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.
“I’m angry. I hate him so much. You know who I’m talking about.”
Joe goes on to talk about the flood of information we face every day from highly curated news and marketing streams. We feel as though we’re in a deluge of information that’s deep and fast-running — but it turns out that it’s also deceptively narrow.
As Joe points out, many of us (unless we listen extensively to National Public Radio), have never read or heard about the civil war raging in Nicaragua. Joe didn’t know much about that war, either, until his video editor, who lives in a Nicaraguan city, witnessed a march of soldiers in the street outside her house. They left the dead body of a child in the street as a warning to anyone who might consider opposing them or aiding the opposition.
What does war in Nicaragua mean for someone like me — or you — whose business is all about trying to communicate to readers, donors, or customers? Joe tells his medical device industry colleagues:
“If a civil war in Central America doesn’t even hit our radar, can you imagine how many messages the average citizen is getting per day?”
“Your messaging is not competing with other medical device videos, images, and words. You are competing with every possible stimulus out there.”
In a communications environment like this, Joe asks, “what hope do any of us have in breaking through?”
His answer is that by writing as a real person, he is breaking through. He is engaging. His thousands of readers did read him yesterday morning (even if some of them were hitting “unsubscribe” and grabbing for their blood pressure medication).
My take-away from Joe’s out-of-the-box email? There are a lot of ways to engage people and get them to pay attention.
One of them is to threaten them (dropping dead bodies in the street, for example). Another is to inundate them with the same message, over and over again, drowning out fact and complexity with emotion and oversimplification (our news and marketing feeds). And, yes, a third way is for communicators to be real in their communications. Genuine, heartfelt communication stands out because so few of us do it, or hear it, in our professional roles.
It’s sad that being real, and honest, and thoughtful is “just not done” in the field of business communication. We have tens of thousands of well-dressed, well-educated people marching each day into beautifully decorated, air-conditioned workplaces, attending meetings about product marketing, advertising, and communications strategy, sitting down at their expensive keyboards to devise “messaging” — while inside most of them are all thinking about what’s real: That we live in a country that snatches immigrants out of their homes, separates children from immigrant parents, and puts immigrant families in prisons. Indefinitely.
Now let’s take a look at that PowerPoint, shall we?
(For more information on who Immigration and Customs Enforcement is arresting, why, and how, see this document from the Immigrant Defense Project.)
The Metaphorosis Books anthology Reading 5 x 5 was designed to provide insight into the process by which authors write to a detailed theme.
Themed anthologies and themed magazine issues are big these days. They enable editors to focus on timely topics and they attract new readers interested in those issues. Themed publications are inspiring for writers, too. In the past year, I’ve written stories for six anthologies:
Of particular interest is Reading 5 x 5, edited by B. Morris Allen. The book was designed to provide insight into the process by which authors write to a detailed theme. Allen brought together 25 authors, grouped them by five speculative fiction subgenres, and for each subgenre provided a fairly detailed story brief. (His concept is described at the Reading 5 x 5 website.) Thus all five authors in each group started out with similar characters, settings, and plots. The resulting stories — most wildly divergent — are fascinating.
While I’d written to general themes for the other anthologies, I struggled with writing a story outlined by someone else. I may have been the “bad girl” of my group (I was in the soft science fiction group, writing in a style that non-genre readers might know as “space opera.”). I felt hemmed in by the detailed brief and spun my wheels for several weeks — until I came up with the idea of writing a story in which someone hemmed in by authority rebels and plots an assassination. To see how my little revenge fantasy turned out, buy Reading 5 X 5 and read “Patience.”
I strongly recommend the writers’ edition of our book, with 100 additional pages including the original story briefs we worked from, authors’ notes for each story, and two additional stories.
The editor and writers involved in the Reading 5 x 5 experiment agreed at the outset that proceeds from the book will benefit the Jo Clayton Memorial Medical Fund. Administered by Oregon Science Fiction Conventions, Inc., the fund assists professional science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery writers living Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska who need help with medical expenses.
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.
We get them just about every week now — mostly emails, but sometimes a physical letter from our dental office, our CPA, or our insurance agency.
The letter says that the mid-size company with which we have been happily doing business has been acquired by MegaCorpCo. The email or letter from MegaCorpCo assures us that now we’ll get even better service — just as soon as we log into their new online system, set up a new account, and spend three months trying to contact their call center to get the information from our previous account connected to the new one. Of course they don’t offer exactly the same service as the mid-size company did, but, hey, now we can get even better services (for a lot more money) or considerably worse services for the same price.
We hate MegaCorpCo immediately — even more after the three months of fighting with the know-nothings at their call center. So eventually we go off and hunt for a highly regarded mid-size service provider. Then we cross our fingers and hope we’ll have a year or two of decent service before they, too, are acquired by the MegaCorpCo.
Turns out, it doesn’t have to happen this way.
