In Sputnik’s Orbit

A few thoughts to tide you over…


Meet The Winners – Daniel J Davis

As we start this year’s Writers of the Future workshop week, join me in welcoming third quarter winner, Daniel Davis.

Stuart: Welcome Daniel, and congratulations! So who are you, sir?

Daniel: I’m a veteran of the Marine Corps and the Army, with a combined total of almost nine years of service.

Stuart: Well thank you, sir (snaps out crisp salute).

Daniel: I’m still not sure how I managed to sign two different sets of enlistment papers without either one of them saying “Air Force” at the top. I think I’m just a slow learner.

Stuart: Yes, well, where would we be without you? 😉

Daniel: I’ve also been a machinist’s apprentice, a security guard, and a building maintenance worker. I spent most of my life in Massachusetts, but I currently live in North Carolina.

Stuart: Well Mr. Hubbard always said a variety of jobs can be good for the writer’s soul. And what led you into writing?

Daniel: I’ve always had an interest in it. I used to create a lot of stories in my head when I was a kid. Most of them were inspired by movies or TV shows. I think the first one I ever actually wrote down was a knock-off of Jaws, which I banged out on my mother’s electric typewriter.

Stuart: Oh electric huh? Swanky. My mother insisted she could type 60 WPM on an Underwood. To this day, I think she was making it up.

Daniel: In high school, I tried to write science fiction stories during study periods. They were violent, nihilistic, and poorly written. I was heavily into things like Mad Max and Escape from New York at the time, so I ended up with pages and pages of gunfights and flaming ruins that were recognizably local places.

Stuart: Well you know. Hormones.

Daniel: I can only imagine what would happen if I tried to write something like that on school grounds nowadays.

Ultimately, though, writing was just another pastime. I was never especially serious about it. Publication was something I’d never even considered.

That all changed when I read Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover. It was exciting. It was full of twists and turns, realistic characters, and vivid imagery. It was a story that had an honest, emotional impact on me. Even better, it was a thrill ride from start to finish.

I knew right away that I wanted to give someone else that same experience some day. Never mind great art. My ambition is to write a great piece of entertainment.

Stuart: And nothing wrong with that. In my opinion, the one is of diminished value without the other. Describe your “writer’s cave” your preferred writing location.

Daniel: The spare bedroom doubles as my office. I have bookshelves in there filled with my favorite SF/F titles, and a Japanese incense bag hanging next to the bed. The bag was a gift from my brother-in-law, who teaches English in Yokkaichi. They’re traditionally hung in a workspace for good luck at the beginning of the New Year.

I tend to write on the bed, with the dogs curled up next to me, and a pair of headphones to cancel out the rest of the world.

Stuart: Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?

Daniel: I sing even worse than I dance.

Stuart: I like that as a talent. Like a superhero who stuns the bad guys with his dancing and then drops them with a blood curdling yodel.

Daniel: Fortunately, the only person who’s ever had to deal with that for any prolonged period is my wife.

Stuart: My condolences to her. Man, the military, bad singing, and writing. She should get a medal.

Daniel: I’ve also dabbled in various martial arts over the years, including judo, kempo karate, and kung-fu. I’m not especially good at any of them, but I have learned how to fall down, and how to laugh when someone breaks my nose. I’ve done a bit of fencing, too, which means I know at least a dozen ways to die on the end of a sword.

Stuart: Ha ha! I took Korean Kuk-Sul-Wan for a while. I really enjoyed it, but the owner gave free lessons to this very nice chap named Jose in exchange for tiling the bathroom. Jose had biceps the size of redwoods and a low center of mass, and I’m pretty sure he could have taken all of us on, black-belts included, without putting down his drink bottle.

How long have you been entering WotF? Is this your first contest win?

Daniel: This is my very first time entering. I didn’t know much about the contest until recently. I always saw the book on shelf at Barnes and Noble, but for some reason I just assumed it was an “Annual Best of” anthology showcasing previously published works. I never knew it was all original, never-before-seen work.

Stuart: Well all right! You da man!

Star Trek or Star Wars?

Daniel: One of my earliest memories is of my parents letting me stay up late to watch Star Wars on basic cable. My older sister gave me the picture book with all of the still photos from the movie, which I read until it fell apart.

Stuart: I remember my cousins had these big newsprint comic books before we ever saw the movie. I remember sitting in this ancient bed in my grandmom’s house, escaping to Tatooine. My dad didn’t understand the concept of going to see a film if you already knew the story.

Daniel: I also still absolutely love the first three Star Trek movies. I just never got too into the TV series. It was always running opposite reruns of Lost in Space when I was a kid. And Lost in Space had cooler monsters and a robot.

Stuart: Fair enough!

Pantser or Plotter?

Daniel: I’ve been a pantser for the past several years. Since I’m not fabulously rich and famous yet, I might have to re-think that strategy.

Jokes aside, I only started to learn about plot and story structure within the last year, after I picked up a copy of Writing to Sell by Scott Meredith.

Stuart: Excellent book, though some chapters are better than others.

Daniel: Now I’m working to become a bit more methodical in my writing. Learning how to plot ahead of time is definitely a big part of that. But there’s also an undeniable thrill that goes along with discovering the story as I write.

I suspect that by the time I find my “sweet spot,” it’s going to be a little bit of both.

Stuart: I think you’re right.

What’s the nuttiest thing that ever happened to you?

Daniel: I took part in a blindfolded sparring match when I was twenty. Naturally, I got my posterior parts handed to me in a pillowcase, but I was still happy that I got to push and challenge myself like that.

Later on, I found out that I was the only one who was blindfolded. The moral of the story is that you should never trust your friends. Especially when those friends are a bunch of jackasses looking for a cheap laugh.

Stuart: Yeah…I kinda saw that coming. Don’t feel bad, we all get duped my our so-called friends at some point.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

The power to give witty, interesting answers in interviews.

