A Canny Decision

Last year, I supported the first year of Uncanny Magazine on Kickstarter at a level that got me a guaranteed slot in one of Mary Robinette Kowal’s weekend intensive short story workshops. As a writer, that workshop was life-changing for me and my art. It also introduced me to a group of fellow writers who I’m proud to call friends and who I meet with regularly for story critiques and fannish talk.

Uncanny is currently running a Kickstarter for their second year of putting out amazing fiction, insightful nonfiction, great podcasts, and gorgeous cover art. And Mary is once again offering a couple of workshop slots. As of this writing, only one remains.

The point I’m trying to make if that if you want to support a great magazine and you also want to grok short story writing better, you should jump at this opportunity.

Help fund Uncanny Magazine Year Two on Kickstarter.


Brief Puppy Thoughts from a Trufan

My dad doesn’t own a computer, doesn’t go on the internet, and doesn’t have a particular desire to change either fact. He’s also been a capital “F” Fan for longer than you, dear reader, may have been alive.

He asked me over the phone today if I could give him the main Hugo winners, and when I told him that give categories had been claimed by Mr Noah Ward, he simply responded, “That’ll learn them.”

So, from someone far older than I, a thought on the Hugos and fandom in general: we will survive this like we have survived other problems, and we will learn and become better.

This, too, shall pass.


Hugos & Puppies: Peeling The Onion

Originally posted on shattersnipe: malcontent & rainbows:

On the phone from the Middle East, where he is currently deployed, Torgersen lamented what he called “the cognitive dissonance of people saying, ‘No, the Hugos are about quality,’ and then at the same time they’re like: ‘Ooh, we can vote for this author because they’re gay, or for this story because it’s got gay characters,’ or, ‘Ooh, we’re going to vote for this author because they’re not white.’ As soon as that becomes the criteria, well, quality goes out the window.”

Who Won Science Fiction’s Hugo Awards, and Why It Matters, by Amy Wallace

In light of this year’s Hugo Award results, and with particular reference to Amy Wallace’s excellent rundown on the Puppies affair, I feel moved to address the Sad, rather than the Rabid, contingent. Per Torgersen’s remarks above, and setting aside every other aspect of the debate that renders me alternately queasy or enraged…

View original 3,584 more words


Book (Ok, Story) Boost: Sunil Patel’s “The Merger”

Internet-friend and fellow Bay Area author Sunil @ghostwritingcow Patel has an ebook out today! He wrote “The Merger” as catharsis when his employers were being acquired. Here are tweets that should tell you most of what you need to know about “The Merger” prior to reading it:

Now just go read it.

At The Book Smugglers (free!)

On your Kindle (US, not free, but on your Kindle, and don’t you want to support Sunil getting paid?)

DRM-free for everywhere (also not free as in beer, but free as in freedom)

(Other device-specific links available at The Book Smugglers link above; scroll down.)

Previously from the author: “Marcie’s Waffles Are the Best in Town”


Short Fiction Roundup: Late May, Early June

So I’m pretty determined to actually read some things that come out this year during the year they’re published, so that maybe I can make more informed awards decisions next year. To that end, I now present some short fiction I read recently and really enjoyed, featuring terrifying babies, terrifying waffles, and something that isn’t a bomb.

First up (and most recently published), is “Look,” by Sarah @gaileyfrey Gailey, whose bio indicates that she’s local to me, so maybe I can blame her in person when I have trouble sleeping tonight. “Look” is a seriously creepy story which had added weight for me because recently everyone around me is having babies. It’ll only take you a few minutes to read, but it will stick with you for quite some time.

Next up, “Marcie’s Waffles Are the Best in Town,” by Twitter’s @ghostwritingcow (wtf?), AKA Sunil Patel (another Oaklander). As Sunil tells it, this story came from his asking twitter for a writing prompt last summer and getting “apocalyptic waffles” in response. If I taught writing, I would probably use this story as an example of how you do sensory writing the right way. This story will make you hungry for waffles. It’s also a sad story about the aftermath of the apocalypse, and a mother’s guilt. It isn’t actually terrifying—I lied for the sake of the pattern—but it is a sad story (and damn good). So maybe go cheer yourself up with waffles afterwards? And a milkshake.

