I write to escape. Instead of looking around and asking “Why?” (which I find myself doing more and more often these days) I want to look into the mists and ask, “What if?”
Then my job is to clear away the mists and show people what “What if?” would look like.
Some fiction takes place in worlds where just about everything is different. Flatland, a story about a square living in two-dimensional space, is one of the most extreme examples. An example we’re more familiar with is Alice in Wonderland. I’m in awe of writers who can manage that sort of worldbuilding.
By contrast, the fiction I write usually takes place in recognizable worlds where one small element is different. For an alternate history, it might be a past in which two people who never met encounter each other. I’ve written time travel stories in which people from the past encounter each other and build a different future. This approach is certainly inspired by my fascination with Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworldseries.
Quite a few speculative fiction works examine humans in settings where a major physical or cultural rule is different: A world where gender roles are switched or societies have multiple or fluid genders, such as the one described in Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Dystopian fiction, such as Stephen King’s The Stand, often looks at the ways in which humans might respond to a disaster (nuclear war, alien attack, or a pandemic).
One of the most fascinating variations on the “one change” theme involves the ways in which a completely isolated group of people build or maintain a culture. Would we do it better this time? This includes Riverworld (again), Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, and Mike Resnick’s astonishing short story “For I Have Touched the Sky,” (available online), part of his Kirinyaga novel. (If you are familiar with Resnick through his humorous space opera stories, Kirinyaga is quite different, and deadly serious. I recommend approaching it without reading any spoilers.)
I have more to say on the topic of writing to escape, but I’ll stop here for the moment. Go read “For I Have Touched the Sky.”
I’ve never asked anyone to draw a picture of what they saw while reading one of my stories, but Space and Time magazine did. They asked artist Anthony R. Rhodes to illustrate “The Hum of the Wheel, the Clack of the Loom.”
When I write a short story, I see it as a film. There are scenes, locations, changes of perspective, wide shots, and close-ups. (When I edit a short story, my edits often involve sharpening a scene, modifying the sound or lighting, or changing the perspective from which the story/film is told/shot.)
If I do it right, I assume a reader will see in their mind something close to what I’ve seen in mine.
I’ve never asked anyone to draw a picture of what they saw while reading one of my stories, but Space and Time magazine did. They asked artist Anthony R. Rhodes to illustrate “The Hum of the Wheel, the Clack of the Loom.” It’s a story with a high fantasy setting but one that makes reference to contemporary social issues.
When I saw the illustration, I gasped. It was exactly what I’d envisioned, complete with a perspective that centers on the protagonist as he views a puzzling and disturbing conflict. The illustration even captures my fantastical beasts, the sofhars, exactly as I’d imagined them.
Rhodes was generous enough to post the illustration on his website for everyone to enjoy. His accompanying blog post talks about the processes he used to develop the black-and-white illustration, including inspiration drawn from my Scandinavian heritage, the work of Swedish illustrator John Bauer, and Rhodes’ own fascination with Iceland.
In “The Right Man for the Job,” desperate Democrats hold a séance to bring Molly Ivins, Adlai Stevenson II, and Walter Cronkite back from the afterlife to “do something” about Trump.
What I like best about writing fiction is getting to solve my characters’ problems. And what I like best about writing speculative fiction is getting to use a bit of magic to do so.
Last spring I asked a friend active in Democratic politics what on Earth the party was going to do about Trump. When the answer came back, “We have no idea!” — I knew it was time for a fantastic solution.
The result is my short story “The Right Man for the Job,” published today in the anthology More Alternative Truths (B Cubed Press). In it, desperate Democrats hold a séance to bring Molly Ivins, Adlai Stevenson II, and Walter Cronkite back from the afterlife to “do something” about Trump. The pundit, politician, and newsman refuse to answer the summons, but Cronkite comes up with a better idea: They recruit former president Lyndon Baines Johnson, who is infuriated when he hears what Trump is doing to education, healthcare, and the rest of the Great Society’s programs. Armed with his favorite Scotch, his beagles, and some damning evidence obtained from the late J. Edgar Hoover, LBJ comes back as a ghost to terrify the White House, the Executive Office Building and Capitol Hill.
