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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.




Alvaro Zinos-Amaro


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

Lisa Goldstein Guest Post–“Traveling in History”

There’s a passage in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost that gave me pause when I first read it:

“For I must tell thee, it will please his grace, by the world, sometime to lean upon my poor shoulder, and with his royal finger, thus, dally with my excrement…”

Thank goodness for the glossary, which defined “excrement” as meaning “that which grows out (such as hair, nails, feathers).”

I bring this up to illustrate how hard it is to write from the point of view of someone in a historical period. Should you have a character in Elizabethan times use the word “excrement” to mean “hair, nails, feathers”? That one’s straightforward: the answer’s no. But what about something more ambiguous, like having your characters say “thee” and “thou”? I think archaic speech tends to distance the reader from the people in the story, to make them seem old-fashioned and quaint, but I’ve also seen it done well, for example in In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker.

Then there are the social attitudes of the time. Sticking with the Elizabethans, should you have your character make an anti-Semitic remark? Such remarks were distressingly common for the time period, but you can’t suddenly stop and explain this; you have to stay within the point of view of your characters, and they would have no idea that anyone would find those comments objectionable.

I’ve been writing about other eras for years, and wrestling with these questions, but that barely prepared me for my latest book. Weighing Shadows is a time-travel novel set partly in ancient Crete, a place which even the stuffiest gentleman scholar admits was a matriarchy. And if Elizabethan England differs in a good many ways from the present, those differences are nothing compared to Crete. The concept of a matriarchy was so foreign to me that I had to stretch my mind in all kinds of ways, just to encompass the mindset of the people who lived there. And it didn’t help that very little is known about the place. (Well, it did help, actually, because I got to make things up. But in terms of their culture and traditions, even their language, I was thrown out in the deep end.)

I wasn’t the only one who had trouble with this. A number of books on Crete called a beautiful chair in the palace at Knossos “the throne of King Minos”–but a matriarchy would have a queen, not a king. One book, Minoans: Life in Bronze Age Crete by Rodney Castleden, says, “‘Women’ and their children are mentioned on the tablets too, without any reference to menfolk, implying slavery and absent males.” But wouldn’t the women and children be listed because they were more important? (Parenthetically, I don’t know why “women” is in quotes here.)

I have to admit, though, that sometimes I was just as clueless as these authors. At one point I wrote about a male artist up on a scaffolding painting a mural–then reread what I had written, beat myself up, and changed the artist into a woman.

There were so many things I needed to think about, to reassess. Who went out to work and who took care of the children? What kind of work did they do, and was it divided along gender lines? Did they have marriages, and if so what kind? They seemed to worship goddesses, but what about gods? What were their religious ceremonies like?

In addition to all of that I wanted to include other, more intangible parts of their culture, things like proverbs or table manners or smells. (I have to recommend Mary Renault here, an author who is absolutely terrific at this.) I wanted readers to feel as if they were visiting a culture far removed in time, a place where even a simple gesture might have a different meaning.

One of the things that helped me was the fact that my main character, Ann, came from our own time period, so I could use her as a stand-in for a present-day reader. I could have her feel puzzled when she was faced with something she didn’t understand, or comment on some difference between the two cultures. I’ve written a number of novels set solely in the past, and putting in Ann’s reactions made my job much easier, and gave me a freedom I never had before.

Just doing research isn’t enough, though. After all the books are read, after all the notes are taken, you have to somehow close your eyes and jump into your chosen milieu, to make an almost physical effort to locate yourself within it. I can state unequivocally that I didn’t do as good a job as Mary Renault. Still, I hope I gave readers a sense of what it would be like to visit ancient Crete, if only for a moment. To smell the cypress trees, feel the hot sun on their shoulders, take their seats in the arena and watch as men and women danced with bulls.