Finally, we have “Time Bomb Time,” by C.C. Finlay (@ccfinlay), who lives in Arizona, I think, and therefore is very far away from Oakland. I love a lot of things about this story, and one of them is that the title works on a couple levels, and you won’t get one of those levels until after you’ve read the story. (I only just got that level now, several days after reading the story, on reflecting about it, so.) Without wanting to spoil much, this is one of the freshest takes I’ve read in a while on time travel (sort of). I give it [*National Movie Review voice*] three thumbs up.

Anyhow, those are some of the stories I’ve read recently that I really enjoyed. I’ll try to make this a more regular occurrence on here. Now go read. What are you waiting for?


On Cover Letters

Not every market I submit to asks for a cover letter, but they’re nice to include anyway, even if it’s only something as short as

Dear [editorial horde/slush pile heroes],

Thank you for taking the time to consider for publication my story, [title], which is about [length] words long.

Best,

Hilary

Some markets do ask for cover letters as a way to pre-screen those people who haven’t even bothered to read their submission guidelines, and I always think it’s nice to give thanks to the heroic slushers and editors who are at least looking at my first 13 lines. Other than crafting amusing ways for C. C. Finlay to reject my submissions, should he need to, though, I don’t usually put a whole lot into my cover letters. I’d guess that you don’t either?

So, a story about how a well-crafted cover letter can be a good thing.

In the 80’s, my dad worked as an editor at Amazing Science Fiction Stories. Working at a magazine means a lot of things, and not all of them are totally exciting. One day, it fell to him to separate cover letters from rejected manuscripts, put the cover letters in the round file, and put the manuscripts in their return envelopes (those being the days before widespread computer ownership, when a writer would want their manuscript back, rather than having to type it out again). As this was not a job that required much thought, he would scan the cover letters before tossing them.

It was in so doing that he ran across the cover letter of an as-yet-unpublished author named Lois McMaster Bujold.

He read the cover letter.

He re-read it.

He thought to himself, “This is the greatest cover letter I’ve ever read. It has got a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is an author who is going places.” And then, rather than tossing it, he date-stamped the cover letter, stuck it in a sleeve, and took it home with him.

Despite this, they did not end up publishing the story to which the cover letter was attached. It appeared in print some years later, after Lois had begun to make a name for herself.

Some years after taking home that cover letter, my father saw that Lois was going to be a guest at an upcoming convention, so he made sure to bring the cover letter with him, still carefully preserved, and sought her out.

He told her the story, showed her the cover letter. To this day, I believe that my dad can claim to be her first Fan. He still buys all of her books new.

This isn’t to say that you must labor over your cover letters, workshopping them with your writing groups, turning them into works of literature in their own rights. It’s only to say that maybe you should think twice before you totally phone it in on your next cover letter (or skip it entirely).


On One’s Start

I was reading something, I think it was Ken Liu’s interview in the May issue of Locus, and saw talk of where any particular author got their start, and how whatever story they tell is likely to be at least partly fictional, and that got me thinking about where my start was in genre.

I can tell the story of how I started writing sometime, but I feel like that’s less important, and in some ways I think it directly follows on how I got started as a fan of SFF. (As far as I can tell, all fans are also writers to some extent—we read these stories, and, at some point or another, we want to tell our own stories as well—it’s just that some folks continue writing, and others don’t.)

I grew up the child of fans. The first novel I remember having read to me, at the tender age of three or four, I think, was The Hobbit. I must have asked my dad to read it over to me half a dozen times over the next few years. My dad collects foreign-language editions of Tolkien’s bibliography, and as he read to me, if there were a choice illustration from another edition of the book that he thought would enhance my experience of the story, he would have it on hand. For many people, Peter Jackson’s depiction of Gollum is the be-all end-all; they cannot think of him any other way. For me, it was the illustration of “Riddles in the Dark” found in the Japanese edition of The Hobbit.

Afterwards, there were many other books and authors that followed who grew my love of story—Redwall, Terry Pratchett, Ursula K. Le Guin, Edward Eager, E. Nesbit—but my dad and Tolkien started me down the path I’m on.


On Deadlines

I need deadlines to finish my stories. Like, I need deadlines.

So, because I figure that if you’re reading this blog, chances are that you’re a writer who needs deadlines, too, here are some deadlines.

If you’re working on a short story of under 7000 words, your deadline to finish a first draft is Sunday, May 31st. (If you’re reading this in the future, your deadline is 6 days from now. Right now. What are you waiting for?)

