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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

Brad R. Torgersen Guest Post–”What Value the ‘Traditional’ Path?”

An aspiring writer recently asked if there was any value in doing short fiction, as a way to break into SF/F publishing. Versus merely penning novels and pitching them at the editors in New York.

Once upon a time, doing short fiction was the established path. From the 1920s through the early 1980s, almost everyone who was anyone came up through the magazines first: short stories, novelettes, novellas, and serialized novels. Go back and look at the covers of old issues of Analog magazine (formerly Astounding) and one will see the names of some of today’s top sellers. Including people who aren’t commonly known for having cut their teeth in a “Hard SF” market like Analog, such as George R.R. Martin. Other authors who figured prominently in pages of Analog (prior to going “big” in novel publishing) include Frank Herbert, Piers Anthony, Anne McCaffrey, Joe Haldeman, Greg Benford, Vernor Vinge, Orson Scott Card, and many others.

These days, the statistics tell us that it’s easier to break in with a novel than with a piece of short fiction. Starting in the 1990s, new writers began to have a lot of success going directly to books, as opposed to short stuff. There are far more “slots” for new novels, from year to year, than new short works. For every first short piece appearing in an issue of Asimov’s or on Tor.com there are dozens of first novels hitting the market. So what is the advantage to “going traditional” when the odds clearly favor the novelist, whether indie or paper pub?

I know for me, I wouldn’t have a career without my short works.

A little history: I came of age reading the short fiction of Larry Niven, and fell in love with how Larry was able to tell “big” stories in relatively confined spaces, and because Larry had come up through the magazines (in the 1960s and 1970s) I determined (in the 1990s) that this was the way I wanted to come up too. Granted, the process of learning my craft proved to be much more protracted and challenging than I thought it would be. Enjoying well-told short SF/F is very different from being able to actually write good SF/F short work. I’d been a novel reader (mostly) as a teen, and my unconscious novel sensibilities made re-tooling for short works a much bigger project than I thought it would be.

The-Chaplains-War-by-Brad-R-Torgersen

It paid off, though, in 2009, when I finally got the call from the Writers of the Future contest: one of my novelettes had won me a spot in the 26th volume. Within 60 days I also got a nice note from Stanley Schmidt at Analog magazine, telling me he was taking another novelette of mine; a piece called “Outbound”, which eventually won me my first Analog AnLab readers’ choice award. Now, both of these triumphs (and they were triumphs, believe you me, after the better part of two decades of rejection letters!) presaged a quick rise in the ranks. My proverbial “iceberg” was surfacing from the depths, after many years of honing craft and learning by doing—and failing. Which inevitably got me on the radar of editors like Toni Weisskopf, who is the chief editor and publisher of Baen Books.

Now, it was unknown to me at the time that Toni has a particular enjoyment of “Hard SF” stories; those SF/F tales that try to stick close to what we actually know about physics, chemistry, math, cosmology, etc. Or at least rigorously extrapolate from same and/or work hard to be self-consistent about technology and science. But when I started having other publishing success at Analog, the premier “Hard SF” magazine in the English language, and also the most-circulated print SF magazine in the West, this was a green flag for Toni that I was a guy to watch out for. Had she received a first novel from me without any bona fides (e.g: no track record in Analog) I am not sure I’d have gotten the close attention I got because I had bona fides. So in a sense, selling a first novel to Baen (for me) would not have been possible without prior sales to Analog first. That some of those Analog stories (“Ray of Light”, “Outbound”, “The Chaplain’s Legacy”) would land on Nebula and Hugo ballots, or win readers’ choice awards, was merely icing on the cake. A marker (for any editor to see) that this new Brad R. Torgersen guy was turning heads in the readership.

So yes, to answer the question posed originally, I think short fiction can be a very valuable tool for any aspiring writer seeking to enter the field. Provided (s)he enjoys the form. Not everyone likes short stories, novelettes, or novellas. In fact it’s a safe bet that the vast majority of people reading this article probably prefer novels to short works. And may only occasionally read a short piece if they pick up one of Gardner Dozois’s annual Best Of books, or the similar volumes done by other editors. This is not 1960, and the population of actual SF/F readers in 2014 come to the genre mainly through long form; not short. Which means they will be thinking and feeling “long” when they sit down to begin writing their stories. Which means re-tooling for “short” is a whole other ballgame.

Still, it can be done. And in my case, all my best PR and success has relied upon my traction in the short fiction world. Even my first novel (Baen Books: The Chaplain’s War, fresh out on October 7, 2014) relies on two linked short fiction pieces which previously occupied space in Analog: “The Chaplain’s Assistant”, which made the top 5 in the reader poll for short stories in its year, and “The Chaplain’s Legacy”, which made the 2014 Hugo ballot, and won Best Novella for the AnLab, publishing year 2013. These short works are the backbone of the book. And while the book does tell a bigger, broader story, it could not exist without the “vertebra” of the short works being there first.

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Something else: most of my short work to date has been compiled into two collections, Lights in the Deep, and Racers of the Night. I’d initially thought (in 2009) that one should wait until one has a long-lived career, before embarking upon any “best of” albums. But in the run-up to the publication of The Chaplain’s War I had a lot of readers ask me if I had any other books for sale. It occurred to me that there was a lot of economic sense in compiling my short pieces into a book-length treasur(ies.) Kevin J. Anderson agreed, and brought me into the fold at WordFire Press, a consortium publishing enterprise which was able to rapidly and professionally put my collections onto the market well before any traditional small press could. Both Lights in the Deep and Racers of the Night have done well for me, and served as “appetizer trays” for readers wanting to get a taste of my work, prior to investing in something like a novel. These collections also help put the stories into the hands of awards voters who can’t otherwise get their hands on copies of back-dated issues of Analog.

rotn_cover_may2014

So there’s no reason why a short work, having sold and been published once, can’t be re-sold and re-published again and again; to include overseas sales and translations, which merely introduce overseas audiences to you in a brief format. Paving the way, as it were, for those overseas audiences to expect your longer stuff when it eventually comes.

I think short work also serves as a reinforcement for good craft. As has been said by Steven Barnes and many others, learning to tell a “big” story in a small space forces you to learn an economy of prose that might not otherwise manifest, if your first instinct is to type up a thousand-page epic. True, many readers like and enjoy thousand-page epics. But the heightening of tension, suspense, and the preservation of reader enthusiasm, can all be aided by learning to work at short length. Even if you may have to then turn around and develop a different “tool box” for going long again. Habits developed at short length can do wonders for a person extending to long again.

If nothing else, short works can also serve as good “rest stops” for both writer and reader alike. If you’re in the thick of your novel and your brain simply needs a productive break—something new upon which to dwell—a short story or novelette can be just the thing to take your mind off the novel. So that you come back to the novel fresh, with renewed energy. Assuming the short piece sells and is published, this then keeps your name and work in front of readers during the publication troughs between books. In other words, fans eager to see more from you won’t have to wait a full year (or more) to get their hands and eyes on something they enjoy. Which just further increases their anticipation for your book(s) when it/they eventually see print.

So, short fiction: worth it? Damned right! And I would add: good luck!

 

About the Author:

brad_photo2

Hugo and Nebula award nominee Brad R. Torgersen has won the Writers of the Future award, and two Analog magazine “AnLab” Readers’ Choice awards. A native of Utah, Brad and his wife lived for fourteen years in Washington State, before returning to the Wasatch Front late in the last decade. A healthcare tech geek by day and Army Reserve Chief Warrant Officer on weekends, Brad’s first novel (from Baen Books) The Chaplain’s War hit store shelves in October 2014.

Jennifer Brozek Guest Post–”The Anthology Balance”

Sitting down to write this article was a debate between expressing an observation and my willingness to be metaphorically punched in the nose if I didn’t express myself well enough. This is because diversity is a hot topic and there are vocal opinions on both sides. There are two looming concepts that I’m looking at: “How do you make an anthology that actually sells?” and “Making sure that the anthology reflects a diverse set of authors and stories.”

The first thing I want to get out there is that diversity does sell. It sells because there is a need to hear all of the voices of today’s SFF and because those who have been disregarded due to race, sexual orientation, and gender are also excellent authors with stories worth reading. Readers are clamoring for their fictional universes to be opened up to a more diverse world of science fiction and fantasy. The recent Hugo awards reflect this.

