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A collaborative blog by Locus editors, contributors, and other invited guests. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine or Locus Online.

 




 


Editor

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Contributors

Alan Beatts
Terry Bisson
Marie Brennan
Karen Burnham
Siobhan Carroll
John Clute
F. Brett Cox
Ellen Datlow
Paul Di Filippo
Michael Dirda
Gardner Dozois
Andy Duncan
Stefan Dziemianowicz
Brian Evenson
Jeffrey Ford
Karen Joy Fowler
Kathleen Ann Goonan
Theodora Goss
Elizabeth Hand
Cecelia Holland
Rich Horton
Guy Gavriel Kay
James Patrick Kelly
Mark R. Kelly
Ellen Klages
Russell Letson
Karen Lord
Brit Mandelo
Adrienne Martini
Tim Pratt
Cat Rambo
Paul Graham Raven
Graham Sleight
Maureen Kincaid Speller
Peter Straub
Rachel Swirsky
Paul Witcover
Gary K. Wolfe
E. Lily Yu

Carolyn Ives Gilman Guest Post–”Becoming the Other”

A friend once told me she couldn’t get interested in a book unless it was about people just like herself. She meant 21st-century African American women, but the demographics were not the point. Her comment made me realize I am exactly the opposite: I read books to become something I am not. To capture my attention, a book has to take me to a time or a place or a culture I have never lived in.

Most science fiction readers are probably like me, while most readers of realist fiction are like my friend. There is no point arguing about which of us is “right.” We simply have different needs, and thank goodness there is fiction enough in the world for both of us.

But why do I find it so alluring to inhabit the skin of someone unlike myself? It’s partly that, growing up, I didn’t find myself or my world terribly interesting, and I seized every opportunity to escape it. Besides reading—and eventually writing—science fiction, I became a historian, then a historian of cultures other than my own. As I began working with people unlike myself, and eventually had the disorienting and profoundly uncomfortable experience of being alone in another culture, I began to realize how far short I had fallen in trying to imagine myself out of my own shoes. Today, I work in a museum where my bosses and most of my colleagues are American Indian (no, they don’t say Native American; that’s another long story). Misunderstandings and cultural collisions are a daily occurrence. I am lucky they tolerate my boneheadedness. But I learn a great deal.

Naturally, I write a lot about first contact.

Recently, I have been working in a setting I call the Twenty Planets, a universe inhabited by hundreds of diverse human cultures and by a class of people called Wasters who travel among them. Because of the time delays caused by lightspeed transport, Wasters are constantly out of sync with everyone else. Even when they arrive on familiar planets they have missed years in transit, and they are constantly scrambling to catch up. When they travel to unfamiliar planets, they are forced to negotiate culture shock.  My novellas Arkfall and The Ice Owl are both set in the Twenty Planets, and so is my most recent novel, Dark Orbit.

I like this setting because it allows me to write about other cultures without having to navigate around the shoals that surround the real ones. For example, I would not feel comfortable writing from an Indian point of view, because I have not experienced what they have. But I can write from the point of view of an invented culture. In fact, it can be tremendous fun—though a lot of work—to invent a culture by making a few assumptions about the environment and history of a people, then seeing where it takes them. In The Ice Owl, I was writing about a harsh and unforgiving planet, and its people ended up with a culture so unbending it was ready to shatter. In Dark Orbit, the planet is so challenging that the only people who can survive there are a culture of the blind. Imagining the type of architecture, arts, and social structures a blind civilization would construct was a thought experiment that occupied me for months. Since it has never (to my knowledge) happened in this world, no one can say I am wrong.

In writing about diverse peoples, the drama—the true meat of the story—generally lies at the edges, the borderlands where dissimilar societies collide and challenge one another’s values. That is the uncertain territory where I live most days, and where more and more of us find ourselves living in this world of migration and mixing. My most grandiose hope for our beloved genre is that, by reading stories that require us to practice seeing the world differently, we may be building skills that will serve the human race well. The ability to imagine ourselves into another person’s point of view is no longer just a nice thing; it is becoming as critical to our survival as opposable thumbs.

Who knows, maybe science fiction may yet save the world—not through the wonders of technology, but through changing our habits of mind.

 

 

About the Author

Carolyn Ives Gilman’s latest novel is a space exploration adventure, Dark Orbit. Her other books include Isles of the Forsaken and Ison of the Isles, a two-book fantasy about culture clash and revolution. Her first novel, Halfway Human, was called “one of the most compelling explorations of gender and power in recent SF” by Locus. Some of her short fiction can be found in Aliens of the Heart and Candle in a Bottle, both from Aqueduct Press, and in Arkfall and The Ice Owl, from Arc Manor. Her short fiction has appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction, The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Phantom Drift, Bending the Landscape, Interzone, Universe, Full Spectrum, Realms of Fantasy, and others. She has been nominated for the Nebula Award three times and for the Hugo once.

In her professional career, Gilman is a historian specializing in 18th- and early 19th-century North American history, particularly frontier and Native history. She lives in Washington, D.C. and works at the National Museum of the American Indian.

Kit Reed Guest Post–”How I Learned to Write”

For me, it was all about learning, never about teachers, but I couldn’t stop hoping there was a magical How-To-Book-That-Explains-It-All-To-You. Or a great coach who would love to tell me all about How It’s Done.

P.S., there wasn’t, although there used to be a Famous Writers School claiming that for a down payment and your monthly contribution, they would. I did a story about their correspondence course for the New Haven Register back in the day, and was gifted with a dozen hefty volumes. I handed them off to my mother, one of those nice old ladies who said she “always wanted to write.” She never did. People who say they want to be writers don’t always mean what they say.

https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/how-jessica-mitford-exposed-a-48m-scam-from-americas-literary-establishment/

I started writing before I knew how to read; I couldn’t even print. I was four, and my mother did the printing, dutifully copying my question: “Is that all right?” in the middle of the story and dutifully reading it back to me. I made her erase it and covered the mess with an illustration: Harbor the Easter-basket bunnyrabbit running away from home.

The next one, also “Illustrated by the author,” I printed all by myself. And the next. And the next. I’ve run my own shop ever since. My third-grade effort, “Harbor and Shamrock Wilson,” made me really proud. Harbor’s plane crashed in Africa and she met an African princess named Shamrock. Shamrock turned out to be her long-lost sister, so she got on the plane with Harbor and they went home. There were others in the series, up to and including Harbor comics, and at some point I sent them all to Reilly & Lee, the Oz books’ publishers, thinking, Hey. My flapcrap was already written: “Kitten Craig is twelve years old and she has her own horse.” They sent me a really nice letter thanking me, but, no.