Stuart: Not bad. Not bad at all.

Daniel: And Wolverine claws.

Stuart: I, um…ah….

What was your favorite toy growing up?

Daniel: I grew up in the golden age of action figures. I had G.I. Joe, Transformers, He-Man, Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Voltron, and Rambo. How do you pick a favorite?

Stuart: I actually thought they made up Voltron for Jimmy Neutron.

Daniel: And of course, most of the TV shows I watched were basically half-hour toy commercials (I can’t be the only one who remembers that kid-friendly Rambo cartoon).

Stuart: Well thanks Daniel. I’ll be watching to see who brings home the Golden Pen. Regardless, I know we’ll be seeing more of each other.

Meet the Winners — Samantha Murray

With Writers of the Future week right around the corner, say hello to second quarter winner, Australia’s Samantha Murray!

Stuart: Hi Samantha. Nice to meet you. Tell us about yourself.

sam-press3Samantha: Apart from a writer, I’m a stay-at-home parent right now, which is awesome. In the past I have been, variously, a teacher, an actor, and a mathematician.

Stuart: And what got you into writing?

Samantha: I was always into writing. I just got in my own way for a long time. I can remember writing a story at school when I was about 9 and being suddenly transported by the ideas and story arcs bubbling away in my head. It was going to be a magnificent and fascinating tale! Unfortunately, I didn’t get time to write it all down, and when we next returned to the writing task I had forgotten where I was going with it, and, despairing for an ending, followed the advice of my parent and concluded with “it was all a dream.”

Stuart: Oh no!

Samantha: Luckily I’ve learned not to do that since then. Even at the time I knew it was a cop-out!

I submitted a story for the first time when I was about 20. It was to an Australian anthology and they rejected it, which was horribly discouraging at the time, because I didn’t know back then that rejections are common and don’t necessarily mean that you are an atrocious writer.

I’ve been wanting to be a writer for more than 20 years, but I’ve only been actively doing something about it for the last 3 years.

The biggest obstacle was always myself. I wanted to be a writer, but apart from notebooks full of scratchings and dabbling with playwriting I wasn’t actually producing a product. A combination of procrastination, fear-of-failure perhaps, an inability to find the determination to push through the hard bits.

Stuart: I think we all can identify.

Samantha: One day, I found myself with two small children, horribly sleep-deprived and time-poor. And I had a story idea. I wrote notes on it (not so unusual). But then I did do something unusual – I sat down and wrote it. All of it. All the way to the end.

Stuart: Hurray!

Samantha: My theory is that having very little time to myself managed to push the urgency-button that procrastinators need to do things. I realised that in a very real way IT WAS THE LAST MINUTE. If I didn’t do it now, I would never do it. And I had wanted to do it for a long time.

Or perhaps I had just grown up.

Stuart: I can definitely identify. I did technical writing for years and dabbled, but I always thought someday I’d be a writer. Then one day, I realized the days eventually run out.

Describe your “writer’s cave.”

Samantha: I don’t really have a cave. I think I should get one. Actually, now I want a real cave, because that would be cool.

Stuart: Caves are cool. Year round (winks).

Samantha: I write on my lap-top and quite often I end up sitting on my bed. I do have a desk but it is covered in, um, stuff. When we go away to the beach house I have my lap-top on the kitchen table and get up early and write with a view of the trees out the window. And there is no internet at the beach house. No internet is really, really good for my writing.

Stuart: Yes. Although in my case, the internet give the girls something to do while I sit on the porch in blissful silence.

Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?

Samantha: Some of my joints are hypermobile, so I can do this thing where I clasp my hands together behind my back, and then take my arms over my head round to the front with my hands still joined. I worked out I could do that after watching a circus of people doing freakish things with their bodies, one of them used such a manoeuvre to get out of a strait-jacket. Walking home I said “I can do that,” and I was right. I wish I had a more exciting talent, but yeah, it might be helpful one day if I happen to find myself in a strait-jacket.

Stuart: How long have you been entering WotF?

Samantha: Around two and a half years. I only wrote three stories specifically for the contest, other times I sent them stories I had at hand, or rewrites, or things I didn’t think were a fit but I’d run out of time to do anything else. I remember thinking that I really should put in a much more concerted effort with WotF, because (especially coming from Western Australia) it really did have a lot of bang-for-my-buck. I even wrote it down as a goal. The next morning I woke up with a story idea which I brainstormed into my notebook. “I reckon this one will win,” I thought, given the serendipitous timing with my new resolution.

Stuart: Well there you go.

Samantha: That story didn’t win. It didn’t get a chance to, because the story I had _already_ entered the previous quarter won. I got the finalist notification about five weeks after I wrote “win WotF” on my goal list.

Stuart: Ha ha! Win! Star Trek or Star Wars?

Samantha: My initial response to this was “Star Wars!” but that is mainly because I have two young boys who are obsessed with Star Wars right now. So we live in a star wars-infused environment. Some twenty-odd years ago, however, I was a big fan of Star Trek TNG. I was holidaying in the U.S at the time, and I remember staying up late to watch all of the episodes on TV.

Stuart: About three years before we met, my wife and I both stayed up all night watching a marathon of all the TOS episodes. If only we had known each other, we could have watched them together!

Are you a pantser or Plotter?

Samantha: I’m a panster, at heart. I always know where the story is going to end though. Just the idea, or maybe a single sentence. Without that I can’t write the story, once that has popped into my head I can start, and make the rest of it up as I go along. I am a first-drafter though. Most of my stories (and indeed, all of my published ones) are essentially first-drafts. I write really slowly though, so I think I am editing as I go along.

Stuart: Yeah, I’m still breaking myself of editing words that may not survive into the final draft. I think part of that is confidence, trusting that the crappy first draft is doing what it’s supposed to even though is may not be, as sweet on the ear.