However, in the mainstream, diversity sells to a more limited extent. Reasons for this are vast and varied. In traditional publishing, a lot of it comes down to marketing and established authors. Going with what sells now, and has been selling for decades, is the safer bet for the publisher. It is a numbers game.

In traditional publishing, an anthology is required to have a certain number of “House” authors. These are the publisher’s moneymaker authors and the ones that bring in the book buyers. Most stories are set in established worlds and are known for quality. Money is key. Publishing is a business. And, truth be told, most anthologies don’t earn out their advances. Some do and those are gold. Thus, every anthology must be presented to the publisher as a means to sell more books—either the anthology itself or the novels attached to the stories within the anthology.

It is in the small press arena that the balance between selling and diversity evens out. With a smaller overhead, editors can take more chances and get lesser known voices into their anthologies with less risk. Popular short story authors, who may not have any novels out there, are not only acceptable, they are in demand. Topics that may be considered too fringe for the mainstream are welcome in the small press arena. These are the anthologies that sell because of their fringe, diverse nature.

I adore anthologies and anthology creation. It has introduced me to so many authors I might never have looked at before. I’ve opened my eyes to the need for diversity in authors and stories. I have more latitude in small press anthologies because smaller markets move faster. But, I’m pleased to say that with Shattered Shields, Bryan Thomas Schmidt and I made certain that there were diverse authors and stories. I’m even more pleased to state that this wasn’t ever a question between us. It was an expectation on both sides. We were in complete agreement on the final table of contents and story selection throughout.

Shattered Shields has seven female authors and ten male authors. The stories include all female military units, older characters, non-white characters, and LGBT characters. The stories don’t make a fuss of this diversity. It just is. One of the things Bryan and I looked for was a parity between fictional and real world mixed genders, races, and ages. I’m not saying the anthology is perfect—most of the PoC authors we invited were unavailable to contribute—but I’m saying we made a specific effort to be part of the changing market.

This is an effort we plan to continue going forward. Both of us believe that the changing marketplace can handle the expanded range of humanity in fictional worlds. We believe there is room, a need, and a want for diversity in genres that have not traditionally been diverse. It is an effort we believe that is worth the risk because the reward is great.

Though, this does mean work on our parts as editors. We need to closely monitor our author selection and story selection while appealing to the intended audiences of our publishers. It is a balancing act between known “named” authors and “up-and-coming” authors. I was once asked how many “named” authors needed to be attached to an anthology to sell it to a publisher. In my experience, five is the threshold. However, I have heard of other anthologies that required a roster of NYT Bestsellers and nothing less. Fortunately, I’ve never had that requirement.

What does this mean for diverse anthologies and the marketplace? It means we need to keep working at it. The changing marketplace is a moving target. Bryan and I creating one diverse anthology is not enough. We must continue our efforts. We need to be aware of who is invited to an anthology and the types of stories we want to read. It also means getting good stories out there for anthology readers to enjoy. To link them to the fictional universes that might have gone unnoticed and to be aware of any personal biases that could stand in the way of accepting stories that are uncomfortable because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or age.

In the final story selection, we must choose the best stories, not a quota of authors. But, if we invite a diverse group of authors to start with, diverse results will naturally follow. That is exactly what we intend to do.

 

About the Author:

Jennifer Brozek is an award-winning editor, game designer, and author. She has been writing role-playing games and professionally publishing fiction since 2004. With the number of edited anthologies, fiction sales, RPG books, and nonfiction books under her belt, Jennifer is often considered a Renaissance woman, but she prefers to be known as a wordslinger and optimist. Read more about her at www.jenniferbrozek.com or follow her on Twitter: @JenniferBrozek.

Roundtable on Lucius Shepard

On March 18, 2014, Lucius Shepard passed away. Since then a number of touching tributes have been penned, focusing on his life, personality and accomplishments. I thought it would be fitting for our Roundtable group to celebrate Shepard’s rich literary body of work. What are some of Shepard’s finest pieces, and why are they worth visiting and revisiting? Overlooked or out-of-print gems we should hunt down? Where should readers unfamiliar with his stories start? Stories that personally impacted you? What makes his work–at the risk of sounding banal–special? 

Paul Graham Raven

I found Shepard fairly late, and haven’t read enough to consider myself qualified to speak to his career in depth, but I think I can answer this one:

> What makes his work–at the risk of sounding banal–special?

Voice. Shepard’s thing was to get right under the skin of his narrators and speak with their voices, even when–perhaps especially when –they’re hiding something, whether from the reader or themselves (or both). I’m thinking especially of the long, dreamy run-on sentences of Viator here, but my abiding memory of Shepard’s work in general is one of drinking secrets straight from the spring. I wonder if that, alongside his fascination with the redemption (failed or otherwise) of losers and f*ck-ups, is what kept him from greater commercial success; neat conclusions and happy endings were never his stock in trade.

Stefan Dziemianowicz

Agreed with what Paul said. Shepard was that rare writer who could punctuate dreamy, evocative prose passages that conjured mood and atmosphere with authentic dialogue that sounded as though it was being spoken by the guy sitting on the barstool next to yours.

I also admired his versatility. He wrote fantasy, science fiction, and horror, as well as non-fantastic fiction, but he was able to transform genre tropes and shape them to his own design. You never felt as though you were reading vampire story, or a ghost story, or a high fantasy tale about a dragon–you felt like you were reading a Lucius Shepard story.

John Clute

I’m just about to receive and read for review what seems to be Shepard’s last collection, and feel like a baby duck ready to imprint again. So have nothing to say here at the moment, beyond the crass assertion that, in the terms I like to use to characterize significant work, he is a planetary writer. At his best, you feel the world turn inside his stories. At his most generic, there is always a subterranean buzz of fix. [Alvaro's note: John's review has since been published and can be found here.]

Elizabeth Hand

I first heard of Lucius in 1980, when Paul Witcover returned from the Clarion Workshop and spoke about a fellow student who sounded like a character from a lost Hunter S. Thompson novel. So I read “Salvador” and “Solitario’s Eyes” when they were published in F&SF within a few months of each other, in 1983-1984, and was utterly blown away by both stories, and by Lucius’s novel Green Eyes when it came out not much later. He wrote even better stories in the years to come, but those very early works made a huge impression on me. So did Lucius himself, who seemed not a character from a Hunter Thompson novel but a figure from one of his own stories. Extravagant and otherworldly and darkly gorgeous as his fictional worlds could be, they always seemed drawn from a place that Lucius himself had inhabited. For someone unfamiliar with Lucius’s work, I’d suggest starting with the 1987 collection The Jaguar Hunter, which showcases a writer who was brilliant right out of the gate with stories like “Salvador”, “R&R”, “A Spanish Lesson”, and the classic “The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule”. Much of Lucius’s work was published by small presses, which can make the books expensive and hard to track down, but Bantam published a paperback edition of The Jaguar Hunter, and you can find cheap copies of that online. I’d love to see a complete (and affordable) edition of his collected short fiction–I think Lucius is one of those writers, like P.K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft, whose mainstream reputation will, sadly, soar only after his death.

Marie Brennan

Alas, I don’t know Shepard’s work well enough to contribute on this one.

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Marie, thanks for the response anyway :-) Have people’s comments, or what you’ve seen posted about him, encouraged you to try his work? I remember being blown away the first time I read him, the novelette “Only Partly Here” (2003), and then starting to look for his stuff everywhere, realizing, like Paul Graham Raven, that I’d come late to the party.

Paul Witcover

I would like to contribute to this thread but simply can’t do so right now. It’s just bad timing! There’s going to be a memorial reading of Lucius’s stuff here in NYC at the KGB Bar on June 15. Ellen Datlow is organizing that; perhaps she can weigh in or solicit stuff from participants that might be useful here. I’m trying to prepare something for that but can’t get to it for another couple of weeks. Sorry! [Alvaro's note: This roundtable was conducted in May 2014.]

Rachel Swirsky

I have read a few of his short stories, but not enough to make any cogent comment. :/

For no good reason, I get him confused with Tom Disch. Literally, no good reason; I can’t figure out why. I must have learned about them at the same time.

People’s comments on Shepard’s work totally make me want to read it. But I haven’t yet and am unlikely to in time to be useful for this roundtable. :/

Can I suggest you find two or three people who are really informed on his work and have them do a break-out roundtable? Karen Burnham did that sometimes.

