Escaping from the real world

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 Riverworld series.

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.”

That Man Looks Familiar

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.

You can find the story, and the illustration, in Space and Time #140.

Foresight, hindsight, and the mid-term elections

“Bonding over stories is an ancient, primal pastime. Bards and tale-tellers kept the lights on through the dark times, and hopefully we can do the same.”

B Cubed Press books

On November 7, we’ll know if the Democrats and progressives have taken back Congress — or if the Republicans have, once again, succeeded in doing what people keep saying they can’t possibly get away with.

What does the future hold? For the past two years, the people at B Cubed Press have been grappling with that question.

Bob Brown, a publisher from Eastern Washington, pulled two dozen of us together in the wake of the presidential inauguration to work on Alternative Truths, an anthology so successful that he followed up with More Alternative Truths, After the Orange (stories about a post-Trump future), and Alternative Theologies: Parables for a Modern World. Each anthology added more writers and more points of view. B Cubed Press projects have attracted some of the sharpest futurists around, among them poet and children’s book author Jane Yolen, blogger Jim Wright (Stonekettle Station), and science fiction authors David Gerrold and Brenda Cooper.

Screen Shot 2018-10-22 at 7.54.18 PMBrown says that when he formed B Cubed Press and published the first Alternative Truths anthology, he thought he knew what he was doing. “It was meant as satire about the political situation. Not as prophecy.”

He was taken aback when many of the dark stories and poems in his science fiction anthology were rapidly outpaced — by the daily news.

“We wrote assuming there were constraining structures in place, things that would have prevented some of the great idiocies,” he says. “We were wrong. We wrote about the presidency and the accompanying absurdities, not imagining the collaboration that would come from Congress. Things we envisioned as dark possibilities became prophecies — and now a shameful history that will shape our country for most of our lives.”

Brown has a fifth anthology, Alternative Truths: Endgame, in the works. While the pool of contributors grows, many of us keep returning to the challenge of describing the country’s political future through fiction and poetry. My first story for Brown was a dystopian tale of an architect acclaimed in 2020 for designing the eldercare community of the future. Forty years later, when the story takes place, she’s trapped in her failing community after the country’s human services and healthcare systems have collapsed. For my second Alternative Truths story, I turned to humorous fantasy, imagining a feisty Molly Ivins and vengeful Walter Cronkite sending LBJ and J. Edgar Hoover back from the afterlife to haunt the Trump White House.

What’s next?

With the mid-term elections just a few weeks away, I asked my fellow B Cubed Press authors to look back on what they wrote in 2017 and early 2018. Were their predictions accurate? Were their fears justified? Are any of their proposed solutions being implemented? Are we still on track for some of the far futures outlined in After the Orange? Is there anything in their stories they’d change? Are they optimistic or pessimistic about the political future? Do they feel that we, as writers, can make any difference?

As usual, they had plenty to say. Their responses touched on topics ranging from the future of the environment to the power of fiction as a political tool. Some saw reasons for hope, others a darkening horizon. Here are excerpts from their responses, with links to the B Cubed Press books in which their stories and poems appear.

Reasons for hope

James Dorr, whose poem “Tit for Tat” appears in Alternative Theologies, is putting his hope in future generations. “I’m optimistic if younger people will invest more into the political process, including voting,” he says.

Manny Frishberg, editor of After the Orange, is “guardedly optimistic” about the future. He notes: “As Winston Churchill said, ‘Democracy is a very bad form of government, but let me remind you, all the rest are so much worse.’”

Marilyn Holt (author of the Alternative Theologies story “Everlasting Due”) is looking to the Midwest for leadership. “Medicine is strong in the Midwest, and there are some excellent schools,” she says. “This combination gives me hope. The Midwest could become a financially vibrant middle ground. It will look more like California or the Puget Sound area than Georgia.”

Lou Antonelli wrote the alternate history “Queens Crossing” for More Alternative Truths. “I believe America is a more durable and resilient nation than some people think,” he says. “Whatever you think of the present political climate, ‘this too shall pass.’”

