Happy Birthday to Strange Horizons, Plus a New Poem!

Hello, and happy September! It’s the 20th anniversary of Strange Horizons this month. 20 years of awesome fiction, poetry, and reviews all online and free! To celebrate, they have a special 20 years of Strange Horizons issue, and I wrote a poem for it!

http://strangehorizons.com/wordpress/wp-content/themes/strangehorizons/images/sh-logo.jpg

Image Description: The Strange Horizons logo, which is the words Strange Horizons in a sans serif font in colors ranging from black through blue to purple.


“On Where to Find Strange Horizons, and How to Get There” is about the ever changing nature of progress, something good magazines that have existed for decades inevitably have to grapple with. I wrote it with some of the recent conversations in the science fiction and fantasy community in mind, but also with a general sense that any time a new group of people wishes to make progress, there is a dance of straining to break out of what previous groups felt progress would and should look like. This plays out over and over in countless kinds of communities.

Strange Horizons started in 2000 with a mission to publish new and underrepresented voices. It’s always been a non-profit, all volunteer organization, and it has kept that mission at its heart even while growing and changing in many ways.

This was the first magazine I edited for. I was lucky enough to work with Jed Hartman (one of the founding fiction editors) for the first year, and honored to step into one of the vacancies left behind by Karen Meisner and Susan Marie Groppi. Eventually when Jed left, the senior fiction editor team was me, Lee Mandelo, and An Owomoyela. We worked together to come to consensus on which stories to publish, and split them up between us to edit individually. For three years I worked full time on Strange Horizons, editing stories, and also helping with the early days of art selection and podcast narration. We also had a team of first readers, one of whom, Catherine Krahe, ended up taking over for me when I left. This magazine will always hold a place in my heart. I have watched with continued interest and delight as the team there (including the editors-in-chief, non-fiction, poetry, art, and podcast departments) has made a point to invite underrepresented voices to speak. From a trans and non-binary issue to a Nigerian SFF issue and far beyond, Strange Horizons is a place that consistently celebrates many voices. I will always be happy I got my editing start there, and I hope the magazine will continue to grow and flourish for many years to come.

I wholeheartedly recommend the rest of the poems and stories in this special 20th anniversary issue, too! And if you would like to listen to my poem, I also read it for the Strange Horizons podcast episode.

Upcoming Appearances

Hello! Here are some places you can see me in the next few months.

Comedy

This week on Friday, I’ll be debating other comedians about Danny Devito in Pick A Side Stupid. You can watch that live on YouTube at 7:30pm Eastern time if you like.

If you are interested in audio dramas, I also have a small part as a wizard in an upcoming episode of the new podcast, Wizard Seeking Wizard! It’s a very silly podcast conceived and produced by Max Kreisky. Max plays Chemistro, a wizard entrapped in a crystal sphere who has decided to pass the time by setting up a matchmaking service. Many very funny people have created their own wizard personas and recorded dating(???) profiles for the show. The first episode is out now, and listeners can vote on which wizards should interact with each other. How fun is that?


Writing Classes

Image Drescription: A fountain pen and notebook rest on a wooden table.

In November, I will be teaching two classes for Clarion West. Registration is open to anyone age 18 or over, and each session costs $55. If you’re looking for ways to advance your storytelling, this is a set designed to help move you up in the submissions pile. I’d love to see you there!

Beginnings That Grab: A common rejection reason is that a story “didn’t grab” the reader. So what makes a beginning that grabs? Are your stories starting in the right place, or do they really get going on the third or fourth page? Are you letting your readers know your tone and style right away? Are you inadvertently falling back on overused beginning tropes? This class will dive into what makes a great beginning, including specific examples and tools you can use to make your openings stand out.

Sign up for Beginnings That Grab here!

Endings That Land: If you can hook a reader on page one, you’re already on the road to telling a great story, but how do you stick the landing? What makes for a satisfying ending? In this class we’ll explore story structure and examine endings that work well, and why.

Sign up for Endings That Land here!


That’s all for today, but I should have more to share soon!

Come see me at ReCONvene 2020

Hello, friends!

It’s been a while. I hope you are safe and well wherever you are. I’ve been focused on recovering and then getting slowly back into work. Most of the work I have been doing is not very shareable (like a freelance editing job for a private client), but I did participate in an editorial roundtable for Clarion West last month, and you can watch that here if you like. It was a really interesting conversation with some other great SFF editors.

But perhaps you would like to see me talk live? If yes, you’re in luck! Next weekend, I’ll be on a panel for reCONvene 2020, a one-day virtual science fiction convention. My fellow panelists are S. L. Huang (who just won the Hugo Award for best short story! You can read the winning story “As the Last I May Know” here), Zig Zag Claybourne (author of many cool things, including The Air in My House Tastes Like Sugar), Chris Barkley (who has apparently attended over 200 science fiction conventions!), and our moderator will be Melanie Meadors (who is a game designer and fiction writer and editor).