The great thing about being an only child, particularly an only child that other kids don’t like, is, a. you have your very own stuff and it always stays where you put it, and b. you spend most of your time alone inside your own head. Sober reflections. Imagined conversations. What you wish you’d said instead of what you actually said. What you wish would happen, instead of what usually did.

By the time I was reading too much and summer meant being put to bed long before it got dark, I had a Western extravaganza playing inside my head before I went to sleep — not a serial, exactly, but, yeah. Kids on a ranch; Dick and Daisy, Brad and Brenda and Rusty all had their own horses and they were all six, seven, eight, nine years old, and I think Rusty rode out with me; we all had our own horses and plenty of friends, wish fulfillment much? I was at least eleven before they rode off into the land of the uncreated for the very last time.

I missed them, but I was too old to bring them back. And old enough to know that wish fulfillment wasn’t anything I wanted to write. My mother was a vicarious hypochondriac; go heh kaff kaff and she’d put me to bed for the day. It beat going to school. Books, lined notebooks. Drawings. Aborted short stories, an aborted script called “The Banditti.” Best line evah: “‘Good heavens,’ Deanna ejaculated.’”

Other kids hated me in a whole batch of grammar schools up and down the East coast; I was “the new kid” so many times that I never figured that one out, the why. Another problem: I read so much that I had an outrageously big vocabulary, which meant I spent too much time being called up front to read my Thing out loud. Like they would learn from that. Or, because Sister Clarice thought listening to a smart sixth-grader would be a good example, in front of the whole seventh grade.

So some of the kids hated me because I was smart, but I think most of them hated me because, no matter where I went, I was Not Like Them.

Are you bored yet?

High school: trying to assimilate. Pretending I was dumb. Boys. Boarding school. Nope, I didn’t write anything much until college — one poetry class my roommate and I took to ghost verse for some idiot who idolized the teacher; one overenthusiastic woman who… I wish I could remember! One senior thesis approved so I could avoid a research paper — short stories, all in a folder somewhere, and then, and this is important:

The newsroom of The St. Petersburg Times; The New Haven Register, back when it was a real newspaper. Guys with cigars who expected you to get it written and get it right and get it done on deadline, no errors, no apologies and no excuses. That’s where I really learned to write.

And the most important thing I learned? No whining. Ever. 

In my day, I’ve had three busted novels, all of which still break my heart; shit happens. After my first couple of sales I averaged 220 stories a year for three years. None of them ever saw print, but back when I was trying to write science fiction, I got great refusals from great editors: “you write too well to be writing this kind of crap,” –Fred Pohl, ed. If. And I sent a note with my story to famous agoraphobe H.L. Gold, editor of Galaxy: “Dear Mr. Gold, how does this grab you?” “Right down the throat and by the lunch.” –H.L. Gold.

That’s how I learned to write.

 

About the Author

Born into a Navy family, Kit Reed moved so often as a kid that she never settled down in one place, and she doesn’t know whether that’s A Good Thing or not. As a kid, she spent two years in the tidelands of South Carolina, in Beaufort and on Parris Island, both landmarks on the Inland Waterway. It’s a very good thing in its relationship to Where, in which the entire population of a small island vanishes. Her fiction covers territory variously labeled speculative fiction/science fiction/literary fiction, with stops at stations in between that include horror, dystopian SF, psychothrillers and black comedy, making her “transgenred.” (The pitch line for this new novel came to her overnight: Everybody on Kraven Island is gone. Even they don’t know Where.)

Recent novels are Son of Destruction and, from Tor, Enclave, The Baby Merchant and the ALA award-winning Thinner Than Thou. Her stories appear in venues ranging from Asimov’s SF and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction to The Yale Review and The Norton Anthology. Her newest collection is The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book of Stories, from the Wesleyan University Press. She was twice nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award and the Tiptree Award. A Guggenheim fellow, Reed is Resident Writer at Wesleyan University, and serves on the board of The Authors League Fund.

Nathan Ballingrud Guest Post–”Horror and the Small Press”

Horror is the unloved hound of literature. It’s hard to find it in bookstores, beyond the names that have been representing the form since the seventies and eighties: King, Rice, Koontz, and Barker. Forget about specifically designated shelves; those days are gone. It’s got a bad reputation. Some of that’s due to the lingering effects of the paperback horror boom of the eighties, which nearly choked the market to death, but in truth, it’s been on the wrong side of public opinion since way back. (You can thank horror comics for the Comics Code, that odious, self-imposed mark of shame that kept the medium shackled to its own adolescence for decades.) Most people find something distasteful about horror fiction. They’re quick to define it by its worst examples: it’s gratuitously violent; it’s misogynistic; it’s shallow and moralizing on one end of the spectrum, nihilistic and cheap on the other. No wonder the bookshelves aren’t exactly groaning under the weight of these books, right? Who reads this crap, anyway?

To all this I say: good. Keep misunderstanding. That’s how it’s supposed to be. Like any mongrel dog, horror fiction thrives on the outskirts.

When horror hits the mainstream, it begins to conform to mainstream expectations: it either becomes domesticated or it goes feral. One the one hand we have safe horror, which takes on the role of morality tales by punishing transgressors against the social code; on the other we have shock horror, which quickly exhausts itself in the indulgence of transgression, usually manifesting in misogyny and buckets of gore. The first can come off as paternalistic or pandering, while the second is simply juvenile and boring.

Horror thrives beyond the light of popular attention. At its best, horror is the literature of antagonism. It sets itself in opposition to the reader. It’s about undermining systems of belief, and unraveling preconceptions. It can also, sometimes, be about finding beauty in the midst of fear and tragedy. It can be about learning to love the monstrous. Because those, too, are subversions of our understanding of what is true or possible. They are best practiced away from the influence of mainstream sensibilities.

Despite the dismal condition of the bookstore shelves, horror is thriving. The advent of the small and specialty press has been a boon to literature across the board, but perhaps no branch has benefited quite as profoundly as horror has done. Thanks to The Swan River Press, we still have J. Sheridan LeFanu, Lucy M. Boston, and Mervyn Wall in print. Tartarus Press is publishing the full catalogue of Robert Aickman stories, several major works by Arthur Machen, and brilliant modern writers like Reggie Oliver, N.A. Sulway, Angela Slatter, and Mark Valentine. Centipede Press brought Dennis Etchison, Karl Edward Wagner, Michael Shea, and so many others back into print. Add to this list Subterranean Press, Sarob Press, Lethe Press, PS Publishing, CZP, Dark Regions… the list goes on. Never has there been a wider spectrum of horror fiction available to us, both ancestral and modern, than there is today, thanks to the proliferation and accessibility of the small and specialty press.

