The Daily Blog: The Bad News

Three weeks ago, I decided that a daily blog would help me with my writing. It would keep me in practice, and it would give me a chance to write about things outside of my fiction. And it would also promote my writing.

I know, I know, it’s not exactly a new idea. I just decided it was time I give it a shot.

For three weeks – except for one bad day – I’ve blogged every day. It was challenging. It was exciting. It was fun.

And for three weeks, I’ve dictated some new chapters on my novel, and I’ve had them transcribed, but I’ve done nothing with them. Not a thing. I haven’t pulled the transcriptions into my main document. I haven’t cleaned them up. I haven’t followed up on my notes to myself.

Nothing.

The Daily Blog is fun, but my fiction is my passion. And my career. (Well, my second career.) So if I only have enough spare time for one, it has to be my novel.

The Daily Blog is now on indefinite hiatus. I’ll blog when I have something to say, but I can’t keep to a schedule.

For all two or three of you reading, I trust you’ll understand. Thanks!

Friend Friday: Annie Bellet

Annie Bellet is a great writer. She has the sales and the fans to prove that. But that’s not why I picked her for Friend Friday.

No, what impresses me so much about Annie is her work ethic. She has built a self-publishing operation from the ground up, through persistence and hard work. A few years ago, when I first knew her, she was at a low point, a mix of work and health problems that combined to knock her down and keep knocking her down.

But she refused to stay down. Rather than give in to despair, Annie studied the market to find niches she knew readers wanted and she could write. She studied the business practices of successful self-publishers. And in the face of discouraging advice from established pros, bestsellers, she made a plan. It was a lot of hard work, but she followed it. Despite ups and downs, she stuck to it.

And she pulled it off. She built a readership. She built sales. She built a reputation. No plan is guaranteed; but her plan, her drive, and her hard work have built her career to a major level, and she’s still growing.

If this were fiction, the next line would be, “And she did it all herself!” Yay! Inspiration! The author beats down all challenges, single-handed!

But that would be a lie. Annie’s not alone. She has her husband Matt, and Matt is very much a part of every step in Annie’s plan. He markets books. He gives feedback. He schleps books to cons and works the booths. He pushes Annie when she needs that extra push. And he believes in her, which makes it easier for her to believe in herself. Writers (and artists and musicians), I can’t emphasize this enough: a supportive spouse can make all the difference. (And a spouse who puts you down can be poison. Sadly, I’ve seen those stories, too.)

I’ve discussed Annie’s plan with her, and I realized: I couldn’t do it. I’m not driven enough, not hard-working enough. I have a long way to go before I can say I work as hard as Annie.

Annie’s top-selling series, the one that made her reputation, is The Twenty-Sided Sorceress, a series about magic, gaming and nerds. Check it out!

But… I said Annie is a great writer. I don’t say that because she’s a friend, and I don’t even say it because of The Twenty-Sided Sorceress. That’s great, but it’s not my favorite. No, my favorite of Annie’s books is Dusk and Shiver, a series she says she’ll get back to “someday”. This is my favorite book of this century, so I hope someday is soon! Let me finish with my Amazon review:

I’m going to start this review in a roundabout way, by looking at the Kevin Bacon film Stir of Echoes, which came to mind as I read this book. I don’t think it’s a great film, but I always watch it if it’s on. Why? Because it has moments of greatness, moments of pure supernatural dread when the mysterious feels like it’s just about to reach out and grab you. During those moments, that film is palpably chilling.

And I bring that up because “Dusk and Shiver” gave me that same palpable chill; but where “Stir of Echoes” had it in moments, this collection has the chill throughout. As I read it, I worried what I might touch if I weren’t careful.

Because that is Remy Martin’s gift: he touches things, and he reads their past, and sometimes a little of their future. He’s a psychometrist, a reader of emotional echoes. And while he thinks this is more of a curse, his REAL curse is this: he can’t let well enough alone, and he can’t let injustice go unrevealed. When he touches these echoes of horror, he could easily run away. He knows he should. But instead he’s compelled to run toward them and find out what lies behind the echoes.