Elana Gomel, author of “The Desert of the Real” (After the Orange), speaks from an immigrant’s perspective. “I am optimistic by nature,” she says. “Our family escaped one of the most evil regimes the world has ever known: the USSR. At the time, that behemoth of the empire, straddling half the world, seemed invincible. And yet less than a decade later it was gone. The USA is a great country with great people. Its relative youth, its immigrant diversity, its fierce individualism are its great strengths. I don’t believe it will ever go down the rabbit hole of totalitarianism. My grandmother survived Hitler and Stalin. Surely the people of this country can survive Trump.”

Philip Brian Hall, whose stories appear in More Alternative Truths and Alternative Theologies, also believes the people will prevail. A U.K. citizen, he says: “I fear, in short, that the roots of democracy may be shallower than we thought and the still relatively young plant frailer. But in both our countries I see a great number of good people who have shown they cannot be ignored for too long and pushed too far by professional politicians who have forgotten, if they ever knew, what it is like to be an ordinary citizen. This encourages me to believe that we can yet revitalize our political life and reconnect with the sound underlying principles of government to which our two countries, in particular, first gave expression in thought and deed.”

Faith in the mid-terms

Blaze Ward’s story “The Last Ranger” (Alternative Truths) is about the last federal park ranger certified to protect public lands. Ward hopes the mid-term elections will ensure that his tale remains a fantasy. “If we can overturn the House and maybe even the Senate, we’ll only be a decade undoing the damage,” he says. “If not, we’ll be generations.”

Brenda Cooper, whose “Maybe the Monarchs” (After the Orange) is about failed attempts to mitigate climate change, is also focused on the mid-terms. “We are in a race to save the planet, and the people running America right now clearly don’t care,” she says. “But as we approach the mid-terms I’m hoping that we manage to pull out a blocking move by taking at least one of the House and/or Senate.  I see more women running, more people of color running, more voters who are energized. I work in a local government, and our government works well and is reasonably responsive to constituents, cares about the planet, and works hard to create what we call an ‘inclusive and welcoming community.’”

Rebecca Kyle, who co-edited More Alternative Truths and contributed stories to three of the anthologies, is also putting her faith in the mid-terms. “We have a solid chance to vote some of the worst of them in the House and Senate out,” Kyle says. “I’ve noted some ‘career’ Republicans in my state have retired. ‘Cashed in’ is the description some political pundits are using. They may see their party now as a finite resource and their reputation is better served by getting out.”

Phyllis Irene Radford, an editor of Alternative Truths, More Alternative Truths, and Alternative Theologies, says “I’m waiting with bated breath for the mid-terms to see if voters realize the mistakes they made in choosing the current regime.”

Voices from the dark side

Several of the B Cubed Press authors report that they are losing hope.

“I’m still pretty wrung out from the whole Kavanaugh drama — and that isn’t even finished yet,” says Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. Her story “” appears in More Alternative Truths.

Stuart Hardy lives in the UK, which faces a similar political situation. His story, “A Beautiful Industry” (More Alternative Truths) portrays immigrants scapegoated for taking working class jobs when, he says, “it’s actually the mechanization of industry that’s seen a decline in manufacturing work.”

“If we don’t tackle the causes of political unrest, the next Trump may not just happen but the next Trump may be competent and be able to cause even greater damage than Trump’s managed,” Hardy says, “and that’s what terrifies me.”

J.G. Follansbee, whose story about global warming, “The Orange Street Parking Garage is FULL/OPEN,” appears in After the Orange, warns that time is running out. “Our government is showing no inclination whatsoever for tackling this problem in a serious way. I’m glad localities, such as my home town of Seattle, and many states are taking action, but only the federal government has the wherewithal to encourage the kind of change we need,” Follansbee says. “Instead, it seems that Washington will fiddle while the Earth burns.”

E.E. King (“The Faithless Angel” in Alternative Theologies) reports: “I’m pessimistic, but happy — fortunate that I still live in a beautiful world, sad for the creatures in it.”