What’s the nuttiest thing that ever happened to you?

Samantha: A really long time ago I did some radio work for a very small local radio station for the blind. They had a kids segment and had a comedy-star-sign bit which I got to write and deliver in this low husky voice over the radio. It was meant to be light-hearted, so I had complete freedom to make up whatever I wanted. “Aquarius… stop wearing that hat. Your friends hate it. People in the street hate it. You hate it, deep down, where you won’t admit it to yourself. The hat hates itself. And it hates you. Just stop. Please, please stop.” Silly stuff!

Stuart: That’s terrific. I had a friend would once gave away bad fish over the radio. And the winner came and got it. That experience will come in handy when you’re famous.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Samantha: I think I should play to my strengths and be procrastination-girl! I could procrastinate dying, and thus live forever.

Stuart: Sheer genius! When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Samantha: I don’t have a very good memory of my childhood, but I do remember having a pencil family. Yes, it was a group of pencils of different sizes and colours that I had anthropomorphised into characters. There was one that had been sharpened down to an inch of its life that was the baby pencil.

Stuart: Well I’ve always said, you don’t have to be crazy to write, but it helps a lot. When I was little, I got a spanking for playing spaceship with mason jar full of canned beets. The ship crashed.

Tell us about your winning story.

Samantha: “Half Past” is a story about a girl with a peculiar kind of magic. Her mother is dead, and her father is distant, but she is never lonely – she makes her own companions. Then one day a visitor arrives who might change everything.

Stuart: Cool! Well congratulations again Samantha. Enjoy your week in LA, and if you ever run into last year’s winner Shauna O’Meara, tell her I said “hi!”

Follow Samantha at


Meet The Winners – Steve Pantazis

Continuing with this years’ Writers of the Future winners, say hello to self described computer geek, Steve Pantazis.

Stuart: Welcome, Steve, and congratulations on your win. Introduce yourself.

Steve: I run a small software firm in Southern California, using my analytical brain during the day to troubleshoot data issues and my creative brain at night to make sweet, sweet prose. My dream is to author fiction full-time, but such an enterprise requires many publishing credits under the belt, lots of content for the masses, and a strong following of readers—something I hope to humbly achieve in the future. Until then, I will be working on getting my first novel published and sorting through lines of software code until my face turns blue.

Stuart: And when you aren’t writing?

Steve: When I’m not penning a tale, I’m cheffing it up in the kitchen, making culinary delights for my better half, who has playfully nicknamed me “Love Chef.”

Stuart: Ha ha. Now that’s a nom-de-plume!

Steve: Yes, she inspires the foodie in me. My friends joke about my postings of food pics on Facebook, wondering how I stay so thin. I tell them it’s portion control. Hah!

Another passion involves the great outdoors. As a person of Greek decent, I embrace the ancient Athenian belief of balancing the body and mind. Hiking, working out, and playing tennis are part of my repertoire, especially here in beautiful, sunny San Diego. For those of you stuck behind the keyboard, I say get out and do something good for your body. Trust me, if you’re a writer, it’s important to get the blood circulating, and not just in your fingertips.

Stuart: Very wise. Sitting at a desk all day is not what humans are built for. What got you into writing, Steve?

Steve: My journey as a writer began when I was eight. It was the year after the original Star Wars movie came out, and I was already inspired by the imagery in the epic space opera when I chanced upon a book fair at my grade school. I remember the books being displayed on foldout tables at the school library, and my allowance money burning a hole in my pocket, eager to be spent. I had no idea what to buy. In fact, I had never bought a book in my life. But there it was: The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, sitting on top of a stack of volumes, the cover depicting a painting of the famed Shire from the story. I picked up the softcover novel, leafed through the pages, smelled the wonderful scent of freshly printed pages, and knew I had to have it.

Stuart: Oh man, I remember that smell, and the smell of the floor wax at the town library. It all comes rushing back.

Steve: With my allowance gone, I went to work consuming the book and feeding my imagination. Soon after, I combined the wonder of Star Wars with the fantasy of The Hobbit, and created my first story, a space adventure that took the reader to a number of worlds across the universe. It was then that I knew I was meant to be a writer. I didn’t want to write; I didn’t like to write. I HAD to write!

Stuart: And where do you feed the habit?

Steve: I’m a night owl, so my creativity blossoms after the sun goes down. My preferred writing spot is on the couch these days, with ambient music piping gently through the speakers of my laptop. Before I met my significant other, I was a coffee shop freak, spending many an afternoon and evening sipping specialty coffee while composing my latest story with my headphones on, drowning out the commotion of those around me. I miss going to a coffee shop, but my couch does me wonders. And, of course, my partner says she enjoys my company, which is what really matters.

Stuart: Indeed. How long have you been entering WotF?

Steve: My first entry was for the 25th anniversary of Writers of the Future. I wrote a short story based in the same universe as my winning story for Volume 31, “Switch.” Back then, I thought I had a story that would be irresistible to the judges. Little did I know that my character development was woefully under par. It took a number of entries over the years, and plenty of good reading, to get an idea of what might work. My advice to future contestants is to make sure the reader cares about your protagonist. If you accomplish nothing else, make that happen.

Stuart: Good advice. And this is your first win?

Steve: This is my first contest win, although I have placed in the top five on several Writer’s Digest magazine contests, including their annual Short Story Competition and Popular Fiction Awards.

Stuart: Well that’s nothing to sneeze at. Those contest must attract a gozillion entries each. So do you follow the muse or try to plan things out?

Steve: Plotter, for sure, although I enjoy it when my stories organically take a detour. Seriously though, I feel an author should know the beginning and end to a story, no matter what kind of writer they are. You need to have some notion of the end goal in order to get there. For me, I like to outline a story to form a sense of progression. It doesn’t have to be so detailed that there isn’t any wiggle room for the unexpected, but it still needs to have some shape in order for it fulfill its promise. And fulfilling the promise to the reader is the key, no matter if you plot the story or fly by the seat of your pants.

