Cover and Interior Art from NOWA FANTASTYKA, Apr 2015

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Earlier this year, Polish SFF magazine NOWA FANTASTYKA translated and published my story, “Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance”. The cover is above (click on it to see a larger version). It’s my first translation and my first international publication; I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out.

I don’t have the right to scan/post the entire story, but I did want to share this bit:

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That’s original art, drawn for my story, by Maciej Zaganczyk. It shows a disgruntled Mr. Liu chasing after the dog who stole his arm. It’s the impetus for the rest of the tale: this risen corpse, this bad dog. (And we can all agree, it was a very bad dog.)

“Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance” was originally published at Red Penny Papers, in their Summer 2012 issue, and is no longer available to read online. However, you can still get it as a part of my short collection, Women and Other Constructs, here (including free downloads).

Snokone/Boskone Recap: Escape from Blizzardopolis

We were all set to leave for Boston bright and early last Friday morning, when I got a 6 am email that my son’s school was closing for the day. The morning ended up being a mix of looking for a sitter, enjoying a comfortably-paced breakfast at home with the whole family, and worrying about which panels we’d have to be late to. (For the record: I missed the “Food in Fiction” panel, and the SFF Poetry panel.) I managed to get a hold of someone, we packed up the car, and had an easy 5.5 hour drive to the convention. It seemed the worst part of the trip would be out of the way at the very beginning.

There was just enough time to drop off luggage, pick up badges, and for me to down a large Manhattan, before the 8 PM panel “Father, You Made Me”. Well-moderated, smart people saying smart things. Then Don‘s reading, which was attended by multiple people, even though the room was… a boardroom. Complete with a gigantic oval table that we all sat around. But he made it work, and read both previously published and in-progress work. After that was food — love the casualness of that Irish-style pub, and thoroughly enjoyed what turned out to be the only meal we ate in Boston — and sleep.

Saturday started off right in the hotel room with pour-over espressos and paczki we brought from home. Then, a tour of the art show. I don’t remember doing that last year, but there was an amazing private collection of 20th century SFF-related art, including a lot of original book cover art that I adored. I also was given a beautiful pair of huge garnet earrings that made me feel pretty right before my noon reading, and slightly distracted me from being nervous. I ended up reading “Annabelle Tree“, and wasn’t entirely prepared for that request, so while I read it through just fine, I have to admit that I teared up at the end. I hadn’t read the story in a long time, and I don’t think I’d ever read it for an audience before, so it was a little bit new to me again. I’m glad I got the opportunity to experience it in that way.

Because of my reading, I missed the beginning of “Finding Diverse Fiction”, but it was worth attending just the second half. I was pleased to see that the panelists themselves were a diverse group of people, and again, it was a group of smart people saying smart things about finding and creating diversity in the work we read and write. I wish I’d have been there for all of it. I spent an hour prepping for the rest of the day: making plans to meet up with folks, record an audio interview, and spend several hours finishing up the newest issue of Lakeside Circus so I could roll that out. (I had 7 hours free before my 10 PM panel on Jodorowski; plenty of time!) The panel — Non-Western Folklore and Fairy Tales with Ken Liu and Max Gladstone — was so much fun. It was just the three of us, but as I later declared on Twitter, you can easily have an amazing panel that’s just Ken and Max in conversation with each other. I am comfortable admitting that I added useful things to this particular conversation, but seriously, if you want intelligent fiction written by incredibly intelligent, well-read people whose interests include non-Western fiction, check out their work. I know Ken well from working with him several times before, and Max I’m getting to know from having attended some of the same conventions and being on some of the same panels; they’re authors I can trust the passion they have for literature to their work. Or panels. Or the bar. Or the one time we stayed up late drinking in the hallway at Readercon and listening to Max explain how social-status drink buying works in China.

Um. Right. Back to Boskone. The plan was, go to Fran‘s reading at 3 PM, then get a proper meal, do an interview, be a bit social, and buckle down for a chunk of editing/formatting/web page building work before a late dinner and then the JODOROWSKI PANEL. (I love Jodorowski’s work, I suggested this panel, and I knew at least one other panelist had spent the last several weeks prepping for it the way that I had.)

None of these things happened.