About the Author

Lisa Goldstein has written fourteen novels, among them The Uncertain Places, which won the Mythopoeic Award, and The Red Magician, which won the American Book Award for Best Paperback. Her stories have appeared in Ms., Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and The Year’s Best Fantasy, among other places, and her novels and short stories have been finalists for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards. She lives with her husband and their irrepressible Labrador retriever, Bonnie, in Oakland, California. Her web site is

Lawrence M. Schoen Guest Post–“The Book in the Drawer”

I started writing Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard late in 1989. I’d been writing short stories for a while, but hadn’t sold any. I’d recently completed my doctorate in cognitive psychology and was teaching at a small, liberal arts college in Sarasota, Florida, and to this day, more than twenty-five years later, I really can’t say what made me decide to write a novel. But I did.

And it was horrible.

Not the story, mind you. The ideas in the book still intrigue and captivate me. The nature of immortality. Memory as a form of time travel. The relativistic aspects of intolerance. The power of friendship to transcend even death. Good stuff, all of it, and I’m proud to say it—and more—all survived into the book coming out next week. But that’s after more than two decades of studying and learning and growing and writing, writing, writing. Back when I originally wrote the book, it was bad. Oh Lord, it was bad.

But more than that, it was bad in multiple ways.

One of the problems of being a beginner is that you don’t know what you don’t know. I didn’t understand pacing. I thought plot was something optional. I hadn’t yet realized there’s a difference between things occurring because they follow from a character’s motivation and happening because they suit the author’s need. I was blissfully ignorant of over-used tropes while at the same time finding myself drawn to far too many of them. And I seemed determined to embrace literary devices that worked well the first time they were done but really wouldn’t fly any more.

You probably don’t believe me when I tell you how bad the original version of this book was, so I’m going to give you an example of that last sin on the above list. Do you remember reading Dune, Frank Herbert’s brilliant novel from 1965? Arguably one of the classics of the field, do you recall how chapters began with a brief paragraph from the Manual of Muad’Dib written by Princess Irulan? It was a great device, one which allowed for gentle info-dumping, foreshadowing, and mood setting. Back when I started writing Barsk I must have thought this was the best thing since sliced bread—not that anthropomorphic elephants inhabiting arboreal cities in a rainforest necessary have bread, but I digress—because I swiped this idea and made it my own. And if a little was good, more would be better, right? My protagonist, Jorl, is an historian, and I decided he would be a prolific one. The result was that each of the novel’s fifty chapters began with an excerpt from some book, monograph, lecture, or journal article by Jorl. The info-dumping in these bits was far from gentle. Why show when you can tell, tell, and tell some more? Oh, and did I mention that for several of these chapters, the excerpt ran longer than the chapter itself?

It was bad. Okay, really bad. Worse still, I didn’t know it was bad and I spent years tossing that finished manuscript over transoms, hopeful that some editor somewhere would see its brilliance.


Thankfully, no one did, or I might have gone down in history as the author of an anthropomorphic SF novel on a par with Atlanta Nights minus the irony to justify its existence.

Instead, the manuscript went in a drawer and slept for many years. Meanwhile I didn’t sleep. I wrote and I read and I got better (and less stupid) and ever so slowly began to acquire the skills and assemble the tools so that one day I might open up that drawer again and reclaim the promise behind that badly written book.

It’s been said that a writer’s first million words are just practice, and if perchance that author gets paid for some of them, well, that’s just practice getting paid. I’ve put in much more than a million words of practice since the first draft of that novel. I’ve written and sold five other books. I’ve been a Hugo nominee and a Nebula nominee. I’ve run my own modest small press and learned even more about writing by editing other people’s fiction. And I’ve come to an appreciation that a writer’s life is not about arriving at a destination but rather being on an ongoing journey of growth and self-discovery.

A couple years ago I felt I had finally reached a point on my own journey where I could do justice to the book I’d first attempted to write. The result comes out next week. It’s by far the best thing I’ve written thus far. It may turn out to be the best I ever achieve, but I hope not. I’d like to aspire to do even better.  But for this moment in time, I’m really happy with what I’ve done. I hope you find you are too.


About the Author

Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. He’s also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language, and the publisher of a speculative fiction small press, Paper Golem. He’s been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award, the Hugo Award, and the Nebula Award. Lawrence lives near Philadelphia. You can find him online at and @KlingonGuy.