Karen Fowler

I’ve been slow to answer, because I read a great deal of Lucius’ early work, but have to confess that I lost track of him during his hiatus and never found my way back. He arrived in the field about the same time I did, and with a great deal of heat and visibility. I remember thinking back then that, although there is often much lip-service paid to the idea of transparent, not-at-all-showy prose in sf, every time I went to read someone everyone was all excited about, they turned out to be exceptional stylists. Lucius was inarguably one of those; he had a voice.

For me, he was often excessive, but that was so much who he was as a writer, to ask for something else would have been to remove his superpowers entirely. I would never wish it. He was imagistic, careful and artful (which sounds like a contradiction of excessive, but in Lucius’ case never was). What I remember most from his stories are moments of high drama and scenes of brutality. He was at his best when things were very bad. His depiction of women rarely pleased me. His prose could be so beautiful or else so startling, you had to stop and read it aloud, which is both a good and a bad thing, but for me, for the kind of reader I am, it was good. He was impressive.  But all this is me trying to remember stories I read long ago and the impressions, sometimes vivid, that they left. I really should do some rereading before I say more, see how I feel now about those same stories and the later ones.

I have often used excerpts from his work when I’m teaching and talking about setting, though always with this cautionary note:  if you can make your descriptions of landscape as immersive and imbue them with the sort of tension that Lucius does, then feel free to be this lengthy. For everyone who isn’t Lucius Shepard, short is probably better.

Jim Kelly

I also am willing, but the timing is off. I’m at the Rio Hondo Writers Workshop and Sleep Deprivation Experiment until Sunday, and then I’m off on a family visit for another five days. Sorry!

Jeffrey Ford

Shepard’s writing did have a certain density to it, reminding me somewhat of Conrad, but he had a more readable style than Conrad’s, and the wealth of description never came across as burdensome to me. Instead it gave me the feeling, especially in his short novels and novellas, when I was finished reading one, that I had experienced the richness of a fictional world and depth of character I might get from a much longer work. He was one of the few writers in the genre to create fiction from a working class or, at times, poverty class perspective, something he lived and something the genre is fairly lacking in. He eschewed the Romantic, which has classically been and still is a major part of the Fantastic, and replaced it with a hard edged realistic outlook that doesn’t turn away from the grittier aspects of a life less economically privileged. His characters were drawn from the people who inhabited the world he lived in and passed through. They were certainly not meant to embody social ideals but were meant to represent the people he knew as they actually were and how they actually lived. Shepard was also one of the early writers whose work was conscious of the fact that there was a whole world out there beyond the boundaries of American and European culture. For instance, his short novel, Floater, is the only piece of fiction I can remember having read that had Voodoo as a basic theme that wasn’t some Hollywoodesque zombie bullshit, but focused on the life affirming theology and philosophy of its spiritual practice. There was a lot of real humor in his work as well. Some of my favorites are Handbook of American Prayer, Floater, ViatorSoft Spoken, The Dragon Griaule collection and pretty much all the novellas that were in that giant collection Trujillo that came out from PS. My favorite of his long stories is “Hands up, Who Wants to Die?” His themes were quite varied and his approaches to established tropes were usually unique. There’s just so much fiction of his out there, much of it I’ve yet to read, but intend to slowly make my way through in the coming years.

Gardner Dozois

I strongly agree with Jeff. One of the striking things about Lucius was that he was one of the first to write about working class or poverty level people, a perspective rarely seen in SF or fantasy (the guy driving into the gas station in the big car is much more often the protagonist of a story than the guy pumping the gas), and also one of the first to write convincingly and sympathetically about Third World people, and to evocatively and complexly describe Third World settings. I generally like his short stories and novelettes more than his novels (most of which were actually novellas by word count), so I would second somebody’s recommendation that the best place to start with his work is probably The Jaguar Hunter, his first collection. “Salvador” is still a very powerful story, and years ahead of its time. For all his hell-raising–and he could raise hell higher and harder than practically any other writer in the field–he was a sweet guy, and at heart a very gentle one; I suspect he was frequently hurt by the darkness and cruelty of the world, but he wrote about it better than almost anyone else has done.

I hope that most of his work will eventually be made available in cheap ebook editions, rather than in the expensive small-press hardcovers that are currently the only alternative.

I would strongly suggest that you bring Ellen Datlow in on this conversation, as she was one of the editors who worked with him the longest and most closely.

Elizabeth Hand

Ditto Gardner, especially as regards Shepard’s work being reprinted in affordable editions.

Paul Witcover

Let me quickly jump on the Jeff and Gardner bandwagon. One other aspect of Shepard’s writing that has always struck me is that in a way, he wasn’t writing speculative fiction. There are speculative fiction writers who do very well for themselves by grafting speculative elements onto stories that don’t require them. Then are sf writers who just think and write in sf ways: everything they write is speculative fiction; they can’t help it, whether they would like to or not. But Shepard didn’t fall into either of these camps, in my opinion. I don’t want to be so reductive as to claim that he was writing allegories, but I do think that he was writing about big issues of human responsibility, love, and existence, often from the viewpoint of the disadvantaged and disinherited, the dregs of society, as it were, and he would have been quite happy to write about them in another medium, or through another lens, had one existed that he considered useful to him. But there wasn’t one, so he made use of speculative fiction, bending it to fit his own obsessions. Maybe every writer worth anything does that to a degree, but Shepard, I think, knew very well that he wasn’t using the best tool for the job: just the only tool that lay to hand. And that may be why so much of his fiction has that quality of painfully and painstakingly working its way toward the clear expression of something urgently necessary to express yet which fights expression every step of the way. I think that’s where the density of his writing comes from.

Marie Brennan

>Marie, thanks for the response anyway :-) Have people’s comments, or what you’ve seen posted about him, encouraged you to try his >work?

Oh, definitely. I don’t know if what’s being described here would be my personal cup of tea, but unquestionably it’s worth giving his work a shot.

Kathleen Goonan

In either the fall of 1987 or the spring of ’88, my husband and I were going through our mail next to the pool in our Honolulu
condo. My issue of F&SF had arrived. I opened it, began to read, and the world fell away. The story I happened upon was vivid, dark,
and powerful. I don’t remember the name of the story, but it was written by Lucius, and was one of the turning points in my decision
to write sf. It was mature, intense, and at the same time magical.

In 1993, Lucius wrote a marvelous blurb for my first novel, Queen City Jazz. Any blurb is an act of generosity, and his phrasings went the extra ten miles.

I always read his film column, and, quite recently, I read “Stars Seen Through Stone” in F&SF, and though it had darkness, it was a a mild darkness compared with much of his work, tempered by a resolution that was filled with hope. It was moving.

Perhaps the title was a metaphor for Lucius’ outlook and life. Whatever the stony demons were that ringed him round and made
him the person that so many of us knew, he could still see stars–an act of pure courage.

Paul Witcover

Beautifully put, Kathleen. I wonder if that story was “Solitario’s Eyes”.

Kathleen Goonan

Thank you, Paul. “Solitario’s Eyes” does sound familiar.

John Clute

About a Complete Stories. Three good reasons for one. 1. Exceeding high quality of the entire corpus as a whole, pretty obvious. 2. As Gardner says, I think, the fact that several of the 12 collections to date came out in small or limited editions, one of them–Skull City– only released bundled with another title, I believe, and not now available. 3. I did a rapido count, saw at least 10 stories not yet assembled in a one-person Shepard collection.

Marie Brennan

>>As Gardner says, I think, the fact that several of the 12 collections to date came out in small or limited editions, one of them– >>Skull City–only released bundled with another title,

!!!!!!!!!!!

I take back what I said. I have read a Lucius Shepard story. In fact, I have a quotation from one on a t-shirt.

When I was twelve, I participated in Duke’s TIP program–one of those things where you take the SAT and if you score high enough, can go take a three-week summer course. I did several of those in junior high, and when the first of them was a course wherein we read and discussed science fiction short stories. I remembered “Skull City”, but had completely forgotten it was written by Shepard. The quote we put on the shirt was:

“Like all those things that imbued the place with its special flavor, it was unique but worthless, and its inconsequentiality was in the end what you took from it. It embodied an illusory richness, and however compelling and artful the surface, it masked a twisted exhibitionist intent. And there was, I realized, a lesson to be learned from that.”