For More Alternative Truths, Brown pulled together an editorial team that includes Lou J Berger, Phyllis Irene Radford, and Rebecca McFarland Kyle. The 45 writers involved include major names in contemporary science fiction: Lou Antonelli, David Brin, Adam-Troy Castro, Esther Friesner, Philip Brian Hall, Vonda N. McIntyre, John A. Pitts, Irene Radford, Mike Resnick, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Jane Yolen, and Jim Wright. (Wright’s essay for the first anthology, “President Trump, Gettysburg, November 19, 1863,” spawned its own theater piece (complete with Trump in a stovepipe hat and Melania at his side in bonnet, shawl and sunglasses), now available as a YouTube video. In More Alternative Truths, Wright casts Trump as Moses presenting the Ten Commandments.)
The stories themselves range from chilling and grim to amusing and delightful. Stephanie Weippert pens a sad letter home from a women’s rights activist serving a life sentence in federal prison. Wonder Vanian gives us the story of a young gay man, wearing the mandatory rainbow on his shirt, on a train on his way to the Atlanta Re-Orientation Camp. In the disturbing “Queens Crossing,” Lou Antonelli poses an alternate reality so plausible that I emerged from it temporarily disoriented. In Manny Frishberg and Edd Vick’s “Tweetstorm,” the president tweets his way into outer space.
In short, this book is the perfect read for anyone who is concerned about the current political situation. Whether you stood up for Hillary, backed Bernie, went the Libertarian route, or just threw your hands in the air and screamed, these stories, poems, and essays will amuse, educate, astonish, and ultimately inspire as we head toward mid-term elections and on to 2020.
Just over 100 days ago, on Jan. 23, science fiction author Bob Brown issued a writing challenge: Imagine the future during or after the Trump presidency. Write a story. Submit it to an anthology to be called Alternative Truths.
“This is an anthology about the future in an alternative fact world,” Bob wrote. “What does the future hold? Endless alternative facts? Brilliant leadership? Alien invasions? Zombies in the White House?”
Bob set about co-editing the anthology with Phyllis Irene Radford, vowing to publish the book within the first 100 days of the Trump administration.
As submissions came in, Bob formed the private Facebook group Alternative Truth (now public) so the participants could discuss the project. In a field where submissions generally vanish behind a curtain from which editors issue cryptic rejections, the decision to open-source the anthology project seemed both odd and courageous. Did these people know what they were getting into?
I submitted a dystopian story, “Patti 209,” and joined the Facebook group.
Day by day, Phyl and Bob answered questions about manuscript guidelines, deadlines, and their progress as they waded through what turned out to be 94 submissions. To my surprise, they asked those of us in the Facebook group for our opinions about contract terms, the book’s title, subtitles, tagline, blurbs, cover designs, marketing and more. And the group approved, by Facebook comments and email, Bob’s plan to donate a share of any profits to the ACLU of Washington state.
I worried that the group would turn into a breeding ground for arguments and hurt feelings, and even damage the final product. But that never happened. Bob and Phyl stood their ground, made tough decisions, and nailed the ambitious deadline.
The result was not merely a great experience for the writers involved, but a book that launched as the #1 ranked science fiction anthology on Amazon.
How did that happen? To some degree, we’re still trying to figure it out!
What I can tell you is this:
Bob was concerned and curious about living in a world defined by “alternative facts” and governed by people who wield them. He wanted to encourage people to think about the implications of the new Trump government.
To this end, he invited leaders in the fields of science fiction and political commentary to write for the anthology, as well as throwing the project open for general submissions. He received and bought stories from Jim Wright (known for the political blog Stonekettle Station), Endeavor Award-winner Louise Marley, journalist and cultural critic Daniel M. Kimmel, Philip K. Dick Award-winner Adam Troy-Castro, and science fiction critic Marleen S. Barre. Submissions came in from writers in England, Canada, and Wales, as well as from across the U.S.