Ann VanderMeer Guest Post–“A Universal Condition”

One thing about fantastical fiction that I like is it’s a universal condition — you find examples from all over the world of writers expressing themselves through the fantastical because sometimes there’s no other way to get across a unique idea or perspective. Everywhere, too, this impulse or way of thinking about the world is different — sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes in vastly different ways. So in addition to fiction in English from overseas, it’s important to promote and fund translations. As someone who unfortunately only reads in English, I want to make sure my creative world is as cosmopolitan and modern as possible, and sometimes translations are the only way to have a more complete view of world fiction.

That’s where StoryBundle comes in. It includes fiction from the U.S. and Australia, but also from Norway, Germany, and Finland—not to mention my new anthology, The Bestiary (here’s a link to a fun excerpt over at Tor.com ), which in addition to work from Cat Valente and China Miéville  features work from Serbia, the Philippines, Iran, Sweden, and elsewhere. In The Best of Spanish Steampunk you’ll also find work from Venezuela, Spain, and Chile, among others. But the reason we’re running the StoryBundle is to set our sights even farther afield, with the monies we receive going into research into fantasy from India and Pakistan, as well as continuing to explore the untranslated work of Latin America, among other regions. Translations are expensive and setting aside the time for the research is also expensive. It’s sometimes a bit like detective work and luckily we’ve maintained relationships with people all over the world over many years.

So here’s some information on a few of the titles—and here’s hoping even more readers will pick up StoryBundle. It’s a great deal. Several of the titles are not available anywhere else.


Leena Krohn: Collected Fiction. The critically acclaimed 850-page omnibus—starred review in Kirkus, on the best-of-year lists of the New Yorker and the Onion’s AV Club. From cities of giant insects to a mysterious woman claiming to be the female Don Quixote, Leena Krohn’s fiction has fascinated and intrigued readers for over forty years. Within these covers you will discover novels that feature a pelican that can talk and a city of gold. You will find yourself exploring a future of intelligence both artificial and biotech, along with a mysterious plant that induces strange visions. Including two novels not previously published in English. One of Finland’s most iconic writers, translated into many languages, and winner of the prestigious Finlandia Prize, Krohn has had an incredibly distinguished career. For readers of Ursula K. Le Guin, Milan Kundera, Virginia Woolf, Tove Jansson, and Italo Calvino. Featuring a foreword by Jeff VanderMeer. (Here’s a link to the New Yorker’s favorite books of 2015 which includes this one: )

The Bestiary, all original fiction anthology edited by Ann VanderMeer. A modern bestiary of made-up fantastical creatures organized from A to Z, along with an ampersand and an invisible letter, featuring some of the best and most respected fantasists from around the world, including Karen Lord, Dexter Palmer, Brian Evenson, China Miéville, Felix Gilman, Catherynne M. Valente, Rikki Ducornet, and Karin Lowachee. With an introduction by Jeff VanderMeer. Currently available only via this StoryBundle for now.

Crandolin by Anna Tambour. The World Fantasy Award nominated novel, for the first time in e-book form. In a medieval cookbook in a special-collections library, near-future London, jaded food and drink authority Nick Kippax finds an alluring stain next to a recipe for the mythical crandolin. He tastes it, ravishing the page. Then he disappears. The only novel ever committed that was inspired by postmodern physics AND Ottoman confectionery.

Not Dark Yet by Berit Ellingsen. Brandon leaves his boyfriend in the city for a quiet life in the mountains after an affair with a professor ends with Brandon being forced to kill a research animal. It is a violent, unfortunate episode that conjures memories from his military background. In the mountains, his new neighbors are using the increased temperatures to stage an ambitious agricultural project in an effort to combat globally heightened food prices and shortages. Brandon gets swept along with their optimism, while simultaneously applying to a new astronaut training program. However, he learns that these changes—internal, external—are irreversible. A sublime love story coupled with the universal struggle for personal understanding, Not Dark Yet is an informed novel of consequences with an ever-tightening emotional grip on the reader.