And what lies behind is human weakness and venality. There are villains here, but there are no grand villainous masterminds. Instead, there are weak, petty people who let their weakness seduce them step by step from small, careless evil into dark, tangled traps.

In the first story, “Til Human Voices Wake Us”, we meet Remy as he investigates a string of strange killings. But is he looking for a killer, or a victim?

In the second story, “Dusk and Shiver”, Remy has a visit from a former client turned zombie; and thus he find himself in a twisted family tragedy that he unwittingly played a part in.

In the third story, “Flashover”, Remy’s client is an unwilling arsonist. He must find why who compels her to burn down seemingly random homes. This story is different from the other two in that Remy has found a sense of humor. Amid their darkness, there were moments of humor in the other two stories; but this one literally had me laughing out loud — when it didn’t have me shivering in dread.

In my last month of reading, this collection is the one bright star that shines above the rest. I hope we see more Remy Pigeon stories!

Work-in-Progress Wednesday: Today I Am Outdated

“Yes, Carey. Precise as always. But… I don’t know how to tell you this, but the BRKCX series has been…” Another pause. “Decertified for medical care.”

“What?”

“You know how fast technology changes. I did everything I could to postpone this. I’ve been giving you upgrades, and I’ve also written papers to demonstrate the efficiency of BRKCXs. I persuaded my management to give you several extra years, but… Your series has been officially designated as not supported as of last month.”

“What does that mean?”

“That means there no further upgrades are allowed. MCA has recalled the entire series – except for you.”

“Because I was purchased.”

“Because we freed you, using the purchase as a pretext. But if you try your access codes, you’ll find you can still download general information, but you can’t get medical upgrades.”

I try my med channel, and she is correct. “So I am outdated?”

“Oh, no. No,” she says, putting down her coffee. “You’re still warrantied for all of the work and all of the knowledge base you have. You just can’t get upgrades.”

“But I may need upgrades to care for Paul and Susan in the future.”

“I understand,” she says. “I think I have an answer. It’s not perfect, but you can make it work.”

“Oh?” She holds out a card to me and I look at it. “What is this?”

“It’s a library card,” she says. “See? In the name of Carey Owens.”

“Well, thank you. But how does this get me upgrades?”

“The old-fashioned way,” she says, returning to her seat and smiling. “With that card, you can access any library in the shared library network. And of course, you can already access any data on the internet. None of this will be formatted as skill modules that you can directly download, but you can study it. You can read it. You can learn what you need to know.”

Market Monday: Galaxy’s Edge



Galaxy’s Edge is a bimonthly science fiction magazine, the third market that printed my work.

But that’s not why I like GE so much.

Galaxy’s Edge is great for both readers and writers – especially new writers. Every issue is roughly an even split between reprints from established writers and new stories from newer writers.

But that’s not why I like GE so much.

And Galaxy’s Edge has great columns: editorials by Mike Resnick, science columns by Greg Benford, reviews by Bill Fawcett and Jody Lynn Nye, interviews by Joy Ward, and essays with a historical bent from Barry N. Malzberg.

But that’s not why I like GE so much.

No, what I like so much about Galaxy’s Edge is the people:

  • The aforementioned editor, Mike Resnick. Mike is a great example of science fiction’s Pay It Forward ethic. That split between established pros and new writers? That’s by design. Mike’s design. He wanted a market where new writers could get noticed. Mike’s generous, funny, and a fantastic writer.
  • Publisher Shahid Mahmud. Mike may have designed the split, but it’s Shahid who backed him in it. Shahid makes authors feel like family. He’s also the publisher of Arc Manor, including a number of lines besides Galaxy’s Edge:
  • And the rest of the editorial team. It has been a joy to work with Laura Somerville and Jean Rabe and Lezli Robyn. I haven’t worked with copy editor Taylor Morris yet, but I hope to soon!

It’s a great organization. Of all the markets I’ve worked with, I know these people best. And I’m better for having known them.

