At Wily Writers

Uh huh, that’s a pig.

My short story, Stuff of the Elder Gods, is up at Wily Writers Podcast. It involves a plucky waitress, a West Virginia highway diner, two escaped convicts and a drift of pigs.

It sounds like screw-ball comedy, but it most decidedly is not.

Wily Writers has an interesting set-up.  Each month they present two new stories — as both a podcast and a text download —  that focus on a common theme. The February theme was Vigilantes.  A vigilante, of course, is a person who takes the law into his or her own hands, as by avenging a crime.  Listen to the story and I think you’ll see how that fits.

The story was selected for publication by guest editor Martel Sardina, Contributing Editor for Dark Scribe Magazine, and Submissions Editor for Apex Magazine. Thank you, Martel.

Angel Leigh McCoy, Wily Writers’ Editor, recorded the podcast and did a masterful job with the character accents. Thank you, Angel.  You made the read sound easy and I know it’s not.

I’m doubly pleased with this publication because Stuff of the Elder Gods is my first piece to be podcast.  It’s both exciting and humbling to listen to someone else read your words.

Stop by and listen, if you get a chance.

Clarion West – Week 2

The roller coaster ride continues.

Monday through Friday, five rounds of group critique on the first set of stories we’ve written here. It was intense.

Michael Bishop told us last week that we should give ourselves permission to submit less than perfect drafts. For less than perfect first drafts, the first week stories were damned good. One or two, in my opinion, are ready for magazine submission.

We continue to settle in and become accustomed to each other. There has been some head-bumping. When you get this large a group of strangers, living this close together, that’s bound to happened.

As for me, I like all seventeen of my classmates, wouldn’t change a single thing about any one of them, but then I’m easy. I like people and I have to say — again — that I am in awe of this group.

When did people so young get to be so smart?

We had three mystery muses this week — Connie Willis on Wednesday, Vonda McIntyre and Nancy Kress.  All three were funny and informative.  They talked about their careers, about working these days as an SF writer, about the differences between writing short stories and writing novels, and answered a slew of questions.  So much fun.

A couple of us had a little mini-celebration Saturday morning. One of the other participants, [identity deleted], just received word that [possessive gender pronoun masked] first published story, [title blurred], has appeared in [magazine name x-ed out] and has received a “recommended” review from [a major SF magazine].

Those of us who heard the news patted [identity deleted] on the back, applauded and shouted “That’s [expletive marked out], [profanity expunged] fantastic!”

There. Who says I can’t talk about the details of our forty-two days together and not be discrete?

I can’t say enough good things about Maureen McHugh. A week ago, I wasn’t really certain who she was, although I had read a couple of her short stories. After the last seven days, I’ve become an ardent fan.

She pours her entire being into teaching and remains just folks. Thursday night, a bunch of us went out for drinks with her and she used the casual time to continue to help us bond.

My work progresses. I submitted Kindred Soul for my Week Three story. It’s a fantasy/horror story with a senior protagonist (one of the goals I set for myself for the workshop).

I’ve also finished first draft on Seven Snapshots from a Black Hole for Week Four (another hard science fiction story that I hope to send to Analog eventually) and have a good start on a story for Week Five, Portraits Hung in Empty Halls. It’s a twist on time travel, with a protagonist other than the traveler.

In addition to all the writing, I’m not sleeping enough, eating too much and pretty much ignoring the outside world. I haven’t read a newspaper in two weeks. Not that I read a newspaper regularly before Clarion West, but I did look at one now and then.

It’s a Clarion West tradition to get some sort of gift for the outgoing instructor, something with some personal significance. Maureen admitted to us early in the week that she has a passion for post-apocalyptic tales, and so we put together a “survival” kit for her.

We gave it to her Friday afternoon, collected in a combat helmet doing double duty s a gift basket. In addition to the helmet, there was a gas mask, a multi-tool, a crank-up flashlight, water purification tablets, small bottles of alcohol (with rags for Molotov cocktails), a grimed and much-thumbed survival manual and lots of other essential odds and ends.