S. Workman says, “Despite the bleak outlook of my story (“Sandarakinophobia” in After the Orange), I enjoyed having the opportunity to write about a futuristic underwater civilization, and speculating on what kind of society might result from it.”

Debora Godfrey, who wrote “Non-White in America” (More Alternative Truths) and “Don’t Get the Bible Wet” (Alternative Theologies) says her outlook these days is pessimistic. “My story ‘Non-White in America’ could be in the newspaper any day now,” she notes.

Hindsight about foresight

Quite a few of the authors said they’d have written their stories differently if they’d known what the next 18 months would bring.

Christopher Nadeau, who wrote “Ultimate Messiah Smackdown” for Alternative Theologies, says “If there’s an inaccuracy to be found in the story, it’s in the mild, yet easily dashed, optimistic undercurrent. If I’d written that story now, that would not be present.”

Paula Hammond contributed stories to three of the anthologies. “Good Citizens” (Alternative Truths) imagines the aftermath of a second civil war in a ‘whites only’ America while “Ghosts & Glory” (After the Orange) is a climate change story in which vast areas of America are under water. “To be honest, the worlds imagined in these stories are, sadly, becoming even more likely,” she says. “Now I realise that I didn’t go far enough!”

Charles Joseph Alpert wrote “Sunday with Javier and Papi” for After the Orange. The story is set 100 years in the future after a political civil war between the Reds and the Blues. “In the last year, I would say that we’ve only gotten closer to something like a civil war,” he says. “I’m surprised by how misogynistic the Trump camp seems to be growing. I didn’t think to put misogyny in my story.”

Mike Morgan says he would have upped the tension in his tale, “A Spider Queen in Every Home” (More Alternative Truths). “In light of recent events with the Supreme Court, I think I would’ve been tempted to have my lead character defend an obviously egregious sexual assault perpetrated by her manager as — somehow — the fault of the victim,” he says. “Because, it turns out, right-wing folks, they be happy to tie themselves up in logical knots tighter than anything I could’ve predicted in my wildest delusional fantasies.”

Larry Hodges would have given “The Monkey Cage Rules” (Alternative Truths) a more resounding ending. The story currently concludes with the question, “Can anyone rule the monkey cage?” (where “monkey cage” means “politics”). “I’d rather be more blunt,” Hodges says. “Our current politics shows that nobody can rule the monkey cage because our country is too split. I might even want to work in the Lincoln quote, ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’”

The story “How to Recognize a Shapeshifting Lizardman (Or Woman) Who Has Been Appointed to a High-Ranking Government Cabinet Position” (More Alternative Truths) is “not so funny anymore,” according to its author, Kurt Newton. “Now that the outlandish has become the norm, the poke is not as funny as first imagined,” he says. “I’d probably either rewrite the piece and take it up a notch to be even more ridiculous, or turn it into something more satirically biting.”

Poet Gwyndyn T. Alexander, who wrote “America Year Zero” (More Alternative Truths) and “A Liberal Prayer” and “A Conservative Prayer” (Alternative Theologies), says “I wish, looking back, that I had found more room for hope. As things get bleaker, hope is harder to find, and each smidgen of it is more precious.”

Manny Frishberg (After the Orange) concludes, “As the editor of a book of post-Trump future stories, I would have tried to find a few more hopeful, optimistic futures to project. Who knew the world would continue to get darker?”

Dreams (or nightmares) come true

While some of the authors felt they’d missed the mark, others were astonished to watch scenes from their fiction appear on the news.

Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 10.21.45 PMWhen John A. Pitts penned “The Last Flight of Captain Kittredge” for After the Orange, he thought his tale of a GOP oligarchy taking control of all three branches of our government was pretty outrageous. But now? Not so much. “We have psychosis gripping the nation, and Russians influencing our populace at an unprecedented level,” Pitts says.

In “aboutthechange.wav” (Alternative Truths) Joel Ewy‘s protagonist becomes unhinged as the truth twists and changes around him. “It was an attempt to understand the consequences of taking part in a forceful redefinition of truth and reality,” Ewy says. “If anything, the events since the time I wrote it have intensified this situation.”