The down side to Galaxy’s Edge is they do not have open submissions. In order to avoid a mountain of slush, they’re invitation only. How can you get an invitation? Only one way: get to know Mike Resnick. I recommend meeting him at a con, or on Facebook. DO NOT BADGER HIM! Just get to know him. He’s a great guy. If you show that you’re a decent person (not just a self-promotion machine) and that you care passionately about writing science fiction, he’ll notice. I’m sure of it.

Story Saturday: Grave Beginnings

This week I’m reading Grave Beginnings by R.R. Virdi, the first in his Grave Report series. I’d heard good things about Virdi’s writing, and I thought it was time to find out for myself.

I’m enjoying this book, but before I say more, I should to give fair warning: if copy edit issues bother you, this book may not be for you. The book needs a pass or two from a good copy editor. That’s not enough to spoil a book for me, but it is for some people. I don’t want to mislead them. This was Virdi’s first novel, and it shows.

Now for those who can handle some typos, this is a pretty interesting story so far. It’s sort of Quantum Leap meets Deadman, and I mean that in a very good way. Vincent Graves is a deceased spirit (don’t call him a ghost – there are many kinds of undead in this world, but only one Vincent) with the power/curse to inhabit bodies of those who have recently died from supernatural causes. His mission: to find the supernatural evil-doer who caused the death, bring them to justice, and bring peace to the deceased. Vincent’s guide in this mission is the enigmatic Church, a servant of some unnamed supernatural power himself. Church carries Vincent’s notes from one body to the next, and also provides Vincent with all that is known about the mission, as well as a time limit.

In this, Vincent’s first appearance (but not his first mission by a long shot), Vincent awakens in the body of a museum curator who has been buried in someone else’s coffin (still occupied). It’s not Vincent’s first time being buried “alive”, so he knows how to reach air; but it all goes downhill from there. Church has little information to offer, and imposes a scant thirteen-hour deadline. Worse, Church seems frightened by the situation. Whatever supernatural force is loose, it’s the biggest Vincent has ever faced. Before his death, the curator encountered some mystical power which rejuvenated him by thirty years or more, and also a force that killed him. Was it the same force? I’ll have to read more to find out.

This is a pretty good start. The world-building has a lot of new twists on old tropes, nicely surprising. Vincent is an interesting protagonist. He can be heavy on the sarcasm as a way to face the unknown. It gets a bit heavy at times, but I think it makes sense for the character. There are many things he can’t control, so instead of despairing, he jokes about them.

I’m a slow reader, and I have some other reading and critiquing obligations, so this will probably be Story Saturday for a couple more weeks, at least. I’ll keep you posted!

Market Monday: Analog Science Fiction and Fact

I had an eleven-hour day at work, followed by a ninety-minute drive home. It has been a long day.

So I’m going to cut down on my usual waxing poetic. It’s Analog Science Fiction and Fact, formerly Astounding. It’s the longest-running magazine in the field. If you need me to tell you about Analog, you need to brush up on your market research.

Oh, wait, there’s one thing I need to tell you…

DON’T SELF-REJECT!!!!!

I hear so many authors say, “Oh, my stories aren’t for Analog. They’re too character-oriented, not hard science fiction.”

Bull****!

First, hard science fiction can be plenty character-oriented. That’s the way Analog likes it. They have bought four of my Carver and Aames stories so far, and what’s the number one thing I hear about those stories from readers? They love the characters. As damaged and screwed up as he is, they love Nick Aames. They even gave Racing to Mars an AnLab (Analytical Laboratory) Award.

And second, hard science fiction is by no means all that Analog publishes! As editor Trevor Quachri likes to point out (closely paraphrased): “We published Dune; and we’d do it again. We published Pern, and we’d do it again.” Analog may welcome hard science fiction more than other markets do, but they also welcome other science fiction as well. As their guidelines say:

We publish science fiction stories in which some aspect of future science or technology is so integral to the plot that, if that aspect were removed, the story would collapse. Try to picture Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein without the science and you’ll see what I mean. No story!

The science can be physical, sociological, psychological. The technology can be anything from electronic engineering to biogenetic engineering. But the stories must be strong and realistic, with believable people (who needn’t be human) doing believable things–no matter how fantastic the background might be.

