much of what I was writing at the time. It published some great authors and great stories and I was very pleased to sell to it.

What it was not, however, was fast.

Over the next couple of years I sold two further Yi Qin stories to Black Gate. As you may guess, this was a symptom that they stocked up on inventory. It was 2009 when I sold the third story there, but the first had yet to be published. Because one of the other stories was chronologically earlier in Yi Qin's life - and served as a much better introduction to her - the schedule was reorganised. So "What Chains Bind Us" was published in Black Gate issue 15, with "What The Sea Refuses" scheduled for issue 16.

Unfortunately... issue 15 turned out to be the last print issue published by Black Gate.

what-the-sea-refusesThey continued publishing fiction, but were doing so only through their website (which, incidentally, I heartily recommend; they have a raft of contributors and are one of my favourite collective blog sites in genre). Publisher John O'Neill - who I met at WFC 2011 and who is an exceptionally pleasant person - put them on the schedule but also very kindly offered me the option of delaying them to see if I could sell them elsewhere.

So I sent "What The Sea Refuses" to IGMS, where I had tried and failed to repeat my success with "The Box Of Beautiful Things". I knew "What The Refuses", at almost 11000 words, would be a tough sell, so I trimmed it down to around 9700 and submitted it. And waited.

And then I got the response from Edmund, who really liked it... except that it was too long He suggested editing it down to somewhere around 6000 or 7000 words. He also wanted some changes to the ending and a couple of other tweaks.

I looked at the 9700 words. I am - as this blog post indicates - a naturally wordy writer. And Yi Qin is a creature of careful precision, of delicacy, of subtlety.

It was not easy. I ended up with about 7500 words. I hadn't shaved off any of the plot, I'd done the changes to the ending (which is definitely an improvement from the original; a distinct increase in tension, which is always good), and I was exhausted. I sent it to Edmund and wondered if I'd done enough.

The rest, of course, you know. I'd done enough. There was a quick round of line edits, a couple of clarifications, some removal of commas (I do overuse commas, oh yes), some subtle shifts of emphasis and tone. But it was a sale.

So a story I wrote in 2005 finally sees publication in 2013.

I'm very pleased to see it - I've always loved this story.

But, oh, what a long strange road it's been.

--Brian Dolton

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Three Seconds, by Jonas David

‘Three Seconds’ started as a quick post for my personal blog. At the time I was trying to write a little story or scene every few days, justThreeSeconds about whatever came into my head. I had this thought about people trapped in a void and the things they might argue about over the aeons.

As I wrote, though, they became more than human, and came to represent certain parts of our own behavior: creation, destruction and restraint.

Tessa is the passion for creation that we all have, the driving desire to imagine, develop and explore new ideas. She is creation with abandon the part of us all that when considering any project wants to throw caution aside and just do it.

The POV character is the necessary need for destruction--the willingness to let go of old projects that have stagnated, the ability to edit, or kill of a character-- that little part in all of us that sees a beautiful stained glass window and wants to smash it.

To me, Alec represents that part of us all that says 'I can't do it', the self-critical--even self-loathing, sometimes--internal voice that judges everything we do so much more harshly than our peers.

The message as I planned it, was that we should defeat that part of ThreeSecondsourselves that holds back, and just create. Whether it be music or writing or cooking or coding, creating--even if you end up creating something broken, or of terrible quality--is always better than sitting around wondering if you are good enough, better than worrying so much about everything being perfect that you never create anything at all.

In my early days of writing this happened to me all too often. I'd come up with an idea, but instead of writing it I'd think 'someone's done this before' or 'I won't be able to do it well enough' or any other number of self-critical things, and instead of even trying, I'd toss the idea aside. Or, in the rare times that I thought the idea was unique enough and that I could do it well, I'd end up focusing so much on every minute detail of everything being figured out beforehand that I'd never start writing.

I think it’s important for any creative person to defeat this part of themselves. Realize that no idea is perfectly unique, and anything you create is going to have flaws, and not everyone is going to like everything you do. Once you can accept these truths and get past them, you’ll find your passion unleashed.

Defeat your own restraint, and your world will explode with universes of creation!

--Jonas David

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Thirteen Words, by J. Deery Wray

"Thirteen Words" started life as a desperate attempt to come up withthirteen-words a story in three days based on a prompt I received at Viable Paradise. The prompt consisted of two parts: a theme for a fake anthology and an item I pulled out of a paper bag.

The anthology theme: Cymbid. In a future no one suspected, in a past no one remembers, the cymbid lurks. From horror to hard science, the stories that make cymbids the most exciting plants on the planet by the most exciting science fiction and fantasy writers out today.

The item: a plastic orange harmonica.

The first thing that got stuck in my mind was The Little Shop of Horrors, and it took me hours to get past my memories of that musical and start brainstorming an actual new story. Inside of a day, I had the original idea for "Thirteen Words", but I felt it would be too long to get down in the timespan I had to work in, so I wrote the first paragraph, then moved on to another idea. Seven ideas later, and seven more paragraphs into "Thirteen Words", I gave up on finding a different story and turned my mind to getting my initial idea completed as succinctly as possible.