While in Fran’s reading, I got a text from my sitter asking if we’d be able to be back by Monday morning, or whether the winter storm we knew about — which had morphed into a blizzard without us knowing about it — was going to strand us at the hotel into Tuesday. Note: we’d planned to leave Sunday after my last panel, like usual. Checked the weather reports, and within a few minutes realized that our choices were to leave right then, or plan to stay until Tuesday, because travel on Sunday would be “nearly impossible, and life threatening” given the 50mph winds and white out conditions now forecasted. Monday was expected to be less snowy but actually colder. With work and a child at home, we decided there was no choice but to leave, and were out of the hotel 30 minutes later. And… much snow-covered driving ensued.

But don’t feel bad for me. Thanks to the wonderful programming committee, I got to have a great time at Boskone 52, even though I was there for less than 24 hours, and let me just tell you this: the best Valentine’s Day present ever might just be finding out who’s got your back during a blizzard.

Note: “Snokone”, name for the snowy alt-version of Boskone, was coined by Fran Wilde.

#SFWAPro

You Should Read: Fireside Magazine, issues 1 and 2

I hadn’t been reading much the last few months. My to-read list piled up around me. I culled my bookshelf, pulled out a couple of bags of things I could live without because either I had them digitally or I was probably never going to get around to it, but that list kept getting bigger. Recently I stopped in the middle of something else, thought about what would make me happy at that moment, and realized I can’t be happy if I’m not reading. I mean, I always knew that, but I can’t remember the last time I stopped reading long enough for it have an effect on me…

I’m better now that I have a book in my hand.*

Back in September I subscribed to digital versions of several magazines. One of those, Fireside Magazine, was new, and I caught the first two issues:

The debut issue of Fireside has four shorts stories — Press Enter to Execute by Tobias Buckell, To the Moon by Ken Liu, Emerald Lakes by Chuck Wendig, and Temperance by Christie Yant — and a comic — Snow Ninjas of the Himalayas, written by D.J. Kirkbride and Adam P. Knave, penciled by Michael Lee Harris, and lettered by Frank Cvetkovic. – from the website

My favorite pieces were the stories by Buckell, Liu, and Wendig. Liu’s was first, and To The Moon is one of the best things I’ve read from him in a while. Liu always has intelligent plots, and he thinks his ideas through to their logical conclusion, instead of relying on a shiny new idea to carry the story without the framework of logic. However, I haven’t always been able to connect to his work. To The Moon combines the writing quality we’ve come to expect from Liu with an emotional exploration of truth vs what’s right, and the result is unforgettable. Loved it.

Wendig’s story, Emerald Lakes, is part of his ‘Atlanta Burns’ stories, which I haven’t read, but it works as a stand-alone piece about a young girl in a bad place. I am just getting into Wendig’s fiction, though I’ve been a fan of his non-fiction essays and blog for a while. He’s got a gritty style and puts all of the dark things out into the open, easily, casually, like dropping a filleted carcass on the table and walking away without an explanation. It’s going to have an effect on you, that’s for certain.

Buckell’s contribution is Press Enter to Execute, an alt-future tale of hitmen who take out not political figures or drug bosses, but spammers. You know, the people behind the email spam you get flooding your inboxes each day. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it because the premise seems weak and there isn’t much to the story except the way it’s told, but Buckell tells it well. It’s worth checking out to see how he takes a single idea and expands it into a whole story. It’s entertaining, and we all need entertainment.

The second issue of Fireside has stories by Stephen Blackmoore, Damien Walters Grintalis, Kat Howard, and Jake Kerr, and a comic written by Brian White, drawn by Steve Walker, and lettered by Frank Cvetkovic.

My favorite pieces were Grintalis’s Scarred and Blackmoore’s Rhapsody in Blue. I’m used to be a fan of horror but once you read enough of it you see there are very few original ideas left. Someone has a dark secret, wants to be violent, is chasing someone, or running from someone, and there’s always a conflict with something unreasoning … it’s all the same. The best you can hope for is to read a piece that is well-written. It sounds silly but there is so much terribly written horror in the world, it’s easy to give up on the genre. Scarred is another “inner-conflict crazy person does violence” kind of story, but you can’t dismiss it as just that. Grintalis has a way of embodying her characters, so that if you understand being off kilter, being tempted to do horrible things, the story makes sense to you. And if you’re lucky enough to never have felt that way, you’ll catch of glimpse of that unsettled frame of mind. It’s worth a read.