She loved it. Her only quibble was how she would get most of the items past Homeland Security on her flight home to Austin. We’ll deny everything, of course.

Good luck, Maureen. As someone else said, You’re the business. 😉

Nnedi Okorafor is here next week. She’ll be here tonight, this afternoon, actually. I’m looking forward to her time with us. Whenever I can find an idle moment, I’ve been reading her new novel, Who Fears Death, and it’s fantastic.

More Wednesday.


BTW, I haven’t gotten my tattoo yet. There was a funds snafu, but I think it’s worked out, so I hope to show you a picture soon.

Clarion West – Week 1

The past seven days have been a whirlwind.

I’ll begin with a paean to the program administrators, Leslie and Neile (the E on the end is silent, BTW).

What super people these two women are. Both give unstintingly of their time, advice and emotional comfort. They deserve medals for what they bring to Clarion West.

And my hat is off to Michael Bishop, our instructor for week one. Mike is a patient, thoughtful teacher who used Socratic method to bring out the best in each of us. And he’s a funny, friendly man, as well.

In five days, we wrote five stories — all under 1,000 words. I’ve already described the first three in Wednesday’s post — a quest, a science fiction love story and a prose poem using Jim Simmerman’s Twenty Little Poetry Projects.

I liked the results of that one — Time Travel, Considered as Stream of Consciousness, so I did a bit of polishing Friday afternoon and sent it off to Jake Frevald at Flash Fiction Online. We’ll see.

The fourth and fifth assignments were: 4) a first-contact story, using three different points of view, and 5) a story with at least two characters, involving dialog and illustrating a proverb.

I’ve expanded #4, the first-contact story, as my week-two story for Maureen McHugh. It’s titled Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One. It’s a 2,000-word SF murder mystery featuring Seattle PD detectives John Osbourne and D.D. Gayle.

Oz and D.D. have appeared before in one of my stories, an unpublished piece titled Against the Grain. Oz is older, close to retirement, and D.D. is a hard-charging newcomer.  They’re bit players in this one, but I like the dynamic between them and I hope to see more of them in other stories.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One offers the timeless bit of dialog, “So this alien walks into a bar …” It’s presented tongue-in-cheek. Those of you who’ve read some of my stuff are probably saying “What else is new?”

I wrote it in six hours Thursday afternoon and evening. I had such a nice little piece of horror prepared , Kindred Souls; 4,200 words that I’d been compiling a bit each day all week.

But when my muse kicks me in the shins, I have to respond. If I argue too much, she goes away and sulks.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One is set for critique Monday (06/28). It’s definitely first draft; covered in warts and typos, not the sort of thing I’m comfortable showing to other people, but that’s what we’re supposed to be presenting.

In any case, I had to submit it Thursday night by 9:00 p.m., so there wasn’t a lot of time for rewrite. I’ll let you know Wednesday how that goes.

Friday night and all day Saturday were devoted to celebration.

The entire class attended a reading by Connie Willis (Blackout) and Greg Frost (Shadow Bridge) Friday night at the University of Washington Book Store.

The two of them put on quite a show. They read to a packed house from recent work, answered questions and did a sweet bit of partnered comedy schtick that had everybody giggling. Among other things, Connie declared her undying infatuation for actor George Maharis and Greg channeled Yosemite Sam to read from Beowulf.

After that, the traditional end-of-week party was held at a downtown condo (no names or addresses, please) and it was a big success.

The eighteen of us were on display, of course, and had a chance to schmooze
with published SF authors, Clarion West alumni and fans.

I enthused with Greg Frost about a mutual fascination — Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder stories. I discovered that Maureen McHugh and I are both from Ohio and are glad to be from Ohio.