Those writers and publishers exist well outside the awareness of the primary book-buying public. And though I do wish greater fortunes for the living writers listed here—as well as the many I haven’t named—I am pleased for the genre that they are working in these smaller venues. The small press is fundamental to the survival and the continued health of horror fiction; it’s here that it proves itself a vital literature, both energetic and incandescent. Let the trawlers of the box-store shelves hold onto their ill-informed assumptions. Horror is still ravenous here in the dark, outside their lighted homes, alive and running hard.

 

About the Author

Nathan Ballingrud is the author of North American Lake Monsters: Stories, from Small Beer Press; and The Visible Filth, a novella from This Is Horror. His work has appeared in numerous Year’s Best anthologies, and he has twice won the Shirley Jackson Award. He lives with his daughter in Asheville, NC.

Dale Bailey Guest Post–”Calling Timothy Zahn”

Timothy Zahn saved my life.

The story was called “Unitive Factor,” and Google tells me that it appeared in the May 1982 issue of Analog. To be honest, I can’t remember much about it, but the space horses made a hell of an impression. That’s right, space horses: giant vacuum-dwelling whale-like creatures that could jump instantaneously from one star to another, handy for harnessing to your space craft if you had an inclination for faster-than-light travel. And while this scenario struck me even then–I was fourteen–as a little bit unlikely (well, a lot unlikely), it more than inspired within me science fiction’s oft ill-defined sense of wonder. I could not stop thinking of those space horses, and I was pretty excited when they turned up again a couple of years later in the (again Google) March 1984 issue. And still another time, in Zahn’s 1990 fix-up, Warhorse.

Let me be clear: My life was not actually in danger. It’s not like I was hanging by my fingernails to a rock-face five hundred feet up. It’s not like I was sick.

But I lived every day in soul-crushing dread. I had a nemesis, a bully named–well, I suppose I shouldn’t name him, but he went by Junior, and Junior made my every day a living hell. Junior had age on me: he had failed at least two grades. Junior had size on me: he’d spent hours in the weight room. His hatred of me was unprovoked and vicious, and he had a coterie of friends to pick up the slack when he wasn’t around. This was standard stuff. He shoved me against lockers when we passed in the hall. He threatened me in the cafeteria. And worse, he surprised me on the grounds as I fled for home. He never laid a hand on me, but as the crowd gathered around us–”Fight, fight!”–he did the worst thing anyone could do to a fourteen-year-old boy: he exposed to me my own cowardice, and publicly humiliated me.

And then came Timothy Zahn.

I knew about science fiction, of course. My father had given me The Lord of the Rings early on, I’d plowed through Narnia since then, and I’d exhausted the meager holdings of the public library–Simak, Clarke, Silverberg. And I knew that science fiction magazines existed: I’d read Asimov’s recollection of his first sales to John W. Campbell in In Memory Yet Green. But I’d never laid hands on one of the fabled things. Then my sister started dating a man who lived two towns over–a town where there was an old fashioned pharmacy, complete with a soda counter, and shelf after shelf of magazines. And one Saturday morning I woke to find the May 1982 edition of Analog waiting for me on the breakfast table. Inside: Timothy Zahn. Inside: space horses.

Done. As Renée Zellweger says to Tom Cruise at the end of Jerry Maguire, “You had me at hello.”

The magazine wasn’t always there. Sometimes it must have sold out, and of course weeks passed before the new edition hit the stands. Sometimes Asimov’s showed up instead, and maybe once a treasured F&SF. Variable-ratio conditioning, the psychologists call it–the most powerful kind–and soon enough I was a junkie for the digests, as disappointed when one didn’t show up on the breakfast table as a heroin freak when he couldn’t score. And something more: though Junior wouldn’t stop harassing me for a year or two to come, I had a respite from him, a place I could always escape to, a place where I might any moment encounter wonders on the order of space horses, and sometimes did.

Gradually I developed a sense of the distinct identities of the magazines, and once I convinced my parents to subscribe to all three, I found myself gravitating most to F&SF. But I read every one of them from cover to cover for years, and when I started publishing in F&SF after attending Clarion in 1992, I thought I’d reached the peak of fulfillment. But dreams change. I wrote a few novels, I put together a couple of collections, I broke into other markets, both print and online (though never into Analog, ironically). Yet from the very start, my success as a short-story writer was tinged with sadness and fear: even at Clarion I was told that the digests were dying. And the situation looks grimmer still as online markets, sometimes higher-paying, proliferate, and a digital generation turns away from old-fashioned print.

F&SF has gone to a bi-monthly schedule, and word on the street is that circulation is way down for all three of the magazines. Greg Benford recently blogged that the digests were imminently endangered. I’m not sure that’s true–they’ve hung on for more than two decades since I first heard their doom pronounced–but I fear that it might be. I grieve for the loss of every subscriber, for with every one that goes, a part of the kid I used to be dies, too. And though Junior is long gone, that little kid still needs respite. Lots of kids do, maybe more than ever.

I hope my fiction has provided that for a few of them.

As for me, I hung onto both issues of Analog and the first Baen issue of the novel for many years, but they got lost somewhere along the way. The space horses, though, they will always be with me. I’d like to have more of them, in fact.

Are you listening, Mr. Zahn?

 

About the Author

Dale Bailey’s new collection, The End of the End of Everything, came out in the spring. A novel, The Subterranean Season, will follow this fall. He has published three previous novels, The Fallen, House of Bones, and Sleeping Policemen (with Jack Slay, Jr.), and one previous collection of short fiction, The Resurrection Man’s Legacy and Other Stories. His work has been a finalist for the Nebula Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the Bram Stoker Award. His International Horror Guild Award-winning novelette “Death and Suffrage” was adapted for Showtime Television’s Masters of Horror. He lives in North Carolina with his family.

Eric Del Carlo Guest Post–”When Is the Right Time to Collaborate?”

There certainly are periods more auspicious for collaboration than others. Perhaps a fledgling writer with a few sales under her/his belt gets the opportunity to collude with an older established author, with a contract already on the table. Or perhaps one writer conspires with another writer of equal worth to tackle an elaborate novel, one requiring, say, a scientific proficiency one of the two can’t fake and the other can supply readily.

