Apparently, this is real.

This says it all (with thanks to Brad Torgersen for scanning):

How awesome is it to share a TOC with Larry Niven?

(Yes, I noticed a recurring problem about which I’m privately gnashing my teeth, but I’m trying not to let my annoyance cloud the fun)

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Short story sale (or sales?)

I’ve just heard that my short story Abode will be published in Aurealis magazine #50. This story has been the victim of more almosts than I can count in the fingers of one hand. It’s a story I really liked. It’s set in a self-sufficient and rather backward community in the dark and gravity-less world of the Oort cloud. The title refers both to this setting and the fact that the main character is trying to build a house out of ice (which would be rock-hard out there at temperatures of about 3K). Why does the title refer to the setting? Well, of course, Oort was someone’s last name, but in various germanic languages, it means… you guessed it.

And I’m not sure I’ve mentioned on this blog that I sold my story Survival in Shades of Orange to Analog. This is my WOTF workshop 24-hour story. It is set on a planet with an 90 degree inclination, which means that the planet rotates side-on, like Neptune. This does some really interesting stuff to the climate. How does life survive in such a place? Well, that’s what our characters are about to find out.

Party, With Echoes now up at Redstone SF

The title speaks for itself. Read the story here.

Here are the first couple of paragraphs:

Party, With Echoes

“So – your ancestors were pearl divers in Western Australia?” he says.

“Yup,” Yuriko replies, in a who cares sort of way that she hopes reinforces her tough image. But she thinks, So, you said you were fit? and she’s looking at the thermals stretching over his belly and the pudgy hairy spiders that are his hands.

“You’re OK with the gear?”

He makes an O by putting the tip of his index finger on the tip of his thumb, the divers’ sign. “Don’t worry. I have Open Water, Advanced Open Water, Dive Rescue and Dive Master qualifications.”

Yuriko smiles and thinks, But how long since you’ve used them? The spec from Ianni said he was a company director. David Woodridge is his name, although he introduced himself to Yuriko as ‘John’.

stories purpose-written for themed anthologies

I have a story in the newly-released Dead Red Heart anthology. Most of you will know that I wouldn’t touch a vampire over-my-dead-body, and am not particularly fond of the trope in fiction either. OK, I’ve read the Twilight series. Yes, all of it *gasp*. I have to admit that was an aberration.

Anyway, Quarantine is a story I purpose-wrote when Russ invited me to contribute to this anthology. I set myself a challenge to see if I could write something about vampires. I was surprised at myself, and pleased, that I succeeded to write a story I was happy with, although I took a SF-nal approach to the theme.

But what if the story wouldn’t have been accepted? What would I have done with it?

I’m sure that, if they didn’t already know it, most semipro magazines will have found out recently that someone in the world must have been putting together a vampire anthology. I’ve seen a number of stories in the slush.

Is this the right thing? Do you submit those rejected stories everywhere?

I wouldn’t. Because many magazines will be aware of the anthology, they’re sensitive to the subject. Sensitive in the sense that they’re probably more likely to reject the story as soon as they figure out that it is a reject from someone else’s anthology.

Therefore, I would let the story rest for a while. That is, if I didn’t decide to change it. Because purpose-written stories are just that: purpose-written. Also, if the story is a reject, it gives you the opportunity to see if you can improve it, and possibly make it less-themed.

from the slush minion’s diary #9 long stories

I see the following question being asked a lot by writers: which magazine accepts stories over 10,000 words?

There are a few such magazines, including, if you’re Australian, ASIM. You can find these magazines on Duotrope.

But I would like to ask a counter-question: are you sure the story needs to be that long?

Because, you see, most stories I see of this length could be shortened. If not, the story is usually very good. In ten thousand words, you can do a lot of worldbuilding and character work.

Mostly, though, stories are that long because they’re too flabby. They’re overwritten, repetitive, or start in the wrong place or all of the above. Sometimes I feel that the effective content of a story takes up less than 50% of the total word count.

So, yes, there are places that accept stories over ten thousand words, but before you send your story to such a place, consider the following:

– Is your inciting incident (i.e. ‘where the story really starts’) in the first scene on the first page? Or does your story start with lots of backstory/character navelgazing and thinking about the past or otherwise sitting still and doing nothing in particular or going through boring, domestic tasks?
– Have you described everything, every place, every emotion, every action, only once? Or does your story contain dialogue that comes back to the same point in a circular motion? Does your description describe the same place/person/scene type/action twice? Also consider this within a sentence. I see a lot of sentences with two clauses that mean pretty much the same thing.
– Are your sentences taut and effective? Or do they contain lots of fluff words, which are imprecise, waffly and just words for the sake of words? I call this ‘that was what that was’ type of language.