The Best of Spanish Steampunk, edited by Marian & James Womack. Featuring stories from Spain, Mexico, Venezuela and Chile, as well as from writers in Spanish living in Germany, Dubai and the UK. They are authors who write from the margins, using Steampunk to investigate themes such as the ethical questions posed by scientific and technical developments in our globalized culture of rapid change, and how that leaves countries not from the dominant culture behind. Through Steampunk these authors are offering alternative retellings of their countries’ histories, “critically” reimagining key moments such as the North-American-Spanish Cuban war, the Mexican war, or the Anarchist revolts of the 1930s in Andalusia. They are also attracted to a genre that foreshadows our actual economic problems, high unemployment levels, and frustration with increasing social inequality.


About the Author

Over a 30-year career, Ann VanderMeer has won numerous awards for her editing work, including the Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award. Whether as editor-in-chief for Weird Tales for five years or in her current role as an acquiring editor for, Ann has built her reputation on acquiring fiction from diverse and interesting new talents. As co-founder of Cheeky Frawg Books, she has helped develop a wide-ranging line of mostly translated fiction. Featuring a who’s who of world literature, Ann’s anthologies include the critically acclaimed Best American Fantasy series, The Weird, The Time Traveler’s Almanac, Sisters of the Revolution, and the forthcoming Big Book of SF (Vintage).

Michael J. Martinez Guest Post–“Goodbye and Hello: Moving On to a New Series”

I know Thomas Weatherby and Shaila Jain better than anyone else in the world. I know how they think, what they believe, what scares them and what drives them. I know the worlds they move through better than they do, every shadowy nook and every bit of history.

I know this because I created them, and their world.

Weatherby and Jain are the protagonists of the Daedalus trilogy, my debut series with Night Shade Books. I’ve watched Weatherby go from a green second lieutenant aboard a frigate that crashed into Mars to a full admiral in command of Mercury’s defenses against Napoleon’s rapacious revenant armies. I’ve shepherded Jain through PTSD and dead-end assignments to piloting the first 22nd–century mission to Saturn and beyond. They’ve both found love, lost much and lived to tell about it.

And I’ve bidden them farewell.

Part of me could continue writing Napoleonic space opera and interdimensional shenanigans for years to come, but there’s something deep inside me that knows it’s time to let go. There is a risk in continuing when the story is done and well told. The universes are saved, Napoleon defeated. How does one go from there?

Many authors do just that, and do so with grace and style and pitch-perfect stories that seem to get better with each installment. For the Daedalus trilogy, however, the story simply…ended. I told the tale I wished to tell, and the telling was worthwhile.

And now, as I embark on a new project–the Cold War paranormal spy thriller series titled MAJESTIC-12–I’m faced with complete strangers, living in a strange new world. The four-color interplanetary adventure, the sailing ships in space, the Big Damn Heroes–they’ve been replaced by threats from the shadows, questionable motives and the sound of a gunshot from a silenced pistol.

It’s daunting. Who are these new players? Ordinary Americans, affected by an unknown force, have become Variants–empowered by something beyond science’s ability to explain. And yet the government seeks to use them anyway, to make them “assets” in a Cold War that could grow hot at any moment. What would that do to people? How would they see themselves, and how would they be seen in turn by the people who hope to control them?

It’s thrilling. As a writer, I’ve spent more than three years in a world of my own devising, and I’ve grown comfortable with it. I knew the world, I knew the people in it. I could tell their stories with greater confidence and greater success each time I returned to them. The crutches are gone, now. It’s all fresh and new, and all on me to start from scratch and see if lightning can strike twice.

I’m back to square one. Characters are newly sketched and allowed to grow as the story unfolds. The tone shifts from proper English of the early 19th century to the weary, clipped words of the late 1940s. The jungles of Venus are gone, and the cobbled streets of newly Communist Prague beckon.

It’s a new beginning, but it’s not really starting over. As much as I created Weatherby and Jain, they taught me so much in the telling of their stories. They may sail forth into the stars on their own, but their lessons apply. I’m no longer the rookie writer, the wannabe hoping the literary agent e-mails back. (She did that four years ago.) I’m published and I’ve been extremely fortunate in that regard.

And now I get to play in a new world–different and darker, more nuanced and with more challenges for me as a writer. I get to forge mysteries and plumb the gray areas. I get to figure out who these new characters are–Frank and Maggie, Cal and Ellis and Danny. Soldiers in a Cold War.