Those are occasions of natural authorial magnetism. Two halves come together. The collaboration may or may not be successful, but the scenario is sound.

But soundness does not always figure into the strange, wonderful, unnerving alchemy of collaborative fiction writing.

Let me take you through my own unique experience.

In the early Aughts of this century my father Vic, then in his seventies, got hit with a stroke. Major but not catastrophic. Call it 6.5 on the neurological Richter: structural damage, but we can rebuild. I was living in pre-Katrina New Orleans at this time; hadn’t been back to hometown San Francisco in years; I went out there to see Vic.

Now, to dial it back further, my father and I had throughout my youth shared a love of all things genre–science fiction, horror, thrillers, etc. Actually, I was picking up the baton of his devotion, which he had carried all through the rise of sf, from the pulp era on. I knew he had always wanted to be a professional writer, and though it had come to nothing for him, I took up that predilection as well.

So I visited my father in San Francisco and was stunned to see how quick his recovery from the stroke had been. We caught up, talked movies, rewired those bits of our relationship frayed by absence and time. I returned to New Orleans.

Oh, something else: I myself had expressed an interest in writing from about age seven on, and Vic had encouraged me. We had traded ideas, talked through plots. Essentially, we were two amateurs workshopping stories off each other as best we could. In my case, by my thirties I’d racked up a decent amount of sales and had even coauthored two fantasy novels with the late Robert Asprin, who I knew from an adjacent barstool in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

When I was back in the Big Easy, a thought occurred to me. An idea. An intrigue. Wouldn’t it be cool to collaborate on a book-length project with my father, who, to date, had only a single short story sale to his name?

Well… sure. The man’s just had a stroke. He’s in his dotage. He’s an under-published writer who never had the chance I’d had to develop the craft we both loved so much.

Thing was, though, I’d always liked Vic’s work. He had shared his short story efforts with me. And however fragmentary and unpolished some of them were, his concepts were exciting. He had a good ear for dialogue, a keen sense of characterization. For decades he’d been on the cusp of breaking through into true professionalism. Personalized rejection letters from editors confirmed this.

But now he was in the third act of his life, still recovering from a traumatic physiological event. So the time was ripe for a literary undertaking of this magnitude. Right?

In hindsight I am reminded of that bit from the film Dog Day Afternoon. After the bank robbery goes hopelessly awry, the head teller fixes Al Pacino with a withering gaze and says, “He don’t have a plan. It’s all a whim. ‘Rob a bank!’”

That was about how I proposed it to Vic. I called him up and said, “Let’s write a book!”

Well, I did have one good idea. Actually, it was his idea. In the Eighties, when I was still in high school, my father had written a short story entitled “The Golden Gate Is Empty Again.” It was a moody little piece wherein the Golden Gate Bridge had magically and inexplicably disappeared one day, with hundreds of people on the span. The tale was told from the viewpoint of a man whose father was on the bridge during this terrible event. After a few minor plot machinations it emerged that this character’s father was himself responsible for this act of magical terrorism. Further, the bridge reappeared at the end of the story according to the nature of the time-sensitive spell that had been cast. Seven years had elapsed since the bridge’s initial vanishing; it returned to our world for seven seconds, then winked out again–not long enough for the protagonist’s father to drive clear of the span.

That story had emotional impact. It wasn’t perfectly assembled. Vic got good responses from editors at the magazines he sent it to, but none bought the piece.

Twenty years on, the original manuscript was gone. No yellowing sheaf of papers remained, no file on a computer disk. But I remembered it. Vivid details had stuck with me. I thought it would make a very serviceable framework upon which to build a novel.

The phone call I placed went something like this:

“Dad, you remember that story of yours about the Golden Gate Bridge disappearing?”

“Yes.”

“I think we should collaborate on a book based on it. You write the father’s backstory up to his disappearance on the bridge, and I’ll write the son’s viewpoint as he returns to San Francisco years later seeking answers to his father’s mysterious, possibly magical past. What do you say?”

It didn’t take much or any convincing. My proposal was an out of the blue, back-brain impulse. Vic’s acquiescence was just as instinctive. Though I’d had some professional success in the field, I had no plan what to do with the novel once/if it was done. Nobody was clamoring for a book with Eric Del Carlo’s name on the cover. I didn’t know if urban fantasy–the category this book would belong in–was “hot” or not. Honestly, I didn’t care. This was a throwback to the old days when my father and I would talk into the night about plot structure and the necessity of sympathetic characters in fiction. It harkened back to avid analytical discussions, conducted in McDonald’s booths, over the merits of C.H.U.D. or Class of 1984 or whatever just-released low-budget movie we’d seen that evening.

Those were treasured memories. Now, here, was an opportunity to revisit that period, one which had permanently infused me with an enthusiasm for creative writing.

But could we do it? Could we really write a book together? The only outline we had was the memory of an unpublished short story lost to the dust of time. We knew how the novel would end. That gut-punch finale from the short story was perfect. We need only flesh out the particulars, lace in some subplots. We would be working on semi-independent storylines, in different time frames.

Perhaps we wouldn’t trip each other up as we proceeded.

Like a chess game, somebody had to make the opening move. The first chapter fell to Vic. He wrote it up and emailed it to me. I read it. It was a dynamic opening, a birth scene, introducing the character I would be writing in my own alternating chapters. Vic’s work established his own viewpoint character. The prose was solid, the tension palpable. And he even dropped in a hint of magic.

Here was the person who would eventually–somehow–be led inextricably to causing the supernatural disappearance of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Okay, then. My turn. Vic’s chapter ran about ten manuscript pages. That’s not long for a chapter, but it’s enough to communicate a chunk of material. I started out my half of the story with my character, now a grownup, arriving in a near-future San Francisco and visiting the solemn site of the Memorial, where the yawningly empty Golden Gate lay, that watery entry into San Francisco Bay. My much-conflicted character acknowledged that his father had been on the bridge when it vanished.

So those were the opening moves, a couple of very respectable pawns-to-king-4s. Now would come the real test. Could we keep it moving? Could we sustain thematic coherency? Our individual storylines had to advance at similar paces, even though Vic’s chapters would cover years and mine only days. I waited with some trepidation for my father’s next installment. Would it be weeks?

Had that first chapter just been a fluke, a momentary burst of writerly zeal?

Nope. He came back with another polished chapter within days. Which meant I had to respond in kind. We were off and running.
Now this isn’t supposed to be a synopsis of the book. We moved our separate timelines forward in a convincing manner. When he introduced a character in the past, I could follow up on that person in the present. As events happened to the younger incarnation of my character, I incorporated the consequences into the adult version. Conversely, when I dropped something into my time frame that was useful, my father would do some reverse engineering and provide foreshadowing.