By looking at all these things, you can often cut an awful lot of verbiage from the story. I can guarantee that if you cut a 10,000 word story down to 7000 words, you’ll end up with a far better story, and more places to submit it.

Where do you get your ideas?

This is a question writers are often asked, especially by general members of the public and by newbie writers.

It’s not always possible to identify where an idea came from. I’ve spoken about reading non-fiction as a basis for ideas, but if you have facts, you still need something to happen.

I have a file somewhere that contains lines like:

Story about a rogue planet
Story about two space ships catching up, despite one having been sent 100 years earlier than the other.

They’re just story notes for possible settings. I need a character, but more important even, I need something to happen in that setting, and ‘character X discovers a rogue planet’ isn’t going to cut the mustard.

I’ve found that lately I’ve turned to extreme sport as seed for my storylines.

The weird things people will do for entertainment fascinate me endlessly. BASE jumping? Extreme surfing? Extreme ironing? They’re all wonderful seeds for story plots. Because now I have a character who is going to do something other than discover the setting. And the character has an aim: to win or set a record.

But it doesn’t always work. Sometimes my activities simply violate too many laws of physics to keep me happy.

I could not make a person surf on magnetic fields, but I could make a kite do it with a bit of fudging.

But even so, it doesn’t always work.

I had an idea about skywriting on Saturn. I figured out that this was possible. I wanted to turn this into extreme advertising. where a company would pay to have its logo written on Saturn. Yup. But meh, there’s not much tension in that and I needed an extra plot element.

Sometimes I have to ditch the extreme sport altogether to make the story work, but even if that happens, the extreme sport provided the story seed.

Stay tuned for stories about ice diving, magnetic kite-flying, and coming up: extreme flute-playing.

Out of Here – short story collection

The latest release! A collection of eighteen stories that have been published over the past few years. The cover was done for me by the fabulous Andrew McKiernan.

This collection contains some stories that are very dear to me. Some random facts:

The shortest story is an extremely cute 500-word flash that won a place in the ZineWest competition, the longest a 7500 dark fantasy about a deeply-buried family secret, and dark magic.
There are two stories that are based on fairytales, but I’ve twisted them around and set them in a modern setting, one in a bank, the other in the harshness of the Australian outback (hence the Thorny Devil on the cover).
There are stories about dragons, about weird aliens, and possessed bunny rabbits.

Check it out! Click on the image for the Smashwords link. Amazon to follow later this week.

Table of Contents:

Highway – Infinitas Newsletter
Bigger Fish – Fantastic Wonder Stories Anthology
Black Dragon – The Edge of Propinquity
Mass Extinction – Antipodean SF
Legal Aliens – Semaphore
Little Boy Lost – Midnight Echo
The Ten Days of Madness – Antipodean SF
From the Parrot’s Mouth – Beyond Centauri
Metal Dragon – Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine
Never on a Birthday – Byzarium
Out of Here – M-Brane SF
Raven’s Call – Realms
Taking back the Words – Ticonderoga Online
The Only One He Ever Feared – Fly in Amber
The Weed Eaters – The Fat Man At The End of the World Anthology
Straight through the Heart – ZineWest
To Look at the Sky – Semaphore SF
The Invisible Fleas of the Galaxy – M-Brane SF

Update on ASIM #53

I’m editing issue 53 of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, which will be out at the end of the year.

I have so far accepted four stories, so there is a bit more to go. Three are slush pool stories, and one is a story I sourced from another workshop (yes, I do this, on occasion). Three are science fiction, one, a short piece, soft SF, the other two, longer stories, are hard SF, one with crime elements. We slush blind, but somehow I managed to pick four stories that were written by women.

OK, what does all this mean? Well, obviously I’m looking for more stories. What sort of stories?

– They must absolutely be well-written
– We’re listening to our subscribers who are telling us that they want less horror. We are not a horror market, although we have occasionally published horror and probably will continue to do so on occasion. Midnight Echo is an excellent market for horror in Australia. ASIM set out to publish light-hearted stories. If your story has horror elements, we want the funny side. See ‘Dig Up The Vote’ in issue 47.
– I’m no great fan of demons and angels and devils
– I’d like to see some good-ol’ adventure fantasy
– To me, light-hearted does not mean slap-stick

I stress this is just me, and I’m not speaking for the editors of issues 52 or 54.

Short story release: Whispering Willows

I love a lot of things about this short story: its voice, its quirky character Loesie, who will be a character in a novel that follows the events in this short story, and the isolated feel of the farm with its people who are wise through experience, and not formal education.

The setting is based, of course, on random real-life facts about the pre-industrial area in mainland Europe that today is the Netherlands. The geography is–ahem–concentrated. Most of the names are made up, although one or two are real. For this story in particular, if you close your eyes and think away the cars and electricity lines, you could be forgiven to think not much has changed. The farms are still there, the truncated willows are still there, the lapwings and buttercups are still there. Just add magic… oh, and bears.