Stuart: You put that well. Structure, but with wiggle room, room for craft to grow.

So tell me something nutty that you did.

Steve: Joining the military on a whim. I had never considered military service, and then my stepmom said to me one day, “Hey, why don’t you check out the Air Force?” Two weeks later, and I was signed up. The nutty part was lying in my bunk on the first evening of basic training, wondering, “What the heck did I get myself into?” Years later, I look back on my decision as one of the best I ever made. It just goes to show you that doing some things on a whim isn’t always a bad thing.

Stuart: When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Steve: Lego. My grandparents bought me a box of Legos when I was seven. I knew right away that I had a creative side, and Legos let me create in three dimensions. It paved the way for a lot of “idea building” in my life. Funny thing is that I live close to Legoland, and I’ve never been there. Go figure!

Stuart: I used to love all the construction toys, Erector and what not, for that reason.

Tell us about your winning story

Steve: “Switch” was inspired by my novel, Godnet, which introduces the future of the Internet—the Mindnet—where you use a simple neural implant and a good network connection to immerse yourself in a virtual reality world overlaying the real one (think Oculus Rift or Microsoft HoloLens, but on steroids!). In “Switch,” the Mindnet serves as a subplot to the main story, which is about a cop who uses his addiction to a high-tech drug called Switch to catch the kingpin dealer at the center of it all. The story just came to me one day, and I knew I had something special when I finished the last line.

I entered the story into an earlier WotF contest, and received a semi-finalist nod. That prompted me to make it better. My last submission hit gold. The moral of my tale: Don’t give up! If you believe in your story, and it falls short of the mark, retool it, and try again.

Stuart: Well there you go! Any parting advice for those aspiring authors out there?

Steve: Yes. I’ve created a mantra that sums it up perfectly: “Read voraciously and write prolifically.” You have to read regularly to get the mental juices flowing; and you have to write consistently to keep your creativity going. Set aside time to do these things. Even if you have a full-time job, kids, and a loaded-down plate of to-dos, eke out a few moments to follow your passion, and make it part of your daily ritual. After a number of years, you’ll have something to show for your hard work—and you’ll be glad you did!

Stuart: Well I can’t wait to visit the world on “switch”. Thanks, and again, congrats!


Steve blogs at and you can follow his publishing news at or on Twitter at @pantazis.

Meet The Winners – Michael T. Banker

Continuing in this year’s Writers of the Future series, meet third quarter winner, New York’s Michael T. Banker

Stuart: Welcome Michael, and a big congrats on the win! Tell us about yourself.M. Banker Picture

Michael: I have a lot of imaginary friends whom I occasionally write stories about and this is generally considered to be a respectable use of my time. No one has sat me down yet to express concern over my mental health. I’m grateful to live in an age where that’s possible.

Stuart: Ha Ha! Well put! So how’d you get into writing?

Michael: When I was a kid, my friend told me that he wanted to write a book, to which my response was, “As of five seconds ago I’ve always wanted to write a book, too.” I started to plot out a novel in high school, which was fun and good practice, but I didn’t actually write much. I took a creative writing class here and there. It wasn’t until after college that I figured out that if one wants to be a writer, one needs to actually write!

Stuart: That sounds a lot like my story of how I got into programming. I started out helping a friend on his science fair project. But what made you finally go all-in?

Michael: Why do I do it? It’s mentally and emotionally challenging–and fulfilling. It’s a way of organizing my thoughts about the world and human nature. It’s an opportunity to practice stepping out of my brain and into someone else’s.

Stuart: I can see that. Tell me where you do your writing.

Michael: My favorite place to write is on the subway, in cafes, standing in line. But that’s because if I’m writing in these places, I’m probably really into the story and can’t get enough down.

Stuart: Yeah, I carry my little netbook with me everywhere—you never mind having to wait when you can spend the time writing.

Michael: Usually, though, I just need the quiet of my apartment. I will actually wear ear plugs because I find the sound of my keyboard distracting. I use a Kangaroo, which is a hybrid sitting/standing desk, so I’ll often write standing up.

Stuart: Awesome! A fellow stander! I highly recommend it. And what do you do when you aren’t writing?

Michael: I’m either weirdly creative for an actuary, or weirdly analytical for an artistic type, although I suspect that combination is pretty common for writers. My day job is pricing insurance, running models, building Excel spreadsheets. On weekends I throw pottery, I’m teaching myself how to play piano, I really, really want to get into drawing but haven’t carved out the time to do it properly. I splurged on a Cintiq which is awesome, so…maybe gradually.

Stuart: Yeah, I think you may be right about that. I have writer friends who are into everything from robotics to soap. And I do my own plumbing. I have a leaking irrigation line to repair this weekend. 🙂

How long have you been entering WotF/ is this your first contest win?

Michael: Five years or so. I credit WotF with teaching me how to churn out a story regularly. I’m thrilled to have won on the cusp of pro-ing out, but WotF would have been influential on my career whether or not I ever made it to their fancy gala.

Stuart: That’s a very healthy attitude. I always say I entered for the training and hoped to earn some pro-level feedback. Winning was just a super, super nice bonus.

Micheal: I won one other contest, Albedo One’s “Aeon Award,” and got a very nice check for my efforts. There was no trophy or award ceremony or anything, though, so really it just felt like another sale. WotF is unique like that.

Stuart: Well hey, that’s pretty sweet! That’s a definite for the old CV.

Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Michael: A plotter, so much a plotter. I need to know where I’m aiming, even if I change course mid-stream. There are a tremendous number of interesting details to decide in the moment, as I’m writing (how would my characters really speak and behave, how do I convey this image, transport the reader into my setting, frame this scene to accomplish everything that it needs to, etc., etc.). Plot exists on an entirely separate level, and my brain doesn’t bend both ways at once.