. . . which went onto the shirt because no matter how smart we were, we were still twelve, and did not have the faintest bloody clue what Shepard meant by that. But I still have all the copies of the stories from that course; I should go back and re-read “Skull City” to see what I make of it now. (Apart from “holy mother of god the amount of swearing and sex in here; how the heck did Roger get this past the AC and into the syllabus.” I think they had tightened things up a bit by the time I went back to teach last summer.)

Andy Duncan

Marie, who taught that summer course? Kudos to whoever it was, for reading that deeply into contemporary sf.

Marie Brennan

A fellow named Roger Ladd; I don’t remember where he was from or anything of that sort. But yeah, he gave us Connie Willis and Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Greg Benford and Jim Kelly, plus a lot of others whose names aren’t as familiar to me these days, and I’m pretty sure that’s where I read the original “Beggars in Spain”, too. I’ve still got all the stories in my filing cabinet–now I’m seriously tempted to go back through them all, and see what I make of them now. When I taught for TIP last year, I was told to scale my syllabus to what you might throw at college freshmen, and Roger pretty much did the same.

Ellen Datlow

Alvaro, chiming in now that you’ve actually reached me. (The whole roundtable series of posts when to the wrong email address for me).

I  started publishing Lucius regularly in OMNI between 1988-1992. At least two of the stories I published then are still favorites: “Life of Buddha” and “A Little Night Music”, the former a story of love and redemption, mixing stark realism with a jolt of mysticism and fantasy and the latter a brilliant zombie story. Both are emblematic of a certain type of Lucius tale about love lost/being lost. He often put his characters (male and female) through the wringer of bad love. He was a romantic, both in his fiction and in life.

Aside from one story he wrote for an anthology of mine in 1994, he  produced hardly any fiction between 1994-1999 but then came back with a bang with tons of stories, novelettes, and novellas until 2011, when his health began to decline. (There are apparently story and novel fragments.)

I only read his early novels as I didn’t have time to read novels later on but I enjoyed them–Green Eyes and The Golden. I gather A Handbook of American Prayer is excellent.

Yes he sometimes overwrote, getting carried away with his own gorgeous language, but I found even his excesses a joy to read. There should be several volumes of his complete fiction published. His novellas alone could probably fill a couple of volumes.

He also wrote passionate essays on politics and current events, several for Event Horizon, the webzine Rob Killheffer and I edited just after OMNI online folded. One was on Columbine, another on Charles Bowden’s book Juarez: The Laboratory of Our Future, condemning the new colonization of Mexico by NAFTA, and a third about policiers and an alternate to what he saw as stale sf. You can still find them online here.

There’s going to be a celebration of Lucius and his work at KGB Bar June 15th. Several writers who were friends and/or were influenced by him will be reading pieces of his work–fiction and nonfiction.

Mike Allen Guest Post–”Stranger than Strange”

At no point during the slow learning curve of my writing career have I ever said to myself, “I want my writing to be the weirdest anyone has ever seen.”

At first glance my influences seem quite mundane by the standards of a genre writer: as a kid I did, after all, read The Lord of the Rings, The Foundation Trilogy, numerous novels by Stephen King.

And yet somewhere along the way there came a strange turn. Hell, a strange spiral. A Möbius knot. Witness these excerpts from Rich Horton’s review column for the print version of this very magazine:

Mike Allen’s “Sleepless, Burning Life”, perhaps the strangest story here, and the most erotic….

Mike Allen is good again… with a very odd SF story, “Twa Sisters”… beginning with a deliberately retro painter encountering a person half tree/half woman and just getting stranger from there.

Mike Allen’s “Still Life With Skull”, set in the same very strange world as his “Twa Sisters” from last year, is about the most adventurous story here… it’s not always easy to get what’s going on, which is part of the point, I think.

My first collection of short stories, Unseaming, is on the verge of being released from teensy Antimatter Press. The book doesn’t contain any of the stories listed above; it’s a collection of tales that I personally thought of as uncomplicated, bloody-meat-and-potatoes horror, though Publishers Weekly, in granting the book a starred review, didn’t support that notion:

His unsettling Nebula-nominated “The Button Bin” is as disorienting as it is disturbing… Never obvious, sometimes impenetrable, Allen’s stories deliver solid shivering terror….

Unseaming_MD_web

Disorienting… impenetrable… by Jove, I think I see a pattern. Or as a good friend of mine just put it to me, “Your stuff is also batshit bonkers.”

Another friend informs me that at the most recent WorldCon in London, when someone on a short fiction panel complained of a dearth of experimental stories pushing at narrative boundaries, a fan in the audience brought up the anthology series that I edit and publish, Clockwork Phoenix, as a counterexample.

Proud as this makes me, there’s a part of me that can’t help but side-eye the Jim Butcher and Joe Hill novels on my shelves and wonder, how did I end up here?

How odd. How fundamentally weird.

It’s hard to put my finger on a starting point. My fascination with the movie and then the book The Lathe of Heaven? The way I loved L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door even more than A Wrinkle in Time? The morbid childhood freak-outs caused not just by Poe, Lovecraft and King, but Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”, Jackson’s “One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts”, Disch’s “Descending”? The thrills I got from the boundary-pushing stories in The Books of Blood?

It wasn’t just literature. A vague notion that I might pursue visual art led me to the Surrealists, whose images from dreamscapes spoke to my teenage imagination as profoundly as the fantasy landscapes of Le Guin and Zelazny. My admiration for films like Brazil and City of Lost Children surely emerges from the same place.

And as it turns out, my creative palette uses many of those same colors. Not out of any kind of conscious agenda–the process, I suspect, has been more akin to osmosis. I arrived at the aesthetic that informs Clockwork Phoenix and my magazine Mythic Delirium over a period of many years. The grimmer but taxonomically related aesthetic that informs my own writing took even longer; it’s still mutating and changing, even. Perhaps the mutating and changing is all that’s constant.

So, yes, I grew up on Tolkien and follow the adventures of Harry Dresden. My favorites, though, are Thomas Ligotti and Laird Barron, opposite poles on the same dark star. I’m honored that Laird was willing to endorse my Unseaming with an introduction, and just as honored that Tom endorsed it too, and even gave me useful feedback. Ligotti called my stories “fun”–I want to wear that blurb like a medal.

This spring, I was delighted to finally experience Livia Llewellyn’s Engines of Desire, the darkest, most brazenly twisted and beautiful book I’ve read since Brian McNaughton’s The Throne of Bones.

I am reveling, this summer, in the triumphantly weird crossover hit that is Jeff VanderMeer’s The Southern Reach trilogy. This is not because I see it as striking some sort of grand blow for the cause of “The Weird” (though given that Jeff and his wife Ann co-edited the epic anthology The Weird, his novels may in fact be doing just that). It’s more just that I’ve really enjoyed a series that is strange, disorienting, impenetrable yet hugely entertaining, too.

I’m looking forward to the release of Nicole Kornher-Stace’s young adult novel Archivist Wasp, a mashup like nothing else out there that blends a high-tech sci-fi adventure with a ghostly descent into the underworld. Nicole has appeared in the Clockwork Phoenix books, and she’s already committed a short masterpiece of the weird in her should-not-be-overlooked novelette The Winter Triptych.

My idea of perfection, for the moment, might be along the lines of Cormac McCarthy as adapted by Federico Fellini. I haven’t pulled that off myself, yet, and I’ve not seen it anywhere out there, yet. I’m working on a new novel, though, and planning to launch a Kickstarter campaign for Clockwork Phoenix 5 next year.

So here’s hoping.

 

About the Author:

Mike Allen’s first novel, The Black Fire Concerto, came out last year from Haunted Stars Publishing, and he’s written a sequel, The Ghoulmaker’s Aria, that’s in the revision stage. He’s just released a new poetry collection, Hungry Constellations; his first short story collection, Unseaming, will debut at the 2014 World Fantasy Convention. He’s also the editor of the critically acclaimed Clockwork Phoenix anthologies and the fiction and poetry webzine Mythic Delirium. He and his wife Anita live in Roanoke, Va., where he works as the arts columnist for the daily newspaper.

 

 

Anton Strout Guest Post–”The Eternal & Epic Struggle of Novels vs. Short Stories”

Years ago, long before I was published, my writing group the Dorks of the Round Table coined a very insightful and totally unique motto: “Writing is hard.”

The whinier it is said, the better. Especially if you drag out the last word and it devolves into a sobbing cry. At best, short stories are annoying buzzing insects set upon this world to distract us fantasists from our BIG BOOK DEADLINES.