Goodbye, Daedalus. It’s perhaps odd to want to thank your own creation, but…thanks.

Hello, MAJESTIC-12. Let’s do this.


About the author

Michael J. Martinez is the author of the Daedalus trilogy, a multi-genre epic that marries Napoleonic Era naval adventure with science fiction and fantasy. His debut, The Daedalus Incident, was named one of the top five SF/F novels of the year by Library Journal. Publishers Weekly gave The Venusian Gambit, the final book of the series, a starred review and said Martinez “seamlessly blends popular elements from science fiction and fantasy, producing a work that raises the bar for both.”

His short fiction has been published online by Paizo and in the Cthulhu Fhtagn! anthology released this summer by Word Horde. His newest short story will be published this fall in Unidentified Funny Objects 4, alongside stories by Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, Piers Anthony and Esther Freisner. He lives in the New York City area with his wonderful and patient wife, an amazing daughter and The Best Cat in the World. He blogs at and is on Twitter at @mikemartinez72.

Ilana C. Myer Guest Post–“A Protagonist of One’s Own”

Ten years ago I began writing a quest fantasy and went on a journey at the same time. Outwardly it was a physical journey, with real signposts: from fluorescent-lit offices in the Empire State Building to a sunlit apartment in Jerusalem, to a wedding, another apartment, and onward. Like many journeys in fiction, ultimately it came full circle, back to the city where it began. As with a fictional character, I did not return the same. Because in truth, despite the dramatic life transitions, the real journey was taking place internally, was threading its way with subtle inexorability into the shaping of my first novel.

You could say it began before the Empire State Building, in college. I was taking a class in basic Astronomy, and the professor was using metaphors to describe the size of the quasars. While I don’t recall the exact metaphors used, what I do remember is the realization that struck me. Or rather, it was a question. I remember looking down at my knees, demurely covered with a long black skirt. I remember thinking: How can a God who created a universe that big—a God who created the quasars—care about the length of my skirt?

I had grown up with a strict code of modesty for women. Like most women raised in that context, I had bought into the apologetics: that modesty was intertwined with female preciousness, our sanctity. In practice, these transcendent concepts broke down into quotidian specifications: the permitted length for one’s sleeves and skirts, the height of a neckline.

Skirts, necklines, sleeves, against the vastness of the universe. It began to break down.

I started writing my novel before the advent of social media—even before Facebook was where people announced the details of their breakfasts in the third person. I’ve come to realize years later that a lot was happening on LiveJournal, but I wasn’t plugged into it. Today the discussion about what female protagonists should be, how they should be written, is a major topic of the literary Internet. But in 2004 I had only my own thoughts and ideas and some pent-up anger. Pent up, it must be admitted, beneath long sleeves and long black skirts. Sometimes the most outward appearances are the last things to go.

I was also researching the medieval troubadours and courtly love for my book about poets, and the themes that emerged from my readings resonated in surprising ways. The discourse about women, and the symbolism surrounding them, was centered on sex yet oddly detached from the reality of sensuality. And again, the woman was something precious, protected—and stationary.

There are two female protagonists in the novel. They suffer. I did that to them. But I didn’t do it out of sadism. Through these women, each different—though both very intelligent—I explored a particular experience. One of the protagonists is a poet in a society where poets have power, and women are not permitted in their ranks. She calls herself a poet, but actually doesn’t count as one in the ways that matter. The other protagonist is a young woman whose wealth, beauty, and loving home have kept her in a state of extended innocence.

For each of these states of being there is a cost—both for the active state of rebellion, and the passive state of innocence. And modesty, or rather the code of thought which culminates in female modesty, is at the heart of both of these states for women. A woman who deviates from her traditional place, who draws attention to herself, is immodest by definition. She loses the protection and sanction of her society and becomes an exile.

Conversely, my innocent protagonist represents an ideal of femininity for proponents of modesty. She has no weapons with which to defend herself, because to learn about defense we must first know what might be about to attack us from the shadows. The world is ready to eat her alive.