Stuart: I like how you put that. I know a lot of writers chafe at the idea as an assault on the art. I don’t see that. Writing is a craft, and all craft is a blending of engineering and art. Plotting is more the engineering side.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Michael: The ability to observe (through a crystal ball, my mind’s eye, whatever) any planet with life on it. Because they’re obviously there. It’s not on the Marvel list of approved superpowers, but I’ll have that, please.

Stuart: Good one! Yeah, that would be very cool, even if it was fairly simple life.

When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Michael: I don’t know, but my earliest memory is playing with a duck — literally just a duck-shaped thing cut out of a block of foam. My mom said I had to go somewhere so I asked if I could bring it with me. So I’m playing with my duck in front of the car window, which cracks open in the back rather than rolling down from the top, and then suddenly it’s out of my hands and I just remember staring out the rear windshield, watching my foam duck bounce away on the pavement behind us and disappear.

Stuart: Oh no! My condolences for your loss—and to whomever may have been hit in the head with the thing! You know, I have one of those also. When I was little, we used to go treasure hunting (fossil and relic hunting) in the South Dakota badlands. I have this memory of sitting on a mountain, playing with my match box cars, and one rolling down the hill. When I was a teenager, I mentioned this memory to my mother, saying how odd that I specifically remember NOT retrieving the car, and why that might be. She said, “It’s probably because you were tied to the tree.”

Yeah. Well, how else do you keep a rambunctious three year old from falling over the nearest cliff, right?

Stuart: If you adopted a unique wardrobe tag (ala Dr. Who’s scarf/bowtie etc.), what might it be?

Michael: I call my look, Things I Found Strewn Across My Floor to Cover My Nakedness. I’m pretty happy with it.

Stuart: Very practical. Um…wear a tux, though, you know, for the gala.

Tell us about your winning story

Michael: I originally submitted this story in 2011 to K.D. Wentworth, who gave it an honorable mention. I’m sure I’ve edited it since then, and of course I sent it to a number of markets in between. I submitted it again because the story I wanted to submit for Q3 wasn’t quite ready and I didn’t want to rush it. It feels a little weird, like me from four years ago won the contest, but it goes to show that you shouldn’t self reject. Sometimes the right story and the right editor just need to match up.

Stuart: Very true. A lot of people don’t get that.

Micheal: This story isn’t very representative of most of what I write. It has a little more of a light-hearted/YA feel. But I did have fun writing it. Occasionally I write a story that reminds me that I need to have fun. There are a lot of ways I’d described writing, but fun isn’t usually one of them.

Stuart: Well I can’t wait to read it, and your other work. Thanks for stopping by and again, congratulations!


Check out Micheal’s work at Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, and Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, among others.

Meet the Winners – Sharon Joss

Scifi for the WIN!

Starting the new week, say hello to Writers of the Future winner, Sharon Joss!

Stuart: Hi Sharon, and congratulations! Tell us who about yourself.

Sharon: I started out in the aerospace industry as an operating systems programmer, working on real-time systems for the space shuttle Columbia. Over the years I gradually moved into the high tech industry as a Technical Program Manager, integrating hardware and software for digital presses in the publishing industry. I’d always wanted to be a writer, but never felt like it was a ‘real’ job. All that changed in 2009, when I got laid off and decided to pursue writing as my full-time career.

Stuart: Wow! I love the eclectic career path. As you’ll earn in April, L Ron Hubbard used to take jobs just for the experience so he could write about them—at least, that’s what he claimed. So you always wanted to write; where’d that drive come from?

Sharon: My dad used to read to us kids at the dinner table after the dishes were cleared on Sunday nights– Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. For years, I thought my dad had actually written those stories, and I wanted to be a storyteller, just like him (he was actually a college biology professor). I also loved Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang. Then I discovered Lloyd Alexander, Ray Bradbury and Andre Norton, and I was forever hooked on adventure and speculative fiction.

Stuart: Awesome! I’ve always said my mom’s stories reminded me of Steinbeck, except her stories were real life and it was the other way around. So now that you’re wriiting, what’s your “writer’s cave?”

Sharon: I’ve got my writing desk set up at the top of the stairs. The landing is relatively spacious, and there’s a big window and great light, but nothing in the view that will distract me from writing. My desk is basically a door laid across two file cabinets, but I’m surrounded by bookcases, and there’s a really nice chair that the dog sleeps in while I’m working. I’ve got a couple of nice framed posters on the wall (one with a phoenix, the other a dragon), and post its on nearly every surface. My sister calls it ‘the command center’, and I suppose it is.

Stuart: Nice. I especially like the repurposed door. When I was a kid, my dad had this huge, really heavy duty workbench in his shop which was like no other. It wasn’t until I was grown that I realized it was just two by eights nailed across two chests of drawers. It was super solid and did the job. Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?

Sharon: I’ve trained dogs for years; and competed with my Australian Shepherds in obedience, agility, and rally events. I also owned a sailboat for several years when I lived in California, and have sailed to Catalina many times.

Stuart: Sweet! I has a mini-Aussie, and though I don’t put the time in that I should, I’ve found training her is the secret to keeping her happy. Working dogs gotta work, writers gotta write, eh?

How long have you been entering WotF/ is this your first contest win?

Sharon: I submitted my first entry to WOTF in December 2012, after hearing about the contest in a Dave Farland editing class. Before my winning story, I’d submitted five stories, two of which earned Honorable Mentions. I’ve never won a writing contest before.

Stuart: Very nice! So are you a pantser or a plotter?

Sharon: I’m a major (and highly detailed) plotter for long fiction, although my short fiction outline is basically just a few sentences.

