First reviews of my latest story, “That Lucky Old Sun”

In January, Apex Magazine published my short story, “That Lucky Old Sun”, to my great delight. You can read it online for free, here. (You can also buy the whole issue for Kindle here.) If you haven’t read it yet, be warned that there are minor spoilers below.

I was nervous before “That Lucky Old Sun” came out; it’s the longest short story I’ve published to date, and it plays with an old SF trope in a way that readers might either love, or hate, or not notice at all. You can never tell until a story ends up in the world and out of your hands. I was more nervous because this story is important to me. They all are, of course, though some of what I write is fun, some is dark, some is about projecting the future – I’m usually pushing at the edges of what I can do in a story, but the boundaries I’m pushing aren’t always the same.

In classic, golden age SF, we have these grand stories about building rockets, escaping doomed worlds, blasting off into space with limitless potential in front of us. I could write that again a hundred times, and who would question it? We know that tale. We’ve all read it. With this story, I wanted to talk about the people who get left behind. Not the rocket scientists or astronauts or the child looking out the porthole at a dwindling blue marble that used to be his home. Just regular, everyday people. Families. Neighbors. Small town folks, faced with things much bigger than themselves.

I am so happy with how it’s been received.

Amelia Crowly said:

This really gave me chills.
I love the way it *seems* to set the scene at once, only to become darker and more intriguing as the story progressed.

On Twitter, @robertired said:

It’s amazing. Subverting old school sci-fi is something that should be done more. Congratulations.

@ScottMBeggs said:

Beautiful short story from (via ). Uses the familiar to deliver the unexpected.

@MariaHaskins called it:

Wonderful, creeping-up-on-you #scifi

And @LaurenLykke said:

Just read and LOVED your story in !! Got me all teary-eyed!

Over at Tangent Online, Kevin P. Halett said:

Carrie’s “end of the world” science fiction story is time and world ambiguous, telling this often-told story from a new perspective. The protagonist is a small girl, innocuously spending what could be her last day with her loving mother, who knows what’s coming. The author touchingly portrays the mother’s loving patience and the girl’s innocence in this easy to read tale.

Telling the story from the little girl’s perspective made it darker and more compelling. I found the writing engaging from the very beginning and it continued to hold me even though I could guess where it might end; a pleasing new variation on an old theme.

Lastly, and with the most spoilers… At Quick Sip Reviews, Charles Payseur said:

………….okay then. Yeah, this story is a bit dark, a bit…well, a bit very dark, about a child, Melanie, and her mother as they sort-of wait for the end of the world. The setting is vaguely futuristic and also rather dystopian, a place where people are judged based on their skin but not exactly the way that they are now. Here it’s not exactly race it seems but something in the blood that changes the skin’s color and might do other things to it. Whatever the case, it means that there are vast systems in place to try and “contain” it, mostly by reporting on neighbors and living in a police state and it’s an all around not-good scene. And yet the “problem” persists and so the government decided to just bomb everything. Bomb it all and then return to reclaim the wiped slate. And that the story follows a mother and her daughter on this day is bleak as fuck, but also I rather enjoyed it. There is something to be said about this, that this is where fascism leads, that this is where intolerance and bigotry lead. That there are “understanding” people who are just part of the problem and that everything is built on hate without reason, hate because that’s all it is, and in the end it tears everything apart, tears families apart and lets the central lie of the story fester and burn like the fires of the bombs being dropped. Because a large part of the story is the absence of the father, who is “pure” and who has the chance to survive. It’s a wrenching story and a sad one, very much worth reading but maybe prepare some cat videos for the aftermath. Indeed.

A Month of Letters

2016-badge

I’ve signed up to do A Month of Letters, beginning today. This is a simple and straightforward challenge to correspond more with other members of our community. Send one thing through the mail each day, excepting Sundays, and reply to anyone who writes to you. That’s it. As an introvert with a busy schedule and a lot of stress, I don’t reach out nearly as often as I want to. I think about it, and then something else bustles into view and I have to focus on that instead. By setting a specific start and end date, I can more comfortably devote the time and energy, like when I sent holiday cards in December.

More than that – for me it’s a tiny way to connect in a tangible way to people I mostly interact with online. As Mary Robinette Kowal said in this year’s introduction post:

It’s really not about getting letters, it’s about reaching out.

I mailed 28 holiday cards this last year, mainly to people I hadn’t spent time with in person, and heard back from folks who were truly touched. I know what it’s like to only get bills in the mail, and I’m looking forward to being able to offer a little friendliness in the mailbox instead.

Want to join me? You can add me as a friend, here: http://lettermo.com/members/carriecuinn/

Writing Advice Clearly Followed by the Writers Writing Last Night’s Episode of The X-Files

Fear not – no (or maybe a few very vague/mild) spoilers below.