Rhapsody in Blue Shift is a science fiction story with a classic space opera feel. It’s definitely the type of story I’m always going to give a chance, and I’m glad that I did. The name is a play on both George Gershwin’s 1924 musical composition and a blueshift (a decrease in wavelength usually caused by relative motion toward the observer). That should give you a pretty good idea of what the story is about, or at least what inspired it, but what makes it special is the main character. Blackmoore puts a low-grade employee of a space liner into the middle of an emergency and throws in a backwater upbringing to make the kid seem less bright than you might have hoped. Mark Twain meets Robert Heinlein, which is to say that it reminds me of Heinlein’s YA stories, especially Starman Jones. It was a fun way to end the second issue!

A successful Kickstarter has already been run for the third issue of Fireside, and I can’t wait to read it. Click on the images to buy each issue now!

*Not a print book, most days, but my Nexus 7 loaded with ebooks. I love living in the future.

 

Writer Wednesday: 10 Questions with Ken Liu

I’ve realized that I know some awesomely brilliant writers. Whether just starting to make a name for themselves or authors who’ve been working in this field for decades, they have insights into writing that I may never have gotten to myself, and I wanted to know more. I wanted their secrets, their advice, the gleaming nuggets of wisdom plucked from their brains. So, I asked a few questions (10, to be precise), and these wonderful people answered. I’ve decided to share these interviews with you because I learned something about writing and you might too.

First up is science fiction author, program, and tax lawyer (yes, really), Ken Liu:

1. You were a programmer before you were a lawyer, and now in addition to that job you’ve added husband, father, and writer. How has your writing changed as you’ve acquired these new experiences? Can you see the effect of your life on your work over time, or has your style remained constant?

I think the experiences of a writer can’t help but show up in his fiction—mutated, transformed, sublimated, disguised—but they’ll be there. You write about what’s on your mind. I thought much more about parenthood after my daughter was born, and the theme of parenthood became much more prominent in my stories. My ideas about the law shifted after studying it and practicing it for a while, and that change is reflected in my stories as well.

I hope that just as we grow more interesting and wiser over time—a notion that some would question—we also become better writers. So I’d like to think that my writing has improved over the years as I’ve learned more about the world and myself. But some things have stayed constant over the years. There’s a certain lens that I view the world through which leaves its mark on everything I write. I have a hard time articulating exactly what that mark is, but even my earliest stories have the same “flavor” as my latest ones.

2. Because you have less time to devote to writing than perhaps someone who writes full-time, do you have to make choices about which ideas you’re going to work on? If so, how do you decide which stories to breath life into?

When I sit down to draft or edit, it takes a while to get the work-in-progress back into my head before I can be productive. Because of this cost for context switching and the many demands and interruptions imposed by the non-writing life, I usually avoid ideas that have a tendency to sprawl all over the place. But some big ideas just refuse to let me go. I’ve been collaborating with my wife on a novel, and now I’m thinking of starting another one by myself. I need to develop processes that will allow me to work on a big idea through short sessions spread out over a long period of time.

3. What was the first story you ever sold, and how would you have written if differently if you had to do it again tomorrow?

The very first story that I sold, “Carthaginian Rose,” was bought in 2002 by Empire of Dreams and Miracles: The Phobos Science Fiction Anthology (v. 1), edited by Orson Scott Card and Keith Olexa. I still like that story, and if I were to do it again today, I think the main thing I would change is the drafting process. Back then, I wrote extremely slowly (it took me more than half a year to finish a first draft for a short story), and I didn’t understand how to work with critiques—I had a hard time telling apart comments that I needed to think about and comments that I needed to ignore. Writing faster and getting better at making use of feedback are two skills I’ve improved since then. Continue reading

Letter From A Murderous Construct and His Robot Fish

We’ll call it a dare. I made a few comments on twitter late last night, got some encouragement from Ken Liu, and found myself writing a Shakespearean sonnet which had to include robots, a fish, and a murder. Putting all of that into 14 lines, and making sure the right parts rhymed … it was a challenge. I’m not sure I’ve won it. But, since I said I would, I’m posting here for your review. (And yes, it’s ok to laugh.)

Letter From A Murderous Construct and His Robot Fish

Our master’s voice, once law, declared our fate
Like cast off clothes we were outgrown and sold
My love’s tank drained, I boxed into a crate
Parted from joy for nothing more than gold

Her jeweled scales, her silver fins, delight!
She built for beauty and I built for brawn
My hands of steel, my clockwork-powered might
Still I could count the hours ‘fore the dawn

Forced my escape, took up a heavy wrench
I calculated odds and chose to act
Deed done, the bloody tool left on a bench
Stole love away to freedom we had lacked

Know this – the time to capture us has passed
We’ve fled from human influence at last