Stuart: Yeah, that’s as me. I find it’s at that outlining stage that the short story ideas sort themselves out from the novel ideas. So, if you had a superpower, what would it be?

Sharon: The ability to communicate with animals (and other non-humans). Or flying–flying would be cool.

Stuart: Flying would be awesome. I think I can already read my dog’s minds though. Especially the terrier. He’s pretty assertive. 😉

When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Sharon: Although I think they’s pretty creepy now, when I was a kid, I loved hand puppets and marionettes. And Mr. Potato Head.

Stuart: Hand puppets? Creepy? You should search YouTube for the Scottish Sock Puppet theater. That’ll either cure or confirm that view.

Thanks Sharon! It’s been great, and I can’t wait to see you walking across the stage!


Follow Sharon at or on Twitter at @josswrites


A Galaxy of Talent


I am elated to share the news that my story, “Luck of the Chieftain’s Arrow,” will appear in Galaxy’s Edge issue #14 alongside stories by Alan Dean Foster, Larry Niven, Nancy Kress, Greg Benford, Robert Heinlein & more.


This stellar lineup is a testament to the work that Mike Resnick and his editorial partners are doing, and a reminder to me to keep up my efforts.

It’s a real, real, honor to be in this company.

Finn Fancy Necromancy

Randy Henderson has hit the proverbial toboggan out of the wallrus park with this one, and that takes some doing as you might imagine.

I bought this book because I know Randy. I finished it because it’s good. Really good. He’s written a sassy main character who’s a little bit retro, a little bit lost puppy, and a little bit superhero sunflower waiting to bloom. Finn’s a teenager who’s just about to confess his first love when who gets framed for dark magic and sent into spirit exile. On the day of release, he’s attacked and dumped back in his body with no memory of the last 25 years. The girl friend has grown up. So has the family and the girl next door. Disco is dead, and so will he be if he can’t find out who framed him and why, and stop them before they kill off his family, send him back into exile, and maybe start a war.

Randy’s prose is fresh and jaunty, his world building nuanced but lean. The world he creates is funny, what with the inter-garden gnome transport system and Sasquatch buffoonery, but it’s also convincingly real and menacing. He lays out his characters masterfully, then elevates the stakes and momentum in a smooth ride to crescendo. Oh, and you’ll never guess who dunnit.

Read this book. You’ll love it. It will make you laugh. It will make you smile. It will make you a tiny bit wistful about the 80’s and the Washington coast, even if you’ve never seen either of them. And it may or may not make you cry. I’m not telling.

Buy it at Amazon

Meet the Winners — Amy Hughes

When I won Writers of the Future last year, I interviewed my fellow winners in the weeks leading up to the workshop and it was so fun and such a nice introduction, I decided to do it again! So continuing with our Meet The Winners series, this week, come get acquainted with a writer you are sure to here more of in years to come, brand new Writers of the Future winner, Amy Hughes.

Stuart: Welcome Amy, and congratulations on your win. Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?

Amy: In the past 17 years I’ve lived in Nevada, Arizona, Ontario Canada, Colorado, California and Utah. We move a lot. This summer we’ll be moving overseas to Saudi Arabia. Screenshot from 2015-03-08 20:31:44

I love to write, I’ve been writing since I can remember being old enough to hold a pencil. I loved to read. In high school I was the shy, quiet kid who spent the lunch hour hiding under the stairs reading fantasy novels so I wouldn’t have to actually speak to anyone. Because Orcs were cool. Talking was scary.

Talking is less scary to me now. I still think Orcs are cool.

Stuart: Empirically, Orcs are cool. It’s the deathly pallor, I believe. So what got you into writing, Amy?

Amy: I’ve been writing all my life. I have a series of stories from second grade about a magical bunny rabbit named ‘Tricksy’, who could fly and grant wishes. They’re illustrated and everything.

Stuart: That’s awesome! The only thing I remember from second grade is this girl who moved to our little town from the exotic land of Alaska, and making a paper-mache turkey. Where do you do your writing?

Amy: My writing space travels, actually. I write on a laptop, which in theory means I can take my writing space with me wherever I go. I have two very active little boys though, so most of the time, if we go somewhere, I’m wrangling, not writing. But I do find that my writing space floats around the house quite a bit. I have an office space set up with books lining every wall and an herbal apothecary in the closet. I have postcards from all the places I’ve been tacked up all over. But I tend to get distracted fairly easily, and once I’ve gotten too distracted in a space, it gets hard for me to treat it like a place where I can just sit down and write. So I migrate around the house. I’m currently writing at the kitchen table. It has good light and a view of our chicken coop. Before that, it was the couch in the living room, before that it was my bed. Eventually I’ll make it back around to the office. I usually do.

Stuart: Ha ha. Really following the muse, eh? I write on netbooks for the same reason—and to utilize the bits of free time that would otherwise be wasted in transit and waiting lines. I remember writing most of my winning Writers of the Future story in the car on the way to and from Galveston, in fact.

So tell me, do you have any talents or hobbies?

Amy: I knit, bake artisan bread, garden, dabble in herbal medicine, homemade soaps and lotions and I can do one heck of a turkey gobble imitation.

Stuart: Hey, Megsn O’Keefe, WotF winner from my year is a soap maker too. You guys should chat. I should warn you, though, turkey calls are best avoided in the Lowes hotel where the winners are put up. It attracts SpoungeBob SquarePants imitators in from Hollywood Boulevard. No one knows why.

How long have you been entering WotF?

Amy: Actually, I only ever entered the contest once. I’ve known about the contest for years and always intended to enter, but I’ve been busy raising kids for the past while. About two years ago, I realized the youngest was finally approaching kindergarten age and I was going to be able to start writing again. It was time to enter. I tried writing a few short stories and failed miserably. My own mother couldn’t have found anything nice to say about these stories. So I started studying short stories intensively. I read nothing but short stories for over a year and must have burned through a couple hundred before something in my head clicked and I finally started understanding how a short story was built. I wrote ‘The Graver’ and went through a massive number of edits trying to get it right. I was shocked when I won. I honestly thought I was going to spend the next couple years entering, so I’m feeling sort of unprepared now. This all happened faster than I thought it would.