It became a duet. The subplots we’d each created flourished. We could still work independently, but a greater grander interdependence had arisen. We both worked on the wholeness of the story, playing off and absorbing one another’s style and ambience. Our voices remained distinctive, but there was symmetry here and an increasingly sublime cohesion.

Also, weird stuff happened.

Vic dropped in a reference to the nascent sf novel Earth Abides in one of his chapters. I just happened to be reading that very book at that very time. He introduced a character we both ended up using prominently in our respective halves. Reading his description, I remember thinking that this woman’s eyes would probably look like Michelle Pfeiffer’s. A paragraph later he made that explicit comparison. Then there was the lemon scones thing…

Well, suffice to say something that seemed genuinely magical was happening with our book about magic, and about a father and son.

Over the course of a few swift months we finished the novel. Eventually it found a home via Charles Zaglanis with White Cat Publications, which has released it in ebook and paperback. Initial feedback has been very good. Whatever else, it will serve as a document of what will surely be the most joyful professional collaboration I’ll ever experience.

But was it smart for Vic and I to write a book together? On paper, hell no. It was the endeavor of madmen. You can’t hope to collude on an intricate, character driven novel without an anatomizing outline. A person doesn’t wait until he’s in his post-stroke seventies to make his push at being a novelist. No one does that. I was foolish to suggest it.

Yet we did it. The time was all wrong, but the magic was just right.

 

About the Author

Eric Del Carlo’s short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Perihelion, and is upcoming at Analog. His novels include the Wartorn books (Ace Books), co-written with Robert Asprin, and The Golden Gate Is Empty (White Cat Publications), which he wrote with his father Victor Del Carlo. Find him on Facebook for questions or comments.

Cat Rambo Guest Post–”Not a Straitjacket”

I was lucky enough to be at Emerald City Comic Con this weekend, and one of the highlights was a panel on diversity, with fellow panelists Jamie Ford, Ramon J. Terrell, Garth Reasby, and Sarah Remy, moderated by Anna Alexander. It wasn’t the only panel on diversity–there were, by my count, four panels that touched on the topic over the course of the three day con.

I wanted to share a few of the points that came up, because it’s a conversation that’s been going on for decades, as someone noted on the panel, and it’s something that is deeply interwoven into the nature of speculative fiction itself.

1. Diversity is about having more stories. Not fewer. Not swapping out a new lot for the traditional, mainstream narratives, but adding to them. Bringing in the mythologies, the tropes, the figurative language of more cultures, more viewpoints. For anyone who’s ever complained about the sometimes tired nature of “the Chosen One” plotline, this is the wellspring that will bring new energy, new life. Because stories start affecting each other. They start creeping into each other’s plot holes and wandering off to talk about mashups. Others engage in loud conversations with each other, sometimes even shouting matches. And in the meantime, the virtual room that is the field of speculative fiction keeps expanding in order to hold them all.

BEASTS OF TABAT

2. Yes, it can be worrisome to know that you might put a foot awry or offend someone. But if you are working with sincerity, respect, and a willingness to admit it and change course when you inadvertently steer into someone’s sensibilities, will serve you well. You have allies in this, and one of the biggest ones is the Internet, with its wealth of self-expression from a wide range of people. It’s okay to ask for help, but don’t treat the person as though they’re putting the official stamp of approval on the piece for whichever group or groups they fit in. And it’s okay to be wrong sometimes. You learn from it. You do better the next time. That’s part of being human.

3. This is important stuff, and one of the things that makes it important is the howling knee-jerk internal response that happens when you realize–or someone points out to you–that something you’ve said or written is racist. Or sexist. Or transphobic, or any of a number of categories that the majority of us very much don’t want to be placed in. But it’s what’s been said that’s  important, that needs to be recognized and addressed. To take it personally, to truculently declare that you’ll never write from other viewpoints because it’s too hard to get it right, is childish and unworthy of a writer. This is how people learn, and sometimes yes, it’s a painful process. To find a piece of yourself you’re not fond of or dislike is a tremendous gift from the world to a writer, because it lets the writer dissect and analyze it in order to write about where it comes from.

Make art out of everything, not just the pre-approved stuff. Don’t be afraid to make it, and don’t be afraid to admit when it has flaws. Diversity’s not a straitjacket; it’s the key that lets you out of one.

 

About the Author

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and edits in the Pacific Northwest. Her work has appeared in such places as Asimov’s, Weird Tales, and Strange Horizons. She was the fiction editor of award-winning Fantasy Magazine (http://www.fantasy-magazine.com) and appeared on the World Fantasy Award ballot in 2012 for that work.

John Barth described Cat Rambo’s writings as “works of urban mythopoeia”–her stories take place in a universe where chickens aid the lovelorn, Death is just another face on the train, and Bigfoot gives interviews to the media on a daily basis. She has worked as a programmer-writer for Microsoft and a Tarot card reader, professions which, she claims, both involve a certain combination of technical knowledge and willingness to go with the flow. In 2005 she attended the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop and is a member of the Codex Writers Group.

In 2007, her collaboration with Jeff VanderMeer, The Surgeon’s Tale and Other Stories, appeared, while her first solo collection, Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight, was published in August of 2009 and was an Endeavour Award finalist. In 2012, her collection Near + Far appeared from Hydra House as well as a novella, A Seed Upon the Wind, as part of the Fathomless Abyss collaborative project. Her story “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain” is a 2012 Nebula Award finalist.

Her website is www.kittywumpus.net.

PeacockHairedCat

Bryan Thomas Schmidt Guest Post–”Top 10 Reasons Why Kansas City Is Important To Fandom”

I recently launched a Kickstarter for a one-of-a-kind history-making anthology, Speculations KC for the 2016 Worldcon, a return to Kansas City after 40 years. One of the joys of moving here has been discovering the rich connections to genre history and fandom that the area has. The Midwest may sometimes not be the first place to come to mind when you think about genre, so I thought it might be good to remind people why the Kansas City region is so important in genre history and fandom and why it’s a great place to visit. So here are a few thoughts:

1) Star Writers—From Robert Heinlein to William F. Nolan, Larry Niven, and James Gunn, the Kansas City area has been home to a lot of big name writing stars of genre fiction. Two of these are SFWA grandmasters, Niven will become one this May, and Nolan will become one at the World Horror Convention later this year. Lesser known talents include Frank K. Kelly, who was an early pulp writer in his teens and twenties and sold every story he wrote to the pulps, then went on to write speeches for Harry S. Truman. He also happens to be Nolan’s cousin. Tom Reamy was an openly gay writer whose 1970s stories included daring-for-the-day homoerotic themes and characters. And Pat Cadigan and Kij Johnson are two of the most respected female writers working today and have both won numerous awards.