Regardless of the motto’s origin, it holds true, more so if you’re the type of writer, like me, who jumps back and forth from novels (seven) to short stories (a baker’s dozen or so). Despite the deadlines on the novels, I find myself compelled sometimes to throw on the hand brake, halt the big book steam train, and go off the rails into the uncharted territory of the short story. Over time, it has become a more familiar landscape to visit, but lordy, is it a different terrain than that of the long form.

Anton Midtown Comics 030511

The long form allows you to take your time, meander a bit in your storyline. Not to say that you’re seeding filler throughout your novel-length work, mind you. You just simply have more time to develop and expand upon ideas that you can pay out over the long haul of 100,000 words.

The short story? Not so much.

There is a mental changing of gears that happens when I approach a short story, which really isn’t a shocker; there just has to be. The long form approach doesn’t exactly fit the structure of high-risk-high-reward-in-a-small-space that a short story is trying to accomplish. In the short story, you stoke the coal fire hard and it’s full steam ahead from moment one. They are the grandest exercises in brevity, of being concise. Where to begin it, where it leaves you, how much punch can be packed into 5,000-7,000 words…

You’re capturing a moment in time, and in my approach, it’s all about writing a particular moment of a much longer tale without showing too much inclusion of that greater tale. As the author, I have to know what leads up to the moment of the story I’m about to tell you, and what happens after it, but rarely do I show all that. All that unseen world-building merely becomes the color of my short story, coming in hints, dialogue and pieces of that world layered into the story. The meandering mind of the novel has to shut down as the brevity machine kicks in. It’s a different set of mental gears that come into play to do that.

The greater question is why—why stop the big book machine at all? What makes me take time away from my novel-length work to write a short story? Sometimes those stories are elements of the big book that simply don’t fit into the novel-length work. They’re cool ideas that pop into my head, and would be awesome scenes, but on closer examination they prove to be a distraction to the thrust of the novel and therefore have to be removed. Some fall to the cutting room floor and others blossom into short tales outside the scope of the novel.

For example: The world of the Simon Canderous paranormal detective books has an agency that has investigated the paranormal throughout the ages. In building that element of the book world I knew that some of our real world history was a part of it, but to stop and tell the tale of Benjamin Franklin, Necromancer would definitely put the brakes on the book if I included it (this was way before Abe Lincoln fancied himself a vampire hunter, mind you). Instead, that world-building moment became the tale “The Fourteenth Virtue” in The Dimension Next Door anthology. This and the rest of my tie-in short stories give an added depth to their related novels, like adding salt and pepper to flavor to a soup. The short stories aren’t the main ingredient, but they do spice things up.

INCARNATECOVER

Then there are the short stories that become something greater, as in the case of “Stanis” from the Spells in the City anthology. I knew I wanted to do a creator/creature tale set in the modern world, and with a love of gargoyles I set out to write just that. ”Stanis” is the simple meeting of a young artist and the gargoyle set to watch over her family generations ago.  The story takes place over the span of maybe a half hour of time, but there’s a lot of the story’s past crammed in there. In trying to unravel how this artist and gargoyle arrived at their interaction on one particular night, I realized there was a lot more I wanted to explore after figuring out the backstory that barely appears in the short.

I turned the story in, but it continued to gnaw at the back of my mind until I started laying out a novel based around that one scene—everything that led to that meeting and everything that would come because of it. From there that short story became Alchemystic, book one of The Spellmason Chronicles, and grew to three books total based on it. I started with a moment, pulled the camera back on it to reveal more and more until three books later I am wrapping it up in the forthcoming Incarnate, where we see the satellite picture of the world as it has been affected by the moment-to-moment of all these events.

I don’t honestly prefer one over the other. It would be like comparing steak to ice cream—both food, but so inherently different it’s okay to love both completely. For the novel-length work, every book goes from moment to moment, and those moments build on each other like a Voltron of story goodness. In the short story you’re giving one moment, hyper infused with all the moments before it and all the moments to come after. The two forms couldn’t be more opposite, but for me, the shifting of mental gears never leaves a dull moment to be had in either.

 

About the Author:

Anton Strout was born in the Berkshire Hills mere miles from writing heavyweights Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. He currently lives in the haunted corn maze that is New Jersey (where nothing paranormal ever really happens, he assures you).

He is the author of the Simon Canderous urban fantasy series and the Spellmason Chronicles for Ace Books. Anton is also the author of many short tales published in anthologies by DAW Books. His latest book, Incarnate, the third Spellmason Chronicles book, is coming out September 30, 2014. He also has multiple short stories coming out this fall for anthologies such as Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues, and Streets of Shadow.

In his scant spare time, he is a sometimes actor, sometimes musician, occasional RPGer, and the world’s most casual and controlled smashing video gamer. Anton works in the exciting world of publishing and yes, it is as glamorous as it sounds.

He is currently hard at work on his next book and be found lurking the darkened hallways of antonstrout.com or talking with your favorite SF&F authors on The Once and Future Podcast (www.theonceandfuturepodcast.com), where he is host and content curator.

Jonathan R. Eller Guest Post–”Ray Bradbury Unbound”

In writing about a life as rich and varied as Ray Bradbury’s, a biographer quickly learns that not everything in the notepads or the interview tapes will make it into the final book. It was a difficult challenge for both Becoming Ray Bradbury (2011) and Ray Bradbury Unbound (2014), where I had to make decisions to condense and even eliminate some of the detail of an incredibly fascinating life. Many years of close interaction intensified the challenge; looking through hundreds of pages of our interview transcripts, always informal and wide-ranging, as well as thousands of pages of correspondence files and drafts of Bradbury stories and novels, I sometimes wondered if my three-volume approach could accommodate all that deserved chronicling.

Becoming Ray Bradbury covered the first thirty-three years of the author’s life, right up to the moment he handed his final revisions for Fahrenheit 451 to his frantic but steady-handed Ballantine Books editor, Stanley Kauffmann. In my own telling of those early years, I had to cut 70,000 words from Becoming Ray Bradbury, and in the end it became a far better book. There were lamented casualties, of course, and among them were a half dozen chapters dealing with Bradbury’s Illinois childhood. A surviving opening chapter concisely covered the essential influences of these early years and allowed me to enter deeply into his high school years in Los Angeles, where Bradbury was fully absorbed by radio shows and motion picture wonders as he took the first steps toward a professional writing career.

Other cuts involved the more anecdotal details of his brushes with the stars of the silver screen and the famous voices of the airwaves during radio’s golden age. Other books and articles had documented these adventures, however, and condensing the narration of certain lesser episodes allowed me to focus on how the more important aspects of these Hollywood experiences stayed with him and influenced his own creativity (and public persona) as he slowly became Ray Bradbury. A few other episodes had to be cut outright, including a brief and anonymous 1945 meeting with John Steinbeck in Mexico City (one Cambridge, Massachusetts blogger has never forgiven me for that one). Little else was lost from the essential story, thankfully, and there will be a time when these lost pages will find life again.

Ray Bradbury Unbound, which covers the middle years of Bradbury’s career, offered new challenges. I was once again able to work with the subject himself, who never asked to be made into an icon; he only wanted fairness and objectivity, and I’m grateful for his blessing and his support during the final years of his life. But there was also another Ray Bradbury advising me—the one who wrote letters on a vast array of topics during the 1950s and 1960s, often revealing his innermost thoughts on creativity and giving voice to the private disappointments that Hollywood sometimes threw in his way. There were also moments of achievement and great good fortune in Hollywood, as there were in his relations with a widening circle of book and magazine publishers, and Bradbury’s letters convey the excitement and advantages that came with his ever-widening readership and name recognition throughout postwar American culture.

Once again there were cuts to be made, but only about 25,000 words came out this time around. The story of Ray Bradbury Unbound became an emerging contrast between the many multi-media successes that Bradbury was achieving in television and film, and his slowly diminishing output of new stories as Hollywood began to demand more and more time. This transformation is widely known in a general way, but the more dramatic aspects, such as Bradbury’s day-by-day interactions with actors, studio directors and producers, and his often less cordial encounters with studio executives, allowed me to show how many of his promising creative projects were deferred, distorted, or even discarded for reasons that had nothing to do with creativity at all. Bradbury had an abiding hatred of the financial bottom line, a counterpoint to his abiding love of under-budgeted libraries and underpaid writers. For every success in Hollywood, there were many disappointments, and re-living this process through Bradbury’s memory and his archives has been a most rewarding experience.