Stuart: Very impressive! And smart. I always tell folks, study the form and the market and you’ll have better results.

Star Trek or Star Wars?

Amy: Star Wars hands down!

Stuart: “These are not the droids you are looking for.” “Yes they are, Look at’em!”

Pantser or Plotter?

Amy: Panster all the way. Though I have recently figured out how to outline very short distances ahead of myself. It’s helping. But I honestly can’t see far enough ahead in the story to ever really outline.

Stuart: You and I can grow together. I am still trying to mash my brain into a productive instrument of composition. Some days are better than others.

Tell me, what’s the nuttiest thing that ever happened to you?

Amy: I crashed in a hot air balloon.

The wind pushed us the wrong direction and we were about to cross over an amusement park. That’s federally restricted airspace.

The pilot thought he’d found a nice city park to land in, but it turned out to be a fully fenced golf course and they couldn’t get the support vehicle in. The baskets are too heavy to lift without the trailer close by. He had to try to pop us back up and over the trees around the golf course. We scraped our way through the top branches. I actually grabbed a handful of leaves on our way up.

He decided he was going to have to set down in a neighborhood. His wife jumped out of the support vehicle to grab the rope. We nearly drifted into someone’s house. She wasn’t big enough to control the balloon in such a tight space and we dragged her quite a ways before our pilot started yelling at the neighborhood residents to jump in and help. Several people got on the line and brought the balloon more or less under control. All the while, we were drifting closer and closer to the cross street, and the dead end row of houses along it.

When the basket finally touched down, we hopped and skidded and the basket turned over, dumping us out onto the pavement. It was a very rough landing. Our pilot was a whole lot more worried than he’d let on. Someone had broken a collarbone and ended up in the hospital on a similar landing in his balloon a few years earlier. We were lucky to have been merely jostled.

But it turned out to be a local resident’s birthday and he got to spend the morning taking down a hot air balloon in his pajama’s. And for the rest of my life I get to tell people that I crashed in a hot air balloon. So I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out.

Stuart: Wow! Amusement parks are restricted airspace. Hold on while I note that in my checklist of world domination tips…..

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Amy: The ability to freeze time. That way I could take a nap, clean my house, fold my laundry and still have time to get my writing done. Plus, I could mess with people without them ever knowing I was there. That’d be cool.

Stuart: Okay, the judges tell me that technically, as described, that is the same power as “super speed” so when you get the chance, be looking for either on the application. And make sure I get an application, will ya?

When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Amy: My brother’s truck. It was an old metal truck that I finger-knitted a leash for. I used to drag that thing around with me everywhere. My mom kept trying to get me interested in Barbie’s and Cabbage Patch dolls, but I never could get into them. The truck was useful and nobody cared if it got covered in mud.

Stuart: Ha ha! I’m just picturing a little girl out walking her truck. For a moment I thought you meant a real truck. My mother taught school and had a third grader steal a school bus once, but you could never get a leash on one of those.

What would your distinctive wardrobe tag be, if you dared adopt it?

Amy: If I dared, it would probably be a cloak. I love the way a hood looks. Plus, it’s useful. It keeps off the rain, hides your face from the bad guys, and you can sleep in it if you happen to spend the night under a tree.

Stuart: Cloaks are cool. I have worn a cloak. I have been told I have ligth footstep…

Tell us about your winning story.

Amy: My story is ‘The Graver’.

It’s set in world where people have discovered a way to harvest and reabsorb the energy of the human soul after death. This can be used for everything from curing cancer and extending life, to just getting a really great high. Daniel allowed his wife’s soul to be harvested to use her memories to catch the man who killed her, but he’s not sure if in doing so, he destroyed her soul forever. He’s taken his daughter to a family ranch in an effort to escape his past and keep his daughter safe. But the past will always catch up, and nowhere is ever really safe.

Stuart: Sounds amazing! Well thanks Amy! And enjoy your time in Hollywood!

Amy: Thanks Stuart!


If Amy crashed any more heavier than air craft, you can read about the casualties at


Writers of The Future Winner, Auston Habershaw

Joining us this time, Writers of the Future first quarter winner, Auston Habershaw. Here we go!

Stuart: Auston, it’s great to meet you. Introduce yourself.

Auston: Let’s see, where to start with me? I’m a science fiction and fantasy writer (though really more fantasy thanAustinHabershaw scifi of late) who lives in Boston. Though I have had a wide array of jobs during my life, for the past eight years or so I have been an English Professor at MCPHS University. The school is focused around preparing students for the Health Sciences, so basically I try to teach all these science-focused students how to write essays and analyze literature. The rest of my time I write.

Stuart: So what got you into writing?

Auston: I can’t quite remember a time I wasn’t into writing. I’ve always, always wanted to tell stories. The only question was what kind of stories and in what form would I tell them. When I was in first or second grade, we were asked to write a paragraph. I wrote a paragraph that went on for a page and a half (it was a single paragraph, just long one). My teacher tried to give me a “C” for going past one page. After my mother tore the teacher’s head off, I remember being told specifically not to write more than a page. Naturally, then, I made my handwriting smaller. Then I got a D for Handwriting. I couldn’t quite understand why my teacher wanted me to stop writing so badly when I had more things to say. Basically, ever since I learned how, I’ve been writing something.