And I spent some time saying goodbye to Kij Johnson (Spar) who is headed east next week to teach novel writing at Jim Gunn’s SF Writers Workshop, to traipse around the country for a bit, and to eventually resettle far away to pursue further education. Good luck and God speed, Kij.

I also chatted with Greg Bear (Mariposa), Nancy Kress (Steal Across the Sky), Jack Skillingstead (Harbinger), Nisi Shawl (Filter House), and a ton of other folks I should remember but am just too tired at the moment to recall all the names.

Thanks to all of you for being so gracious and entertaining.

Saturday, the entire class trekked to the downtown Seattle Courtyard Marriott for the Locus Awards ceremony and luncheon that was part of the Science Fiction Awards weekend.

The day began with two panels — one on author research and the other on mistakes new authors often make. Ursula K. LeGuin sat in on the first. She’s eighty years old, vital and funny, and still active as an author (her essays, Cheek by Jowl, won one of the 2010 Locus awards). She gives me hope.

I also shared lunch (and conversation) with Nisi Shawl and had a chance to chat with Ken Scholes (Canticle) and John A. Pitts (Black Blade Blues), two of my favorite new SF authors.

All in all, a great day and a fantastic week.

Maureen is scheduled to meet with us this afternoon to outline the coming week. More later.

Clarion West — Day 3

0630 Wednesday morning and I just crawled out of bed.  It’s the beginning of our third day at the Clarion West workshop and all is well so far.

This thing is everything that people say it is — exciting, intimidating and so much fun. Michael Bishop is the kick-off instructor and he’s been fantastic.  He uses a Socratic style of teaching, asking directed questions, expecting lots of participation and the class has been responding well.  He started with a three-hour session Sunday night, sending us off at the end with an assignment — write a story — under 1,000 words — that involves a quest and focuses on one character.

It was due in twelve hours.  That was a scramble, for everyone, I think.  Particularly for me.  I’d put in a full day on Saturday on zero sleep — ferrying folks to the Clarion West house — and then I slept a couple hours before going to work at midnight to finish out my week.  I got back to CW house, got my things moved in just before the Sunday afternoon session started.

I finished first draft of a story — a upbeat love story — and was in bed by midnight.  “Piece of cake,” I figured.  Then my muse smacked me awake at 0300 with another idea — a contemporary fantasy that wound up as Into the Fading Light.  I finished it in four hours, just in time to send it off for printing, and stumbled through the rest of the day on three hours sleep.

There was another assignment Monday — for Tuesday’s consideration — a science fiction love story that involves only the emotions of love, not the physicality. Four pages or less, thank you very much.  That became Galatea, for me.  Another assignment for today then, two of them, actually — do either one or both.  800 words of sensory description that brings a setting to life and a speculative fiction story, under 800 words, developed using Jim Simmerman’s Twenty Little Poetry Projects template.

Twenty Little Projects gave me Time Travel, Considered as Stream of Consciousness.  One of the things I’d hoped to bring away from CW was the ability to write less conventional stories.   That’s what this one is, I think — a bit screwball comedy, in fact — and I’m pleased with the result. We’ll see how it’s received today.

I’ve also been working on my week-two story submission — a bit of contemporary fantasy/horror piece with a working title of Kindred Souls.  That’s got to be submitted by 2100 Thursday night and I’m done with first draft.  It runs just under 5,000 words (I’d like to cut 10 or 15 percent of that away as I rewrite) and it’s a cautionary tale about aging.  I like the main character, a self-described one-time tomboy named Dorothea.  We’ll see.

In summary, the first three days have been packed full of work and new ideas.  I like the other folks (several are close to my age, one of my concerns), Michael Bishop is a treat (he critiqued our submission stories for us, way over and above. Thank you so much, Mike. You’re the best.) and the work and company is stimulating.  Oh, and I’m catching up a bit on sleep.  Got six hours last night.  More on Sunday morning.

At Analog

Got an e-mail today from Trevor Quachri, managing editor at AnalogFlotsam is scheduled to appear in the September 2010 issue, which will be in print sometime in late June.