With guidance from friends in the ebook-publishing collective Bookview Cafe (where Phyl is a member), Bob and Phyl got both an ebook and a print book designed and formatted. Again, members of the Facebook group were invited to help proofread files. By April 26 files were uploaded to Amazon.com and other platforms. A marketing/PR plan, and a PR person, were in place. But when Alternative Truths, both ebook and print editions, debuted at the top of science fiction and political fiction category rankings on Amazon on April 28, we were all pretty astonished.
We shouldn’t have been. I’d read the book (while helping to proof the formatting) and was delighted by the high quality of the stories Bob and Phyl had chosen and edited. The stories ranged from short to long, journalistic to literary, and hysterically funny to depressingly grim. I think the standouts are Jim Wright’s terrifying “President Trump, Gettysburg, November 19, 1863” and Louise Marley’s heartbreaking “Relics: a fable.”
I’ve just started out as a fiction writer, and, as is the case with many semi-pro authors, my stories appear in anthologies rather than major magazines. I made it into the Aurora Award-winning Second Contacts and The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper Stories. Both of those were traditional publishing experiences, with the editors and publishers responsible for just about everything. Alternative Truths was a whole new approach — one that shouldn’t have worked but which, astonishingly and wonderfully, did.
Tip from Worldcon: A great author reading is 7 minutes long. Plus information about the Two Hour Transport speculative fiction readings in Seattle.
In the elevator at the Hugo Loser’s party Saturday night, a bunch of us were discussing authors who give great readings.
Tom and I wrote an article for Locus about readings a while back that included advice from Harlan Ellison, Neil Gaiman, Eileen Gunn, and Andrea Hairston. But a fellow in the elevator — a New York editor whose name I am horrified to say that didn’t get — had a tip I hadn’t heard before.
“Seven minutes!” he said as we piled out of the elevator and into the Midland Theater lobby. “A great reading is seven minutes.”
When I got home from the convention I looked it up and, sure enough, the memoirist Gigi Rosenberg wrote an extensive blog post, 7 Tips for Giving a Powerful Public Reading, that includes the 7-minute rule. (All of Rosenberg’s suggestions are great, especially #3, so I urge you to go over there and read them.)
If you are in the Seattle area and want to hear (or participate in) short readings of speculative fiction, check out Two Hour Transport at Cafe Racer. The monthly series spotlights two authors each month; their readings are preceded by an open mic (5-minute slots).
This month’s invited readers are Coral Moore (published in a number of magazines, and online at Diabolical Plots) and Evan J. Peterson, volume editor of the Lambda Literary Award finalist Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam: Gay City 5.
Build a foundation for the next wave of speculative fiction by supporting the Clarion West Write-a-thon. Find out what 200 writers are doing this summer to raise money for the Clarion West Writers Workshop.
Summer is early in Seattle, and I’m getting a head start on my annual summer project.
Clarion West, along with its sister program, Clarion in San Diego, is renowned as the world’s pre-eminent workshop for emerging writers of speculative fiction. (“Spec fic” covers everything from the magic realism that Junot Diaz writes for The New Yorker to George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones to classic science fiction novels like Starship Troopers and fantasy like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Quite a range.)
This year Clarion West accepted 18 students from across the world, most of them recent college graduates. They were chosen based on the quality of their writing. If they follow in the footsteps of previous Clarion West graduates, more than a third of the Class of 2015 will go on to publish professionally. Many of them will be nominated for — and win — major awards in the field of speculative fiction.
For the students, the six-week Clarion West residential workshop is a full-immersion, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Many of the students have left their jobs to attend, borrowed money from family and friends to pay for travel, and several of them are receiving support from Clarion West’s scholarship program.
How You Can Get Involved
If you are a speculative fiction reader, I encourage you to underwrite the next wave of speculative fiction by supporting Clarion West, its scholarships, and its operations (run by a part-time staff and a cadre of volunteers).
The Clarion West Write-a-thon seeks donations at all levels, from $5 to $1000. (Many donors divide their donations, giving $5 or $10 through each of a dozen or more writers’ pages.)