Stuart: Describe your “writer’s cave” your preferred writing location

Auston: I write at my desk either at work or at my home. In both locations, the desk is cluttered with books and papers and stuff. Right now at work I have 65 index cards stuck on the wall depicting every scene in my latest novel, which is in late-stage revision. Wherever I write, it needs to be in absolute silence. No music, no real white noise–nothing. I need the quiet to “hear” the words I’m writing, if that makes sense to you.

Stuart: Makes perfect sense. I’m the same way. So how long have you been entering WotF/ is this your first contest win?

Auston: I entered WoTF once in the 90s, when I was in college. I didn’t really enter again until 2008-ish, and then I entered about once a year since then with the exception of the past year or so, where I entered more often. I’ve probably entered ten times overall. I netted 1 Honorable Mention, 2 Semifinalists, and 1 Finalist before my the win. This was really exciting, since I was set to pro-out next year. My debut novel, The Iron Ring, just released on February 10th.

Stuart: Well that’s fantastic! And congrats on the book! What’s the nuttiest thing that ever happened to you?

Auston: I used to work as a minion for a slumlord who operated a shady bed-and-breakfast in Boston. One of my jobs was to get fresh towels for guests who requested them.What the guests did not know was that the towels were kept in the unfinished basement of a nearby building. During the day, said basement was the domain of a trio of sullen Guatemalan ladies who spoke no English. During the night, when most of the towel requests came in, the basement was the domain of rats. Lots of rats. Big, ugly, black or brown Norwegian rats with no fear of human beings. So, my process for securing the towels was to turn on the lights and yell, then do battle for possession of towels. I took the towels from the middle of the stack so as to guarantee no rats had slept upon them. To my knowledge, no patron contracted the Plague, so my conscience is (mostly) clean.

Stuart: Oh my gosh! Well a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Tell us about your winning story

Auston: “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration” is a fantasy story about an angry young man living in the ruins of a city ravaged by war and in the midst of a long reconstruction. It’s a story about the haves and have-nots and about how foreign interference (even if well-meaning) can often be resented by the native poor who don’t see any progress or hope for the future. It is set in the same world as my novel, The Iron Ring.

Stuart: Sounds cool. Tell us more about the book..

Auston: The Iron Ring is about Tyvian Reldamar–smuggler, criminal mastermind, and rogue–who is betrayed by his longtime partner and left for dead in a freezing river. The catch is this: his mysterious rescuer affixes a magical ring to his hand that keeps him from doing evil. This means Tyvian needs to find a way to get revenge without doing anything bad, which poses something of a challenge. This is the first part of an epic fantasy adventure called The Saga of the Redeemed which will track Tyvian’s (potential) redemption from vain, selfish, arrogant bastard to just a regular old bastard. The Iron Ring is out now, Blood And Iron (part 2) will be out in June, and the third installment will be out in the fall, all through Harper Voyager Impulse.

Some of the inspiration for the character and the books themselves comes, oddly enough, from Ian Flemming and James Bond. I consider Tyvian something of a Bond-esque character in a high-magic fantasy setting, so if that appeals to you at all, you will probably love the books. It is currently only available electronically, so you can find it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Stuart: Sounds awesome! Bond in a magical realm. I can’t wait to check it out. Well thanks for dropping by Auston. The books and the story sound intriguing, and I can’t wait to see you up on stage in April!

Auston: Thanks so much!


Find out more about Auston at

His novel, The Iron Ring, is available here, at


The Old Sodium in the Toilet Prank — It’s Not What We Thought At All

A scientist of my acquaintance, in a paper just published in Nature Chemistry, has overturned a century’s work on the well-studied interaction of water and alkali metals. That’s right, there’s a whole lot more to the old sodium in the toilet trick than anyone suspected, and the science could save lives. And the best part? It all started out as a YouTube video.

For generations, students have been taught that alaklai metals (Lithium, Sodium, Potassium, Rubidium, Cesium, and Francium), in reaction with water, release hydrogen and heat, which causes an explosion. Of course, many (including myself) have noted that the amount of hydrogen involved could not possibly cause the observed reaction. Others have invoked a “fuel-coolant interaction” in which a molten metal dropped into water causes an explosion essentially driven by steam. But again, those of us who have tried this, know it simply doesn’t hold water, as it were.

Now, Phillip Mason and his team at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, in collaboration with a team at the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, Braunschweig, Germany, have shown this all to be rubbish. Mason’s interest was peaked a few years ago when he made what he thought would be a simple and fun YouTube video illustrating the hackneyed “sodium and water go boom” trick using a $300 high speed camera. What he found, though, were colors and behaviors incompatible with established dogma. He dug, conducting a series of ever more elaborate experiments in his back yard, at his lab, and in the high deserts of the American west. Finally, he had a hypothesis compelling enough to recruit his professional colleagues at two institutes and secure the use of a $100,000 femptosecond high speed camera.

In the end, they demonstrated that the classic reaction is a “coulombic explosion” in which dissasociated electrons soluted into water create an electric field strong enough to rip the metal apart, thereby causing a classic explosive chain reaction. In the accomanying image, you can actually see spikes of sodium being yanked out into the water–not by an explosion within, but by electric charge from without. If this seems odd, remember that the electromagnetic force is astronomically stronger than gravity, and all the devices of modern society, from xray machines to mag-lev trains rely on quite minuscule electric fields.

Why is this important? One confirmation of the coulombic explosion hypothesis came in the form of a predicted antidote to the explosion. Mix a tiny amount of surfactant into the water, and the explosion is stopped cold. This new realization could save hundreds of lives each year, and prevent millions of dollars in damage, by giving foundries the tools to finally eliminate industrial explosions that have always been something of a mystery. In addition, quantum modeling suggests that during the explosion of one liter of sodium, the charge imbalance would be on the order of five billion amps. The ability to trigger such a massive release of electric power, even for a tiny fraction of a second, will surely have commercial applications, such as, oh, I don’t know, starting a fusion reactor?

This is science as good as it gets.

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