2) Fandom History—The Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society has been around since the early 1970s, and has hosted ConQuesT, the local fan-run science fiction and fantasy convention, every Memorial Day Weekend, 46 times as of this year. From members of this group also came the original MidAmeriCon, “Big MAC,” in 1976, which put Kansas City on the map of fandom and paved the way for today’s thriving local groups and events. Naka-Kon, the area’s main anime convention, is in its twelfth year, and continues to receive rave reviews from fans and professionals alike. KC is also home to not one, but two large comic/media conventions that have been receiving amazing local press as of late. Spectrum Fantastic Art Live acts to bring together artists, industry professionals, and fans of the science fiction and fantasy art community from all across the globe.

3) Genre History—MidAmeriCon, the first Worldcon here, started the Hugo awards Academy Awards-style ceremony, was the debut of Star Wars props and pics to science fiction fans with guest appearances by Mark Hamill and Gary Kurtz, had the first official film festival at a Worldcon, and hosted the first Hugo Losers Party, founded by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. It also was the first videotaped Worldcon. Conquest 46 will be the first time George R.R. Martin is Editor Guest of Honor, and many other worthwhile guests have received early recognition here.

4) Academic Study—The University of Kansas hosts the unparalleled Gunn Center For the Study of Science Fiction, named after its award-winning founder, a legend in the field, and currently run by Chris McKitterick and Kij Johnson, active writers in their own right. From offering numerous classes, guest lectures by David Brin, Gary Wolfe and others, to handing out distinguished awards like the annual John Campbell and Theodore Sturgeon Awards, to running professional-quality workshops every summer for novel and short fiction writers, important academic work for our field is being done here. And I’m not even mentioning the invaluable collection of pulps and papers held in nearby libraries.

5) Location–You can’t get a much more centralized locale in the United States than Kansas City. By air, you can arrive in 1 ½ hours from Dallas or Chicago, 2 ½ hours from DC, 3 hours from New York, 3 ½ hours from Los Angeles, 4 ½ hours from Montreal, 11 hours from London, 13 ½ hours from Finland, and 15 hours from Japan. MCI international airport is just a quick 20 minute drive to downtown. If train is your preferred mode of transportation, Amtrak is located at the historic Union Station, a mere 1.5 miles from the KC Convention Center. And for those that love a good road trip, you won’t necessarily have to travel far to reach Kansas City…. it’s an 8 hour drive from Chicago, Denver, Dallas, and Nashville just to name a few.

6) Arts Mecca—With Hallmark Cards based here and Spectrum Fantastic and more, Kansas City has a strong reputation for the arts. That includes comic book companies like Andrews McMeel which have published The Far SideFox Trot, and other famous cartoons, and many other wonderful events from symphonies to theaters to opera and more. The arts community thrives and receives a warm welcome and great appreciation here.

7) Family Friendly—Not only will there be educational and fun children’s programming at MidAmeriCon II, as well as onsite childcare, but Kansas City also offers plenty of family-friendly attractions throughout the metro for kids of all ages. Kaleidoscope art studio in Crown Center, free to the public and operated by Hallmark, offers the creative opportunity for children and their parents to produce masterpieces with leftover bits from the Hallmark studios. For a more technical adventure, visit Science City at Union Station where numerous interactive learning stations allow children to play and learn hands-on while encouraging interest in science, technology, engineering and math-related fields. Other popular family outings include Legoland Discovery Center, SeaLife Aquarium, The Kansas City Zoo, and Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead—all within easy reach of downtown and the conventions.

8) The Blues—Kansas City’s Blues scene is legendary and some of the most famous musicians and songwriters got their start here.  Kansas City now hosts the American Jazz Museum and it still has a great live music scene on both the Country Club Plaza, the first outdoor mall of its kind in the country, as well as in local bars, clubs and more.

9) Museums–Whether your interest is art, history, music, toys, sports… Kansas City has a museum for you. By far, the most popular of these is the National WWI Museum at Liberty Memorial, which houses one of the largest collection of WWI artifacts anywhere in the world. For a bit more regional content, I already mentioned the American Jazz Museum, so let’s add the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Steamboat Arabia Museum (a don’t miss for you steampunk fans), and the Truman Presidential Museum & Library—all of which offer a wealth of exhibits which showcase some of Kansas City’s past. A few other popular attractions are the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Airline History Museum, and the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures.

10) Dining–In 2014, Travel and Leisure dubbed Kansas City the nation’s third best city for foodies, as well as number one for the most affordable dining. From fine dining and fusion foods to cultural food trucks popping up all across the metro, the dining scene is continually growing and enticing new chefs to relocate to Kansas City, bringing their unique flavors and concepts to the area. To help Worldcon attendees in 2016 make the delicious decisions of where to dine while in KC, MidAmeriCon II will be offering a taste-tested dining guide of Kansas City’s eateries. And did I mention the BBQ?!? Kansas City is home to a plethora of world-renowned BBQ joints. Everyone in town has their opinion on which establishment is actually the best–Gates, Arthur Bryant’s, Woodyard, Jackstack? But between the locals there’s one BBQ opinion that’s not in dispute: KC Style is the king of BBQ!

So there are some great reasons why Kansas City is a great part of fandom and genre history. Hope to see you all at MidAmeriCon II in Summer 2016, and please check out Speculations KC, which will pay tribute to many of these contributions and more and be a great keepsake for fans and collectors!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/601968027/speculations-kc-kansas-city-worldcon-anthology

 

 

About the Author

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is a critically praised, award nominated editor and author of anthologies, novels and short fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince, received Honorable Mention on Barnes and Noble’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases of 2011. His anthologies include Shattered Shields with Jennifer Brozek, Mission: Tomorrow, Galactic Games, and Monster Hunter Tales with Larry Correia, all from Baen as well as others for EDGE, Fairwood Press and more. He hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat under the hashtag #sffwrtcht regularly on twitter, interviewing top guests from around the field, and is a Junior Acquistions and Developmental editor for Wordfire Press.