Gillian Anderson (left) and David DuchovnyThe X-Files

Want to write like the folks who created last night’s premier episode of The X-Files reboot? Follow these 10 steps, and your readers will be “true believers” in no time…

  1. Your female protagonist/love interest should be clean, neat, well dressed, thin, beautiful, and slightly embarrassed at being seen even a little less than put together, in a refined sort of way. Your male protagonist should wear pants. At least for now. Shaving is optional. Actually, no, leave him scruffy. Scruffy is sexy, right? That’s how you show your male lead is still sexy after all these years. A failure to shave more than once a week.
  2. You’ll need a side kick. Someone eager to win over the protagonists. Someone with vast resources, all the answers, and a desire to share that with only your heroes. Someone to get them back into the game quickly, so you don’t have to do any complicated plotting or character introspection or anything. Oh, and the sidekick should be weirdly perky, in all situations. For fun, let’s have everyone else in the cast pretend not to notice how oddly perky the sidekick is. That’s called “acting”.
  3. Monologues are okay if the hero is doing them. Maybe even the sidekick. But only men can monologue. And, um, let’s say only the white ones. Otherwise it looks too villan-y, and you don’t want that.
  4. Oh, speaking of which, don’t write too many minorities into the story. Your reader will just get confused.
  5. If you do include minorities, make them “safe” ethnicities, like Eastern European, light skinned dark person with no name, or Asian. The normal kind of Asian that you always see on TV: ambiguously Japanese (probably). Don’t confuse anyone by using specifics like “Vietnamese” or “Filipino”. Your reader or viewer only knows the samurai scientist kind and the dim sum waiter kind of Asian.
  6. Oh, and if you do include minorities, they should be the only targets of violence. You have to ease the audience into the idea of violence by starting with the less important characters, so when Important White People are injured later, it will have greater impact.
  7. The female lead should be in the same room as other women only briefly, and only if she can be professionally dismissive, or slightly jealous of the other’s youth and beauty. But don’t make it too obvious, because feminism.
  8. Talk about the past a few times, to establish that yes, you watched or read every single episode/movie/tie in novel. Don’t show anything or anyone you reference, though. Just a few, repetitive, comments will be enough.
  9. Heterosexual men and women should not have too much chemistry together. Heterosexual men should have a lot more chemistry with other heterosexual men. Because bros.
  10. Save the female doctor’s science reveal for the very end, because women shouldn’t science much. Oh, and while she’s had access to the tools, technology, and samples for years, make it never occur to her to have checked these things until there’s a man around to suggest it. We wouldn’t want the story to be that unrealistic.

Writer Business: Emergency Files

Now that I’m well into business school, I want to share what I’m learning about ways you can improve your financial situation (as a writer or other freelancer, whether self-employed full time or not) and your personal life by applying practical information. I will label them all “writer business” so they’re easier to find, but most of them won’t only be relevant to writers.

I spent the last few days of 2015 organizing my files. I keep copies of paperwork related to all sorts of things: my child’s medical information and school reports, my personal taxes, apartment leases, car insurance, contracts and expenses related to Lakeside Circus, and so on. I have a small filing cabinet for recent and relevant files, and a plastic file box of “archives” that I don’t need often but should keep just in case. I’ll talk more about this in another post, but today we’re going to start with the most important bit.

You need to have a file for emergency information. You need to have it today.

This doesn’t have to be complicated but it is vital. You might think it’s not necessary because you don’t have children, or pets, or investments; you might assume that a few conversations with your spouse or parents mean that you’re prepared for an emergency. Unless you have a designated spot for emergency information, and unless your designated agents know where it is and have easy access to it, you’re not prepared.

No one wants to think about dying. I certainly don’t. I have a child who needs me, a partner who relies on me. I can’t be absent from the world. Most of you have the same, and so rather than picture a time when they’re crushed by your death, it’s simpler to ignore the possibility. Or, you’re afraid that no one will care at all, so why bother planning for it?

Unless you are truly alone in the world with no friends at all, no loved ones, no parents or partners or even a cat to care about your loss, and you don’t have any desire to see your belongings disposed of, make certain that you set aside time today to put together a file of the following items:

  • Your completed and witnessed health care proxy (original).
  • Your lease or mortgage information, including landlord or bank’s contact information.
  • Your life insurance information, including beneficiary and contact phone number.
  • Your social security card/number and medical insurance cards.
  • Your completed and witnessed will, which includes burial wishes (original).
  • Your credit card information, including account numbers and phone numbers for the companies.
  • Your banking information.
  • Student, car, or other loan information.

This is the bare minimum. You can easily get almost all of this together tonight. Anything with your signature on it should be original, but everything else can be a copy. I’m assuming you will have a lot more information in your files, and within a week or so of your emergency, that information can be accessed. What I’m giving you is a list of what needs to be immediately accessible, the moment your agent learns that something has happened to you.