Gregg Chamberlain saw a milder version of a scene from his story “Alt Right for the President’s End” (Alternative Truths) play out. “Trump did appear at the United Nations, but did not ‘break down and explode into cybernetic pieces’ on his way to the podium,” Chamberlain says. “The actual result of his U.N. visit was even better: getting laughed at by the General Assembly for his typical outlandishly inaccurate and fanciful claims.”

Daniel M. Kimmel notes that “It’s All Your Fault” (Alternative Truths) “is a rare story that marks me as prescient. When I wrote about aliens trolling on social media it was long before it came out that there was extensive Russian involvement in influencing the election.”

Edd Vick wrote “Call to Order” (After the Orange) and co-wrote with Manny Frishberg “Twitterstorm” (More Alternative Truths). “All I can say is that the president’s Twitter messages are more outrageous, more deranged, and more unintentionally funny than anything Manny & I could write,” Vick says. He explains, “We had to create a narrative, where Trump just has to stream his consciousness with no regard for consistency or the truth.”

A vote for the power of fiction

Several of the writers and editors involved in the project expressed the hope that their stories might inspire others — to activism, to understanding, and to action.

“I am proud of the authors that have submitted, spoken out, and taken what someday might be a real risk in putting their names on these books,” Bob Brown says. “This is not paranoia — this is looking at what happens under one party rule where the press is vilified, the courts are stacked, and opposition is considered treason.”

Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 11.18.06 AMMike Adamson, who stands by the dystopian future he portrayed in “Hellrider” (After the Orange), observes: “Creating dystopian science fiction used to be a warning, 40, 50 years ago; now it is a commentary on an ongoing situation, an ‘I told you so’ from the genre to the world. I doubt it gives any writer pleasure to be the one to say that, but, to steal a line from an American president of the past, ‘it must be said again and again with fierce conviction.’ If not by the writers of speculative fiction, then who?”

Perhaps the best way to end this roundup of observations from the B Cubed Press futurists is with Diana Hauer, who wrote “The Trumperor and the Nightingale” for Alternative Truths. She says “I wrote the story with a level of sympathy towards the Trumps that I no longer possess. I’m not sure I could write the same story today, I am too disgusted with everything. That said, I hope we can hold onto some of our human empathy for the other side, even the most deplorable examples. My hope with the work B Cubed is doing is that fiction can start knitting things back together. Bonding over stories is an ancient, primal pastime. Bards and tale-tellers kept the lights on through the dark times, and hopefully we can do the same.”

Where will we be After the Orange?

Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 8.12.06 PMThe writers and editors who put together the Alternative Truths and More Alternative Truths anthologies have taken a collective leap into our uncertain future with a new book, After the Orange: Ruin and Recovery.

Edited by my talented friend Manny Frishberg, the newest B Cubed Press anthology has stories by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Paula Hammond, Mike Adamson, J.G. Follansbee, me and 24 others. Our stories in After the Orange provide a glimpse of the world in 2032 and beyond.

Manny says: “Some stories are about imagined Resistance fighters while others, like ‘Garbage Patch Kids,’ envision people cheerfully making the best of their situation. Generally, the farther in the future a story looks, the more likely it is to be optimistic.”

“Maybe the Monarchs,” by Endeaver Award-winner Brenda Cooper, and J.G. Follansbee’s “The Orange St. Parking Garage Is FULL/OPEN” are all-to-plausible, and disturbingly so. I heard Brenda read “Maybe the Monarchs” at Norwescon this spring, where many in the audience were moved to tears.

Tom Whitmore, who helped proofread the anthology, recommends Su J. Sokol’s story “Studies in Shadow and Light,” a chilling tale of a government interrogation. I was fascinated by “The Orange Street Parking Garage is FULL/OPEN,” set in the ruins of the nation’s capitol. And I hope you’ll take a look at my story, “Bad Memories, 2032,” about the dedication of the Trump Presidential Library.

As I write this, submissions are about to close for the next B Cubed Press anthology, Alternative Truths III: Endgame. It will bring us back to the political turmoil of the not-to-distant future.