I’ve copied the first scene below. Click on the image for the link to Smashwords to download the entire story. The novel, which will most likely be called For Queen and Country, will be out some time later. Loesie will feature in the book, but not as the main character.

Clicking on the picture will take you to Smashwords. This link will take you to Amazon

***

The river behind Granma’s house runs deep. The water’s like a vat of dirty milk, all murky, with eddies and floating sticks that twirl and twirl downstream.
From the top of the dike, with only green fields and willows around me, I can see the other side – just. Maybe I could make out a person if they stood on the bank, but I’s not sure ’cause no one ever does. The other side is Gelre and them’s bad as they come, at least so says Granpa in between stuffing his pipe and stripping willow twigs.
No one with half a brain would try to cross the river. No one ever could.
Except the man and his enormous horse.
I were cutting willow switches, and then I seen them in the middle of the water. Two heads, a black horse’s and a man’s. It seemed the horse was walking-like, on the bottom, but I don’t know ‘s the river has a bottom. But whatever it were doing, the horse were coming straight for me.
I hid in the tree, which were pretty silly-like, ’cause a willow’s no leaves in early spring.
The man didn’t see me, or he pretended as much he didn’t see me as I pretended to be a bird. Or something.
He had hair red as a fox, all curly, and the bit below his shoulders were wet and dripped water onto his jerkin.
The horse – it were huge, with a long mane and masses of fluff around hooves big as Ma’s milking bucket. It were noisy-like, snorting and blowing and grumbling.
The stranger sat straight on the horse’s back, no saddle, and grabbed a breath of wind in his hand. He whispered into it, and let it go. He were using magic. His eyes met mine and my cheeks glowed like they’s on fire.
He kicked the horse’s sides and rode off. The orange spot that were his hair grew smaller and smaller amongst the grass and the buttercups.

ASIM pre-slush workshop post #15

Here is the fifteenth and last of the submissions. Please remember that this is the opinion of one editor. There will be others who agree, but there will also be those who disagree. In the end, what you do with your story is up to you; it’s your call.

If you appreciate what we’re doing here, please support our magazine. To coincide with the release of issue 50, we have a number of special deals. See the ASIM website.

Following this post, I will talk a bit about the project, about slush in general and about the magazine and myths that surround it in cyberspace [cue in mysterious music].

Original text:

Price of Allegiance

“Mr. Tobin, there is a gray Cicada here to see you.”

Alastair Tobin, Earth’s official ambassador to the Galactic Union, was more than a little surprised. In his eight years of service he could count on one hand the number of times anyone had visited his office on Union Central station in person. On a rare occasion when someone had any business to conduct with the humans, they just sent him a message. A member of the Union’s oldest and most influential species showing up at his door was unprecedented.

“Ask it in,” Tobin responded via the intercom.

A Cicada walked in, folding its wings. The alien was short, corpulent, and had thin, veined wings extending from its midsection. Its severe gray garb was in stark contrast with the rich, bright colors the Cicadas generally favored.

“Welcome, on behalf of humanity. I am honored by your presence.” A wall panel emitted a series of high-pitched sounds, translating the standard greeting into the guest’s native language.

“Thank you. On behalf of the Union, I am honored to be here,” said the Cicada.

_On behalf of the Union._ The visitor was indicating that it was here on official Union business, rather than representing the interests of its own species. Tobin motioned for the Cicada to take a seat and lowered his own armchair to adjust for the height difference between them. The Cicada acknowledged the invitation by leaning on the side of the chair, but declined to sit down. At least they were now more or less at eye level.

“Tell me, Ambassador Tobin,” said the Cicada without any preambles, “what do you think is the most important function of the Galactic Union?”

Uncertain of his visitor’s intentions, Tobin chose his words carefully. “The Union facilitates the exchange of art and technology among all the known intelligent species that are advanced enough to join in.”
Editor’s comment:

This sets the scene reasonably effectively, but it’s a rather static opening. There’s a hint of intrigue–something unusual is evidently happening, in the background–but after 300 words, we haven’t really arrived at anything that could be considered a narrative ‘hook’.

Things are unfolding too gradually, in my assessment. Part of the problem is that you’re offering too much explanation: while the second sentence suffices nicely to telegraph that this is a SF story, rather than fantasy (for example), it provides too much of the wrong sort of detail: Tobin is Earth’s ambassador, he’s held the post for 8 years, his office is on Union Central station. These are things which are certainly relevant, but they’re not engaging: they don’t encourage the reader to identify with the central character.

This needs more tension, it needs a stronger sense of intrigue, and something dramatic or at least ominous needs to be waiting in the wings.