Here’s the official description for the panel:


Exploring the Literary Sandbox of Speculative Fiction

Saturday the 15th of August, 3:00pm Eastern US time

Science fiction and fantasy are places where authors and readers come together to try out ideas and to play. Together they explore and clarify questions about science, philosophy, ethics, race, and more. Of all genres, science fiction and fantasy serve to inspire the future and comment on the present. Our panelists explore examples in their own work as well as those of others in the speculative field that have changed the way we think about writing, literature, and society.


So this should be an interesting discussion! reCONvene is a sister convention to Boskone, a convention I usually attend each February in Boston. This one has a much lower price point than many conventions—$10 for the whole day—so it’s a great choice if you are curious about virtual conventions and how they work, or about the kinds of panels and activities you might see at conventions in general. Boskone usually has a good art show, and reCONvene is carrying on with that, too, including a docent tour at 2pm. There are also a few games on the schedule, plus readings and kaffeeklatsches (which are small group discussions with an author). You can play a game of Carcassone, see C. S. E. Cooney and Andrea Hairston read from their wondrous works, or have a chat with YA author Justina Ireland!

If any of this sounds interesting to you, head over to the reCONvene website to register.

Guided Writing Session Notes

On Tuesday I led a guided writing session for the CIC Virtual Arts Week. The theme for this week was Transformation, so I tailored the writing exercises to showcase the transformative power of words. Here are those exercises for anyone who attended and wanted to have notes, and for everyone who would like to play along on your own time.

The times in parentheses are suggested times if you want to use a timer on your own. It’s okay if you go faster or slower, and it’s also fine to ignore them completely. If you use them and you find that you don’t finish certain parts, that’s also fine! If you feel like you are on a roll and want to keep writing after a timer is up, go for it! The point of these exercises is to get things started so you can build on them. If you feel like you’ve got a good flow, that’s great, and you can skip exercises and follow your instincts at any point.

I’m including my own example responses for your reference, but yours might look very different, and that’s okay! You can use these with a specific character or writing project in mind, or start with nothing in particular in mind (which is what I did).

Exercise 1 (30 seconds)

Write down three words that you associate with transformation. They can be specific and concrete or abstract. They can be objects, adjectives, actions, or concepts. They don’t have to make logical sense. Follow your intuition.

Here are the example transformation words I came up with:
Flight
Fire
Butterfly

Exercise 2 (1 minute)

Think of times when you (or a character in your project) might change from one thing into another. This could be as simple (going from work clothes to pjs), or complex (changing from a peasant to empress of five galaxies). The changes could also be less tangible and more emotional. Write down two examples.

Here are the examples I came up with:

Being single to falling in love
Being afraid to becoming brave

Exercise 3 (2 minutes)

Write down five words (one for each sense). If you are working on a specific project, do it with the project’s setting, characters, or other specific details in mind. If you are stuck, use things in your immediate surroundings. As with the previous exercise, these can be abstract or concrete, and are open to your interpretation.

Here are me example sense words:

see: purple
hear: styrofoam
smell: fresh
taste: sweet
touch: soft

Exercise 4 (2 minutes)

Take one of your five words and make a sentence about is as perceived via a different sense. If you are using a fictional character you can imagine how they might perceive a certain word though another sense. Again, this can be specific and concrete or abstract. You do not have to use the exact word. You can use the actual word, or you can think about the context in which you might encounter the object or concept and let it inspire you.

A concrete example is the sound word styrofoam perceived through touch as, “She winced at the feel of styrofoam squeaking against her teeth.”

In this first example, I thought of the awful squeak styrofoam can make as my sound word, and then I used that directly to combine with the feel of accidentally rubbing a styrofoam cup against one’s teeth—a touch sense as well as a sound.

An abstract example is the taste word sweet perceived through sight and scent as, “An ostentation of pink frivolity hung in the air.”

Image description: A pink cloud of cotton candy in focus against the blur of bright lights, possibly at a carnival

In this second example, I imagined what might taste sweet, and the first thing I thought of was cotton candy. Often cotton candy is pink, so I thought it might smell like a pink scent to my character, who might be perceiving this at a carnival.

Exercise 5 (5 minutes)

Take one of your transformation words and apply it to one of your sensory sentences to make a larger paragraph exploring that perception through the transformational word.

For example the sweet pink cotton candy, if I use the transformation word flight, I might then explore this carnival setting with flight. How does my character feel about it? Is the sweetness now scary because she is afraid of heights and knows she has to ride a ferris wheel?

Image description: A carnival midway at night with brightly lit rides.

This does not need to be a conflict or challenge, and the original word does not have to appear in that paragraph.

My example paragraph was:

A pink ostentation of cotton candy and frivolity hung in the air. Marissa looked up into the blinking lights of the midway, and shuddered. Ethan was laughing and tugging her hand, which was sweaty tingling. He would want to do the rocket flyers next. He always did. And she would have to go with him because mom had said they had to stay together and that meant doing whatever Ethan wanted, whether Marissa liked it or not.