Writing Ray Bradbury Unbound also let me witness, through his correspondence, his many television and magazine interviews, and his surviving lectures, his growing status as a major spokesman (and inspiration) for the Space Age. And behind the various accounts of his hopes and fears, his achievements and occasional disappointments, was something that I had not seen before—a subtle but growing sense of urgency, a sense of time and opportunity slipping away more quickly with every passing year. Perhaps it resulted from the childhood terrors that were never far beneath the surface of his mature mind; even at fifty, where Ray Bradbury Unbound concludes, he was still just as susceptible to the power of suggestion as he had been at the age of twelve. Or maybe this sense of accelerating time was prompted by his ever-widening range of success across so many fields of writing and media adaptation, and by the fact that he had already created a lifetime’s worth of work. Or maybe, as he became unbound from the normal strictures of a genre writer and became one of America’s best-known authors, he simply began to feel what Robert Penn Warren once described as the awful responsibilities of time.

 

About the Author:

Jonathan R. Eller is a Chancellor’s Professor of English and director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI). He co-authored (with William F. Touponce) Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction (2004) and prepared and prefaced 100 pages of historical material for Simon & Schuster’s sixtieth anniversary edition of Fahrenheit 451 (2013). He is the author of Becoming Ray Bradbury (2011) and Ray Bradbury Unbound (2014), biographical studies of Bradbury’s early and middle career. He also edits The Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury, a multi-volume series that recovers the original versions of Bradbury’s earliest tales. Eller’s books have twice been Locus award nominees for best nonfiction title in the science fiction and fantasy field.

Roundtable on Ten Exciting Writers

At the 2014 Cannes film festival press conference, film-maker Quentin Tarantino talked about how he periodically puts “the state of film under a microscope.” Riffing off an e-mail exchange he describes, I’d like to pose the following forward-looking question to this group: Who are the ten currently working writers that most excite you today? To be more specific: these should be writers about whose every new work you feel genuinely excited, believing it could represent their *best* work and outshine whatever they’ve done before. Maybe writers whose books you pre-order, or for which you get ARCs because you just can’t wait to read them. Also, please don’t feel confined to pick genre authors, or even fiction for that matter.

Cat Rambo

Ten off the top of my head (and no doubt overlooking a number I shouldn’t) in the category of people whose books I actively look forward to and seek out: Carol Berg, Gemma Files, Karen Joy Fowler, Nicola Griffith, Ann Leckie, Bennett Madison, Elizabeth Moon, Terry Pratchett, Lilith Saintcrow, Sofia Samatar.

Fabio Fernandes

My list (with the caveat that it’s an ever-changing one, but also according to said criteria):

Aliette de Bodard
Richard Kadrey
Claude Lalumière
Ann Leckie
Yoon Ha Lee
China Miéville
Hannu Rajaniemi
Kim Stanley Robinson
Sofia Samatar
Tom Standage

Russell Letson

There are writers I’ve followed for decades–some for so long that I have outlived them. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that one of my standard column-opening paragraphs is “I’ve been reviewing X for Y years,” where Y > 20. I keep a quick-reference directory where I store reviews of writers I know I’ll be returning to, and there’s way more than ten of them: Eleanor Arnason, Neal Asher, John Barnes, C. J. Cherryh, Greg Egan, William Gibson, Kathy Goonan, Joe Haldeman, Nancy Kress, Ken MacLeod, Paul McAuley, Jack McDevitt, Linda Nagata (welcome back!), Larry Niven, Alistair Reynolds, Karl Schroeder, Allen Steele, Bruce Sterling, Charles Stross, Michael Swanwick, John Varley, Walter Jon Williams. And those are just the living members of the club.

Then there are the writers I haven’t covered often enough yet to store in the archive but who I know I would be happy to add to it: “James S.A. Corey,” Ann Leckie, Stephen Gould, Susan R. Matthews, Alexander Jablakov, Karen Traviss, Elizabeth Bear. Two of these are relatively new names; others go for longish periods between new books or seem to have gone inactive; others sometimes operate in modes that don’t resonate with me. But I watch for them all the same. Then there are two writers whose books I no longer get assigned (and who I won’t be able to catch up with until I’m confined to a nursing home): Kim Stanley Robinson and Neal Stephenson.

The only pattern I see in this list (beyond a bias in favor of age and experience and my inability to follow rules) is a taste for strongly coherent SF and really good writing chops. I’m not especially good at picking up on the newest writers, partly because I don’t follow the short-fiction side of the field and partly because that list of established gotta-reads that push to the head of the queue.

Since we’re invited to stray outside SF, here’s a writer whose new titles I await eagerly: Jason Goodwin, whose 19th-century Istanbul is as exotic a setting as anything in SF or fantasy.

Gardner Dozois

There are too many authors that would fit into this category to readily list; my list probably skews toward short fiction, because I don’t have time to read many novels these days. Restricting myself to living authors, I’d mention Ian McDonald, Paul McAuley, Ursula K. Le Guin, Alastair Reynolds, Eleanor Arnason, Ian R. Macleod, Michael Swanwick, Elizabeth Bear, Greg Egan, Aliette de Bodard, Nancy Kress, Lavie Tidhar, Pat Cadigan, and Robert Reed, although I have no objections to anyone else on Russell’s list, and could name a dozen more besides. Like Russell, I have a taste for strongly coherent SF (although it’s becoming dismayingly hard to find these days) with good writing chops. Stuff that’s scientifically plausible would be nice, although I also have a liking for flamboyant stuff with lots of local color and Sense of Wonder chops, which is why I like Space Opera, stories set on alien worlds, far-future stuff, and Alternate History stuff.

For fantasy, I’d have to add Terry Pratchett, Le Guin again, George R.R. Martin, K.J. Parker, and Joe Abercrombie, for mystery, James Lee Burke, Martin Cruz Smith, and Steven Saylor, and for non-fiction, John McPhee, Bill Bryson, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Paul Theroux, and David Attenborough.

Rachel Swirsky

I wish Octavia Butler were still alive to follow. I don’t have to pre-order Ann because I always get to see drafts, muahahaha. Ditto Barry Deutsch.

Six offhand, probably forgetting like everyone since I just got up (late, I know): Kelly Link, Ted Chiang, Stephen Sondheim, Toni Morrison, Karen Joy Fowler, N. K. Jemisin.

Lots more people I get super excited about but who can occasionally miss for me, but I still pick up everything with excitement. I must have checked the “when does this come out????” date for Pratchett’s Raising Steam a dozen times. But I can’t really stand up (personally!) for all the early work like Color of Magic.

I feel like reading so much is a bit of a disadvantage in making this list because there are so many authors I follow, and am really excited about, but nearly everyone has their misses (even Ted Chiang who I wrote above, though his misses are always still really smart… Ditto most of the list, probably, except maybe Toni Morrison). Geoff Ryman, Nalo Hopkinson, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Ken Liu, Chris Barzak, Cat Rambo… or writers who are still new or who I don’t have enough sample size for like Charles Yu, Sofia Samatar, Maria Dahvana Headley, Benjanun Sriduangkaew… There’s a bunch of early Cat Valente that’s not quite my thing, but recently everything she does takes my breath away…

YA authors with above qualifications: A. S. King, Nova Ren Suma (17 and Gone, so amazing), probably a bunch more not coming to mind right now

And I’m just no longer reading enough plays or enough litfic, I’ve been super-concentrated on YA and SF/F. I still stand by Nick Flynn for poetry, but my poetry reading was never sufficiently broad, and I read very little now.

And still, I must be forgetting half of everyone. Oy.

Paul Graham Raven

Somewhat off-topic, I know, but I’m curious: Russell and Gardner, can you unpack “strongly coherent” for us? Is it a specifically sf-nal quality, and what are its signifiers?

Ken Liu

I have too many writers to easily cut down to 10, so I’m going to cheat by sticking to writers who haven’t been mentioned so far. (I
will echo the sentiment that I wish Octavia Butler were still with us.) I don’t believe in genre labels, so it’s good that we’re invited
to stray from them.

In the order that their names surfaced in my brain: Rachel Swirsky, Helena Bell, Liu Cixin (I understand he’s working on a new novel), Chen Qiufan (Stanley Chan), Xia Jia, David Mitchell (I am using all my powers to conjure up an ARC for his latest), Gillian Flynn, Candace Bushnell (Trading Up was devastating), Margaret Atwood, Mary Roach.