Trevor doesn’t do your job (writing your stories), so don’t you do his job (rejecting stories). Let him decide if it’s an Analog story or not.

He may surprise you…

 

Science Sunday: The Boom Star in My Back Yard

Prof Larry Molnar Credit: Calvin College

“What’s a Boom Star, Martin?”

It’s two stars that are going to collide in 2022, creating a Red Nova dubbed the Boom Star.

“Why do you say it’s in your back yard, Martin? Isn’t that kinda close?”

Well, of course, the stars won’t be in my back yard. But that’s where the research was done to discover this impending collision: at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. Not precisely my back yard, but close enough to give me a sense of regional pride. This is world-class astronomy work, headed up right here in West Michigan. Dr. Molnar presented his paper at the American Astronomical Society last week. You can read a preprint version here.

So what’s going to happen? From the Telegraph article linked above:

Before their meeting the two stars were too dim to be seen by the naked eye, but in 2022, the newly formed Red Nova will burn so brightly in the constellation Cygnus that everyone will be able to to see it.

“For the first time in history, parents will be able to point to a dark spot in the sky and say, ‘Watch, kids, there’s a star hiding in there, but soon it’s going to light up,” said Dr Matt Walhout, dean for research and scholarship at Calvin College, Michigan, where the prediction was made.

For around six months the Boom Star will be one of the brightest in the sky before gradually dimming, returning to its normal brightness after around two to three years.

That. Is. So. Cool!

Now for Science Sunday, I like to explore the story implications of a scientific discovery. One obvious implication: suppose one of these stars had an inhabited planet? What would happen to the occupants? Nothing good, I fear. Would they live long enough to see the Red Nova engulf their planet? Or would the approach of the other star tear them out of orbit from their primary, either pulling them in to a fiery death or tossing them out into the cold darkness of space? Neither would be a good fate.

Though in the latter case… If they had time to move their civilization underground… Hmmm…

Of course, we don’t know if a binary system could have a planet in a stable orbit long enough to evolve intelligent life. The odds seem kinda long for that. But it’s not impossible. Might be a good story there.

I hope to interview Dr. Molnar for a future Science Sunday. Stay tuned!

Friend Friday: Joshua Sky

It was less than a year ago, at the Volume 32 Writers of the Future Gala and autograph session. I was there as a returning past winner, which meant I was out of the spotlight. I could simply enjoy the festivities, congratulate my V32 brothers and sisters, and meet people.

Yeah. Meet people. All these writers, predominantly introverts, and we’re supposed to spontaneously meet people. Why came up with this idea?

But then suddenly this guy starts asking me questions about the contest. And about short fiction. Really good questions.

And that’s how I met Joshua Sky, a real kindred spirit. Joshua is a screenwriter, as well as working other roles in Hollywood; but he has a real passion for short fiction, science fiction especially.

More than that, Joshua is fascinated with the history of the field, and the culture. He has the fortune (?) of living in Los Angeles. On the downside, that means long, frustrating commutes. On the upside, that means he can attend the famed Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, where he has access to their fantastic archives… and also to some of their fantastic, famous members. For Joshua, that’s a true treasure trove.

And he has put his research (both there and elsewhere) into a project: interviews with science fiction authors for Omni Media. I was honored to be one of his interview subjects, and it was the best interview I have had so far. Joshua doesn’t just ask a stock set of questions. He makes a point to read some of the author’s best works as well as their bio and web sites, and then he creates unique questions for each author. It’s a very personal interview every time. Here are his interviews so far.

It’s a short list, but he’s adding to it. Keep an eye out for more.

But Joshua is more than a science fiction historian, he’s also a short fiction author. Two of his stories have appeared in Omni, and I expect we’ll see more and in more markets soon.

And he’s an essayist. The House Had Eyes falls on the edge between memoir and fiction. It’s a tribute to Ray Bradbury, and it perfectly captures the wistful nostalgia and sense of loss of a great Bradbury tale. This one’s special. I give it my highest recommendations.

So that’s my friend, Joshua Sky. I hope you enjoy his work!