Exercise 6 (5 minutes)

Imagine how your setting or character might transform. What would it take to make that happen? Would it be good or bad? What is an obstacle to that transformation? What is an incentive?

This is a brainstorming exercise and it can be structured or loose. It could use complete sentences and paragraphs or single words. You’re stepping out of the narrative here and letting your mind explore.

My example:

Carnival, fear of heights… not speaking up for self. Could get over fear? Could learn to speak up? Obstacle… fear of getting in trouble? What if she is afraid because it will be dangerous? What if she’s got a psychic ability? Obstacle: not wanting to “be a baby” not wanting to go against parents’ directions. Incentive: not wanting to die?

Exercise 7

Build on your first paragraph by introducing one of the incentives or obstacles you brainstormed. How does your character react?

“Hurry up, Mriss!” Ethan said, but Marissa dragged her foot until she started to stumble and then crouched down on the dusty pathway. 

“My shoe’s untied,” she said. It was a lie, but she made it true, surreptitiously tugging one lace downward as she lowered. She knew in the pit of her stomach that she could not go on the rocket flyers. Not today. Not now. And she couldn’t let Ethan go either.

I didn’t finish my thought in this exercise period, but that’s okay. I know from my brainstorming exercise that I am working toward having Marissa figure out a way to stop them from going on the ride because she knows it is dangerous, and even though I haven’t yet written how or why that happens, the context has informed what I’ve written so far. Depending on your writing process and speed, you may come out of a 5 minute timed segment with a lot more than one paragraph, or with just one or two sentences. Either option is okay, as is anything in between. There’s no magically “correct” amount of words.

Exercise 8 (5 minutes)

Imagine the events of this scene from a different perspective. How do they perceive the same setting and events? Does the new perspective recognize that there is a moment of transformation happening?

This doesn’t have to be an exact reimagining of the scene. It could be a continuation, moving froward in time. For example, in the case of the girl who is afraid of heights at the carnival, this could be someone else witnessing her experience of that moment, or it could happen a few moments later.

My example:

The ring toss barker scanned the crowd looking for his next mark, and grinned when he noticed the small girl being tugged along be her brother. Siblings were always good for a little competition. Of course competition was always the most satisfying when it came with big prizes. And big prizes meant money.

Image description: a wall of colorful plush toy prizes at a carnival.

“Hurry up, Mriss!” he heard the brother say.

The girl didn’t hurry, though. Instead she stopped, untying and retying her shoe.

“Ring toss!” he called. “Come play the ring toss! Special for families, two for the price of one for the next five minutes!”

The little girl darted a calculating glance at his booth. As though she was trying to figure out how long she might stretch a midway game to avoid the thrill rides her brother craved. Well, he was certainly happy to help her find out.

“How about you, sir?” the barker called to her brother. “Can you throw a ring better than your little sister there?”

This started in the action I had already written, but moved forward from there. I’m not sure if I will write more of this, but I started with nothing and used these exercises to come up with a setting, three characters with three different agendas, and some obstacles and incentives for changing the status quo. That’s not quite everything you need to tell a satisfying story, but it’s a good start!

Thanks to everyone who attended the guided writing session on Tuesday! It was a lot of fun! For everyone else, let me know if you try these and how you like them!

Come see and hear me!

Hello! I have been hiding in an isolation hole for a long time, but I am finally starting to feel better enough to emerge! Not to get together with people in person, of course, but here are some places you can find me:

CIC Guided Writing — 2pm Eastern US time, Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

This is part of the CIC’s Virtual Arts Week, and it’s free to attend! You can register here, and come for an hour long guided writing session on the theme of transformation. This is going to be a fun and generative session, not based on critique. I’d love to see you there!

Image description: A black and orange butterfly (post-transformation) perches on a green leaf.

Book Discussion on the Spectology Podcast

Adrian and Matt, the hosts of Spectology, invited me to discuss a book with them. I chose The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard, which is a Sherlock Holmesian mystery space opera story with Vietnamese cultural elements. It was a lot of fun to read and discuss! Here’s the pre-read episode where we talk about Aliette and our anticipation of the book, and here’s the post-read episode where we discuss the book after having read it. The post-read is full of spoilers about the book, so I recommend buying and reading the book before listening to that second episode. It’s a fun book, and we all enjoyed it!

This Is Why We’re Like This

We managed to keep putting out podcasts even when I got sick, thanks in part to having a couple of episodes we’d recorded back in February when getting together in person was an okay thing to do. Our most recent episodes were about claymation with The Adventures of Mark Twain and The California Raisins, The Simpsons, And Soviet television in the 1980s. I am in the middle of editing the episode on he 1985 Soviet production of The Hobbit right now, and that should be up sometimes in the next day or two. You can see a list of all our episodes here.

So that’s where you can find me right now. I hope wherever you are, you are safe and well!

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