After I wrote the story of these women—along with their male counterparts—I began to come across discussions online about how writers should depict female protagonists. I followed, and have continued to follow these discussions, and have written some of my own thoughts on the subject as well. But when I think of my own characters, I think of the inward battles that made them what they are. They are shaped of conflicting values and agonized questions and some fury. Not perfect, not anyone’s ideal—but for the place and time in which they were written, necessary and real.


About the Author

Ilana C. Myer has written about books for the Globe and Mail, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, and the Huffington Post. Her first novel, Last Song Before Night, is forthcoming from Tor/Macmillan in September 2015.

Rodolfo Martínez Guest Post–“Twenty Years Ago…”

Note: Special thanks to Steve Redwood for his assistance with the translation of this piece.

Between 1985 and 1994 I wrote, more or less, a novel a year. All of them, except Cat’s Whirld and Jormungand, have been lost. Although not completely; somewhere there are typed copies of a few of them, or parts of them; and many of the themes, situations, and incidents of the majority of those novels have been used in later works; an example would be Where the Shadows Lie, which twenty years later became the embryo of  my novel Fiercely Human (Fieramente humano).

But in terms of published books, which is what might interest readers, those novels do not exist, apart from the two mentioned.

You might be wondering why I let them get lost, why I didn’t send them to publishers, or enter them in literary competitions. Believe me, I did! The discouraging result was a pile of rejections—or simply silence.

The first time a publisher replied with something other than the usual rejection letter was with Cat’s Whirld. So what did it have that the others didn’t? Had I perhaps somehow made a great qualitative leap, and changed from being a bad writer to an acceptable one?

I don’t think so. If I analyze my work from that period, the difference in quality between this novel and the one before it is small. As is the difference between that earlier novel and the one before that. As is the difference… Yes, I believe there was a certain progression from one novel to the next, but such progression was slow, unhurried, quiet, and constant: with each novel I wrote, I was learning to do it a little bit better. And one day, without realizing it, I crossed the frontier, I passed from being a collector of rejection notes (or deafening silences) to being someone about to publish a novel. It was a gradual process, during which, it’s true, I almost threw in the towel more than once.

I didn’t do it. I suspect it’s because by then I couldn’t. I’d been writing since I was twelve, and I simply couldn’t stop now. I was always thinking up stories, characters, situations: they’d be forever going round and round in my head, and in one way or another I had to free myself of them, let them out, put them on paper. And the moment that was done, my head would begin to fill up again with new stories, characters, situations….

I was a writing junkie. I think I’d been one almost from the very beginning, from the moment when, at the age of twelve, and armed with one of those BIC cristal biros and an A5-size ringed graph notebook (yes, PC’s were far in the future, to say nothing about the internet), I sat down to write my first story. From then on, from the moment when what was in my head took shape on paper and I realized how incredibly entertaining the process was, I was doomed. I was condemned to continue writing for the rest of my life, whether I managed to publish anything or not.

In the end, obviously, I managed it, but things might easily have gone the other way. The road to publication isn’t a straight one, nor a cursus honorum whereby if you do A, you will get B, and that will lead to C. It depends partly on how good you are, of course, but also to a large extent on chance, on being in the right place at the right time, and being able to offer the publisher what interests him at that particular moment, not a year before or two years afterwards. So yes, I’m aware I might well have spent my whole life as an unpublished author. Or maybe resigned myself to publishing short stories in fanzines without ever making the leap into novels and the world of professional publishing.

Who knows?

But the fact is, at the start of 1995 Miraguano Ediciones decided that Cat’s Whirld was right for their Futurópolis collection, they offered me a contract, I signed it, and a few months later the book was on sale.

So, did my life change?

Not in the sense that the cinema or the sensationalist press would have us believe. I didn’t strike it rich, I didn’t produce the bestseller of the decade, and suddenly become a person not merely able to make a living from his writing, but able to live well, surrounded by groupies, and with Hollywood licking his feet and begging to be allowed to adapt his novels to the screen.

No, I went on working as a computer programmer, and in general my life was just the same as it always had been. A few small things changed, but nothing substantial.

But in my mind, in that real world which was what really mattered, everything had changed. I had published my first novel! I had arrived; I wasn’t at the finishing line, because it’s a journey without an end, but I was well on the first stage of the journey. Here I am and here I stand, as Duke Leto Atreides is reported to have said on reaching Arrakis.