I like that.   Just about a year after it was workshopped at Jim Gunn’s SF Writers program at the University of Kansas. That has a certain symmetry, doesn’t it?.

Thank you for the news, Trevor.  You helped make my day today.

At Rustycon 27

Next weekend, I’ll be at Rustycon — the science fiction convention held here in Seattle — and as more than one of the crowd.

The Rustycon folks were kind enough to invite me to participate as an attending professional.  And so, I will be appearing in six panel discussions — moderating one of them — and reading some of my work.

I’m looking forward to it.

I have a new acquaintance to thank for the connection; two new acquaintances, actually.  I’ve come to think of them as my Amtrak friends.

I met Fred and Johanna McLain on the train to Portland at the end of November, on the way to Orycon.  They were across the aisle, we struck up a conversation when Fred asked me about a book I was reading, and it turned out that they were on their way to Orycon, too.

Fred’s been active in the Pacific Northwest science convention scene for years and he seems to know everybody.  And he mentioned me to some of them.  And that lead to an invitation to Rustycon.

Thank you, Fred.  New friends are a joy of discovery.

Anyway, I’ve got one panel Friday night, five on Saturday, on everything from world-building to sex scenes in science fiction.  They’re spread throughout the day so I’ll be hopping.  And I will present a thirty-minute reading Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m.

If you’re going to be at Rustycon, come introduce yourself; I’d love to say hello and talk writing for a bit.

And stop by to hear me read, if you can.  My voice echoes something awful in an empty room.

The Best of Every Day Fiction 2009

Managing Editor Camille Gooderham Campbell e-mailed me yesterday to let me know four of my five flash fiction stories published at Every Day Fiction during the magazine’s second year (September 1, 2008 to August 31, 2009) will be included in The Best of Every Day Fiction 2009.

They aren’t a thing alike.

I Must to the Barber’s Chair is a gentle love story.  It appeared the first day of the publishing year — September 1.  In His Prime (October 16) is speculative fiction, a time-travel story involving one of boxing’s most famous champions. Oh, Woman of Easy Virtue (November 21) is a snarky bit of whimsical word play.  Upon the Doorsteps (January 22 — my birthday) is a somber mother-daughter encounter that just might be a ghost story.

I love each one and each for a different reason.  And I’m so pleased they appeared at Every Day Fiction.

Thank you, Camille.

Back in the saddle

After a six-month stint, I stepped down last week as a slush reader for Every Day Fiction. My time in the job was a delight and an education, and I think I am a better writer and a better editor for the experience.

It’s amazing what some folks submit to magazines, hoping to be published. That was part of the education. But it was also so much fun to happen upon a well-told tale. That was the delight.

And stepping down allows me to submit flash fiction to Camille and Jordan again. I wasted no time.

The day after I turned in my notice, Jake Freivald, editor at Flash Fiction Online, e-mailed me, passing on Canticles. So I wiped its nose, tucked in its noir and sent it back out the door to Every Day Fiction.

I just heard from Camille. She said it was “a great story” and that she would give it a home.

Canticles didn’t wander around forever, but it’s a good example of why a writer shouldn’t give up on a story because one or two (or a dozen) editors reject it. If it’s a good story, the right fusion of writer-story- editor will happen.

As Tim Allen’s Captain Jason Nesmith said in Galaxy Quest, “Never give up. Never surrender.”

Thanks, Camille. It’s good to be back on the writers’ roster at Every Day Fiction.

I’ll let the rest of you know when to look for Canticles. Thanks for dropping by.

A well-placed word

Well-placed words are valuable.

Yesterday, novelist and teacher Mary Rosenblum was kind enough to tell folks about 10Flash, my quarterly e-zine for genre flash fiction, in her Writer’s eNews column at Long Ridge Writers Group and visits to 10Flash have rocketed.

Thank you, Mary.