More Alternative Truths: Stories from the Resistance

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.

51i1Zf7iAWL-1What 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.

More Alternative Truths, available as an ebook and in paperback, is the brainchild of Bob Brown of B Cubed Press. His company’s debut anthology, Alternative Truths, has 89 reviews and a 5-star rating on (A third anthology, After the Orange, is now open for submissions.)

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.



Alternative Truths: An unexpected-success story

Alt truths cover
The cover of the Alternative Truths anthology

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.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 12.05.13 PM
Editor Bob Brown with the first copies of Alternative Truths

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 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.

Stay tuned. Bob’s started planning for volume 2.


The 7-minute solution for author readings

Tip from Worldcon: A great author reading is 7 minutes long. Plus information about the Two Hour Transport speculative fiction readings in Seattle.

Female student making a speech. She is standing at a podium and smiling to the crowd.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.

Pay in advance for speculative fiction

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.

woman reading a book with colors emerging

Summer is early in Seattle, and I’m getting a head start on my annual summer project.

No, not gardening! The Clarion West Write-a-thon. What’s that, you ask?

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.

Many of the writers are offering incentives to sponsors who donate through their pages. You can browse the writers, or search for your writer friends, here:

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.

TIP: Be sure to read Eileen Gunn’s writing sample, a flash-fiction piece about a time-traveling necktie collector.

Become a Sponsor — and My Muse

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.

Please visit my Clarion West Write-a-thon page to find out more. And, of course, to donate!

Writing: Finding my tone

Support me (or one of the other 250 Write-a-thon participants) as we “write it forward” to make it possible for other writers to attend Clarion West.

I started writing this post six years ago; amusingly, it’s just as true today as it was then. Including the part about the person asking me if I’d written the book. I’ll be spending the next six weeks rewriting a novella as part of the Clarion West Write-a-thon. Please stop by the Write-a-thon website to support me (or one of the other 250 writers) as we “write it forward” to make it possible for other writers to attend Clarion West.

BooksYesterday someone asked me “So, did you write your book?”

The answer is yes…and no.

In the past 20 years, I’ve written one novella and several short stories. I’ve also started several book projects.

For many aspiring fiction writers, the problem is story, or plot, or simply putting words on the blank page or screen.

For me, the problem is tone. Each of my fiction projects has a different tone, but (until after I studied at Viable Paradise last fall) none of them seemed to be my tone. I’ve seen this in the work of other writers who achieve a distinctive tone when working in a particular sub-genre but somehow “gray out” into blandness when they tackle a different type of story. I think that I’m only just now finding my sub-genre.

Meanwhile, people telling me to “write what people will want to buy” isn’t helpful.

It makes me think of a New Yorker “About Town” piece from many years back about novelist Larry McMurtry. His mother once attended a public reading he was giving and rose from audience to ask McMurtry why he wrote such “depressing” stories. His reply:

“I’m writing for me, Mom, not for you.”


Who was that masked writer?

writer wrestling mask

Public Radio International (PRI) today had a segment on young writers in Peru who are fighting it out on stage while wearing wrestling masks. Annie Murphy reports:

“New writers don masks, and head onto a stage where they’re given three random words, a laptop hooked up to a gigantic screen, and five minutes to write a short story. At the end of a match, the losing writer has to take off his or her mask. The winner goes on to the next round, a week later. And the grand prize? It’s a book contract.”

I think this is a great idea. Not, necessarily, for the young writers. But for the general (perhaps non-reading) public. I’ve been writing fiction and non-fiction since I was a young child — some of it promising, some of it competitive, and some of it awful. I know from the comments I get from close friends that few of them have the slightest idea of what a writer does to produce publishable writing. As an editor, so much of what I get for editing from non-writers is either incoherent or blithely plagiarized that I know they have no idea how to write for publication. Bringing the writing process onstage and into the spotlight is brilliant. Can you imagine a high school where the writing event draws as big a crowd as the basketball game? That’s a fantasy short story idea in and of itself. Quick! You’ve got five minutes.

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