Cat’s Whirld was the beginning of a journey I’m still making and which, I suspect, I’ll be making the whole of my life. It wasn’t the first step, of course, but perhaps it was, to use a metaphor I particularly like, my official entry submission, the exam which allowed me to move on from being an apprentice to becoming a qualified practitioner, a journeyman, we could say.

Indeed, I have always viewed literature more as a craft than as an art. Maybe that thinking comes from my rejection of the idea of the artist as someone above the rest of the mortals, a kind of superior being with a special sensitivity that cannot be judged as a common person. To hell with that! We are just people, subject to the same misery and greatness everyone else is. I am not an artist, I cannot see myself as one: I am just a craftsman—of course, I like to think I am a skillful one, but I am not qualified to judge that. It is you, the reader, who has to decide if my work is good enough or not.

Cat’s Whirld was very well received by Spanish SF fans, a small but enthusiast group in those days, and they proved it the following year when the novel won the Ignotus Award for Best Novel. The Ignotus are, so to speak, the Spanish version of the Hugo Awards: back then, they were voted on by the members of Spanish Science Fiction & Fantasy Association and were announced during the Spanish SF & Fantasy Convention, the HispaCon. Today the voting has been opened to everyone, but they still are announced in the HispaCon.

Even today, twenty years later, I find people who tell me that it’s their favorite of my novels. Well, I like to think that I didn’t stop improving and that I have written better novels: several prizes and numerous books might be indicative of this. But I understand those readers: yes. I think I’ve written better novels, but Cat’s Whirld has a special place in my heart.

I hope that, twenty years later, people enjoy the novel as much as those who read it in 1995. I hope they like the hybridization of spy thriller, cyberpunk and space opera and the combination of adventure, drama, humor and character interplay. And, of course, I hope they find the Whirld (that space station with the shape of a spinning top where everything happens) spellbinding.

I confess that I have: while I was revising the novel for the 20th anniversary Spanish edition, and despite being aware that there were many things I would now have written quite differently, the style, the story, the action, the ambience, and the characters still work, at least for me. I am not the same person that wrote it, yes, but I still like that guy and the way he made things.

I cannot finish without talking about the great work Steve Redwood has done in translating the novel into English. Steve is a terrific writer and a good friend. During the translation he worked very closely with me and was very careful in his efforts to get same effects in English I was trying to achieve in Spanish, specially, but not only, with the slang I invented for the novel. I think he succeeded: when I read myself in English I recognize my voice. Yes, it’s me, I wrote that novel–or at lest it is the novel I would have written if my English were good enough.

It’s always a pleasure for me to read my work in English, a language I’ve loved since I was a boy, when I received my first English lessons; and without Steve that wouldn’t have been possible. I only hope that my Spanish version of some of his work lives up to the same standard.


About the Author

Rodolfo Martínez (Candás, Asturias, Spain, 1965) published his first short story in 1987, and soon became a key figure in Spanish fantastic literature; although if one characteristic defines his work, it is the fusion of genres, as with he unashamedly mixes numerous registers, from science fiction and fantasy to the crime novel and thriller, making his books difficult to classify.

Winner of the Minotauro Prize (awarded by Planeta, Spain’s biggest publishing house) for Los sicarios del cielo (Hitmen from Heaven), he has won many other awards during his literary career, such as the Asturias Novel Prize, the University of País Vasco Short Story Award, and—several times—the Ignotus Prize (awarded by the Spanish Association of Fantasy, Science Fiction and Terror) in the categories of novel, novella, and short story. His novels based loosely on the Sherlock Holmes canon have been translated into Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, and French.

In 2009, with El adepto de la Reina (The Queen’s Adept) he began a new narrative cycle which combines elements of the spy novel with some of the themes and settings more characteristic of fantasy.

More recently, he has collected his Drímar cycle (the universe in which Cat’s Whirld is set) into four volumes, and has also published the fourth novel in his City cycle, Las astillas de Yavé (The Splinters of Yahweh), under the Fantascy imprint of Penguin Random House.

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.

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.

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