What’s an agent? This is the person that you designate to act out your desires in the case of an emergency. It can be any adult of sound mind that you choose. Mine is my partner, but yours can be a roommate, a friend, a sibling. Try to choose someone who doesn’t benefit as much, financially, from your death as your other beneficiaries might, if at all possible, but it’s okay if your agent is your spouse or child, too. You just want to make certain that they know you’ve chosen them, and where to find your files.

Why this stuff?

Health Care Proxy – this is the document your agent will use first.

A health care proxy (also known as a durable power of attorney for health care, medical power of attorney or appointment of a healthcare agent) is a document that lets you to appoint another person (a proxy or agent) to express your wishes and make health care decisions for you if you can not speak for yourself. – via Medicare Interactive

If you’ve been in an accident and require serious medical care, but are not dead, this advance directive document will allow your agent to be there in the hospital with you. It will allow them to assist the doctors in making choices for you in accordance with your wishes. Depending on the form you fill out, it will set up rules for end of life care.

In most states, the default is that your spouse or, if unmarried, parents will make those decisions for you. But it’s not guaranteed. Worse, in states where your parents are the default (for example) they may be the last people you want deciding these things for you. Historically, unwed partners, roommates, and children have been excluded from the decisions when absent – or hated – parents rush in and take over. Even ex-spouses can claim to be current by bringing in a marriage document but no divorce papers, and insert themselves into the situation.

If you are married but something happens to both you and your spouse at the same time, that once again opens you up to this kind of problem. A health care proxy will let you designate a tier of agents, so that if your primary choice isn’t available, the next one can step up.

You can Google “health care proxy” and your state, and usually find state-certified blank forms that can be downloaded and printed out. In New York State, for example, we can use this one. You don’t need a lawyer to look over it, though you can certainly get one if you choose. You only need to put into writing your wishes, and get two adults to witness it. (Don’t have two people who aren’t the people you’re granting power to in the proxy? Take it to your bank, or your work. Any two competent, unrelated, adults will do.)

Banking and Credit Card information – Depending on what has happened to you, it might be necessary for your agent to immediately cancel your ATM and credit cards. Even if that’s not the case, they will want to notify your financial institutions right away. Your bank will help to ensure against fraudulent use, and will be able to grant your beneficiary access. (This will be the person you designated when you opened the account. Don’t have that set up, or want to change it? Pop into your bank and let them know. It only takes a moment.)

Your credit card companies will either be able to freeze charges, interest, and payments due (if you’re merely injured) or they will start the process to close your accounts and delete your balance due, if you’re dead. You want to make certain this happens because otherwise your heirs will be expected to pay that balance out of whatever money you leave them. If you don’t have emergency protection set up on your credit cards – it usually costs only a few dollars a month – and you carry a balance ever, call your credit issuer to arrange for it. It’s like life insurance for your debt. You want that.

Loan information – like above, student loans are generally forgiven when you die, and can be put on hold if you’re temporarily disabled/hospitalized. You want your agent to contact the loan issuer immediately to start this process for two reasons: if you aren’t dead, it will help keep from wrecking your credit while you recover, and if you are dead, you don’t want any automatic payments you’ve set up to come out of the bank account you’re presumably leaving for someone else. Other types of loans will probably still need to be paid off by your heirs, but the bank will be much more likely to work with you agent on this if you contact them before the payments are past due.

Mortgage or landlord information  – your agent will need to be able to get into your home, if they don’t already have a key; they’ll need to be able to arrange to keep the lights on, or to sort out a plan for disposing of your property. This is desperately important if you have children who should be able to keep living in your home as long as they need to.

Life insurance – the process to get paid out on a life insurance policy can be complicated, and take longer than you need. It’s generally not as simple as notifying them of your death and then they show up at your beneficiary’s house with a check. It could take months, so the sooner your agent can begin the process, the better. In many cases, being able to share that information with a mortgage lender or other financial institution will help in arranging delayed payments, if your agent needs to do that.

Your will – this is one of the most important documents that you could possibly have, second only to the health care proxy. However, your agent generally won’t need it until after you’re deceased. Even if you’ve only been seriously injured, though, if they have your will it will help them start making arrangements, and possibly stave off any potential disagreements that others might have about your wishes.

A will basically establishes an executor to carry out your plans (your agent is probably the best person for this). Those plans should include what you want to happen to your children, your assets, and your body, after death.

You can use an online site like Willing to help you get started – the will is free, though they do offer paid services to help you set up other types of paperwork. Unless you have a lot of assets, a simple online will might be everything you need. It’s certainly better than none at all. Remember that you’ll have to print it out and get it witnessed for it to be vaild! But even printing it out today and signing it yourself is a start at protecting yourself and your family, so do that right away, even if you can’t get to a notary until tomorrow or later in the week.

Where should you keep this stuff? Where’s the place your agent can easily find it in an emergency? In a colored file folder at the front of your filing cabinet? In a sealed manila folder taped to your refrigerator door? As long as they have access to it 24/7, and know exactly where it is, you’re good.

Any questions? Please feel free to leave comments below.

#SFWAPRO