If you’re working on a novella or novelette under 20000 words, your deadline is June 10th to finish that first draft. I know that’s only 16 days from now, but you can do it. Keep up that momentum.

If you’re working on something longer than that, you have 2 months. That puts you at July 25th. I know it may seem impossible, but try anyway. At worst, you’ll get to hear that nice sound that deadlines make when they go whizzing past you.

And so you don’t think I’m bullshitting you, I’m holding myself to that May 31st deadline to finish the story I’m working on right now.

Good luck!


On Sinking or Submitting

Those of you who follow my twitter may have seen this when I announced it sometime last week, but for those of you who don’t I recently released Sink or Submit, a motivational game/web-app for writers, especially those of you who are in writing groups.

The premise is simple: for every submission that you send to a magazine or publisher, you get a point, and you get another point for every rejection. If you have the most points of anyone in your group, you get to sit at the top of the leaderboard and have a nice little trophy. If you get an acceptance, though, your score resets to zero. But you sold a story, so you still win.

Sink or Submit is entirely free to use, and the source is available on my GitHub. If you want to support the development of Sink or Submit, you can contribute code, or, if you just want to toss me a few cents and don’t mind giving money to the Evil Empire, you can start your next Amazon order from this link.


Of Noble Book Tours

Last night, I made a rare weeknight trek across the bay to San Francisco. I got home late, and now I’m running on Irish breakfast tea as much as anything else.

And it was

So

Worth

It.

The reason for this unusual behavior on my part was that Mary Robinette Kowal and Marie Brennan, fabulous authors, both, were finishing up their book tour with a stop at Borderlands Books. There were readings from books that aren’t out yet. There were puppets and natural history lessons. There were secrets that we are sworn to keep. There was fannish squeeing. Tor (their publisher) even bought us wine and cheese.

I must admit, at this point, that I don’t get out very much, and this was my first time going to a book tour stop in a very long time. It might have spoiled me for other tours. Mary and Marie both dressed in period clothing (Mary in a Regency-era dress that she herself sewed as practice for making the dress that appears on the cover of her most recent book, Of Noble Family, Marie in a Victorian dress sewn by one of the costumers for the SF Opera), and at the end of the reading, there were prizes for those who came in costume. (Next time they come through, I’m determined to put together a Back Watch parade uniform, or something approaching that, at least.)

Mary read from her upcoming novel, Ghost Talkers, which opens in a warehouse near the front during the Somme with our protagonist speaking to the spirit of a recently-deceased soldier of the Black Watch to determine enemy locations and movements and relay that information to command. I’ve been seriously excited for this book since I read a bit of its first chapter during the workshop I took from Mary back in January, but her reading, complete with accents (Mary is a professional audiobook narrator, after all) has me even more stoked (and panicking about how I’m going to finish my huge to-read pile in preparation for that book’s release). Following the reading, Mary (also a professional puppeteer) performed “The Broken Bridge,” a shadow puppet play that was popular during the time period in which her Glamourist Histories are set.

Marie took the podium next to read the first chapter from her upcoming fourth book in the Lady Trent series, the title of which I have sadly forgotten. Marie’s reading, likewise, was excellent, and she had the audience laughing many times. Her reading was followed by a brief natural history lecture in which artifacts from the world of her books were passed through the audience. Dragon teeth and claws, reproduction skulls and eggs, a mysterious fossil of an unknown but ginormous beast: Marie’s lecture had it all.

The readings and demonstrations were followed by a Q&A period, in which we, the attendees, learned some secrets. Pity you who were not there. We also got a story from Mary about her time on the set of Sesame Street. Yes, that Sesame Street.

I know, right?

So much squeeing.

A book signing followed, as is only right. We were bribed to buy local with the promise of sandalwood fans. My messenger bag smells fantastic.

And Mary recognized me, even though I wasn’t shivering under a pile of coats and blankets in my home office.

I got a hug from a Hugo-winning author. Hashtag humblebrag.

(EEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! There, I managed to save that for later, rather than squeeing directly at Mary.)

So yeah. Worth it.

I can’t wait for their next book tour to come through town (Borderlands, I love you, but maybe Pegasus could have the next one, so I can stay in the East Bay?), and I really strongly encourage you to check out both authors’ books and stories and go see them the next time they come through your town. You won’t be sorry.


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