Today I got two letters — in one envelope — from our oil company, Rossoe Energy systems. The first letter was from Ronald N. Glatz, the president of Rossoe. It begins:
“It is with sadness but also with pride, that I share the following news with you, our valued customer. This year I turned 82 years old and am thankful for that. Unfortunately, I also found out I have severe health issues that prevent me from continuing as President & Owner of Rossoe Energy and that makes me said.”
At this point, it is making me pretty sad, too. These are the people who rushed out and took apart our furnace ducts when our cat got lost in the ceiling. He continues:
“As you may know, Rossoe Energy has been around the Seattle area for over 80 years and I have been at the helm for the past 40. We built a family run business with employees and clients that over the years, became family to me. I enjoyed every single day I got to go to work and I will miss it.”
Now, I’m in tears.
Glatz’s letter goes on to introduce the new owners, “another family run business that has been serving their clients for more than 67 years, in much the same manner as Rossoe.” He assures me that we can still call the Rossoe phone number to get Sound Oil, and that Rossoe’s employees will be with the new company.
The second letter, with the Sound Oil logo, is from Marilyn Jensen, president, and Jim Franck, VP, of Sound Oil, welcoming us to their company and giving us the history of the friendly competition between the two local companies. Then, a look at the future:
“There is nothing for you to do…everything has been handled for you…service records have been carefully transferred to the Sound Oil office. Heating oil deliveries will continue normally and without interruption. For customers who have Furnace Maintenance Agreements and/or Tank Warranty Coverage, those will continue seamlessly…the Rossoe Energy office staff, along with all of the Rossoe Oil delivery drivers and service technicians, will be joining our team. Expect familiar faces and familiar voices!”
So. No MegaCorpCo. No clueless call center. And no despairing customers off to seek a better oil company.
What Rossoe Energy and Sound Oil have done here is corporate communications on the level of Warren Buffett’s annual letters to shareholders.
This is an example of how easy corporate communications is when you love what you do, are proud of your company, and have every intention of giving your customers great service.
These letters left me with a very warm feeling, and it wasn’t because my furnace just came on.
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.
Well, blue-city ladies, I’m appalled by us and our unironic display of privilege.
My Facebook newsfeed is filled these days with subtle expressions of disappointment in Pantsuit Nation, the closed Facebook group formed in the final days of the Clinton campaign.
The veiled criticisms, sighs of frustration, and wrinkled noses are summed up by a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed that described Pantsuit Nation as a potentially powerful political movement that had degenerated into a “kaffeklatsch” for middle-class white women new to politics.
Talk about missing the whole point.
Yes, well-educated, highly diverse women in blue cities are absolutely appalled by the clueless ladies on Pantsuit Nation who are cheering each other on for trivial things like “inviting a Muslim mom to tell the class about Eid.” (a direct quote from the sneering L.A. Times article)
Well, blue-city ladies, I’m appalled by us and our unironic display of privilege.
Sure, in Seattle or San Jose or Brookline, Massachusetts, inviting a Muslim mom into the classroom is pretty unremarkable. Standing up for a woman of color being harassed by a racist asshole in a parking lot — what’s the big deal?
But how many of the eye-rolling, oh-so-disillusioned critics of the Pantsuit Nation live in a small town in a red state? Or send their kid to a public school where the principal is in the KKK? Or know that racist asshole in the parking lot—because he is the man they share a bed with at night, or their boss at the insurance company?
Yes, a lot of the women on Pantsuit Nation are clueless newbies. Yes, they missed out on those college seminars we took on gender identity, third wave feminism, and capitalist oppression. Yes, they are taking baby steps and, yes, they are talking in the language of Hallmark greeting cards. But some of them are taking those baby steps across a mine field.
And, as organizers like Saul Alinsky taught, community organizing takes place in the community — not in the classrooms of liberal universities.
“A good tactic,” he wrote in Rules for Radicals, “is one your people enjoy.” Like Pantsuit Nation.
If those of us on the blue coasts and in the blue cities are so deafened and blinded by our liberal and progressive privilege that we can’t be bothered to dialog with the liberal women in red states, how in hell do you think we’ll ever be able to communicate our causes to the conservative women in those states. You know — the ones whose votes put Trump in office?
I’m writing about this on my professional blog because it is, in many ways, a communications issue. Telling newbies that they aren’t talking in our dialect or acting the way we would in our (very different) neighborhoods, and refusing to listen unless they get hip to our trip, is not a recipe for building or strengthening our political movement. It’s a recipe for walling ourselves into our own elitist intellectual bunker. And a bunker is what we’ll need if we can’t open our ears and our hearts to our red-state sisters trying to figure out what they can do to cut short the Era of Trump.
Holiday letters occupy a position just below fruitcake on the top ten list of Things to Dampen the Holiday Spirit. This need not be so.
Do you dare tackle that most controversial of writing assignments, the holiday letter?
It’s a tricky task. The audience should be people distant enough that they don’t already know your news, but close enough that they won’t squint at the return address and ask “Who on earth are ‘Joe and Meredith Saberfogle’?”
I like getting holiday letters from old friends, and I like the challenge of writing them. Here are my (updated for 2016) tips for holiday letter writing.