Damien Angelica Walters Guest Post–”An Orchestra of Scars”

Truth: I’ve been sitting for two hours in front of this blank page, unsure where to start or what to write about. There may have been a few side trips to Facebook and Twitter during that time, but I was wracking my brain trying to come up with a subject as opposed to just talking about my short fiction collection.

Non-fiction doesn’t come easy to me, and every topic I thought of discussing (likeable versus unlikeable characters, the resurgence of the horror genre, the difference in reviews of work written by women as opposed to that by men) has already been discussed and by those far more learned than me, so I’ll write about what I know, which is trauma.

It’s okay if that made you roll your eyes; I’ll confess to rolling my eyes as I typed it. I know people love to slow down when they drive past the scene of a wreck, but don’t worry, I’m not going to peel back my layers and reveal an inner victim here. I’m referring to trauma in fictional characters, trauma as it relates to horror and dark fantasy.

Take scars, for instance. Some are fascinating, others horrific; some draw the eye, others repel it. Regardless of our initial, visceral reaction, every scar has a story. Every scar is a story.

I had major surgery when I was three and have a fairly large scar on my neck as a result. As far as scars go, it’s an interesting one and resembles a burn more than something surgery would leave behind, but my memories are far more interesting: the smell of the hospital, the feel of the hospital crib with its metal bars, the sense of being so very small beneath the bright white lights, the rasp of my fingers against the bandage nurses put on my stuffed rabbit to match mine. As for the story: I was born with a large hemangioma (a benign tumor) on my neck that continued to grow, and the removal required something like two hundred stitches. I found out later that my surgeon went into reconstructive plastic surgery because of it.

Fast forward to me in my teenage years, when I accidentally put my arm through a window. I’ve quite a few scars from that, too. My memories consist of the bit of skin I left behind on the glass, the blood draining from my friend’s face when she saw the wounds, the snow outside, the doctor’s eyes as he stitched me back together. And the story? It involves me taking out the trash and coming back in, my friend and I started goofing about with opening and closing the kitchen door. It was cold, I was in my school uniform, and it was funny until I moved my arm forward when I should’ve moved it back.

Both of those memories, those stories, are as clear now as they were five, ten, even fifteen years ago.

But the scars that don’t show on people usually have the strongest stories, even if they’re the stories people won’t or can’t tell. No scabs to peel, no stitches to break, but the wounds run even deeper than the physical. This is the horror I’m drawn to.

Life does its best to break us in ways small and large, and many of my stories, regardless of how fantastical they seem, have their roots in the real. “Sing Me Your Scars,” the title story of my collection, owes its birth, in part, to my frustration with the endless onslaught of memes about what real women look like. Although they’re completely different stories, both “Melancholia in Bloom” and “Glass Boxes and Clockwork Gods” share the common thread of loss of memory and loss of self. I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer’s, and another family member is in the middle stages of the disease right now. I can’t help but use it in my fiction as a way to help make sense of things, to help cope.

But the trauma that seeds my work is not always my own, and the real horror in the world is that it’s everywhere you look. The world sings it scars every day. I could never read the news again and still have enough story seeds to grow a lifetime’s worth of stories. This is what makes my heart hurt. This is why I write of such things.

In spite of what I write, I’m an optimist. The world might be ugly and people might be cruel, but there is beauty and kindness and hope, too. Sometimes it’s hard to find, but it’s there. My stories may not always come with happy endings, and when they do, the characters are usually left with more than their fair share of wounds, but damaged and scarred, I’d like to think they keep moving forward out of the shadows in search of that light.

 

About the Author

Damien Angelica Walters’ short fiction has appeared in various magazines and anthologies, including Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume One, Apex, Nightmare, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Shimmer, and others. “The Floating Girls: A Documentary,” originally published in Jamais Vu and reprinted in the Chinese literary journal ZUI Found, has been nominated for a 2014 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction.

Sing Me Your Scars, a collection of her short fiction, is available now from Apex Publications. Paper Tigers, a novel, is forthcoming from Dark House Press.

You can find her on Twitter @DamienAWalters or online at http://damienangelicawalters.com.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia Guest Post–”Say No to Strong Female Characters”

I was not a fan of The Book of Life. I will not elaborate too much on this point except to mention that when I watched it I recalled a bit from an article by Sophia McDougall published in The New Statesman:

I remember watching Shrek with my mother.

“The Princess knew kung-fu! That was nice,” I said. And yet I had a vague sense of unease, a sense that I was saying it because it was what I was supposed to say.

She rolled her eyes. “All the princesses know kung-fu now.”

I thought the same thing about the heroine of The Book of Life. She knows kung-fu and she spews the kind of “feisty” attitude we must associate with heroines and she is therefore strong and everything is kosher.

In an effort to get a wider variety of women in movies and books, we have often heard the mantra that we need more strong female characters. However, as some commentators have noted (http://www.overthinkingit.com/2008/08/18/why-strong-female-characters-are-bad-for-women/) “strong” has often become a code word for a very specific kind of character. The kind that must demonstrate her chops via feats of physical strength. So, for example, in Pirates of the Caribbean 2 the heroine Elizabeth Swann has now acquired fencing skills. This serves as a credential for her “strength” even though the character had demonstrated “strength” of another type already in the first movie: she was smart, even devious, managing to wriggle her way out of more than one situation.

Shana Mlawski did an interesting study of male and female characters a few years ago. The main question she wanted to answer was whether male characters are more immediately likeable than female characters (http://www.overthinkingit.com/2010/06/28/are-male-characters-more-likable-than-female-characters/). Her conclusion:

All of the above data suggest to me that we (or at least the critics at EW) like a wide variety of male character types but prefer our women to be two-dimensionally “badass” and/or evil.

That means that badasses like Sarah Connor and villains like Catherine Trammell could be palatable to audiences. Male characters, however, were allowed to come in a wider range and still deemed likeable. Men, Mlwaski, writes, could be “passive” characters. Women? They could blow stuff up or kill people.

The result is sometimes a bit like this comic strip: bang bang, I’m strong. http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=311

One could argue that “strong” refers to a well-rounded character. However, in the words of McDougall:

Chuck Wendig argues here that we shouldn’t understand “strong” as meaning, well, “strong,” but rather as something like “well-written”…. But I simply don’t think it’s true that the majority of writers or readers are reading the term that way…. And even if this less limiting understanding of “strong female character” were the common reading, doesn’t it then become even sadder and even more incomprehensible that where the characterisation of half the world’s population is concerned, writing well is treated as a kind of impressive but unnecessary optional extra?

Maybe part of the problem is the desire for “likeability.” For niceness. (http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2010/oct/19/novels-nice) Girls still have to be sugar and spice, or perhaps, kung-fu and a pretty face.