I sent it off to IGMS, and a few months later received a rewrite opportunity. Edmund felt the story felt rushed, but allowed that he'd be willing to look at another version if I let it play out more slowly.thirteen-words

His comments made complete sense to me given how I'd written the story. So I went back and added in all the things I'd left out in my original rush to complete it, including an entire scene I'd skipped in my dash to the finish line.

The rewrite met with approval in the form of an acceptance, and I'm very happy to see my 'Horror that was Thursday' story live on IGMS.

--J. Deery Wray

Monday, June 24, 2013

Guest Post - Thieftaker Chronicles, Book II: Thieves' Quarry, by D.B. Jackson

“So, what’s your book about?”

“Uhhhhhhh . . . .”

Thieves’ Quarry, volume II in the Thieftaker Chronicles, my series of stand-alone historical urban fantasies, comes out from Tor Books on July 2. It is a murder mystery, set against the backdrop of the British occupation of Boston as it began in September and October 1768. My lead character, Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker and conjurer, investigates the murder by magick of nearly one hundred men aboard a British naval vessel. Along the way, he stumbles across a fight among thieves over a cache of smuggled pearls.

So I suppose you can say that the book is about conjurings, murder, smuggling, and Colonial era politics. And that actually sounds pretty interesting. I could sell a few books answering the “What’s your book about?” question that way.

But I find that what my books are about for me, and what they are about to my readers, are not always the same things. This is not at all a knock on my readers -- we all read books for different reasons, and I know that I take from the books I read different things than the author might have intended. Reading is an interactive endeavor. I know it doesn’t seem that way, but it is. As readers, we each bring a different life experience to the books we read, and so we cannot help but take something unique from the narrative experience.

Sure, every person who reads Thieves’ Quarry is going to find a story about murder, magic, and politics. They’ll follow Ethan as he tracks the killer, grapples with his rival in thieftaking, Sephira Pryce, and interacts with the other characters I first introduced in Thieftaker.

But, if they wish to, they will also find themes of loyalty and betrayal, of duty and sacrifice. They will see portraits of frayed and broken families. They will follow my hero as he struggles with echoes of his past, some of them distant and thought-provoking, others immediate, visceral, and terrifying. That last is probably the most important part of the book for me. As far as I am concerned, at root, Thieves’ Quarry is about Ethan revisiting episodes from his past and being forced to acknowledge the consequences of the poor decisions he made in his youth.

Put another way, it is about a man who is slipping into middle age and thinking about where his life has taken him.

Let me pause here to offer a very brief anecdote that you all might find a bit odd: My wife is a biologist, and she has a colleague who studies birds. At the very beginning of his career he studied sexual response in a certain species. He was a young man at the time, he was courting the woman who would become his wife, and with whom he would soon start a family. Now, thirty-plus years later, as he nears the end of his career, he studies aging in the same species. So, for all you amateur (and professional) psychologists out there, why would I be so interested in writing novels about a middle-aged thieftaker who is coming to grips with the decisions he made in his youth? (Hint: It’s not because I’m a thieftaker.)

I love the all the stuff relating to my plot -- the mysteries, the magic system, the blending of fiction and history. Coming up with the storylines for the Thieftaker books is tremendous fun, and when I am able to piece it all together to create a mystery that confounds and twists and ultimately satisfies, it is remarkably gratifying. Which I suppose is another way of saying that if you read the Thieftaker books because you really enjoy the stories, or because you find yourself fascinated by the historical setting, or because you like the voice and the character, that’s great.

When I’m writing, though, I’m thinking about all those things and then some. I am delving into the emotions and minds of my characters, exploring themes that are important to me not only because they relate to my narrative, but also for reasons that might have nothing at all to do with Ethan Kaille or Colonial Boston. I would never say that Ethan is anything like me. He’s not. He’s braver than I am, he’s led a life filled with ill fortune and sadness, he’s a loner. None of those things is true of me. Aside from our advancing middle age, we have precious little in common. But I relate to him as I would a close friend, and when I write his scenes I focus on his emotions in ways that most of my readers probably don’t. (In fact, if they did, I would be worried about them.)

This is why I really hate the question that appears at the beginning of this post. “So, what’s your book about?”

Sometimes I want to answer, “It’s about life and death, the human condition, the meaning of friendship and enmity, the transformative power of love and the devastating impact of loss. You know: stuff like that.” Because that would probably be the most honest answer I could give. The problem is it would tell the person asking almost nothing about the book. At least nothing that they really want to know.

So instead I say, “It’s about murder and magic in Colonial America. Oh, and there are thieves and smugglers, too. Sounds cool, doesn’t it?” That’s also an honest answer. And it sells more books.


D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the award-winning author of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His first book as D.B. Jackson, the Revolutionary War era urban fantasy, Thieftaker, volume I of the Thieftaker Chronicles, came out in 2012 and will soon be available in paperback. The second volume, Thieves’ Quarry, will be released on July 2, just in time for the July 4th holiday. D.B. lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.