Meet the Writers
The Write-a-thon harnesses the power of some 200 writers, people at all stages of their careers, who form a “shadow workshop.” While the six-week workshop for the Class of 2015 is underway, the Write-a-thon participants work to meet their own goals. Each of these writers has created a Write-a-thon page where you can read an excerpt of their work and see the goals they’ve set for writing and for raising money for Clarion West.
You’ll find folks including Aliette de Bodard, Helena Bell, Steve Miller, Henry Lien, Kelly Sandoval, Usman Malik, Eileen Gunn, J.M. Sidorova, Randy Henderson, E. Lily Yu, Pat Cadigan, Mark Teppo, Nisi Shawl, Paul Park, Neile Graham, Julie McGalliard, Caroline M. Yoachim, Helen Marshall, Curtis Chen, Rachel Swirsky, Kris Millering, and this year’s Worldcon Guest of Honor, Vonda N. McInytre. You’ll find Viable Paradise workshop graduates, include Beth Morris Tanner, Spencer German Ellsworth — and me.
What am I’m doing for this year’s Write-a-thon? After spending the past six months submitting stories to magazines and anthologies (I’ve sold three stories, which will be published this fall), I’m going to spend the Write-a-thon focusing solely on new writing. I’ll be writing six stories for the Write-a-thon — and my plan includes opportunities for the people who sponsor me to act as “muses” for those works.
Suddenly, they’re everywhere. Websites with big, bold home pages. Big headlines. Big, colorful backgrounds that evoke posters. No sidebars, ever. Want more information? Start scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.
Suddenly, they’re everywhere.
Websites with big, bold home pages. Big headlines. Big, colorful backgrounds that evoke posters. No sidebars, ever. Want more information? Start scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.
This isn’t news to designers. But it may be news to lots of folks in Marketing and Communications who are working with the current industry standard template — a top nav; a photo slideshow; three “boxes” filled with teaser information linking to pages deeper in the site; and secondary pages with complex sidebars.
What’s driving the change
Blame the trend toward scrolling sites on mobile devices and tablets (and their touch screens). By late 2013, 28 percent of website visits were from mobile devices (phones and tablets) and that percentage was growing at a phenomenal rate. For businesses whose visitors are in demographics that rely on phones and tablets, the percentage is likely far larger. For the mobile visitor, clicking little text links on a touchscreen is painful; scrolling, a breeze
What’s gained, what’s lost
My experience with mobile-friendly websites that rely on scrolling is that the process of getting information from them is less hierarchical and more immersive. I get a sense of the personality of the organization. If I need to click to get to a secondary page, the link is a large, bold button.
That said, I miss the hierarchy. Without a detailed site map or drop-down navigation, it’s easy to feel that you’re lost and overwhelmed.
Perhaps that’s why some of the most appealing scrolling sites are ones that represent simple, discreet events (such as a conference).
Thinking about migrating your organization to a scrolling website design? These 12 scrolling sites featured on awards.com provide plenty of inspiration. Be sure to check out the Unfold site — it’s a continuous loop!
It’s time to join Clarion West’s “shadow workshop” and spend the summer writing.
Are you a wordsmith who wants to spend more time writing fiction?
I’m always delighted when my friends in journalism, marketing communications, and technical writing reveal that they have fiction projects underway — novels, short stories, poetry, and flash fiction. I want to tell you about a great way to get some of that creative work done this summer, as part of a virtual community of 300 writers.
Clarion West is a Seattle nonprofit that for 30 years has hosted a six-week residential summer workshop for writers of speculative fiction. It also has less-intensive opportunities for those of us who want to experiment with fiction writing or get back to a neglected fiction project. One of those opportunities is the summer Write-a-thon.
The Write-a-thon is like a Walk-a-thon, but usually less physical (unless your computer is on one of those new treadmill desks).
Here’s how the Write-a-thon works: You set goals for your fiction writing and, if you want, a goal for raising money for Clarion West’s operations. Then you create a Clarion West account and a Write-a-thon page. After that, all you have to do is start writing.