Since I have small children, I watch a bunch of animated movies every year and aside from The Book of Life I watched The Lego MovieThis had a character who can build all kinds of cool brick structures and can “kick ass.” How To Train Your Dragon also has a “strong” girlfriend for the hero. Yet it all felt like a MacDonalds burger: it looks like meat but I’m sure it ain’t meat.

In fact, a couple of weeks ago I watched the 1980s adaptation of Flash Gordon and was mildly delighted to see that Dale Arden was “strong” too! Despite the cheesiness and bubbly sexism Dale kicked ass! She was for the duration of the film most interested in exclaiming FLASH! but at one point she took off her heels and beat about half a dozen guards. Strong woman, indeed.

And that, I guess, is my point. We really haven’t gotten that far from Dale and her display of 1980s strength. What’s more, every few months I am distressed when I hear a call for more strong women like the ones we used to have in the 80s. Ripley and Sarah Connor, a breed that has apparently gone extinct. Only it didn’t go extinct. Alice has fought the Umbrella corporation for years and Selene is still battling vampires and werewolves in Underworldand a few years ago we got Trinity from The Matrix and surely the new Star Wars films will bring us some feisty new lass who can shoot a laser gun. Hey, even turds like Van Helsing knew that you require one (and only one) “strong” woman in the film.

My debut novel Signal to Noise is coming out and I’ve been obsessively reading the reviews. The main character, Meche–who in 1980s Mexico City discovers how to cast magic spells using vinyl records–has been described as “awkward,” “angry and cruel at times but also powerful, active,” “angry and self-isolating” and “smart, caring and affectionate but, at the same time, bossy, possessive and manipulative.”

You have no idea how much this pleases me.

When I think about the desire for “strong” women in fiction I think about my great-grandmother who was an illiterate peasant and then a maid after the Mexican Revolution. Surely she wouldn’t fit the grade of “badassery,” but I think that there is a certain kind of endurance in being on your knees for years, cleaning floors, in order to support your illegitimate daughter. There is duty and there is affection.

You might reply that this is not a good example as audiences rarely want to read about the tribulations of poor maids, but my point is not to demand a particular type of character but to remark that we should not yearn for “strong” women but for a wide variety of women. They need not all know how to fence or have studied kung fu.

 

About the Author 

Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination. Silvia’s debut novel is Signal to Noise, about music, magic and Mexico City. Her first collection, This Strange Way of Dying, was a finalist for The Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her stories have also been collected in Love & Other Poisons. She tweets @silviamg.

Una McCormack Guest Post–”Writing Within Boundaries: The Challenge of Franchise Fiction”

I often think of writing as a process of entering into a contract with your readers: when you persuade someone to read your work, you’re making promises to them that your work will deliver in certain ways. Certain genres, it seems to me, make specific contractual demands on a writer–for example, I doubt that Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light is going to end with Henry VIII abdicating and the Catholic Church being re-established. Science fiction does the same; franchise fiction–at least, the kind that I write–makes its own promises to the reader. By having to pay attention to certain “fixed” events established on-screen, the franchise fiction writer sometimes has to be as much a writer of historical fiction as science fiction.

I sometimes describe my Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel The Never-Ending Sacrifice as a historical novel that happens to be set on an alien planet. This novel is set on Cardassia Prime across a period of several years (roughly the same time period covered by the TV show) but from the perspective of the antagonists, the Cardassians, who are responsible for the war that comprises the main storyline of the later seasons of DS9. As such, I was bound to keep to events that had been established on-screen–the capture of DS9, the entry of the Romulans into the war, the fall of Cardassia Prime–indeed, that was the point of the story! My methodology writing the book was much as I imagine a historical novelist’s must be: establishing dates, compiling lists of significant figures such as political leaders (and their dates in office). Events in my book grew out of these limits: What must have happened between event A and event B? What could have happened, given those two events? I found this a very fertile mode of storytelling. Nothing in the book contradicts what is seen on screen (at least, I hope not!), but the story–and most of the characters–were completely new, patching together what was glimpsed on-screen into what I hope was a satisfactory whole. The pleasure of reading–the contract that I offered the reader–was to enjoy the retelling of a familiar story through an entirely fresh perspective.

Other books that I’ve written in Pocket’s Star Trek range have allowed me to expand this future history of the Cardassian Union, and have drawn on texts from the Star Trek expanded universe, aiming for consistency while establishing space for my own stories. The Crimson Shadow, which is set after the end of DS9, and during a period of stabilization on Cardassia, draws upon the world-building done by actor Andrew J. Robinson (Garak) in his novel A Stitch in Time. It was an interesting challenge to remain true to three separate creative visions: the original series, Robinson’s, and my own vision of Cardassian society and culture.

The Star Trek book range is currently a fairly complex universe, with many overlapping stories. (The Crimson Shadow was part of a five-book series, Star Trek: The Fall, written with four other authors: a thoroughly enjoyable project in its own right, working to satisfy all our various ideas for the series.) I think of the books as fulfilling a role similar to that fulfilled by the New Adventures when Doctor Who was off-air. They are the sole place where stories set in the Star Trek universe are being told (the J. J. Abrams films inhabit their own timeline). As such, the readership is dedicated, has bought into the continuing narrative, and is interested in seeing that narrative furthered.

*Spoiler Alert*

The space station Deep Space 9, for example, is now a completely new facility, crewed by an almost entirely new staff (there is crossover from Star Trek: The Next Generation too: the current commander is Ro Laren, and Beverly Crusher has been CMO on the station for a few books). Anyone new to the range picking up my current book, The Missing, expecting Sisko, Kira, Bashir, etc., might find themselves confused. They will find plenty of sniping between Odo and Quark, however. Some things remain the same.

I’m often asked whether writing franchise fiction constrains my writing in any way. I’ve found it’s much better to think of these boundaries as challenges rather than limitations. There’s as much fun to be had from writing a sonnet or a villanelle, in working with a tight form, as there is from writing free verse. Sometimes those limits are exactly what makes the writing process challenging and interesting.

 

About the Author

Una McCormack is a lecturer in creative writing at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, and a New York Times bestselling author. She has written six Star Trek novels for Simon and Schuster, including her most recent, The Missing, and two Doctor Who novels for BBC Books, The King’s Dragon and The Way through the Woods. Her audio dramas, based on Doctor Who and Blake’s 7, have been produced by Big Finish. She lives in Cambridge with her partner, Matthew, and their daughter, Verity.


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