OK, so holiday letters occupy a position just below fruitcake on the top ten list of Things to Dampen the Holiday Spirit.
This need not be so.
While fruitcakes are pretty much victims of their own cloying recipe of heavy and sweet ingredients, you have complete control over what goes in your holiday letter. Really, you do.
Each year we receive a few dozen holiday letters. Some have me yawning with boredom or rolling my eyes with incredulity by the second sentence. Others have moved me to tears, or had me eagerly reading them out loud to other family members.
Here are a few tips for creating letters that fall into the second group:
1. Write for your recipients, not for your family. If two of your kids made the dean’s list and one was in juvenile court three times last year, don’t feel you need to go into detail about any of it, or invent something for the black sheep to balance out the other kids’ accolades. “Janie is a junior at Oregon State, Pete is in his freshman year at Reed, and Susie is in her last year of high school. We look forward to having the whole family together for the holidays in on the Oregon Coast,” is just fine to keep old neighbors and college friends up-to-date. Many of them can’t remember the kids’ names, anyway.
2. Go short, stay focused. While you will probably start by drawing up a list of the key things that happened to your family during the year, select just two or three to highlight in the letter. Professional and scholastic achievements can be boring and off-putting. Travel and hobbies are almost always a better choice, as they give people not only news about what you’ve been doing but an insight into another region or field of interest. Something really outrageous is ideal — but only if the family member it happened to is OK with it appearing in the letter. “For some reason, Arabella insists on dyeing her hair in atrocious colors,” will amuse the reader, but not Arabella. (Thought it might inspire Arabella to start writing her own holiday letters — mentioning you…)
3. Make it clear who’s writing the letter — that being you. It’s difficult and a bit weird to refer to yourself in the third person, as if a reporter were profiling your family. And it’s even weirder to use “we” and then try to talk about things you did as individuals. Don’t go there. It really is OK for the writer to begin the letter “Elizabeth and I opened a new bookstore in July…” and at the end sign it “Frank and Elizabeth.” People will get it. (When I include stories from other family members describing their activities in first person, I set their words off from the body of the letter as indented paragraphs, in italics. For example:
[…] after our trip to Boston. Tom writes:
I broke away from the tour group and visited the original birthplace of Cthulu. Few people know it, but the Old One co-wrote with Lovecraft […]
4. Talk briefly about why you’re writing the letter. “It’s wonderful to take a few minutes to reflect about the year and share some highlights with friends,” is the type of opening you’re looking for. Don’t apologize. If you feel compelled to open with something like “We hate to bore you all with another long, stilted holiday missive,” you shouldn’t be writing one. Go make some eggnog.
5. Drop names. Not names of famous people, but names of mutual friends and acquaintances. This is even a good time to gossip, as long as you keep it positive. “We ran into Mark and Sandy Connors, our old neighbors from Denver, and discovered Mark left his job at Microsoft and is playing with a heavy metal group. Check out his new album…” This makes your letter a valuable source of genuine news, not just a brag sheet.
5. Keep your mailing list short. Send holiday letters to people you see once or twice a year (or less often) and with whom you genuinely like to keep in touch. Don’t send personal holidays letters to people who are (or were) purely business associates. As far as the people you see on a regular basis at the office or on Facebook? Spare them. They know this stuff anyway.
6. What about the people only one of you knows? Our increasingly mobile society, our significant-otherships, our late marriages, and our re-marriages mean that quite a few people on your holiday list know one member of a family extremely well and the other members hardly at all. Think twice, maybe three times, before sending a letter to them. A personal note on a card might be better.
I’ll be the first to admit that while some of my holiday letters have been great, other years they have been merely pro forma. I can always use tips and inspiration. Please feel free to add your suggestions in the Comments!
Two years ago I focused on interactive social media. “Dancing with Your Audience” was the title. Earlier this year I didn’t feel as optimistic about the field, and titled the early 2016 version of the presentation “How to Stand Out in a Busy World.” My feeling was that social media had maxed out audience bandwidth; people were experiencing more than enough social media interaction. I told the class that social media professionals were facing a battle for attention, a battle that would be won by people and organizations delivering the best (most valuable or most entertaining) content and the best user experiences.
Post-election, I’ve rewritten the talk with a new theme “Survival & Success: Surfing the social media tsunami.”
Currently, it’s critical for communications practitioners to acknowledge how uncontrollable, risky, and powerful social media has become. It used to be possible to just dive into the waters and follow traditional communications best practices. It is now important to know specific social-media best practices and — particularly if you want to avoid wasting organizational resources — to extensively plan your social media activities. And that plan needs to include how to rapidly deploy an effective, coordinated response when your organization gets caught in a fast-moving social media crisis.
I also talked about the media’s, and social media’s, loss of credibility because of the proliferation of fake news sites and the appearance of poorly researched “news” stories on legitimate news sites.
Here, for Lee’s class and other interested folks, is the new presentation, SME_UW_2016_Nov, in PDF form.
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.