If you’re the marketing type, tell your friends what you’re doing and ask them to support you and Clarion West. If you’re shy — hey, that’s OK. Clarion West will list you on their website, with a link to a Write-a-thon page where people can read your bio and an excerpt of your (published or unpublished) writing. You’ll attract donors (and perhaps secret admirers) this way.
Perks of Write-a-thon participation include hanging out with the Clarion West community on Facebook and attending “Tweet-ups” with some very cool authors.
I hope you’ll join me in getting some writing done this summer and raising some money for Clarion West.
My Clarion West Write-a-thon page is up. I’ve set the goal of writing three new short stories and submitting one to a magazine or anthology. I’ve also set a goal of raising $1,000 towards Clarion West’s operating expenses.
I hope you’ll join us, as a writer (Sign up before June 22!) or as a donor (You’ll have until August 2 to make a contribution). Please visit the Clarion West Write-a-thon headquarters to check out the growing list of Write-a-thon participants and read excerpts of fiction from hot new authors like Corry Skerry, Cat Rambo, and Jude-Marie Green and established novelists like Steve Miller and Cassie Alexander.
Please feel free to ask me questions about Clarion West, and I’ll be happy to answer them.
Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Clarion West board of directors and I’m committed to making a transformational workshop experience available for talented and courageous writers.
Steve Davidson and a team of 50 bloggers have relaunched Amazing Stories magazine as a community site for science fiction fans.
April 1926 —Hugo Gernsback, publisher of Electrical Experimenter science magazine, launched the first magazine devoted to science fiction — or what Gernsback liked to call “scientifiction.” Amazing Stories was published for almost 80 years, passing through the hands of a wide range of publishers (including, in the late 1990s, Wizards of the Coast). It debuted writers including Isaac Asimov and Ursula K. Le Guin, but the magazine suffered from uneven leadership, uneven quality, and controversial editorial policies. It ceased publication in 2005.
January 21, 2013 —Steve Davidson of Experimenter Publishing (note the company name) has re-launched Amazing Stories as a web community, with the goal of establishing a market that will enable him to revive the professional fiction magazine. Davidson, curator of the Classic Science Fiction Channel website and author of several books on paintball, spent three years obtaining the rights to the Amazing Stories name. He published two online issues of the magazine last year, as a proof of concept.
“Every genre fan now has a chance to help support the creation of a new market for the stories, artwork, and articles they all love so much,” Davidson said in a news release this morning.
At the core of the new site’s content are posts by a team of bloggers covering a wide range of science fiction-related topics. The site will offer product reviews, convention news and listings, and will take advertising.
I have more than just a science fiction reader’s interest in the revival of Amazing Stories. I’m going to be one of the bloggers for the site, writing primarily (but not exclusively) about my explorations of science fiction-related communities including gaming, girl geekdom, the Maker community, Steampunk, Browncoats, Discworld, and SF/mystery crossovers. Please come join us at Amazing Stories.
This includes some of the finest speculative fiction I’ve read. David’s explorations of astonishingly imaginative “what if?” scenarios are precise, rigorous, and often deeply moving. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:
“This Endeavour Award-winning collection pulls together 15 critically acclaimed science fiction and fantasy stories that take readers from a technicolor cartoon realm to an ancient China that never was, and from an America gone wrong to the very ends of the universe. Including the Hugo Award-winning “Tk’Tk’Tk,” the Writers of the Future Award winner “Rewind,” “Nucleon,” “The Tale of the Golden Eagle,” and many other highly praised stories, Space Magic shows David D. Levine’s talents not only as a gifted writer but as a powerful storyteller whose work explores the farthest reaches of space as well as the depths of the human heart.”
The collection is $5.99, and the stories in it are available as individual ebooks for 99 cents each. Highly recommended.
Book View Café (“Because you can never have too many ebooks”) publishes works by Vonda N. McIntyre, Laura Anne Gilman, Jeffrey A. Carver, Phyllis Irene Radford, Linda Nagata, Chaz Brenchley, and many other speculative fiction, mystery, and romance authors. While you’re there, check out Chris Dolley’s Reeves & Worcester Steampunk mysteries, including What Ho, Automation!