A bunch more names came up but I’m going to follow the rules and stop here.

Ellen Datlow

I read very few novels at all and SF barely. The only writers whose novels I always try to read are Jonathan Carroll, William Gibson, and James Lee Burke.

Mark R. Kelly

There are writers whose books I will always buy… and always intend to read, though I’m often not successful in doing so. (In fact, I don’t think there’s any SF/fantasy author, no matter how much I love their work, by whom I’ve read all their books, not counting trivial cases of authors who’ve only written one or two.)

My top ten would be something like Gregory Benford, Ted Chiang (for short fiction), Greg Egan, William Gibson, Joe Haldeman, Ian McDonald, Christopher Priest, Kim Stanley Robinson, Connie Willis, and Gene Wolfe. (Not counting several who just aren’t very active anymore: Aldiss, Delany, Le Guin, Sterling, Silverberg, or who are dead, e.g. Ballard, Pohl.)

Then there are a bunch more who, while usually buying all their books, I’m comfortable with only reading every third or fourth one, just because there’s only so much time: Brin, Kress, Ken MacLeod, Varley, Wilson, Baxter, Doctorow, McAuley, McDevitt, Reynolds, Steele, Stross, Swanwick, VanderMeer… Actually several of these are closer to the criteria of the top 10.

I’m woefully behind on many of the writers who’ve emerged in the past decade.

Aside from SF I follow certain science writers, again whose books I always buy though I don’t always get around to reading them all. These would include Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, E.O. Wilson, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Jesse Bering. The only literary fiction writer I follow regularly is Ian McEwan.

Rachel Swirsky

I would like to also mention Dorothy Allison.

Karen Burnham

There are some years that I keep up with short fiction really well and feel like I’ve got a handle on the up-and-comers, and other years not so much. 2013 and 2014 weren’t great years for short fiction for me. But between what I have read and seen in novels, here’s who I’m really paying attention to:

Chris Barzak–I fell in love with The Love We Share Without Knowing, and recently adored his Aqueduct volume Birds and Birthdays, which includes both fiction and non-fiction.

Yoon Ha Lee–I can’t say enough good things about her collection Conservation of Shadows; it shows a really remarkable short story writer in development with a unique voice. I especially love the new perspectives and uses to which she and Ann Leckie are putting Space Opera.

Daryl Gregory–In a short space of time I’ve read his novel Afterparty and his novella We Are All Completely Fine, and I remember why I always make sure to read his stuff as soon as it comes out. He’s a master at neurological and psychological SF.

Karen Lord–My podcast partner-in-crime. I’ve read Redemption in Indigo and The Best of All Possible Worlds and seen an early draft of the next SF novel, and I think she’s bringing an anthropological perspective to SF that we haven’t seen a lot of in the past couple decades.

Ted Chiang–Of course. As someone else said, even his “lesser” work is still interesting and worth reading, and I think “Exhalation” will go down as one of the all-time classic SF stories for the ages.

Greg Egan–Of course. The core hard-SF writer of the genre, although it seems that the genre is moving away from that particular gravitational pull.

Kij Johnson–Another unique perspective, blending genres and formal experiments to very interesting effect.

For non-fiction, Mary Roach. I love all her books with unashamed squee, and none more so than Packing for Mars, her inside look at NASA and space travel. I think she’s one of the best science popularizers working today, in the same league as Adam Savage and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Ellen Datlow

With regard to short fiction, I’ll read every Kelly Link story that comes out, every Laird Barron, Jeffrey Ford, Margo Lanagan, Nathan Ballingrud, Kaaron Warren, Karen Joy Fowler, Karen Russell, Kij Johnson, and Priya Sharma. (That’s ten–so many more, but it’s a start.)

Brian Evenson

I think my lists would have a lot in common with those mentioned by a lot of people. I especially like Ellen’s list of short fiction: I feel particularly strongly about Kelly Link, Laird Barron, and Jeffrey Ford, and look forward to each new book. Still feel very passionate about many now-dead writers who I’m still reading or rereading, people like Lafferty and Ballard and a variety of other folk. Looking back at what other writers I’ve tended to read each new book as it came out over the last decade, the list includes people like Caitlín Kiernan, Jeff Vandermeer, and China Miéville: each writer has managed to surprise me after I thought I’d figured them out. The longest term writers in that category are Gene Wolfe and Peter Straub: most writers I first read when I was young either haven’t held up that well for me or I’m just not compelled to go back to them, but I am with both of those. Straub’s work I feel has changed as I’ve changed and continues to surprise and amaze me. Wolfe’s most recent books (The Land Across for instance) are sly and complex and quite wonderful, even if they haven’t gotten the acclaim of The Book of the New Sun, and it’s a wonderful thing to still be excited, at 47, about the newest book by someone I first read when I was 14. On the so-called literary side of things, the living writers I’m most fascinated by are probably Cormac McCarthy, Jesse Ball and Antoine Volodine/Manuela Draeger/Lutz Bassmann (all pseudonyms for the same writer), having recently lost a number of great writers that I admired a lot (Jose Saramago, Thomas Bernhard, Roberto Bolaño–though Bolaño’s being ruined a little for me by the less-than-scintillating posthumous publications).

Even if I like some books better than others by these writers, something keeps drawing me back to all of them, again and again. Something fascinates me. It’s probably significant that most of them aren’t interesting in staying firmly within any one genre, and that probably says something about my relationship to genre myself as a reader and writer. There are others that I’d mention if I looked at my shelves or if I didn’t do this off the top of my head.

And there are a lot of writers I’ve read several books by that I really admire–maybe even admire more than some of the work by the other writers I’ve mentioned–but I don’t have the same compelling need to keep reading them nor the fascination with what the next book will be. I don’t know why that’s the case but have come to feel that there’s something in addition to enjoyment or the overall quality of the work that compels me–something maybe about the seriousness of the investigation, or the deftness of the style, or simply the uniqueness of the voice. I’m not a huge fan of the well-made novel or the well-made story, of the very deft story written by the writer who knows in advance exactly what genre and story he’s writing (and I use the pronoun “he” because I personally see this more often in male writers than female), mainly because I’ve read it too many times already. I’d rather have something that surprises me, and all these writers do just that.

John Clute

In the midst of stuff, but just glanced at Brian Evenson’s list, and find he’s given most of the writers I’d list myself. Haven’t gone over everyone else’s suggestions, so may be repeating them: but would add to Brian’s list Brian (for it is he) Evenson, Rhys Hughes and Marcel Theroux.

Jeffrey Ford

This one is so impossible, I have so many authors I like and whose fiction I’ve been following for a relatively long time.  Just focusing on short stories, I have those folks I’ve been reading since I’ve fallen into the genre–Ted Chiang, Kelly Link, Liz Hand, Andy Duncan, Jeff VanderMeer, Rick Bowes, etc., etc., etc.  So what I’ll do is just jot down a list of some things I’ve noticed lately in short stories in this particular field.

1. Kaaron Warren really rips it up. The dark aspects of her stories are never forced. There’s a real grace to her writing and the stories are downright creepy as hell.

2. After going through quite a few, I’m still waiting to read a lousy story by Caitlín Kiernan. I challenge you to find one that is less than great.

3. Can’t wait for Veronica Schanoes’ first collection. She’s been writing some of the best short fiction I’ve see in recent years. She’s got a few up on TOR.com you can check for free and there’s a beauty in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells.

4. Two relatively new writers to check out are Lisa Bolekaja and Sam J. Miller.

5. The Horror/Dark Fantasy/short story is going through a golden age now with writers like Laird Barron, John Langan, Caitlín Kiernan, Kaaron Warren, Nathan Ballingrud, Brian Evenson, Michael Cisco. These relatively younger writers are being matched, though, by more established writers in “that” genre like Peter Straub, Steve Tem, Joe Lansdale, Stephen King, etc, etc. Add to this brew the fact that there is a whole legion of new writers inspired by the ones I’ve mentioned and it all adds up to good times for the dark arts.

6. Check out two new terrific stories at TOR.com. The first, by M. Rickert, “The Mothers of Voorhisville”. The second, by Anna Tambour, “The Walking-Stick Forest”.

7. Something that I’ve been waiting for as far as short fiction goes but that will never materialize (although I can day dream)–a volume of 4 new Maqroll novellas by Álvaro Mutis.

8. Wild Nights by Joyce Carol Oates is still the best book of weird stories I’ve read in some time. So fucking strange.

9. Anything I can find by the tried and always true Delia Sherman, Kit Reed, Terry Bisson, Michael Swanwick, Howard Waldrop, John Crowley, etc, etc.

10. “Wakulla Springs” by Ellen Klages and Andy Duncan is an awesome treat just waiting for you to dig into it.

Brian Evenson

I love those Mutis Maqroll novellas, Jeffrey, and am right there with you wishing that more would turn up… And a great list with good suggestions–glad to be pointed to various things.

 

Anna Tambour Guest Post–”Service Providers”

I recently asked writer X to point me to X’s fiction. X replied:

“Based on the tone/handling of your story Y, the only one of my recent stories that I think may speak to you is, possibly, ….”

As one of Wodehouse’s characters once said, “?”

The tone/handling of every story I write has much more to do with the story, I’d like to think, than the teller (me), for I always try to be invisible as a writer. Whether I succeed or not, I don’t know, but I do think that every story demands and deserves its own tone and handling, and that the job of the writer is to serve those needs.

I am hardly unique. Hans Christian Andersen purportedly was quite dedicated to making the telling of a story subservient to the story, though I would love to know both if he really did, and would also like to read an unhomogenised translation of his stories.

There have been writers such as Henry Kuttner who wrote in so many different tones/treatments and for so many markets (and in his case, in so many names) that he smothered any chance for the fame he deserves. And compare Lafferty’s “Hog-Belly Honey” with “Nine Hundred Grandmothers”. Perhaps it’s a good time now to celebrate contemporaries such as Aliette de Bodard, Jeffrey Ford, Margo Lanagan, Jeff VanderMeer, and Catherynne M. Valente for their penchants for serving their story with the invisible faithfulness and efficiency of all good service providers. They hide so well behind their stories that we forget, while in the thrall of the story, that they, the authors, exist.

Another feature of this level of service writer is the lust they have for inhabiting the bodies, psyches, and worlds of the people who tell stories in their own words. One professor who teaches creative writing told me of how the default voice of students is the first-person. Certainly, this prevalence of first-person narrative is a comment made about many anthologies. This is a pity when the voice is, as it so often is, indistinguishable from that of the person whose byline the story hangs from. Which is not at all the case with, say, Margo Lanagan’s “Singing My Sister Down” or her very different “Night of the Firstlings”.

For some easily accessible examples, read, compare and contrast these stories by two writers who have both outstanding range, and a perfect pitch for tone/handling:

I’m sure you can instantly think of other stories you love by authors who are quite forgettable, their stories stick with you so well.

 

About the Author:

Anna Tambour’s novel Crandolin was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award. Her latest published short story is “The Walking-Stick Forest” on Tor.com, edited by Ellen Datlow. Upcoming publications include “The Old Testacles” in the September quarterly of The Cascadia Subduction Zone published by Aqueduct Press; “The Gun Between the Veryush and the Cloud Mothers” in Asimov’s; and a collection to be published by Twelfth Planet Press in 2015: The Finest Ass in the Universe. Of no fixed nationality, she lives in the Australian bush.

Daryl Gregory and James Morrow in Conversation

Daryl Gregory: We’re having this conversation by email, but I’m going to pretend we’re sitting in a bar. Even though we live in the same town, and not even a very big one — that’s State College, Pennsylvania, for you readers — I think we see each other more often in other cities, at cons. Is that sad, or just typically science fictional?

James Morrow: I think it’s both sad and science fictional. Writers live in their heads, don’t they?

D: My head has terrible table service. We did finally get together at our local brewpub a couple months ago to talk about free will and consciousness. That was a lot of fun, and was exactly the kind of conversation I used to imagine that science fiction writers had all the time, before I met some and realized we mostly talk about agents and publishers.

So when Alvaro said he’d give us space to talk on the Roundtable, I first thought that we could continue that conversation. But then I finished your new stand-alone novella, The Madonna and the Starship, that’s out now from Tachyon. My own novella, We Are All Completely Fine, is coming out in August. They’re really different books, but I thought we could talk about how both of them use pop culture as a main ingredient.

J: Good idea. But maybe we can sneak in some stuff about free will and its alleged sovereignty.

D: Oh, if only we had free will, then we could talk about whatever we want. But I guess we’re stuck with this topic for now. We’ve both based stories on pop culture—you most recently in your novella Shambling Towards Hiroshima—but I wanted to ask about Madonna first. What possessed you to write a philosophical comedy set in the early days of live TV and sci-fi serials? Read more »

Karen Haber Guest Post–”My First”

You always remember your first time.

My first short story — “Madre de Dios” — came about through what might be called an act of spousal self-defense, although he wasn’t quite my spouse at the time.

It was 1986. I had just moved to the SF Bay Area. After a decade of working as a journalist–a newspaper reporter and, later, senior editor at an art magazine–I had kissed my old life goodbye, quit my job, sold my house, got a divorce and was trying to find my balance in a new place, in a new relationship, and a new career. Challenging, to say the least.

I was surprised when Bob suggested that I write a short story. “You’ve read enough of mine,” he said, as though that were sufficient apprenticeship.

Intrigued, dubious, and sort of desperate, I reread some of my favorite short stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, Avram Davidson, Fritz Leiber, and Bob, watching the masters at work. Who was I kidding?

But, determined to give it a try, I sat down and scratched out a very loose outline, drawing upon time spent in Paraguay and Brazil in the early 1980s. Slowly I began to craft a tale that reflected the powerful grip of religion on South America, the dependence of the peasants on tourism, and the resulting culture clashes, with an sf-nal sting in its tail. Emboldened by ignorance and naivete, buoyed by Bob’s confidence, I blundered on, word by hard-won word. This fiction thing was grueling work.

My journalistic training served me well in the descriptive and expository areas but hindered me when it came to being expansive and, God help us, colorful. I’d been trained to write a concise, neutral sentence. Just the facts, please. Fiction, I realized, was a different animal. You made up the facts. The writer couldn’t lean on reality to provide the information. Fiction was therefore more demanding, and yet potentially much freer. The only limits were one’s own imagination and technical skill.

I wrote draft after draft, wondering what I had gotten myself into. Bob read each one, probably wondering something similar. He told me what I was doing wrong–ouch–but also what was right. You could say that I trained in a very tough school where I was the only student. Slowly the tale took shape. I was determined to at least finish the thing as best I could even if I never wrote another word of fiction again

Neither of us really expected that I would sell the very first story I wrote to The Magazine of F & SF, much less that I would go on over the next 27 years to write and sell 50+ stories to markets as diverse as Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Science Fiction Age, and anthologies edited by Neil Gaiman and Martin H. Greenberg. Nor that I would also write and publish 9 novels, 2 books of nonfiction, and edit a Hugo-nominated essay collection.

As I hold my first short story collection in my hands, I think: What I need is a  time machine–preferably the elaborate gilded model from the 1960 movie with Rod Taylor. I’d ride it back to 1986 where I could present this volume to that younger, more insecure me. Time-travel paradoxes aside, I can tell you how she would react: she simply wouldn’t believe it.

 

About the Author:

Karen Haber is the author of nine novels, including Star Trek Voyager: Bless the Beasts, and co-author of Science of the X-Men. She is a Hugo Award nominee, nominated for Meditations on Middle Earth, an essay collection celebrating J.R.R. Tolkien. Her newest book, The Sweet Taste of Regret, a collection of short fiction, was just published by ReAnimus Press.

Her recent publications include The Mutant Season series, the Woman Without A Shadow series, Masters of Science Fiction and Fantasy Art, and Transitions: Todd Lockwood, a book-length retrospective of the artist’s work.

Her short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and many anthologies. New stories will be appearing in the upcoming Unidentified Funny Objects 3 edited by Alex Shvartsman and in The Madness of Cthulhu edited by S.T. Joshi. With Robert Silverberg, she co-edited Best Science Fiction of 2001, 2002, and the Best Fantasy of 2001 and 2002. Later she co-edited the series with Jonathan Strahan through 2004. She reviews art books for Locus Magazine. She lives in Oakland, California, with her husband, Robert Silverberg and three cats.

Visit her website at http://karenhaber.com/. 


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